Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Headhunters #4: Quadraphonic Homicide

The Headhunters #4: Quadraphonic Homicide, by John Weisman and Brian Boyer
October, 1975  Pinnacle Books

The last volume of The Headhunters is the best, as far as I’m concerned, injecting the series with more action than the previous three books combined. One wonders if this has anything to do with the promised “major motion picture” of the cover (which unfortunately never came to pass). Whereas volumes 1-3 were more along the lines of Razoni & Jackson, with only occasional patches of action, Quadraphonic Homicide (greatest title ever??) comes off like a rollercoaster.

But anyone hoping that this volume would see the titular protagonists in the starring role for once will be disappointed; once again The Headhunters belongs to the villains. And authors Weisman and Boyer have even introduced more villains to the fold to further steal the show from the supposed main characters. For that matter, this volume also drops the “headhunters” angle itself; while heroes Captain Eddie Martin and Lt. TS Putnam are Detroit internal affairs officers (aka the cops other cops hate), the authors break free of this restraint and have the pair basically going rogue so they can take on recurring series villain Henry Pacquette in Los Angeles.

Not sure how long this is after the previous volume (which was published a year before), but we open on the action – Pacquette is in the process of moving to Los Angeles, setting up shop in his usual grisly way. The authors prove at the outset that Quadraphonic Homicide will move more quickly than previous installments, as we witness the gory murder of a man (who happens to be a cop) in a Detroit recording studio. His killer is the latest Pacquette henchman, a mountain of muscle from Haiti named Boutique who speaks in monosyllables and can tear people apart with his bare hands – he kills the cop and rips out his eyes, which he pops in his mouth! His employers stop him when he voices his wish to move on to the dead cop’s liver. 

Boutique is the aforementioned new villain who gets more pagetime than the two heroes combined. But while Boutique is certainly crazy – inhumanly strong, cannabalistic, “ceremonially scarred,” with an almost Terminator-esque imperviousness to harm – he quickly grated on my nerves, mostly due to how fantastical he was. One wonders why Pacquette waited three volumes to bring him out. Speaking of which there’s some proto-Tarantino style dialog in the opening, as even Pacquette’s usual goons, themselves sadistic killers, complain about how violent Boutique is. But the authors are enamored with the character, even though they often refer to him as an “ape” or “King Kong” via metaphors and analogies that would likely be unacceptable in today’s crime fiction.

Pacquette, the goliath-sized “heroin czar,” has decided to set up shop in LA. To this end he has tasked yet another new henchman, Mr. Dust, a black killer who wears a lime green pimpsuit and platform shoes (and drives a lime green Cadillac – and wields a lime green switchblade!), to murder the Los Angeles music biz people who refuse to start buying their cocaine from Pacquette. Between chapters Pacquette and his entourage move to a mansion on the beaches of sunny California, but Pacquette himself is soon bedridden and only appears sporadically in the book; the authors have it that he’s suffering from kidney failure, but he’s apparently all better by book’s end. That being said, he’s still capable of the ESP abilities honed in the previous volume, which I thought was a cool ‘70s touch. 

This isn’t to mention recurring Pacquette underlings Dovell and Sonny Hope (Pacquette’s adopted son), who have their own subplots; heroes Martin and Wallace are lucky to even get in a few scenes of their own. But TS (aka “Tough Shit”) Putnam is doing fine when we meet him; in bed with his black supermodel girlfriend, who, without informing Putnam, has invited along her cousin to Putnam’s bed. Putnam thinks this is taking things a bit too far and calls them freaks and jumps out of bed(!). Meanwhile his boss, Captain Eddie Martin – who we’ll recall is so wealthy he has a Gucci-designed gun holster (more on the name brand-onslaught below) – is coincidentally enough planning a brief vacation in Los Angeles.

Martin and Putnam are given slightly more gung-ho makeovers this final volume; Martin for his part starts to act like a genuine men’s adventure protagonist, trying to find out what Pacquette’s up to in LA while dodging the bullets and other weapons of the various assassins “The Dove” sends after him. This element brings up an interesting subplot in which Dovell runs afoul of Sonny Hope for this very reason – Hope is the de facto boss while Pacquette is bedridden, and he’s pissed that the Dove has been trying to kill Martin, given Pacquette’s orders to never kill cops. The authors seem to set up Hope as the future “heroin czar” of Detroit, but as mentioned Pacquette’s apparently recuperated by novel’s end, but the series never went past this volume so the point is moot.

The authors were never shy about in-jokery and the novel’s filled with references to real-life reporters, singers, football players, and movie producers, most notably for the latter via Arthur Marks, producer of Detroit 9000 and, according to the interview Justin Marriot did with Michael Weisman in Men Of Violence #2, was the person who aimed to bring The Headhunters to the big screen. In the novel Marks is downright chummy with the LA cops, on first-name basis with Martin’s LAPD headhunter counterpart, and even ends up loaning his yacht to Martin and Putnam as a safe zone, hidden from the barrage of black assassins who keep coming after them.  Humorously, the Los Angeles cops are presented as a lot more easy-going than their Detroit counterparts, and seem content to let acts of crime play out without any interference from the law!

Weisman and Boyer also continue to excel in dark humor, with Quadraphonic Homicide getting the most outrageous yet. In particular there’s a running gag about Mr. Dust killing sundry music biz people off-page; a laugh out loud bit has one chapter being an article by a rock reporter, promising to look into these strange murders assailing the music world, murders in which a lime green Cadillac is always spotted at the murder scene, along with a black man in a lime green pimp suit. He promises to get to the bottom of the story. The next chapter opens with a brief news snippet about this same reporter’s murder – noting that a black man in a lime green suit was spotted at the murder scene! 

From their homebase of Marks’s yacht, Martin and Putnam (who has come to LA at Martin’s request, and we even get a cross-volume recurring joke where Martin tells Putnam not to pack his clothes in a plastic bag, like he did last time) take the fight to Pacquette. This includes a very unexpected bit where Martin even dons scuba gear and checks out the mysterious yacht that might be Pacquette’s – I mean, Martin’s doing this, and previously the dude was the type to run from a fight and call for backup. It’s a very Bond-esque scene, with Dovell and Sonny Hope dropping depth charges on the mysterious scuba diver beneath their boat, along with having Boutique hop in and swim around with a machete, but Martin avoids all harm.

Boutique gets in the water again in a later sequence which has him going up against a great white shark like a regular Shark Fighter, hacking it in half with his machete. Here we even get a Jaws in-joke, even the inference that the shark is Jaws itself; per the interview with Justin, Weisman was friends with author Peter Benchley. Dovell and Sonny watch the bloody carnage in the water as fellow sharks are drawn by this dying one’s blood, and even these Detroit killers are sickened by the violence – a very effective scene, and wonderfully written.

There’s a definite vibe of decadence here, given the ‘70s Los Angeles setting; Putnam, who poses as a Detroit writer for Kreem magazine, hooks up with a busty ultra-babe named Naomi, who works as a PR rep in the music industry. They go to a music biz party at the palatial estate of Upchurch, a record producer who happens to be involved in the big cocaine deal which has brought Pacquette to LA. Speaking of Pacquette, we also learn this volume that one of his many illicit enterprises is Piston Platters, a Detroit record label with crappy artists (one of which is a group of white rockers who dress up like transvestites to cash in on the glam scene), headed up by the awesomely-named Righteous Jones.

The authors bring to life the trash fiction ethic in this party scene at Upchurch’s house, which reminded me of similar sequences in Norman Spinrad’s Passing Through The Flame. The authors also bring back something that was missing from the previous volume – hardcore sex. This time we get ultra detailing of Putnam and Naomi making oral explorations of one another. In fact she’s set up to be a steady flame for Putnam, who eventually reveals to her that his name is not “Jackson Jackson,” which is how he’s been presenting himself to industry people; he even tells her he’s a cop, and she gets involved in the occasional car chase and shootout right alongside him. Again, it all does have the vibe of a “major motion picture,” and while Quadraphonic Homicide is lacking the sort of creepy, sleazy feel of the first two books in particular, it actually comes off as a more entertaining read.

There is some of that creepy sleaze at times, though, in particular a Gannon-esque bit of ultraviolence in the climax, in which a character is gorily run over by a car, one driven by Righteous Jones as he tries to escape a shootout started by Putnam, who has come across a Pacquette-planned coke deal on the beach. The authors take a sick relish in describing the horrific death wounds this character suffers while being run over – I won’t give any spoilers, but it’s someone who has befriended our heroes, and who usually suffers the most in these ‘70s crime thrillers?? But even here the authors don’t give us the sort of firefight expected from the genre; it’s a more (likely realistic) affair of characters shooting and running and not even knowing if they’ve hit anyone.

And once again it’s the villains who end up doing the heroes’s job for them. Upchurch and colleague intend to burn Pacquette in the drug deal (just as Pacquette intends to burn them), and end up trapping Boutique in a dug-out cistern and “killing” him. In a scene that could come out of an EC horror comic, Boutique digs his way free and brutally murders the two men in Upchurch’s home. But I have to say I was glad to see Boutique himself at least gets dispatched, even though there were no more volumes and thus it didn’t matter anyway. His sendoff is pretty unique; he swallows a few bags of cocaine to hide them and one of them ruptures in a fight with Putnam. Boutique goes wild before collapsing, his entire middle half “freezing,” and we’re informed later that he died of what is the largest known cocaine ingestion in history.

And that’s it for Quadraphonic Homicide, and the series itself. Pacquette, who has taken his yacht to St. Maarten, announces that he’s all better now, ready to resume control of his organization, and makes immediate plans to return to Detroit. Weisman and Boyer give no indication that this was intended to be the final volume, and really it’s all just business as usual – none of the main villains have yet died and each volume has seen basically the same thing happen again and again: Pacquette plans some nefarious deed, the Headhunters try (and usually fail) to stop him, and Pacquette manages to come out on top.  My guess is the series was cancelled due to the deadliest men’s adventure antagonist of all: low sales.  Either that or the authors just got fed up with having to fly to meet each other to collaborate, which per Weisman in his interview with Justin is what they had to do at this point, given that they lived in separate states.

The writing as ever is good, with nice scene-setting and characterization, not to mention sometimes-hilarious dialog, but the POV-hopping gets to be distracting…but not as distracting as the egregious name brand-dropping throughout the book. Friends, I kid you not, there are at least three brand names mentioned per page. It gets to be annoying fast. Brand names for clothes, cigarettes, sunglasses, binoculars, even gun holsters, just on and on. Even the pens the characters use! I was going to list some examples but time is precious these days and I felt it was better spent elsewhere. Just let it be said that even a reader who goes into this book thinking to himself, “A few name brands here and there won’t bug me,” will still be bugged by the name brand onslaught in Quadraphonic Homicide.

I wouldn’t rank this as one of the greatest action series ever, but The Headhunters is my favorite of Pinnacle’s “tough cops” books, and it would’ve been nice to see what a fifth installment might have been like.


David Hanson said...

Do authors make any money from product placement? At least Gucci's a bit different for men's fiction.
Jerry Ahern seemed to do this A LOT. 20+ years later I can still remember The Survivalist constantly reloading his Detonics Scoremasters (or Combat Masters-he carried two of each!) with magazines from his Milt Sparks Six-Pack. Or if he ran out of ammo-all seventy rounds-he'd pull out his Jack Crane Life Support System. Or maybe it was his Gerber Mark II Combat Knife, though that might have been another character.

Actually it was more like 30+ years ago. Damn I'm gettin' old.

Sean McLachlan said...

Great review as usual. I'd never heard of this series.
As you might know, the prolific author Chet Cunningham recently died. There are various articles about him online, saying he wrote anywhere from 300 to 450 books. I bet he wasn't even completely sure. Here's an article form the LA Times

You've reviewed several of his books on this blog, and if you take requests, I'd love to read a retrospective on Chet if you want to write one.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys, sorry for the delay in response.

David, you aren't joking about product placement opportunities. I've listened to the Graphic Audio adaptations of the first 17 volumes of The Survivalist, and man the constant name-dropping is annoying! Yeah, it's either his Detonics or his special shoulder holster or his knife. Even 500 years after the apocalypse they're still getting name-dropped.

Sean, I had no idea Chet Cunningham had died, thanks for letting me know. That's too bad. I tried to contact him a few years ago but he never responded...I gave him a link to my reviews of his books here, and maybe he didn't appreciate that I was kind of hard on his early Penetrator novels. The helluva it is, if I were to re-read those I'd probably like them a lot more. I'd love to do a retrospective on him, particularly with comments from those who worked with him -- I'll see what I can do.