Thursday, August 14, 2014

Body Rub

Body Rub, by Mark Andrews
No month stated, 1976  Leisure Books

Offering everything I wanted from The Savage Women and more, Body Rub is yet another Leisure paperback original that trades on sin and sleaze. “Massage parlors were a front for prostitution…and worse,” goes the blurry cover blurb, and you’ll never guess what that “worse” entails – that’s right, my friends, Satanism!!

Running to 237 pages of smallish print, Body Rub is more of a breathless cliffhanger than a well-crafted tale. Our hero is Ken Hawkins, young crime reporter for the New York Sun; he also happens to be the scion of the family that started the paper, generations before, and thus is a millionaire who will one day run the place. But he enjoys being a reporter, and the novel, despite taking place in the mid-‘70s, seems to exist in this 1930s-style world in which newspaper reporters are famous. Thus Hawkins is well-known throughout New York, a veritable celebrity.

Hawkins’s current assignment has him looking into the massage parlors that currently proliferate around Manhattan, in particular the dirty, mobbed-up origins of most of them. In particular there’s The Wild West, a parlor in lower Manhattan that employed a masseuse named Marcia, whose body was recently discovered by the cops. Before her disappearance Marcia was already in the headlines, as she was supposedly informing the cops about the truth of who was behind many New York massage parlors. Now, before she could spill the beans, she’s dead.

After breaking a dinner date with his girlfriend, the busty blonde TV newsreporter Vivian Power, Hawkins goes to The Wild West parlor in lower Manhattan with Joe Rainey, a Sun photographer notorious for getting into scruffles. The place turns out to be an ultramod pleasure palace, with breathtaking young women prancing around in revealing western costumes – unlike Len Levinson's more realistic Without Mercy, the masseuses in Body Rub are all young, well-built, and very into their work. In that respect the novel is more along the lines of Massage Parlor.

Only after arriving at the parlor does Hawkins realize his self-imposed “no sex” clause isn’t going to pan out. The women are just too hot and too nude, and after a few drinks in the lounge he’s already picked out the one for him: a petite blonde with a killer bod who sits there sewing(!?), wearing “grandma glasses!” This is Kathy, who as you’d expect is a good-natured, innocent young gal who just recently came to New York – and of course is already working in a massage parlor. Before he can go off in private with her, though, Hawkins watches another of the masseuses dance, and as she strips down to the skin he sees that she wears a devil-faced medallion on her waist, hanging right above her crotch, and the sight of it puts Hawkins in a momentary hypnosis.

Unlike The Savage Women, Body Rub doesn’t shirk on the sex scenes; Andrews serves up a hot and heavy one with Hawkins and Kathy that spares no details. But to continue with the goofy tone of the novel, the two fall into instant love after their mutual climaxes! The happy sentiments don’t last, because shortly thereafter Hawkins and Rainey discover a corpse in the parlor’s hot tub; floating there, her throat slashed, is another masseuse. Andrews here works in a locked room murder mystery, but it’s eventually lost in the novel’s frantic shuffle.

Things get even stranger when Rainey immediately thereafter disappears, he too down in the hot tub room (to take photos) while Hawkins has everyone else gathered together up in the lounge. When Hawkins discovers his pal is gone, he returns to the lounge to find everyone else has fled into the night, including his “new love” Kathy. Instead of calling the cops, Hawkins just takes off, phones 911, and goes back to the Sun offices, where he eventually receives a call from Kathy, who apologizes for deserting him.

Andrews ends each chapter with a cliffhanger, and the dumbest comes here, with Kathy and Hawkins going to bed together, and being woken up a few hours later by “a strange beeping”…that turns out to be Hawkins’s damn pager! Off Hawkins goes again – the novel by the way occurs over two frantic days – to meet up with yet another massage parlor masseuse, one who wants to meet with Hawkins at this ungodly hour to tell him the truth about Marcia’s death. Hawkins arrives just in time to see the girl get gunned down by a triggerman in a speeding car; clutched in the dead girl’s hand Hawkins finds the name of another parlor, The Love Rub, as well as a ring with that devil face on it. For no reason at all, Hawkins slips the ring on his own finger.

The Love Rub turns out to be a slum more in line with what these New York massage parlors were supposedly really like – an old lady at the front desk, dispirited men in the grungy waiting room, even more dispirited women who come out to greet them. Here Hawkins learns that his devil-faced ring is a sign of “The Society,” and wearing it apparently affords him extra privileges at these places. But after he’s stripped down in a cube with a hardbitten Love Rub masseuse – one he has definitely decided he won’t be having sex with – Hawkins is confronted by a “tall man” in a black coat, hat, and a scar on his face. This is the same man previously seen at the Wild West, who went into the hot tub with the girl before she died, but never came back out.

A nude Hawkins escapes, setting off a chase scene that goes all the way back to the Sun offices, where Hawkins gets hold of his gym clothes, left behind in his locker (a humorous scene which sees a gay staffer bringing the clothes to Hawkins, out in his car, and trying to get a good look at him), and then discovers that the tall man has followed him here as well. Andrews must’ve worked in a newspaper office or at least toured one, as Hawkins’s escape through the bowels of the place seems cut from reality, as he dodges the tall man on the noisy floor of the printing room, nearly getting killed by the thrashing machinery in the process. 

Covered in newsprint ink, Hawkins hops in his “custom-built red Lotus” and takes off, eventually getting chased by the cops on the snow-filled streets of early-morning Manhattan. The cops you see are after Hawkins too, his having run from two murder scenes. After crashing into a bank, Hawkins escapes on foot to Kathy’s conveniently-nearby apartment, only to discover that she too is now missing. His priorities in order, Hawkins takes a leisurely bath, dons a new set of clothes from the large assortment of men’s clothing left behind in her apartment(!), and takes some money from Kathy’s left-behind purse(!!).

As mentioned the novel works like a cliffhanger, with our hero dashing from one bizarre event to the next, slowly putting together clues. Around the midway point it becomes clear that Andrews is not going to be able to tie all the strings together; in fact, the final twenty or so pages are composed of nothing but expository dialog, detailing everything that happened and why! But at any rate, getting there is at least fun, with our author comfortably doling out background detail on the harried life of a newspaper reporter. He also doesn’t hold back on the sex and drugs angle; the only thing really missing is the violent action.

Eventually Hawkins pieces it together that “The Society” is a Satanic cult founded by Thomas Maloney, famous “acid guru” of the ‘60s, a one-time Ivy League professor who became notorious for his “tune in, drop out” comments. Gee, I wonder who he could be based on? After spending five years in prison for hauling cocaine across the Mexican border, Maloney has refashioned himself as an Anton LaVey type, preaching Satanic sin from his mansion in the posh countryside outside of New York City.

Hawkins discovers all of this after visiting yet another massage parlor: The Experience, one that runs out of an old church. Andrews by the way is a master of dropping hints and clues early in the novel and playing up on them later; Hawkins only visits the Experience because he recalls Kathy having mentioned it as a place where a friend of murdered masseuse Marcia’s once worked. This friend turns out to be another whore, one named Sherry, who happily takes Hawkins to a separate room for a private engagement.

The ‘70s are in full effect as Sherry reveals that Hawkins’s appropriated devil-ring has a coke spoon built within it, and thusly she breaks out a veritable cache of drugs. Hawkins insists he’s just a Jack Daniel’s man, though he does partake of a joint with her – cue another psychedelic scene of hypnosis. But Hawkins comes out of it, ready and raring to go at it with Sherry, even though the previous night he fell in love with another whore, Kathy, who as you’ll recall is missing and no doubt was violently abducted by whoever is chasing after Hawkins himself.

But before they can do the deed, Sherry collapses…mere moments after drinking the Jack Daniel’s that was brought for Hawkins! Yet another masseuse with answers to the puzzle now dead, Hawkins once again runs off. The novel barrels into the homestretch as Hawkins takes a train for upstate New York, zeroing in on the opulent domain of Thomas Maloney. Coincidence abounds throughout the novel, and bumming around at a bar Hawkins just happens to meet a cute young gal who herself is headed for the mansion – because, conveniently enough, a Mass is about to take place. And you won’t be surprised to know that the girl is super-eager to take Hawkins along with her.

The ensuing Black Mass is full-on Satanic Sleaze, though nothing as outrageous as that in The Mind Masters #2: Shamballah. But Hawkins is promptly exposed as an interloper, shambling around in a black robe with the others with no idea what he’s supposed to do. Here ensues the first of the expository info-dumps that make up the “climax,” with Maloney granting Hawkins “his final interview” – Hawkins’s, that is, as Maloney plans to kill him. Maloney unveils a long backstory about how he came to start the Society Of Life and how he’s branching out into massage parlors as a way to further insinuate himself into society. The murdered masseuses all were privy to information that could’ve undone his plans, so they had to die.

Actually the finale is just explanation after explanation – Hawkins is saved by the tall man, of all people, who identifies himself as a Fed, but Hawkins beats the shit out of him, and we don’t learn why until the endless dialog in the ensuing chapter. Hawkins, meeting the press at Kathy’s big art show (she’s quit being a masseuse, having just sold her first few paintings before meeting Hawkins), unfolds the tale that the tall man was a mobster. And Kathy and Rainey are also here at the art show, each relating their own stories of how they were abducted by mobsters and kept locked up until just a few hours before, having been saved by the cops following leads Hawkins provided!

Obviously our author is having fun with his sordid and sleazy tale – I mean, Hawkins’s girlfriend Vivian Power doesn’t even appear until the final few pages, where she announces at the art show that she’s now engaged to Hawkins’s editor! And Hawkins, flustered for a moment, starts to mentally compare Vivian to Kathy, realizing that in reality Vivian’s a “controlling bitch” and etc – just total character assassination, even though Vivian’s just shown up in the novel. But anyway all this serves to make Hawkins realize how much he loves Kathy, and how she loves him to; Andrews ends on a further goofy note, with the revelation that, every once in a while, Kathy and Hawkins will still play “masseuse and client” in the comfort of Hawkins’s swank penthouse apartment.

Writing-wise, the novel is better than it has any right to be; as mentioned Andrews has a particular gift for dropping seemingly-irrelevant details and then later picking up on them. He also captures that ‘70s vibe I so enjoy, from the massage parlor décor to the outrageous clothing his characters wear, though take note that Body Rub takes place in that era when the cool, funky-freaky early to mid 1970s was changing into the bland, disco-dancing late 1970s; in fact, Hawkins several times mentions that disco music is playing in various party scenes.

I assumed “Mark Andrews” was just a house name, given the handful of paperback originals Leisure published under this name in such a short span of time. To give further credence to this assumption, Body Rub is copyright Leisure. But I have another Mark Andrews novel, The Return Of Jack The Ripper, from 1977 (which I’ll soon read), and it’s copyright Mark Andrews, so who knows, maybe it was a real person.


Martin OHearn said...

I wonder if "Mark Andrews" could be Mark Roberts and Patrick Andrews collaborating. I see them alternating volumes on the Six-Gun Samurai series. I believe Andrews co-wrote the first Cherokee Lighthorse novel, getting a copyright-page acknowledgment, with the series' official author, Roberts.

Who knows?

Joe Kenney said...

Martin, thanks for the comment, and you might be onto something. The other month I got Hawk's Author Pseudonyms from the library, a massive book with thousands of entries, but "Mark Andrews" wasn't even listed. I guess this just shows the kind of obscurity these Belmont Tower/Leisure authors suffered. I haven't read "The Return of Jack the Ripper" yet, but I'll be interested to see if the style is similar to this book.