Don’t Bet On Living, Alice!, by Kirby Carr
No month stated, 1975 Major Books
The penultimate volume of Hitman* sees the sleaze quotient continuing to ramp up; there’s no full-bore hardcore material as in say The Illusionist, but boy is it filled with some grimy smut, Kin “Kirby Carr” Platt mostly relaying the sleaze via dialog or digressive background material. To the extent that Mike “Hitman” Ross is almost lost in the shuffle – but then, the dude is such a friggin’ superman that he barely registers on the reader’s conscious anyway. And yet for all that I appreciate this series because it clearly strives to be a Spider for the ‘70s, even operating on that same sort of pseudo-reality as Norvell Page’s earlier pulp work.
To wit, Ross is called onto his latest case by none other than Lt. Martin of the LAPD, who wants Ross to look into something concerning a judge named Gavin. But when Ross gets to Gavin’s house, he finds the judge’s throat slit. Then Ross is shot at by a passing car, guns it down with his trusty Mauser and P-38, and calls up Martin to tell him what’s gone down. It’s like that throughout Don’t Bet On Living, Alice!, with Ross existing in this alternate reality in which his guise as “Hitman” is an open secret with the cops, who look over the carnage he constantly leaves in his wake.
The case with dead Judge Gavin and the would-be hitpeople, one of whom turns out to be the busty secretary of a record industry bigwig, soon puts Ross on the trail of the mysterious “Mom” who is behind it all. There have been a rash of mysterious deaths and suicidides, all of which turn out to be Mom affairs – like for example when Alice Cooper-esque transvestite rock singer Mabel Babble has an “acid freakout” and jumps out of “her” car on the LA Express, being run over and killed. Ross reads about this stuff in the paper and suspects something’s up, and this deal with Judge Gavin having his throat slit seems to be connected.
Mom turns out to be a lady named Mabel Oretha Mack – ie “M.O.M.” – a “svelte” 40-year-old blonde with “no tits to speak of.” Given the lack of attention men gave her, due to her boyish build, Mabel grew to hate all men. She began plotting against men in general, and put her plan in action several years ago; working as a secretary in various fields, she gathered enough dirt on various high-level men to bring them down via blackmail. She even built up a network of spies, all of them women – other secretaries, hookers, etc. Now she has endless reams of data on various infidelities carried out by men, to such an extent that she can get her blackmail victims to do her bidding, no matter how criminous the action she demands of them might be.
And of course, the dirt Mom has on her various victims is all sleazy in nature. As mentioned Platt gets pretty scuzzy in this one, with the majority of it relayed via backstory of this or that sexual excursion. This goes from the blowjobs given by that above-referenced secretary (complete with grossout descriptions of “hot loads,” folks) to even more pervy, unsettling areas, like the “child buggery” enjoyed by a dirty cop. But it’s mostly done via dialog; I can’t recall that there’s an actual sex scene in the novel. Even when Mike Ross has sex with Alice Britton, a senator’s wife turned whore due to her gambling addiction, it sort of happens off page.
As for action, there’s actually a bit more than I expected there would be – I didn’t think a plot about a blackmail-scheming woman would serve up too much in the way of gun-blazing action. But Mom has various stooges at her disposal, from victims-turned-assassins to Mafia torpedoes she hires for her personal security. Platt serves up several action scenes, and while they’re all nicely gory – lots of exploding heads and guts – they’re a bit neutered because Ross is so superhuman. Indeed his enemies even think he’s “not human,” which I guess gives the series even more of a Spider vibe. But seriously, the closest Ross comes to harm is when one guy shoots at him and Ross feels the bullet pass over his head(!). Most of the time his opponents don’t even get to shoot at him, Ross is so fast on the draw.
Some action highlights would be when Ross is attacked by hitmen while having sex with Alice – he kills them without any fuss and goes back to Alice: “Now, where were we?” Another bizarrely-underexploited part has Mabel putting together, with much setup, an army squad of rejects, gathered together by a war department dude Mabel has dirt on, and sending them after Ross, to ambush him in the hills outside LA. Instead, Ross finds out about the plot and guns them down while they’re still sitting in their cars, negating the chance for a big firefight that seemed to be promised. It does have a nice capoff, though, where Ross mutters under his breath to Mabel, “Better luck next time, bitch!”
We also get lots of backstory about various one-off victims of Mabel’s blackmailing, with Alice Britton getting the most space. A senator’s wife, Alice is forced into whoredom when her gambling debts get too unwieldy. We’re given lots of info about how she started to screw various men for her bookie’s benefit – and enjoying it. So again there’s a heaping helping of sleaze throughout Don’t Bet On Living, Alice!, including Alice’s training in whoredom from said bookie. But eventually Mabel gets hold of Alice and siccs her on Ross, though Alice instead blabs to Ross that it’s all a setup and she has no idea who this “Mom” is, etc.
Alice serves to take the narrative into the homestretch, and to give Ross a clear lead on Mabel and where she can be found. They use Alice’s husband, Senator Britton, as bait, Mabel calling him to make him her latest blackmail victim, using of course her knowledge of Alice’s wrongdoings. As a clincher she even plays the senator an audio recording of Alice blowing some guy. But when Ross confronts the senator, pleading with him to make an arrangement for payment dropoff and etc, Alice too comes clean about her dirty extracurricular activities. As if proving the goofy (but gory) vibe of the Hitman series, Senator Britton is totally forgiving of his wife’s adultery – “Just give my cock the same treatment you gave his!” being his only caveat, referring to the lucky blowjob-recipient on that tape Mom played for him.
Ross still wears his Hitman guise: the “black paratrooper suit and slitted mask” that he’s worn throughout the series, as depicted on the cover of the first volume. He carries around an arsenal in his “war wagon,” which is a modified “Chevyvan.” He does his kiling in the finale with an M-16, and Platt delivers copious gun-porn throughout, with technical detail on firing rate and velocity and whatnot. But the finale again sees Ross being a regular superman, gunning down an entire houseful of Mafia torpedoes without so much as breaking a sweat. As for Mabel, she is rendered her comeuppance, but unsatisfyingly not by Ross’s hands – and our hero is all fired up to kill her. In the end, though, there’s “Nothing left to kill but the bottle.”
Platt delivers pretty much just what you’d want from sleazy ‘70s men’s adventure pulp; the prose is rough but economical, coming to life with the gore and the grime. But there’s something that keeps Hitman from true men’s adventure greatness…not just that Ross is too superheroic, too unfazed and untouchable; there’s just this rushed, messy feeling to the books.
*As mentioned in my review of the first volume, the series was really only seven volumes; The Impossible Spy, a 1975 Major Books paperback credited to Kirby Carr, is sometimes listed as the eigth volume. However the book is really a standalone spy novel, with no connection to Hitman.