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” clich√© 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.


Jack Badelaire said...

Great review for what sounds like a disturbing, but ultimately clever series.

Although I haven't ready any of the other series you mention, it reminds me a little of how Rosenberger would constantly weave bits of his whackjob philosophy into the Death Merchant stories. Can't say if he did it more or less smartly, but he's the first person I thought of when you brought up authors weaving in their own ideologies.

Joe Kenney said...

Jack, thanks for the comment. That's a good point, Rosenberger would definitely fit in with those others...I guess I didn't consider him when I was writing the review because, unlike Rosenberger, those other guys seemed to actually CARE about what they were writing. I get the feeling that most of the time JR was just shoehorning in stuff he recalled from his Argosy days to fill pages.

But you never know; maybe beneath the spite,vitriol, and I'm-only-in-it-for-the-money fronting, Rosenberger actually cared about his books.

Zwolf said...

Great review! (and thanks for the plug! :) ) I didn't know about the Hal Bennett connection... I've had Lord of Dark Places for years but haven't read it. Now I'll have to check it out and read the rest of the Assassins. From the one I read, they're not much as action novels, but as disturbo-artifacts, they do have a certain fascination. They really do seem to be the product of a disturbed mind.

Now I'm wondering if the "Halley Society" was really about the comet and Hal wasn't making a pseudonyminal in-joke with himself...

I'd kinda put the Lone Wolf series into the taken-as-a-whole/ series-with-a-point category... Malzberg's point being that he hated vigilante fiction and made his hero a psychopath on the loose. I still have a lot of those to read, but I read the first couple and the last one, and that last one is one of the strangest action-series books I've ever read, 'cuz the hero's completely unhinged and blasting the public.

English Teacher X said...

I haven't read that guy, but it sounds a bit similar to the completely wacked-out THE CRIME MINSTER by Ian Barclay, another assassin who seems to like sex a bit more than murder. In the first volume he takes a contract from three ex-Nazi businessmen to assassinate a Turkish heroin dealer, and his little adventure in a gay bath-house trying to find a body double for a patsy corpse is the kind of thing sleaze legends are made of. I'd like to see you do a write-up on that one, Joe, it's right up your alley.

Joe Kenney said...

Hey guys, thanks for the comments.

Zwolf, you might be on to something with the Halley Society/Hal Bennett connection. I'm pretty sure Bennett does make an in-joke reference to himself in Stud Service; early on Justin Perry thinks of some recent poem by a "notorious poet" about Halley's Comet, but even after searching online I could find no info about the poem he mentions. I assumed it was something Bennett published under his own name in some obscure journal. Anyway, these books are definitely "disturbo-artifacts," that's a great description!

English Teacher X, Crime Minister sounds like it might be too much even for me...what with "his little adventure in a gay bath-house" and all! Seriously though, it does sound very whacked-out, so I'm sure I'll read it someday. I mean, the crazier the better.

John Nail said...

I just finished reading this one and I have to say, though it got off to wild start and the passage about Justin Perry climbing out of literal shithole will haunt me for some time, I enjoyed your review of Stud Service more than I enjoyed reading the book. My main issue with it, which you touch on in your review, is there is more talk than action. Several characters -- Rebecca Zoares, the Baroness, Willie the Rat, the Old Man -- seem only to exist to provide exposition, though at least the Baroness takes a break from her pages and pages of background about Halley's Comet and the Halley Society to blow Justin. There's also a lot of repetition, specifically regarding Justin's run-in with the super-strong old woman Magda Werner, that was at first funny (to be a top CIA man, the titular Assassin sure is insecure!) but soon grew tedious (so you got beat up by an old woman--get over it already!). I suspect a lot of the repetition was Revere/Bennett trying to pad the page count.

I like the idea of Hal Bennett writing this as a parody. It's clear he wasn't taking the genre too seriously, but I think it would've been more fun with less talk and more action. My overall impression was the book was written by a smart person with too little time and too much Benzedrine in his system, making it up on the fly as he tried to meet the publisher's deadline. Still, we got such great lines as "his penis, harder than ever, stuck out from him like a ship's rudder, guiding him" and "She was all tits and heart" so I can't be too dismissive of it. Also: Were unibrows considered sexy in the 1980s? News to me.

I'm going to chase this one with a Herbert Kastle's Millionaires, though I'm now tempted to check out Crime Minister. Thanks, English Teacher X!