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.

1 comment:

Guy Callaway said...

'Variety' reviewed pulp paperbacks? ;)