Monday, July 16, 2018

The Iceman #2: The Golden Shaft

The Iceman #2: The Golden Shaft, by Joseph Nazel
March, 1974  Holloway House

Has it really been eight years since I read the first volume  of Iceman? Judging from my review, I didn’t much like it, but I bet if I were to read it again I’d enjoy it more. Eight years of reading trash pretty much rots your brain, folks, so whereas I was apparently expecting something more “literary” back in 2010, these days I’d probably just be content to read all the copious descriptions of guts getting blown out.

Well anyway I didn’t even realize I had this second volume. I knew I had a couple of the later ones, thus it was a pleasure to discover The Golden Shaft sitting in the same box as the rest of them. It seemed then only mere logic that I read this volume next, having previously read the first volume. Sorry, no idea where I was going with that. To cut to the chase, I actually enjoyed this one – as with Billion Dollar Death, it’s basically full-on Blaxploitation, lacking only a suitable soundtrack.

Speaking of that previous book, too-cool-for-words Henry Highland West, aka the Iceman, often relfects back on the incidents which occurred therein, “some time ago.” We’re first treated to an overlong prologue which reminds us who Iceman is, how he got his start, how he moved to his high-tech casino-fortress-cathouse, the Oasis, in the desert outside Vegas, complete with a massive computer in the bowls of the place that keeps Iceman abreast of what’s going on in the outside world. As ever he’s accompanied by his consorts Kim (Chinese) and Solema (African), and his favorite color is powder blue, so all his various Adventure Joe-like accessories are colored thusly: his dirt bike, his helicopter, his dirt buggy.

We start right in on the action, as a pack of bikers bully an old gold prospector, ultimately blowing him away. But this old prospector happens to be a friend of Iceman’s, and indeed all this is happening not too far from the Oasis. Not only that, but Iceman happens to be dirt-biking with Kim and Solema, and he heads off to see what the hell’s goin’ on. Probably the Man, fool! Just kidding; the spirit of these books is contagious. Anyway Iceman busts out his .44 automatic and starts gunning down biker scum – Nazel as ever delivers good gore, with brains blown out and the like. Iceman’s women all carry .38s in their knee-high leather boots, by the way, so Solema also guns down some biker creeps. 

Iceman’s been burning for some action, so he sees this as a chance to let it all hang out, baby. Eventually this puts him on the track of a wealthy enterprenneur named Johns and a sadistic South African mercenary Johns employs named Martin. These two did in fact hire the bikers, as it turns out Dipper, Iceman’s prospector friend, had discovered gold on Iceman’s land, and was hiding it from Iceman; Johns wants to buy the land, and still posing as just a regular businessman he visits the Oasis with Martin in tow. True to this subgenre, the racial invective runs rampant as racist Martin leers at the women and wants to tame the black ones.

Nazel does have fun with it, like when Iceman, who instantly detects the true motive of these two, plays up to their racist attitudes, acting as if he’s having a hard time reading the funnies in the newspaper. In truth though Iceman, you of course know, is not only street-wise but brilliant, thus he has these two fools under his thumb in no time. Nazel pads a lot of pages with cutovers to the two villains, plotting and bickering, the latter because Johns is against killing to get their way. Martin though is the cliched evil white villain mandatory of the Blaxploitation genre; the fact that he comes from a country in which whites rule the blacks is often mentioned.

Last time one of Iceman’s hooker-babes was killed in the action, something Iceman reflects upon quite often – indeed, much of the too-long word count is given over to arbitrary reflections on the previous book. But while at the Oasis Martin really has his depraved eye on Brenda, a black babe who decides to do her own work when she finds out that Iceman wants to know what Martin and Johns are up to. She figures maybe she can take the bastard up on his sleazy offer to come visit him, and get some intel while he’s humping her. What’s bizarre though is that Martin, despite wanting her badly, instead goes crazy and accuses Brenda of spying for Iceman, eventually killing her in a bloody struggle. In other words, no sex, nor are there any sex scenes featuring Iceman.

For yes, once again, Joseph Nazel has taken a novel about a pimp who runs a high-tech cathouse filled with ultra-hot fillies…and does not feature a single sex scene!! I mean where’s the sex?? It’s like that Living Color skit with Sam Kinison in hell: “Where’s Hitler??!!!”

Cut to Iceman and Solema in Iceman’s blue dune buggy, heading for Dipper’s shack. Here Iceman discovers that the old prospector was ripping him off (damn white folk!), but also that old Dipper apparently regreted his duplicity and was about to come clean with Iceman. But then Iceman and Solema are ambushed by Martin and forces; Iceman seeks cover in an old mine, where he gets some dynamite. This he puts to use pronto, blowing up Johns’s home, anticlimactically killing off one of the main villains off-page. Martin meanwhile heads home to South Africa, figuring the game is up here in America.

Little does Martin know how determined Iceman can be. He’s going to South Africa to kill the mofo. Along comes Christmas Tree, Iceman’s colorfully-attired pimp pal who appeared in the previous volume. Together they, with ever-present Solema and Kim, board Iceman’s private plane and head for South Africa. Nazel delivers a brief shoutut to the previous book when the four stop over in the fictional African kingdom that was home to the diplomat almost assassinated in the previous volume; here Iceman feels he’s “home,” “among his people.”

Nazel doesn’t belabor the point when the four fly into South Africa; Iceman basically points the plane in the direction of the mine Martin’s providing security for, they land, and they proceed to kill whitey. Iceman, surprisingly, is captured, but the other three come to the rescue. It must be said that New York City pimp Christmas Tree takes quite easily to chopping off heads with a machete. And Nazel makes a hilarious miss in this same scene; he introduces the fact that Kim is armed with nunchucks, but doesn’t have her do anything – the action is solely handled by Christmas Tree and Solema. 

Iceman of course promptly frees himself, leading to an overdone finale in which Martin runs away into the nearby mine, and Iceman follows him into the total darkness of the place. He ends up kicking the guy’s ass and leaving him to die in a cave-in. And that’s all she wrote for The Golden Shaft; Iceman heads on back to the Oasis to his loyal fillies, and they’re all a family again.

All told I found this one pretty entertaining, and also Iceman has a couple bad-ass lines throughout, but given that he usually refers to himself via the dreaded N-word, I fear if I quoted any of them Google would probably shut down the blog.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Dirty Harry #6: City Of Blood

Dirty Harry #6: City Of Blood, by Dane Hartman
May, 1982  Warner Books

Here’s another series I’ve been meaning to get to. I’ve also never gotten around to collecting all twelve of the volumes in the series, and doubtful if I will, for Dirty Harry is one of those series that’s priced too high on the used books marketplace…I’ve seen some of these offered at insane prices. But anyway this was another Warner Books “Men Of Action” title, and as with Ninja Master Ric Meyers  was one of the writers, though he didn’t write this one.

As typical with this line, it’s uncertain who other than Meyers wrote what. My hunch is that Stephen Smoke, who reportedly wrote Ninja Master #1: Vengeance Is His, wrote this book. Like Vengeance Is His, City Of Blood is saddled with a bland, boring protagonist, bland, boring prose, and overall is quite lifeless, save for a few unexpected moments of sadism; it’s also written in a needlessly-convoluted style, as if the author is constantly tripping over himself. The writing is the definition of perfunctory, coming off with a sort of passive style that is wholly unacceptable for this genre, as I’ll show in an excerpt below.

And yes, you read that right – Dirty Harry is bland in this novel. Dirty Harry! It takes a writer of a certain caliber to make the most famous tough-ass cop of all bland, but Smoke, if indeed it be he, has done it. The Harry of the movies has been replaced by just your average everyday cop; we’re told that Harry’s boss, Lt. Drexler, can’t stand Harry for all his rule-breaking and bad-assery, but it’s very much a case of tell not show. Harry in fact is even polite not only to witnesses and potential suspects, but even to the latest partner he’s been saddled with. As Marty McKee notes, it seems evident that this ghostwriter had never actually seen a Dirty Harry movie.

The unfortunate thing is that City Of Blood is one of the sicker men’s adventure novels I’ve read, but then that seems to have been a common thread in all the Men Of Action books; take for example Ninja Master #6, which seemed to relish in describing the gruesome murders of children. This book features a “sex killer,” per the hypberbolic back cover copy, one who likes to decapitate his victims after engaging them in graphically-described sex scenes. This stuff is as lurid as the men’s adventure novels of the previous decade (it seems to me that the genre, for the most part, was a bit sanitized in the ‘80s, at least in regards to the perverted stuff, replacing regular old porn with gun-porn).

But if only we had a suitably deranged protagonist to navigate us through this sleaze! Instead, City Of Blood is like, I don’t know, Bronson: Blind Rage if it had starred Killinger. The novel is also poorly plotted, jamming two separate subplots in a wild disregard for narrative construction. Okay, we open with one of those sick-o sequences, where “Teddy” avidly screws a pair of high-class hookers in a sleazy San Francisco hotel, then hacks them up into hamburger. From this to Dirty Harry Callahan, called onto the scene. But instead of chasing down this killer, Harry is instead ordered to track down another serial killer: the Mission Street Knifer, who has murdered sundry bums and thus far eluded capture. 

How tracking one serial killer will put Harry on the trail of another serial killer is something the ghostwriter hopes we won’t dwell upon too much. Anyway, Drexler sets Harry up with a new partner, much to Harry’s chagrin. This is Drake Owens, actor turned cop(!); he carries a “.356 Magnum.” (Well, the novel is fiction.) The ghostwriter doesn’t really articulate it, but Owens seems to get the gig due to his disguise abilities; much like the short-lived later men’s adventure series Decoy (not to be confused with the ‘70s Decoy), Owens can capably change his whole being through costuming and makeup and etc, and thus poses as a bum on loooong stakeouts in the hopes of baiting the Knifer.

In another parallel to Vengeance Is His, this ghostwriter seems to just want to turn out a generic, soapy novel about ritzy people doing ritzy things, and doesn’t want to bother with the blood and thunder expected of the genre. To wit, we have parts where Dirty Harry visits Drake and his wife at their home, accepting their offer of a homecooked dinner, and there’s even an overlong visit to the set of a movie, where Drake’s wife works as a seamstress or somesuch. However this does ultimately have something to do with the plot, as it’s her expertise which figures out the clothing on the hookers murdered in the opening section (unidentified due to their missing heads) came from expensive boutiques – a hunch that results in the humorous development of Harry visiting expensive clothing stores. However it must be stated that the author again fails to capture the dark comedy that would naturally ensue were such a scene to ever feature in one of the films.

The Mission Street Knifer subplot is not only ridiculous but poorly handled. After lots of padding with Drake as a bum and Harry on stakeout, it finally leads up to an endless part where, on Halloween night, Drake gets a hunch that this tall, mysterious figure dressed like the Grim Reaper (complete with a skull mask) might be the Knifer. And he just follows after him…and follows after him…and on and on. I forgot to mention, there are huge chunks of City Of Blood where Dirty Harry just disappears, and Drake Owens becomes the hero. But this guy is in fact the Knifer, and we do at least get a memorable climax, with the massive, robed figure seemingly impervious to bullets – even those fired by Harry’s infamous .44 Magnum.

Drake is nearly killed in the fight, and we thereafter have parts where Dirty Harry sits around and worries about him. I’ll just let that statement speak for itself; it pretty much says all there is to say about this novel’s handling of the character.

Now as for the main plot, “Teddy” continues to screw and kill with aplomb, including another sleazy bit where he goes to a club with his latest babe, and hacks her up while she’s having sex with some other dude. Now, in this particular ghostwriter’s usual penchant for sloppy editing, early in the book Harry and Drake are called onto the scene of some random shooting, an action bit that sees them taking out terrorists who are gunning for wealthy CEO William Maxim-Davis outside his corporate headquarters. This inrecibly lazy, coincidental plotting serves to bring Maxim-Davis into the plot, and Harry meets with him occasionally while tracking leads, and well…guess who Teddy turns out to be. 

Action is only infrequent, always bloodless (save for Teddy’s gruesome kills), and usually arbitrary, like when researching leads Harry and Drake stay with the uncle of Drake’s wife, and an assassin tries to take them out in the middle of the night. Unbelievably, Drake actually survives the novel, though the poor uncle is blown away. This bit takes us into the climax, which is straight out of a cliffhanger serial; Harry confronts Maxim-Davis in his office, and with the push of a button on his desk the CEO opens up secret passageways into his office, and in come a couple dudes toting guns! Off Harry’s taken in the bastard’s limo, a henchman pointing a gun at his head, when those same terrorists from early on attack again. But even here in this climactic action scene the prose is bland and lifeless:

[The guns held by Davis’s henchmen] contained a clip of eight rounds each, which would mean that before Harry could get out his own weapon and do much of anything with it, he would very likely find his body riddled with sixteen rounds. 

This prospect did not strike him as a very pleasing one, and, even as he cursed himself for blundering into Davis’s trap he tossed aside his .44, complying with the order Davis had just given him, almost casually, for he was still working on his contracts, signing his name over and over again as though he wanted to prove just how meaningless he had ever viewed the threat that Harry had posed. 

Harry remained seated, saying nothing – what was there to say with two guns targeted at your head? – waiting for Davis to conclude his business and get to the point which, he supposed glumly, was his imminent execution.

Folks, don’t write your action novels like this. Especially don’t write a Dirty Harry novel like this.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Double Identity (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #22)

Double Identity, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1967

I didn’t have big expectations for this volume of Nick Carter: Killmaster, yet another courtesy Manning Lee Stokes; I mean the whole “evil twin of the hero” concept has never much appealed to me. But man, it turned out to be one of my favorites yet, featuring a wild opening half that comes off like a men’s adventure version of Lost Horizon, only instead of a monastery of immortal Chinese monks it’s a monastery of horny Chinese women. And the less appealing material, ie the whole “evil Nick Carter” plot, doesn’t really come up until later on.

We start off with perhaps the longest opening section I’ve yet read in a Stokes installment, as the head of Chinese intelligence shows off his prize “Turtle” (aka a US soldier captured in the Korean war and brainwashed) to none other than Chairman Mao and his son. “Turtle Nine” has had extensive plastic surgery so that he looks identical to infamous AXE agent Nick Carter, who apparently is so popular with the Commie powers that they know everything about him, even down to the fact that he wears “crisp linen” boxers. This brainwashed American now thinks he is Nick, living in a New York penthouse built exactly like the real Nick’s, sleeping with a bunch of gals, and armed with Nick’s customary trio of weapons.

Only, in one of those goofy Stokes touches I love so much, the “penthouse” is really a set in Chinese intelligence HQ, and Mao and the others secretly watch from above, looking through a mirrored floor at the action below. They watch as the fake Nick first gets busy with a hot Asian babe, really a hooker hired for the job and to be disposed of later. Then some dudes come in to kill him and the “Turtle” springs to action, moving as fast and fierce as the real Nick Carter. Meanwhile the hooker’s accidentally killed in the melee. Chairman Mao (don’t expect to make it with anyone if you go carrying pictures of this guy, by the way) is satisfied with the performance and sez it’s time for Operation Whatever to commence, blah blah blah.

So just as we’re preparing to settle in for the long haul of a turgid “Nick Carter vs Nick Carter” scenario…Stokes drops us into the middle of snowswept Tibet as the real Nick Carter makes his way to a forbidden lamasery populated by horny Chinese babes(!?). Indeed, so horny that they’re known to screw men to death. Nick thinks this sounds like paradise, but according to Hafed, boss of the sherpas leading Killmaster through this rough terrain, most men avoid the place, particularly married ones like Hafed’s sherpas. Hafed himself isn’t married, though, and he shares Nick’s sentiments. 

Nick’s been sent here due to the recent murder of an AXE agent who was based out of Tibet – an AXE agent killed by Nick Carter! So, in the usual goofy-but-cool manner of these books, only the real Nick Carter can handle this problem. He’s to head to the monastery, known as the Lamasery of the She-Devils, and meet up with the high priestess of the place, the wonderfully-named Dyla Lotti. The high priestess herself is an AXE agent, and what’s more she met the fake Nick Carter as he passed through, thus will be able to provide the real Nick with pertinent info about his doppleganger. 

Stokes doesn’t swindle us when we get to the lamasery, save for the strange note that the hot Chinese babes all have shaved heads. So it’s like a monastery filled with Chinese Sinead O’Connors. If that’s your thing, great! Anyway at this point Nick is out of it, and this is one of the few instances in a Stokes joint where superheroic Nick Carter is out of sorts…suffering from the exposure to high altitudes on such short notice (literally called out of bed by boss Hawk, we’re informed via brief backstory), Nick is nearly at death’s door.

Nick wakes up in the monastery, having passed out on the long flight of stairs leading to the place; he’s out of his mind on “sanga root,” which he’s told is for his illness. But it really just makes him high and horny. He’s kept alone, only tended to by a few of the older temple women. When he finally is granted an audience with the high priestess, it is one of those moments Manning Lee Stokes does so well – full-on pulp with a sort of Conan fantasy vibe. Indeed this entire opening sequence in the Lamasery of the She-Devils is almost a trial run for Stokes’s later work on Richard Blade. The same vibe, even down to the “exotic Oriental” bent Stokes captures here so well.

Dyla Lotti comes into Nick’s chamber alone, appearing from behind a statue, wearing a robe and a demon mask. It’s all just so weird and wild, particularly given that Nick’s high as a kite and while part of him knows it’s all a put-on, another part keeps wondering if he’s really talking to a demoness. Dyla answers a few questions about the fake Nick, but needs to leave for temple duties – strange, then, that Stokes immediately cuts to the next chapter, with Dyla returning to Nick’s chamber. Why’d he even have to fool around with her leaving? Anyway I digress. Nick, due to the sanga and the hot bod he can detect beneath that robe of Dyla’s, is “immensely ready for the physical act of love.”

The high priestess unveils herself and of course she’s a hotstuff Chinese babe, plus she has long black hair, so at least she isn’t bald. Plus she’s got a brick shithouse bod. Who would’ve expected otherwise? It gets even more Richard Blade esque as the two get down to business in the ancient chamber while incense sticks burn all around them. But Dyla reminds Nick – a bit too late, I might add – that she’s taken a vow of virginity, so can’t have full-on sex. Bummer! However, due to the “kama sutra,” she knows how to do other stuff…stuff that will still take Nick to “nirvana.” Stokes doesn’t go full sleaze here, but it’s raunchy enough. Even raunchier is the very next sequence, in which Nick gets to satiate himself in full, engaging in a day(s) long orgy with a trio of temple babes. 

Nick basically becomes a proto-hippie here, which was pretty cool to see in a Stokes novel, as typically his characters are paragons of macho posturing. All our Killmaster wants to do is hit the sanga and bang the three temple broads; even when the gals finally leave and Hafed comes in, having to smack Nick out of his stupor, he’s still out of sorts. Hafed you see has been banging some temple babes of his own, but got some free time and went looking around and has discovered some weird, wild stuff, to quote my man Johnny Carson.

Hafed leads a dazed Nick into a hidden chamber deep in the temple – and there, tossed in a closet, is the corpse of the real Dyla Lotti, who turns out to have been an old lady. Hafed’s heard talk from the sisters that, a bit ago, a hot young half-Chinese lady named Yang Kwei arrived at the temple and took over duties, and surely it is she Nick just engaged in naughtiness with, only pretending to be Dyla Lotti. Thus, Nick figures, the lady is a Chinese spy and was trying to stall him. Sure enough, Chinese soldiers are on the way.

When the two get hold of the fake Dyla Lotti, Hafed again proves his sidekick prowess by taking over the job of torturing her, even though Nick suspects she’s already told them everything she knows. Regardless, Hafed puts a fire-heated blade on her boob, burning off a nipple. Nick is actually out of sorts even here; whereas Stokes’s Killmaster can be more brutal than most heroes – let’s recall when he shot and killed an unarmed (and naked) woman – here he actually feels bad for the fake Dyla, and regrets her torture. Plus he decides not to kill her; Hafed stuffs her into the closet she herself stashed the corpse of the real Dyla Lotti.

Hafed throughout displays almost magical powers, indeed coming off as more resourceful than Nick himself. For this transgression he suffers the expected fate, a casualty of the mortars Chinese soldiers fire at them as he and Nick make their escape from the monastery. After this, sadly, Double Identity loses some headway. Nick’s now in Karachi, where the fake Dyla said the fake Nick was headed; the bastard has already killed another rep of the US government. It gradually develops that the fake Nick Carter’s mission is to jinx the ceasefire between Pakistan and India, hopefully bringing the US and Russia into the crisis or somesuch. Why it would take a fake Nick Carter – and only a fake Nick Carter – to do such a thing is something Stokes doesn’t want us to dwell on.

Speaking of hippies, Nick sort of retains the services of one, though he isn’t technically referred to as such. His name’s Bannion, a former news reporter who came to Karachi ten years ago, got drunk, and “has been drunk ever since.” Now he lives here, mostly hanging out in bars, and has a native wife and a bunch of kids – we’re often reminded that his wife is fat “from having so many kids.” Nick needs this guy because he can speak the local dialects, or something. We get back to the pulp stuff when Nick investigates the house of the murdered government agent and finds a poisonous snake hidden in a drawer of his desk.

Actually this part is pretty goofy, in that Nick finally confronts the fake Nick, but it happens in a pitch-black room and throughout Nick can’t tell if the other Nick is even there. It just goes on and on past the point of absurdity, indeed just trampling right over it into parody, like something out of Mad’s “Spy vs Spy.” And when I say it goes on and on, I mean it – Nick, “getting very near to panic,” crawling around the dark room, desperately searching for his enemy whom he’s certain is there but can’t find, even with the humorous moment of Nick slashing his knife beneath the bed in the room but hitting nothing. But there’s a corpse on the bed, a just-killed maid or something…and the fake Nick’s hiding beneath her, in a section carved out of the matress, breathing through an oxygen mask!

The two have a quick scuffle…we’re informed the real Nick is slightly stronger, though the fake Nick is just as brutal. He gets hurt and runs away, and the real Nick vows to kill him. I’ve mentioned before how one of the great things about Stokes is there’s none of the modern chickified sentiments of today…I mean, the fake Nick, we’ll recall, is a captured US soldier who has been brainwashed. In other words he’s a victim, despite his evil deeds. In the chickified fiction of today, where “emotional content” is all that matters, Nick would go out of his way to “save” the fake Nick, to bring him back to who he once was. Not in Stokes. Nope, Nick just wants to kill the motherfucker.

The final section sees Nick and Bannion going up the Indus, following a gruesome trail of the mutilated corpses of Pakistani soldiers, buried to the neck with their eyelids lopped off and little taunting notes from the fake Nick beside them. It develops that the fake Nick’s intent – ie the Chicom plot – is to arm a group of radical Muslims and get them to attack Pakistani soldiers, making it look like Indian soldiers did it, thus setting off the war between the two countries once more. In Peshawar things come to a head – Nick spys the fake Nick, meeting up with a lovely young blonde American babe, who we know from the long opening chapter is a Chicom agent who works in the Peace Corps as her cover.

She is the fake Nick’s control, able to activate his brainwashed mind, and here Stokes eerily hits on topics that would have real-world ramifactions in a few years’s time, particularly the RFK assassination. And humorously, despite his realization that the fake Nick is hypnotized – something Nick deduces while his double and the American babe have sex in a car, Nick listening in on them – he still intends to kill him regardless. (AXE agents, we learn, can’t be hypnotized – a “rudimentary requirement for service.”) Anyway the control’s name is Beth Cravens, and if you figure the real Nick will be banging her soon, you are of course are spot-on. And, as you’ll also no doubt guess, she instantly realizes she’s just been screwed by the real Nick Carter, because this guy’s a helluva lot better in bed than the fake one is!

Stokes as ever throws all sentiments out the window – Nick knocks Beth out immediately after taking her to, uh, “nirvana,” and then he and the fake Nick get in a Mexican standoff; fake Nick shows up with a gun, using just-captured Bannion as a human body shield. Please skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid spoilers, but I just had to mention it because it’s another indication of how Stokes’s heroes are cut from a different cloth: Nick shoots through Bannion to kill the fake Nick, just unloading his Luger on Bannion’s chest! But at least he promises to send some money to the guy’s wife and kids! Jeez!

Anyway, Double Identity was one of my favorite Stokes installments yet, mostly due to the crazy opening half. After that things settle down to the usual turgid Stokes pace, but really I don’t mean that as a criticism. I like his style, and I like his brutal heroes. But one must admit the book is lacking in action…Killmaster doesn’t even kill anyone until the final quarter, and the only action scene we get is a brief sequence where he takes out some of those Muslim terrorists, using gas bomb Pierre on a few of them. One must also admit that Stokes seems a bit obsessed with the word “little,” which appears on practically every page.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Adrano For Hire #2: Kill The Hack!

Adrano For Hire #2: Kill The Hack!, by Michael Bradley
March, 1974  Warner Books

It’s been so long since I read the first volume of Adrano For Hire that I had to go back and read my review to familiarize myself with this short-lived series; I’d honestly forgotten pretty much everything about it, other than I hadn’t enjoyed that first installment very much. Sadly I must say the same about this second volume, again turned out by Gary Blumberg posing as “Michael Bradley.” Like the first one it is stuffed with too many characters, lacks much action or bite, and indeed even misses the sort of arrogant drive of the first volume, for this time “hero” Johnny Adrano is “for hire” to save his life, not for reasons of arrogance.

But to tell the truth, Adrano is sort of lost this time around. In my review of the first volume I compared this series to Narc, but a more apt comparison might be Mafia: Operation. Just like that four-volume series, Adrano For Hire is more of an ensemble piece, featuring too many criminal underworld types vying for the reader’s attention. But unlike Mafia: Operation, this series has a recurring character in titular Adrano, who as we’ll recall is a conceited young punk looking to use his fancy Ivory Tower college degree to strike it big in the world of the Mafia. In the first volume he successfully screwed over his old mobster pals, making a deal with an overseas heroin dealer.

It appears that this second volume opens up soon after the first volume – Adrano is holed up in some dive in New York after the fallout of an attempted hit in New Jersey a few hours before. The Mafia is after him for screwing them over, and in particular a capo named Steve Rizzo is out for his blood. (Any relation to Frank Rizzo??) We get lots of scenes of Rizzo screaming at fellow mobsters about getting Adrano. Meanwhile a hirsute freak by the name of Louis Cerelli – who by the way was castrated in Vietnam – is hiding way down in Mexico and pulling off contract kills. Nicknamed “The Hack,” Cerelli gets overly excited on his kills and is known for hacking and slashing his victims to bloody pieces.

These various plots unsteadily unite in a single thread in some of the more lazy plotting I’ve yet encountered; okay, first Rizzo wants Adrano dead, and he’s all fired up about it. But then Rizzo gets word that the Hack is operating down in Mexico – the novel opens with Cerelli killing an Indian anthropolgist, in a subplot which itself will lazily be threaded in – and abruptly Rizzo changes his focus: now he wants Cerelli dead. Why? Because many years ago Rizzo hired Cerelli to kill a rival capo, and Cerelli did the deed, but as was the Hack’s wont he also hacked up the busty babe the capo happened to be in bed with at the time – complete with lurid descriptions of her breasts being lopped off and the machete rammed up a certain part of her anatomy. Well, the babe in question happened to be Rizzo’s fiance(!?), so now the Hack Cerelli is #1 on Rizzo’s shit list. 

Here comes the lazy thread-combining: Rizzo decides to sent Adrano down to Mexico to kill Cerelli. Huh?? To this end he hires some black thugs to round up Adrano, who happens to be hiding out with an old Harvard pal named Arturo Zamora, who now works as a people’s lawyer in Harlem. Given the financial status of his clients, Zamora is poor, and thus had to represent criminals so as to get money for his brother, an anthropologist looking to work in Mexico. And yes, folks, you got it – the very same anthopologist who was killed by Cerelli in the opening pages! All the plot threads so lazily connected!

Now mind you folks, I’m informing you of all this due to the omniscient power of hindsight, because the honest fact of the matter is that, for a good fifty percent of Kill The Hack!, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Blumberg is a capable writer, but damn does he just drop you into the deep end and let you fend for yourself. Newly-introduced characters refer to other new characters in passing, or past events with little elaboration, and there’s hardly any setup or development of anything. But hey, at least the cover’s cool, and Adrano For Hire is similar to the Smuggler series in that the cover art is the best thing about it…and, also like the art on The Smuggler, you get double bang for your buck, with an additional painting on the back.

Well anyway since I’m in full admission mode, here’s another one – I’ve never been much interested in stories set in Mexico or stories about Mexican village life (save of course for One Hundred Years Of Solitude), which made Kill The Hack! even more of an unenjoyable read for me, as the second half occurs in, you guessed it, Mexico, deep in the jungle. I mean, unless it’s Predator we’re talking about, I’m just not interested, so sue me. But we’re very much on that tip here, with Mexican natives engaged in their own subplots…there’s some shit about up-and-comer Mexican crook Ramon, who hired Cerelli to kill Zamora (the anthropologist), because Zamora was screwing Ramon’s girlfriend Consuelo. And yep, if you didn’t noitce, this is the exact same plot as the Rizzo backstory. Ten points to Blumberg for ripping himself off in the same novel.

Adrano and Atruro Zamora (the lawyer, not the murdered anthropologist) are sent down to Mexico. They bicker and fight the whole way, and not in a fun Razoni and Jackson way. It gets to be annoying. Action is infrequent, and when it happens it’s over in flash, like when Adrano discovers he’s being followed by would-be assassins, ones hired by Cerelli (WTF? I mean Cerelli himself is an assassin, righ??). He guns ‘em down with his .38 and goes back to bitch at Zamora for bringing the villains onto their trail or something. Meanwhile we have more fussing between Ramon and Consuelo, and Cerelli sweating bullets because he realizes the Mafia, in particular Rizzo, has tracked him down.

The finale is almost maddeningly boring. The action having moved down to Veracruz, our characters engage in a loong standoff, Cerelli hiding in the jungle and waiting to take out our heroes. Meanwhile Consuelo is on her way down here, I guess because Blumberg feels he’s padded so many pages with her subplot that he should have her, you know, maybe be integral to the plot in some fashion. Well, she is…she sees Zamora, in particular how he’s identical to his murdered brother, and the two promptly fall in love. Meanwhile after a lot of “tension” Adrano’s able to get the drop on Cerelli and shoots him. That’s it.

This one was really a mess…just a long-simmer, disjointed affair with too many characters and too little “good stuff” to at least make it worth your while. Cerelli’s gruesome backstory and modus operandi are about the only memorable elements…I mean it’s like he just walked out of one of those sicko Men’s Detective Magazines of the day. But his lurid star is also tarnished by the general vibe of malaise which settles over the novel. Really hoping the next one is better.

Monday, July 2, 2018

See The Red Blood Run

See The Red Blood Run, by Niles N. Peebles
May, 1968  Pyramid Books

A “private cop” ventures into the underground world of LSD in this Pyramid PBO, which was the first of two books to feature P.I. Ross McKellar. About author Niles N. Peebles barely anything is known; the two McKellar novels are the only books published under his name, but after some digging I discovered that Peebles also ghostwrote a book that has become legendary with the Alcoholics Anonymous crowd: Dr. Bob And The Good Oldtimers (1980).

In true private eye fashion McKellar narrates the story for us; he’s New York City born and bred and operates out of Manhattan. He’s “close to forty years old” and is not married, though he was once – and has vowed never to be again. He doesn’t carry a gun and his sleuthing is carried out more so by following leads and visiting suspects; in other words, you won’t find any Mike Hammer action here. He’s also such a New Yorker that he’s never learned to drive, and he’s not too ashamed to admit it. He’s also more of a gentelman than you’d expect, given the genre, and for the most part just comes off like a regular guy.

The back cover copy oversells the lurid quotient of the book. Sad to say, there just isn’t much of it; McKellar does okay with the ladies but Peebles always cuts away from the sleaze. The back cover also overhypes the “psychedelic” nature of the book, in particular spotlighting a part where “the needle jabs in” and McKellar is dosed with LSD against his will. I’ve never heard of LSD being taken this way but what the hell. At any rate it sends him off on a “Love is Truth” sort of quest rather than any sort of lysergic hellhole nightmare, so even that part isn’t too lurid, more’s the friggin’ pity. 

McKellar is promptly hired by lovely, svelte Alexandra Justin, a high-class socialite currently engaged to Robbie Quigley, president of a local Anti-Vice union. I had some problems with all this…the whole Quigley-Alexandra relationship is hard to buy, and plus methinks Peebles could’ve given his hard-assed, anti-“filth” politician a tougher name than “Robbie.” But anyway the case Alexandra wants to hire McKellar for is this: Quigley’s wild child niece Lydia, whom Quigley has served as guardian for since Lydia’s parents died, has gone missing, last seen with the beatniks and hippies and other drug addicts in the gutter of the East Village.

Alexandra wants McKellar to find Lydia, bring her home, and keep it all out of the papers – it would be a political nightmare for it to be discovered that straight-shooter Quigley’s own niece is a doped-up hippie. McKellar takes the job, mostly because he’s also taken with Alexandra, and wonders often what she’s doing with a chump like Quigley. McKellar has heard of the man and doesn’t like him, though honestly McKellar comes off like such a straight-shooter himself that you wonder what his problem with the guy is. It would be one thing if McKellar himself was presented as a dopesmoking, acid-dropping PI (now there’s a novel!), but in truth he’s pretty bland.

Lydia has been hanging around a hippie named Muzzy, who fancied himself a psychedelic artist. Now both of them are missing, and McKellar gets leads on them from Leon, a fellow psychedelic artist. But when McKellar heads to the hovel Leon says the two were shacking up in, he finds a pair of corpses. It turns out though that this dead couple is not Muzzy or Lydia, but some random hippies who were crashing there and OD’d. Here we get another reminder that McKellar isn’t your typical hardboiled PI, as he refrains from looking at the corpses in the morgue, unable to stand such sights. 

McKellar’s search takes him around the grungy environs of the East Village, and being a lifelong New Yorker McKellar informs us how the place has just been given a fancy new name by the hippies who congregate there. We get a lot of New York info in the novel, as McKellar walks around a lot and informs us what is where. In this way the novel is a time capsule of a long-gone Manhattan, much in the same way that the ‘70s novels of Len Levinson are. An interesting thing though is that McKellar isn’t as cynical about this psychedelic New York as one might imagine; indeed he treats most people with respect, even if he finds their ways odd.

In the course of his investigation McKellar mostly visits a psychedelic art museum, an LSD retreat in the woods, and a couple grimy tenement buildings occupied by dirty hippies. So we don’t get the psych-pop jet-set vibe of similar Pyramid cash-ins of the day, like Fun City, though there is a part later on where McKellar attends a mod party at a socialite’s place…and he literally runs away from an orgy taking place therein. Instead of sleaze, we get lots and lots of exposition about LSD research and mind expansion and whatnot. This is mostly courtesy a character named Jed, owner of that psych art place, Contra Galleries. McKellar takes the opportunity to hit on Naomi, pretty brunette Contra employee and former stewardess. He also finds the time to romance Alexandra Justin, and while McKellar scores with the latter, Peebles is not one to elaborate.

The scoring takes place when McKellar gets a lead that takes him upstate New York to a retreat started by an early LSD pioneer named Dr. O’Meara (gee, I wonder who that could be??). Muzzy and Lydia were frequent visitors of the place, but aren’t there now. Time for more LSD exposition courtesy the good doctor, though up here they’ve moved beyond LSD into more legal methods of mind expansion. This entails film projections and light shows and the like; later in the book McKellar watches a psychedelic “happening,” complete with Warhol-esque art films, rock groups, and more psych light shows, all of it put together by an Abbie Hoffman-esque rabble rouser named Lennie Burns.

Anyway McKellar has to bum a ride from Alexandra to that upstate retreat, and on the way back they give in to their mutual attraction and engage in some hot off-page lovin’. Meanwhile Muzzy and Lydia turn up dead, found in Leon’s place, another OD. This time there’s a suicide note courtesy Muzzy. Leon’s jailed under suspicion and McKellar takes up his cause, figuring something’s not right about all this. As he continues poking around he’s “jabbed” by that LSD syringe in the sequence excerpted on the back cover…a sort of brief deal where McKellar, realizing he’s been dosed with acid, stumbles around and gawks at New York and realizes the profound truth that “Truth is Love” and “Love is Truth.” It’s to Peebles’s credit that this sequence isn’t too goofy.

There really isn’t much action per se; even the LSD “jab” is courtesy someone who bumps into McKellar from behind on a darkened street and then takes off. The finale is more of a tense deal, with McKellar thinking the Contra Galleries owner was behind a sort of LSD-importing scheme and killed Muzzy and Lydia for various reasons. Actually the finale is pretty goofy; trying to entrap him, McKellar bluffs a story to Jed, the gallery owner, that co-worker Naomi was using her old stew job to run drugs…then it turns out that’s really what was happening! McKellar hides in the closed store while the two confront one another, and meanwhile Naomi has come with a gun to take out Jed; in a seriously lazy reversal, Naomi is suddenly revealed to be a cold-blooded killer slash LSD drug-runner.

Only…it gets goofier! Even though Naomi, shot by Jed and near death, admits to having killed Lydia and Muzzy…McKellar still doesn’t buy it, and confronts Robbie Quigley. Then Quigley admits he killed them! Once again McKellar stands by while someone else shoots the villain for him…seems McKellar doesn’t do his own villain-shooting or car-driving…then grills Quigley some more while he dies. Unsurprisingly, Alexandra breaks it off with McKellar soon thereafter…I mean it’s one thing to have an affair while your fiance is alive, but once your investigation has outed him as a murderer and gotten him killed, that’s where she draws the line.

As mentioned McKellar returned in another Pyramid paperback the following year, Blood Brother, Blood Brother, but it seems to lack any of the psychedelic stuff of this one and seems more of a generic detective sort of deal.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Depth Force #6: Sea Of Flames

Depth Force #6: Sea Of Flames, by Irving Greenfield
June, 1986  Zebra Books

The Periscope Turns as Irving Greenfield delivers another soapy installment of Depth Force, per series template picking up immediately after the previous volume. And as ever you’re just S.O.L. if you haven’t read that one, because Greenfield throws the reader right in with little backstory or setup. But also per series template this part is quickly wrapped up, with the majority of Sea Of Flames more so about the melodramatic lives of its many characters…before the plot promised on the back cover kicks in for the final quarter.

But having read that previous volume I was at least prepared for this cold open – Captain Jack Boxer had commanded an experimental sea/land vessel called the Turtle into Libya, where he was to drop an assault party which was expected to endure mass casualties in a pitched battle against Muslim extremists. The novel ended with Boxer learning pretty much everyone was dead but Boxer’s pal Vargas, the CIA spook, and Boxer decided to send the Turtle in to save him. Thus Sea Of Flames opens with an action scene – a quite boring action scene, mostly relayed, again per series template, via dialog, as Boxer shouts out orders on the Turtle’s bridge and info is relayed back to him. This series certainly lacks the typical immediacy of the genre.

Boxer manages to extract Vargas and another of the landing party, a fellow spook named Morell who turns out to be the bastard who set up the landing party. Later we’ll be given vague reasons for this sellout by chief spook Kincade, Boxer’s archenemy and boss – not to mention grandfather of Boxer’s latest bedmate Trish, who made her debut in #4: Battle Stations. The Morell subplot seems to promise things (none of which pan out in this installment, naturally), with him trading intel on how the Turtle can avoid hidden mines in exchange for safe passage off the ship. Last we see of him he jumps off a boat on the way to Sicily, evading Boxer’s orders for his death; Kincade later claims that Morell was following orders, or something, and also that he has Mob connections, so Boxer better watch out if he ever tracks him down to mete out revenge.

The Turtle gets destroyed anyway; this after Boxer has sent it back into the depths and has been busy dealing with Captain Bush, the psychopath who went nuts on the bridge and tried to rape Cynthia Downs, another of Boxer’s many previous conquests. Bush pleads to be returned to command and Boxer grapples with whether he should be kept locked up or not(?!). The Turtle is attacked or something – I kind of lost the thread at this point – and Boxer has to abandon ship. He’s the last off, along with an injured Vargas, and the CIA agent dies on the way to the surface. Boxer mourns him for a couple pages – so distraught in fact that he turns down an offer for sex from Vargas’s sister, after the funeral in New York!

Boxer actually turns down a bit of sex in this one; on the flight from Italy to New York, he finds himself sitting beside a hot redhead lawyer, Francine, who apparently debuted in the previous volume…as we’ll recall, in one of the arbitrary subplots Depth Force is known for, Boxer was contacted to handle the estate of a dead pal, in particular ensuring that the dead pal’s son got this and that. Well, Francine was the lawyer working the estate, I guess – I have to admit I’ve forgotten – and the two chat away on the flight, with it all clearly leading to another of Greenfield’s sex scenes. But Boxer, despite his interest in the lady, never goes through with it, even when later in the novel he enjoys a homecooked meal at Francine’s place. This is mostly because Boxer has fallen in love with Trish and plans to ask her to marry him.

But before all that – As The Periscope Turns! Folks I kid you not, the captain comes on the plane’s PA and announces that he’s just been informed there’s a bomb onboard(!). And mind you this is a commercial flight, Boxer and his remaining crew getting a ride on it for hazy reasons. We’re vaguely informed that the Libyans Boxer was fighting at the start of the book planted the bomb in revenge, somehow knowing Boxer et al were onboard…whatever. It gets super-goofy as Boxer goes into the cockpit and helps out, but meanwhile a Libyan fighter plane is dogging them and ends up shooting the plane out of the sky. This entire sequence is written in the lifeless prose of the series: “The plane crashed down into the water and quickly began to settle.” That’s how the plane crash is written, folks – no immediacy, no impact.

Boxer also turns down the promise of sex courtesy his ex-wife, Gwen, a soap opera star (how telling, given the bent of this series). Did any of you know that Boxer has a prepubescent son? I sure as hell didn’t, but maybe we were informed back in the first volume, which I don’t have – and as we know, you only get one chance with Irving Greenfield. The dude isn’t one for reminding his readers of anything from previous books. Well anyway this arbitrary plot is almost hilarious in how half-assed it is; Boxer in that plane crash realized he hadn’t seen his son in two years(!) and vowed to visit him. The boy, John, is “seven or eight,” per Boxer, who truly doesn’t remember. All this is relayed to “Chuck,” this rebel-type young man Boxer abruptly meets up with in Staten Island…no setup or anything, naturally, but apparently this guy was the son of “Rugger,” one of Boxer’s many dead friends. Perhaps it’s the same kid who came into that inheritance brokered by Francine in the previous book. Folks I really don’t the hell know at this point.

Well anyway, all this stuff with Chuck is just goofy as can be; Boxer runs afoul of the rough types in the neighborhood, and to prove he’s a big man in the Navy he radios in a “Code Ten.” This brings in a squad of marines who close down the street, with helicopters flying around. Seeing he’s proved his point to the dumbass locals, Boxer tells the marines “all clear,” and they leave. They just leave! And later Boxer chuckles about the situation with his commander! But anyway by the time we finally get to John, aka Boxer’s “seven or eight” year-old son, Greenfield has become bored with the whole thing and gives the kid like two lines (“Daddy! I missed you!”), and ends the scene – apparently Boxer’s plan is to have Chuck hang out with John; Boxer himself clearly has no plans to. And yet the next day as he’s flying home to DC, looking forward to screwing Trish silly, Boxer “feels good about himself.”

Boxer’s devotion to Trish is ironic given that she’s in the midst of a hot and heavy affair with Borodine, aka Boxer’s Russian archenemy/best friend. Trish doesn’t come off particularly well this time, wantonly screwing Borodine (for once, mostly off-page) and openly lying to Boxer, sometimes savoring to herself the fact that she’s just had sex with two dudes within hours of each other. While she keeps the affair secret from Boxer, Borodine is aware of it. I mentioned back in my review of the third volume that, when I discovered a few volumes of Depth Force on the shelf of a used bookstore some years ago, I opened one of them up right on a random hardcore sex scene, as arbitrary as could be. Well, this book was the one – Trish graphically fondling herself as she imagines being double-teamed by Boxer and Borodine and screaming as she climaxes, “They’ll never do it! They’ll never fuck me together!” We also get a few XXX bits with Boxer and Trish, but none of it’s as explict as prevoius volumes – at least, the word “bung hole” doesn’t appear this time around.

But while the series is soapy, one must never forget how cruelly its characters are treated, in particular the female characters. While we know from the scenes in her perspective that Trish has guessed Boxer is going to propose to her – but plans to tell him no – it’s still a bit of a shock when, during dinner with Boxer and Borodine (Trish again relishing that she’s sitting down with both her conquests, and also relishing Boxer’s ignorance of this fact), Trish’s ex-husband walks in and shoots Trish in the head! We’re soon informed she’ll “never wake up,” in other words she’s now a vegetable. But by novel’s end Greenfield has decided to hell with this and has Kincade radioing Boxer (in the middle of a battle!) and informing him that Trish has died(!). Meanwhile Boxer’s already decided to move on…it’s really humorous in a way, friends. Occasoinally he’ll think about her, but within pages he’s like, “I’ll be okay.”

Trish’s ex-husband by the way is our segue into the plot promised on the back cover; his name is William McEllroy (he also first appeared in the fourth volume) and he’s a “former congressman” who now leads a sort of hard-right army dedicated to starting war with Russia (still communist in Greenfield’s fictional 1997). This group, which brings to mind the rebel government in Greenfield’s earlier Waters Of Death, plans to take over the world in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. They’re a pretty resourceful bunch, managing to free psychopath Captain Bush from the funny farm (where Bush kills a couple people “accidentally”) so that he can captain the Shark, ie the top secret nuclear sub normally commanded by Boxer. They even manage to steal the Shark, leading us into the “tense” climax.

Almost immediately after Trish’s assault – McEllroy humorously escaping without much fuss – Boxer is informed the Shark has been stolen. He’s put in charge of another vessel, the Neptune, and gives chase before the Shark can launch nukes on Moscow, thus ushering in WWIII. Russia is alerted, and none other than Borodine commands his own nuclear sub as both countries join to find and stop the Shark. Once again it’s all relayed via dialog; there are more scenes of Boxer and his chief mate Cowly “sipping coffee” on the bridge than the sort of bloody violence you’d expect from a book labelled as “men’s adventure” on its spine.

As expected, Captain Bush goes nuts, killing off everyone but McEllroy, then taking off to incredible depths and changing route, his plan to nuke Paris and other European countries instead of Russia. The two men get in a fight and McEllroy knocks out Bush, but he can’t pilot the Shark and they’re further beneath the sea than any other vessel can go, so McEllroy is kind of screwed. At any rate this is where Sea Of Flames ends, but we can predict how the next one will go down: quick wrapup of this plot in the opening pages, followed by some long-simmer soap.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Stryker #2: Cop-Kill

Stryker #2: Cop-Kill, by William Crawford
February, 1974  Pinnacle Books

As Marty McKee so succinctly put it, in this second volume of Stryker our titular ex-cop hero “busts some fuckers up.” William Crawford once again excels in sadism and hardcore violence along the lines of Gannon, but as ever lessens the impact with arbitrary digressions and character backstories. In many ways, Cop-Kill is almost a rewrite of Crawford’s earlier The Chinese Connection; the stories share many similarities.

It's around a year after the first volume, and Colin Stryker’s gotten lean and mean from riding horses and working all day on a farm or something. But he gets word that Sapper Kell, the killer who took out his wife and blinded and crippled his daughter – and humorously enough the daughter once again spends the entirety of the novel off-page, thus robbing any sort of dramatic impact – has himself been killed in prison. This upsets Stryker greatly, as he wanted Sapper to be raped every day in prison by “spade lifers.” Have I mentioned before that Crawford’s heroes are hard, mean bastards with little of the niceties of today?

So begins Stryker’s systematic search for whoever put the hit on Sapper, a search that entails the usual Crawford sadism and Crawford plot detours. Once again the dude appears unsure how to write a novel – no matter how minor a character introduced, we get elaborate background story about him or her, most of it ultimately having nothing whatsoever to do with the novel. As Marty also noted in his review, this sloppiness extends to plot construction – the character who pulled the hit on Sapper, Johnny Cool, is elaborately built up, only to be abruptly killed off-page, never even meeting Stryker. Meanwhile Stryker spends pages beating the shit out of the guy who killed Johnny; apparently it never occurred to Crawford to combine these two characters into one.

Stryker was once a decorated cop in New Mexico, but now finds that he is a “leper” when trying to talk to his fellow brothers in blue; cops go out of their way to avoid him. As mentioned before Crawford himself was a cop so he brings a lot of realism to these scenes. Stryker, who spends the majority of the text in Phoenix, keeps in frequent phone contact with his old partner Chino Bellon back in New Mexico. We also get arbitrary detours to other cop-world characters, like this page-filling bit about the FBI agent assigned to secretly monitor Stryker’s mom in case Stryker tries to contact her, given how Stryker breaks a bunch of laws in his gradual assault upon the mob and is soon wanted by the Feds.

Another missed opportunity is the character of Vic Antro, aka Vic Cave (no relation to Nick Cave, I assume), the Phoenix mobster who ordered the hit on Kell, and later the hit on Johnny Cool, ie Kell’s killer. He too is excessively built up only to be dispatched off-page, with Cave and Stryker never even meeting face-to-face. Rather, Stryker spends the majority of the novel tracking down, capturing, and torturing various Cave flunkies. But this isn’t “dark comedy” torture like in The Marksman. This is just plain dark, similar to Crawford’s other novels, in particular The Chinese Connection, with stuff like Stryker savagely stomping a guy and then nearly drowning him in a bathtub.

There’s a bit more action this time around, like an extended scene where Stryker takes out a car full of thugs who come after him – featuring a memorable hardcore bit where Stryker, knowing he’s being followed on a dark road, parks his car with the lights off in the middle of the road so that they ram right into it when they race around the blind curve. From these thugs Stryker gets some grenades and AR-15 assault rifles. These weapons are later used in an assault on a private runway, to take out Cave’s plane as it prepares for takeoff, but the mob boss isn’t on it.

Another added element this time is sex – Stryker gets laid, folks. This is courtesy Kitty, a hotbod teen(?) who was forced into prostitution by Antro’s thugs due to her heroin addiction or somesuch. I had a hard time understanding if she was still 17 or older now; Crawford isn’t very giving with the nitty-gritty details. It would appear so, as Kitty sleeps with the mobsters on demand due to incriminating photos she’s afraid will be turned over to her parents. Yet Crawford writes the character as if she’s in her 20s, with the maturity of an adult. Anyway she offers herself to Stryker after he comes through on his offer of giving her the photo negatives (which he got on one of his torture raids), so that she no longer has to worry about being blackmailed. “I know it’s been used and abused, but you’re welcome to what’s left,” she says, offering up her nude body. Stryker after a bit of uncertainty complies, leading to an off-page sex scene; Crawford, for all his sleaziness (Stryker for example has taken to calling his enemies “big cunt” this time around), always refrains from writing actual sexual material.

But otherwise the sleaze is on the level of Bronson: Blind Rage; the sick bastards Stryker is up against are ultra-creeps of the most deviant sort. In his vengeance-quest Styrker uncovers a sort of sexual slavery ring – complete with evidence of the women being tortured and mutilated as punishment – as well as a friggin’ baby-selling scheme, one that’s run by a vice cop at that. This would be Bowman, a big bad dude – “by far the toughest” man Stryker has ever fought – who is another of those minor characters who hijacks the narrative for several pages, given an overdone backstory of several pages. While Stryker is taking on this guy in a knockdown, dragout fight in a steam room – the same place where Stryker tossed the slave-ring runner onto burning rocks, leaving him there to die so that his sizzling corpse makes everyone puke – another Antro thug is on his way to New Mexico to kill Chino Bellon.

This elicits Stryker’s last run of vengeance; Crawford skillfully employs Stryker’s Scottish heritage, how his MaGregor clan was the very one ordered to be killed “by fire and sword” by the Queen. The finale features Stryker carrying out his vengeance by those very means: he sets a fire, traps his prey, and ends up decapitating him with a machete. It’s another grueling bit of darkviolence; Crawford should’ve garned a loyal following of readers who were into hardcore, no punches pulled violence, but it looks like he faded into obscurity, his final works turned out in a variety of pseudonyms for book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel. My assumption is he died in the late ‘70s, as there’s nothing by him I can find later than that.

The finale sees a burned-out Stryker heading to his mother’s place for some rest…apparently his daughter is there as well, though once again we’re only told about her. Stryker has taken out everyone behind the murder of his wife and friends, but has come upon the realization that perhaps he’s been put on earth to do this sort of thing – take out sick bastards. In particular he’s riled up by those photos of tortured and beaten women he found; he’s since discovered that many of the women were murdered. He’s certain there are other such sex-slavery rings out there, and by god he’s gonna smash ‘em. I’ll try to get to the next installment a lot sooner than I got to this one.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Red Is For Murder (Hardy #3)

Red Is For Murder, by Martin Meyers
No month stated, 1976  Popular Library

The most slothful of private eyes returns in the third volume of Hardy, and once again if I didn’t know any better I’d assume “Martin Meyers” was just another pseudonym of Len Levinson. Seriously, their styles are almost identical – with the caveat that Len turns in more entertaining work. But Meyers was a real person, and I see now that he died in 2014, two years before his Hardy novels came out as eBooks.

This one picks up a couple months after the previous volume; it’s a few days before Christmas, and Hardy has just been let out of the hospital for knee surgery. As known from previous volumes, Hardy has a trick knee, and apparently he injured it even more in the events of the previous book. He’ll use a cane and experience knee pain throughout Red Is For Murder, the events of which span three months. This knee trouble in particular has a Levinson ring to it, with Hardy even buying a leg weight in some Manhattan sports shop and hobbling around with it to strenghten his knee, even using it as an impromptu weapon – all this just had a bit of a Len Levinson vibe for me.

Hardy’s immediate first stop is the apartment of Kate Arnheim, a hot redhead we’ve never met before, I think; we’re briefly informed that Hardy’s usual pals Steve Macker and Ruby Rose are both out of town, and they’ll remain so for the duration of the novel. Yes, this means that for once Hardy himself does all his private eye work, and doesn’t leave the heavy lifting to Macker. But make no mistake, Hardy’s “method” remains the same as ever – checking the TV Guide for what old movie’s on, preparing himself elaborate meals, walking aimlessly around Manhattan, sitting in the barber chair in his Riverside Drive home, and getting lots of sleep. As ever he scores with a few eager gals – Hardy is the “sensuous sleuth,” after all – but also as ever Meyers refuses to give us any sleazy details. This is ironic, because it robs the series of the one trashy thing it has going for it.

I say “ironic” because Popular Library clearly hyped the trashy elements in their packaging of the series; the Hardy books could be viewed as an example in the power of marketing. Looking at the cover and sensastionalistic blurbs and back cover copy, one would get the impression that the five books in this series are just lurid blasts of ultra-‘70s trash. Unfortunately they are not. One wonders what Meyers thought of how Popular marketed his work – one also wishes that he might’ve taken a little inspiration from his publishers and tried to turn out a series more in accord with the marketing department. I mean folks, three volumes in and Hardy’s never even touched a gun, yet there he is toting one on the cover of every single volume!

After some off-page lovin’ Kate and Hardy make a date for Xmas Eve. Hardy whiles away the next few days – Meyers has a penchant for delaying things for no plotwise reasons, particularly for no dramatic reasons – and on Christas Eve he keeps waiting and waiting for Kate to answer her phone. He goes over to her apartment that night to find, you guessed it, her bloody corpse. Hardy calls the cops and ends up talking to his “pal” at the local precinct, Gerald Friday, who has appeared in all the novels. Hardy meanwhile mourns Kate for all of a few pages, but he does at least vow to find out who killed her, especially when the cops don’t come up with any leads.

Flashforward to February, and while Hardy’s pretty much over Kate, he still wants to know who murdered her and all. But the cops don’t have much to go on. He retains the assistance of Friday, who lets Hardy know all the people in the Kate’s apartment building, info that’s clumsily relayed over a few pages of exposition, as if we readers are supposed to take notes on who’s who. Around this time one of the guys who lived in the apartment, a PR type, is killed in his office. Hardy of course suspects a connection. This guy was boffing his girlfriend, Denise, the night Kate was murdered, and Hardy calls Denise up – and is himself boffing her (offpage) that night! People quickly move on from grief in the world of Hardy; Denise later relates that the murdered dude was just another casual lay she had going on.

Speaking of casual lays, Denise visits Hardy a whole bunch at his Riverside Drive place, spending the night and engaging in weekend-long boffs, and ultimately even goes out with him on a few of his private eye deals. She’s an actress and for the most part replaces Ruby Red, Hardy’s hooker friend who served a similar capacity in previous books. But Denise is given more importance and it’s implied Hardy’s falling in love with her – a lot of the book’s padded length is given over to their bickering, with Denise being asked out by producers and Hardy being resentful, and Denise calling him to apologize and whatnot. Meanwhile Hardy has no qualms with screwing any random babe who comes his way.

But don’t be misled. Most of Red Is For Murder is along the exact lines of previous installments – Hardy sitting around, getting lots of sleep, feeding his dog Holmes, watching TV, and shoving his face with gourmet meals. This time we have the added element of his bum knee, which he grumbles about at length. Folks, this novel – and the series in general – is so damn boring that even Hardy himself is bored! Don’t believe me? Check out this excerpt. It’s also a good example of that strange penchant of Meyer’s I noted; he’s forever having Hardy plan to do something like hours or days away, then whiling away the time as he waits:

It was still early [for Hardy’s date with Denise]. Hardy prepared Holmes’s dinner. Then he turned on the television and turned it off. He looked through his own TV scanner that covered the street entrance. Nothing interesting. He swiveled around in his chair and looked up at the shelves of books He got up to take a closer look. Muhammad Ali’s face stared at him from the paperback cover of Sting Like A Bee. Hardy took the book to the chaise and read till it was time to go.

And that’s just page 47!! We’ve got another 100+ to go. Hardy is bored throughout most of those pages, often looking for ways to pass the time.

When not catching up on his sleep, Hardy often visits his prime suspects, a pair of writers who employed Kate. These two are involved with a shady businessman who has mob connections; Hardy soon notices a thug loitering outside Kate’s apartment and glaring at Hardy every time he walks by. After a party in which Hardy runs afoul of this guy, he goes home with some random babe, has some more of that off-page sex, and then when leaving walks right into the mobster and henchman. It was all a trap, but Hardy uses his cane as an impromptu weapon; he jabs a hole in the waterbed and uses the gushing water to foil the thugs long enough for him to hobble away. I’m not making that up, either.

Soon thereafter Hardy’s moved on to his next conquest, a busty megastar in the Raquel Welch mold. The sole memorable bit in the novel features her and Hardy watching one of her early movies, in which she played a cavewoman, on TV: “Look at those boobs,” she says, oggling her younger self. One of their boffs, by they way, occurs with the lady still wearing her clothes, as she has an event to go to; Hardy thinks to himself that she’s the kinkiest lay ever, up there with the Duchess of the previous volume.

After various bits of padding – more meals consumed, naps taken, and off-page sex – it culminates in a party in which Hardy hopes to out the killer. The reveal is as thoroughly pre-PC as you can get – the killer turns out to be one of the gays in Kate’s building, who, “like most homosexuals” (per cop Friday), hated himself for being gay and wanted to be straight, so put the moves on Kate…only to find he couldn’t do the deed. And when she laughed at him he killed her…and became so excited killing her that he “made it” after she was dead, hence the signs of Kate having been sexually assaulted by her murderer. Don’t worry about Hardy toting a gun or anything in the climax; Friday does the heavy lifting, bringing the murderer in.

And here Red Is For Murder ends, but I have to admit, while the book was as dull as the others, perhaps even duller, I guess I myself was in a bored sort of mood when I read it, as this one didn’t annoy me as much as the others did.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Co-Ordinator (Jonas Wilde #2)

The Co-Ordinator, by Andrew York
No month stated, 1968  Lancer Books
(Original UK edition 1967)

The second installment of Jonas Wilde is one of the best Bond cash-ins I’ve yet had the pleasure to read. While I enjoyed the first volume, this one had me entertained from first page to last. If anything it frustrates you that Christopher “Adrian York” Nichole didn’t go on to fame and fortune as the author of this series. And it’s also too bad there was never a film version, though judging from Danger Route the producers likely would’ve failed to reap the potential of this installment, too.

It’s four months after The Eliminator, the events of which are referred to throughout this one, so I’d advise reading it first. However Wilde is the only major returning character; he’s now in the Isle of Wight, still living on a boat, and still part of the “Disposal Unit” of British intelligence. I don’t think we were given the name of his outfit last time, nor were we informed, as we are here, that Wilde’s codename is “The Eliminator.” Anyway he’s still the official assassin for Her Majesty’s government, but hasn’t gotten any assignments since the previous book.

Nichole elaborates on other elements that went undisclosed last time. For one, that the Russian agent who was behind the destruction of the Disposal Unit is named Laurent Kieserit; he’s a KGB director, and he also happens to have been the father of Jocelyn, ie the woman Wilde wanted to marry, but who turned out in the finale to be a deep-cover operative sent to kill him. Now Kieserit himself is in England, having finally tracked down Wilde in the hopes of killing him, and not just for having killed his daughter. To this end he’s retained the services of Russia’s version of Wilde, a guy who looks like a banker and turns out to be hilariously ineffectual.

Wilde takes care of the would-be killer and breaks with protocol, contacting HQ in London. Here we meet Mocka, who I assume will be a recurring character in future volumes; several years younger than Wilde but his new boss nonetheless, Mocka is a shady spook who operates out of a portrait studio. He doesn’t like Wilde and considers him a harbinger of earlier, more savage times. Regardless, he has a new mission for Wilde: he’s to go to Copenhagen and kill Gunnar Moel, a WWII pilot turned “co-ordinator” of a spy ring turned famous fashion designer(!). Wilde mulls for just a bit over how coincidental it is that Mocka happens to have an assignment for him at this moment, given that Mocka has ignored him for the past four months.

This then is similar to the previous book: Wilde goes off on the job, uncertain if he’s being used for more nefarious goals. After hitting on Mocka’s hot secretary Julie, complete with a trip to Carnaby Street to pick up some mod clothes for his cover as a trendy apparel buyer, Wilde is on his way. He’s to be escorted into and out of Copenhagen by Inger Morgan-Browne and her husband; Wilde meets her on the train ride, and of course she’s a gorgeous blonde with a phenomenal body. But there’s much more to Inger than that, and indeed she basically steals the novel. She’s German, but speaks several languages – “I am what is termed a genius,” she informs Wilde, and indeed she is, with arrogance to spare. In fact she sort of reminded me of the female Terminator in Terminator 3 of all things, even down to checking herself out in any mirror she passes.

One of the many enjoyable elements of The Co-Ordinator is the dialog between Wilde and Inger. Wilde as ever delivers several humorous quips, very much in the vein of Connery’s take on Bond, mixed a bit with Moore’s later take on the character – at least in how Wilde has suddenly taken to referring to all women as “darling.” Expectations that the two will go at it, per genre demands, are soon dashed: “You are confident that you can induce me to enjoy an orgasm and that afterwards I will be your slave,” Inger tells Wilde, denying him the pleasure. She’s all business, and claims to be happily married to her arthritis-ridden, wheelchair-bound husband, Christopher.

Whereas the previous installment lacked a memorable villain, this one delivers in a big way: Gunnar Moel lives in an ultramod house of purple carpets and white walls; he’s a big guy with gray hair and dark glasses. The glasses have a wire that goes into a front pocket; Gunnar (as York keeps referring to him; odd to refer to your villain by his first name) is blind, having lost his sight in a plane crash, and now sees via a “sonic torch” method. I took it to basically mean he sees by a sort of radar, his glasses picking out colors, which he interprets accordingly – ie the white floors, etc. In pure Fleming mold he’s given to grandiose speechifying, in particular a padded bit where he traces a bikini design on the catsuit of his top model/assistant, Hulda, a smokin’-hot busty babe with short black hair.

The reader expects for the long haul to get even longer as Gunnar, still going on and on, insists Wilde join him in a game of bridge. Then Nichole throws such expectations out of whack with the arrival of Gunnar’s unexpected guest – Laurent Keiserit. Wilde springs into action, taking out Gunnar with his preferred execution method – shuto chop to the base of the skull – and tries to take out Keiserit as well. The taut scene features Wilde hiding in Gunnar’s spacious home while henchmen shoot at him, eventually making his escape in the freezing cold. Meanwhile Keiserit escapes, and Gunnar has been taken out, though a few days earlier than the strict timetable he was to follow. 

Nichole continues to twist expectations; Wilde makes it back to his hotel to find Christopher Morgan-Browne shot through the head. Wilde captures his killer, one of Gunnar’s henchmen, and when Inger shows up, having returned from “a Beatles film” (my assumption is it must’ve been a second run of Help! given that it’s 1967 and all), she cooly takes charge of the situation. Plus she isn’t too upset by her “husband’s” death – he was just a fellow agent, plus a pretend cripple to boot. Just to repeat, Nichole does excellent things with the character of Inger; despite her arrogance and duplicity, she comes across as one of the more likable, three-dimensional characters I’ve yet encountered in a novel.

Speaking of duplicity, Inger tells Wilde she’ll go along with him…then doses him with a drug when he falls asleep. Perhaps my only problem with The Co-Ordinator is that hero Jonas Wilde is in a drugged stupor for nearly a quarter of the narrative, led around by Inger like some automaton. Her goal is to take him to Kieserit, still back at Gunnar’s place, and use him as leverage for her own hiring into the KGB. Inger is unaware though that she’s captured Jonas Wilde, who we learn this time is legendary in the world of espionage. Wilde does use his superhuman powers of self-control to attempt a few failed escapes, but still this sequence is kind of a bummer because our hero is rendered so incapable for such a long stretch of time.

But things pick up in a major way in the final half. While Kieserit and Hulda disbelieve Inger’s story that she’s captured this British agent and brought him back as a sign of good faith for hopeful KGB employment, one person does believe her – Gunnar himself, who turns out to still be alive. Given that his neck was previously broken in that plane crash, something Wilde was unaware of, he was able to survive that shuto chop to the skull. Or something. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff here where Gunnar relays Inger’s horrific past, how she was raped endlessly as a 14 year-old by Russians in the immediate weeks after World War II, how Gunnar saved her, rats running over them all night as they hid from the Russians, how he had plastic surgery performed on her face so that it would match the beauty of her body.

Things get even more, uh, “wild” when Gunnar reveals that he’s into cryogenetic research and has a freezing facility beneath his place – built by the very same doctor who not only repaired Gunnar’s neck but also gave Inger a new face. After making Wilde and Inger strip down, Gunnar first toys with Inger a bit more, threatening her with some starving, freezing rats, and then he insists that the two go into the freezing chamber, where they will be cryogenically frozen. Gunnar intends to join them, planning to sleep for about thirty years, figuring that the world will be an “easier place to live in” by then. So that means they’d be waking up in 1997 – just in time for gangsta rap!

Gunnar’s plan is for the three of them to take advantage of this new world as a team – he likes Wilde, despite the latter, uh, trying to kill him, and he considers Inger his soul mate or somesuch – he has only been threatening her due to her quick betrayal upon thinking Gunnar was dead, blabbing about how much she disliked him. This leads into another very tense scene, where a naked Wilde must use his hand-chopping skills to get them out of the cryo chamber – not to mention a rather unusual method for warming up their bodies! Yet again though I have to mention that Christopher Nicole has this incredibly strange method of having his characters have sex but not outright stating that they are – the sleazy stuff always happens between sentences, to the point that if you don’t read carefully you’ll miss it. Bummer!

While there’s no sleaze, there’s some awesome pre-PC stuff which would enrage the feminists of today: Inger later declares that, for the first time in her life, she “felt like a woman” after Wilde made love to her – not that this stops her from again trying to kill him in another tense scene, one that features everyone shooting at Wilde in a darkened room. But after all the cryo chamber insanity, the climax is a bit underwhelming, almost comically so – it features Wilde slowly walking after Gunnar and Inger along the streets of Copenhagen.

This time Wilde truly carries out his assignment, leaving a frozen river to do his dirty work. Upon his return to London he discovers that Mocka was in fact using him – at the behest of Lucinda, the CIA agent who briefly appeared in The Eliminator. And meanwhile Kieserit is still out there; it appears that he will be something of a recurring villain in the series. Inger returns in the fifth volume, The Dominator, and I look forward to meeting her again; for some unfathomable reason, that fifth volume is pathetically scarce. It was never printed in the US and the UK copies are all priced in the stratosphere on the used books market. But the trash gods smiled on me and I got a copy for a pittance.

Anyway I really enjoyed The Co-Ordinator; it’s a shame this Lancer paperback itself has become so scarce, as more people should be aware of the adventures of Jonas Wilde. (Of course you could always just order the US hardcover via Interlibrary Loan – as I’ve mentioned before, if it came out in hardcover, you more often than not can get it via ILL.) This one’s entertaining throughout, with some wonderfully-realized characters, a memorable villain, and a sort of sci-fi flair. I have a suspicion though that, like The Sea Trap, this one will be an anomaly in the series, and posthaste we’ll return to the “realism” of the first volume.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Cybernarc #4: Capo’s Revenge

Cybernarc #4: Capos Revenge, by Robert Cain
October, 1992  Harper Books

By this fourth volume Cybernarc has moved away from the action movie-esue vibe of the first volume, with its bantering lead protagonists and large-scale action scenes, and become more of a sort of military fiction deal. Gone for the most part is the bantering, and William “Robert Cain” Keith replaces it with a lot of weapons acronyms and shoehorned data about drug smuggling, the Mafia, and Columbian gangs.

It’s the early ‘90s so we’re hot on that “super predators” tip, as Hillary C. infamously referred to the black drug gangs at the time. (At the very least, it gave us a cool Massive Attack song.)  But the novel is filled with the paranoia that unchecked drug running and crime and the like would descend the US into urban warfare within a few years, a la Predator 2 and etc. Throughout Capo’s Revenge we’ll get panicked reports of what unchecked drug-running may eventually lead to, particularly given that the notoriously savage Colombians are about to engage in war with the Mafia.

It’s five weeks after the previous volume and Chris Drake and his android pal Rod have moved into their new digs at Pirate’s Cay, the Bahamas. Keith injects a bit of a body horror vibe with a few scenes of Rod being dissasmbled and put back together, usually with his head gorily removed from his “Civilian Mod” body and put in his “Combat Mod” body, or vice versa. The novel in fact opens with a scene featuring Rod in the former body, crashing a party in Florida and trying to make off with a Comlumbian bigwig in the melee, but failing to catch him. This scene inspired the atrocious computer-created cover art, featuring a machine gun-wielding Rod versus a helicopter.

We’re often reminded that the events of the first volume were a year ago, and Drake still simmers with sorrow and rage over the murder of his wife and daughter therein. Translation: as usual, there will be no hanky-panky in this particular series. At least until the very end, when Drake finally decides to move on – and, uh, promptly bangs Dr. Heather McDaniels, hostuff blonde babe scientist on the RAMROD initiative. However we’re given no sleazy details, this being an early ‘90s men’s adventure/military fiction hybrid sort of thing. That being said, Rod does watch stalker-like from afar as the two have sex.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. James Weston, CIA spook who runs the show, flies in and tasks our duo with their new objective: stop the Mafia and Columbians from warring. Off they head for Manhattan, where they find the local consiglierie murdered in his own home, his family massacred. Keith excels in showing how Rod detects things humans cannot; with his far sight he spots a Latino dude watching the house from a parked car, and further detects traces of blood and other fluids on his clothing, all of it invisible to the human eye. Rod breaks the dude’s arm and interrogates him at Drake’s instruction – Drake being particularly driven this time around to kill all the druggers – and soon the two are in a huge gunfight on the streets of New York, complete with even a trip to the sewer system and a mention of the long-running “alligators in the sewer” urban legend.

Another element familiar from early ‘90s action: the stupid chief. This would be Weston, who chews Drake and Rod out good and proper, screaming about how they went above and beyond their objective, pissed on civil liberties, and basically broke every law in the book. To go all the way with the cliché, he even calls them a pair of “loose cannons.” Weston threatens to shut down the program and send Rod back to the lab, but it all comes off like page-filling. Which, sadly, Capo’s Revenge is filled with. In most cases the padding is courtesy expository dialog about the Mafia, as follows here, Weston going on and on about a particular family’s history and its dealings on the drug front. Much of this stuff is skimmable.

After their ass-chewing Rod and Drake (I always want to type “Rod and Todd”) are sent to Sicily, as it’s been determined the mobsters, under the visonary guidance of a capo named Grecco, are meeting to determine how best to handle the Colombian threat. Rod, being a robot, merely downloads a language program and thus can speak in fluent, accentless Italian, but also, being that he’s a robot, he asks the suspicious natives all sorts of blunt questions. This leads to the expected action scene, a bit sooner than expected, as Rod and Drake, armed with only pistols, defend themselves from an ambush by lupara-wielding local Mafioso.

Keith fills pages with lots of cutovers to the Mafia characters, discussing and arguing about what to do; Grecco has them in an ancient clifftop castle, guarded by an army of heavily-armed goons. Practically 75% of Capo’s Revenge is dedicated to Drake and Rod infiltrating the place and then battling the occupants – a running action sequence that goes on for a staggering 100 pages. So far only The Hitman #3 has come as close to padding out the pages with such an extensive, exhausting action scene, but like Norman Winski, Keith excels at such stuff, and gives good gore. That being said, Capo’s Revenge isn’t as gory as the previous installments.

It starts off with Rod again trying out his Sea Mod setting, which entails Rod in his Combat Mod body being put inside like an armored boat. From there he and Drake perform a soft probe of Grecco’s Mafia summit, to discover that the capo plans a total war of atrocity against the Colombians, killing them all – men, women, children. After a quick radio call to get approval from Weston, our heroes determine there’s only one option: for them to kill all the Mafia bastards, right here and now.

So begins the extended action scene, and it’s a testament to Keith’s skill that it never seems to drag or bog the reader down with deadening banality. I mean just imagine a 100-page action scene by Joseph Rosenberger. You’d be looking for your cyanide pills by the fifth page. “Anything – just make it end!” Ever the researchers, Rod and Drake use the opportunity to try out their new Heckler and Koch CAWS auto shotgun things, ie “Close Assault Weapons Systems,” which of course bring to mind the weapons used in the almighty Able Team #8. It appears these guns never got out of the experiment stage, but boy the way Keith has his heroes employing them you wonder why the US military never moved forward with the things – they kill people real good.

Keith delivers memorable moments throughout. Rod now has this new roving camera robot device called a “spider” which he can shoot via grenade launcher into some remote area; the spider activates and crawls around, recoding both video and audio, and Rod can transplant his entire consciousness into the thing, controlling it from afar. This is interesting enough but Keith adds a novel scene where Rod, his mind in the spider, acts as a forward observer, on the ground with the mobsters, directing Drake’s fire as the ex-Navy SEAL charges in with CAWS blasting. And there’s plentiful gore throughout; one of the charges for the CAWS fires flechettes, and sundry Mafioso are ripped to bloody shreds. Another memorable sendoff has the titular capo harpooned.

In the bloody melee Chris Drake experiences a sort of catharsis, or something; there’s a part toward the end where he opens up on full flechette fire on a group of escaping old mobsters and whatnot, chopping them up, then hears a woman screaming that there are kids nearby. And Drake pulls his finger off the trigger…and feels real great about himself. Because he didn’t kill the woman and the kids(!). But otherwise he shoots to pieces every mobster he encounters, then he and Rod make their escape. After which we flash forward a few weeks, where Drake, sort of reborn now, admits to Heather McDaniels that he’ll “never forget” his dead wife and daughter, but hey, all that is like so last year, so let’s screw in the sand. Oh and Rod watches from afar, grappling with his own jumbled robot emotions, ultimately concluding that he’s not human and will do just what he was built to do – kill drugger scum!

There were only two more volumes to go, so here’s hoping the next ones get back to the action movie vibe of the first one.