Monday, May 23, 2022

Witchcraft Today

Witchcraft Today, edited by Martin Ebon
April, 1971  Signet Books

This slim paperback is a nice encapsulation of the Occult Revival that took place in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, that post-Aquarian moment when suburban housewives decided they were witches and started wearing pentagrams. The book was also published just as the Manson cult had cast a pall on the scene, as some of the pieces here elucidate. For Witchcraft Today is really an anthology of pieces on witchcraft and occultism in general, taken from a variety of mainstream and occult publications. Martin Ebon, with whom I’m unfamiliar, has assembled articles that present witchcraft from the perspectives of insiders, the curious, and the concerned. 

“It is lack of personal power that usually spurs one on the road to witchcraft,” Ebon notes in his introduction. In addition to his intro, which provides a general overview of the occult revival and wonders “why now?,” Ebon serves up pithy intros for each of the pieces he’s chosen for the anthology. Here’s a quick rundown of each: 

“Witchcraft Today – A Survey,” is by Raymond Van Over and sort of continues the vibe of Ebon’s intro, delivering a concise history of witchcraft with a focus on the ‘60s revival. The piece is pretty ‘60s, too, with tidbits on turned-on modern witches like Louise Huebner (who appears later) and mentions of the suddenly-trendy Carl Jung. 

“Britain’s Witchcraft Scene” is by John Kobler and seems to be from earlier in the ‘60s.  “Britain’s witches are not very sinister,” Kobler sums up in his recounting of various witchy movements in England through the centuries, culminating in covens like the one housewife Mrs. Jenkins participates in…“in the buff.” 

“America’s Leading Witches: Sybil Leek vs Louise Huebner” is by Joy Miller and takes on more of the vibe of mainstream journalism. It’s a character piece, comparing elderly British witch Sybil Leek, who moved to the US and considers herself “the number one witch in America,” and “sexy” Louise Huebner, “a shapely woman in her late 30s with long dark hair.” Years ago I downloaded a vinyl rip of Huebner’s 1969 LP Seduction Through Witchcraft, now a hotly traded collectible, in which she recounts spells overtop avante-garde proto-electronica. Cool stuff! She definitely comes off as the more memorable of the two; whereas Leek is stodgy and arrogant, certain she’ll be the only witch remembered when one looks back on the 20th Century, Huebner dismisses most witch lore and likes to do spells for city officials in Los Angeles – and indeed became the “Official Witch of Los Angeles.” According to Wikipedia, though, soon after the publication of Witchcraft Today Louise Huebner moved out of the public eye, which is surprising given how publicity conscious she comes off as in this piece. 

“New York’s Witch Explosion” is by Mary Bringle and is another mainstream journalism piece that also gives a nice view of the era. Most of it is dimissive, the “real witches” Bringle interviews mocking that “You can’t walk into a party anymore without meeting a half-dozen girls who think they’re witches.” We learn how some of these girls are just latching onto the latest trend and use witchcraft to snare a boyfriend or other mundane things. But the story really picks up with the too-brief appearance of Pietro, a warlock who has gotten into the black magic scene and who states that the first Black Mass he attended was “Bad! On the level of a Forty-Second Street skin flick.” 

“The Witchcraft Boom In Canada” by Bill Trent is a short puff piece trying to fathom the “explosion” of occult interest in Canada. 

“I Was Born A Witch” is by Helen McCarthy and is a character piece focused on Lavora, a Creole witch who now lives in New York. It’s mostly Lavora’s colorful history and how she moved to the big city, with such memorable details as the abortion she had to get when she was 15 – and the witch charm she used to gain her revenge on the guy who knocked her up. 

“Black Magic Against White” is by Gordon Fleming and about Brazil’s macumba witchcraft. I wasn’t interested in the topic so skipped it. 

“The Original Black Mass” by Stephen A. Hoeller presents an historical overview of the Black Mass, with the details that when first practiced in 1600s France it might have entailed the sacrifice of children. Hoeller, as Ebon notes in the piece’s intro, is a reverend, and it’s to his credit that the article doesn’t come off like some proto-Satanic Panic. Indeed, Hoeller notes that the so-called Black Mass of notorious Aleister Crowley is mostly just “poetry.” 

“Meet A Practicing Sorcerer!” by Peter Bloxham is one of the more fun pieces in the collection, totally giving a glimpse of the groovy age of horror. Once again we’re back in England, where we meet “modern Merlin” Cecil Williamson, proprietor of Witches House Museum; a tour will cost you 18 cents! Williamson, who drives a station wagon(!), sneers at the “playgirl witches” of the day who have “suburban orgies” in their “comic covens.” He also makes vague mentions of a “big business Occult Mafia.” 

“Anton LaVey: San Francisco Satanist” is by Jean Molina and is a character piece on LaVey, who comes off as a guy with a pretty sharp sense of humor. “To LaVey black is beautiful, but it refers to his brand of magic, not his skin color,” notes Molina – and Ebon also informs us that “Molina” is a pseudonym. LaVey shares stories about starting up his Church of Satanism, also noting how Jayne Mansfield would’ve lived if she’d listened to LaVey and stayed away from her boyfriend, whom LaVey put a hex on. 

“The Devil And Sharon Tate” is by Michael Ballantine and gets into the darker aspects of the movement. This is a piece of mainstream journalism that captures the weird vibe of the late ‘60s, and works into the overall theme of the anthology in that Manson’s girls considered themselves to be “witches,” something I hadn’t been aware of. Ballantine however mostly quotes other sources; in particular he keeps noting “Rolling Stones Magazine”[sic] and its interview with Manson. If anything this article made me decide to finally get around to reading Ed Sanders’s study of the Manson scene, The Family. Two years ago I got a copy of the first edition, which has material that’s been cut from every other edition of the book, and I’ve been meaning to read it. 

“The Innocents Of Salem” by Eleanor Early is, as you’d expect, a history of the Salem Witch Trials. All I need to know about this particular subject I leaned from that two-part episode of Bewitched where Sam went back in time to confront the judges, so I skipped this one. 

“Twentieth-Century Victim” by Paul Langdon is “lurid,” per Ebon’s intro…and it certainly is. This is the sad story of a teen girl in Zurich named Bernadette Hasber who, in 1966, was beaten to death by the members of a Christian cult that was trying to “save” Bernadette from demonic possession. And her parents are the ones who turned her over to the cult! 

“The Warning Witch: An African Adventure” is by WJ Ousby and seems to come out of a men’s mag, only without any of the fun. It’s about a guy meeting witches in the jungle. I skimmed it. 

“Healing Witches” by Frank Osgood follows the previous article, and given my lack of interest I skipped it as well. 

“It Worked For Me” by Max Gunther closes out Witchcraft Today. This is another pithy piece that captures the vibe of the era, with the topics including a witchcraft supply store some young witch opens in New York. Gunther relates the story of how he employed a spell to get something, and it came true, which may be an indication that it’s all for real…or that the current occult thing is just “a fascinating hobby.” 

Overall Witchcraft Today is pretty enjoyable if you’re into that late ‘60s/early ‘70s “dark side of the Aquarian Age” scene like I am, with the caveat that most of the articles here are along the lines of puff pieces, as if the editors at Life had decided to do a special issue on witchcraft.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Black Samurai #1

Black Samurai #1, by Marc Olden
May, 1974  Signet Books

I actually got halfway through this first installment of Black Samurai around 7 years ago, but ended up dropping it for reasons that now escape me. I think I was reading it as an eBook (as mentioned, the entire series is available in eBook format now) and just found the format to be a pain at the time, though I don’t mind eBooks nearly so much now. Also, I was reading the Narc series (also written by Marc Olden, though posing as “Robert Hawkes”), and I didn’t want to mix my Oldens. Well anyway all of which is to say this series has been hanging over my head for quite some time now; I’ve been wanting to read it, and I should’ve gotten to it sooner – I mean, the sixth volume of the series, The Warlock, which I reviewed here 12 years ago, is still one of my favorite men’s adventure novels ever (and I intend to re-read it now that I’m reading the series from the beginning). 

Speaking of that later volume, what’s interesting is that the plot is similar to the plot of Black Samurai #1; both novels feature Robert “Black Samurai” Sand’s beloved Toki being abducted, and Sand moving heaven and earth to get her back – he even finds himself in Paris in both novels. So maybe this was just a recurring schtick of the series, we’ll see. But whereas The Warlock was ultra-wild with silver-haired megababes, transvestite midgets, and werewolves, Black Samurai #1 sticks a bit more to realism. I mean to a certain extent. We’re still talking about a series that features a guy who has been trained in the art of samurai and who acts as a one-man army for a former US President. It’s a pulpy concept for sure, and Marc Olden would only further pulp things up as Black Samurai progressed. 

The main thing I remember from my aborted initial reading of this novel was that it had “emotional content” (to quote Bruce Lee) above and beyond the men’s adventure norm. But don’t get me wrong, we aren’t talking the maudlin sap that passes for such content in today’s estrogen-laden action entertainment. This is masculine emotional content, with Olden developing a touching relationship between Sand and the old Japanese sensei who brings him into the fold of the samurai. And yet this heroic bloodshed angle is unfortunately dropped as Black Samurai #1 progresses; Sand is set on the path of revenge, but rather than focusing on that, Olden gussies up the storyline with adjacent plots about adbucted young women and a villianous plan to carry out a My Lai Massacre in the US. So my assumption is Olden was developing a series, thus he had to work on the setup for future volumes rather than just dwelling on a violent revenge thriller. Unfortunately this means that, at least for this reader, the main impuetus that carries the first quarter of the book is not satisfactorily carried out in the last quarter. 

But as I’ve mentioned before, Marc Olden could not be accused of being lazy. He turned out the 8-volume Black Samurai series and the 9-volume Narc series between 1973 and 1975, and that’s in addition to the other stuff he was publishing at the same time, like Cocaine. But, like I’ve also mentioned before, this frenetic writing pace sometimes undermined the novels themselves. Like Barry Malzberg in the Lone Wolf books, Olden would often rely on arbitrary and random detours into the minds of his one-off characters, filling up the pages with their thoughts or backgrounds or what have you, with most of it seldom having anything to do with the main plot. I’ve complained more than a few times that this has resulted in a rather choppy read; the latter Narc books in particular suffer from it. But I’m understanding, because Olden was a workhorse turning out these books. It’s just that Olden is so good at hooking the reader in the first quarter of the book but then gets so distracted midway through that the final quarter of the book can often be unsatisfactory. 

Let’s take a look at Black Samurai #1 for an example of this. Olden spends a bit more time on establishing the setup in the first quarter of the novel, with a little more “origin material” than the average men’s adventure novel of the era. The novel opens in the “now” of 1973, with Robert Sand already the “Black Samurai” (just a description of himself, not a codename as it was in the goofy film adaptation) and already having an established relationship with former President William Baron Clarke. But Olden sort of gives us an origin story by flashing back in this first quarter of the book to 1966, where we see a 22 year-old GI named Robert Sand get shot in the gut while on R&R in Japan – he came upon a group of rednecks trying to mug an old Japanese man, and Sand ran to the rescue. He was shot a few times in the stomach for his troubles…and before passing out he was able to witness the old man decimate the rednecks like a veritable martial arts tsunami. From there Olden will periodically flash back to this 1966 material, which he refers to as “seven years ago.” So yeah, 1972 would’ve been six years after 1966, not 1973, but presumably this is something Olden didn’t catch due to his aforementioned frenetic writing schedule. 

The novel opens with a bang – the 1973 storyline is the main storyline of the narrative (the 1966 flashbacks stop after the first half of the book), and it concerns Sand’s quest for revenge against Colonel Leo Dimitri Tolstoy. Despite his misleading name, Tolstoy’s actually an American soldier, one who has been drummed out of the service for perpetrating an atrocity in Vietnam that was worse than the My Lai Massacre. Humorously though, even though Tolstoy’s massacre was supposedly more vile than My Lai, it’s My Lai that is constantly referenced in the narrative. We meet Tolstoy as he’s leading a group of fellow ex-GIs on an assault on a samurai training compound outside of Tokyo; there are to be no survivors. This is how we meet our hero, Robert Sand, who is the top samurai in the group, the favored of Mr. Konuma – ie the old man Sand rushed to defend six years ago. In this opening Sand’s brothers are killed; Olden plays this out in an interesting method, in that we “meet” these characters, including Konuma, as they are being killed…but then in the flashbacks we learn who they were, and how much they meant to Sand. 

The Sand-Konuma relationship proves to be touching in that manly way mentioned above. While Sand is a gangly black guy who grew up in foster homes, Konuma sees in him the heart of a warrior, and his view is proven out when we learn how Sand advances in the training. In fact Konuma sees Sand as the modern version of Sandayu, a legendary samurai warrior of yore. He’s also given Sand one of his favored swords, a 200 year old blade that will be Sand’s main weapon throughout the series. But unlike other martial arts-based series of the era, ie Jason Striker or Mace, Robert Sand has no problems with modern weapons, and will just as often use a .45 pistol. And as I mentioned in my review of The Warlock, Sand isn’t even that superhuman; he has of course higher martial arts skills than most, but he’s often caught unawares and can’t take on countless guys without breaking a sweat like Victor Mace can. Again this is more striving for realism on Olden’s part. 

Another interesting thing is that Olden just as often refers to Sand in the narrative as “the Black Samurai.” In fact, Olden reminds you so often that Robert Sand is black that it gets to be humorous. This “by the way, this character’s black” schtick is pretty common in the men’s adventure novels written by white authors, but as we know Marc Olden himself was black. I mean it’s incessant – Sand’s “black face,” his “black hands,” his “black skin,” etc. But then Olden seems to have set a bar for himself for racial slurs – Sand is called a host of them throughout the novel, and if the characters aren’t saying it via dialog we’re getting it via those arbitrary “in their thoughts” perspective bits that Olden specializes in. He doesn’t stop at black slurs, either: we get ‘em for the Vietnamese and Koreans who populate the novel as well. So Olden certainly kew his market; there are no niceties here. Also I would imagine the fact that Marc Olden was black probably wasn’t well known at the time, so perhaps Olden was just trying to cater to the outrageous content of the typical (ie white-authored) men’s adventure novel. 

Well anyway, Col. Tolstoy wipes out Sand’s brothers in the opening, and we get the reasoning that it’s because Tolstoy is about to abduct Konuma’s granddaughter, Toki, who happens to be married to a politician in Vietnam. Tolstoy has a whole helluva lot of plotting going on, but essentially he wants revenge for being drummed out of the military, and part of his scheme involves getting his digs on this Vietnamese politician (who doesn’t even appear in the novel). So taking the man’s wife is part of that scheme, but since she happens to be the granddaughter of a famous samurai badass, Tolstoy wants to ensure Konuma and/or his men will not come after him to rescue Toki. But Sand manages to escape (perhaps the most thrilling sequence in the novel) and vows revenge for his murdered “family.” This is the central heart of Black Samurai #1, but as the novel goes on Olden loses his control of the situation and “stopping Tolstoy’s plot for a US My Lai” takes precedence over the “kill Tolstoy in revenge” storyline. 

The Sand-Clarke relationship has already been established, and is somewhat clunkily worked into the flashback sections. Basically, “The Baron” is a boisterous Texan type who served two terms as President of the United States and now works in a sort of unofficial capacity to ensure liberty across the globe, using his vast network of informants and lackeys. So somehow he got word of this black samurai in Konuma’s compound and worked something out with Mr. Konuma that Robert Sand, once fully trained, could be added to Clarke’s list of personnel. So already before the “1973” sequence begins, Sand has ventured around the globe to meet Clarke at various times and has gotten an idea of what the ex-President wants of him. After the samurai compound massacre, Clarke is the person Sand goes to – conveniently enough he happens to be in Japan – and this sets us off on the plot itself. Clarke has gotten intel that Colonel Tolstoy plans to bring the Vietnam War to the US; he intends to perpetrate a My Lai-type massacre on an American city. 

So already this dilutes the revenge scenario set up in the first quarter. And not only must Sand stop a town from being destroyed, he also must rescue Clarke’s daughter, who may be another of Tolstoy’s kidnap victims. And plus Tolstoy’s taken Toki as mentioned. So Sand has a lot going on, and the novel moves at a fast clip as he shuttles around Japan, Paris, and New York in his quest to stop – and kill – Tolstoy. But Olden further dilutes the impact with his expected detours into the thoughts of the various minor characters in the book. As established in his other novels, Olden really liked his villains – to the point that he’d crowd the main narrative with too many of them. Too many crooks in the kitchen, you might say. And it’s the same here, with a lot of incidental stuff about the backgrounds of the various villains at Tolstoy’s disposal; in fact I’m pretty sure I quit reading Black Samurai #1 all those years ago when the narrative hit a brick wall: a several-page flashback about how a random IRA thug swore vengeance on America and thus joined up with Tolstoy. I mean as if we care about this guy’s vengeance when we’re still waiting for Sand to get his

Speaking of Tolstoy’s villains, the novel gives us a sad reminder of how radical Islamic terrorists were once a kinder, gentler lot (comparatively speaking). One of Tolstoy’s thugs is a Black September-type Muslim terrorist who talks a big game, given the innocents he’s gunned down, but there’s an ironic-in-hindsight bit where Sand cuts off the head of one of the terrorist’s comrades and tosses the severed head at him, and the Muslim terrorist vomits in terror. But then again, Tolstoy is kind of ahead on the “diversity” trend, as he’s put together quite the group of malcontents: in addition to the Muslim terrorist he’s got a black American guy who hates whitey, the aforementioned IRA dude, a pair of Korean karate experts who kill for money, and even a depraved Vietnamese soldier. And we read as Sand makes his way through each of them; again, Marc Olden really had a penchant for villains, but the issue is the bad guys would eventually take the limelight from the good guy. This was especially prevalent in the later Narc books. Here in Black Samurai #1, though, Robert Sand is still the star of the show…for the most part. I do feel that his revenge storyline gets too muddied by the rampant subplotting that takes up the second half of the novel. 

The action scenes pack a nice punch because the aren’t overly showy in the sense that Sand, despite his superhuman training, isn’t himself superhuman. I mean he doesn’t just wade into a group of guys with his samurai sword flashing. That said, he does come off as very badass throughout – like the part where he chops off the guy’s head and tosses it through a window. He also does a fair amount of martial arts combat; the fight with the two Koreans is one of the action highlights of the novel. Sand also has a fair amount of badass lines, but nothing as glib as the Jim Kelly film adaptation. Like those frequent racial slurs; one of Clarke’s cronies in Vietnam is a Southern racist who makes the mistake of calling Sand the dreaded n-word…to his face. Sand’s calm response is pretty classic – basically, that he just killed a man who didn’t say anything to him, let alone call him a slur. I should probably just look up the actual quote but I’m lazy at heart. Olden keeps the action moving as Sand travels across the globe in hot pursuit of Tolstoy, whittling down his private army one by one. Sand also gets to play the hero, rescuing Clarke’s daughter in Paris, but it’s worth noting that Sand resents this intrusion into his own quest for revenge. 

The finale plays out in upstate New York, and it features Sand commandeering a helicopter to drop him off at the location of Tolstoy’s weapons cache. Sand is not only frantic to stop Tolstoy’s attack of a small town, but also to rescue Toki, who happens to be held captive by Tolstoy here. But I personally found the climax, uh, anticlimactic. No spoilers, but it was over and done with a little too quickly for me. I mean, Sand spends the entire novel lusting for Tolstoy’s death. And Tolstoy is rendered as such a loathsome prick that I wouldn’t have minded several pages of Sand hacking him apart piece by piece. But it’s over in the span of a sentence, and that annoyed me. However, we should be glad because Olden, at least in Narc, was notorious for letting the bad guys get away in the end. I think almost every volume of Narc ended with hero John Bolt failing to catch or kill the main villain, so at least that didn’t happen here. 

The end itself is very sudden – and also an indication that Olden has lost the plot a bit. For Sand’s impetus throughout has been gaining vengeance for Konuma and his fellow samurai…yet instead, the final page sees Sand relenting that he never told Toki he loved her! So it’s as if our author changed course midway through the book, and decided to make Sand’s love for Toki more important to our hero than his desire for revenge. Again, I’d say the frenetic writing schedule might be to blame. 

But overall I did enjoy Black Samurai #1 a lot. Much of it comes down to Robert Sand himself, who sort of stands apart from most of his ‘70s men’s adventure brethren, and I don’t just mean because he’s black. He has more of a code that drives him, and I appreciated his mostly-terse attitude; one of Konuma’s teachings was to never tell someone more than they need to know, so Sand is not one to flap his lips. In some ways Sand reminds me of another “driven by an ancient code” men’s adventure protagonist of the era, Franis Xavier Killy in Martin Cruz Smith’s The Inquisitor, with the important caveat that Robert Sand has no “limits” on how many people he can kill. However Sand goes without any nookie this time (can’t remember if he did in the sixth volume as well), so that’s one more difference from the average ‘70s men’s adventure hero. (I note this only for the sake of thoroughness, of course!) 

Long story short, I look forward to the second volume – and in fact, since I took so long to get to Black Samurai, I might read the series a bit more quickly than my standard “one volume a year” speed.

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Closing Circle

The Closing Circle, by Lou Cameron
November, 1974  Berkley Medallion

Between 1974 and 1977 prolific author Lou Cameron published five paperback crime thrillers with Berkley. The cover art for most of the books had a somewhat-similar design to Berkley’s cover art for Lawrence Sanders’s The First Deadly Sin (which was even referenced on some of the covers of the Cameron books). These five novels weren’t part of a series, but they were all about cops. In addition to The Closing Circle, the others were Barca (1974), Tancredi (1975), Dekker (1976), and Code Seven (1977, but this one dispensed entirely with the cover design of the previous four books). Each of them were also fairly long, coming in around 250 pages. 

If The Closing Circle is any indication, Cameron’s goal for these books was realism, gritty cop-world realism that left no sleazy stone unturned. I’m not sure about the other books, but this one is not an action thriller by any means; it is a slow and methodical procedural, one that is livened up by Cameron’s focus on the lurid. He brings mid 1970s New York City to life in all its tawdry, grimy splendor, and he certainly captures the grizzled cops who patrol its streets. Our protagonist is Lt. William Garth, “a cold-eyed white man of about thirty-nine or forty,” per Kitty Hot Pants, a “high-yellow” black streetwalker who appears early in the book. “High-yellow” is a term I have only seen infrequently; I would imagine it is considered racist now, and assume it was a way that light-skinned black people were referred to at the time. I’m sure I’ll be headed back to sensitivity training for even wondering about this. 

But then, the racism is thick throughout The Closing Circle, courtesy the other cops on Garth’s force. This too is certainly a quest for realism on Cameron’s part; these are grizzled cops who don’t give a shit when they’re done for the day. One of them, a sergeant named Crosby who used to be Garth’s partner, bluntly states that he could care less about the latest serial killer when he clocks out for the day. Crosby also refers to a Hispanic colleague as “the Spic” and, when he sees Garth talking to Kitty Hot Pants and a new “colored” probationary patrolman named Till, Crosby asks Garth, “What’s with you and the spades today? Martin Luther King Day or what?” Crosby is not alone; there are racial slurs throughout the book. And for that matter, Garth himself is certain that the serial killer he’s hunting isn’t white, because the kills are happening in a white area that “resents” the encroaching black population – and the serial killer is moving around freely, meaning the white residents trust him. I found this very interesting from a historical perspective, given that we live in an era that has become so emasculated that, even when there’s an active black shooter afoot, his race is not mentioned

And speaking of lurid, move over William Crawford – we’ve found an author who seems even more obsessed with characters shitting themselves. Seriously, if there’s one thing I learned from The Closing Circle, it’s that you shit yourself when you’re strangled to death. Cameron reminds us of this many, many times. And he doesn’t just tell us. He has Garth and the other cops enthusing over the amount of shit at the crime scenes; “We really shit ourselves when we’re strangled!” Garth even exposits at one point. I mean we are told this again and again. Each and every single time the killer strangles a woman, we are informed she shits herself before dying. In the cases of the corpses the cops discover that are clean, we’re informed that the body must’ve been moved after death and then cleaned off – for, sure enough, the shit’s all over the place where the murder actually occurred. I mean William Crawford had an obsession with characters shitting themselves in his books, but Lou Cameron takes it to a whole different level. To an extent that I found myself questioning it…I mean honestly, let’s say you went to the john shortly before being strangled to death. Would you still shit yourself? These are the sort of questions I found myself wondering during the course of The Closing Circle

Adding to this lurid vibe is the killer himself. Now an issue with The Closing Circle is that it truly is methodical; Cameron really wants to show how an investigation is handled in the real world, with Garth and his fellows going over all leads, researching all clues, and putting forth theories. The only problem is, we readers know from the get-go who the killer is. Hell, the back cover tells us: it’s a “professional exterminator” named Kraag. And that’s in the literal sense; he’s not like a Syndicate contract killer but a guy in a uniform who goes around apartment buildings killing bugs and rodents. Cameron tries to get in Kraag’s mind, but he doesn’t come off as fucked-up enough for the crimes he commits. Basically, the sick bastard’s m.o. is that he strangles the old women in the apartments he handles, gives their corpses a bath, and proceeds to “bang them all three ways,” leaving their defiled corpses for the cops to find. And yet in the scenes from his perspective, Kraag isn’t nearly twisted enough…he just clearly hates women and thinks they’re more obedient when they’re dead. I mean sure, he’s twisted, but we aren’t talking like a wackjob personality-wise; he comes off more like a grumpy idiot, and we never even get a good idea of what led him to this particular serial-killer approach. 

Well anyway, it kind of ruins the suspense because we know what Kraag’s up to, but we’ll keep spending a lot of time with the clueless cops who try to put the puzzle pieces together. And unlike Crosby, our hero Lt. Garth is determined to find the killer, even working off duty. Kraag has already made a few kills when the novel starts, all of them the murders of old ladies in apartment houses around 72nd Street and nearby. The opening of the book is probably the highlight, as it comes off like a grungy ‘70s cop flick, with Garth bringing in veteran street hooker Kitty Hot Pants to ask if she’s seen any unusual dudes on her beat, given that she works the area in which the kills have occurred. We also get mentions of the “pussy patrol,” ie the NYPD vice squad. Again, a far cry from the domesticated demeanor of today’s police forces; The Closing Circle is populated by mostly-white detectives who sit around smoking and drinking all day and hurling racial slurs with aplomb. They also make poor choices throughout; Crosby in particular makes some dumb moves when Garth is temporarily removed from the case. 

Cameron was a veteran crime writer, and I suspect he enjoyed getting risque here. Even the dialog between Garth and the M.E. follows the overall lurid angle of the novel; there’s a part that goes on for pages where they discuss how guys “cream less” as they get older – the seminal fluids left at the crime scenes indicates that the perp is likely a middle aged man, and this gets Garth and the M.E. going on about the lessening of, uh, emissions as time goes by. There’s a lot of dialog in The Closing Circle, though, much of it recapping things we readers already know, but the majority of it retaining that same sleazy vibe. It seems clear that Cameron wanted to write a police procedural in the exploitative vibe of contemporary crime novels; perhaps Lawrence Sanders’s work itself was an inspiration, and not just a cover blurb. It goes without saying that Cameron didn’t reach the success levels of Sanders, as his sequence of Berkley crime novels seems to be forgotten today. 

The setup is that Kraag scopes out his victims when on exterminator calls, and then weeks or days later will go back to the building, get in the apartment on the claim that he’s here to finish the job…and then he’ll strangle the old woman from behind, wait until she shits herself, give her a bath, and then start raping her corpse. As mentioned Cameron tries to capture Kraag’s twisted mind, usually via crudity. Like for example when Kraag thinks what it would be like to rape a woman he’s planned as a future victim: “But she was so old her boobs would flop all over the place like empty sacks of shit.” The back cover hyperbole has it that Kraag himself will get caught up in an evil worse than even he is: this is in reference to Cynthia Dean, a “brassy blonde with a Miami tan. Cynthia Dean (and Cameron constantly refers to her by her full name) is the manager of the company that owns the apartment buildings that the killings have occurred in (the company also owns its own exterminator service). She’s the one who figures out one of her own men is behind the killings. However she has plans of her own, leading the narrative in an unexpected direction. 

At 255 pages, there’s a lot going on in The Closing Circle. Garth is not married, and Cameron tries to work in a romance subplot, but it too follows the same grim-eyed vibe as the novel itself. One of Garth’s top suspects is a 19 year-old kid named Randy who is mentally retarded and who was locked up for exposing himself to kids at a playground. Randy has a social worker named Sandy, a hotstuff babe Garth takes to, and they end up going on a few dates. The two like each other, even though Sandy is a social worker and she knows cops hate social workers – indeed, cops hate all “bleeding heart liberals.” Again, compare to today. I should mention here that, despite the ultra-lurid tone, there is no sex whatsoever in The Closing Circle. Spoiler alert, but Garth never scores with Sandy. And while I don’t consider rape scenes to be “sex scenes,” I should also note for the sake of thoroughness that all of Kraag’s assaults occur off-page. So this too is similar to William Crawford in that we can learn about all sorts of sordid stuff via the dialog, but when such material actually transpires the author quickly cuts to another scene. 

The focus on realism means that The Closing Circle also lacks much action. There’s a random part, midway through the novel, where Garth gets in a shootout. This part is very unexpected, as he happens to be on a date with Sandy…and sees a guy who is wanted in connection with a cop-killing. The guy fires at Garth, who takes him out in the firefight. All told, this sequence is over and done with in the span of a few sentences, and Cameron is not one to dwell on the violence of the shootout. Instead, the greater ramification is that Ballistics takes Garth’s gun and he’s put on temporary suspension while the “paperwork” is filled out – the cop-killer was from out of state, and thus there’s an extra layer of red tape Garth must overcome in order to get his gun back and be put back in charge of the serial killer case. So we can see here that Cameron’s goal is not a Dirty Harry type thriller but a realistic procedural; we’re even given occasional breakdowns of how the NYPD runs, with Cameron at one point baldly expositing through the narrative that the plainclothes detectives (aka “Clothes”) are the “true workhorses” of the entire force, even though they rarely get any recognition. 

Things really pick up when Kitty High Pants returns to the narrative…and ends up whoring out to none other than Kraag himself. This part isn’t much explained; we’ve been told through the endless theorizing-exposition bits that the killer (ie Kraag) is probably afraid of women (thus he always kills them before raping them), and likely wouldn’t rent a hooker. And yet Kraag does, and despite his racism there’s no mention made of how Kitty is black. Instead Kraag is excited that he can “bang her all three ways” for thirty bucks. But he does his usual thing (off-page), and given that Kitty was the favorite of a black underworld type, we soon have a Black Mafia contract out on the killer. This leads to fun stuff that seems to be from another novel, like when two black contract killers sit around in Manhattan on the lookout for Kraag and argue over how they can walk around in broad daylight with a shotgun. With the infamous “n-word” liberally employed by these colorfully-named underworld types as they bicker and banter (and try to kill each other), it gives the entire thing a sort of proto-Tarantino vibe…but probably was just another “inspiration” from Sanders, given how he too seemed to populate his book with a host of underworld characters. Again, I get the impression that these Cameron books were devised by Berkley itself, with the publisher probably trying to capitalize on the success of its Sanders paperbacks. 

Cameron’s other theme appears to be necrophilia. I mean necrophilia and shitting yourself are the two central ideas of The Closing Circle. Randy, the mentally-retarded kid Garth incorrectly assumes to be the serial killer, gets his own taste of necrophilia in a super weird scene where he accidentally kills a woman…and then starts exploring her body. This ultra-twisted sequence does lead to unexpected consequences in the finale, but again it’s another indication of Cameron seeming to enjoy the freedom crime writers had in the ‘70s. Oh and I forgot – even here in this sequence with Randy, the dead female also shits herself after being (unintentionally) strangled. I mean seriously! But as I was saying, this bit leads in an unexpected direction; Cameron, despite wanting to show thorough police work, also apparently wanted to demonstrate how thorough police work can lead to incorrect conclusions. An annoying thing about The Closing Circle is that its unsatisfying climax prefigures The Zodiac Killer, with fate and coincidence trumping police work. 

Sleazy mid-‘70s New York City is fairly well captured, though Cameron mostly sticks to the Upper West Side; Needle Park factors into the novel a lot. This so-called area, near 72nd and Broadway, was a favored spot for heroin users at the time, hence the name. There are also two separate scenes in a 42nd Street porn theater, but otherwise Cameron keeps the topical details few. In other words the city itself isn’t practically a character, like it is in Nelson De Mille’s Ryker and Keller cop novels. The ‘70s vibe is well captured, though, with the streetwalkers and pimps and whatnot, and also Johnny Carson gets mentioned a few times. I’ve always loved Carson and remember staying up late in middle school in the mid to late ‘80s to watch his show…I recall being super bummed when the school year would start and I wouldn’t be able to watch Carson anymore! Surely no kid today is staying up to watch the annoying dweeb who currently hosts the show. 

I think I have all of Cameron’s other crime novels for Berkley. They don’t all take place in New York, and it looks like some of them might be more action-focused than The Closing Circle, but that could just be the misleading back cover copy. Not that The Closing Circle is boring. For what it is, it’s very well done: a probing police procedural with a super sleazy overlay. But it certainly could’ve been tightened up. Garth is removed from the case for like 40 pages or so and we read as secondary characters try to make sense of the killings, and all this just seems to be a means to pad out the pages. But if you are into grimy ‘70s crime fiction like I am, I believe you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of The Closing Circle.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 17

Jim Kelly movies: 

Black Belt Jones (1974): This was to be Jim Kelly’s big role after his starmaking turn as Williams in the previous year’s Enter The Dragon. Robert Clouse again directs, but this time the film is a Blaxploitation joint with a comedy overlay. It’s still the ‘70s, though, so there’s a bit of blood at times and some random nudity. Oscar Williams handled the script (as he would for the execrable sequel, more on which below), and it seems like a clear attempt to launch Kelly as a new urban action hero. I believe Black Belt Jones did fairly well, but as it turned out this would be the only time Jim Kelly would carry a major studio film. 

As a kid I was of course familiar with Kelly, having first watched Enter The Dragon as a teen, but I didn’t discover Black Belt Jones until the summer of 1994, when I was 19 and came across the video in a Suncoast Video store (remember those?). To say this movie had an impact on me would be an understatement. Actually – it would be the theme song by Dennis Coffey (miscredited as “Dennis Coffy” in the closing credits) that had the biggest impact on me. I would watch the video just to hear the “Theme From Black Belt Jones,” and even recorded it directly onto audio tape so I could play it. I even did dumb faux-movie commercials in the campus studio and would use Coffey’s theme song on the soundtrack. As far as I’m concerned, this unjustly-overlooked track is the best song in the entire Blaxploitation soundtrack canon. Many years later I finally found a good-quality copy of it on Harmless Records’s Pulp Fusion: Revenge Of The Ghetto Grooves; “Theme From Black Belt Jones,” by the way, was never released on a Coffey LP (a 7” single – now grossly overpriced – was released on Warner Records in 1974, whereas Coffey’s albums at the time were released on Sussex), and there was never an official soundtrack release, though a bootleg came out on vinyl in 2000…recorded directly off the VHS. Luichi DeJesus, who the following year would handle the kick-ass vocoder-heavy soundtrack for Pam Grier’s Friday Foster, did the actual score for Black Belt Jones; Dennis Coffey only did the theme song and the “love theme” which plays during the ultra-bizarre “mating” sequence that occurs late in the film. 

Well, enough about the soundtrack. The movie itself also made a big impact on me. That summer of 1994 was somewhat special to me. I seem to recall spending most of it drinking and watching kung-fu movies with my college friends. Now that’s the life! We watched Black Belt Jones several times; this was also at the time that I was becoming obsessed with the early to mid 1970s. I was born in 1974, the year this film came out, and Thomas Pynchon writes in his novel V something to the effect that many people are destined to become obessed with the era in which they were born. Well, that summer was when it started for me…but then, at the time the entire ‘70s obsession was in full swing. The Beastie Boys of course were at the center of that, with their “Sabotage” video being a faux-‘70s cop show and ‘70s references throughout their albums (including a Dennis Coffey reference in their 1992 B-side “Skills To Pay The Bills”). To this day I’m still fascinated by this era, and what’s funny is that 1994 is now longer ago than the ‘70s were when I first watched the movie – at the time, Black Belt Jones had only been released 20 years before. But man, as hard as it is to believe, 1994 was 28 years ago! WTF!? Now that I think of it, there might be some kid out there now who was born in ’94 and is thus obsessed with the early ‘90s, the poor bastard... 

I watched that video untold times, but at some point lost my copy – I seem to recall someone “borrowed” it. It wasn’t until 2010 that I watched the movie again; this was when Black Belt Jones was finally released on DVD, along with two other Jim Kelly films (plus one with Rockne Tarkington, the actor who was originally set to play Williams in Enter The Dragon). Seeing the movie in remastered widescreen was almost like seeing it for the first time, but man I still remembered all the lines, all the story beats. Hey listen, I should talk about the movie and cut out the navel gazing. So look, no one’s going to say Black Belt Jones is a classic. But I love it. And watching it again the other day (still no Blu Ray release, though), it only seems to have gotten better with age. Clouse and company were very right to get rid of the grim and gritty vibe typical of Blaxploitation and go for more of a good-spirited vibe. This is a fun movie, and Kelly carries it well. He sort of plays a less cocky version of his Williams, from Enter The Dragon, but he still has a bunch of smart-ass lines. Who exactly “Black Belt Jones” is, though, is pretty much a mystery; and yes, that’s his damn name. I mean he’s referred to as “Black Belt” for cryin’ out loud. Well anyway, when Black Belt Jones isn’t having white girls jump on a trampoline by the beach or kicking it in his ultramod bachelor pad (which is also on the beach), he seems to do odd jobs for the government. Or at least some agency. When we meet him, he’s busy protecting some dignitary from would-be assassins. Later in the film, though, he acts more in his personal interests than in any government or law enforcement capacity. 

An interesting thing about Black Belt Jones is how its template is so similar to just about any Chinese kung-fu movie you could name. I mean it’s literally about the bad guys trying to take over a martial arts school; that’s pretty much the plot for around a billion kung-fu movies. And man what a school this one is – it’s “sensei” is none other than Scatman friggin’ Crothers, playing the least believable karate master in film history. The movie never does make it clear whether Scatman’s “Pop” actually taught Black Belt Jones, but we do learn that the two men have some sort of a student-pupil connection. However, playing the emotional stuff is not Jim Kelly’s forte, so this isn’t much played up on. The convoluted story has it that the Mafia is leaning on black criminal Pinky; they want a particular building in Pinky’s domain, the building with Pop’s karate school, so Pinky and crew start leaning on Pop. Robert Clouse must have taken to actor Malik Carter, who plays Pinky; Carter even gets an “introducing” credit at the start of the movie. Several scenes are given over to Carter so he can chew scenery as the outlandish Pinky, sometimes strutting and rapping about his awesomeness. While Clouse might have seen a future star in Malik Carter, it was not to be; he only acted sporadically after this, his last role being the “night guard” in Stallone’s Cobra (1986). (I discovered this myself before the Internet Movie Database existed; I saw Cobra on cable TV not long after I got the Black Belt Jones video, and just about freaked out when I recognized none other than Pinky himself as a security guard – even though he was only on screen for a few seconds and didn’t have any dialog.) 

When Pinky leans a bit too hard on Pop, things quickly escalate. But even here Black Belt Jones does not become a violent revenge thriller a la Coffy. As I say, Jim Kelly’s Black Belt Jones never really seems to give a shit; Pinky’s plot just gives him another opportunity to “be busy lookin’ good.” Actually that’s a Williams line, but it also describes Black Belt Jones. Kelly is very much on form in this picture; he so outmatches his opponents, never tiring even after hordes of them come at him, that it almost approaches the level of a Bruceploitation movie – like Bruce Le, the fake Bruce who starred in the most loathsome Bruceploitation movies of all, where he’d fight like a thousand people and never even break a sweat. At no point does Black Belt Jones seem in trouble, even in a part where Pinky’s men capture him and attempt to beat him to death, with the warning that if Black Belt fights back one of Pop’s students will be killed. I’ve always thought that the action highlight in the film is the one toward the end on the abandoned train; this is an excellently staged sequence, which still retains the goofy comedy overlay of the film (ie the twitching knocked-out thugs, as if Black Belt has given them nerve damage in addition to a sound beating). 

The film also has some of the best foley work ever. It’s totally exaggerated; every punch and kick is magnified on the soundtrack. The producers also add a weird “bone crunching” noise at times, which is so overdone it actually can raise your hackles. It gives the impression that Black Belt’s just ruptured someone’s innards. But my favorite sound effect of all in the entire film is when Sydney, Pop’s estranged daughter (played by a fierce Gloria Hendry), bitch-slaps Black Belt before their weird mating ritual on the beach. Gloria Hendry delivers lines with aplomb throughout the film, bad-ass lines that she serves up more convincingly than even Kelly does. And they’re wonderfully un-PC, too, like when she calmly tells one of Pinky’s men, “I’ll make you look like a sick faggot.” She’s got a great one before she bitch-slaps Black Belt, too; when Black Belt tells her he “takes” what he wants, Sydney responds, “My cookie would kill you.” You can check this scene out here – listen to that bitch slap! And this mating sequence deal, scored by Coffey’s “Love Theme From Black Belt Jones,” is a bizarre bit that features Black Belt and Syndey chasing each other around the beach and beating each other up as foreplay. There’s a random bit, in an altogether random scene, where they come across a fat hippie strumming his acoustic guitar along the beach, and the two sadists smash the guitar up; you can see this at the end of the clip I linked to above. Folks, the fat hippie looks so much like Wayne’s World 2-era Chris Farley that you almost wonder if the dude traveled back in time – he even has the same overdone reactions as Farley when they grab his guitar. 

The climax is underwhelming after the fight in the empty train; it’s pretty goofy, too, with a seemingly-endless tide of thugs coming out of the soap bubbles to be knocked out by Black Belt and then escorted into a sanitation truck by Sydney. And yes, soap bubbles; the final fight occurs in a car wash that’s gone haywire. Also here one will spot a cameo by Bob Wall, who played a sadistic henchman in Enter The Dragon; here he plays a geeky Mafia chauffeur. I’m cool with the underwhelming climax, though, as it retains the spirit of the overall film. It’s the dialog that’s key for me; I could quote this movie all day, from the kid’s “She was bad! She was good!” when referring to Sydney’s karate skills to Black Belt’s triumphant, “Let’s go to McDonald’s!” after foiling Pinky. And of course, Black Belt’s “Batman, motherfucker!”  Clouse and crew keep the action moving, with a lot of fun sequences, like when Black Belt employs those white trampoline girls on a heist. It’s a little bumpy at the start, though; I mean I don’t watch a movie titled Black Belt Jones and expect to see Scatman Crothers arguing with his heavyset girlfriend. (A scene which regardless features more wonderfully un-PC dialog, ie “I’ll slap the black off you!”) Once Gloria Hendry shows up it’s as if the movie takes on a new drive, and she acquits herself well in the action scenes, really selling her punches and kicks. 

I’ve gone on and on about Black Belt Jones but I feel like I really haven’t said much about it. I’ll just leave it that it’s a fun movie, and I bet it was fun as hell to see it on the bigscreen in 1974 – I can just imagine a pack of inner-city kids enthusing over it in some theater on 42nd Street. And the movie did well enough that it warranted a sequel, something I wasn’t aware of until the DVD release in 2010. And speaking of which… 

Hot Potato (1975): This movie was so goddamn stupid I scanned through it and didn’t even watch the whole thing; a half-assed movie deserves a half-assed review. Like Black Samurai, this is another one that has a copyright that differs from the release date; Hot Potato is copyright 1975, so far as the opening credits are concerned, but was apparently released in 1976. It’s also a sequel to Black Belt Jones, though you’d never know it. Jim Kelly plays “Jones,” apparently as in “Black Belt Jones,” but he’s never referred to by that name, and no other actors from the previous film are in this one. Indeed, absolutely no mention is made of that previous film. Hot Potato was written by Oscar Williams, who also wrote Black Belt Jones, but he directs this time as well. What a bad decision for the studio; Hot Potato makes Black Belt Jones look like Citizen Kane. It’s messy and chaotic, and I actually felt embarrassed for Jim Kelly. Whereas the previous film had an accent on comedy, it still featured some violent action and everything didn’t seem to be a joke to the characters. Not so here; the entire stupid movie is nothing but comedy, and unfunny comedy, to boot – like Jim Kelly and his colleagues watching a fat man and woman challenge each other to an eating contest, and the gross spectacle just keeps going on and on, complete with gut-churning overdubbed “eating” sounds. 

Kelly himself looks bored this time…he looks older than he did just a year before, and also for some reason he’s shaved off his sideburns. There are some parts I kid you not where he looks like ol’ Barry Obama – check out the final fight scene. It’s like Obama with a natural! I’m guessing at this point Jim Kelly must’ve realized his moment in the limelight had already passed him by; surely he had to realize this movie was a turkey. Maybe he did it because he figured the guy who wrote Black Belt Jones couldn’t do him wrong. Obviously he was proven wrong. Or hell, maybe Kelly just wanted a vacation in Thailand (the entire film takes place there – again, a far cry from the urban setting of the previous film). I also feel bad for the Warners marketing department, as they had to try to get people to pay to see this piece of shit. Well, I’ve spent enough time on this one…it’s lame, Jim Kelly’s barely in it (and when he is, he’s usually just standing around), and the focus is on lame comedy throughout. What’s crazy is, despite the suckitude, the film actually looks like a big-budget venture when compared to the cheap productions Kelly would find himself starring in next. Speaking of which… 

Black Samurai (1976): As with Hot Potato, this one has differing copyright and release dates – it’s copyright 1976, but seems to have been released in 1977. It certainly seems more “mid-‘70s” than “disco ‘70s.” Even though it isn’t a big studio production like his previous films, Jim Kelly is back to his old self in this one…you’d think it was actually shot before Hot Potato. Maybe he thought it would lead to a franchise – which the film should have. Well anyway, this is of course a filmed adaptation of Marc Oldens Black Samurai – specifcally, an adaptation of Black Samurai #6: The Warlock. While lots has been changed to accommodate the small budget (the entire second half of the film takes place in one location, for example, despite the globe-hopping of the source novel), the film is still faithful to the bare bones of the novel’s plot. And almost all of the characters from The Warlock are here, though in a lessened state: Synne, the hot-as-hell black beauty of the novel, has lost her silver hair; Bone, the hulking gay albino henchman, is a black guy (though it’s intimated in overdubbed dialog during the climactic fight that he’s still gay in the film); and most humorously of all, Rheinhardt, the werewolf in the novel, has been changed to…a midget. But then there were midgets throughout The Warlock, and sure, they were transvestite midgets who wielded whips and wore s&m getups, but at least director Al Adamson was still somewhat faithful to the novel with this change. 

But he made some strange changes which were not faithful to the novel. For one, Robert “Black Samurai” Sand (ie Jim Kelly) does not report to former President William Baron Clarke in the movie; instead, Sand works for D.R.A.G.O.N. (as in, “Enter The;” no doubt Adamson was trying to refer back to Kelly’s most famous movie). And whereas Robert Sand in the novels was a somewhat-terse badass who favored a samurai sword and a .45, the Sand of the movie is a James Bond wannabe, complete with a Thunderball-esque jetpack. He also drives a purple 1972 Dino Ferrari. But man, if Adamson had dispensed with this stuff, he might’ve had sufficient budget to do a more faithful adaptation of the novel. I mean for one thing, Sand uses his samurai sword in the novels, but here he mostly relies on his hands and feet; he shoots one guy with a revolver, and later in the film affixes a silencer to a .45 (for absolutely no reason, as he’s in the friggin’ jungle at the time), but he never fires it. And he only uses a samurai sword briefly in the climax – to cut the ropes off someone. My assumption is Adamson whittled down on the sword action because it would’ve cost more so far as choreography went; it’s much cheaper to have actors just pretend to be kicked in the face than to be chopped by a sword. 

But now let me tell you how I personally learned about Black Samurai, because I’m sure you all are dying to know. I grew up with an obsession for kung-fu movies, and the early ‘90s was a cool time for this because it seemed like a ton of them suddenly came out on VHS. I built up quite a collection, despite not having much money, and on one of the videos I got there was the trailer for Black Samurai. I no longer recall what kung-fu video in particular it was that featured this trailer, but it would’ve been something I bought in 1994. This trailer, which you can see here (it was also included in Alamo Drafthouse’s 2012 Blu Ray release Trailer War), made a big impression on me. At the time I was in college, and we’d often film impromptu kung-fu parodies or whatnot…I recall often mocking this goofy commercial, in particular the line “half the world’s out to kill him.” At the time I had no idea how Black Samurai itself could even be seen – all I had was the trailer on the video. Then in 2000 or so Black Samurai was released on VHS and DVD…but I quickly learned that it was edited, with the nudity and violence removed. Fuck that! It was also at this time that I learned of Marc Olden’s source material, and while I eventually got the actual books, I still never sought out Al Adamson’s film. Actually that’s a lie, as I’d read somewhere that in the ‘80s the film had been released uncut on VHS, but this video was impossible to find – at least impossibe for me to find. And now that I think of it, I’m assuming it was this ‘80s video release that was being advertised on that video I purchased in the early ‘90s. 

Well anyway, in one of those random flukes, Black Samurai was released on Blu Ray the other year as part of “The Al Adamson Collection,” and friends it’s the uncut version that was originally released in grindhouses and drive-ins in 1977. It was a strange experience to actually watch this movie so many years after discovering it via that trailer; I almost found myself getting misty-eyed, but that was probably the cheap blended whiskey I was drinking at the time. And booze (or drugs) would certainly be recommended for anyone who chooses to watch Black Samurai. But then, the movie isn’t that bad, even though people often rake it over the coals (just check out Marty McKee’s review at Crane Shot).  I mean yeah, it is lame, but it isn’t nearly as bad as Hot Potato. And hell, I’d still rather watch Black Samurai than The Eternals. Also, the movie is deserving of at least some respect, as it was the only film adaptation of a men’s adventure series in the ‘70s – the decade that saw a glut of men’s adventure paperbacks, and Black Samurai was the only one that made it to the big screen. 

I’d love to know what Marc Olden thought of the film. Many years ago his widow Diane told me via email that Olden never met Jim Kelly, “though he admired him.” I was bummed to learn that Olden never got a chance to meet the man who brought his Robert Sand to life. One thing everyone can agree on is that Jim Kelly was the perfect Robert Sand. Unfortunately Al Adamson and his screenwriters didn’t understand the source material, because Kelly, who didn’t have the greatest of range, could’ve easily handled the character as presented in Olden’s novels. Indeed, the Robert Sand of Olden’s novels doesn’t say much – but when he does says something, it’s pretty bad-ass, and then he gets to the ass-kicking. Kelly could’ve handled this. But given how he had all the best lines in Enter The Dragon, the directors of his ensuing films tried to replicate that, so the film version of Robert Sand is a blabbermouth when compared to the novel version. He also lacks the samurai training and mindset; indeed, “Black Samurai” seems to just be this Robert Sand’s codename. He’s basically just a regular movie spy, with all the customary gadgets, only one with a little more focus in karate. No mention is made of him being an actual samurai. 

It's been twelve years(!) since I read The Warlock, but so far as I recall the bones of the novel’s plot are here in the film. And speaking of which, I really enjoyed The Warlock, but am only now starting to read the series from the beginning…not sure why I took so long, but I think it’s because I was also reading Olden’s Narc series and just wanted to focus on it first. Well anyway, same as in the source novel, the plot hinges around black magician Janicot, the warlock of the original novel’s title, taking captive Toki, daughter of Sand’s samurai trainer Mr. Konuma. Adamson and team have changed the relationships a bit, but Toki is still Robert Sand’s beloved in this one – however as mentioned Jim Kelly didn’t have the greatest range, thus he never seems all that fired up about rescuing Toki. In fact, Toki’s practically an afterthought. Oh yeah, I recall Janicot ran a sideline operation in the novel where he filmed various noteables in his black magic sex orgies, using that for blackmail…none of this is in the film. Janicot has practically been neutered in the film version; Bill Roy’s portrayal of the character is more Paul Lynde than Anton LaVey. (Seriously, it would be easy to imagine this Janicot as one of Uncle Arthur’s “special male friends.”) He makes for a lame duck villain, and his “warlock” nature isn’t nearly as exploited as in the novel. 

But let’s talk about the boobs! Seriously though, this uncut version of Black Samurai has been lost for many, many years, but the topless gals are here in all their glory. Adamson strings nudity throughout the film, befitting a movie intended for grindhouse theaters; in particular we have a dazed-looking blonde who does a practically endless striptease halfway through the film, topless throughout (the camera cuts away for the big finale when she pulls off her panties, however). Marilyn Joi as Synne also gets her top torn off by Chavez, Latino thug who in the novel ran his own drug empire, but here in the novel is another of Janicot’s men. Actually he comes off as more threatening than Janicot himself. Oh but randomly enough…Adamson kept the “lion-men” in the movie! One of the more outrageous elements of an outrageous novel made it to the film; randomly enough, Sand at one point is attacked by a pair of black guys dressed up like the savages in a 1930s jungle movie. One of them he seems to relish in killing; I’m not sure if the bloody violence was cut from the previously-available versions, but here in this Blu Ray Sand makes a few bloody kills. For example he tosses a boulder on one of the lion men, and we get a closeup of the spouting blood as the lion man floats in water. 

The karate scenes are actually pretty good. Once again Kelly comes off as vastly outmatching his opponents, but there seems to have been an attempt at actually making him work for it at times. For example the fight with Bone (Charles Grant) is pretty good – livened up by some postproduction dubbing where the two trash-talk each other. Here Sand calls Bone all kinds of inappropriate-for-today gay slurs, adding to the over-the-top vibe of the film; making it even more crazy, the actors clearly aren’t saying anything to each other and all their dialog has been dubbed in after the fact…and since you hear their voices but their lips aren’t moving it gives it all a surreal, dreamlike quality. Unintentionally avant-garde, I guess. Also, Jim Kelly fights a friggin’ vulture, but it’s staged so ineptly that again you wonder why Adamson didn’t use the money for something else. And the fight with Janicot is so lame you wonder why they even included it. But Kelly really seems invested in the role, even if the production is meager compared to his previous movies – I mean we’re talking “boom mic audio.” 

Speaking of cost-cutting, Adamson saved on the soundtrack, too. Black Samurai does not feature an original score. Adamson instead uses what’s now known as “sound library” music, ie production music created by various labels for use in film, TV, radio, and etc. The “theme song,” for example, is actually “Flashback” by Alan Hawkshaw and Keith Mansfield. The song that plays throughout the endless stripdance sequence is “Soul Slap” by Madeline Bell and Alan Parker. Some years ago a blogger by the handle Fraykers Revenge created the soundtrack for Black Samurai, tracking down each song from his vast collection of sound library releases; unfortunately his blog is long gone, but perhaps the soundtrack is still available somewhere on the internet. 

I’ve been going on and on, but I’ve gotta say Black Samurai isn’t terrible. I mean Hot Potato is terrible. Black Samurai is actually watchable, and it’s at least good enough that you wish it was better – that it had more money for the setups and locations. Jim Kelly acquits himself well, proving he could carry a film…even when wearing a very un-Robert Sand tracksuit. There’s definitely a camp quality to it, which always helps. But then perhaps my positive sentiments are due to the uncut Blu Ray; I might be complaining just like every other reviewer if I was talking about the cut version that was previously available on the market. At any rate, it makes one sorry that there wasn’t a followup; the following year Kelly starred in another Adamson production, Death Dimension, and you kind of wish they’d just done Black Samurai II instead. 

Well friends, I was going to review more of Jim Kelly’s movies (he’s always been one of my favorite actors…I mean he’s the only guy in film history who could be in a movie with Bruce Lee and actually come off as cooler than Bruce Lee), but as usual I ran on so long that I’ll have to get to the others anon; Three The Hard Way, Death Dimension, Golden Needles, etc.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Harry O (Harry O #1)

Harry O, by Lee Hays
No month stated, 1975  Popular Library

A well-regarded private eye TV series I’ve never seen, Harry O ran for two seasons and starred David Janssen as a former cop turned P.I. in San Diego. I was born the year season 1 came out, so obviously didn’t watch it at the time. And I don’t believe it was ever syndicated, given it only lasted two seasons. In fact I think I only discovered the show a few years ago when I was looking up any and all crime-based TV shows of the ‘70s. Well anyway, even though Harry O didn’t last very long, it still managed to get a pair of TV tie-ins, both written by Lee Hays, and this being the first of the two. Curiously the “#1” only appears on the cover and nowhere else in the book, but Hays did publish a second novel the following year. 

This is an original story, so far as I can determine, and I can only assume it captures the vibe of the TV series (which I’m sure is on DVD, and maybe I’ll actually watch it someday). Hays follows what I’ve learned to be the setup of the show: Harry Orwell, who narrates the novel for us, is a grizzled ex-cop with a bad back, given that he was shot there by a perp some years ago (which led to his retirement). Now he lives off his pension in San Diego, occasionally doing private eye work while not fiddling with his boat, The Answer. He isn’t Joe Mannix by any means; Harry is not at all an action-prone private dick, and usually keeps his gun rolled up in a towel in his house. He won’t use it in the entirety of the novel. In fact, Harry won’t do much of anything in the entirety of the novel. He does manage to score, though, so at least there’s that. 

Speaking of which, it’s interesting that Harry O was published by Popular Library, who seemed to corner the market on private eye series paperbacks in the ‘70s – they published Cage, Hardy, Renegade Roe, etc. Maybe an editor there just had a serious jones for this genre. But at least this one wasn’t misleadingly packaged like an action series, as those others were. Which is a good thing, because it’s mostly action-free. Harry O follows the template of practically every private eye story I’ve ever read: cynical P.I. is hired by a sexy broad who seems to have ulterior motives and soon finds himself in over his head, embroiled in a convoluted plot. So in other words there’s nothing new here, and if the TV series was the same then all the critical accolades are confusing to me. Harry even has the mandatory fractious relationship with the cops, in particular a former captain who has a grudge against him. He also has the mandatory friend on the force: Manny Quinlan, a character who seems to have also been on the show. 

Hays takes adavantage of the San Diego setting with frequent trips to Baja and Tijuana. In fact, there’s a lot of scene-setting in Harry O, to the point that it’s a bit egregious. I’d also say it’s there so as to pad the pages, as Hays doesn’t give himself much plot to work from. We meet Harry as he’s working on his boat; he never sails it in the course of the novel, so maybe that’s another schtick from the show. And in true “burned-out private eye” fashion, Harry ignores the constantly-ringing phone over in his house, just wanting to work on the boat despite needing a job. The caller ends up coming to him, and true to the template it’s a hotstuff babe. While the novel isn’t explicit in the least, there’s still a lot of that casual ‘70s “male gaze” as it’s now referred to – Harry seriously checks this chick out, practically oggling her as she walks by him – breasts, butt, face, etc. And she of course just makes a flippant remark about it, which adds to the charm. 

Harry makes her some coffee; he’ll make a lot of coffee in the novel. If Harry isn’t making coffee he’s checking the coffee to see if it’s still warm enough to drink; if not, Harry will heat it up. This is pretty much the majority of what our narrator does in the course of Harry O. Anyway, the pretty young lady is named Mary Alice Kimberly, and she was sent to Harry by Harry’s cop friend Manny. Her story is that her husband, who wants a divorce she won’t give him, has taken advantage of some land she gave him in Baja, and Mary Alice thinks her husband plans something shady there – to the extent that he’ll kill her to protect his investment. Harry doesn’t really believe her story and she takes off. 

This is of course where the plot thickens. Mary Alice calls Harry that night and begs him to come over to the office of another private eye, this one a sleazebag who specializes in dirty divorces. Well he’s dead, courtesy a bullet, and of course Mary Alice says she found him that way; she says her husband probably killed him. But now she herself is on the run from the cops, so Harry will spend the rest of the novel hiding her from his former friends on the force while trying to clear her name. So far as Mary Alice is concerned, her husband Arthur is involved in some shady business, so Harry heads down to Baja to check it out – oh, and another recurring bit is that Harry’s car is always in the shop. But he doesn’t like to drive, anyway. I mean there’s a part later in the book where Mary Alice is driving him back and forth to Mexico, and she asks Harry if he’d mind driving for a while, and Harry initially demurs! I mean some kick-ass hero! 

The novel comes to life with the appearance of Sydney Jerome; with his “neat mod suit” and “girlish figure” he’s clearly intended to be gay, not that Hays actually states it. He’s the larger-than-life shadowy figure expected in the private eye template, employing his own henchmen and talking “like a character out of Dickens.” He offers Harry a drink (Harry drinks liquour, at least) and tells him he too is involved with the deal, and is also looking for both Arthur and Mary Alice Kimberly. The plot further thickens when Harry’s again woken up in the middle of the night by a woman, but this time it’s Billy, the former stripclub dancer who was married to the murdered sleazebag private eye. This part seems to go nowhere – lots of dialog about the couple that doesn’t matter to the plot but fills the pages – until it leads to unexpected developments. 

As Harry O moves into its second half, things become a bit more tense; Harry himself is now trying to clear his name of murder. And also he manages to hook up with Mary Alice, who per the template throws herself at him. However Hays keeps this entirely off page. But at least Harry’s boat factors into it, as this is where Mary Alice has been hiding. But when Arthur Kimberly himself finally shows up, he warns Harry not to trust his estranged wife and tells Harry that Mary Alice is a “nympho.” Regardless Harry spends a lot of time with her, shuttling back and forth to Mexico. Our narrator literally just sits around while Mary Alice does the heavy lifting of moving the plot; it now develops that Arthur and Sydney were involved in a heroin smuggling scheme, and Mary Alice intends to foil Sydney by dealing him sugar down in Mexico. And through it all Harry just sits there while she does all the plotting and planning. 

Even the finale is underwhelming. Again true to the private eye template, the “climax” is mostly comrpised of expository dialog while various characters explain what exactly has been going on. There’s no real action; at one point Harry actually goes to get his gun, but finds that the towel he rolls it up in is now empty. Harry finally figures out how he’s been swindled, but even here his approach to it is rather humdrum. Hell, if I’m not mistaken he even makes more coffee in the climax, or maybe checks the temperature of already-made coffee. But there isn’t a big finale; instead, the villain just waits calmly while the cops head for Harry’s house. And we leave our narrator where we found him, working on his boat. 

The back cover of Harry O features several blurbs from various publications praising the show. Curiously, half of them (plus the blurb on the front cover) are all based out of Chicago, so Harry O must’ve been pretty popular there, even if it was set in San Diego. Some of the blurbs even go so far as to say Harry O is the best private eye show in history. I don’t know, though. At least judging from this paperback tie-in…well, I’d rather watch Mannix.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Undertaker #2: Black Lives Murder

The Undertaker #2: Black Lives Murder, by John Doe
“January, 1968”  Pernicious Books

John Doe wasn’t joking when he told me that this second volume of The Undertaker was “more fun” than the first volume. Don’t get me wrong, Death Transition was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. But Black Lives Murder is hilarious from start to finish; the Destroyer similarities are even stronger this time, at least so far as the spoofy nature goes. With the important caveat that one again things are important to the characters, and not just a joke like things are in The Destroyer

As with Death Transition, this second volume retains the “vintage replica” gimmick, with the paperback being the exact measurement of one from the 1970s and sporting the same pulpy paper. It even has the same bogus publication date as Death Transition. But I’d say the title is also reminiscent of those old paperbacks. Something that has occurred to me is how fearless the paperback imprints were in the ’70s. They’d routinely publish stuff like The Savage Women, or have their action-series protagonists darken their skin to go undercover among black criminals. There were no concerns about offending anyone; if there was a societal trend, they’d exploit it. If the “summer of love” had occurred in 1974 instead of 2020, you can be sure Pinnacle or Leisure or Manor would’ve done a book that showed the ”peaceful protesters” as villains to be mopped up by some hero. Since no book publisher today has the guts to do so, it’s up to John Doe and his Pernicious Books.  (Actually it’s now Tocsin Press, but more on that later.)

And boy does he deliver. If Warren Murphy had been around during those BLM and antifa riots in the summer of 2020, I want to believe he would’ve written a Destroyer novel with a plot similar to Black Lives Murder. If you too boiled with rage as “peaceful protesters” burned, looted, and murdered across the US during that summer, then you’ll definitely enjoy this novel – I mean, even if there was no retribution in the real world, at least we can experience it vicariously as Victor Underhill, The Undertaker, dispenses some much-needed justice on the “woke horde.” While series co-protagonist Deputy Ivan Gore’s hands are tied by city officials who are bizarrely enough on the side of the rioters, The Undertaker as ever is free to mete out the proper punishment to those who defile society. Plus this time we learn that he has a hotstuff assistant, a buxom brunette named Alyssa who is aware of Underhill’s secret role as The Undertaker. 

Whereas Death Transition was more of a suspenseful police procedural with darkly comic overtones, John Doe opens up the narrative for this second volume, giving us a broader look at the progressivised hellhole that is the city of Pandemont. The character relationships are also expanded upon; we learn that Deputy Harris, Gore’s bumbling redheaded colleague, is in love with a Vietnamese gal who works in a massage parlor. There’s also pretty Deputy Jackson, a black lady who teaches “diversity class” for the department but rails against BLM and the rioters who are ripping up the city – and quits the force when she learns the city is more concerned with protecting them than stopping them. Most importantly, Gore and Underhill have more of a relationship here; while they only met once in the previous volume, we learn that now Gore will purposely give business cards for Underhill’s funeral home to the families of victims…victims who have been killed be perpetrators outside the law. This is Gore’s signal to Underhill that vengeance needs to be sown by The Undertaker. It’s now four months after Death Transition, and Gore is at war with himself over how, due to this, he’s no longer a “good cop.” Rather than arrest Underhill, Gore keeps going back to him, “like a dog returning to its vomit.” 

Underhill himself is more of a character in Black Lives Murder. In the first book he was a shadowy figure, usually appearing as “the man in black” or in some other disguise as he went about sowing bloody vengeance. It was only toward the end of the novel that we learned how Underhill, an elderly funeral home director, grew incensed enough at the social ravages of wokeism that he decided to become The Undertaker and mete out savage justice. This time he’s fully unleashed; with his trench coat, serrated blades, and tendency to quote Paradise Lot he reminds me more of Hannibal Lecter than a men’s adventure hero. And yet that’s precisely the point, as this volume Gore realizes that Underhill is “insane.” Throughout Black Lives Murder Underhill almost casually – and gorily – dispatches several antifa and BLM thugs. 

If you spent the summer of 2020 wondering how all those blue cities could keep burning, with no one doing anything to stop the rioting and looting, Doe presents a very compelling explanation. We learn through the corrupt commissioner of Pandemont, Nancy Palisades, that an “organization” approached various city leaders a few months before the summer, selling “packages” based off an “inciting incident” that would soon sweep across the country. With scripts to follow, promised air time with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, and various levels of services (based on how much you pay, of course), this organization promised to use the “incident” to catapult the various city leaders into lucrative political careers. The “directors” of the affair would chose some race-based incident and “make it big,” after which teams of organizers would oversee rioting in the various cities – ensuring a proper racial mix of rioters so there’d be enough blacks there chanting for social justice – with even guidelines for the police to follow to give protection to the rioters. Despite her own corruption, even Palisades is taken aback by the organization’s goal to encourage looting: 

In other words, the entire “peaceful protest” movement is a callous marketing initiative, complete with scene-setters straight out of Hollywood who converge upon participating cities and orchestrate the chaos for the best TV coverage. At no point is the “plight” of black Americans ever a concern; it’s all about money, political power, and TV ratings. The riots have already started in Pandemont when the novel begins, but they haven’t reached the levels of New York or Chicago or Los Angeles – because, we’ll soon learn, Commissioner Palisades didn’t pay as much as those cities. It isn’t even the rioting that makes Gore decide to call in Underhill this time; in an eerie opening scene that recalls the horror vibe of Death Transition, Deputies Gore and Harris discover the corpse of a pretty young black girl in a desolate church…and Gore is sickened to discover that she has been branded with a demonic face and a pentagram. When the woke “fish-lipped lump” of a coroner refuses to denigrate a “minority religious group” in his report (ie Satanism), Gore sends the grieving mother to the Milton Funeral Home, which ultimately brings The Undertaker onto the scene. 

There are hilarious setpieces throughout Black Lives Murder. One in particular occurs early on, when Gore and the rest of the deputies are assembled for a briefing, and their assumption is they’ll be given the go-ahead to take down the rioters. Instead, the city managers and the FBI tell them that the real threat they need to be on the lookout for is white supremacists (complete with the FBI agent showing a photo of a KKK member in the 1800s). They also play a video recording of some rioting in the city…and what they’re upset about is the “All Lives Matter” sign that is visible in the footage. The leaders are shocked that this “hate speech” got by the Pandemont police; unfortunately the building it was spraypainted on was burned down by the rioters, so they won’t be able to find out who spraypainted it. All this is properly hilarious, but with a bitter aftertaste, as one can’t help but suspect that it’s a reflection of the real briefings that took place in precincts across the US in the summer of 2020. I also loved how the city officials kept referring to black Deputy Jackson as “the deputy of color.” 

Gore sees a lot more action this time. Boisterous Sherrif Bullard resents the order from Commissioner Palisades that his deputies stand down and not impede the rioters, and thus Bullard sends Gore on an “unofficial” surveillance of the MAZ. Yes, Doe even works in a parody of the “Temporary Autonomous Zone” that existed in Seattle during that fateful summer…and I recall wondering at the time if I was one of the few “normal” people who knew that the entire concept was lifted from Hakim Bey’s book of the same name. (I was always drawn to the wacky ideas of Bey, aka Peter Lamborn Wilson, in particular his writings on “pirate utopias,” but that didn’t mean I thought those wacky ideas would ever work in the real world.) This is another highly entertaining sequence, as Gore gets a glimpse of the “peaceful protesters” in the MAZ…in particular the girls: 

While the antifa crew is mostly comprised of pasty-skinned white guys with too much estrogen in their diet, Gore sees that out in the periphery lurks the real muscle: a contingent of hulking black guys. All this is very Warren Murphy-esque as these thugs literally come out of the darkness to grab the white girls away from their antifa boyfriends and take them off to be gang-banged. Indeed, to “fuck the white privilege” out of them. And when the girls complain about being sore, the hulking black guy in charge goes into racial grievances, about how his people still had to work, even after they were whipped and beaten by their white owners: “I can feels it in my bones!” The absurd modern notion of people who were never slaves demanding “repartations” from those who never owned slaves is well and fully mocked in this novel. Gore, despite being undercover, can’t sit by while a girl is gang-raped against her will, and follows after. He finds that a mattress store has been transitioned into a rape den, and watches in shock: 

Overall there is a more risque vibe to this second volume, which I always appreciate. In particular there is Rachel Palisades, mentioned in the excerpt above, beautiful blonde daughter of Commissioner Nancy Palisades. She’s a depraved wanton who is obsessed with black men, and she somewhat reminded me of the similarly-depraved twin girls in The Destroyer #5. Given to wearing “Black Size Matters” shirts and starring in porn videos titled “Built For BBC,” Rachel has created a veritable cottage industry in Pandemont, filming herself having sex with an endless tide of black men. The MAZ exists due to her demanding one from the organizers of the protests, even though the “package” Rachel’s mother bought for Pandemont didn’t include one. 

Probably the most humorous – and craziest – sequence in the novel is an actual, would-you-believe-it parody of an infamous incident in recent U.S. history. I won’t get into the full details, as it’s my hope this novel will soon be available for others to purchase and enjoy for themselves, but Doe so skillfully plays this out that it only slowly dawned on me that it was a parody. I’ll just say that it features the ever-bumbling Deputy Harris desperately trying to give a mortally-wounded black thug a massage, using a special Vietnamese massage style Harris learned from his girlfriend…all while dumbfounded rioters get the act on livestream. This scene seriously had me laughing. Yet another hilarious Warren Murphy-esque sendup of reality that wouldn’t have been out of place in a vintage Destroyer novel. 

The livestream of Harris makes Pandemont the “epicenter” of the cross-country protests, with more rioters converging on the city and every major news outlet promptly sending down crews. (“CNN had flown in both their homosexual news anchors.”) Doe really pulls out all the stops in the final quarter, with Gore’s wife Amanda nearly being raped by “peaceful protesters” and Underhill showing up on the scene to raise further hell. Turns out my hunch in Death Transition was correct, as Underhill really is a sort of modern-day pulp hero, a la The Spider, with a seemingly-limitless supply of gadgets and accessories, including even a “souped-up hearse retrofitted with flamethrowers.” This vehicle features in another humorously dark bit where Underhill runs into (so to speak) a gaggle of BLM and antifa who are blocking an intersection. The finale is even more wild, and I can’t give any of it away, as Doe skillfully ties up all his threads in fitting fashion…complete with Underhill himself posing as a BLM activist and pushing the rioting throng in a very unexpected direction. 

I’ll be honest, folks, I’ve been pretty bummed these past several months over the sad and pathetic state of our country, in which the moronic virus that is wokeism has infiltrated almost every area of life (even kindergarten classrooms!). Not to mention the shutdown of any voices that speak out against the insanity. It makes me very, very happy that there are talented, smart, and hilarious people like John Doe out there who are on the side of rationality and who are capable of writing books like this. It honestly gives me hope for the future. I mean the entirety of Black Lives Murder is genius-level satire. And the writing is strong to boot. There are memorable prhases throughout, with evocative imagery. Like in the climax, when the spirit of the rioters has been gutted and “[Their] chanting became discordant and confused, like the bleating of sheep whose shepherd has wandered away.” 

The “more to come” faux advertisement page at the back of the book states that the third Undertaker will be titled The Thin Black Line. This is a phrase mentioned at the denoument of Black Lives Murder; Gore considers himself a representative of “the thin blue line,” being in law enforcement. Allysa, Underhill’s sexy assistant with the “hypnotic smile,” tells Gore that she and Underhill – and soon, she suspects, Gore himself – are actually on the “black” line. So my assumption is this third installment will further demonstrate Gore’s moving over to Underhill’s philosopy of just killing people “who are already dead,” ie the mindless woke horde that is destroying Pandemont (and Western civilization itself). I also know from John Doe that the third volume might touch on the capricious Covid mandates, and boy that leaves all kinds of room for Doe’s biting satire – I’d love to see what Underhill has to say about “following the science,” which of course seems to change based on the latest polling results. 

It was a definite pleasure to read these two volumes of The Undertaker. I can only thank John Doe for sending them to me.  And he is currently working on a way to get the books out to a wider audience.  As mentioned above, Pernicious Books has become Tocsin Press (Pernicious Books was already taken, it turns out).  I think this is just as fitting a name, as tocsin is an archaic word meaning “an alarm bell or signal,” per the Oxford Dictionary.  Indeed, “a tocsin to warn of the danger of dictatorship.” John Doe has just set up a website: Tocsin Press.  There you will find listings for the two volumes of The well as another book by a different author.  Hopefully more titles will be listed soon, and John Doe is working out the mechanisms of ordering and payment.  His excellent copy on the site well sums up the aim of Tocsin Press, and gives one an idea of the similarly-gifted narrative style that graces the two volumes of The Undertaker.  Here's hoping there will be many more volumes to come!

Finally, here’s the back cover of Black Lives Murder: