The Amazon, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1969 Award Books
Not having much in common with the average installment of Nick Carter: Killmaster, The Amazon is more of a jungle adventure. Jon Messmann served as the author, and the book couldn’t be more dissimilar to his awesome The Sea Trap; whereas that one is one of the best men’s adventure novels I’ve ever read, The Amazon is, well, boring.
One questions if Messmann just recycled an old pulp manuscript, as even AXE boss David Hawk wonders if he should get a “less sophisticated, less urbane” agent than Nick Carter for this latest assignment, which really just entails venturing into the Amazon jungle and locating an “electronic brain.” Hawk explains that this thing will “revolutionize missile-to-missile defense” in the customary Hawk-Nick briefing that opens the novel. And speaking of which, in the opening pages Messmann proves why the series was so much better in third-person; most of this sequence is written from Hawk’s perspective, which I thought was an interesting touch.
But when Nick heads down to the “Brazilian territory of Ampasa” in the “north flank of the Amazon jungle,” the promise of the opening pages disappears, at least for me. Nick’s got a safari jacket courtesy Special Effects as well as some fancy bug zappers and a retrieval wench that he can attach the brain to once found, for a plane to receive and pull away, much like the finale of Thunderball. The brain was being transported by plane, and when the plane crashed due to an emergency the pilot broadcasted a mayday. The Russians and the Chinese intercepted, and their agents are already here, as is a sadistic expat named Kolben.
Hawk has set Nick up with a local guide; Nick initially fends this off, saying that he doesn’t feel like dealing with “Pidgin English.” To his surprise (but not the reader’s), the guide turns out to be young woman named Tarita, super-sexy daughter of a local chief. Tarita was raised in Switzerland(!), and hence is now a “woman of two worlds.” She’s got the flowing “jet black” hair and awesome beauty expected of pulp, but her boobs must be the feature attraction, as Messmann refers to them at least twice per page. Really! “Full, peaked breasts,” “studies in grace,” etc; these things must be real beauties. Nick’s gawking at them constantly.
He really gets to gander at them when Tarita, who claims that she becomes more native the longer she’s in the jungle, doffs her top and goes around – in the jungle! – wearing nothing more than a sarong bottom, letting “the girls” hang loose. Actually they don’t so much hang as they sway, heave, and just in general provoke utter lust in Nick. I shouldn’t joke, though – Messmann well understands the genre he’s writing for. The girl’s breastesses should constantly be mentioned, as far as I’m concerned. That’s just part of the genre’s brutish charm.
An early problem arises with The Amazon as Messmann delivers a false premise: namely, that the Killmaster does not kill. As mentioned, Nick sees that the Russian and Chinese teams are already here, ready to go into the jungle. He’s confident that they will get bogged down with so many people to look after, whereas Nick and his sole guide will move quick. Then there’s shady Kolben, who also clearly plots to find the brain for his own motives. And yet when Kolben tries to kill Tarita the night before they depart – leaving a scorpion in her hut – Nick runs over to the guy’s house…and beats up a few of his men. Why “the Killmaster” doesn’t kill this man who is clearly a threat to him – not to mention the fate of the free world – is a plot error Messmann hopes we’ll ignore.
Most of the narrative is comprised of Nick and Tarita trading lustful looks while dealing with the harsh brutality of the jungle. Messmann piles on the expected “jungle horrrors” material, including an anaconda attack. This brings us to Atutu, a “little Indian” about to become anaconda bait before heroic Nick saves his ass. Now Atutu, who speaks “Pidgin English,” is a loyal member of the party, helping Nick and Tarita gather food and etc during the journey in-country. It’s around this point that Tarita explains “I feel wrong with more on” as she doffs her top and “lets them tit-tays go” (to quote the Impractical Jokers), and Nick can’t gawk at ‘em enough. (Atutu for his part seems to studiously ignore the “twin peaks” which are “studies in grace.”)
Messmann also delivers the “man’s conquest” theme that was central to ‘60s and ‘70s pulp. Tarita you see has developed “stubborn perversness” from her time in the West; whereas the average native gal would be subservient to Nick, Tarita constantly questions him and at times outright defies or challenges him. She has become “haughtily western” and mocks Nick’s “masculine ego.” To which he responds, “My masculine ego isn’t hurt, honey. But your little ass sure as hell will be if you don’t cut this out.” When she continues to defy him, Nick takes a measure unheard of in today’s era – he knocks her “little ass” right out!
Now, if you think this abuse would make Tarita hate Nick, you don’t know men’s adventure novels. Rather, her eyes showing the “banked fire” of desire, Tarita shortly thereafter leads Nick into a waterfall – and he finds her there waiting for him fully nude. Messmann again proves that he writes the most explicit sex scenes in the series, with a few pages devoted to this initial Nick-Tarita coupling. Not much is left to the imagination and Messmann here delivers more graphic stuff than you’d encounter in some men’s adventure books from a decade later. Tarita is Nick’s only conquest in the book, and Messmann, per tradition, has the Killmaster developing feelings for the girl amid all the jungle humpin’.
But sadly the Nick-Tarita stuff is about all I found interesting in The Amazon. The rest is stuff that could’ve come out of any piece of jungle pulp, with lots of detail about the flora and fauna and occasional attacks via tapirs and jaguars and “spider wasps.” These latter attack the Russians en masse as Nick watches – he saves them with those Special Effects gadgets – and Nick reflects on how it will likely be an attack from something else which will finally cause mankind to band together. This brought to mind Messmann’s later “sea creatures attack” horror novel The Deadly Deep, which saw this very event occur.
The action is more so Nick et al getting into and out of scrapes, with little of the gun fighting or martial arts combat you’d expect from the series. Kolben ends up taking out most of the “enemies;” getting the Chinese team killed by posing as them with his men in rubber masks that look like Chinese faces (which Kolben, who has lived in the jungle for decades, just somehow has) – thus prompting the local headhunters to kill the real Chinese in retaliation. And Nick strikes up a sort of working relationship with the Russians, saving them at one point and getting saved by them at another. Only the finale sees any action, with Nick in a fistfight with one of Kolben’s men and then a knife fight with Kolben himself. Hmm, the Killmaster versus an old fat guy. Suspenseful!
Messmann ends the tale on a joke, same as he did in The Sea Trap, one again courtesy Hawk – Nick, back in New York, is invited by Hawk to a special screening of a new film. Nick takes along Tarita, who is now “Therese,” given that she has returned to the version of herself that is part of the western world. The movie turns out to be a documentary about the Amazon jungle. Nick and Therese laugh it up and then head back to Nick’s place for more sex. Even here Messmann delays, giving the impression that he was struggling to meet his word count, with a lame “will they/won’t they?” mystery, given that Therese acts all sophisticated and whatnot in her other incarnation and might not be as prone to illicit humping like “Tarita” was. No worries, though, as the Killmaster always gets his girl.
This one certainly wasn’t a favorite, but Messmann’s a good writer and he delivers enough fun and entertaining material that the somewhat-boring plot itself isn’t as frustrating as it could be.