You Die Next, Jill Baby!, by Kirby Carr
No month stated, 1975 Major Books
The Hitman series, which moves over to Major Books with this fifth volume (which removes both the series title and volume numbers), was very much an attempt by Kin “Kirby Carr” Platt to capture the vibe of the pulps of the ‘30s. To wit, hero Mike “Hitman” Ross wears a mask while fighting crime, unlike the majority of his men’s adventure brethren. He’s also about as insane – not to mention nuts about killing – as pulp hero The Spider. And You Die Next, Jill Baby! is basically a Spider novel, only given a somewhat-sleazy ‘70s overlay.
In fact, the sleaze makes a big return here, and in an arbitrary way – whereas the previous couple volumes have reigned in on the dirty stuff, this one brings it all back, though it must be stated that Ross himself doesn’t score (that is, other than on the very last page). The cover alone is proof that this book is going to be rather lurid, and while the cover image does happen within the first few pages, You Die Next, Jill Baby! is actually more of a private eye sort of yarn, with Ross going around Los Angeles looking up clues, while a right-wing (sort of) guerrilla army sows plans to take over the country. The narrative and dialog even have a suitably hardboiled-esque vibe.
The “Jill Baby” of the lurid title is Jill Court, Patty Hearst-esque daughter of Chad Court, megawealthy businessman. She’s been kidnapped as the novel opens, and Mike Ross hears about it on the news. Then he gets a phone call from fellow ‘Nam vet Jim Boyd, a total asshole of a major whom Ross hated – the vague backstory has it that Ross during combat tried to get an air evac for two wounded soldiers, and Boyd refused – the fact that the soldiers were black certainly had something to do with the denial, Ross was certain. But now Boyd, still fit and eager for action despite being old enough to also be a veteran of the Korean war (as is Ross, by the way), runs a trucking business in LA and has been dating Jill Court. The fact that Jill, barely in her 20s, has been seeing a much older man is later explained away with the off-hand comment that she’s into freaky sex scenes or something.
But Jill has been kidnapped by the “army” of “Wake Up America,” which is run by “Major Wingate.” I assumed it would just be another of the left-leaning guerrilla armies of the day, but gradually we learn that the WUA is made up of former ‘Nam vets who initially get together to fight crime, but eventually set their sights on the country itself. But to tell the truth Platt doesn’t do much to elaborate on this. They’ve kidnapped poor Jill as their first attack, which gets them in the news – Boyd has it that he was jumped by several men while driving Jill home, and when he was knocked out they took her away. He wants to know if Ross will help, given Ross’s impressive cred with the police – again, the fact that Ross is “Hitman” is sort of a well-known fact while still being a secret…again, pretty much exactly like in The Spider.
Jill, the only time we see her in the book, is tied up in a dank room in the “ghetto section” of LA, being raped – by a female member of the WUA army. This is Me-Boot, formerly Sarah Bootree, a hotstuff half-American Indian babe with “firm jutting full breasts.” She is also, per another character, a “lesbie dyke,” mostly because, we learn via egregious backstory, she has been used and abused by so many guys. After so many uncaring bastards “shoved their stick pricks” into Me-Boot, she learned that the sapphic way was more personally fulfilling. Thus she introduces Jill Court to the lesbian life – and we’re informed Jill loves it.
Then Major Wingate shows up…and promptly blows Jill away! Thus the cover image depicts an actual event in the book, and titular Jill is dead by page 15 or so. Also, Platt sort of blows some potential here, and so I will, too – Wingate has killed Jill because she is one of the two people who knows that Major Wingate is also…Jim Boyd! So, rather than stringing this out for the narrative, Platt instead straight-up tells us this in the opening pages, and thus we get a little irritated with Mike Ross, who spends the entire novel trying to “help” Boyd while not realizing he is in fact the enemy.
Action is sparse, and not as gory as previously, though Ross as usual kills several people. To once again compare him to the Spider, Ross as Hitman not only wears a mask and wields dual pistols, but shows a compunction for shooting (and killing) first, and not asking any questions later. Humorously, this is something he’s been accused of in past books, but here Ross himself begins to get annoyed with himself – not that this stops him from outright killing any WUA thugs he comes across, even at one point tossing three of them out of an upper-story window, despite the fact that they could answer all sorts of questions for him.
Me-Boot, after her long backstory in which we learn all about her sex life in copious detail, runs into our hero after Ross has cleaned out the dank room in which Jill was held captive – blowing away every single WUA guy in the place, naturally. But the sparks quickly fly between the two – curiously, Ross is not in his Hitman garb at this point – and Ross suspects Me-Boot might be able to help him. We’ve learned that she isn’t a full-fledged WUA member, had nothing really to do with the kidnapping, and indeed fell in love with Jill, and has sworn vengeance on Boyd – whom she also knows to be Wingate, something which Ross also doesn’t realize until the very end.
But Me-Boot is shot by the police as they raid the place, and Platt has us thinking she’s a goner, taking a bullet or two to the chest. Later we’ll learn she’s in intensive care. Later still Ross will save her from WUA thugs who come to snuff her, taking her back to the dojo of his old Korean mentor Lo, who is one of those magically-talented martial arts masters of pulp. With his skilled hands he is able to make the now-paralyzed Me-Boot walk again.
In fact Platt seems to intimate that Me-Boot, who by novel’s end is once again “Sarah Bootree,” will become Ross’s steady girl…the back cover copy, which as ever only partially reflects the actual plot of the novel, even refers to her as “the only woman Ross has ever loved.” While this might turn out to be true, the element isn’t even introduced until the final twenty or so pages.
Just like in a Spider novel, Wingate’s army runs roughshod over the country, and no one is able to stop him except for Hitman. In fact there’s a total “Grant Stockbridge” moment when Ross, resolving himself to battling the WUA alone, thinks that it will be “one man against a hundred – just the way he liked it!” Wingate’s men have raided US army bases, killing the soldiers and stealing weapons, and in this manner have even gotten some surface-to-air missiles.
By this time Ross has finally figured out that Wingate and Boyd are one and the same. Given that there are only about thirty pages left at this point, the climactic battle is a bit unsatisfying; Ross, having found the secret WUA base deep in the hills outside LA, dons his Hitman garb, plants some smoke bombs, and guns down a few helicopters before finally shooting Wingate/Boyd in one of the most abrupt finales ever.
And that’s it…I recall when I tracked this series down a few years ago, You Die Next, Jill Baby! was by far the hardest volume to acquire. In fact I did some Mike Ross-like searching to even find a copy. But sadly, and as usual with such cases, the book ultimately wasn’t worth the effort (or price). While it starts off promising to be as sleazy, lurid, and action-packed as the first volume (which is still the best one, by a long shot), this fifth installment quickly tapers off into a sort of padded affair in which not much really happens. But maybe at least it will have repercussions for ensuing installments, if for no other aspect than the budding Ross-Sarah romance.