Dark Angel #4: The Godmother Caper, by James D. Lawrence
July, 1975 Pyramid Books
Friends, it’s a damn shame this was the last volume of Dark Angel. While James D. Lawrence floundered with the previous volume, this time he turns in a wild, wild novel that comes off like 192 pages of madcap sleaze. His operating principle appears to have been: When in doubt, have someone try to take advantage of heroine Angie “The Dark Angel” Harpe. And boy do they try to take advantage of her throughout The Godmother Caper, sometimes in the most outrageous ways imaginable.
Just like last time, it’s clear that Lawrence is plowing ahead with no clear direction for the narrative. But last time this resulted in a ponderous, repetitive book with few thrills. This time he practically throws everything in just to keep things moving. More importantly, everything is ramped up in this final volume. While the series was always pretty kinky, this time it’s downright hardcore – not up to the pages-filling boffs of The Baroness, but much more detailed in Angie’s frequent sexual shenanigans, whereas previous books would just give some juicy details and then fade to black. Here Angie gets it on in graphic splendor throughout, and Lawrence even treats us to a girl-on-girl scene as Angie seduces a “closet lesbian.”
Also the violence has been greatly expanded; I think the previous volume was the first time Angie even killed anyone, and that was only relayed briefly, almost as an aside, in the final pages. This time she’s “drilling” would-be rapists and muggers left and right, blowing them away with her Baby Browning or backup .25 with nary a thought. Previously she’d just bust some heads with her martial arts skills or her lead bar-lined purse and then run away. Now the Dark Angel plays for keeps, resulting in a novel that has more graphic sex and violence than the previous three installments combined. Lawrence also doles out an eleventh-hour subplot in which it’s revealed that Angie, in the past, has done contract spy work for various super-secret intelligence agencies, some of them “kill” missions, implying that future volumes might’ve seen the series progress in more of a Baroness direction.
Regardless, Angie is in full private eye mode here, as usual offered a job that turns out to be vastly more complicated and dangerous than she initially suspects. Only problem is, the back cover copy sort of blows the mystery. Angie’s approached by a platinum blonde in “goofy” glasses with “voluptuous tits;” as ever, the cover art faithfully captures characters and scenes from the novel, even down to the “Negroid Faye Dunaway(!)” ensemble Angie sports for this meeting. The blonde gives her name as “Marilyn Johnson” even though her cigarette case is stamped “GM.” Angie will spend the upcoming 180-some pages of dense, small print pondering over who this woman really is, until late in the game she realizes it’s the infamous “Godmother” of New York’s most exclusive cathouse, thus the “GM” on the woman’s case. Meanwhile, the back cover text – not to mention the title of the novel – already clues us in.
Marilyn Johnson offers Angie five thousand bucks to look into the rape of her 20 year old niece, who says she was just raped on the streets of Manhattan by a Mafia torpedo named Carlo Fosca. Angie, suspecting there’s a lot more to this than she’s being told, takes the job, and when she goes to Fosca’s place she finds a pair of balls nailed to the wall. Perhaps Lawrence wanted to be sure we were aware that this would be a “balls to the wall” sort of novel. And it is, as Angie’s jumped right on the scene by a pair of hoods who try to rape her. Lawrence is one of the few men’s adventure writers to offer topical details of his era, and it’s these touches I love so much; he also often mentions rock acts of the day, and this folks has got to be the one and only mention of Black friggin’ Sabbath in a ‘70s action novel, as Angie’s forced to strip and dance a go-go to “a hot and heavy number” by Ozzy and the boys.
This sequence in a nutshell gives us another indication of the prime concern of the novel: Angie getting raped. Indeed one almost gets the intention that it was Lawrence’s express purpose to piss off any feminist who might, for whatever reason, happen to read The Godmother Caper. Angie throughout is getting stripped down, fondled, assaulted, and nearly raped, and that’s not even mentioning the number of times she’s propositioned. In one particular sequence she actually throws a guy a mercy fuck just to get the intel he’s promised her. The rape stuff was there in previous volumes, but like the sex and violence it’s been ramped up tremendously this time; here the two hoods in Fosca’s place force Angie to strip and then one prepares to rape her while she’s forced to give the other a blowjob. Or as Lawrence refers to her as she performs the act: a “n – fellactrice!” For once again, Angie’s only referred to as black (in the most derogatory manner possible, of course) when she’s being mocked; otherwise she’s consistently referred to as “bronze-skinned.”
Here we also get our first taste of how Lawrence is just going to keep throwing plot developments at us, some as arbitrary as can be – the most egregious being the aforementioned bit where Angie, apropos of nothing, is contacted by a “glutinous”-voiced Peter Lorre type who works for a top secret agency called ALICE and tries to draft Angie’s services, complete with a necklace he insists she wear which serves as a two-way radio and homing beacon. It can also tighten on her throat Running Man style, to the point of decapitation, so as to keep her in line; the “slave collar,” the cretinous agent calls in – and then goes on to inform Angie he must know all of his female agents “carnally.” You guessed it, another attempted rape ensues, with Angie saved at the last moment by her main squeeze in the novel, a young stud named Jeff North. After which the two run away – and the incident is just brushed under the narrative carpet. And that’s just one example of the arbitrary subplotting that goes on throughout.
The main plot has to do with an ancient bust of the goddess Selene which was stolen from Turkey and smuggled into the US, eventually landing in the hands of Nimrod North, elderly art dealer who was a friend of Angie’s. But Nimrod’s dead of a heart attack and his hunky nephew Jeff is certain someone caused the cardiac arrest. He runs into Angie when she is, naturally, fully nude, escaping from that attempted rape-blowjob scene described above. She jumps in his car and they take off and Angie knows Jeff can barely contain himself, what with all the “naked tits and pussy” on the car seat beside him. But Jeff’s engaged to a knockout named Beryl who insists on putting off sex, so he doesn’t respond immediately to Angie’s propositions that night in her swanky pad. Of course he eventually gives in, and becomes Angie’s main bedmate.
That isn’t enough for Angie, though, as later on she meets Beryl, who worked as Nimrod’s assistant, and succeeds in seducing her, as well. The second volume had a brief lesbian sequence, but here Lawrence goes full-bore with it. Angie even suggests a three-way, but surprisingly that doesn’t happen. The stuff with Marilyn Johnson and her raped niece and the literally emasculated Carlo Fosca gradually plays into all of this, as does seemingly-unrelated stuff like an anti-rapist and mugger vigilante group and a possibly-related enforcement wing of the group called “LF.” Lawrence gets way out with this; when we finally see the LF in action, sticking up a dingy bar that Angie of course happens to be in, they’re wearing “UFO getups:” green coveralls with masks that have speaker grills that distort their voices. “Buck Rogers stuff,” as another character refers to them, perhaps indicating Lawrence’s past writing the juvenile sci-fi series Tom Swift.
But this is just the framework for lots of sleaze and attempted rapes. The novel occurs over two or three days, and these are hectic days for Angie to say the least. She’ll go from bed with Jeff to almost getting raped on the street to dining at the Y with Jeff’s fiance to a gunfight with some Mafia hoods, all within a few hours, like a Blaxploitation 24 or something. Much of this too is as arbitrary as can be, like when Angie decides to scout around New York to see who is spraypainting all the vigilante slogans, finds one guy in the act, and sneaks up on him, only to discover too late that he’s spraypainting an anti vigilante message! You guessed it, this guy tries to rape her, too – indeed, he strips off her panties and prepares to do her “Greek” style. Or rather, “Angie could feel his penis start to anally penetrate her.” But Angie manages to save herself with a ring that contains a small but razor sharp stiletto.
It goes on like this throughout, with action and sex sprinkled here and there. The Godmother stuff doesn’t even play out until the final pages; Angie spends more time chasing various leads and red herrings trying to track down the missing bust of Selene. The finale brings it all together, though, with Angie retaining the services of a ‘Nam pilot vet (a smooth black guy who likely would’ve turned up again in ensuing volumes) who drops her and Jeff off on the Godmother’s Manhattan building. Dressed in black jumpsuits with hoods and toting Sten submachine guns (a recurring theme from the finales of previous volumes), the two storm the cathouse. Lawrence busily wraps everything up here, and even manages to throw in a guy with an acid-disfigured face who wears a metal mask and mummy-like wrappings.
And I haven’t even mentioned all the other random wildness, like the part where Angie, offered a job by a creepy old Mafia don, instead pulls her gun on him and forces his men to strip and strike homosexual poses for photographs that will be used for blackmail purposes, should the don attempt any reprisals on her! Or when Angie visits the Godmother’s cathouse and deems the place a “veritable cuntropolis,” given the number of customers and sex acts being performed behind unlocked doors. Or the guy who gets Angie in a chair with cuffs that rotates around and turns into, you guessed it, a handy platform for raping her. Lawrence has so much fun with this particular sequence that he doesn’t even bother telling us how Angie breaks free of the cuffs, though I figure she used that stiletto ring.
Really, The Godmother Caper suffers from a lot of problems – messy plotting, random subplots, bald exposition serving as plot developments. But as trash it’s pure gold. It was by far my favorite volume in the series, and really I enjoyed them all except for the third one, which was tepid. But this one makes me wish there had been a fifth volume. My assumption is the readers of the day just didn’t take to a “bronze-skinned” heroine in the male-dominated world of men’s adventure, and more’s the pity.