Monday, September 18, 2017

Razoni & Jackson #4: Down And Dirty

Razoni & Jackson #4: Down And Dirty, by W.B. Murphy
May, 1974  Pinnacle Books

The penultimate volume of Razoni & Jackson is another murder mystery more involved with sleuthing and bantering, but this time our temperamental protagonists actually see a bit of action themselves, getting in a very brief firefight before resuming the bantering. But truth be told, Down And Dirty seems a bit winded, the banter at times almost lame – as if desperate – and one gets the impression Warren Murphy was growing weary of the series. Which might be reason enough why the next volume was the last.

The cover art once again faithfully captures all the events that transpire in the text – it opens with a sequence of sadism in which two black men torture and then murder a hapless beat cop, one who works the Little Italy section and has gone out of his way to keep his nose clean from corruption. We get a bit of history on this section of Manhattan, how it was once run by Italians but is slowly being taken over by the blacks – there’s lots of commentary here on how black neighborhoods quickly fall into disrepair, which would no doubt trigger sensitive modern-day readers, yet it should be noted that there is also a defense of these very same people, arguing that these slums are all they have and that in time, no doubt, they’ll clean the place up.

But the Italians run a lucrative gambling business here, one that the blacks are cutting in on, and a gang war appears to be imminent. Murphy in his prescience even has “fake news,” what with the local news constantly talking about the possibility of one, so as to drum up circulation and viewership. The media indeed comes off poorly here; when we meet our heroes, Razoni and Jackson are scoping out a famous local newscaster for reasons that are not explained to them. They discover that the guy is a “closet queen,” with Razoni finding the dude in bed with another man at a big party – this elicits a string of outrageous slurring that would really trigger the sensitive types of today. As usual with Murphy, this also sets off a chain of riffing that continues through the novel, with the newscaster himself frequently appearing on TV and Razoni launching into a new anti-gay tirade.

Our heroes are tasked with finding out who killed the cop in Little Italy and to prevent any potential gang war. Murphy must’ve been feeling a little lazy when he plotted this one out, as it all amounts to Razoni looking up a bigtime crook he knew in childhood, and Jackson looking up a bigtime crook he knew in childhood, and each arguing with the other that their childhood acquaintance isn’t the guilty party. In Razoni’s case, the crook is Ruggerio, a Mafia bigwig who gave Razoni one of his first jobs when Razoni was just a little kid, and who only deals in graft and gambling and the like. In Jackson’s case, it’s Sugar Man Lawson, an obese black guy whom Jackson tutored many, many years ago, and who now has used his intelligence to corner a huge slice of the gambling market for himself.

War has been brewing between Ruggerio and Sugar Man’s gangs in Little Italy; this cop-killing just being the latest incident. Previous to this two of Ruggerio’s runners were gunned down; as the narrative ensues, one of Sugar Man’s employees is killed by a car bomb. Our heroes try to navigate through all this while tracking down the two men who killed the cop. The two killers are quickly – almost casually – revealed to be a loser pair of brothers who served time for breaking and entering and blame Sugar Man for it. Razoni and Jackson, who have asked both Ruggerio and Sugar Man for their help in finding the killers, basically bump into them during a festival in Little Itlay.

Here’s where the only action scene in the novel occurs. The brothers, Willy and Filly Smith(!), run back to their apartment and one of ‘em grabs up a submachine gun, blasting away at their pursuers. Jackson takes out the subgunner, and when the other brother barricades himself in the apartment, Razoni grabs up the dropped submachine gun and opens fire at the door. When they discover the second brother also dead, the two cops quickly deduce that the submachine gun did not kill him – but they hide this fact from their fellow cops for their own reasons. They’ve begun to suspect that someone was just using the two brothers for their own ends.

Murphy had a proficiency for mysteries, so Down And Dirty works very much on a whodunit vibe, one that I won’t ruin. Murphy doesn’t cheat, and the killer – the mastermind behind the entire near-gang war – is a person introduced early in the story, and his outing is believable, if a bit underwhelming – as is the fact that he isn’t himself blasted by Razoni or Jackson. Instead the hero cops make their collar, the villain having exposited on all his kills, and then they go on with their bickering and bantering.

As with The Destroyer, this bickering and bantering is the true star of the series. But Razoni and Jackson’s bantering lacks the fun of Remo and Chiun’s. Theirs mostly revolves around racial differences, or Jackson’s grumblings that Razoni drives too slow, and Razoni’s grumblings that Jackson drives too fast. It just sort of goes on and on and lacks much verve or spark, coming off as listless, which I say again is more an indication that Murphy perhaps was wearing himself thin with the similar material he was writing for Remo and Chiun, and didn’t bring his A game to Razoni & Jackson.

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