Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Hitman #2: L.A. Massacre

The Hitman #2: L.A. Massacre, by Norman Winski
July, 1984  Pinnacle Books

The first volume of Norman Winski’s The Hitman series was a lot of goofy fun, but this second installment is even better. In fact it’s one of the best ‘80s men’s adventure novels I’ve read. It sort of comes off like Bronson: Blind Rage as rewritten by David Alexander, melding the sleazy and lurid plotlines of the former with the OTT action onslaught of the latter.

This one opens a little over a year after Chicago Deathwinds, and we learn that since we last saw him Dirk “The Hitman” Spencer has taken out “the Lake Shore Killer-Rapist” and Harry Gayarti, “the biggest dope-dealer in Chicago history.” L.A. Massacre opens with Spencer pulling a hit on another piece of scum who preys on the people of Illinois, dousing the bastard with a flamethrower before making a getaway in his Countach S Lamborghini.

As anyone who has read the first volume knows, this series pretty much begins where “over the top” leaves off, and this installment goes to even further heights of lunacy. The opening immolation, crazy as it is, is almost forgettable when the rest of the novel is taken into consideration. Another improvement from the first volume is that this time Winski doesn’t pad out the pages. The action is fast, furious, and constant – indeed, if it wasn’t for the colorfully-described gore, comic book-ish tone, and generally goofy feeling, L.A. Massacre would almost becoming numbing in its total devotion to action sequences.

The only thing this volume lacks in comparison to its predecessor is a focus on sex, which is strange given that in this installment Spencer cracks down on an illicit porn empire, one that also deals in snuff films and kiddie porn. Unlike the first volume, which saw Spencer mixing “business and pleasure” while on his mission, L.A. Massacre features all the “good stuff” in the opening pages only, and Spencer’s in full-on business mode throughout the rest of the tale.

In fact it’s Spencer’s latest conquest who gets him on the case: Karla, a sexy Brazilian stewardess, whom Spencer takes to a porn theater at Karla’s behest. (In a definite “hmmm” moment, Winski writes that, “when the movie grew all too predictable,” Spencer begins to think about his days in ‘Nam!) The onscreen sex gets Karla quite randy, but then shock overcomes her horniness when she sees her kid sister Manuella in the film. She’s lost contact with the girl, a runaway who isn’t yet 18, but Karla can tell from watching her sister as she engages in sex with another woman that Manuella is doped up, and no doubt was forced into all of this.

Spencer’s own sense of outrage is inflamed, not that this stops him from banging Karla right after the flick, the lady apparently getting over her shock pretty damn fast. (Also just as humorously, Spencer has picked up the odd habit of calling his lady friends “rose petals” this time around.) Learning that the porn movie was produced by Beaver Enterprises, Spencer checks with his old flame Valerie, newsreporter and former actress, aka the gorgeous babe he rescued in the previous volume, and remember the only woman Spencer has ever loved – a scene which sees the two getting friendly again in Valerie’s office.

Flying himself to LA, Spencer researches Beaver Enterprises, which is headquartered in a geodesic dome. Soon enough he learns that beyond their “respectable” front as a porn studio, they also deal in snuff films, child abduction, and kiddie porn, yet of course the damn liberal bureacrats won’t do anything about it! Even more unbelievably, Spencer learns that the silent owner of the entire operation is superstar Billy Que, a “younger clone of Elvis” who as coincidence would have it just happens to be in LA at the same time, giving another of his hugely popular concerts.

Billy Que is the goofiest archvillain you’ll ever meet in a men’s adventure novel, a portly and pompadoured crooner who wears silver jumpsuits and prefers young boys and girls to women. Spencer doesn’t mess around, pulling off a hit on Billy as soon as he finds out he’s behind Beaver; this is one of those setpieces Winski excels in, like in the first volume where Spencer pulled off a hit with an Uzi while performing flight aerobatics! And like that previous time this hit fails, thanks to Billy’s wearing of a bullet proof vest (which I don’t think would’ve been much use against Spencer’s high-velocity slugs, but no matter).

From here L.A. Massacre settles into a repetitive but enjoyable sequence of Spencer attempting to kill Billy Que in a variety of action-packed ways, with the villain himself always managing to get away but tons of his henchmen buying it in spectacularly gory fashion. You can tell Winski did some time at Gold Eagle, as he doles out the gun-porn with abandon, but never to the point where it becomes nauseating. Spencer is loaded to bear with an arsenal of machine pistols and assault rifles as he runs around in his costume, “a body-tight black linen jumpsuit with a long silver zipper in front,” a black “stocking mask” covering his face.

The lurid element gets a big focus as well, as we learn that Stephanie Julio, the obese president of Beaver Enterprises, puts on “parties” for Billy Que, bringing in drugged-up children for his sick pleasure. Spencer crashes one of these parties, which takes place in the penthouse suite of a posh apartment building, another great sequence which sees Spencer crawling all the way to the top of the place on suction cups and mowing everyone down with his Uzi. As mentioned the gore and carnage are stronger this time out as well, though still not up to the hyperkenetic level of David Alexander.

Winski in fact keeps piling climatic action sequence on top of climatic action sequence, building up until the expected final confrontation at Billy Que’s remote villa on Catalina Island (not-so-coincidentally the setting of the Winski-penned Able Team #2). During his blitzes Spencer picks up the intel that Billy plans to make Manuella the “star” of one of his snuff films – a priviledge we learn is granted to anyone who attempts to out Beaver Enterprises – and so the clock is ticking for Spencer to make his hit and save the girl. The finale is even more OTT than the action scenes that came before, with Spencer “drafting” a herd of buffalo in his merciless attack.

The stock epithets of the previous volume are also here in spades, with Spencer invariably referred to as “the blonde viking,” “the big warrior,” and etc, not to mention my favorite of them all, possibly my favorite character description ever: “the tall, bogus milkman” (which actually makes sense within the context of the narrative, but still!). Taken together the whole book reaches a level of jawdropping absurdity that puts it on the level of satire or spoofery – again, like Mark Roberts’s just-as-great Soldier For Hire series. The question is whether Winski intended it that way.

But regardless if he did or didn’t, it doesn’t matter – I give The Hitman my highest recommendation. Too bad there were only three volumes…but I guess, like Dean W. Ballenger’s Gannon series, great things come in small doses.

1 comment:

Zwolf said...

Yay! Glad to know this series stayed on track by staying off the rails. :) I still haven't read this one yet (I'm kinda saving it up 'til I need a sure-thing) but I'll be looking forward to it. I've slowed down in my reading the past couple months (trying to do some writing instead) I'll move this one up the list when I get back to it. :)