Monday, December 8, 2014

Death Merchant #40: Blueprint Invisibility

Death Merchant #40: Blueprint Invisibility, by Joseph Rosenberger
August, 1980  Pinnacle Books

Sporting an awesome cover (I think the Death Merchant covers, courtesy Dean Cate, were the best in the entire Pinnacle line), Blueprint Invisibility features psychotic protagonist Richard Camellion taking on a mission that involves the Philadelphia Experiment hoax, MKUltra-style mind control, the Red Chinese, and, uh, New York City escort services.

But man, how about that cover? You’ve got bizarre, Ken Strickfaden-style gizmos, what appears to be a pair of teleporting people, and a nattily-attired Richard Camellion pulling himself out of a gurney or something while almost casually firing his submachine gun. Best of all, the top of the cover features a muscular dwarf with an eyepatch and robotic arms! I’ve been hopping around this series with no concern about reading it in order, so I decided to check out this volume, just given the cover alone.

And while most of this stuff’s in the actual novel, it isn’t featured as much as you wish it would be. Instead, Joseph Rosenberger is more concerned with pointlessly-detailed gun battles and lots of material which was obviously lifted from various encyclopedias or copies of National Geographic, as well as the odd issue of Fate. The Philadelphia Experiment stuff is basically just the framework Rosenberger uses to get Camellion in a host of fights with the Red Chinese, and ultimately it’s a complete McGuffin.

Anyway, Rosenberger opens the novel as if we’ve missed something; at first I thought it was a direct lead-in from the previous installment, which I don’t have, but it isn’t. Camellion’s in DC, leading a group of Navy Intelligence operatives as they tail Mason Shiptonn, a Navy Intelligence staffer who, Camellion is certain, has been turned into a mind-controlled sleeper agent by the Red Chinese. Shiptonn was one of the few people with access to the ultra-classified Philadelphia Experiment papers, and apparently three months ago he took photos of them and gave them to the Chinese – all without his conscious knowledge.

Rather than the Philadelphia Experiment’s “hyperspace quality and/or factor” stuff, Camellion is more concerned over how the Chinese comrpomised Shiptonn…and how they did it so quickly, like in just a few hours. Because, as we are reminded at length, there’s no surefire way to completely control a person’s mind in such a short time. I should mention here that more, much more, attention is placed on mind control/MKUltra stuff rather than the more-interesting Philadelphia Experiment stuff, which Rosenberger almost blithely documents and then moves on to other things.

When they lock down Shiptonn after a firefight with some Chinese agents, Camellion is briefed by his CIA handler Grojean, and decides to move on to New York City to figure out how exactly Shiptonn was brainwashed. No one’s much concerned about the leaked Philadelphia Experiment stuff; they’re more worried over other sleeper agents. Anyway, Shiptonn spent one night with a high-class hooker from the Olympia Escort Service in Manhattan, and at great length Camellion learns that it’s run by a gorgeous former escort named Soraya Duncan, who is involved with a Mafia boss named Charley Franzese.

Rosenberger fills the middle quarter of the novel with material almost lifted verbatim from various guides to New York. Reading Blueprint Invisibility, I had to laugh, recalling what Donald “Dr. Rock” Schnell mentioned in his memories of Rosenberger – namely, how Rosenberger’s study was lined with National Geographic magazines and maps of US cities. One can easily tell, reading this novel, that Rosenberger had each of these things by his side as he pecked away at his typewriter.

The escort service material actually gets more print than both the Philadelphia Experiment and the brainwashing stuff combined. My guess is Rosenberger also must’ve been leaning on the various “sex expose” paperbacks that had been printed at the time – but then, the dude himself penned some, back in the ‘60s, a few of which I’ll get around to reviewing someday. Anyway the Olympia service has never been busted, due to the curious fact that no client has ever managed to score with one of the escorts!

Camellion suspects Soraya Duncan and mobster Farenzese are involved with the Red Chinese somehow, and that the escort programmed Shiptonn that night. Camellion canvases Manhattan, doing his research, working with his CIA contact – a man named William Fieldhouse!  Stephen Mertz has told me that Fieldhouse was friends with Rosenberger, and indeed was part of what Mertz calls “the Rosenberger Circle.” So this character, a tough ‘Nam vet who is described as “well-muscled and nice-looking,” is clearly a reference to the actual William Fieldhouse, whom Camellion starts to like so much that he soon just calls him “Bill!”

Soraya Duncan is a mega-babe redhead who despite being involved with Farenzese will still go out with the occasional client. Camellion uses a dandy named Ewart Gremmill, a CIA contractor marked for death by the Agency, to set him up with her. We get lots of background detail on Soraya, none of which matters much in the grand scheme of things. So shoehorned is all of this that the dwarf on the cover, who turns out to be a former wrestler named Gregory Gof (and who has steel fingers, instead of the friggin’ cooler robotic arms of the cover painting), is not only Soraya’s assistant but also her brother – and this tidbit is not fleshed out in the least. In fact, Gof amounts to zilch in the novel, appearing for maybe three pages.

The Camellion-Soraya date is the most interesting moment in the novel, as Camellion finds himself taken by the gorgeous beauty, despite his concern that she might be a traitor. And she’s my dream girl, too, casually discussing P. D. Ouspensky on a first date!! But still, Camellion senses “a strong negative thought-field around her.” They go back to her posh apartment, where the lady makes clear her intention to screw Camellion senseless. I figured she’d instead lead him into a trap, or some out-of-nowhere and pointlessly-detailed fight scene would ensue, but nope – Rosenberger writes an actual sex scene, my friends.

Spanning four pages, the Camellion-Soraya encounter is a lot more explicit than I expected it to be, given the author. But just after their mutual whopping orgasms the two are surprised by the sudden entrance of Soraya’s mobster partner, Charley Franzese, with a few of his goons. Camellion, who is playing a Texan enterpreneur named “Jefferson Davis Hafferton,” busts out his kung-fu skills and beats them all senseless. He then leaves Soraya there with them, having come to the decision that she isn’t the best woman he’s had sex with, even though he lies to her that she is(?).

So far there hasn’t been much of the tedious action Rosenberger is known for, but he makes up for it posthaste. Launching a soft probe in the middle of the night on the building which houses the Olympia Escort Service, Camellion and Fieldhouse (the former who wears a Frankenstein mask, the latter a Wolfman mask) get in a huge battle with Franzense’s stooges. It goes on and on, and culminates with the two making an aiborne escape on a helicopter, with the NYPD helicopter patrol in pursuit.

It should be mentioned that Camellion goes out of his way to kill cops this time around – in fact, several times he tells his associates that they too had better be ready to kill any police officers that get in the way! So here he casually oversees the destruction of a few NYPD helicopters, marking up the policeman’s deaths as just par for the course. But then, Camellion is more psychotic than usual this time out; even Rosenberger seems to understand this, as toward the end he informs us that “in eleven years [Camellion] had killed literally thousands of people.”

Another mostly-tedious action scene follows, as Camellion, Fieldhouse, and more CIA agents attack a “Red Chinese fortress” in the affluential 160s section of Manhattan. In this sequence Camellion et al are themselves disguised as Chinese, thanks to Camellion’s usual wizardry with makeup; also notable is this tongue-twister of a line, which is delivered just before Camellion’s new buddy guns down a few Red Chinese: “Go screw a sapsucker, you slant-eyed slobs,” snarled Fieldhouse.

In the homestretch it’s learned that the Red Chinese who stole the Philadelphia Experiment stuff are on Chelsworth Island, off of Maine’s coast. Also the Chinese agents who have perfected the mind-control are there, not to mention Soraya Duncan, the three of her escorts who were in on it with her, and Farenzese. I mean, they’re all just conveniently gathered together. Camellion, his stalwart Agency pals, and a handful of SEALs stage an ambush, Camellion informing them that everyone on the island is to be killed – and indeed, if any of the men have problems with shooting women, they’d better leave now!

As if to prove how heartless and sick he is, Camellion soon after blows away a Chinese whore in cold blood, just some innocent hooker brought in to entertain the Chinese officers. Then, dressed in a “sky blue jumpsuit,” Camellion proceeds to lead his team on a gore-soaked assault on the island, in the third and final of the novel’s incredibly-boring action scenes. It’s all just like Rosenberger’s earlier Mace junk, with a barrage of Chinese names and obscure martial arts terms thrown at us.

Rosenberger himself relishes in describing the gruesome deaths of Soraya Duncan and her three girls, documenting thoroughly the path of each bullet through Soraya’s “once-beautiful body.” It’s dark, disquieting stuff, and off-putting as well – Rosenberger writes that one of the poor girls is even given “a free hysterectomy” thanks to a SEAL-fired bullet, and it’s all just depressing because it’s our supposed heroes who are shooting these unarmed girls, and it’s all presented to us as a sterling victory against the dark forces of Communism.

All of the Philadelphia Experiment stuff is rendered moot in the melee; we learn that the Chinese have built a “space bending machine,” but Camellion has no interest whatsoever in learning what it does. And Rosenberger has no interest in telling us. Instead, Camellion oversees the death of everyone, save for a few captured Chinese scientists, and then wires the entire compound to blow, including the space-bender. And now he’s all excited because Grojean just told him that his next mission will be in…North Ireland! The End!!

So yeah, none of the cool shit depicted on the cover actually happens in the novel. But in exchange you at least get to witness the Death Merchant scoring with a woman. Plus, we learn the usual random and bizarre tidbits about Camellion, like that “one of his favorite drinks” is two parts Scotch and one part Perrier over two ice cubes. Also that he enjoys eating kumquats while drinking cocoa. Oh, and that not only does he need just four hours of sleep a night, but that his typical breakfast is “black coffee, a small cup of honey, and two vitamin pills.”

Finally, the super-bizarre shit is in full effect, so far as the “Cosmic Lord of Death” goes, with Camellion apparently knowing when he’s going to die (“but not today!”), the aforementioned sensing of “negative thought-fields,” and occasional lines like, “The Cosmic Lord of Death was always on [Camellion’s] side, but Time hated his guts and was forever his main enemy.” Best of all is Camellion’s apparent unwillingness to curse, the harshest line he delivers being, “Ostritch crap!”

Which, sadly, pretty much sums up Blueprint Invisibility.

Finally, be sure to check out the Sharp Pencil blog, where Alan has been reviewing every single volume of the Death Merchant series!  Now that is commitment!


allan said...

Whoa! Thanks for the plug!

I cannot remember quite how I found this blog - through Richard Stark > Max Allan Collins > Executioner/Pendleton, I think. I learned about the Death Merchant perusing the site - and then not too much later found a ton of them at a Toronto used book store. I was hooked by Rosenberger's unique style and am on #29 now.

In most of the books in the 20s, Camellion mentions his Lee E. Jurras-made Auto Mags. (It comes up so often, I wondered if Jurras (who is a real person and still alive!) paid Rosenberger for the plugs.) I wonder what Jurras could tell us about JRR.

FreeLiverFree said...

It seems strange to me that there was a "Roseberger circle."

AndyDecker said...

that the Chinese have built a “space bending machine,” but Camellion has no interest whatsoever in learning what it does. And Rosenberger has no interest in telling us."

This is one of Rosenberger's more unexplicable quirks as a writer. That he never made something of the introduced weird concepts. It is always just a bait.

The Rosenberger circle - sounds like the perfect villians for a Ludlum novel :-)

Felicity Walker said...

I’m about halfway through Mack Bolan/Executioner #245, Virtual Destruction, in which a VR combat-training program is being used by the Red Koreans to create mind-controlled assassins! This book also specifically mentions that with conventional methods it would take much longer than the one VR session to brainwash someone completely, and that hypnosis can’t make someone do something they would normally find immoral.

Tim Gueguen said...

I wouldn't be surprised if the sex scene was a request from the editorial staff at Pinnacle, just like the mentions of The Executioner and The Penetrator that turn up in a couple of books.(Camellion refers to the later as a dingdong, or something like that.)