The Butcher #4: Blood Debt, by Stuart Jason
October, 1972 Pinnacle Books
James Dockery must’ve already been getting bored with The Butcher this early in the game, as for the most part Blood Debt is a snoozer, only featuring a bit of the lurid craziness expected of the series. A large portion of the narrative is egregious detail about “life among the desert Arabs,” not to mention a hard-to-swallow subplot that has tough-guy Bucher falling in love(!).
At least it starts off with the template well in place; Bucher’s in Miami, chasing leads on his latest assignment. Someone going by the handle The King of Spades has been bombing businesses in the southern US with miniature torpedoes with atomic warheads. As with every other Butcher opening, we read as Bucher waltzes into town, well aware of the Syndicate creeps out to nail him for the bounty on his head. This opening is the highlight of the book, as Bucher hangs out in a Syndicate-owned dive where the sexy waitresses wear nothing but stockings and high heels.
One of these waitresses is a hotstuff brunette named Lela who happens to be a junior White Hat agent, on her first field assignment. Bucher helps her out and blows away a couple goons who come blasting for him. This leads to the inevitable second part of the series template: Bucher is arrested by the local cops and must be sprung by a local politician, with the local sheriff saying something to the effect of how illegal Bucher’s silencer is. The senator who springs Bucher is accompanied by his ultra-gorgeous blonde niece, none other than mega-famous TV personality Twiti Andovin, who is famous for her awesome bod and sexy on-screen dancing.
Bucher heads to St. Denis, France, on the lame possibility that a former Syndicate acqaintance named Capusini might be working with the King of Spades. Here Bucher is immediately confronted by another gal: Barbe, a French intelligence agent who is half Arabic and who is “ugly,” per Bucher. True to form, he won’t allow her to sleep with him, and Barbe is the first character to openly question Bucher’s strange aversion to sex…perhaps he prefers other men? This only elicits rage from Bucher, but I myself have wondered this.
The St. Denis sequence provides the one and only part in Blood Debt where Dockery gives us the weird stuff we expect of the series: the superdeformed freaks who make up the Syndicate in Dockery’s messed-up world. In one of the very few times he’s caught unawares (but not to worry, as he bullshits his way out), Bucher comes back to his hotel room to find two Syndicate gunmen waiting for him, one of them holding a gun to Barbe’s head, the other “furiously masturbating” on a nearby couch(!). Here Dockery delivers what we expect of him:
Larpy Kazar had fallen face-forward into a fire as a child, long before the present day profficiency of plastic surgery. When the burns at last healed he had no hair, one ear, part of a nose, a lipless pucker of flesh for a mouth and one eye that never closed. He depicted the tangible epitome of a Karlofian nightmare and this, plus personality increments of acid hate, caused most people, in his presence for the first time, to be reminded of an indestructable obscenity.
But these moments are few and far between in Blood Debt. Bucher hurriedly dispenses of both freaks, after making up a bunch of stuff about being sent here by “Mr. Big,” infamous, never-seen leader of the Syndicate. As an indication of how quickly and carelessly Dockery likely wrote the novel, Mr. Big is soon elaborated into a bigger character in the book, despite the fact that Bucher brought him up apropos of nothing. But gradually Dockery will confuse Capusini, the hood these two goons work for, the King of Spades, and Mr. Big.
Eventually though Dockery will forget about all of it and just write egregious, interminable stuff about Bucher hobknobbing with the desert natives near Rabat, Morocco. Like so many other Butcher novels, our hero soon heads to the Middle East, having learned Capusini is operating somewhere in Rabat. Dockery clearly spent some time in this part of the world or was just inordinately interested in it, as each book of his I’ve read features at least some sequence there, and of course we’re often reminded that Bucher is fluent in Arabic (as so many real-life Syndicate gunmen are, no doubt!!) from his time spent there.
As mentioned, Barbe, who goes along to Rabat with Bucher, is half-Arab, and her grandfather is a notorious sheikh. Well friends, I knew I was in for a bad time when the whole sequence opens with Bucher “proving” himself to the Arabs via some ancient tradition of brawn. It has nothing to do with anything and proceeds to spiral out of control. We get lots of stories of desert dwellers and customs and whatnot; the explanation for Bucher’s presence is so the sheikh can get all the locals at his command in Rabat to root out Capusini, but the reality of the situation is just that Dockery has some pages he needs to fill.
And to continue with the half-assed nature of the plotting…none other than Twitty Andovin shows up at the camp! You know, the friggin’ TV star!! Dockery explains it that she’s here in Morocco to scout out locations for a new TV special and to also hire some local dancers. She’s escorted by her sleazy producer. Here Blood Debt gets even worse, as Bucher finds himself falling in love with Twitty, based on nothing more than her looks, a conversation with her, and her super-sexy dancing skills, which she shows off in the buff for the sheikh and his people. I kid you not, several scenes in the book feature Bucher mulling in his tent, wondering why he’s feeling all these strange feelings for Twitty!! There were times I felt like I was reading Casino Royale again.
Dockery at least mixes in some sex, this time. For one a mysterious woman visits Bucher’s tent one night, and the sex is more so literary than hardcore, but we know Bucher had a grand old time. Of course it turns out to be Twitty. To overcome his growing feelings for her, Bucher does the unexpected – has sex with another woman a few pages later. This is sexy junior White Hat agent Lela, who has followed Bucher here to Rabat. We get even less explicit material this time, but Lela does inform Bucher, “I love the way you fornicate.” We also get a return to the Butcher stuff we’re more familiar with as Mr. Big’s top hitman shows up at this very moment, but Bucher is always ready to kill would-be assassins, even when he’s in bed with a girl.
It takes a long time, but we finally escape from the desert life narrative quagmire. Bucher, working with Lena (whose sexing didn’t succeed in making Bucher stop loving Twitty), finally locates Capusini…only for the friggin’ guy to already be dead!! We’re almost at the very end, and the reader’s time has been fully wasted at this point. But Dockery isn’t done. Bucher heads back to the US, where the King of Spades has struck again, even blowing up an orphanage, killing 47 kids. And meanwhile a fuming Bucher sits in his hotel room, reading the daily copies of Rabat’s newspaper which are brought to him by a local news vendor’s kid. Seriously!!
Skip this paragraph if you want to avoid a lame spoiler. Bucher, reading that day’s Rabat paper, can’t believe what he’s seen. It’s a photo of Lela’s corpse(!). Last we saw her she was about to fly off with a suddenly-sick Twitty Andovin, who’d come down with some mysterious disease. Well, Bucher puts it all together – and realizes Twitty is the friggin’ King of Spades!! No fooling, Dockery spins out this half-baked yarn within a few pages, that Twitty’s sleazy producer was married to a woman who was really an undercover agent for the Red Chinese(!) and who was aware of a pipeline of missile launchers beneath the ocean. Twitty got this info and was using the warheads to strike various businesses, but went “crazy with power” or somesuch, and the bombed orphanage was a mistake. I’m not making any of this up. A heartbroken Bucher confronts Twitty and leaves her a gun to kill herself with. She does so. The end!
As bad as it was, I still enjoyed Blood Debt more than Deadly Doctor.
Here’s the last paragraph:
He stood there motionless for a long time, still as the dead girl in the room behind him, the flat crack of the little pistol thundering in his ears. Then he turned and walked slowly down the hall, a weary slump in his big shoulders, an acid sting from the gall-bitter taste of defeat strong in his mouth.