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.