Thursday, April 9, 2020

Mace #7: The Year Of The Cock


Mace #7: The Year Of The Cock, by C.K. Fong
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books

It’s curious that with this seventh volume of Mace Manor came up with a new house name: C.K. Fong replacing Lee Chang. I say curious because Bruce Cassiday, the writer who took over the series with this volume, clearly strives to mimic the style of Joseph Rosenberger, who served as Lee Chang for the first five volumes, whereas Len Levinson, who also served as Lee Chang in the previous volume, did his own thing. I know from Len that he never read any of the previous Mace novels, nor even knew who Joseph Rosenberger was (his succinct answer when I asked him: “I never heard of Joseph Rosenberger”), but it seems clear that Cassiday not only read Rosenberger’s Mace installments but went out of his way to replicate his style. 

All of which is to say The Year Of The Cock is ersatz Rosenberger; Cassiday successfully captures the flavor of JR’s clunky, soul-crushing narrative style, but he misses the oddball touches Rosenberger afficionados would expect. But the bland plotting, the egregious bios of one-off villains, the interminable action scenes that don’t have a single spark of excitement – all of it’s there. If I hadn’t known going in that Cassiday was Fong, I would’ve assumed it was Rosenberger on an off day. I don’t know much about Cassiday, and so far on the blog I’ve only reviewed one of his novels, the earlier psychedelic cash-in The Happening At San Remo. I have several other paperbacks of his, ranging from historicals to sleazy crime, so I assume he must’ve been pretty prolific and capable of changing his style to match the content.

In any event, Len’s novel is basically a blip and, in case there was any doubt, has nothing to do with the series itself, best judged as a standalone novel about some other half-Chinese kung fu wizard named Victor Mace. Because Cassiday gives us the same guy that Rosenberger did, a “Kung Fu Monk-Master” who works for the CIA and is capable of superhuman feats but has the personality of a thumbtack. Cassiday might give us a slightly more “human” Mace, in that this one actually has a libido (usually a much-lacking feature in a Rosenberger protagonist); there’s a part midway through where he falls for a honey trap scenario and has some (off-page) sex with a young Chinese babe. I don’t think the Rosenberger version of Mace would’ve had this experience.

It’s straight to the action and the egregious backstories for one-off opponents as we meet Mace in Galveston, Texas, where he’s busy tying himself to a motor boat that’s speeding across a dark bay. Mace we’ll learn is on his latest CIA assignment, looking into the nefarious presence of a Red Chinese cell here in Texas, one that’s led by a dude named Major Fong (who is compared to both Hitler and Frankenstein!). Curious too that “Fong” is the name of the villain as well as the name of the (fictional) author, leading me to believe that Cassiday was unaware that the house name for the series would change. But then, this opening action scene takes place at “Bruce’s Fishing Charter,” which is likely some in-jokery from Cassiday, so who knows. Oh and there’s the possibility that Fong might’ve killed Mace’s father, who we learn in brief backstory was American – it was his Chinese stepfather who sent Mace to the Shaolin school – but Cassiday basically drops this angle.

Mace quickly learns that it’s a setup, and the thugs on the boat have known he was here all along. They corner him and it goes straight into the Rosenberger-style action, with random asides detailing the goofily-named opponents Mace is about to crush. As with Rosenberger this results in a clunky, pseudo-omniscient tone, a tone Cassiday employs throughout the book:

Nick Bartolomew was next to join the surging attack on the Kung Fu Monk-Master. Armed with a twelve inch flyssa, a Moroccan sword characterized by a single-edged blade engraved and inlaid with brass, Bartolomew slid it histily[sp] from the scabbard he wore around his waist and came at Mace with a wild glare. 

“Your last breath on earth, you chink son of a bitch!” he yelled, and slid the deadly blade upward toward Mace’s groin. But the Kung Fu Tung-chi had anticipated the black-haired ex-con’s move with the blade, and countered by whirling around with a simple Korsi Tu Minga kick to the crotch. 

Shrieking in agony, Bartolomew sagged to the deck, his sexual apparatus a mass of jelly instantly radiating pain from its ruined center to every nerve ending in his body. As he fell, the ugly flyssa impaled him in the heart as he sank down face first. He twisted and tore at the deck plates with his bleeding fingernails as he slowly lost consciousness and died in the lashing rain.

Or this example:

An ex-hood named Pinky Desnoyers was the next who reacted with dispatch. An albino, he dyed his hair red to make himself presentable to his fellow man. Desnoyers went nowhwere without a snubnosed S and W .45 caliber revolver clipped to his shoulder holster.

Or:

“Make sure he’s dead!” yelled Sam Riley, known as One-Ball Riley ever since he had been partially maimed by the disgruntled husband of a floozie he had been caught with in bed one eventful evening.

One thing Cassiday actually outdoes Rosenberger on is the racial slurs. Not since the first volume has “chink,” “slant-eyes,” and sundry other racial putdowns appeared so many times in a Mace novel. Cassiday even comes up with wholly new ones, like “noodle-nibbler.” In fact there’s a long stretch where an Asian slur appears on every single page, as if Cassiday were trying to outdo himself. And it’s not just the villains coming up with the slurs, it’s everyone – cops, fellow CIA agents, etc. This opening action scene is our intro to this, as the seemingly-endless parade of thugs come up with slur after slur before Mace’s feet or fists pummel them into bloody burger. But as with Rosenberger there’s no joy in the action, and it just comes off like an interminable barrage of description from a martial arts how-to book. Cassiday does though try to retain the occasional goofy cap-offs for his action scenes, a la “The goon woke up and found himself in hell,” sort of thing you’d find in a Rosenberger Mace. Like this, from a later action scene:

The goon in the middle stormed in to deliver a Karate chop to the back of Mace’s neck. His hand connected, and Mace rolled with the punch. Immediately he recovered, forcing his muscles and his psyche to regroup in a positive chi effort. Instantly he was clear-headed and alert, backing around, wheeling slightly, and clobbering the man called Hank Grogan with a Dragon Foot snap kick in the solar plexus. The ball of the foot and the heel slammed into Grogan’s nerve centers, paralyzing him instantly and sending him crumpling to the ground. His abdominal wall collapsed and he was bleeding internally when they finally put him in the ambulance and sent him to Houston General. He recovered seven weeks later, but he was on soft foods for the rest of his life.

So as you can see, one could easily be fooled into believing this was the work of Joseph Rosenberger, and Cassiday does an admirable job of aping his unusual style. But sadly he is so successful that The Year Of The Cock (the working title of my autobio, btw) is just as boring as a legit Rosenberger book, 222 whopping pages of spirit-deadening blocks of prose and hardly any narrative momentum. There’s plentiful kung-fu fighting, though, but as with Rosenberger’s books it just comes off like dry textbook descriptions of outrageously-named moves being employed on outrageously-named thugs – thugs who spout outrageous racial slurs moments before their faces meet Mace’s feet.

The plot gradually centers around a Red Chinese plot to destroy the offshore oil rigs off the Houston coast. Mace sits through interminable meetings with his CIA comrades, the only memorable one being Benny Jaurez, the Houston chief of station. This too has the ring of Rosenberger, with the spooks sitting around in their humdrum office over cups of lukewarm coffee and trading exposition on the spy life (why a CIA ring is called a “pod,” etc). Eventually it comes to light that one of the various intelligence agents is a traitor, and there’s also an elaborate sting operation where Mace tries to out him. This bit leads to a surprise climax in which Mace, pursued by a dogged Houston cop who himself turns out to be a villain, is “rescued” by a hot young Chinese babe who pulls up in her sportscar and offers Mace a lift.

In what is as mentioned a departure from Rosenberger’s more cipher-like version of the character, this Mace actually goes back to the broad’s place and ultimately has sex with her. Her name’s Moon Chu Lingdoo, and she claims to be a string reporter for Time, currently working for the local PBS station. She says she’s “hopelessly Americanized” and there follows a lot of dialog between the two, concluding with Moon throwing herself on Mace, as she claims to be lonely. Off-page sex ensues, and Mace wakes up to discover, of course, that it was a setup – Moon is gone but some thugs have slipped into her darkened apartment to get the drop on him. Of course he kills them all and escapes without breaking much of a sweat.

In a laughable sequence Mace, again hanging out with Juarez, employs his total recall to review every single thing he glimpsed in Moon’s apartment, in particular the photo of a man on one of her tables. Mace and Juarez already know there’s a deep undercover spy for the Chinese government here in Houston, and Mace is certain this man in the photo is that undercover agent: Tom Galey, the director of programming for the Houston PBS station. I guess in 1975 it would’ve sounded crazy – maybe even impossible – that a member of the American media could be an undercover Red China asset. In 2020 it sounds downright timely. Mace of course is correct, and meanwhile Galey, who lives in a fortified compound, is busy arguing with Major Fong over how to carry out the operation on the oilwells, and also over whether or not they should kill Moon for failing in her mission. She attempts to escape, only to be raped (off-page) by a guard who captures her.

This leads to probably the “best” action scene in the book, with Mace infiltrating Galey’s compound and taking out a few guards, as well as some guard dogs with some hypodermic needles. He also manages to rescue Moon, aka the woman who nearly got him killed. Moon claims she didn’t know Mace was going to be attacked, etc, but she does give him and Juarez the info on the oilwell attack. This leads to the finale, with Mace and the CIA agents staging an assault on the PBS station, where it turns out Galey has set up a transmitter on the broadcasting tower. A signal from it and the offshore rigs will blow up. The climax is a bit gory, too, with Mace ripping out Galey’s eyes and shredding his throat, and another character performing some heroic sacrifice to both wipe out the transmitter and kill Major Fong.

And with this, thankfully, the book concludes…it’s too long, too wordy, too bland, but as I say it’s at least a successful mimicking of Joseph Rosenberger’s patented style. Only without the quirks that make the real Rosenberger’s work occasionally so memorable. Cassiday also turned in the next volume, which would prove to be the last of Mace.

3 comments:

gesuyarou said...

Man, despite this being objectively horrible, your descriptions for batty writing always sells me!

So you're saying I *shouldn't* buy that lot on ebay? ;)

allan said...

I look forward to reading this one. Very curious about the JRR-esque style.

pete doree said...

A while back I came across Mace #3, #5, #6 & #7 in a second hand shop, started #3 and practically passed out from boredom. But I've literally just finished Levinson's one, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Read it in two sittings and loved it. Very nearly as good as Steve Lee's Sloane & Sloane: Fistful Of Hate.
All excited, I've just started #7, and barely got three pages in before giving up. Ah well, there's always Year Of The Boar...