Monday, March 5, 2012

The Enforcer #4: Kill Deadline

The Enforcer #4: Kill Deadline, by Andrew Sugar
July, 1973 Lancer Books

The Enforcer series continues to become more of a dialog-driven mystery thriller, which is unfortunate given the pulpy action-filled charm of the first volume. I agree with Marty McKee on this one, as Kill Deadline is for the most part a rather tepid and slow-moving affair. It isn't as bad as Calling Doctor Kill, but it's nowhere as good as Enforcer #1.

Sugar continues to extol what I called in my review of Enforcer #3: Kill City "the lost art of being a guy." Kill Deadline is filled with scenes of guys sitting around as they smoke, drink brandy, and discuss serious issues. There's more drinking in Kill Deadline than the average episode of Bewitched. I lost track of the number of times hero Alex Jason would pour brandy over ice and gulp it down. Jason, a clone, has little concern over his health, and indeed relishes the fact that he can indulge in any vice he wishes, given that he only lives in each new clone body for 90 days.

However the clone aspect begins to wear thin with this volume. It also robs the series of a sense of danger. While on his latest mission, Jason even keeps a spare clone body handy in case he gets "killed!" In other words, no worries about mortal danger; all our hero has to do is have his brain mapped into a new body, and he can go right on enforcing.

One novel aspect this time is that Jason plans the mission himself, given that he's apparently the only person in the world who can connect the deaths of various millionaires. All of these men, dead of what appear to be natural causes, were each being considered for membership in the John Anryn Institute, ie the shadowy "looking out for the little guy" corporation for which Jason enforces.

Jason deduces that these men were killed by an individual who wishes to get inside the Institute. That individual could only be Alfred Lochner, Jason's nemesis since the first volume. The clues come together after a wealthy corporate bigshot is found dead hours after playing a looong game of poker with Jason and his other Institute buddies. (As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing more boring to read about than poker.) The man's now dead and his young associate, certain to one day take ownership of the company, is at death's door. Both men were poisoned by mushrooms, but even the old lady who gave them the mushrooms is dead.

Figuring that someone is shadowing people looking to get into the Institute, Jason decides to pose as Richards, the associate who survived the poisoning. Going around in a wheelchair (due to the fact that the convalescing Richards can no longer walk), Jason is assisted by his gorgeous girlfriend Janet, who poses as "Richards's" nurse. This entails many more scenes of Jason talking to various cronies as he bides his time until someone tries to kill him.

There's lots and lots of talking in Kill Deadline. Jason comes off like quite the blowhard, especially given that he's the only person to ever figure out anything. As per his custom, Sugar spices things up every so often with sex scenes between Jason and Janet. But anyone who read Enforcer #1 knows that Jason suffers from the Death Wish curse -- anyone he loves is certain to meet an unfortunate end, and soon. Also as per custom, Sugar opens the novel with a scene that takes place toward the very end, with a beaten Jason meeting Lochner face-to-face, shortly before Lochner is to have Jason tossed into the Hudson. Then Sugar backtracks so that the majority of the novel comes off like Jason's reflections upon recent events.

A few lurid moments liven things up. For one, the cover depicts actual events in the book; in one of his schemes, Jason, posing as Richards, has Institute clones pretend to be goons who storm into a party and take "Richards" captive. Prying a shotgun from a clone in a rehearsed scene, Jason then blows the head off of a handy brainless clone body. For the life of me I couldn't figure out the point of this scene, as it had nothing to do with anything and didn't help Jason solve the mystery.

Even better is a scene late in the game where a gorgeous socialite comes into Jason's apartment while he's still posing as Richards. She kisses him and Jason is instantly smitten with her -- some sort of drug on her lipstick. She then takes off her top and has Jason go to town on her breasts. Endless detail here, the moral of which is that the lady's breasts are implanted with a poison that she squirts into men's mouths as they are sucking on her. You read that right. As Jason later refers to her, "The lady with the killer-tits." Now that would've made for the title of a book.

Kill Deadline only picks up in these final pages. As mentioned Jason suffers a personal loss but snaps out of it after a bit of mourning, using those handy mental powers of his. He goes after the killer, Darkhurst, whom Jason of course is able to unmask via goofy means. Darkhurst works for Lochner, and so Jason ends up facing his nemesis at the end of the novel. The villain again escapes, and Kill Deadline ends with Jason vowing that this time the Institute will go on the offensive; they're going to find Lochner and put him out of business.

Lancer Books was apparently uninterested in joining the fight. This was the last volume of the Enforcer they published, and it's certain they dropped the title, given the cliffhanger ending Sugar delivered. The series returned however in 1975, this time through Manor Books, who reprinted the Lancer originals. All of them, that is, except for Kill Deadline.

For some reason, Manor overlooked this particular volume of the series, not reprinting it until 1979, four years after they'd reprinted the other Lancer originals. The Manor edition of Kill Deadline is quite rare, and my suspicion is it was a scarce printing. Why? Because Manor really dropped the ball on it. For one, they didn't even commission a new cover painting, as they did with the other reprints. But also they screwed up the title, numbering the book "#6" in the series, when it was really #4. But worst of all, they even misspelled Sugar's name on the spine, writing it as "Angrew!"

After a lot of searching I was finally able to get a coverscan of the Manor edition of Kill Deadline:

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