Thursday, October 15, 2015
Peking & The Tulip Affair (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #42)
Peking & The Tulip Affair, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1969 Award Books
Another of those Nick Carter: Killmaster installments that has a back cover that appears to describe a totally different novel, Peking & The Tulip Affair is most notable because it happens to be two stories in one book: a 112 novel of sorts and an unrelated short story that runs to 39 pages. Also notable is that this was the one and only volume of the series written by Arnold Marmor, who appears to have written many sci-fi and mystery stories.
Marmor also published, under his own name, a lot of sleaze; I have a book of his from 1973, titled Cinema Sinners, and it’s straight-up hardcore porn. While Peking & The Tulip Affair has a lot of sex in it, it’s not explicit in the least, usually in the fade to black category. But it must be said that Nick (as Marmor and other early ghostwriters referred to Carter in these early, pre-first person POV years) scores a whole bunch, particularly with a Chinese hooker named Lotus who serves as his contact in Peking. I think about every scene they have together ends with them having sex.
But back to the misleading back cover copy, which states: “..the lethal hunt takes Killmaster from a bizarre Red Chinese bordello to a laboratory manned by robots, to the opulent headquarters of a macabre neo-Nazi movement!” Well, as was the case with The Red Rays, none of that shit’s in the actual book. Once again I can only conclude that series producer Lyle Kenyon Engel had a certain book in mind, commissioned the cover art and back cover copy (perhaps even writing it himself)…and was then delivered a manuscript that just barely met his request. For there is no “laboratory manned by robots” (but dammit I wanted to read about one), and the “opulent” neo-Nazi headquarters is nothing more than a hut in the jungle.
I’d say the blame goes to Marmor, who, according to Will Murray’s article “The Saga of Nick Carter: Killmaster” (The Armchair Detective volume 15 number 4, 1982), turned in a manuscript that was a few thousand words short of the requirement. Instead of expanding upon his work (like, you know, maybe including those friggin’ robots), he instead wrote an unrelated short story which was published along with his novel. This is strange, because according to the same article, Lyle Kenyon Engel usually rewrote the vast majority of the Killmaster manuscripts, sometimes even writing entire books himself (it appears that many of the books that are credited to George Snyder might have really been written by Engel). So why didn’t Engel flesh out Marmor’s manuscript? Who knows.
As it stands, Peking, the “novel” that starts off this volume of the series, is a middling effort, undermined by simplistic writing that borders on the juvenile. (Random example of Marmor’s prose: “It was a nicely furnished apartment with Oriental doodads all over the place.”) The plot itself is also pretty threadbare, though it has promise: Nick’s latest mission has him going to Peking, where a new drug called Agent Z is reportedly being created for the ChiComs. This drug can brainwash a man almost instantly, and it’s Hawk and AXE’s concern that it might be used to transform Western politicians and whatnot into Red Chinese supporters.
This is another of those missions where Nick goes in without his customary weapons: all he’s given is a fountain pen which contains another top secret drug, one which puts a person into suspended animation for seven days. One shot and your victim will appear to be quite dead, only coming around a week later or if you give him a shot of the antidote (also contained in Nick’s pen). Agent Z is the greater threat, and it’s been made by Walther Kerner, a former Nazi who is now in Peking, no doubt creating the drug for the neo-Nazi movement rather than the Chinese government, despite their support. To ensure his loyalty the ChiComs have even set Kerner up with a mistress, hotstuff spy Sim Chan who herself is a chemist; the novel opens with Nick looking at a nude photo of Sim Chan, which Hawk has gotten hold of somehow.
Nick’s more driven because the infamous Judas is apparently involved with Kerner and Agent Z. Nick’s got a burnin’ yearnin’ to kill the sonufabitch but good this time. However, Judas is only referred to as such once or twice in the very beginning, after which he’s referred to as “Bormann.” In some earlier volume of Killmaster, Judas’s true identity was apparently hinted as being Martin Bormann, infamous Nazi bastard; of course, this was long before it was verified that Bormann had been dead since 1945. But confusingly, in other Killmaster novels, like the later The Sea Trap, Judas is just “Judas” and his being Bormann isn’t mentioned.
At any rate, Bormann is the villain of the piece, and whether he’s Judas or not is moot; Nick could care less one way or the other. He’s the same deformed monster as Judas, described thusly: “No hands. Just claws. Stainless steel claws. And a face that was no face. Just a thousand scars.” The scars are there due to botched plastic surgery, so that Bormann has what is referred to throughout as a “frozen face.” Bormann can also use his steel claws like normal hands, just like Dr. No; he can even fire a Luger with them. And he himself has a burnin’ yearnin’ to kill Nick Carter, with the two characters often musing over their desire to off one another.
“Musing” is a big factor in Peking; there are many scenes of Nick sitting in a darkened room and brooding over Bormann or his lot in life as a spy. Nick is pensive (as he himself puts it) throughout, prone to ruminations about death and danger and how much longer until his time is up. It gets to be monotonous after a while and wouldn’t be so bad if there were livlier (or at least bloodier) action to spruce things up. But really Nick just gets in a few scuffles here and there, and Marmor’s barebones writing extends to the bloodless action scenes as well, which are almost of an outline nature, ie “Nick shot two of the men down,” and etc.
Anyway, Nick gets to Peking only to discover that his contact has been killed. But the man’s daughter, a petite hooker named Lotus, is there and claims to know all her father knew. More importantly, the two get at it straight away, which is practically a given seeing as how Lotus is a prostitute. Over the course of the novel Nick grows feelings for Lotus, or at least as much as he’s capable of; but then, Nick Carter is kind of a romantic dupe throughout Peking. The novel even opens with him trying to figure up how to break up with his latest flame, a senator’s daughter in New York named Selina Stanton.
Lotus takes Nick out to the Chinese boondocks in which “the Germans” secretly work under the watchful eye of the Red Chinese. Nick has Lotus sew him up a ninja-type suit (humorously enough, he just assumes she can sew) and he sneaks around the compound. Brief “action” here as Nick injects several sleeping Germans and Chinese with the drug in his pen. Later these poor bastards will be assumed dead and thus buried…while in reality still being alive! Nick’s main objective is to find Bormann and kill him, but the man himself is busy dealing with Sim Chan and her growing suspicions about his real plans for Agent Z, which has yet to be finalized.
Per series custom, Nick is captured late in the game, stripped down and graced with a brief tete-a-tete with Bormann. Instead of putting a bullet in Nick’s head, Bormann instead decides to use Agent Z on him, an idea devised by Sim Chan. (Anyone expecting that evil Sim Chan – who favorably appraises Nick’s body – will have her way with the Killmaster will be sorely disappointed; it doesn’t happen.) Instead Lotus saves Nick, which takes us into the tepid “climax.” Various of Bormann’s people kill one another off while Nick gets in a brief (and unexciting) fight with Captain Stryker, Bormann’s chief henchman and a former SS bastard.
Nick doesn’t even have much to do in the finale, which occurs in a hotel apartment and sees Sim Chan and Bormann fighting each other while Nick ducks for cover. The novel ends with practically everyone dead save for Nick, with Bormann’s fate in question: he jumps through a window, just like Hitler at the end of every episode of Danger 5, and Nick fires a few futile shots at him. But he’s certain some of the shots struck home…so will Bormann finally die? Nick assumes he will, which of course is a stupid assumption. This is though a neat narrative trick; earlier in the book Sim Chan taunts Bormann that even he isn’t impervious to bullets, yet Marmor intimates in the finale that he is.
The Tulip Affair follows, complete with a title and copyright page, and it’s more along the lines of a basic espionage tale. Mark Harrison, an AXE agent in Thailand, is killed in the opening pages, and Nick is called away from his latest flame, a young widow named Kris Bancroft, to go figure out what the hell’s going on. Hawk suspects that Tulip, the codename of AXE’s top agent in Bangkok, has turned and is behind Harrison’s murder and the murders of other AXE agents in South Asia. Nick refuses to believe this, as he and Tulip are friends. What follows is a very slow-paced story with Ian Fleming-esque topical flourishes about Thailand and hardly any action.
Marmor, that old sleaze vet, manages to work in some (fade to black) sex, courtesy a random woman Nick meets while in Bangkok. But for the most part this one’s forgettable, comprised of Nick following clues as he tries to figure out if Tulip has gone to the other side or not. The story climaxes with a nighttime assault on a remote island in which Tulip, who is indeed a Commie agent now, is hiding. But forget about any action; Nick merely hides in the darkness and shoots Tulip as he runs by!
So much for The Tulip Affair, then, and so much for Arnold Marmor’s work on the Nick Carter: Killmaster series.