Monday, August 12, 2019

The Hook #3: Hate Is Thicker Than Blood

The Hook #3: Hate Is Thicker Than Blood, by Brad Latham
December, 1981  Warner Books

A big thanks to Darren Heil, who recently posted a comment on my review of the first volume of The Hook that the series was in fact not written by David Schow. And also Schow himself left a comment on the review, also stating that he wasn’t “Brad Latham,” so thanks to him as well – I must’ve missed his comment when he posted it back in 2017.

Darren Heil confirms what I started to supsect after the second volume; namely, that The Hook was written by at least two authors. That second volume was so out of line with the first one that it should’ve been clear as day to me when I read it; I mean the first one traded off between gumshoe action featuring oddball gangsters and incredibly explicit sex scenes, whereas the second one didn’t feature much of either. Per Heil, this is because an author named Richard O’Brien wrote the first, third, and fifth volumes of The Hook. I guess it’s still a mystery who wrote volumes two and four. Hey, maybe it was David Schow!! Oh, wait…

As with The Gilded Canary, Hate Is Thicker Than Blood is a busily-plotted private eye yarn occuring in a 1938 Bronx populated by misfit gangsters and uber-horny women. I mean these ladies will screw at the drop of a fedora, and damned if O’Brien doesn’t document each and every bang in full-on detail. I don’t mean this as a complaint; I’ve said before I think this genre should start where “over the top” ends, but at the same time something about the book seems sluggish, even though it’s only around 160 pages. But then like those other Warner “Men of Action” books, it’s got some very small, very dense print, so the page number is a bit misleading.

It's clear that O’Brien didn’t read the previous volume, which as stated has a totally different vibe than this one. Humorously in Sight Unseen Bill “The Hook” Lockwood fell in love with a woman, planned to marry her and etc, couldn’t believe he had finally found “the one” and etc…and the same scenario occurs here, with nary a mention of the previous volume’s babe. The veteran men’s adventure reader will of course know what happens to both these women. A proposal in this genre is practically a death contract.

Speaking of babes, the hardcore sex makes a huge return here, pretty much all of it on the level of the “Put it in me!” raunch of the first volume. Lockwood does pretty well for himself, scoring with four sexy women over the course of a couple days. I honestly never knew 1930s women were so damn horny. But they throw themselves at “The Hook” with wild abandon: a sultry female doctor; an old flame of Lockwood’s who is now a heroin-addicted mob floozie; a widow (whose sex scene, believe it or not, is completely off page – yet inexplicably this scene is spotlighted on the first-page preview); and finally a virginal but smokin’ hot babe who is the sister of the murdered Mrs. Nuzzo. O’Brien details each slam in full glory (save for the bit with the widow), featuring almost as memorable phrases as the first volume. My favorite: “Her fluids were hot on his phallus.” Almost sounds like slash fiction about Herbie the Love Bug.

Curiously though the violence, when it happens, isn’t nearly as exploited. Lockwood kills several goons, blowing them away with his customary .38 revolver, but there isn’t as much detail when it comes to the exploding fountains of gore and guts. Actually the action is kept on mostly a hardboiled sort of level, with Lockwood getting in as many fistfights as shootouts, taking a bit of damage along the way himself. There’s a tense bit where he’s captured and forced into a chair while a sadistic mobster tortures someone for info, and Lockwood gets punched around himself. Actually Lockwood’s captured a few times, which I guess is part of the hardboiled template but makes him come off sort of stupid sometimes.

The plot is muddled despite being ultimately simple: Bill “The Hook” Lockwood is called in by his cantankerous boss Mr. Gray at TransAtlantic Underwriters to look into an “easy” case: a Mr. Frank Nuzzo of the Bronx is calling in the insurance he had on his wife’s necklace, which has been stolen. That Mrs. Maria Nuzzo was killed in the robbery seems incidental; Mr. Nuzzo is more concerned with cashing in on that stolen necklace. Mr. Gray has no idea that “Frank Nuzzo” is really Frankie Nuzzo, an infamous mobster. Of course Lockwood is familiar with him, and instantly suspects that Nuzzo offed his own wife so as to collect on the insurance.

This leads to the first of many confrontations Lockwood has with Nuzzo; Lockwood gets in a ton of scrapes, chases, and shootouts in the book. And he encounters the usual parade of mobsters with goofy monikers: Wall-Eye Borowy, Fish Lomenzo, Willie the Weeper. From the start Lockwood’s certain Nuzzo hired someone to stage a robbery and murder his wife; eventually Wall-Eye Borowy (so named because his eyes look in opposite directions) is outed as the man who pulled the trigger. But things get more muddled, as the autospy shows that Mrs. Nuzzo was shot by two different guns.

It gets even more twisted when it turns out Mrs. Nuzzo was having an affair, and this would appear why Frankie Nuzzo offed her. This brings in Fish Lomezo, a sadistic hood who happens to be Maria Nuzzo’s brother, and now he’s out for revenge. Lockwood follows all these clues around, usually staying one step ahead of the mobsters. Soon he encounters Gina Lomenzo, Maria’s kid sister, a virginal beauty who is so dropdead pretty and innocent that Lockwood falls for her instantly. And of course she’s Fish Lomenzo’s other sister, but claims no knowledge of Fish’s criminal activities.

It just sort of churns on, Lockwood getting in and out of scrapes without batting an eyelash, complete with wrecking a carfull of hoods into the Hudson. And of course, banging a bevy of willing babes – the widow being the unsettling moment in this regard. At Maria Nuzzo’s funeral Lockwood overhears a Bronx lady talking about Maria’s whoring, and he goes to see the lady next day…she turns out to be a widow, her husband having killed himself due to the Depression, and she’s nice and horny. After some off-page lovin’ she gives Lockwood the dirt on Maria…and next day Lockwood reads in the paper about a Bronx widow’s mutilated corpse being discovered by the cops. Her throat’s been slashed and her tongue’s been cut out, a clear warning of what happens to people who talk. Lockwood doesn’t seem much bothered about it.

Instead, he’s too busy planning to marry Gina Lomenzo! He suffers from total amnesia that he was planning to get married in the previous volume as well. Even a glue-sniffing kid will know this romance isn’t going to end well, but at least O’Brien keeps the narrative interesting with oddball sleaze, like an arbitrary visit to a “floating cathouse in the financial district” where Lockwood tracks down the elusive Wall-Eyes Borowy. We also get a return appearance of bullish police chief Mad Dog Brannigan, which further gives The Hook the vibe of an amped-up ‘30s pulp.

The plot twists all over the place, as if O’Brien were trying to rewrite Chinatown, even though at the end it turns out Lockwood was right from the very beginning: Nuzzo really did do it, but the question is who fired the other gun that killed Maria Nuzzo. In one lame moment Lockwood even accuses Dr. Susan Venable, the hotstuff doctor he had fullblown sex with in the opening pages. This accusation is just forgotten in the finale, in which Lockwood is shocked – damn shocked, I say – to discover the other shooter was…well, you can probably figure out who it was.

The finale features all sorts of “tragic” reveals and reversals as Lockwood learns the truth behind the Nuzzo-Maria-Gina triangle, complete with Lockwood basically walking off a gunshot wound and managing to crash the car his would-be killer is driving. And while we are to understand Lockwood is heartbroken and devastated, a sort of apathy has long since set upon us, perhaps due to the crushing weight of the various plots and subplots we’ve endured. What I mean to say is, the problem with this series as I see it is that Bill Lockwood is lost in the shuffle, and there’s otherwise nothing that registers on the reader’s awareness, save for the ultra-kinky sex scenes.

Oh and how about this random bit of geekery…now we know that most of the series was written by Richard O’Brien, and as I mentioned in my review of the first volume, “Bill Lockwood” sounds like “Hugh Lockwood,” aka the main character of the obscure 1973 TV series Search. And Hugh Lockwood, my friends, was portrayed by Hugh O’Brian, thus bringing it all full circle. I’ll pause as your heads explode.

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