Monday, June 19, 2017

Crooked Cop

Crooked Cop, by Bob Parker
No month stated, 1973  Manor Books

Here we have another BCI crime paperback courtesy book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel and boy, is this one friggin’ fantastic – a lurid, sleazy, sex-filled yarn featuring one stone-cold bastard for a protagonist. And as with The Strangler, I’m fairly certain this one was the work of Paul Eiden; while Crooked Cop, unlike The Strangler, is filled with action and sex, it still has the same quality writing, strong characterization, and, most tellingly, that “widely separated breasts” line which Eiden uses in each of his novels.

The cover is a bit misleading, as it makes you think the titular cop is a uniformed policeman. Rather, “hero” Bill Fitzjohn is a plainclothes detective with the NYPD, at 30 the youngest detective on the force. Fitzjohn is almost a protagonist in search of his own men’s adventure series. More accurately, he’s basically a Nietzschean Superman – a towering mass of muscle and cunning guile, who looks down on his fellow mortals (particularly women), makes no excuses for his corrupt nature, and has arrogance to spare. He’s so obsessed with sex that he has especially developed his lower back and quad muscles to give him an extra “boost” in the sack, if you will; indeed, to the point that he is “a formidable sexual gladiator.”

The main plot has to do with Fitzjohn launching a one-man war against a Mafia family for having the gall to try to sell heroin on the streets of New York – heroin is the one thing Fitzjohn won’t abide. Really though the majority of the novel is given over to Fitzjohn’s taming of a veritable shrew: the “top madam” of New York, a smokin’ hot blonde German babe who is not only the top madam but the youngest one to boot; Fitzjohn has dreamed since adolescence of banging the number one whore in the world, and if this babe is the best in New York, then she’s the best there is period.

But whereas The Strangler was a studied, probing sort of police procedural, Crooked Cop is more along the lines of a drive-in exploitation movie. It moves quickly and doesn’t waste time with arbitrary “cop world” stuff. To be sure, Eiden again displays his knowledge of the NYPD (and New York itself), dropping police details almost casually, but while The Strangler was almost a true crime yarn with its bird’s eye view of real-world police detecting, Crooked Cop just uses this material to provide the backdrop for Bill Fitzjohn’s sex-and-violence filled life.

Anyway, Fitzjohn is in the NYPD’s anti-vice unit which is responsible for all the illicit gambling profits in the city; we’re informed this department is “traditionally corrupt” and that many cops spend their careers hoping for an assignment to it. Fitzjohn’s been with the department for a while, starting off as a medal-winning plaintclothes detective before getting this assignment, where he lives off “clean graft;” ie, Fitzjohn is happy to take any of the syndicate’s money, as long as it isn’t from drugs in general and heroin in particular. He has no actual grudge against heroin; he just hates it because he “needs something to hate.”

He has a posh penthouse in Manhattan with a Porsche and a Mustang in a private garage, as well as a hundred thousand or so in the bank, all of it under various cover names; his “real” home is a place in Queens which he hasn’t been to in years. He carries a .357 Magnum and, in addition to his physique (courtesy an “obsession” with weight-lifting he’s had since adolescence), he runs 11 miles a day. (Even after an all-night tussle with the latest one-night stand!) He also has no problem with snorting the occasional line of coke. His ego is only matched by his arrogance; Fitzjohn makes Denzell Washington’s character in Training Day look like Mr. Rogers.

The novel opens with Fitzjohn’s bad-assery in full effect, as he waltzes into the domain of one of the Patriarco brothers, ie the main Mafia family his department takes graft from. He kicks the shit out of a few thugs, breaking one’s knees and literally kicking another in the ass. He proceeds to beat up the Patriaco brother in residence. Fitzjohn just got wind of a heroin deal the capo brothers were planning behind his back – Fitzjohn only allows them to do their usual gambling and other ventures due to that clean graft they give him and his fellow department cops. Heroin is a big no-no, and Fitzjohn doesn’t give second chances. This sets off the war between Fitzjohn and the Patriarcos; he tells them he’s kicking them “out of the rackets,” but instead they go into hiding and plot his death.

Soon after this, though, Eiden gets to the real focus of the novel – Fitzjohn’s sexual adventures. After a night of bar-hopping he picks up a sexy brunette in “a turquoise shantung pant suit” (the novel is filled with such ‘70s touches, by the way) and takes her back to his penthouse for some Eiden-typical explicit sex. But we also here see Fitzjohn’s assholery: when the gal (whose name Fitzjohn doesn’t even learn until the next morning) implores him to take her, he inspects her, uh, “portal,” deems that she is not fully aroused, and berates her for not really being “ready” yet! He then goes on a tirade about how women fake being horny in order to please their men, with the ultimate effect that the women then have subpar sex and eventually turn to lesbianism. (This same argument was made by the titular character in The Strangler; more indication that this book is by the same author.)

But Fitzjohn is a regular Nick Carter – a demigod in action and in bed. He works the gal up good and proper and then has her really begging for it. And, naturally, he’s the first guy to ever make her orgasm, but next morning he treates her with disdain and practically kicks her out of his apartment. This brunette does not appear again; rather, the focus of Fitzjohn’s sexual powers is Hildegarde, a sexy blonde German babe Fitzjohn spots on the streets of Manhattan that very day – he sees her in the distance, recognizes her from someone having pointed her out to him the other year, runs over to her, and says “Hello, whore!” by way of introduction!

Hildegarde’s description is further evidence that Crooked Cop is the work of Paul Eiden: “The breasts under her striped jersey dress were so full and widely separated that their outer curves hid part of her upper arms.” As mentioned before, Eiden has used a variation of this phrase in all of his books, so I’m certain now that it was his veritable calling card. Fitzjohn knows of Hildegarde, that she’s the “top madam” in New York, and it’s been his dream since childhood to bang the world’s number one whore – as he tells Hildegarde later, he’d rather have her than a few virgins. Their banter is humorous and outrageous – when Fitzjohn tells Hildegarde, who is from Germany, that she doesn’t have much of an accent, she retorts that she speaks seven languages. “But can you fuck?” Asks Fitzjohn. “Just try me,” she replies.

And boy does he ever! There are a handful of graphic sex scenes between Fitzjohn and Hildegarde, and in each we get a glimpse of what a bastard Fitzjohn is. First, when Hildegarde refuses to kiss him during their initial boff, Fitzjohn kicks her right between her nude buttocks, flipping her over on the bed (something John Eagle also did, by the way, in the Eiden-written John Eagle Expeditor #13: Operation Weatherkill), then ties her down, gets out a heavy belt, and whips her mercilessly! Of course, this only serves to make her super-aroused. Gradually – and I do mean gradually, as Eiden wants us to know what kind of a bastard we’re dealing with for a protagonist – we learn that Fitzjohn’s doing all this as an “experiment,” to see if he can make a woman out of Hildegarde…as he tells his partner, D’Amato, the only way to get to a whore’s heart is to treat her like shit, as all whores suffer from self-hatred, even if it’s subconcious, and the only way to get their respect is to play to that. Or as Eiden later puts it, Fitzjohn treats Hildegarde in a “hard-nosed pimp manner.”

He only gets more degrading from there: “Roll your Dutch [sic] ass out of bed and make me something to eat,” he orders her next morning. All this occurs in Hildegarde’s multi-suite apartment, which, Xaviera Hollander style, is actually a cathouse. Here Hildegarde runs her company, and a lordly Fitzjohn moves in, bossing her around, demanding that she pay him a hundred bucks a day for his services! He also promises to beat the shit out of her if she turns any tricks; she’s his “john,” and he won’t share her with any other men. As I say, Bill Fitzjohn is such a stone-cold bastard that you can’t help but laugh throughout Crooked Cop. “You stink of whore sweat,” he later tells her – then lovingly gives her a bath. I do say, a very strange romance ensues, with Fitzjohn almost growing to love Hildegarde, whom he routinely refers to as “bitch.”

Fitzjohn’s day job has him looking into various vice-related crimes. One of them leads to the novel’s second action scene; following leads on a heisted whiskey truck, Fitzjohn and D’Amato get in a shootout, Fitzjohn blowing the heister away with his .357. But as ever, Eiden’s heroes dole out clean, non-messy kills – pretty damn hard when you’re hitting people with a Magnum slug, I’d wager. But the Patriarco business increasingly takes center stage, especially when two men who not only resemble Fitzjohn and D’Amato but also happen to be seated at the same table the two men just dined at are gunned down in an obvious mob shooting. Despite past history of “racket guys” not killing cops, it would appear the Patriarco brothers are looking to take out our hero.

It gets more real when Fitzjohn’s almost hit by a drive-by shooting out at his seldom-visited place in Queens; he fires back and, invigorated by the action, gives chase on foot. He ends up blowing away all three would-be killers in another shootout. He notches another kill when he takes out a crook involved with a jewelry heist – that is, after Fitzjohn’s partaken of the dude’s cocaine stash, which gives him a “cold, clear mind.” Meanwhile the Patriarcos have “gone to the mattresses” (Eiden proving he’s read The Godfather); Fitzjohn gets leads on various family soldiers, including a memorable visit to an old flame who is now married to a minor Patriarco enforcer – Fitzjohn tells her he’ll be back sometime to enjoy more of her “champion head!”

While Fitzjohn, who started the whole war, treats everything as if it were a fun time, his partner D’Amato becomes more unglued. Married, overweight, saving up all his graft for his family, D’Amato wants to take out the Patriarcos before it’s too late. Thus he is the one who pushes Fitzjohn to abduct the first Patriarco soldier they find; they take him to an abandoned warehouse, where D’Amato urges a reluctant Fitzjohn to electrocute the bastard for intelligence. (Surprisingly, they let the guy live – Fitzjohn even congratulating him on how tough he is!) Unfortunately the climax is a bit rushed; Fitzjohn finally tracks down the Patriarcos and their consigliere in a house in Hackensack and, armed with a Remington shotgun he’s illegally modified to automatic, he blows them all away – I was hoping for more of an action-packed finale.

Rather, the brunt of the finale is given over to the Fitzjohn-Hildegarde relationship. Earlier Fitzjohn has told her that he doesn’t “handle prossy cases,” ie prostitutes; further, he tells her it’s only a matter of time before her cathouse is busted. This happens – while Fitzjohn’s lounging in the foyer. A few of his department colleagues come in with various gals, pretending to be johns, and Fitzjohn knows it’s a bust. While Hildegarde pleads with him to do something, Fitzjohn merely repeats his “no prossy cases” line and takes his leave.

If anything Eiden is a master of avoiding sap. He builds up a thread with Fitzjohn thinking more and more about Hildegarde, how she’s gotten to him more than any other woman; even after the climactic shootout with the Patriarcos, a wounded Fitzjohn sits bleeding in his car thinking about Hildegarde. But when he goes to see her at the courthouse later that morning, he basically just tells her she got what was coming to her, and turns a deaf ear to the fact that, without her green card, she’s surely going to be deported back to Germany. “Goodbye, darling,” says Fitzjohn, and that’s that – both for the relationship and for the novel. As I say, it’s pretty great how Eiden just takes all the maudlin glurge you were expecting and basically kicks it in the crotch.

All told, I loved Crooked Cop; it was one of the best standalone crime thrillers I’ve read, and it would’ve made for a great drive-in flick (only one actor could’ve played Fitzjohn, for my money: William Smith!). Eiden does drop the ball here and there, though, likely indication that this was a quickly turned-out contractual work: for one, D’Amato just disappears from the narrative, and Eiden doesn’t bother to follow up on an eleventh hour subplot that the Feds are cracking down on Fitzjohn’s department – his boss, Orlowski, has promised Fitzjohn that he’s “putting in his papers” the next morning to avoid any legal indictments, but we get no resolution on this.

But this is just a minor complaint. Otherwise I had a blast reading this one and I highly recommend it. Here’s hoping Eiden wrote some more of these crime paperbacks for Lyle Kenyon Engel – at the very least, it has me looking forward to reading the two volumes of Mafia: Operation he turned in for Engel as “Don Romano.”


allan said...

That was a very entertaining review!

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks, Allan!