Monday, September 30, 2013

Narc #5: Kill The Dragon

Narc #5 Kill The Dragon, by Robert Hawkes
December, 1974  Signet Books

The fifth installment of the Narc series doesn’t pick up from any earlier volumes; as I guessed, John Bolt’s lady love from the previous volume, Anita, doesn’t appear and isn’t even mentioned. As a matter of fact Bolt gets it on with some random lady while on his latest case, and doesn’t once even think of Anita, so I guess she’s gone for good, despite being so built up in the previous book. But anyway Kill the Dragon comes off like a standalone installment, so could easily serve as an introduction to the series.

This volume at times also comes off like Olden’s superior Black Samurai series, what with its focus on martial arts fights and whatnot. Bolt isn’t the one doing the fighting, though; it’s Peter Joe, one of the novel’s many villains, an 18 year-old Hong Kong orphan who has come to the US to climb the ladder of the New York tongs. Peter Joe works for Gabriel Ling Tsu, aka “Sweet Sue,” tong godfather of New York. Gabriel is currently working a deal with mob boss Johnny Fist; Gabriel’s Red China heroin contact The Monk is about to import a huge shipment of heroin, and Fist wants to buy it to corner the market.

Of course Bolt, as top agent for D-3, gets involved; we meet him already on the case, as he’s being dragged along a concrete floor somewhere in Washington, DC by a speeding car. One thing that can be said for Olden is he knows how to start his novels with exciting scenes, and this is yet another example. Bolt is in the process of capturing the Monk, and for his pains he’s left with an injured left arm and shoulder which plague him through the rest of the novel.

But for all of that the Monk is let go within the hour, sprung by Mercer Mannering, a new-to-the-series government VIP who is very friendly with Red China. Although Richard Nixon resigned in August of 1974, it’s obvious Kill the Dragon was written long before it, as though Nixon’s name is never specified it’s constantly driven home that “the current president” is trying very hard to sow peace with China, hence arresting a visiting notable like the Monk would sour the peace negotiations. Mercer is also very hostile toward D-3 in general and Bolt in particular, and Olden makes it clear that Bolt has made yet another enemy.

This particular volume took a while to read; although it’s only 159 pages, those pages are filled with small print and barely any white space. Once again Olden really fills up pages by jumping into the perspectives of his huge cast of characers, to the point where snatches of the book come off like streams of consciousness. I’ve complained about this tendency of Olden’s before; in a way he’s like the reverse image of Joseph Rosenberger. Whereas Rosenberger page-fills with endlessly detailed action scenes, Olden sort of does the same with lots of extended peeks into the minds of his characters, to the point where the book can become a trawl.

There are a few action setpieces, though, just not as many as previously. There’s the opening fight in DC, and a better one later on where Bolt and his two fellow narcs Kramer and Masetta (both reappearing from previous volumes) launch a raid on Peter Joe and his men in snow-filled upstate New York. Masetta takes a lot of damage here, but doesn’t die, Peter Joe tossing grenades at the narcs. The novel finishes with a similar setpiece, as Bolt again leads an assault on the tongs and the mafia; here Bolt unleashes his specially-made shotgun, though really you’d think an assault rifle would be better suited for the occasion.

It’s the plots and counterplots that again take up the brunt of the narrative. For one Bolt has to deal with Mercer, who actually sends a trio of CIA goons to rough up Bolt. This bit is a tad too much as Bolt gets free, cripples one of them, and so “scares” the three agents that the CIA backs off and promises to no longer interfere! You’d figure Bolt would be dead within a day. But at any rate Bolt hatches a plan that ends up with Mercer kicked out of office, this whole subplot brimming with the anti-Nixon administration sentiment that was so prevalent at the time, but as mentioned was already moot by the time the book saw publication.

Then there’s Peter Joe, who schemes to take a position of power in Gabriel Tsu’s tong. Peter Joe gets most of the spotlight, so far as the villains go – and you won’t be surprised to know that he gets away in the end, yet another of Olden’s many villains who escape to return another day…a day that never comes. Maybe it’s Olden’s commentary on how villains are never caught, but it’s getting to be frustrating how he develops these bad guys and never gives them their comeuppance, instead saving them for potential sequels.

Bolt is a bit more involved in the story this time, tracking down contacts (there’s a memorable scene where he meets a contact in a movie theater that’s playing a kung-fu flick), talking back to his bosses, and shooting the shit with his fellow narcs. As mentioned he picks up some nameless chick while in upstate New York, and we learn at the end of the novel that his next conquest will be a stewardess “with big tits and bad breath” whom he meets on the flight from DC to New York.

Anyway, Kill The Dragon was entertaining and offered more of what we’ve come to expect from the series, with streetwise crooks and the occasional action sequence, but my favorite volume yet is still #2: Death Of A Courier, mostly because of its pulpish nature.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Golden Gate Caper

Golden Gate Caper, by Mike Dolinsky
June, 1976  Dell Books

Mike Dolinsky was actually Meyer Dolinsky, a screenwriter who worked from the ‘50s through the ‘70s, passing away in 1984. He wrote for both films and TV, including one episode of Mission: Impossible (season 3’s “Live Bait” – and Dolinksy actually references M:I in this novel, which is cool if you’re a geek for that show like I am). He also wrote an episode of Star Trek (“Plato’s Stepchildren”). As Mike Dolinksy he published two novels, both of them paperback originals: 1972’s psychedelic Mind One, and this caper novel from 1976.

But damn…talk about a missed opportunity. The novel is titled Golden Gate Caper, but the titular event isn’t even conceived of until around page 140 of a 226-page book. A more accurate title for the novel would’ve been “The Annoying Thieves Who Hid Out In An Abandoned House And Bickered.” Because my friends, that’s basically all that happens in this slog of a novel. Indeed the lack of action or plot or anything sort of puzzles me; I mean, I’d understand if this was an installment of a series banged out to meet a deadline, but this was an original novel. So why is it so padded and uneventful?

Not that Golden Gate Caper doesn’t start off strong. We meet “hero” Nick Fowler as he’s pulling off his latest heist. Nick is the son of an infamous conman and he’s carrying on the family tradition. With his easy-going nature, thick moustache, and popularity with the ladies, it’s hard not to see the character as a potential vehicle for Burt Reynolds, whom I’m betting Silonsky the screenwriter had in mind. Nick is no Parker, though; he goes for nonviolent crimes, and thus the cool cover painting is a total mislead, as not once does Nick pick up a rifle or even attempt to shoot anyone.

Nick’s comrades in crime are an assorted bunch; we learn that they are called “The Saturday Afternoon Gang,” as they all met in the previous months in a halfway house, where instead of doing time in prison they were part of an experimental research deal where a psychologist attempted to analyze them into going straight. Career conman Nick instead used the setting to draft his fellow criminals into a caper he devised; namely, snatching the cash from the Oakland Coliseum Arena while a soccer game is going down.

First there’s Skinny John, a convict turned mystic who spouts New Age and Zen mantra throughout the novel. As a matter of fact all of the characters (and the narrative itself) speak in a very 1970s California type of zonked-out, tuned-in tone, dropping psychobabble and mysticism into their phrases. It sort of gets old after a while, but at the very least it’s interesting, and definitely sets the novel in its time and place – this book is very ‘70s, and that’s cool with me. Anyway Skinny, as he is known, is prone to violent outbursts, but smothers them with Buddhist prayer and philosophy.

Then there’s Arny, a black safecracker who at 40 is older than the rest of the gang; Arny formerly worked for the mob, so is more of a “criminal” than the rest of them. He serves as the Doubting Thomas of the novel, constantly criticizing Nick’s plans and fighting with the group. Next there’s Ollie, a big Swede who brings zilch to the proceedings; Ollie gets hurt in the early pages of the novel and spends the rest of it lying on the floor or on a matress, either passed out from pain or gritting his teeth against it.

Now we come to the two women of the gang. First there’s Michi, a Japanese paramedic that Nick has the hots for; Michi is not a criminal, but after various economic setbacks took to stealing drugs from work and selling them on the black market. She got caught, and eventually ended up in the Saturday afternoon sessions with Nick, who talked her into this caper. And finally there’s Betty, Nick’s blonde girlfriend, whose introductory description is so enjoyable that I thought I’d share it with you:

Poured from the Marilyn Monroe-Jayne Mansfield vat, she was softer, wilder, more sensual looking than either. Every time anyone set eyes on her, it was stop the world, I want to get on! She had those long, bronzed model’s legs that took their time getting home -- home (“When you get there it’s got to take you in”) was a spacious inverted love triangle, that mound of mounds, where ample thighs joined a dimpled, bobbing and firm little ass.

Unreal! Her waist was about the size of an extended watchband. Her full, upturned tits were absolutely nestable. She wore her long blonde hair in braids piled high on her head to accentuate her lovely, classic face. No question about it – day or night, fully clad or naked as a jailbird, Betty was far better endowed than Michi. And she was kind and very loving, and best of all, his for the asking. What more could a guy want? But it didn’t help. Betty remained little more than an easy lay and Michi was thunderclap!

Despite this, Betty is the most annoying character in the novel, possibly one of the most annoying characters you’ll ever meet. The daughter of left-wing revolutionaries, she has been forced into a lifelong fight against “the Man,” even though, as Nick later says of her, she was “born with a housewife’s soul.” She spends the entire narrative either throwing tantrums, suffering panic attacks, or trying to provoke fights with Michi, of whom she’s very jealous due to Nick’s obvious interest.

And though Nick spends most of the novel trying to simmer Betty down or console her, he is amply rewarded; this novel features three sex scenes between Betty and Nick, and boy are each of them explicit. I’m talking full-tilt Harold Robbins raunch here, people, as graphic and out-of-left-field as a trash connoisseur could want. I could easily see some 1970s kid getting hold of this book and dog-earing certain pages. The other three guys have to make do with their good hands, I guess, because Nick, a regular Captain Kirk, takes both women for himself.

The Oakland Coliseum heist is a bust; turns out undercover cops were on the scene, monitoring a ticket vendor who was suspected of pocketing proceeds. The gang manages to escape and lose their tail in the dense fog. Searching for cover, they end up finding an abandoned A-frame house up in the hills, one of those ultra-convenient places where no one’s been for years and it’s hard to spot and there’s still stuff left in the house, despite it being abandoned.

I figured that this hideout bit would be over quick and we’d get to the actual Golden Gate caper, but people – this hideout stuff is the novel! Get comfortable, because we’re in for the long haul as Nick and his gang of losers hide out in the house, figure out various avenues of escape, and gradually plot their next heist. Pages and pages go by as the gang bickers, as Ollie’s pain worsens and he must be tended to, and as Nick ponders if he should go after Michi and, if he does, how he’ll weather Betty’s reaction.

Dolinksy amps up the tension only sporadically. For one there’s a taut scene where Nick gets hold of an old pal who says he can fly them to Mexico on his private plane, but once the dude’s picked them up and they’re sneaking on back roads toward the airport, Nick gradually deduces that the guy’s really an undercover cop. And guess what, after escaping the gang ends up back at the damn house! It just goes on and on, with even details on how the women and Skinny make a sort of stew out of the grass and weeds around the house, and how this results in “gastric distress” for everyone.

Coincidence continues to abound as Skinny just happened to deliver groceries for a supermarket, and his pal there spoke Punjabi, which Skinny learned, and getting on a commandeered ham radio Skinny calls up his pal, speaking in Punjabi code, and the guy begins making weekly food and material drop-offs for the gang. We’re over halfway through the book and we haven’t even gotten to the Golden Gate, by the way; it isn’t until the eleventh hour that Nick, who happens to be looking at the bridge through the telescope that was conveniently left at the house, comes upon the idea to rob the toll booths at the bridge’s exit.

Even here the book fails to generate much suspense. Nick, who previously was busy trying to figure out how to screw Michi without Betty finding out (and he suceeds, though Dolinsky treats the Michi-Nick union as more of a “true love” thing and doesn’t get down to the Robbins-esque raunch of the scenes with Betty), focuses on a caper that will entail zapping the two tollbooth vendors in the dead of night and then heisting the day’s proceeds, which are kept in a vault. For the getaway he drafts an old pal of his father’s, a captain of a junker who will pilot them to Mexican waters.

This final caper goes down with little action and only a fair bit of suspense – like when a cop shows up on the scene after they’ve taken over the tollbooths, and Skinny goes nutjob on him. There’s also a bizarre bit about a suicide who pulls up in his sportscar and falls off the bridge. By this point though, Dolinsky has so bored you – and the gang has so annoyed you – that’s it’s much too little, much too late. Even the finale is cursory, with Dolinsky providing an Animal House-style “where are they now” wrapup, informing us where each member of the gang ended up after pulling off the heist.

So, long story short, Golden Gate Caper has a cool cover, a cool concept, and reeks of the ‘70s (from the sex scenes to the too-hip characters), but overall it falls flat, and in a big way. I’ve also got Dolinsky’s Mind One, and despite not enoying this novel very much I’ll definitely read it, if only due to my love of psychedelic sci-fi.

And in closing, I would like to propose that the phrase “Her tits were absolutely nestable” be added to common parlance.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Headhunters #2: Starlight Motel Incident

The Headhunters #2: Starlight Motel Incident, by John Weisman and Brian Boyer
April, 1974  Pinnacle Books

Hard to believe it’s been three years since I read the first volume of the Headhunters series. This second installment is a direct pick-up from it, with our heroes Eddie Martin and Jake “T.S.” Putnam of the Detroit police internal affairs division once again coming off like guest stars in their own book; like Marc Olden’s Narc series, the Headhunters novels are more about merciless crooks and dirty cops.

One difference between the two series would be that Narc has a much stronger focus on action. Martin and Putnam in fact shy away from battle, and spend the majority of Starlight Motel Incident either tracking leads or investigating crime scenes. I guess this would be a problem with making your protagonists members of the internal affairs division; for the pair to even be involved, the majority of the storylines must revolve around crooked cops or internal corruption, and as with the previous volume that is once again the plot here.

However the plot moves a lot faster this time, and one thing I should mention is, despite the action-avoiding protagonists, The Headhunters is without question one of the more lurid series to ever see print. For pete’s sake, the first-page excerpt/preview is about a white reporter coming to consciousness “in a pool of blood from his ruptured sphincter,” having been sodomized by several black inmates…and now they’re coming after him for more! I mean, did Pinnacle think prospective buyers would peruse this first page and then rush for the checkout line to buy the book?? (Though to tell the truth, it did get my attention!)

Martin and Putnam (who by the way is still invariably referred to as “TS,” “Putnam,” and “Jake” in the narrative, which is pretty confusing) appear in maybe a quarter of the novel. Instead the majority of the tale goes once again to Henry Pacquette, crime kingpin of Detroit, who finds his kingdom threatened by the Black Saracens. Lead by the mysterious Malcom 4x Saladin, who has never been seen, the Saracens are trying to corner Pacquette’s market of drugs and hookers and whatnot. What brings our heroes into it is the fact that a lot of cops happen to be Black Saracens.

Reading Starlight Motel Incident could leave one pretty paranoid about cops, especially those in Detroit circa 1974; practically every one of them are on the take, and have side jobs as executioners for either Pacquette or Saladin. And the corruption runs right up to the top, with of course Martin and Putnam being the only two clean cops we meet. You wonder why they don’t just say to hell with it and bust out of town – which, as the acknowledgements page would indicate, is exactly what Weisman and Boyer themselves did. They dedicate the book to their wives, for talking them into leaving Detroit, “the most dangerous city in the world.”

The titular event occurs in the first pages, as a group of Black Saracen cops burst in on a group of Henry Pacquette’s cops as the latter play poker in the Starlight Motel, hookers squatting beneath the tables and giving them blowjobs at the same time! (I told you this series was lurid…) The Saracens blow the cops away (they allow the hookers to live, though), thus setting off a war between Pacquette and Saladin’s men. We learn this from the outset from the scenes with Pacquette, who again is surrounded by his top two henchmen: Sonny Hope and Dovell, but it takes Martin and Putnam a while to put everything together.

There isn’t much “action” per se in the novel, other than a scene where Putnam, who goes undercover as a Saracen inductee, is chased by a trio of Saladin’s cops, who quickly deduce who Putnam is. Again though these heroes don’t do anything heroic; Putnam just runs from the Saracens, even stealing some guy’s car to make his getaway. In fact the people who do “heroic” things are the villains, with Dovell and Hope swooping in to save Putnam, a foreshadowing of the finale, in which they save both Martin and Putnam from the Saracens.

But while there isn’t action, there are definitely sordid hijinks. As mentioned above there’s the sad plight of Joe Thomas, a Detroit reporter who stumbles on the fact that the Black Saracens have friends in high places; for his trouble he’s set up on a bogus rap for heroin possession, sent to jail, taken to a notorious wing, and tossed in a cell with several black inmates (and yes, the authors inform us the inmates are all black). After he’s gang-sodomized by the lot of them, Thomas comes back to consciousness only to have his throat slit by the Elephant, Saladin’s top henchman and yet another dirty cop, not to mention the person who set Thomas up in the first place. Talk about a sick bastard – Elephant not only set him up, but initiated Thomas’s raping, and then waited around for him to wake up so Thomas would be conscious while Elephant slit his throat!

There are other instances, though none of them reach this exploitative high (low?). Another of Saladin’s cops is caught by Pacquette and his men in a darkly humorous scene, with Pacquette posing as a bus driver, and the guy’s tossed to the bears in the Detroit Zoo; both Martin and Putnam puke at the sight of the mauled remains the next morning. And once Saladin is uncovered (his identity is easily figured out, though), he too suffers a horrifying fate at the hands of Dovell and Hope – thrown against a sheet metal-lined brick wall and smashed against it by an armored truck!

As for our protagonists, Martin and Putnam don’t even shoot at anyone, and throughout are at least one step behind Pacquette and Saladin. This concept does make the Headhunters interesting, as of all the men’s adventure series I’ve read, this one features the least effective protagonists. But then they’re moreso there just to framework the stories; the tales really belong to the colorful cast of villains. Be forewarned, though, if you’re sensitive to such things; as in the previous book Weisman and Boyer go out of their way to make their black characters “talk black,” which gives the book a humorous Blaxploitation tone, whether intentional or not.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Astarte, by Alberto Readstone
April, 1973  Dell Books

In the early to mid 1970s Dell Books cornered the market on sleazy paperback originals, usually featuring a nude photo cover and lots of explicit sex, Sexual Strike Force being one such example. Astarte is another, and storywise it’s along the same lines as Island Paradise in that it’s about a group of glamorous people going to a remote island for lots of sex and sin. And just as Island Paradise took a huge misstep into island politics, Astarte commits nearly as big a wrong by striving to be overly literary, sometimes painfully so.

I thought I was in for a nice sleazy read when the first page screamed “SEX SLAVES,” with a rundown of the characters provided beneath (the hooker, the movie star, the hippie, etc), but unfortunately Alberto Readstone (surely a pseudonym) dilutes the sleaze with some of the most pretentious writing I’ve encountered since Eric Lustbader’s The Ninja. Style-wise the novel has more in common with the post-hippie literary craze of the time, like The Stones of Summer or CenterForce, and that’s a damn shame.

Anyway, the island in question is “no place,” just the first of the author’s many annoying touches – throughout the book he strives to be as vague about time and space particulars as possible. (Another incredibly annoying habit is his constant reference to “the center” of the male characters – ie their manly parts.) The island, only a few miles large, is owned by Dana, a bisexual and debauched fop, and his stunningly beautiful daughter Philana, a self-centered narcissist of the first order.

Not that we get any detail or much background, but what Philana does is have “the Captain” fly in small groups of people on his Lear jet so that Philana can engage them all in a group orgy. (How often does she do this? Monthly? Weekly?? Who knows.) Her latest group arrives as Astarte opens, and they’re all archetypes from the Book of Trash Fiction.

There’s Moira, a brunette hooker who only retains high-society clients; Lark, a pretty but undiscovered actress who constantly worries about keeping her breasts toned and firm; Valentine, a high-fashion model of black and white descent; The Athlete (seriously, that’s his name), a good-looking stud who knows his years of being a gigolo are growing short; and finally Poet, an annoying hippie who has ended up here on the island after a failed attempt at immigrating to mainland China.

These characters have no room to live or breathe beneath the pretentious cluster of Readstone’s prose. Also he spends more time cutting away from this island to another island, where 15 year-old Kory is vacationing with his mother, Evelyn. This entire segment is pretty weird, as Kory is something of a freak, and Evelyn apparently is trying to keep him away from society, women in particular. (Not that Evelyn is doing much good for the kid; Readstone hints that she’s a bit too intimate with the boy.) At the expense of many, many words we eventually discover that Evelyn is Philana’s mother and Kory is Philana’s half-brother.

I mean, it takes about 80 pages to even get to “the good stuff,” and even then the sordid shenanigans are lost amid the high-falutin prose. Smoking some high-grade hash, the group gets nude and calls Philana in, putting her up on a mirrored surface and fondling her; eventually one of the guys (who?) screws her, but during this Moira realizes that Philana needs “more than just fucking” so begins to whip her with a custom-made glove. But the scene is so brief and so “poetically” rendered that you don’t know if you’re supposed to be turned on or nodding your head at man’s inherent inhumanity to man and the inescapable ennui that is life among the jet-set, etc.

Meanwhile, in an infuriatingly vague sequence, we learn that Evelyn dies (Readstone leaves how it happened vague, saving it as a surprise revelation for the end of the book), and Kory, after somehow ending up in New York where he checked out some dirty books in a Time Square bookstore before being kicked out, is on his way to the island. Great, just what we needed to further louse up the trash potential of this novel, a fucking kid on the island.

Just before Kory arrives, though, the majority of the party leaves, save for Athlete and Moira, and right afterwards Patrik, a clinger-on from a previous party who has been living with Dana, decides to kill himself. Before Philana’s taunting eyes Patrik cuts off his “center” (that damn annoying term again!!) and bleeds to death. Now Philana’s left a catatonic wreck, and the sleaze element is in further danger; there’s not much room for lurid hijinks when your protagonist is left a fragile shell of herself.

Young Doctor Pearson arrives on the island to care for Philana, who meanwhile is acting like a child with an intrigued Kory. Pearson instantly falls for the raven-haired goddess (I too assumed Philana was a blonde due to the cover). But Philana is instead falling for Kory, ie her half brother. Thus begins a bizarre sort of love story where these two half-siblings share pretentious conversations while sunning on the beach, while meanwhile Dana implores the good doctor to use shock treatment to zap Philana back to her old, cynical self – he’s disgusted with her childlike, naïve mentality.

Dana pulls further sordid tricks, like employing Athlete to attempt to rape Philana, but she manages to fight him off. Finally though Dana convinces Doc Pearson to use some heavy drugs and shock therapy on her, and soon enough Philana is back to her aloof, bitchy self. She claims to not remember any of her romance with Kory, who of course is upset. The novel ends with the revelation that it was Kory who killed his mother, shooting her with a spear gun while they were scuba diving; Readstone leaves us with the once-again vague hint that Kory is about to do the same thing to Dana, as the two go scuba diving together.

Anyway, Astarte had lots of promise, but squandered it all. Dammit, first Island Paradise and now this. Surely it can’t be that hard to write a trashy novel about a group of horny characters on a remote island, can it??

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Smuggler #4: Mother Luck

The Smuggler #4: Mother Luck, by Paul Petersen
November, 1974  Pocket Books

Our cable lineup features a retro-programming network called MeTV; the other month they were playing a Donna Reed Show marathon, and after each commercial break they’d have a “Paul Petersen Remembers” segment, where Petersen would talk about being a child actor on that show. I bet I was the only person in the viewing audience who thought to himself, “Hey, that’s the guy who wrote that scene in The Smuggler #2 where a black sadist murdered a girl and then raped her corpse!”

At any rate the Smuggler series continues to search for a genre. Whereas the first volume was a boring origin story, the second installment was filled with clunky writing, outrageous sadism, and super-explicit sex scenes. Then the third volume veered from standard spy fiction to gritty, Narc-esque inner city crime before ending with Mind Masters-style supernatural stuff, all in the same book. Now this fourth volume is just a straight-up spy drama, with none of the sensational elements of the previous two novels. There isn’t even a single sex scene for poor old hero Saveman!

It’s curious that two volumes were published per month: volumes 1 and 2 both came out in September, 1974, and volumes 3 and 4 came out two months later. According to the copyright page (as well as the Catalog of Copyright Entries), the books really were written by Paul Petersen, along with a co-writer named David Oliphant (who was apparently an editor), but given this accelerated rate of publication and the disparity between installments, I figure these guys had to have been trading off on the writing duties.

Enough dithering -- Mother Luck is a return to the bland and boring nature that was the first volume. After the wild extremities of the previous two installments this one was really hard going; I kept waiting for some bizarre sadism or extreme sex scenes to occur, but there’s hardly anything of the sort…the narrative just plods along, Petersen (or Oliphant?) spending more time on character and scene-setting, as if he is writing a Robert Ludlum-style thriller instead of the latest volume of a series that previously featured a scene where a dude had a mask with a rat in it strapped over his face.

Eric “Smuggler” Saveman when we meet him again is deep in the icy water beneath a Russian gun manufacturing plant, where using his one-man sub he’s able to infiltrate the place, kill a pair of guards and stage their corpses so it looks like an accident, and finally gum up the manufacturing works. Meanwhile a young nuclear physicist named Michael Brock steals a shipment of radioactive waste, which contains enough plutonium for his mysterious needs. In a third and even more initially-unrelated plot, two older physicists are about to fly from Paris, and after receiving his latest orders Saveman is flown to Paris so he can catch the Pan Am flight they’re on.

But then the plane is skyjacked! This whole scene comes off as so arbitrary and just goes on and on. Saveman’s cover is as “Eric Nichols,” a qualified pilot who comes from money in Connecticut – all this will be further drilled into us later on. Also on the plane, posing as a stewardess, is Belinda, a gorgeous black agent who trained with Saveman back in the second volume. Anyway we see how much the times have changed; skyjacking is seen by Saveman and the others as an annoying fad, and the hijackers, Muslims from Oman, treat everyone nicely and promise that no passengers will die as they divert the plane to Algiers. There’s even a bit where Saveman doubts that the hijackers would kill themselves by crashing the plane; too bad these original-model terrorists were slowly fazed out by the current mass-murderers of today.

After killing the terrorists, Saveman talks the passengers into roping up the slain hijackers and tossing them out onto the tarmac as the plane passes over the Algiers airport, as a warning against future hijackings! I don’t see Pan Am being too hapy about this, but at any rate Saveman (still posing as Eric Nichols) is now a celebrity and we must endure endless and padded scenes where he talks to airline reps, the passengers, and finally reporters as they interview him.

The boring, padded nature continues as now the brunt of the narrative is concerned with Saveman’s new identity. He hooks up with his dad, Doc Saveman, who’s also part of the “Nichols” cover, and also Marge, a blind lady who is posing as Doc’s wife and thus Saveman’s mom. This bit is just bizarre because Saveman is so unsettled over the thought of having a mom again, as his real one died so long ago, and he keeps psyching himself up to go meet her in their cover home and etc, etc…I mean, like it’s all real life and not just part of a plan cooked up by General Velasco, the head of Saveman’s agency, ZED.

There follows more banal stuff as Velasco, whose ZED standing of course is top secret, comes out to the public in his normal guise as a reclusive multi-millionaire; he informs Saveman that all this is a ruse so as to get himself kidnapped. This finally goes down in one of the novel’s few action scenes, with Velasco captured and Saveman freeing himself long enough to blow away a separate detachment of kidnappers. But the boss of ZED has been abducted, and now Saveman has to find him, and plus there’s that cache of plutonium, and Michael Brock’s mysterious plans…by this point we are well over a hundred pages in, and the plot of Mother Luck still has not jelled.

Saveman spends the majority of the final quarter sitting in ZED headquarters and gathering data; finally they track the abducted Velasco to Oman, and Saveman heads there. Turns out a billionaire named Drummond is behind it all, and he’s looking to take over this portion of Oman and etc…then there’s this arbitrary WTF? part where Drummond gives himself a wine enema(!) while he orders the also-abducted Belinda to blow one of his men as he watches…and this guy Belinda’s blowing turns out to be gay – gay for Drummond, in fact – and this bizarre but brief scene gets even more bizarre as Drummond mounts Belinda and the gay dude mounts Drummond!

In fact Belinda gets more action (so to speak) than Saveman, taking out the villains with a broken champagne bottle; Saveman himself shows up after the fireworks. And that’s that! We go back to ZED headquarters for a long, anticlimatic denoument in which a traitor is outed…and meanwhile Doc Saveman’s really in love with Marge, his fake wife, so why not get married for real? It’s all just so…I don’t know, stupid.

Here’s hoping the next volume isn’t so bland and forgettable. I’d even be happy for a return to the outrageous sadism and kinkiness of the second volume after the snoozefest that was Mother Luck.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Big Enchilada

The Big Enchilada, by L.A. Morse
February, 1982  Avon Books

Mike Hammer lampooned to an absurd degree, Sam Hunter is a loudmouthed, arrogant, violent steamroller of a private eye. Unfortunately he’s also our protagonist and narrator. The Big Enchilada was the first of two novels L.A. Morse published about Hunter, and it drove a sharp divide among the critics, most of whom complained about the utter excess of it all, others who figured it was all a parody. Me, I fell in the middle – I enjoyed the over the top tone, but felt that it got old quick…pretty damning when you consider the novel’s undue length of 224 pages of small print.

Hunter is a P.I. in Los Angeles, and Morse does a good job bringing to life the city’s sleazier aspects. Hunter hates everyone and everything, and each chapter is a private eye novel spoof in miniature; each chapter opens with a hate-filled diatribe about L.A., after which Hunter will either get in a fight, track down a lead, or have sex, and then finishes up with another condemnation of the city. As I say, while it’s funny at first it gets to be a drag after a while, each chapter following this same repetitive format, and thus the novel becomes a bit of a slog.

The book opens with a bang, though. Hunter’s sitting at his desk, contemplating a vacation to Mexico with his sexy (and available) secretary, Maria, when a muscle-bound dude busts in, tears up Hunter’s office, tosses Hunter around, and warns him to stay away from “Domingo.” After this guy (who we eventually learn is a wrestler named Mountain) leaves, a crying Maria rushes in to check on Hunter, and Hunter does what any other guy would do in a situation like this – he pulls off her skirt, pushes her against the wall, and screws her! After which he zips up and heads out for a bite to eat…! This is just our first indicator of the kind of “hero” we’re in for. And as I say, while I found it all enjoyable and funny, it just lost its spark after a while.

And speaking of food, Hunter appears to be a gastronome (annoyingly referred to as a “foodie” these days…seriously, if you’re going to be snobbish about food, then describe yourself with a snobbish word, not something as fucking lame as “foodie!!”), so we get many scenes throughout the book where various meals are described, sometimes mouth-wateringly so. The only problem is, these segments are at odds with the otherwise-blunt tone of the novel itself; Hunter does not come off like the kind of guy who could write so eloquently about his meals.

Rather than being scared away, Hunter determines to figure out who Domingo is and why the ruffian was sent to threaten him. Hunter’s only working on a few cases, so he follows up on them. In the first he’s working for a wealthy Beverly Hills woman who has hired Hunter to figure out what’s going on with her husband (turns out the guy has a sadomasochistic streak and has an apartment where he whips hookers). In the second of many sex scenes, Hunter ends up getting lucky with the lady, and Morse gives the sex scenes nearly as much detail as he does Hunter’s meals.

Hunter’s also trying to track down a missing teenaged girl, and another case or two, and all of them seem to dovetail with a mysterious L.A. club called the Black Knight. Eventually Hunter discovers that this is a nasty place that serves to a sick clientele of society elite, involved in everything from child prostitution to snuff films. However the place is just one of the many money-making schemes of Domingo, who turns out to be an obese lecher who was famous a decade or so ago playing a TV detective, “Domingo” being the name of his character. The “big enchilada” of the title, Domingo is the bastard who sent Mountain after Hunter, and who proceeds to further throw Hunter’s life into chaos.

Hunter also runs afoul of the cops, mostly due to a crooked Vice cop who works with Domingo and tries to set Hunter up. True to genre form, the people in Hunter’s life suffer more than he himself does, from an old P.I. pal to a friendly cop on the force to most unfortunately Maria, who is raped, mutilated, and murdered by Mountain, Hunter discovering her mauled corpse in his office. These scenes however lack much resonance because Hunter is presented as so inhuman; for example after a sentence or two bemoaning Maria’s fate, Hunter is already eating at yet another diner, with the meal once again described in full.

There are a few action scenes, most of them featuring Hunter beating people up. One memorable sequence has him fighting a group of drug-addled punks in the back of a bar. Hunter carries a Magnum revolver that he doesn’t use all that much, though at the end he loads it with dum-dum shells for the final confronation with Domingo and Mountain. And speaking of which the climatic fight with Mountain is well done and gory, taking place in Domingo’s opulent home, and humorously enough making memorable use of Domingo’s just-introduced glass cage of poisonous snakes.

As for investigative work, there isn’t much: Hunter basically calls people on the phone and then bullies them in person, either with fists or threats. The sleaze level is sometimes through the roof (Sleaze being the title of the followup novel, by the way), with Hunter blithely recounting the whips-and-chains sex shows he witnesses in various bars to even the snuff films he watches. All of this stuff would no doubt be shocking in the world of regular private eye novels, but having read so much trash I was moreso like, “meh.” At any rate Hunter’s cynical, smart-ass tone robs the majority of these scenes of any emotional impact.

As for the cover of The Big Enchilada, I have to say Hunter looks a little like Armand Assante. What’s weird is that the year The Big Enchilada was published, the obscure and controversial movie I, The Jury also came out (big thanks to Marty McKee for introducing me to that one!!), based on Mickey Spillane’s novel and starring Assante as Mike Hammer. For that matter, the brunette on the bottom right of the cover sort of looks like Barbara Carrera, who was also in that film. So I wonder if the cover used for The Big Enchilada was a rejected cover for an I, The Jury reprint? (Signet Books did reprint the novel that year, but they used a photo of Assante for the cover.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mutants Amok #2: Mutant Hell

Mutants Amok #2: Mutant Hell, by Mark Grant
March, 1991  Avon Books

If ever there was a series aimed like a heatseeker for the minds of preteen boys, then Mutants Amok would be it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about neutered garbage like Harry Potter or Twilight or whatever other metrosexual banality that's currently hot in the teen fiction marketplace; I’m talking about books with graphic sex, violence, and juvenile prose. These would be the perfect books to give to some punk kid who claims to not be interested in reading. And no wonder he isn’t – the shit today sucks!!

Mutant Hell is even more brain-addled than its predecessor, and I mean that as a compliment. This is a book that leaves no lowbrow stone unturned, from characters puking and pissing on each other to hyper-explicit sex scenes to gutchurningly gory action sequences. And hell, buried beneath the extreme material there’s actually a theme, one any kid could get behind: rebellion, and learning to think for oneself.

But anyway, the Mutants Amok series is still pretty dumbheaded. It’s more cartoonish than serious, and what with its teenage protagonists (well, two of them are at least) and their naïve mindsets, it just seems to me that this series was really designed for and catered to preteen and teen males. I was around 16 years old when these novels were published, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t know about them at the time, as doubtless I would’ve loved them.

This installment picks up immediately after the first, so you’d do well to read that one first, as Mutants Amok is a continuity-heavy series. Jack Bender and pal Phil Potts have escaped their human slave farm and Jack’s flying an airplane which belongs to Max Turkel, freedom fighter extraordinaire. Turkel has been captured, though, taken to mutant headquarters in the Rocky Mountains, and Jack and Phil are on the way to rescue him. Plus Jack is burning with rage because he wants vengeance for the murder last volume of his girlfriend Jenny – though Jack does not yet know that Jenny is in fact still alive.

Turkel meanwhile is in deep shit. He’s strapped to a colossal robot that tortures him for the amusement of a VIP audience, among them Emperor Charlemagne, ruler of the mutants. Charlemagne, relishing the long-awaited capture of the infamous Max Turkel, spits on him; here’s an example of the lowbrow, grossout mindset I mentioned above:

The Emperor hawked and hemmed noisily and then spat a voluminous quantity of lumpy phlegm into Max Turkel’s face.

It was like getting slapped with mucus pie. The malodorous stuff, chockful of noisome green and brown chunks of effluvia, slimed down Turkel’s face, rivered down his shirted chest and legs, and then hung like a mutated Christmas tree ornament to the ends of his shoes.

And check out how the still-bound Turkel, having managed to unzip his fly, gets his revenge:

The urine arced up, a fountain of gold, spilling down in a racehorse rush directly on the side of Emperor Charlemagne’s face.

“Ah,” said Max Turkel.

He directed the stream to make sure that he got the most out of this, probably his penultimate statement, knowing that his last would be a strangled death rattle.

The pee poured yellow and hot into the large, hideous face. Into the eyes it streamed, trickling down into the splayed nostrils and wide fish mouth.

The Emperor spluttered with astonishment and anger.

The room of mutant attendants was absolutely silent with horror and shock.

And the piss just kept on coming.

Of course Turkel isn’t killed outright; the mutants want to extract intel from his brain, like where the human rebels hide and etc. Here we get a few flashbacks into Turkel’s past, growing up with freedom fighters, falling in love, and losing his girl in a raid on a mutant camp. Jack and Phil meanwhile land the plane in the midwest, in need of fuel; they stop outside of a farm of “halfsies,” aka mutant/human hybrids who are not violently opposed to humans like the mutants are.

The halfsie family is the cliched farmland folk, and of course there’s the gorgeous farmer’s daughter, who you wouldn’t be surprised to know comes to Jack’s bed that night. We get the beginnings of a hot and heavy scene, but Jack suspects something’s up and turns the girl away. So she goes to Phil Potts’s room, and nearly screws the guy to death – turns out her goal is to zap men of all their sperm, which she stores in a special cavity, to later be sold for vast profits (mutants and halfsies being unable to reproduce, hence the reason why humans still exist).

After a gory battle Jack and Phil are on their way again, and in their next stop, outside the Rockies, they meet up with American Indians who live free from the mutant yoke. They play ‘60s rock and dole out hippie prattle, and among them is Jill Morningstar, a petite young woman whom Jack instantly falls for. And guess what, that night Jill comes to Jack’s bed! (If there’s one thing I learned from Mutant Hell, it’s that if you are a single guy traveling around and stay as a guest in some stranger’s house, a gorgeous woman will come into your room and offer herself to you that night…but then, I’ve learned this lesson many times over from personal experience.)

The goofy, juvenile tone extends to the (otherwise quite explicit) sex scenes as well:

Standing up from the bed, he slipped his pants off. His penis was already swollen and ready, and Jill Morningstar licked her lips as she reached out and slid her fingers gently up the scrotum and then along the length of the rod. “I can’t wait for you to put that in me,” she said enthusiastically.

“Neither can it!”

Meanwhile BrainGeneral Torx, the mutant sadist who adbucted Jenny in the previous volume, bides his time at mutant HQ, using human captives as moving targets for his new collection of firearms. Another BrainGeneral appears here, Harten, who is part of a plot with Torx to oust the insane Charlemagne. But for whatever reason Torx is delaying their plan, so Harten does the unexpected and reaches out to Max Turkel.

Here David Bischoff (aka “Mark Grant”) adds a new layer to the previously black-and-white series; Harten doesn’t hate humans, and in fact intimates that one day they should be free. In a neat bit he turns Turkel’s own racism back on him; after Turkel keeps arguing that humans should be free and rule the planet alone, Harten points out the hypocrisy of Turkel’s heavy-handed pleas for “freedom.” Anyway Turkel accepts the offer and beats a gory retreat from mutant HQ, thanks to some weapons Harten leaves for him.

Jenny’s fate remains a mystery, and Jack learns she’s still alive in the very last paragraph of the novel, which we are to understand will cause some trouble, given that he’s now also fallen in love with Jill Morningstar. Jack finds out about Jenny thanks to Turkel, who apparently got the information from Torx himself – the climatic action scene of the novel sees Torx and Turkel going mano e mutant with broadswords, and at great length (and page count) Turkel gets the better of Torx. Plus he chops off his hands, but whether Torx lives or dies is something else left a mystery.

Anyway, while this series isn’t great literature by any means, I still say it would be the perfect gateway drug for some kid to get into the world of men’s adventure. And even beyond that, it’s just a lot of dumb, gory, sex-filled fun.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Justin Perry: The Assassin #5: Stud Service

Justin Perry: The Assassin #5: Stud Service, by John D. Revere
May, 1985  Pinnacle Books

Certainly one of the more unusual series ever to be published in the men’s adventure genre, Justin Perry: The Assassin ran for five volumes from 1983 to 1985, one of the last gasps of Pinnacle Books. I’ve long been interested in checking out this series, mostly due to its reportedly bizarre and twisted sexual vibe. And make no mistake, having read this final volume I can confirm that this is one twisted series. But then I also detect something else is afoot, mostly due to who author “John D. Revere” really was, more of which below.

“Kinda disturbing one-fisted action” is how Zwolf summed up Justin Perry #1 on The Mighty Blowhole. And Mike Madonna had even more damning things to say about the series, in an email to me: Pinnacle had one series called The Assassin and the only book I started to read was so bad – had the hero recalling that as a kid he’d killed a chicken while trying to have sex with it – that not only did I not finish it, but I absolutely tore it up and threw it out. When I later talked to Michael Bradley, an editor then at Pinnacle, I told him how offensive this book was. He seemed to agree and told me that the only reason the series was launched was because someone there at Pinnacle owed the author a favor.

I’d love to know what that “favor” was, wouldn’t you?? But at any rate there’s no chicken-screwing in Stud Service, not that “hero” Justin Perry doesn’t get in enough sex. He’s in Spain researching the mysterious murders of around 30 men and women, whose corpses have recently been found deposited in caves, the women summarily shot in the head, the men dead from apparently being screwed to death. Checking various leads, Perry eventually discovers that all this is the work of the Halley Society, an underground organization of nutjobs who believe that Halley’s Comet is a god and that its forthcoming arrival (the novel occurs in early 1986) heralds a new dawn for man. (By the way, this is one of those novels where the back cover copy has nothing to do with the actual novel’s plot.)

First though Perry shags a woman on a plane en route…merely by getting up and stretching he gets her excited, and so promptly hops into the seat beside her and, after roughly feeling her up, orders her to blow him! Turns out though that the lady’s a KGB spy, which Perry was aware of; further, he was aware that she was a nympho who looked for any opportunity to have sex. But this is just the first of the many such curious incidents in which Perry has sex in the novel, and while the book is heavily sex-focused, the scenes themselves lack much description. They’re usually relegated to Perry thinking how he wants to “fuck” the woman in question (also curiously, this word is almost always used), and how the woman “takes his semen” (another recurring phrase).

But even this strange stuff apparently is there just to fit in with the author’s theme. For Stud Service is a very thematic book, and writing-wise it’s downright literary. It develops that the Halley Society has been around for centuries, and they’ve been trying to cultivate studly men to become sacrifices for their comet god; the sacrifice, chosen as a virile man with all sorts of masculine qualities, will be screwed to death by the Society’s women, who will collect his sperm…which will then be placed in special containers so that it can last 50,000 years, used to insiminate future generations of Halley Society descendants who will rule the world!

What’s crazy is that Stud Service is the author’s culmination of the series entire – it would appear that every previous volume has lead up to this one, with Perry’s twisted nature (ie his constant thoughts of sex, the fact that he gets sexually excited when he kills, and, uh, his chicken-screwing) all having been developed beforehand so that “John D. Revere” can drop the revelation here that all of this has been planned out because Justin Perry has been chosen to be the Society’s sacrifice! And what’s more, his CIA boss, the Old Man, is revealed to be the head of the Halley Society, and he specifically sought out Perry and offered him a job in Justin Perry #1 with the express purpose of grooming him for this “honor.”

These surprise reveals come up toward the middle of the novel. First though we see how creepy Justin Perry is. Every woman he meets he thinks about “fucking” (again, the word is always used), and in a few flashbacks we see how he’s always been messed up…there’s a completely bizarre bit where we learn that when Perry was a child an old black man taught him how to steal watermelons(!), and then years later while in Japan after interviewing some ‘Nam soldiers Perry decided to steal some watermelons again…we learn that at this time Japan would fertilize their crops with human excrement…and running out nude one night to steal a watermelon, Perry fell in a pit of human shit(!)…and this scene goes on and on, with Perry starting to enjoy the animalistic nature of it all, climbing out of the piles of shit…!

But there’s more. Going to meet with a contact, Perry is waylaid by an old woman, one whose seeming mounds of fat is really hard muscle. She beats up Perry, then runs away. This completely bugs Perry out, to the point where he constantly doubts his virility and manhood…so he decides to get his mojo back by killing someone. He decides to kill Willie the Rat, a CIA informant who is on the agency’s “slush pile,” ie the list of people an agent can murder if he happens to be in the area; not a major threat, but a person that should be liquidated if the opportunity arises.

So Perry starts to become sexually excited at the thought of killing Willie…murdering him will bring back his manhood, etc. I mean, it’s all really creepy, particularly given that Perry is the hero of the series! But then, he is nicknamed “The Assassin,” the agency’s top hitman, so granted the guy would be fucked up. However the author again has a trick up his sleeve – midway through the tale, along with the reveals listed above, Perry also himself realizes how disturbed and sick he is, even chastizes himself for the stupidity of his thoughts, how he believed murdering Willie would restore his “virility,” etc. He even reflects back on the stuff he did in previous volumes, further disgusted by his own thoughts and actions. (“I guess I am sort of a weirdo,” he admits.)

It would be apparent then that this author has a lot going on beneath the sordid surface of the tale. Meanwhile though Justin Perry has been captured by the Halley Society; he’s captive in a cell on Ibiza, prisoner of the Baroness, whose women are constantly “taking his semen” as he is strapped to a chair, bringing him to climax and then collecting his sperm in test tubes. Here Perry further reflects on the aptness of his being chosen as the sacrifice for the comet god, because he starts “actually liking the bondage, the many ejaculations.” But gradually Perry needs “to offset the trauma of repeatedly ejaculating into the air, as it were,” and begs for a woman.

The woman Perry is given turns out to be Leslie Stafford, the nympho KGB agent from above; she’s infiltrated the Halley Society so as to free Perry. Even here though the author does not render an actual sex scene between the two. Instead they manage to flee, saved by the Old Man of all people, who reveals to Perry that he is in fact the Grand Halley (as the Society leader is named) and has been rearing Perry to be the Society sacrifice, but only so far as the collecting of his semen goes. He never wanted Perry to be killed; that was the doing of the Baroness, the Old Man’s sister, who runs a more violent faction of the Society.

But meanwhile there’s Pedro Antonio, the self-appointed messiah of yet another faction of the Halley Society, once chosen to be the sacrifice himself but deciding instead to take over the organization and sell out to the Russians. The Old Man implores Perry to help him bring down Pedro, whose union with the Russians threatens the entire world. But after this Stud Service sort of stalls into the home stretch; there are no more action scenes, and the next 50 or so pages of denoument feature Perry and his comrades back in Mexico, where Perry basically just screws around while the Old Man, now released from the CIA, slowly goes insane.

There are many instances where the author will go into extended flights of character introspection, and we have lots of that here, from how Perry realizes that he is losing his insane, murderous nature to Willie the Rat, who is reborn as a more upstanding individual. And we have long sections from Leslie Stafford’s point of view; she’s a Russian-born agent who also thanks to Perry is now questioning her Commie devotion and decides maybe she’ll defect and marry Justin Perry.

Only at the very end does it approach boil, as Mario, one of Perry’s comrades and another character who’s apparently been around since volume #1, is also revealed to be a Halley devotee. And not only that but he’s also been posing as Pedro Antonio, who is dead. Mario and Perry fight to the death, and I should mention that both men have hardons during the battle, Mario who groans “I love you, Justin,” as Perry strangles him, and Perry all excited because, remember, he gets turned on by murder. And it’s all capped off by Perry blowing away the Old Man, who we learn has a brain tumor, and thus begs Perry to kill him.

Now, as for the author. Through a fluke I discovered that “John D. Revere” was actually a black author named Hal Bennett (1930-2004), whose biggest success came in the early 1970s with a handful of literary novels about the African-American experience. You won’t be surprised to know that his novels featured an exaggerated focus on explicit sex, to the point where critics either complained about the excess or figured that Bennett was going for satire. It would seem that the latter was the case, particularly for 1970’s Lord of Dark Places, “a satirical and all but scatological attack on the phallic myth,” per one critic.

Knowing this, it’s clear that Hal Bennett was using the Justin Perry series as a way to do the exact same thing, only in this case over the course of five volumes in the men’s adventure genre. This alone is enough for me to place Justin Perry in a high status; the only other series I know of where the author tried something similar would be The Enforcer, which Andrew Sugar used as a platform for his Objectivist/Libertarian views, and The Mind Masters, which John F. Rossmann/Ian Ross used to promulgate his parasychology views and mind control paranoia. Indeed the latter series is closest in spirit to Justin Perry; both works seem to come from a disturbed mind.

The parody/satire element extends to the few scenes in the novel with black characters. There are only two of them in Stud Service, a pair of black guards who work for the Halley Society. Bennett refers to this duo as “big blacks,” “negroes,” and even “bucks,” and plays up their animal-like nature. It seems like just another indication of the author’s spoofing of the action genre, playing up to the “jungle savage” stereotype that would threaten the white protagonists of pulp. And of course there’s old Willie, the black man who taught young Justin Perry to steal watermelons.

So it seems to me then that there’s an actual point to all of the disturbed stuff, and that Hal Bennett was trying to lampoon the cliched image of the studly white James Bond-esque man of adventure in his Justin Perry series, the same as he spoofed the superstud “black phallus” cliché in his novels of the 1970s. Personally this really gets my respect – I love to see when something different is done to a genre, and damn this is different. I mean, we have here the bizarre, disturbing sex-filled adventures of a unibrowed white American assassin who gets off on murder, as written by a black author.

And also quite clearly with this installment Justin Perry’s adventures came to a definite (and no doubt planned from the beginning) close, but I’m going to go back and start reading from the first volume, because something as twisted and strange as this series needs to be read and appreciated.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Jason Striker #1: Kiai!

Jason Striker #1: Kiai!, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes
February, 1974  Berkley Medallion Books

I first learned about this five-volume* series in the early 1990s, when I scored a few issues of the awesome ‘70s Marvel magazine Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. One of the issues featured an article by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes, talking about how they created the Jason Striker series (“Kiai! – How It Began,” Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, June 1975). I thought about tracking down one of the novels (a daunting task in those pre-internet days), but then read that hero Striker was a judo master…I mean, I wanted to read a series about a kung-fu master or something, anything but a judo master! I’d never been the least bit interested in judo, so I never bothered looking for any volumes.

Eventually however I discovered that the Jason Striker series was brimming with what I like to call “bell bottom fury,” ie that funky ‘70s kung fu vibe of Bruce Li (not Lee) and Jim Kelly (RIP!) films and especially Deadly Hands of Kung Fu itself. But this initial volume is a bit more “real world” than the series would eventually become, playing out more along the lines of Enter the Dragon. That’s not to say there isn’t a pulpish, fantasy element at play, but not as much as in future installments; tellingly though the last few pages of Kiai! do venture into outright fantasy, as a sign of things to come.

Anyway Jason Striker is both our hero and our narrator – later volumes feature third-person narrative for the scenes without Striker, but this one maintains the first-person style throughout. You’ll seldom find a bigger bump in the log for an action hero. Striker is a total square, so devoted to martial arts in general and judo in particular that he comes off like a bore; vast sections of Kiai! are devoted to detailing the merits of judo and the martial way and etc, etc. Striker doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke…hell, when at one point he takes an aspirin for a headache that won’t go away, Striker informs us that along with it he also takes a bunch of vitamin C “against side-effects!”

Striker, a 30 year-old ‘Nam vet, runs a judo dojo in some unspecified city. His small school is mostly made up of 18-21 year-olds, and his assistant instructor is a young hothead named Jim. Apparently it’s a cutthroat world, running judo schools; Striker informs us that a handful of other teachers are in his city, running their own schools, and they all vie with one another for dominance. But anyway as Kiai! opens a judo master named Diago comes to Striker for help – a while back Diago took a life while defending himself during a mugging, but the cops saw it as murder, and now Diago’s on the run.

But our hero Striker is a snivelling loser, and is reluctant to help Diago…because he doesn’t want to run afoul of the law himself! Striker regales us with all of his reasons behind this, filled with “martial honor” bluster and etc, but it all smacks of bullshit, and instantly puts you at odds with him. Instead Striker invites Diago to a match, with the unsaid understanding that if Diago wins, Striker will help him, but if Striker wins then Diago will leave. Striker, at great cost, wins, mostly because Diago does not use his infamous kiai yell – a nigh-supernatural martial scream that can unnerve even the stoutest of warriors.

Striker further proves himself a square when next he’s contacted by mega-wealthy entrepreneur Johnson Drummond; the man wants Striker to teach judo to his daughter. This turns out to be the gorgeous young Thera Drummond, a headstrong 17 year-old who is soon to leave for college; Drummond wants to ensure the girl will be able to protect herself against possible rapists. Thera meanwhile is game for any kind of sexual action, with Striker at least – she taunts him constantly, attempting to seduce him, even appearing for their private lessons nude.

Striker is not to be deterred, though – the honor of judo is at stake!! He’ll have none of this chicanery. Quickly he puts Thera in place; he has been hired to teach her judo, and teach her he will. And the young woman does learn quickly, to the point where she can easily defend herself. She also apparently falls in love with Striker, and says she’ll wait for him so that they can one day marry(?), and other such things that sort of come out of nowhere. But anyway this sequence soon ends and next Striker, due to a fighting match against an old student that goes wrong, ends up as the American judo rep in the Martial Open, to be held down in Nicaragua!

This proves to take up the majority of the novel. The Martial Open will see each martial sport go up against one another: karate, kung-fu, Thai kickboxing, regular boxing, and of course judo. Helming the Open is Vincente Pedro, so wealthy that he rules this portion of Nicaragua, and thus the Match will play out with no government interference. Also Pedro is confined to a wheelchair (thanks to an old judo injury, wouldn’t you know – and guess what, he now hates all judo practicioners!).

To be honest, this Martial Open stuff is a bit trying. Anthony and Fuentes do their best to make it all exciting, but it all comes off like an extended sports magazine feature, with blow-by-blow recaps of say karate versus kung-fu or whatever. In addition to Striker’s fights we read about all the other fights, which Striker either watches from the audience or later views on film. The fights aren’t to the death, though some fighters do die, but ultimately the contests lack the fight-or-die spirit more expected in the men’s adventure genre; they just come off like slightly more brutal karate tournaments. (Or, better yet, a less trashy UFC.)

Now, Striker might not want to harbor fugitives or take advantage of nubile young women who throw themselves at him, but he has absolutely no problems with screwing 15 year-old girls!! Seriously. As a way to destress, each night Striker skinny dips in the opulent pool on Pedro’s massive estate. And each night he runs into a similarly-nude young woman (girl, really) who makes it clear she is interested in him, though the two just swim and look at one another. Turns out this is Amalita, Pedro’s 15 year-old niece…a virgin Pedro is keeping for himself! Well, now we are really venturing into lurid territory.

It gets more lurid when Striker, due to Pedro’s command to all of the fighters, must take advantage of one of the many whores Pedro has made available. Striker, wouldn’t you guess, is not into the whole thing, and thus merely “puts in an order” for any girl, no concern for age or race or whatever – he’s just doing it because it’s an order from Pedro. A masked girl comes to him, and as they have sex Striker first realizes the girl is a virgin (well, not any more…), and secondly he realizes it is, of course, Amalita. Turns out she insinuated herself into Striker’s nighttime swims because she realized he was a “good man” who could free her from her bondage here on Pedro’s estate. But once again Striker turns away a person who comes to him for help; indeed, he’s more concerned about himself, now that he’s deflowered Pedro’s girl!

Complications ensue; word gets out and Pedro wants Striker dead. More belabored matches go down until it gets to the expected end: Striker fighting against the last man for the top honors. He’s up against Makato, iron-handed karate master, and the fight is a good one, made even better by the presence of Pedro as a judge. But, thanks to his skills as well as the ki powers of a kindly old karate sensei, Striker not only fights to an honorable draw but also wins Pedro over to his side – and plus, thanks to the ki, Pedro can now walk again.

The last half of Kiai! is a taste of the pulpier material that will follow. Striker is ambushed by Dato, an insane rival judo instructor who has mastered the delayed death blow. Dato dies in the attack, but now Striker is sure he has just a few weeks left to live. He decides to go to Japan to look up the ki master who gave Pedro the ability to walk again. Oh, and meanwhile he discovers that Jim and Thera are having an affair, and Striker sulks, but then Jim pleads to come along with him, so as to make it up to Striker. (But remember, Striker continuously spurned Thera’s advances in the first place…)

Striker and a few other martial warriors head up into Hokkaido, where they have been informed that only one man can save Striker: the legendary Fu Antos, a ninja warrior who is apparently immortal. Tracking through the snow they meet Ainu natives and later have a massive fight with ninjas, who burst from the snow bearing exotic weapons. (I spent a semester of college in Japan and can attest that shit like this really does happen there.) The fight here is better than any that came before, with lots of blood and ninja corpses…and poor old Jim buys it, too.

Fu Antos (in the "Kiai!" article the authors state this his name is a play on their own – “Fu” from Fuentes and “Antos” from Anthony) lives in an ancient castle deep in the frozen depths; he’s a withered old husk of a man, surrounded by ninja. Through supernatural sign language he instructs each member of Striker’s team to attempt to kill him. Each fails, usually ending up dead himself. Striker however succeeds, using the old man’s ki against him in a scene which I admit lost me; long story short, it ends with Santos gutted, decapitated…and his soul now residing in the body of a young boy!

Anyway here it ends, the reborn Fu Antos informing Striker that he has in fact saved himself, and he no longer need worry about the delayed death blow. Meanwhile Jim’s still dead, and so is most of the rest of Striker’s team, so we’ll have to see what happens next time. Sorry for the longwinded rundown, but there were so many plot changes in Kiai! that I wanted to ensure I had them all right.

Overall I enjoyed Kiai!, mostly because it captured that old-school kung fu vibe I’ve always loved, but I suspect I’ll enjoy future volumes even more. I’ve already started in on #2: Mistress of Death, and can confirm it’s definitely in the pulpier realm, with orange-eyed, drug-fueled street gangs, a black Amazonian kung-fu warrior, and a greater lurid quotient.

*Five volumes were published by Berkley Medallion; Anthony and Fuentes were halfway through writing the sixth (and planned final) installment when word came down that the series was cancelled. In 2001 Anthony self-published via Xlibris the completed section of volume 6 along with a summary of what was planned to happen in the unfinished half of the novel, with the unwieldy title Jason Striker Martial Arts Series Volume 3: Amazon Slaughter and Curse of the Ninja. The trade paperback also contains the “Kiai! – How It Began” article as well as other odds and ends.