Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Butcher #5: Deadly Deal

The Butcher #5: Deadly Deal, by Stuart Jason
January, 1973  Pinnacle Books

At this point, I think I can safely say that each volume of James Dockery’s The Butcher is practically the same book. I’ve detailed the formula elsewhere, so I won’t belabor the point for this fifth volume – I’ll just leave it that, if you’ve read the first four books, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for with this fifth one.

I’m too lazy to look it up but I’m almost certain the first chapter of Deadly Deal is a direct lift of the first chapter from the previous volume or another earlier volume – I mean down to the same sentences, with only the names of the one-off Syndicate hitmen being changed. Let it just be said I experienced some serious déjà vu as I read the first chapter of this book. But then, Dockery’s Butcher is built off of a strong template that seldom veers off course.

One new thing this installment is we get lots of references to previous volumes, something not done much before. In particular there are many references to #1: Kill Quick Or Die, the events of which are stated as occurring “about two years ago.” Bucher early in the book goes to Atlanta, where that first volume played out, and meets again with Captain Stokes of the Atlanta Police Department. Throughout Bucher also briefly remembers his past adventures, but despite the sudden focus on continuity, there is still a jarring note – early on we are informed that Bucher has never killed a woman, not even in self defense. However he did this very thing in the climax of #3: Keepers Of Death, even remarking at the time that it was the first time he’d done so. Either Dockery forgot this, or Bucher has suppressed the memory, or perhaps this volume was written earlier, who knows.

But we open with the standard template in effect; Bucher’s in a new city, scoping out leads – the latest White Hat assignment has him seeking out Noma Kiva, a smokin’ hot 29 year-old Pueblo Indian babe who is turning evidence on the Syndicate, claiming they are onto something “more important than money.” Bucher sees Noma’s photo and thinks she is one of the “few truly beautiful” women he’s ever seen. Noma claims she witnessed Number Two Synidcate man Leo Lucho murdering someone in cold blood. Why someone as high-ranking as Lucho would get blood on his own hands is something Bucher puzzles over. Of course it goes without saying that Bucher is familiar with Lucho from his own Syndicate days and has a score to settle with him, etc.

Bucher does the usual – runs around the country on various wild goose chases, killing a few Syndicate flunkies along the way. Bucher kills less than his usual quoata this time, only a handful. They’re the usual superdeformed lot, though. While Lucho himself is fairly normal (other than that he’s soaring on amphetimines when we finally meet him in the last pages), the various torpedoes Bucher encounters are up to the usual series standards, like one of them who gets off on bombing airliners and whose face is like “a large wad of flesh-colored dough.”

Another staple is the “lizardlike tongue” some of these buttonmen have, and Dockery here has not one but two characters with the same feature; indeed, Dockery regurgitates the same material we already read at the beginning of Deadly Deal; midway through the book Bucher goes to Denver, where he experiences the exact same setup as the opening: two Syndicate goons come after him, one of ‘em with that lizardlike tongue, and Bucher blasts both – even calling White Hat to spring him from jail again.

Dockery gives us a bit more info on Bucher this time, but doesn’t elaborate much. In Miami he briefly meets up with a Syndicate cathouse madam named Maria whom Bucher was in love with, ten years before, before he had to “sell” her to a rival mob boss, one who was threatening Maria’s family if Bucher didn’t “give” her to him. Dockery doesn’t do much with this, other than Bucher relating the long story of why he had to sell her; I think this is the most Bucher has talked in the entire series. More interestingly, also in Miami Bucher meets – again too briefly – with Mario Lollo, an old Syndicate bigwig “who raised Bucher from the time he was seven years old.” So practically this guy is Bucher’s dad, but other than a few words about Lucho’s insane schemes, Dockery doesn’t do much with it.

Our author also doesn’t do much with the burning drive Bucher has throughout Deadly Deal. While in Atlanta, he makes passing acquaintance with a “hippie newspapergirl” named Mazie who tries to sell Bucher papers and info, and ends up getting her throat slit by Syndicate goon Studs Joveno. Bucher is hopping mad for Studs’s blood, willing to ignore his own vow to stop all the killing – another recurring staple, that Bucher will only kill those who have “forfeited their place in the human race.” But man, what wasted opportunity. Studs doesn’t even appear in the novel, off-page the entire time – and when he does get his comeuppance, it’s rendered off-page as well! It’s grisly, at least, Bucher using Mario Lollo to get another Syndicate goon to cash in on a deal with Studs – namely, to castrate the sonofabitch.

From Miami Bucher goes to Denver, wasting more time – the guy he’s looking for here is already dead, but as mentioned he runs into two more would-be assassins. Meanwhile White Hat has located Noma Kiva, who is hiding in Taos, New Mexico. Bucher flies himself there and finds her hiding in an adobe hut in the desert; it’s lust at first sight, and Bucher for once doesn’t immediately turn down an offer for sex, though per series standard Dockery keeps it off-page. Now that I think of it, practically everything in Deadly Deal is kept off-page.

One positive thing I have to say about Dockery is he has what I consider the true gift of a pulp writer – he can turn out a couple hundred pages in which pretty much nothing happens, yet it all still moves at a fast clip. Even though Bucher spends the majority of the narrative hopping from one city to the next and “puzzling” over this latest caper, it never really comes off like the wheel-spinning it actually is. One does wish though that Dockery could’ve tightened up his plotting skills and delivered the occasional yarn with a bit more variety or even dramatic impact.

Instead he sort of drifts through the climax. Lucho is in a mine in New Mexico – his USSR-funded plot is to buy out all the platinum in the US, and a group of Russian hardliners called the Doshinkos wil attempt to have the money standard changed from gold to platinum, as Russia has much greater stores of it than gold. Bucher shoos Noma off and flies a helicopter there, teaming up with a redneck sherrif. Then Noma flies into the skirmish with two State Dept reps who have bullied her here, mostly so she can fulfill that other series-template requirement – the woman Bucher loves who is killed. This time Bucher actually cries over her corpse.

Even more sad, his vengeance on Lucho is underwhelming. Another recurring motif is that, at the last moment, Bucher will decide he isn’t going to kill the main villain, after all – Bucher almost always decides he’ll just take him alive and let the courts dispense justice. And without fail, the villian will do something that either forces Bucher to kill him in self-defense, or somehow the villain will cause his own death. As happens here, with a speed-freaking Lucho plunging to his screaming death. 

Something occurred to me about all the repetition in the series; another staple is for Bucher, late in each book, to mourn the violence in his life, the endless tide of death and suffering, and wonder when it will end. Only with Deadly Deal did it hit me that this is likely more dark or at least in-jokey humor from Dockery – the bloody violence in Bucher’s life will never end because he is living the same events over and over again, like some men’s adventure version of Groundhog Day. The names of the players might change each volume, as do the locations, but the essentials are the same, and it’s almost as if Bucher, for his past Syndicate sins, has been cast into a sort of blood-soaked purgatory, damned to relive the same events into eternity – or at least until Michael Avallone takes over the series in 1979. 

Here’s the last paragraph:

Bucher walked to the edge of the drop-shaft and for a long time stood looking down into the hole that so recently had become a grave. And as he stood there, the heavy weariness he had experienced a few minutes ago enveloped him like an invisible shroud. At last he turned, slowly, the bitter-sour taste of defeat in his mouth, and began picking his way through the slag piles toward the direction of the helicopter.


Zwolf said...

They definitely cut-and-pasted scenes from previous books into new books. I can't remember which volumes they were (this may be one of 'em), but they have identical first chapters, with only the names changed. So, it's not all just deja-vu... it's self-cannibalism! Despite all of that, I still love the Butcher books... I just don't read two in a row. Approached right, they're like macaroni and cheese -- probably not great for you, but simple, filling, never really bad and always reliable.

Johny Malone said...

I must say I like those endings. They sound familiar to me, as if the author had taken them out of some pessimistic movie. What will it be?