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.

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