Thursday, March 15, 2018

Richard Blade #7: Pearl Of Patmos

Richard Blade #7: Pearl Of Patmos, by Jeffrey Lord
July, 1973  Pinnacle Books

Manning Lee Stokes has a hard time of it with his penultimate volume of Richard Blade; you can easily see why the next one was his last. On the plus side, this was the first “new” story that Pinnacle published (“Here is our first original in the series”) – and per the copyright date they released it at the same time as their reprint of #2: The Jade Warrior. This must’ve been confusing for readers at the time, as Pinnacle spread out their reprinting of the first six volumes over a few months. Not that there’s much continuity in the Richard Blade series, but still – I can imagine some fans back in the day were a bit confused by the out-of-order publication schedule.

My guess is that Stokes had written this one the year before, but it wasn’t published due to MacFadden Books closing shop; same goes, no doubt, for volume 8. Stokes had probably already called it quits by the time producer Lyle Kenyon Engel got Pinnacle to take over the series, at which point Engel hired new series author Ronald Green. It will be interesting to see how Green tackles Richard Blade, but it can’t be as disjointed as what Stokes turns in for this particular installment. To be sure, Stokes’s writing is up to its usual caliber, but boy does he make some “interesting” authorial decisions, not to mention one of the most brazen cop-outs I’ve yet encountered in a novel.

As ever we’re not given much pickup from the previous volume; Blade is merely relaxing in his cottage in the sticks, swimming in the lake, when, as it normally happens in this genre, a hotstuff babe just happens to waltz onto his property and announces that she intends to swim. Stokes does a good job of setting up this “meet cute,” which has this gorgeous gal – whose face Blade finds somehow familiar – drafting Blade into a game in which they will call one another by fake names and might have sex, depending on how it plays out. She calls herself Diana, after the goddess of the hunt, and Blade calls himself Hercules; as ever, Stokes works some mythic references into the tale. More pointedly, Blade muses on Diana’s boobs in a paen that brings to mind the similar one Stokes delivered in the Nick Carter: Killmaster novel Spy Castle, even down to the repeating “connoisseur of breasts” line:

Her breasts were beyond description. Blade forgot words and simply gazed, his loins excited and moving. He was something of a connoisseur of breasts and he immediately recognized that hers were hybrid, half Nordic, half Mediterranean. Not tanned pears, but with a hint of conoid; not warm melons, but swelling to round fullness. Her nipples were half-awakened rosebuds.

Folks, I only wish I had enough field experience to instantly detect that a pair of freshly-bared breasts are “half Nordic, half Mediterranean,” but really this is just par for the course so far as it goes for a hero in a Stokes novel, and I for one am not complaining. And if “conoid” above had you surfing over to, be prepared for similar stuff throughout the novel; Stokes is usually a bit, uh, literary for the genre, but it’s as if in Pearl Of Patmos he wanted to set the bar even higher. On page one alone we encounter “sciomachy,” “litterol,” and “corundum.” Sometimes I think these fancy words are just Stokes entertaining himself while he bangs out the latest manuscript.

Blade starts to fall for Diana post-bang, but a game’s a game and off she goes in her fancy sportscar, never to see him again per the rules. Eventually Blade will learn that her name really is Diana; she’s the famous jet-setting young wife of some British notable, and at novel’s end (nine months later), Blade will return to Home Dimension (aka “HD”) and discover that Diana has a son. He is certain it is his, but knows he’ll never see the boy or even Diana herself again, so it’s yet another arbitrary go-nowhere development which will have no impact on Blade’s characterization. But at least we get one of Stokes’s patented graphic sex scenes early on, with Blade and Diana conjugating underwater: “Blade slid easily, deeply, into that moist undersea cavern.”

Finally it’s time for the latest trip into Dimension X (aka “DX”). There’s absolutely no reason why Blade goes over this time; previous volumes have at least gone through the motions of providing a reason for the latest trip, but this time there’s none. I guess Lord L and J are just sending Blade over to Dimension X because it’s there. Why not? Lord L greases up a nude Blade per the norm, this time casually putting a few extra wires on his “scrotum,” and then just as casually mentioning that this time he plans to send Blade over to DX “a little longer” than previous missions. What’s odd though is that Pearl Of Patmos seems to occur over less of a span of time than earlier volumes, at least so far as the DX portion goes. Stokes explains this away with vague mentions that time “runs differently” in those other dimensions, at least when compared to HD.

Blade finds himself in a temple that’s been set to fire, and fights his way out of the melee; soldiers in Romanesque sort of helmets and armor are ransacking the city Blade finds himself in. At lenth Blade will learn the city is named Thyrne, and the siegers are Samostans, barbarians who are led by the infamous Hectoris. Per Stokes’s usual template, Hectoris is much discussed but doesn’t actually appear in the text until the very final pages. Blade briefly hooks up with a roughneck criminal sort named Nob, a Thyrne local who helps Blade escape – sans Nob, who is apparently killed by the Samostans – down through a hidden sewer. Prepare for some gross-out stuff as Blade makes his way through a “horrible porridge of feces and urine and rotted flesh.”

Eventually Blade comes across the first of many statues of the living goddess Juna, in particular a 200 foot statue of gold, as depicted by Tony DeStefano on the cover. Blade meets the latest incarnation of Juna when he saves her from one of the most horrific fates I’ve ever encountered in pulp: a depraved priest named Ptol and his followers plan to put a flaming hot bronze helmet on the pretty girl’s face, burning her flesh down to the bone. Blade of course saves the nude babe, chopping of Ptol’s hand and killing one of the priests. But Ptol gets away and Blade regrets that he didn’t kill him. The reader soon regrets this as well, particularly given the copout Stokes will pull before novel’s end.

“[Blade’s] heart was not in the mission; over him there hung a strange lethargy and, name it, fear!” Folks I’ve said before that Manning Lee Stokes often used his characters as mouthpieces for his own complaints about the latest writing job Lyle Kenyon Engel had handed him; practically ever Stokes book I’ve read that was “produced” by Engels features a part where the protagonist bitches about his latest assignment and wonders what the hell he’s supposed to do. I think this time takes the cake, as it goes on throughout – page 148 features another humdinger: “This was a wasted mission and [Blade] knew it.”

Worse yet, Blade is fashioned into a chaperone here, escorting a haughty, ungrateful Juna (“a shrewd and articulate wench,” per Blade) and her entourage. Eventually Blade learns that Junia herself was plotting against Ptol; she is not from Thyrne, but from Patmos, an island empire, and via complex backstory came here posing as Juna but really working as a spy. She reports to Queen Izmia, the titular Pear of Patmos, Juna’s grandmother. That all settled, Blade overcomes Juna’s imperiousness and engages with her in the expected sex scene: “Enter the house of Juna,” she eagerly commands him. Blade for his part has taken to insultingly referring to her as a “temple whore,” and once she’s nice and randy Juna is only too eager to agree with him – “For the moment [Blade] was master and they both knew it.”

Patmos turns out to be a “land of flowers and drugs,” the populace hooked on a hash-like drug that keeps them all nice and mellow. Even the soldier who is to guard a newly-arrived Blade is a “popinjay” in Blade’s eyes, and they will all be easy prey for the advancing forces of Hectoris. Blade reunites with old pal Nob, not dead after all and also a sort-of prisoner here on Patmos: “They shook hands and in that moment Blade reasserted his strength and his authority.” Blade of course gets laid again, this time courtesy Queen Izmia, who like Juna is a hotbod young gal – a “giantess,” even, with silver hair and chameleon-like skin that seems to be reddish in its normal state. And despite being a “grandmother” she too is eternally reborn into youth; yet another of Stokes’s recurring motifs is the lustful young babe who in reality is quite old. And another of those recurring motifs is the sex scene: “[Izmia] was narrow and tight and moist and there seemed no end to her cavern.”

But here’s where that copout occurs. Blade’s woken up to find Izmia ready for some lovin’ – and folks, Blade has forgotten where he is. He’s forgotten Juna, Thyrne, Patmos, wily priest Ptol, all of it! Blade has amnesia!! It’s the most puzzling authorial copout I’ve yet encountered in pulp, as there is absolutely no reason provided why Blade experiences amnesia…we get some vagueries that it might be the computer back home messing with him, but it’s too little, too late. We must read now as Blade fumbles his way through his temporary command of Patmos’s island forces; he’s even so forgotten Ptol that when he catches the little cretin again, he doesn’t even kill him.

Stokes moves on to other stuff – like that mythic stuff he tries to imbue each volume with. And it gets real weird this time. Izmia, during that boff, captured Blade’s uh, effluvia in a cannister…and she takes this and puts it in a chalice and mixes it with wine and herbs and etc, and then has Blade drink it, after which Blade goes on this quasi-psychedelic swimming trip to the bottom of a well, where he gathers up a mystical sword. And Izmia’s gone when he returns, shriveling back up into the crone she truly is. After this wildness, the final fight with Hectoris’s warriors is anticlimactic, particularly given that Stokes page-fills with near-identical scenes of Blade first fighting Hectoris’s chief lieutenant in combat before taking on Hectoris himself in a similar match. 

As if the chalice-drinking, sword-gathering stuff wasn’t weird enough, Stokes caps off the DX portion of the tale with Blade conjugating with Juna, who again catches his seed, and this time spreads it on the mystical sword – which Blade then jams right up into a certain part of Juna’s anatomy(!). And all this psychedelic stuff happens and suddenly Juna becomes the new Izmia, with the silver hair and scarlet flesh and big build, and it’s all weird and crazy, and then Blade’s head snaps and he’s thrust back into Home Dimension, where it’s nine months later. Oh, and he sees in the paper that Diana is pregnant with a boy, which Blade is certain is his: “[Blade] had come back from hell to find a bit of immortality had been bestowed on him.”

Well, I enjoy doing these overlong reviews/rundowns of the Richard Blade series, and despite the padding and uneventfulness of this particular installment, I’ll be sorry to see Stokes’s tenure come to an end. But he only had one more volume to go, and I’m hoping he at least goes out with a bang.


John said...

"Half-awakened rose buds"? Sheesh!

Guy Callaway said...

Too funny.
Really like the pic of you & your proofreader, btw.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks, Guy!