Monday, October 2, 2017

Cage #2: The Conspirators

Cage #2: The Conspirators, by Alan Riefe
No month stated, 1975  Popular Library

The “twin supersleuths” return in the second volume of Cage, which again sees Huntington “Hunt” Cage acting as the main protagonist, with his brother Hadley (aka “Lee”) serving a small supporting role. Alan Reife denies us the pulpy fun of the first volume and turns in a second installment that’s more of your typical murder mystery, with a bit of prison fiction tossed in for good measure.

We meet up again with Hunt Cage as he’s in high spirits, having just broken a big case involving the mob. He expects some commendations from Lt. Gamarr of the NYPD, but instead the man’s in a rage – there’s an article about Hunt breaking the case in the morning’s paper, and in the interview Hunt has some bad things to say about the precinct. However this is “fake news,” as Hunt never said any such thing to the reporter. But Gamarr engages Hunt in such a megawatt argument that it ends with Hunt’s P.I. license being suspended.

Some cops come around to take Hunt’s .38 later, which really ratchets up his anger – only to learn that the lieutenant has been killed, the murder weapon a .38, just like Hunt Cage’s. And sure enough, the cops display how Hunt’s gun has recently been fired, even though he swears up and down it’s been over a week since he’s fired it. In other words, someone broke into his apartment, stole his .38, killed Lt. Gamarr, and put the gun back in Hunt’s drawer, all within the past few hours. Hunt even shows the clear signs of a break-in on the windowsill, but the cops will have none of it.

Hunt’s booked and put in prison and stews over how he’s been set up. There’s a lot of dialog throughout as various one-off characters come to meet him. Riefe pulls a nice fast one on us when one of the visitors turns out to be Lee Cage in disguise, and the two brothers swap clothing and disguises when they’re alone. Lee, going above and beyond any sibling responsibilities, will pose as Hunt in prison, so Hunt will be free to exonerate himself – he spent the few hours in which Lt. Gamarr was murdered with a British gal named Jenny, and he’s desperate to find her so she can serve as his witness and clear his name.

Jenny is a singer, an old acquaintance of Hunt’s, and the two spent those hours drinking and singing – there’s no sex in the book, despite Riefe constantly reminding us how “the twin supersleuths” are a pair of ladykillers. But clearly Jenny was threatened and has left town. Hunt chases after her to London, leading into lots of page-filling stuff as he chases various leads; Jenny has gone to ground. Eventually Hunt finds her, hiding out with her fiance. We get more page-filling antics as, after she’s written a letter exonerating Hunt, Jenny sings for the delight of the two men, Riefe doling out the lyrics of her song.

Meanwhile Lee deals with the harsh life of prison, in particular a sado-cop named Mizanski, who delights in torturing prisoners. Indeed Riefe seems to be at pains to have her twin protagonists endure hell this time around. For his part Hunt is bashed in the kidneys and gets his hand stomped on, the fingers empurpling and swelling. But there’s a lot of mundane stuff, like padding sequences of the brothers sitting around and wondering what’s happening to the other. “Padding” in fact is the operative word when it comes to The Conspirators; my guess is Riefe hammered the book out quickly.

The only real bit of action comes late in the game, while Hunt’s in London. He’s jumped by two thugs and ends up killing them both, using the .44 supplied by his brother – as we’ll recall, Lee is Hunt’s arms supplier, despite the fact that Lee is an artist (and this time is working on the cover for an action series novel). Hunt hassles back to New York just in time to find out there was a riot in the prison, all of it happening off-page. First Hunt tracks down the man who actually killed Lt. Gamarr – turns out Hunt’s been right all along, and the entire frame was a plot courtesy the mobsters he brought to justice in a previous case – and then he sneaks back into the prison to switch places with Lee. 

There’s no big action finale; the spine is labelled “Mystery,” which really is all the Cage series is, despite being packaged like a men’s adventure series. Rather, Hunt uses Jenny’s letter and the confession of a sort of mob broker to both clear his name and to bring the plotting mobster to justice, but all of that happens off page. Riefe spends more time showing how there’s no hard feelings between Hunt and the cop who arrested him in his apartment.

Not overly exciting, and with zero exploitative content, The Conspirators is a passable time-killer, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous volume.

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