Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Enforcer #1

The Enforcer #1, by Andrew Sugar
March, 1973 Lancer Books

Death is rotting your guts, tearing you apart with pain. It's all over; there's nothing left but the funeral, and they're measuring you for the coffin now.

No, that's not copy from Hallmark's new line of Sympathy cards, it's the back-cover blurb for volume 1 of Andrew Sugar's 6-volume Enforcer series, which started off at Lancer Books and then with #5 moved over to Manor. (Which makes Justin Marriott speculate that Andrew Sugar must've owned the character, and not the publishing house.)

The first quarter of The Enforcer #1 follows the grim tone of that back-cover blurb. We meet 38-year-old Alex Jason in the last stages of terminal stomach cancer, wracked with constant pain and awaiting death. Spurning drugs he deals with his horrendous pain with "ki," focusing his will into a diamond-hard blade of resolve. But the ki's no longer working and Jason knows the end is near. Then a hologram appears in Jason's apartment and offers him a chance to go on living...

Jason it turns out is a Hunter Thompson-type (well, a Hunter Thompson with the looks of a young Burt Reynolds, I guess), an investigative journalist known for stirring up hornet's nests of vice and corruption. His work has destroyed careers and put powerful men in prison, and as a result he has caught the eye of the John Anryn Institute -- the shadowy corporation which sent that hologram into Jason's apartment. Beyond its normal business functions, the Anryn Institute also houses a secret division which uses cutting-edge technology to defend the oppressed peoples of the world. A main component of their technology is cloning, hence their offer to Jason: while his "real" body dies they will map his mind and place it into a wholly-new body, one that's young and virile and untouched by disease.

The only catch is that these bodies last for a mere 90 days, and then they literally melt. However Jason's mind can be mapped again and placed into yet another clone body -- but the catch here is that this can only go on for a maximum of two years. After that, the mind-mapping becomes faulty and things start going haywire. The Anryn Institute's working to solve this dilemma, but at the very least their offer to Jason right now is for a minimum of 2 extra years of life. They ask that in return he must become their "Enforcer," fighting for those aforementioned oppressed masses. Jason finally agrees and, given a young and handsome Latino body, he's prepared for his first mission.

Afer a few weeks of training (in which he falls in love with one of his trainers, a fellow clone named Brunnie who in reality is a few decades older than Jason but now lives in a body just as young as his own), Jason is armed with a laser rifle and sent to a tiny Caribbean nation where he must destroy some oil wells. Things go wrong immediately and Jason's captured. He becomes the prisoner of the local ruler, a half-Spanish, half-Irish thug named O'Brien who tortures Jason mentally and physically. At O'Brien side throughout is a white male whom Jason suspects is a Syndicate rep -- ie the Mafia, the John Anryn Institute's #1 archenemy.

After an interminable stretch Jason's finally freed by some Anryn people -- Brunnie among them -- and they escape into the jungle. We're already over a hundred pages into the book, but instead of ending it takes a new turn; Jason's immediately given a new mission. It turns out there's a nearby base in which some twisted, Syndicate-funded scientists are turning people into plants (!). The Anryn Institute wants the place destroyed.

There are only two problems. First, one of the Anryn Institute reps who freed Jason, a redneck named Turley, is the prototype of a new clone body -- past his two-year expiration date, Turley's been given one more chance in a new but expiremental change to the mind-mapping procedure. And he's quite obviously going insane. And the second problem -- Jason's own clone body is fast approaching its expiration date, and all of the warning sings are in place: numbness in the left side of his body, motor skills fading. It won't be long until his flesh is a mound of goo and he's nothing but a brain resting on the jungle floor, awaiting a slow death.

At 220+ pages of tiny type, The Enforcer #1 is meatier than the average men's adventure novel. A lot of this is due to Jason's backstory, but beyond that one reason for its meatiness is that Andrew Sugar, believe it or not, is here crafting a genuine novel. This is certainly not something quickly churned out to make a buck; Sugar has put a lot of work into this character and his world. The Enforcer #1 is an exceptionally well-written novel, with emotional content, good dialog, a wry sense of humor (the insane Turley is an obvious spoof of the typical gung-ho men's adventure protagonist), taut action scenes, and a fair amount of graphic sex.

Not only that, but Sugar is the first of all these men's adventure authors I've yet read who doesn't -- not even once -- jump from one point of view to another. POV-jumping is a staple of amateurish writing (or, at least, hastily churned-out writing). We're in one character's head and then in the next paragraph we're suddenly in another character's head. It's jarring and it breaks the vivid dream of reading, and it happens all of the time in men's adventure novels. But in The Enforcer #1 we stay locked in Jason's point of view from beginning to end. It nearly brought a tear to my eye.

Also, Sugar is capable of delivering stupefying lines such as this one, describing a woman Jason is "associated" with:

Marcy was, simply, a sensual animal who lived for only one thing: to have a man, any man, spew sperm inside of her.

Well, if that doesn't sell you on this novel...

In 1975 Manor Books took over the Enforcer series, reprinting the Lancer originals with new covers. Here's the cover for their reprint of The Enforcer #1, which they retitled Caribbean Kill:


James Reasoner said...

I used to hear rumors that Andrew Sugar was really a woman. No idea if there's any truth to that. Not long ago I picked up a copy of the Sugar novel YANK. Hope to read it soon.

Joe Kenney said...

That's a crazy rumor! I wonder if it's true? This is the first Andrew Sugar book I've read, but I've got the rest of the Enforcer series and look forward to reading it. I just assumed Sugar was a real person, as so many books were published under that name, from the Yank novel you mention to even a nonfiction book titled "Backpacking," or something like that. In other words, the name wasn't just limited to genre fiction...but who knows.

James Reasoner said...

Andrew Sugar worked for several different publishers, so it certainly wasn't a house name. I believe someone once told me that her real name was Andrea Sugar (just one letter different from Andrew). I feel a little bad about gossiping about something that may not even be true, but that's the way a lot of this bibliographic info gets uncovered in the first place.

James Reasoner said...

Well, actually just Lancer and then Manor, now that I've looked at the ABE listings. Except for that tent book in 1979, which seems to be the last Andrew Sugar book. The Enforcer and The Israeli Commandos appear to be his only series, with YANK being his only stand-alone. 11 or 12 books total, in a career lasting about six years. Funny, I thought there were more than that.

Joe Kenney said...

Now that I think of it, in Enforcer #1 there's a part where minor character Brunnie -- Alex Jason's love interest -- goes on and on about how hard it is to be a woman in a man's world. If it's true that Sugar was a woman, than this would be a definite in-joke.

At any rate that would be pretty ironic, wouldn't it -- that one of the best writers of men's adventure novels turns out to be a woman!

Theophrastus said...

Actually, I knew Andrew Sugar back in the seventies when he was writing these books and living in the Hudson Valley. Andy was definitely no woman -- he was married with two teen kids and a definite masculine persona including a scruffy beard and a bawdy sense of humor.

He was interested in libertarian politics and occasionally attended meetings of the then nascent NY Libertarian Party where I met him. He was always hustling to make a living as a jack-of-all-trades freelance writer and I once collaborated with him as an illustrator on a project he did for Argosy Magazine, a special issue called the Monster Annual around 1975 or so. Andy wrote all the articles. You can see a thumbnail of my cover art of a bigfoot fighting a bear at:


I lost track of Andy shortly after that and just thought of him a little while ago and did a search on his name -- which is how I arrived here. I was really surprised to find no works of his after 1979 and I would love to know what became of him. Maybe he adopted a pen name and is now a renowned but reclusive mainstream American novelist. If he is still alive he would be getting on in years since he was probably around 40 in the mid '70s.

--Ralph Blanchette

Joe Kenney said...

Ralph, thanks so much for your comment! Thanks too for the link to your cover art. It's great to hear from someone who actually knew this author back in the day. I too wonder what happened to Mr. Sugar...as well as so many of the other authors whose work I enjoy. Have you read his Enforcer novels? There are many Libertarian-esque political conversations therein.

Unknown said...

I bought the original art work for the cover of Caribbean Kill about 20 years ago for $50 never knowing anything about it until today when a goggle image search brought me here! Thank you!

Joe Kenney said...

Scott, sorry for the delay, I just saw this post! That's very cool to hear you have the original painting for Caribbean Kill. Did you ever read the novel? It was my favorite of the entire series, and one of my favorite men's adventure novels in general, though to tell the truth I kind of prefer the painting for the original printing from Lancer Books, when it was just titled Enforcer #1.