The Defector, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1969 Award Books
George Snyder turns in his first installment of Nick Carter: Killmaster, and it’s the only one he wrote in third-person; after The Defector was published, the series took its unfortunate turn to first-person narration. But Snyder’s third-person narration still feels like first-person…despite the genre this guy writes in, his books, at least to me, still have the feel of hardboiled detective pulp.
As is the case with The Defector, which has Nick Carter venturing around the US and China tracking down various leads in his quest to uncover the mystery behind a US scientist’s sudden intention to defect to Red China. Dr. John Loo, the titular defector, is a Chinese-American scientist who has developed a top-secret “skin compound” which NASA plans to use to protect the skin of astronauts; it offers protection against very high levels of heat. But the Red Chinese covet the compound because it could theoretically be used to protect skin against radiation, thus they could protect their people from any retaliation while unleashing nuclear hell on the world. Or something.
The compound is the maguffin, clearly, and it sends Nick from his one-month vacation in Acapulco (where he enjoys the company of a woman who is “an expert at making love,” but Snyder here and throughout provides zero details) to DC, where boss Hawk gives him the expected briefing. Disguised as a portly scientist – one who still elicits open invitations of lust from horny stewardesses, naturally – Nick heads down to Florida to interview Loo’s wife and son, who claim to have no understanding why Loo abruptly deserted them and fled to Hong Kong, where he made his announcement to defect.
The wife and kid – who are also Chinese – seem a bit off to Nick, as does the whole situation. Here we get a bit of Snyder’s customary observations on women: “[Nick] disliked pants on women. They belonged in dresses or skirts.” Nick, still disguised as a chubby scientist, flies to Hong Kong (hit on by yet another horny stew during the flight) and promptly meets with Dr. Loo, who is being held in a hotel with armed guards. Faking his way in as Loo’s assistant, Nick gets the truth out of Loo: the scientists’s real wife and son were abducted six months ago, and are being held somewhere in China. The “wife and kid” Nick met in Florida were doubles (though Loo grudgingly admits he slept with his fake wife – why not??). Nick has less than a week to get into China, find the real Mrs. Loo and son, and prevent the latest global catastrophe.
This leads to the novel’s first action scene: a tense knife fight on a deserted street. The hardboiled pulp feel is strong here; despite having his ever-present Luger, Nick instead goes in for the close fighting of knife and fists. He’s nearly killed by one of the thugs, a massive Chinese who continues to strangle Nick even after the Killmaster has blown off the dude’s head, Nick whipping out Wilhelmina, his Luger, at the last moment: “[Nick] had never been quite that close to death.” There’s more knife-fighting and chasing, including an abritrary bit where Nick loses his tail in a bordello and waits outside why the burly red-headed boncer beats him to a pulp(!?).
Eventually Nick finds himself hiding on a junk, planning to ride it into China; this junk is apparently owned by the people who have been monitoring Nick in his hotel, and he discovers that their leader is a sexy Chinese lady with green eyes and a curve-clinging silk dress. Those with rat phobia should skip this section, which finds Nick fending off rats “as big as alley cats” in the storage hold of the junk, using a dying lighter and Hugo, his trusty stiletto. But Nick is at length caught and taken topside, where he promptly becomes the green-eyed babe’s latest conquest. Her name is Sheila Kwan and she studied at Berkley, hence her perfect English, and also she was Dr. Loo’s girlfriend back in those days and knew he was working on a skin compound. Thus, the entire plot has been her idea.
Snyder gets a bit more explicit with the Nick-Sheila sexual shenanigans, in particular a part where, after enjoying Nick’s services all night, Sheila hefts a .45, orders Nick to get on his hands and knees and crawl to her like a dog – and then to pleasure her orally, all while her brutish servant Ling watches! And once Nick’s skilled tongue has gotten Sheila “ready,” she pushes Nick aside and tells Ling to hop in bed with her! In fact Snyder ramps up the sleaze quotient throughout the junk voyage, with Nick even lashed to the mast, forced to watch another Sheila-Ling humping…and then Sheila wakes Nick up the next morning to have him there on the mast. Throughout she keeps saying it will be “such a shame” that Nick will ultimately have to die, given his skills at lovin.’
In a desolate patch off the Chinese coast, Nick is taken into a camp surrounded by Red Chinese soldiers, where he’s subjected to light and sound torture. While it sounds gruelling – Nick, in a cell, is plunged into darkness and then bright light, with loud noises blasting throughout – Snyder has Nick nearly breaking humorously fast, like in just a few paragraphs. This does lead to one of Nick’s more memorable kills: Sheila, wanting one last tussle with Nick, orders him to hump her while Ling watches – and then Nick activates Pierre, the little gas bomb he usually tapes between his legs “like a third testicle.” Thus Sheila dies mid-hump and Ling never does get to carry out the “Me kill!” desire he often voiced toward Nick.
The longest action sequence in the book sees Nick with a Tommy gun and grenades running roughshod over the camp, where he frees the real Mrs. Loo, aka Kathy, and her son, Mike. But Snyder’s dialog here is curiously flat and lifeless, relegating things almost to the feel of an outline. Snyder is an unusual writer, as he puts more focus on mundane things than on exciting things: while his writing in this action scene is spiritless and perfunctory, Snyder’s writing insticts more so come to life in boring patches, like Nick scaling a wall to get into a closed window, for example. In that case we’ll read tense description of Nick struggling to get up the wall, desperately hoping the window ledge will hold his weight, etc. And yet when Nick’s armed with a Tommy gun and taking out an entire Red Chinese camp, Snyder just sort of goes through the writing motions.
The last quarter reminded me of the climax of the previous Killmaster installment, 14 Seconds To Hell; it’s a too-long sequence of Nick, Kathy, and young Mike escaping the Reds, hiding in the jungle and attacking patrols when necessary. Here Mike and the somewhat-hot Mrs. Loo learn to kill! And Snyder builds in this unecessary subplot where Nick’s starting to develop feelings for Kathy, who turns out to be an able gal and not just your average “housewife.” Nick keeps reminding himself she’s got a husband and etc, etc. But it just goes on and on, until the expected finale arrives and the trio safely escape communist territory.
Snyder has none other than Hawk himself showing up in Hong Kong, along with Dr. Loo, who is happily reunited with his family. Meanwhile Hawk tells Nick he’s going to take him out to get drunk! Not sure if anything like this has ever happened in the Killmaster mythos, as I thought Hawk rarely if ever left his desk; he certainly wouldn’t just to take Killmaster out for a few beers. Anyway The Defector is pretty good, but my favorite Snyder installment would still be the sci-fi tinged Moscow.