Thursday, November 19, 2020

Rape Squad


Rape Squad, by Simon Wolf 
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books 

First of all, this obscure Manor paperback original is not a novelization of the 1974 grindhouse film of the same title. It’s a slim police procedural about a three-person team of police officers trying to prevent rape in a small city, and it isn’t nearly as exploitative as the title, cover, or publishing house would have you suspect. In fact, there is a conservative tone to the narrative, almost approaching a Gothic at times. This would make sense, as if I’m correct “Simon Wolf” was the pseudonym of an author who had previously published a Gothic novel. 

A curious thing about Rape Squad is that it unwittingly prefigures and mirrors the despicable exploits of Joseph DeAngelo, a recently-convicted serial killer and rapist who operated in California in the ‘70s and ‘80s under a host of monikers: the Cordova Cat, the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Original Nightstalker. We learn within the first few pages of Rape Squad that the villain of the piece, a rapist who has been attacking single young women throughout the city of Mayfield, is himself a cop – just as Joseph DeAngelo was at the time. However this is one of those sad cases where reality is much worse than fiction; the rapist villain of this novel is almost Mr. Rogers when compared to DeAngelo, who perpetrated some of the most nightmarish and violent attacks on innocents I’ve ever read about. I’m really not a fan of DNA databases and etc – personally I think it’s incredibly foolish to willingly send some company a sample of your DNA – but in this case I’d say the Big Brother methods police used to finally identify and apprehend DeAngelo were justified. 

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the novel at hand. It’s the usual 190-page length of the average Manor paperback, and again is copyright the publisher, implying that “Simon Wolf” is either a pseudonym or a house name. I suspect the author was really Morris Hershman, who as “Evelyn Bond” wrote the gothic novel Bride Of Terror, published as a Lancer/Magnum paperback in 1968 (and supposedly reprinted by none other than Manor in 1975, though I can find no evidence of this printing). I suspect “Wolf” was Morris Hershman because, for no reason whatsoever, Bride Of Terror is actually mentioned in Rape Squad; the wife of one of the main characters happens to be reading the book. It’s a literary in-joke if ever there was one, about on the level of Manning Lee Stokes's subtle references to himself and his past work in his pseudonymous novels. 

Whoever the author is, he has a hard time figuring out who the main protagonist is. We start off under the impression it will be Detective Sherwin Millard, a young police officer newly assigned to the fledgling “rape squad,” which currently is only composed of one member: tough as nails old cop Lt. Hatton (misspelled “Hatten” on the back cover). Also, I should mention here that we are never informed where “Mayfield” is. Millard when we meet him is transferred to the rape squad..then we flash forward some time and he’s practically a veteran, already out handling cases and the like. One call takes him to the hospital to speak with young rape victim Evelyn Dempster (the “Evelyn” being another possible clue to the author’s identity, ie his previous pseudonym “Evelyn Bond”). The author well captures the shell-shocked nature of a victim here, with Eveyln taking multiple showers in the hospital because she feels so dirty now that she’s been violated. Here we learn the rapists’s m.o.; he always approaches his victims from behind, slams his hand over their mouth, and rapes them from behind. 

The next day a young policewoman who looks a little familiar storms into the rape squad office and announces she’s joining the team, per her own request. At length Millard realizes she looks very much like Eveyln Dempster. This is how he meets Joan Dempster, sister of the young rape victim; Joan is a cop, and is frustrated that nothing’s being done about the rash of rapes occurring in the city. There’s a fair bit of police world detail here, with Joan complaining that the squad doesn’t even own an identikit, and Hatton saying they’re useless in rape cases. There’s also a fair bit of the oldschool attitudes, with Hatton sort of uncertain about a woman being on the squad, but not entirely against it. One cop who does show the old misogyny is Hector Ritman, a surly detective Joan runs into when canvassing the school in which her sister works. 

Ritman instantly runs afoul of Joan, with the two arguing; Ritman too is here investigating the rape, presumably. There’s also some red-herring stuff as Joan has a lot of conversations with the young man who is engaged to her sister, himself a teacher at the school, and one of Joan’s early suspects. But the reader soon learns who the Mayfield rapist is: Ritman himself. As mentioned, he’s a cop, and the author does a good job of getting into his psychosis. This is displayed in an eerie sequence. Joan requests to pose as rape bait that night, trouncing around a nightspot in revealing clothes. Ritman, coming out of a bar, sees her…and thinks he should go over and tell this young lady that she shouldn’t be waltzing around like that in the city, as it’s dangerous. He walks over to her, and, “as if in despite of himself” he raises his hand to her turned back…as if to grab her from behind. In other words Ritman’s sick compulsions run so deep he isn’t even consciously aware of them. One wonders if similar compulsions drove super-twisted individuals like DeAngelo. 

Joan spins around and catches Ritman about to grab her; he plays it off that he was in fact preventing a carhop from grabbing her, even roughing the poor innocent carhop up a little. But from here Joan is pretty certain Ritman is a suspicious character. However, Lt. Hatton can’t hear of it – the man’s a cop! Again, one wonders how the cops of the day would’ve reacted to learn that the East Area Rapist was a fellow officer…but then DeAngelo was never even on a suspect list. Hatton for his part slowly warms to Joan’s suspicions, eventually giving her clearance to prove Ritman is the rapist. This is compounded when Ritman, apropos of nothing, runs for mayor – a random plot detour if ever there was one. It does get a bit comical though, and not in a good way, as Ritman often tries to attack Joan, and she fends him off (in one memorable moment wielding a bayonet), but he’s always able to play it off as a prank and escape any kind of repercussions. Hard to see such a thing happening in today’s #metoo era, where all a woman has to do is merely accuse a man, and it’s guilty until proven innocent (depending upon political affiliation, of course). 

Speaking of oldschool values, there’s a humorous-in-hindsight bit where Joan preaches the ‘70s version of diversity and inclusion. She and Millard are called to another case, in which a pair of “dykes” have been raped. Millard for his part has seen so much that he’s unfazed by the fact that these two women live together, something which rattles the “bull” of the couple – interesting to see that, even then, some types clearly got off on being branded as “different.” The bull keeps pushing Millard, and Joan cools off the situation by saying the following to the lesbians; it probably seemed “liberal” in 1975 but in today’s progressivised society practically comes off as cromagnon: 

“Let’s agree that one of you two is a bull dyke and the other is a femme. Let’s agree that the words are ugly. Let’s agree that homosexuals feel that they can’t help themselves and that the so-called straight world distrusts them and detests them and is afraid of them. Let’s agree, too, that homosexuals are poor people, emotionally, and that their problems are rooted in childhood. And let’s change the subject.”

These two of course are yet more victims of Ritman’s, but a midnovel plot detour introduces another rapist, a hapless loser who when we meet him is presented as a victim. This curious subplot has the dude, Manton, being harrassed by a local couple, who believe he raped their 14 year-old daughter. Manton was able to free himself of the charge in court, mostly because the girl was a notorious loudmouth and no one believed her – again, pre-#metoo stuff here for sure. But this wasn’t good enough for the girl’s parents, who are certain Manton raped their daughter, even though we readers know he didn’t. So Manton is called at work and home, where a mysterious voice demands he leave town, calling him “rape artist” and the like; the capoff comes when he’s actually shot while walking on the street, and the person who shot him was the girl’s father. 

So after recovering Manton goes to confront the young girl, gets her to relent on her story…and then he rapes her?! It happens off-page (as all the rapes do – and there are no regular sex scenes, either…as mentioned the book is very tame), and it leaves the reader flummoxed. I mean I thought Manton was innocent? He’s arrested, but let go…and then as soon as he’s out we discover he raped the couple’s other daughter, who is only six years old! Good grief! This time he’s taken away for good. Otherwise this part has nothing to do with the rest of the novel, and Millard and Joan only appear infrequently in these sections. There’s also never the suspicion that Manton might be the main rapist in town; Joan is certain it’s Ritman. 

As stated Ritman makes a strange run for Mayor, leading to a goofy sequence that had me chuckling. So Ritman has a rally with a record player doling out “military music,” and one of his volunteers cuts himself on the “phonograph needle” – I’m talking a “deep gash” on three fingers that requires stitches! Folks if I ever ran my finger over my stylus, I’d be more concerned I’d break the damn thing. And plus, just imagine the damage such a sharp needle would do to the vinyl. Anyway, I found this part humorous. But hell for all I know, maybe in 1975 you could buy ultra-cheap stylii that could cut skin so deeply that you’d need stictches. As Ritman’s getting the volunteer into the ambulance, Joan happens by, and once again Ritman tries to attack her, and once again Joan fends him off – at this point the whole thing taking on the vibe of a Road Runner cartoon or something, with Ritman constantly trying and failing to get his prey. I almost expected him to receive a package from Acme. 

There’s yet more out-of-nowhere narrative detours with a subplot about the cops going on strike, and some of them plot to kill the current Mayor. Speaking of modern-day connotations, this part reminded me of our recent “summer of love,” in which “peaceful protesters” looted and burned cities across the United States to their heart’s content, brushing off their criminal acts by saying that “insurance” would cover the looted stores. Folks, the exact same thing happens here…without the cops, riots break out and looting ensues. (Funny how that happens, isn’t it? But yeah, let’s defund the police!) And when Joan encounters the owner of one looted store, she informs him that his insurance should cover the loss. To which the dude basically responds, “Uh…no, it won’t.” Exactly as in the real world, where the actual losses of this past summer are only finally coming to light. 

The rioting does at least play into the finale, in which Ritman is serving on riot duty, but still takes the opportunity to rape some poor woman on the street. Joan and Millard hear her screaming, and Joan rushes to help, only to be attacked yet again by Ritman. This time he almost seems to get her, but Joan fights himself off yet again. The author denies us a fitting conclusion, though. As Joan and Ritman confront one another, Ritman sees a sniper about to take out the Mayor – and pushes Joan aside so he can block the bullet with his own body! Thus Ritman dies a hero, and Joan argues at novel’s end that the truth should be let out so that the public knows Ritman was really a serial rapist scumbag. Hatton tells her the real world doesn’t work that way, or something, and the novel plods to a close. 

All told, Rape Squad wasn’t very interesting, nor was it very entertaining. Speaking of Manning Lee Stokes, he still wrote the best sleazy ‘70s rapesploitation crime novel I’ve yet read: Killer At Large. I’d advise you to seek that one out instead of this. 

In closing, I wrote the above before doing another search of the Catalog Of Copyright Entries, where I got confirmation that Morris Hershman did indeed write Rape Squad, serving as “Simon Wolf.” However the entry misspells his name as “Morris Harshman.”  

3 comments:

Zwolf said...

I'm pretty sure that excerpt would come across as Cro Magnon even in the 70's. Yeeesh.

If you want a really good book on DeAngelo, Michelle McNamara's _I'll Be Gone In The Dark_ is very well done. I read it a few months ago. That dude was one seriously sick son of a bitch.

A novelization of the movie wouldn't be that great, anyway, because the main greatness of that movie is Jo Ann Harris. I wish she'd made a lot more stuff than she did...

Matthew said...

It's interesting and often scary how fiction prefigures reality. Of course, reality is usually worse. If you wrote a book in 1910 with villains like the Nazi's they would probably be regarded as to evil to be real.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments! Zwolf, I did get McNamara's book via ILL, but not sure if I'll read it. I got a subscription to HBO Max (a free bonus from my internet provider -- I'd never pay for such a thing), and watched the 6-part series based on the book which was produced recently by HBO. I got a little annoyed with how MM inserted herself into everything; there was literally -- no exaggeration -- a part where she was talking to the daughter of a woman whose mother was murdered by DeAngelo (Cheri Domingo), and the daughter said that the last time she spoke to her mom they were fighting. And MM immediately says, "That's funny, my mom and I never fought, but she'd write me notes when she was upset with me," and then goes on to take over the entire conversation and make it about herself and her mom. She does that throughout the series -- though the female publishing industry execs who appear in it tell us this is one of the things they most loved about her work! Personally I wanted to hear more from the victims, as ultimately it is their story to tell.

The DeAngelo thing is a recent obsession of mine and I need to give it a break because it can really mess up your mind. This guy was literally worse than Hitler -- probably one of the few people you could say that about. What most amazes me is the TIME he put into all this...endless stalking, crank calls, prowling, break-ins, and ultimately rapes and murders...all while having a full-time job and a wife. And not a single person suspected him! His former brother in law, Jim Huddle, self-published a Kindle book about it; haven't read it, but it sounds like throughout Huddle keeps saying DeAngelo seemed as normal as any other person. Maybe DeAngelo will start talking now that he's in prison and someone can write a definitive book about this monster.