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.