Jefferson Boone, Handyman #1: The Moneta Papers, by Jon Messmann
April, 1973 Pyramid Books
Jefferson Boone is a different kind of agent. If you like a little culture with your killing, a hero who’s literate as well as phallic, the Handyman’s your man. -- From the back cover
The same time he was writing The Revenger, Jon Messmann also turned out another action series that ran for six volumes: Jefferson Boone, Handyman, which on the surface is more along the lines of the spy-fi Messmann wrote for the Nick Carter: Killmaster series. Style-wise the series is more similar to The Revenger, with an intellectual hero given to lots of introspection and rumination. He also likes to occasionally quote from say Boethius or Dante, which results in a strange protagonist; Jefferson Boone is pretty much James Bond meets Frasier Crane.
Boone (or “Jeff” or “Jefferson,” as Messmann arbitrarily refers to him in the narrative) is a sandy-haired stud who works out of DC and performs odd jobs for the government. His dad was a diplomat, and we learn in quickly-relayed backstory that Pop Boone once complained to his son about all the red tape that prevents diplomats from effecting change in the international arena. What was needed, said old Boone, was a sort of “handyman” who could fix all the leaks and whatnot. Apparently from this off-hand comment young Jeff decided that he himself would become the Handyman.
He’s apparently been quite successful, for as we meet him he’s in a posh apartment in DC, with another in New York, and drives a new cherry red Mustang (which he has flown around with him so he can drive it wherever he goes). His custom weapon is a .357 Magnum but he carries a Colt automatic target pistol as a backup piece. The “phallic” stuff mentioned on the back cover comes into play posthaste, as Jeff scores with some gal who takes him to a fancy DC party. But Messmann as ever is in a Burt Hirschfeld style this time, relaying all of the frequent sex scenes via analogy, metaphor, and purple-prose. There’s hardly any descriptive material at all, even though Jeff gets laid a bunch. Messmann actually wrote harder stuff in his Nick Carter books.
In fact, Messmann’s work could very well provide the answer to the unasked question: What if Burt Hirschfeld had written men’s adventure novels? The style is at times so similar as to be mysterious, even when it comes down to the plotting. For like Hirschfeld Messmann is all about the slow burn. Jeff’s assignment this time has him looking up an old platonic friend named Dorrie whose mega-billionaire dad, dead now, was about to turn over some important land to the US. Dorrie is game to sign over the deeds, but two couriers who have been sent to her in Italy have turned up dead. The State Department tasks Jeff with being the latest courier, and getting “The Moneta Papers” signed.
This simple plot drags on over the course of 190 pages of small, dense print. My guess is the book is around 80,000 words or so, but then I’ve never been good at estimating word count. Let it just be said that The Moneta Papers is way too long and lots of it could’ve been whittled down; The Revenger books are also pretty densely-written, with lots of incidental rumination and whatnot, but at least those books are shorter. Maybe Pyramid Books demanded higher word counts, who knows. But instead of ramping up the action and etc to fill the space, Messmann instead just goes for lots of slow-burn and long-simmer sort of stuff.
Anyway, Jeff heads on over to Venice, his portable bar in tow. An attempt is promptly made on his life, a car trying to ram him as he drives along the Italian countryside. Things get more interesting when Jeff meets Dorrie – only he discovers, gradually, that it isn’t really Dorrie. Rather it’s a “ringer” who looks very much like Dorrie, laughs at the same jokes, shares the same memories, and otherwise walks and talks just like the real thing – save for one peculiar difference. This particular Dorrie doesn’t appear to realize that she and Jeff have never had sex. Playing the girl along, Jeff takes her back to his apartment – and proceeds with boffing her.
The nympho ringer just loves it, and while she begs for more Jeff grabs her by the hair and demands answers. This leads to a knock-down, drag-out fight, during which the fake Dorrie manages to escape – and is never seen again. Messmann just forgets all about tying up that loose end. Understandably puzzled, Jeff the next day meets the real Dorrie, who is living in a posh villa with her new beau Umberto Fiando, heir to the Fiando automobile fortune. But what has concerned the State Dept is that Umberto is a loyal follower of Cesare Gallermo, a regular modern-day Mussolini, and they’re worried that once Dorrie and Umberto are married, by Italian law all of her possessions are also owned by Umberto, and he’ll give those highly-important lands over to his pal Cesare.
The Hirschfeld/trash fiction vibe continues as Jeff hangs out with Umberto’s jet-setting crowd, among them the dark-eyed Marie-Claude, a French-Italian beauty who is bored due to her billions but clearly wants to get freaky with Jeff. After lots of boring Formula 1 race car stuff – during which another attempt is made on Jeff’s life, this time via an “accidental” crash – Jeff heads with Marie-Claude over to her summer house for some more “phallic” shenanigans. But again it’s more on that poetical tip:
She trembled under him and he felt her surgings and he drew away from her and she cried out in protest, but only for a moment as he caressed her openness until she sighed and surged again, each movement of her abdomen like successive waves on a shore, coming nearer and nearer to the high-water mark.
If that doesn’t sound like Burt Hirschfeld, I don’t know what does.
The climax plays out in a ski lodge in the Italian Alps. Jeff has gotten Umberto’s father to reveal that Umberto has been denied the family fortunes, thus he’s “more air than heir,” per Jeff. And thus, he really is part of Cesare’s plotting and is only marrying Dorrie for her wealth and those important lands. But the game is now out in the open, and Umberto has taken an unwitting Dorrie to this lodge, which is under guard, with the veiled threat to Jeff that if he comes after her, Dorrie will die. For his part, Jeff still wonders how complicit Dorrie is in all this. Later he will discover that Umberto, a former doctor, has been drugging her with truth serum and extracting info from her. But the reader will have long ago come to this conclusion.
Among his skills Jeff is also talented at disguise. He makes himself look like an Italian, goes by the name Guido, and even in this manner manages to pick up a hot-to-trot babe, this one an American gal on vacation named Edie. Jeff poses as a man of the world, using the naïve but sexy Edie as a way to throw off the blue-blazer-wearing thugs who have surrounded the lodge, on the lookout for Jeff. And guess what, Jeff ends up hopping into bed with Edie as well, especially given how she keeps throwing herself at the Italian lothario. Another vague, Hirschfeld-esque sex scene ensues.
But this one has a fun finale, as Jeff decides to hell with it and comes clean with Edie, suddenly speaking without his fake Italian accent. He tells the girl who he is and why he’s here, and after getting over her shock Edie agrees to help – and wants a bit more lovin’. In fact she wants to come visit him in his pad in New York after all this! A very Bond-esque scene follows the next morning, as Jeff takes out several thugs while skiing down a dangerous pass. He sets up one of them as his own corpse, thus fooling all and sundry into believing that “Guido” is dead, his disguise having been ruined.
The actual climax though is mostly dialog. Messmann again writes the novel like it’s a “real” book, and perhaps he hoped for the success and popularity of a mystery series along the lines of Travis McGee or something. Jeff outs Umberto as a murderer, which ends up breaking poor Dorrie’s heart. He then confronts Cesare and tells the man the US lands – and Dorrie’s fortunes – are no longer his, and also makes him promise to drop out of Italian politics.
And that’s that – Jeff makes amends with Dorrie (Jeff is more heartfelt than many of his men’s adventure contemporaries, and indeed turns back before leaving to make sure Dorrie has forgiven him for exposing her lover as a fraud) and heads back to New York – just in time for more of that good lovin’ courtesy his new guest Edie.
Overall The Moneta Papers was mostly enjoyable, though the introspection and rumination did serve to slow down the proceedings. And yet, as with The Revenger, despite the measured pace Messmann is still capable enough of a writer to make the reader invested in the story. He’s also very good at description, and brings the Italian countryside to life. This only serves to further lend the book more of a trash novel vibe and less of a men’s adventure one.