Thursday, September 3, 2020

Hot Bullets

Hot Bullets, by Brick Killerman
No month stated, 1981  Tower Books

Years ago Justin Marriott told me about this obscure “Adult Western” from Tower Books; at the time he wondered if Jay Flynn was the awesomely-named “Brick Killerman,” due to some sleazy similarities to Flynn’s Joe Rigg books. When Justin told me the book featured a “whip-wielding Mexican villainess,” I knew the day would come when I’d just have to read it. Of course it only took me like 8 years, but anyway…plus I’m not really into Westerns, and in fact this will be the first review tagged thusly on the blog.

It looks like Tower was trying to cash in on the then-recent Adult Western trend, which as everyone knows is basic paperback Westerns with an overlay of hardcore filth. Of course, these were the only kinds of Westerns I read as a kid – I vividly remembering reading one in the ‘80s about Bigfoot. It was like hardcore sex every couple chapters and then I think Bigfoot showed up at the end. In fact I think the author even worked in a female bigfoot. I can’t recall the title of the book, but I know it was an installment of a long-running series. Maybe someone out there will know the one I’m referring to, and who wrote it. But anyway, Hot Bullets was intended as the start of Tower’s own Adult Western series, but it appears that only one other volume was published: Hell’s Half Acre, which came out the same year and is even more scarce and pricey than Hot Bullets. I’d advise saving your money, though, as despite occasional flashes of ghoulish charm, Hot Bullets is for the most part a bit of an overwritten slog, saddled with some of the most unlikable protagonists ever. Even the hardcore Western screwing can’t save it.

The narrative style is certainly strange, at times coming off like a pulpy equivalent of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (which hadn’t even been published yet, but still). Sure, it’s got hardcore sex, gory violence, and outrageous situations, but there’s a ghoulish pall which hangs over the book, a focus on morbidity and desolation. And there are these strange flashes of sub-“literature” throughout, with the unfortunate caveat that “Brick Killerman” is often guilty of telling more than he shows. This is particularly true for his characters; he introduces them, then proceeds to info-dump details about their attitudes and beliefs, and their firefighting skills and such, and pretty much all of it would be better-served if we actually saw it instead of were told about it. But regardless, there’s a level of insight at times that’s well beyond what you would expect from a novel titled “Hot Bullets” by a guy named “Brick Killerman:”

This sort of stuff had me wondering initially if the book was another from George Harmon Smith, who would go to similar literary – but flabby – lengths in his work for Belmont Tower. But Smith, at least in what I’ve read of him, wasn’t nearly as bad with the narratorial exposition. And also, his stylistic quirks aren’t really in evidence here. In fact the writing style seems different from any other I’ve encountered on the blog…but damned if the tone isn’t identical to Jan Stacy, particularly to what he wrote in The Last Ranger. Hot Bullets features the same sort of ghoulish morbidity as Stacy’s work, even down to minor details – for example, there’s a fascination with corpses being piled up or otherwise put on display, and “Killerman” describes the 1800s southwest like it’s a radiated hellzone straight out of a post-nuke pulp. Hell, there’s even a sort of mutant afoot: late in the novel our “heroes” encounter a monstrous opponent who is eating a literal horse leg when they encounter him…plus he’s surrounded by piled corpses.

There are several other similarities, which I’m sure I’ll document in my usual nauseatingly-pedantic manner in the review, but long story short, I wondered toward the end of Hot Bullets whether the novel was actually written by Stacy, maybe even with Ryder Syvertsen. The novel was published just a few years before the two began publishing as “Ryder Stacy.” The only problem is the narrative style, which is very different. Then I remembered that George Harmon Smith was an editor at Belmont Tower; indeed, according to Lynn Munroe Smith was often used as a fix-it author on manuscripts. So heck, this book could’ve been the product of Stacy (with or without Syvertsen), with some post editing tinkery by Smith (or some other editor), lending the novel it’s unusual narrative style. Failing that, my backup theory is that J.D. Salinger wrote it. Perhaps with an assit by Thomas Pynchon.

Anyway, Hot Bullets takes place entirely in the American Southwest, eventually veering into Mexico. The date appears to be sometime in the 1870s or later. The author is vague on the date, but we are sort of told that the Civil War was eight years ago. Maybe. Honestly I’m not sure, but we can be sure at least that it’s post-Civil War, for our hero, a one-eyed outlaw in black named Chance, fought in the war and then went on to a successful career of banditry. The novel is almost tiring in how the reader must spend so long figuring out what’s going on, so I’ll make it easy and tell you the setup from the get-go: Chance led a gang of bank-robbers and ultimately came away with three hundred thousand bucks. But his sultry Mexican girlfriend Maria sold him out and absconded with the money. Chance was taken into federal custody for some years and now has broken out and is looking for revenge.

This is where the narrative picks up, but again, the above is material that takes the reader a good damn long time to learn. In fact Maria is the first “main” character we’re introduced to, and she’s initally presented as a damsel in distress, which flies in the face of her true character. A couple mean outlaws ride into a Mexican town on the border, so mean that one of them, for no reason at all, shoots some poor kid’s dog (which leads to the passage excerped above). These guys are here for Maria, who turns out to be a hotstuff Mexican babe who only leaves with them because they threaten to kill her brother. In between taunting her with promises of rape, the three reveal that they’re old prison-mates of Maria’s ex, Chance, and they’re here to find the three hundred thousand bucks she supposedly stole from him.

Then of course Chance himself arrives on the scene, making short work of the three outlaws – and then throwing Maria on her ass. This sets off the bizarre relationship between the pair. For the two go back to the town…where Maria engages Chance in a pages-consuming, explicity-detailed sex scene, one in which the author curiously seems more focused on describing Chance’s oral treatment of Maria and her “jungle of wiry hair.” (And nope, he isn’t referring to the hair on her head.) This sequence also contains the phenomenal line, from Maria: “I need you, my lover! I need your cock! Your balls!” As if all this wasn’t enough, a post-orgasm Maria brings herself to the brink again as she imagines castrating Chance, an explicity graphic sequence that’ll make any male reader sweat in anguish. But unfortunately after this Maria splits – you see, despite her “damsel in distress” intro, she’s actually the villain of the piece, sort of, and Chance will spend the rest of the novel trailing her across the blitzed, pseudo post-apocalyptic Southwestern desert.

We know Maria’s the villain because she tries to kill Chance, brazenly enough, right after their all-night boinkery…it seems she’s like hooked on his stuff, or something, though humorously later in the book we’re informed that Chance isn’t the most “well-endowed” of dudes…honestly the only time I think I’ve ever been informed that the studly hero of a novel has a small dick. Well as everyone knows, it’s how you use it that counts, and Chance must do alright by Maria…not that this keeps her from taking off and heading for Mexico to reconnect with her latest boyfriend, a notorious bandit leader named Nuego whom she claims now has Chance’s money. The entire setup is really dumb – I mean why would Maria just give three hundred thousand bucks to this guy, and why, after all this time, would Chance even think any of it would still be left?

Killerman keeps us from pondering such imponderables by throwing bizarre material at us – like when Chance, soon after setting out on the trail, runs into a gang of six outlaw women who are in the process of whipping two bound men. The women – only two of whom are even attractive, we’re informed, Killerman buzzkilling his own pulpy concept – close in on Chance, who proves posthaste that he has no problem with beating the shit out of female opponents. This fight scene goes on quite a long time, Chance not killing any of the women but pounding them all into the ground with some savage kicks and punches. He also proves he’s no ordinary hero when he refuses to free the two poor dudes, knowing full well that they’ll suffer the brunt of the women’s wrath.

Meanwhile Chance himself is being chased, by a blond haired bounty hunter named Neems – who gets the jump on Chance while he’s enjoying a bath. This occurs in another of Chance’s strange meetings with Maria; he catches up with her in an abandoned hotel, easily dispatches the men Maria has stationed there to kill him, then forces her to draw him a bath. After another attempt on his life, Maria gets away again, and after this Chance and Neems serve as the main protagonists of the book, with Maria not appearing again until near the end. Oh but before I forget, here the author for no apparent reason tries to tie in with the modern day, ie the nuclear war fears of the 1980s, when Chance tells Maria of an Indian shaman he once met who had a vision of the future, of “the eagle versus the bear” in a great global confrontation, after which the entire world would burn. The book is filled with random, pages-filling stuff like this.

Chance is able to talk Neems into not taking him in for the bounty but instead forming an “unholy alliance” with him, and seeking out the $300,000, which they’ll split. This clunky plot contrivance is explained in that Neems knows this territory better than Chance. And also, Neems can pretend that Chance is his prisoner, so the two will be able to travel easier. Or something. But really, when these two set out on the trail the novel really appropriates the vibe of The Last Ranger or even Doomsday Warrior, in that they just encounter one ridiculous (but menacing) character after another. First they encounter a trio of renegade US soldiers, who are escorting one of Chance’s old gang members; our heroes butcher the lot in a nicely-done firefight (Chance by the way carries a Navy Colt .44 and Neems a Colt Dragoon), after which they find themselves in possession of a Gatling gun.

The Gatling is soon put to use when the pair wipe out a legion of goons Nuego has implanted in a small town, after which Chance and Neems are rewarded with a pair of hookers. Chance, apropos of nothing, decides to go the “backdoor” route with his whore, who tells him, right in front of Neems and his hooker: “That always hurts so. Even though you’re not as big as others.” Neems gets a chuckle out of this – he himself is quite “well-endowed,” we’re informed, but Chance is undeterred, and thus we are treated to a few pages of buggery. The part after this is where my “Jan Stacy senses” started to tingle; Chance and Neems come out next day to find that the townsfolk have arranged the corpses of the slaughtered goons in coffins, lined up on the city street, and have turned the whole thing into a sort of thank-you ceremony…complete with a cake a local baker presents the pair! All of this is uncannily like something you’d encounter in The Last Ranger.

Strangely though, for an “Adult Western” the sex isn’t as frequent as you’d expect in Hot Bullets. It’s like our mysterious author realized this, for immediately after the all-night festivities with the two hookers, Chance and Neems run into those six outlaw women Chance tussled with earlier in the book…and the women propose an orgy to make up and let bygones be bygones. We’ll forget that some of them are supposed to be fugly; Neems takes on three while Chance gets three, and since he’s the hero he gets the two who are apparently pretty. This part also goes on and on, but like the other sex scenes in the book it fails to generate any heat, despite being explicit. In fact there is an unpleasant tone to the screwing throughout.

Another “I just walked out of a Ryder Stacy novel”-type character appears soon after: Piedmont, a moronic scalp hunter. This character really sent my Jan Stacy Senses to tingling, but again, I could be entirely wrong. And yet, shortly after this we get to the most Last Ranger-esque sequence in the book: the climax plays out in the City of Blood, nightmarish domain run by one of Nuego’s comrades, a place where corpses are piled high and death reigns supreme. The city is guarded by a 9-foot tall, hulking-muscled pseudo-mutant, exactly the sort of thing you’d encounter in Doomsday Warrior. When Chance and Neems – now with a captive Maria and Nuego with them – confront the massive guard, they learn that they must defeat him to gain entry into the city. This Chance does, somewhat unbelievably, in a rather quick fight.

The climax at least is suitably apocalyptic. Chance learns that most of his money has been used to fund the building of the City of Blood, but he’s able to get back the remainder. At this point all hell breaks loose, and the Gatling gun is once again used to memorable and gory effect. Chance shows his complete ruthlessness, though – and spoiler alert, but honestly the book’s so scarce and overpriced I figured I might as well spoil away and save you the time and money. Well anyway, Maria’s tied to a stake during all this…and Chance lights up some dynamite and tosses it beside her, doing away with her for good! After which he gets in a duel with Neems – and that’s not a spoiler, because the back cover already tells us this is going to happen. By novel’s end a lone Chance rides out of the burning City with half his loot, to return in Hell’s Half Acre – not that the book tells us this, or indeed even lets us know that this is intended as the start of a series.

The problem with Hot Bullets is that it just isn’t fun, which is odd given the pulpy setup. There’s just a dispirited air that hangs over everything, as if the life’s been sucked out of it. I mean when I read these books, I want the impression that the author is cackling with insane glee as he writes, but I don’t get that from Mr. Brock Killerman. Rather, I get the impression that he’s just going through the motions, and the spark of creativity is hard to detect. Save, that is, for the sub-literary flourishes…which don’t even really belong in a novel titled Hot Bullets, I’d argue. Anyway, I can’t say I hated the book, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it, either. I definitely remember liking that Bigfoot Adult Western a lot more, so maybe someday I’ll look for it again.


Paperback Warrior said...

Great review. It certainly sounds like a Stacy idea, but the year doesn’t work. In talking with his brother, there was no mention of this book. In my discussion with him, Stacy seemed to be thrilled to land a publishing deal on the non-fiction works. That would come to fruition 2 years later. If he did pen a western in 81, then we would probably have found other fiction from him from 81-83 and that hasn’t happened. I never received any sense that Stacy liked westerns. He was into martial arts, shaman stuff, Japanese history. But we may never learn the truth. My entire discussion with Stacy’s brother and a biography of his life is on Paperback Warrior and in the new Justin Marriott book “Pulp Apocalypse” (with photos of Stacy). Check it out:

Unknown said...

I bet that Bigfoot book was "Sasquatch Hunt," one of the Gunsmith series by J. R. Roberts. Although I *think* there may be another adult-western series book with a guy looking for Bigfoot... I'm not sure about that, but I seem to recall one.

Westerns can actually be really good, I've been reading a lot of 'em lately. Louis L'Amour is a hell of a writer, and everything I've read by Elmer Kelton has completely blown me away.

Nathan Shumate said...

I imagined that photographed section being read in Kriswell's voice. That improved it immeasurably.