Monday, October 25, 2010

The Specialist #2: Manhattan Revenge

The Specialist #2: Manhattan Revenge, by John Cutter
April, 1984 Signet Books

Jack Sullivan returns in a second installment nearly as plodding and padded as the first. Once again "John Cutter" (aka John Shirley) proves that he can fill pages with the best of 'em, giving us another novel that could easily be cut down to half the length.

Now in New York City, Sullivan's tracing some leads he picked up in Talent For Revenge. Sullivan's wife was killed years ago, and he's still trying to figure out who was behind it. But his contact Malta has followed him here, and -- after a pointless scene in which he sets Sullivan up against a trio of thugs to "test" him -- Malta offers a new mission.

A gang known as the Meat Hooks is terrorizing the inner city, snatching runaway children and locking them up in some unknown location where the kids are drugged and used to satisfy the twisted needs of deranged perverts. Behind it all is a former Nazi named Van Kleef and his equally-sicko wife. One thing I admire about Shelley's series is how he bridges the gap between '70s and '80s-style men's adventure novels. The plot of Manhattan Revenge is as lurid as any '70s men's adventure novel, but it also features the gung-ho "guns, guns, guns" bravura that was all the rage in the '80s. (Not to mention that Sullivan gets laid -- and often -- which in itself is another '70s throwback in the sexless '80s world of Mack Bolan, Phoenix Force, and etc.)

Unfortunately Shelley doesn't capitalize on the lurid aspect, for once again he delivers a novel in which nothing happens but his hero stalking various low-tier henchmen and staking out various enemy strongholds as he plans his final assault. The twisted den Van Kleef has created is dealt with in a perfunctory manner, and instead we get endless scenes of Sullivan chasing down Meat Hook members and torturing them for info.

Did I say endless? Everything is drawn out here. If Sullivan chases after some punk, we get 5 pages of tiny type describing each alley, corner, and fire escape Sullivan lopes across -- and each scene ends exactly the same, with Sullivan killing the punk in question. Just like Talent For Revenge, we have here another protracted game of cat and mouse; we know from page one that Sullivan will storm Van Kleef's den and kill the man, and that's finally what happens. And just as in the previous installment, the climax goes exactly like you thought it would.

There are a few colorful patches in the otherwise monochromatic color scheme. This time out Sullivan has an accomplice, a private eye Malta's hired. Sullivan's pissed -- he works alone -- but the way these things go, of course, the private eye turns out to be a smokin' hot babe. This not only leads to plentiful sex but also what I want to think is a little genre parody from Shelley. For the lady constantly chastizes Sullivan for his "kill first" attitude, and Sullivan constantly calls her a "Liberal."

But Sullivan here is a bloodthirsty maniac, one who would do Johnny Rock proud. He murders countless Meat Hookers, torturing them with joy. Even when he tries to do good he's a sicko; my favorite scene is where Sullivan attempts to talk a youth out of the gang life, using as a prop a Meat Hooker Sullivan has just killed. Sullivan puts the boy's face up to the open gut wound -- "Looks like he ate a fast-food burger today! Well, just goes to show what that stuff'll do to you!"

Who knows, maybe Shelley intended Manhattan Revenge to be a satire of men's adventure novels. But at 200 pages of tiny-type padding, the joke is lost.

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