Monday, July 6, 2015

Airline Investigator: Ryan's Flight

Airline Investigator: Ryan's Flight, by Howard Harris
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books

First Airport Cop, now Airline Investigator: someone at Manor Books must’ve really had a flying fetish. Unlike the Charles Miron series, Airline Investigator only lasted for one volume, even though it seems pretty clear that it was designed to be an ongoing action series.

Also unlike the Miron series, this one’s about a private eye.  His name is Ed Ryan and he’s a tall, redheaded, former Air Force pilot turned commercial airline co-pilot. He served in this capacity for two years until being laid off; we’re informed this is a standard situation, with senior pilots getting to stay on while newer pilots are the first to go anytime there’s an economic hiccup. Ryan got sick of it and became a private investigator – in quickly-dispensed background material, we’re told that he’d already been making ventures into this arena, having studied with an old P.I. who was about to retire.

Now Ryan operates out of Queens and as the novel begins he’s looking to capitalize on his own flying background to hire out his P.I. services to airliners. The back cover tells us that “Howard Harris” is a pseudonym of a real commercial pilot who has used his insider info to give us an action-packed, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of airliners. I assume this is a lie and that the author was just someone under contract to Manor, but at any rate Howard Harris isn’t listed in Hawk’s Author’s Pseudonyms, nor is there any information in the Catalog Of Copyright Entries about the book.

But the author very well might’ve been a first-timer, as there’s an amateurish or at least rough quality to the writing, with characters for example who are “literally fuming” in anger. The author also has a strange tendency to refer to his female characters by their last names, even if they’re super-hot stewardesses. It’s like he doesn’t realize the last-name-only thing only applies to villains and tough-guy protagonists. The author also delivers some awkward sentences that in many cases can be easily misconstrued, such as this humdinger:

Flyod Kortum had died a month ago, and Ryan was just finishing the change-over to make the detective agency exclusively his. He had been the junior partner in the business three months before Kortum was involved in the four car collision on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. Eight days on the critical list, then surgery, then complications, then death followed shortly for the 63 year old private detective who was rammed from the rear.

Anyway, Ryan drives a Pontiac Grand Am and carries a .357 Magnum, and is almost immediately hired by an old Air Force commander, Leonard Manning, who now acts as Vice President of Trans-Continental Airlines, which operates out of LaGuardia Airport. A lurid murder opens Ryan’s Flight, with an annoying Trans-Continental co-pilot and his stewardess girlfriend being killed off by “Mr. B” and his cronies. The co-pilot was acting as a mule for Mr. B and was skimming the profits. For his treachery he and the stewardess are stripped and suffocated.

Now, a few weeks later, Leonard Manning is worried there might be more drug or whatever smuggling going on in his airline. Rather than bring in the cops he hires Ryan. Our hero instantly gets in a lust/hate thing with Manning’s “plain but attractive” secretary, Linda Volstead – referred to as “Volstead” throughout the narrative, instead of the more-sensible “Linda.” Ryan takes umbrage that the lady is initially frosty to him, but then she starts coming on strong, to the point where she’s propositioning him; cue an off-page sex scene.

To tell the truth, Ryan does pretty well for himself in a 190 page book with big print, banging just a few pages later another lady, this one a hot-to-trot stewardess named Karen Webber (referred to as, you guessed it, “Webber”). This bit is a little more explicit than the previous one, but nothing too major. In fact Ryan’s Flight is PG-13 at most, with even Ryan’s few kills being practically bloodless – which is a tough feat to pull off when you’re shooting someone with a .357 Magnum.

As for his P.I. skills, Ryan’s method basically amounts to asking a few questions and jotting down notes in his notepad. He quickly deduces that someone is running drugs and whatnot through the airline, and determines that stewardess Karen and a heavyset captain named Zello are behind it, but that they report to someone higher in the chain. This turns out to be Captain Jack Davenport, sort of the villain of the piece; there are several scenes of Davenport standing in his office in the terminal and watching Ryan run around down on the tarmac, trying to put pieces together.

Ryan gets in a few dangerous situations, such as a laughable bit where he’s almost killed – by a runaway baggage cart! His accomplices fare much worse, and Ryan doesn’t prove himself very sharp when Karen is clearly and obviously set up for a hit, once it’s learned that she’s blabbed to Ryan, but our hero tells her “don’t worry” and basically escorts her off to her own assassination. This plays out in a long car chase on the streets of Queens, with Ryan unleathering his .357 and shooting a few dudes.

The author does pepper the book with a lot of background detail about commercial airliners and airport life; Ryan is able to figure out how Davenport et al are smuggling stuff due to his own experience as a commercial pilot. The finale also plays up on this, with Davenport, Zello, and Mr. B meeting on a DC-9, the three of them the only people on board – save for Ryan, who has hidden in a lavatory. And when your hero is a former airline pilot himself, there’s no cause for concern when he blows away the dude flying the DC-9; all Ryan has to do is get behind the controls and bring the big plane in for a nice and easy landing!

There really wasn’t much notable about Airline Investigator: Ryan’s Flight, and it would appear either Manor or its readers felt the same, as this was it for Ed Ryan. The fact that the book was given a subtitle implies that it was in fact planned as the start of a series, but it wasn’t to be – Ryan’s first flight was his last.

1 comment:

Grant said...

Is it a coincidence that "Bullet For The Enforcer" and "Ryan's Flight," which you reviewed so close together, both have accomplices who are airline stewardesses?
Either way, it's an entertaining idea. But due to my attachment to "thorough-going" villainess characters as opposed to ones who change sides, it's almost a cinch which one makes more sense to me.
As I've said before, I just wish the DESTROYER books, which after all started in the early ' 70s and played around with popular early ' 70s subjects, had come up with a villainous "stew" along with all the other villainess characters they came up with.