Thursday, December 5, 2013

Psycho Squad #2: The Torturer

Psycho Squad #2: The Torturer, by Rick Dade
March, 1989  Berkley Books

If anything this second and final volume of Psycho Squad proves why the series was so short lived. Whereas the first volume spent way too many pages introducing one crazy cult member after another, this second installment at least focuses a bit more on its protagonists…that is, when it isn’t barraging the reader with an army of minor characters and unrelated subplots.

I still haven’t figured out who “Rick Dade” was, but it would appear The Torturer was written by the same person as Execution Night. I mean, it seems so for the most part, with the same mostly-good writing that nevertheless POV-hops, even occasionally lapsing into omniscient perspective (ie, “Someone fired at Flint. Flint didn’t know it, but the man shooting at him was one of Smokey’s thugs.”) But then there seems to be a lack of knowledge of what came in that first volume..the author only vaguely mentioning how the Squad got together, and not following up on any characters or events from Execution Night. Even worse, Flint never once uses his Eliminator “rocket gun,” and in fact never even mentions it!

But anyway, I can just imagine Dade, whoever he was, breaking out in a flop sweat as he tries to figure out how to put a novel together. “I’ll just keep introducing characters and situations! Th-that’s how you write a novel, isn’t it??” I honestly had to jot down notes to keep up with the swarm of characters and subplots. There’s no pickup from the previous novel, and indeed we never learn how much time has passed since Execution Night. We’re just tossed right in, and have to try to keep up.

At any rate Psycho Squad leader Jack Flint has upheld his vow on the final page of that previous volume to hunt down serial killers across the nation, using the unlimited funding of his boss, Anton Vraczek (who doesn’t even appear this time around). Thus Flint heads down to Miami, certain that the recently-discovered, mutilated corpse of a young woman named Linda Duquesne is the work of the Torturer, a serial killer Flint’s been tracking.

One of the few things that is picked up from the previous novel is the brush-off Psycho Squad member JJ Santiago is given; as in Execution Night he has a mere cameo role, not even appearing in the narrative until the final quarter. So rather than the titular trio heading down to Miami, it’s just Flint and Dr. Larry Mace, who despite suffering the horrific loss of his pregnant wife last time out is pretty much back to normal, though we learn he’s taken to packing a gun these days.

Immediately upon Flint and Mace’s arrival in Miami, Dade begins to hammer us with newly-introduced characters, and he won’t stop until the very last page. So first off Flint meets up with redheaded reporter Gloria Quarles, who of course is suitably gorgeous, though as with the previous volume there isn’t even a hint of sex in the narrative. She’s researching the Torturer case as well, and Flint trades info with her, as well as banter. Gloria acts moreso as Flint’s partner during the novel than Mace or Santiago do; strangely, Dade rarely gives us a scene feautring the Squad all together, as if he’s uncomfortable with the series concept.

Meanwhile Mace buddies up with an old colleague who now works as a Dade County medical examiner, looking over the corpse of a cop who tried to research the Linda Duquesne case. But instead of being the taut serial killer tale all of this introductory material makes you expect, The Torturer actually becomes a conspiracy/blackmail deal about rogue federal agents running guns into Central America, and the titular murderer turns out to be superfluous to the entire novel! And since Dade only gradually builds up this storyline, the novel is rather slow-going.

Action scenes sporadically liven things up here and there, to more of an extent than in Execution Night. For one Flint and Gloria are taken captive by goons who work for Rollo Prouty, a modeling agency owner who, we eventually learn, is blackmailing various Miami notables with a storehouse of files containing private and exploitable info. But Dade ruins all tension with Flint and Gloria being rescued at the last second by some guy in an orange Checker – a grubby private eye named Chub Odell who serves to take up more pages, with his own go-nowhere subplot.

Gradually (and I do mean gradually) all roads lead to Major Nordlinger, a shady military man who is trying to supply guns to Central America. Colonel North, I mean Major Nordlinger, employs two rogue Vice cops named Weems and Yates, merciless and humorless goons who have made a veritable kingdom for themselves in Miami. Cue many scenes of these guys harrassing Flint and Mace and then reporting back to North, I mean Nordlinger. Oh, and there’s a dude named Smokey Powers who operates out of the Florida wetlands, a guy who leads his own redneck army and is trying to get into the gunrunning business himself.

And I haven’t even mentioned Delgado, partner of the cop who was killed when trying to investigate Linda Duquesne’s murder. He plays a large role in early pages before being uncerimoniously brushed off toward the end. There’s also the infamous Borja, a sadist who ran a Nicaraguan death squad years ago but now lives in Miami, and who is enemies with Smokey Powers. When JJ Santiago finally shows up on page 142, it’s to go undercover as one of Borja’s thugs – and even here Dade introduces yet another half-assed subplot, revealing in the span of a page that Santiago has an old enemy here in Miami and so blows the dude away in a club to get Borja’s attention!

Hey, remember the Torturer? You might, but Dade has forgotten all about his titular villain; whereas Execution Night at least stayed true to its “men’s adventure meets horror” vibe, The Torturer forgets all about the horror stuff and focuses instead on a barely-there plot about gunrunning and displaced Nicaraguan rulers. What’s worse is the action scenes, when they go down, are dispensed with quickly, save that is for a climatic assault on Borja’s fortress compound, a chaotic scene which sees Smokey Powers’s goons attacking just as Flint and Mace have been captured.

Dade likely didn’t write any other men’s adventure novels in the ‘80s, as there’s none of the gun-porn the decade demanded. Guns are “guns,” and that’s it. Flint still uses his .44 Bulldog from the previous book, but other than a mention of Santiago picking up a dropped Uzi and using it to “ventilate” a few Borja thugs, this sequence is underwhelming from an action-series standpoint. It even skirts unintentional comedy, as Dade kills off swarms of characters he’s either just introduced or barely developed.

Anyway the Torturer appears on maybe two or three pages of the entire book, and not till the very end does Flint announce that he’s “figured out” who the killer is – not that there was a trail of clues for us readers to follow. In fact the book ends on the lamest of Scooby Doo cop-outs, with a “surprise reveal” that’s very hard to buy, followed by a quick wrap-up.

And that was it – there were no more adventures for the Psycho Squad. It’s too bad, because the series had potential, but it would appear this potential was squandered a mere two volumes in. And I’m probably reading more into it than intended, but it seemed to me that seeds were even planted for future volumes, namely due to a mid-novel mention that the murderer of Anton Vraczek’s wife and child ten years ago was never caught. Seems only natural that a future installment of Psycho Squad would’ve featured the trio hunting this killer down, but it was not to be.

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