Thursday, September 18, 2014
Kill Squad: Dead Wrong (aka Kill Squad #3)
Kill Squad: Dead Wrong, by Mark Cruz
No month stated, 1975 Manor Books
Dan Streib was a prolific action series writer in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but this is the first of his books I’ve read. For this five-volume series he was credited as “Mark Cruz,” and it’s interesting that Kill Squad is similar to a two-volume Belmont-Tower series, also published in 1975, titled Death Squad, which was credited to “Frank Colter.” I say interesting because Streib was also Colter.
Anyway, this is one of those times where the publisher appeared to have a different series in mind than the author did. Kill Squad is hyped as a trio of rogue cops who bend the rules to take down crime; vigilantes in all but name. The hyperbolic back cover copy basically presents them as bloodthirsty pursuers of cold justice. However, the actual characters in the novel are just regular cops, who constantly worry about running afoul of the rules!
The “Kill Squad,” thusly named by the press, is comprised of leader Chet Tabor, a Dirty Harry type who comes closest to the publisher’s expectations for the series, constantly getting in fights with “stupid Chief” Jackson over his recklessness. Then there’s Grant Lincoln, a black cop who is stated as being Tabor’s best friend, but the two actually fight throughout the entire novel, and at one point Lincoln even handcuffs Tabor. Finally there’s Maria Alvarez, the hotstuff female cop on the team, who is completely duty-bound and rule-abiding and thus is nothing like the back cover description of the squad; she’s basically a chaperone for the group.
Around this time Manor Books (as well as Belmont-Tower and Leisure) removed the numbers from their series titles, but I’m pretty sure Dead Wrong was the third volume of Kill Squad. Not that it much matters, as Streib makes no attempt at any sort of continuing storyline, and there are no dangling ends that lead you into the next installment. But it does appear that the Squad has only been together for a short while, busting heads and taking names in San Diego.
The plot is a little goofy; Chief Jackson, hoping to keep Tabor and Lincoln from causing more mayhem, assigns them guard duty. The “twenty sexiest women in the world” are coming to San Diego as part of a PR junket, along with the greasy conman who came up with the whole thing, Irving Vernor. Also arriving is Vernor's unexpectedly-attractive young wife, Sabine, as well as a hulking “bodyguard” named Berlet. Tabor is agog at all the female flesh on display as he greets them at the airport, the girls representing all nationalities and races, but he also finds time to leer at Mrs. Vernor.
In his review of Kill Squad #2, Marty McKee intimates that Tabor and Maria have a “casual sex thing going,” but that isn’t very apparent in Dead Wrong. Maria does worry after Tabor throughout the novel, and he condescendingly pats her on the head a few times, but there’s no indication they’re an item. But then, Maria is separated from her teammates throughout this installment.
Streib delivers a few action scenes early on, with a heist taking place on the freeway, the heisters trying to make off with the sexy women. This leads to a shootout in which Tabor chases after a hippie guy named Pixie whom he recognizes from previous criminal activities. The scene ends in a goofy bit where Pixie tries to escape on a handglider, of all things, and Tabor grabs another one and swoops off of a cliff after him. But Pixie crashes, and there follows a humorous but annoying sequence where Tabor has to convince everyone there even was a heist attempt. But given that he was the only person in the entire battle who fired a gun, he comes off as a psycho aggressor who started it all for no reason.
Chief Jackson, who we are often reminded hates Tabor, uses this to kick him off the force. Even when Tabor goes back to his apartment and is shot at, no one believes that there’s a kidnapping attempt being planned on the twenty women. This apartment shootout furthers the irritatingly-goofy tone of the novel, with Tabor’s landlady nagging at him about damages and costs while Tabor’s still being shot at. This scene also leads to the aforementioned bit where Lincoln slaps cuffs on his “best friend” – a nonsensical scene, especially given that in the very scene before it, Lincoln reported in as sick, going off duty so as to help Tabor!
The majority of the novel actually takes place in a chartered airliner. Vernor’s about to fly on to the next PR stop, and Tabor, no longer a cop, sneaks aboard. Hiding in the restroom, he finds someone else in there – a hippie girl who was part of the failed heist on the freeway. Tabor’s instantly caught, and discovers that Didi, an African beauty who was one of the twenty girls, is in on the heist. So is, unsurprisingly, bodyguard Berlet. The two girls lead Tabor around at gunpoint, and he finds that Lincoln also snuck onboard, but he’s out cold, having been bashed in the head.
The hijackers want to commandeer the plane, but the pilot cabin is locked. So what does hero cop Tabor do? He slides his badge under the door, tells the captain there’s an emergency, and meekly stands aside when the hijackers storm in when the door is unlocked! In fact, Tabor and Lincoln are so preposterously ineffectual throughout this novel that you wonder if Streib isn’t perhaps making fun of the entire Dirty Harry/tough cop genre. Lincoln for example spends most of the novel either out cold or pretending to be; Streib never appears to make up his mind which one it is. But either way, the “tough black cop” lies sprawled on a few chairs throughout the majority of the narrative.
Tabor doesn’t do much better, and he’s wide awake. He sits with the rest of the passengers, wondering who among the group is the secret leader of the hijackers. He suspects Irving Vernor; thus, when later on Berlet decides to start raping the girls, and Tabor tries to defend them, he choses Sabine when Did demands that Tabor have sex with one of the girls, first, so the rest of them can watch(?!). Tabor figures that Vernor will stop the charade, revealing himself, if Tabor attempts to bump uglies with Sabine.
Streib really plays out this sequence, to the point where you just wanna see ‘em screw and get it over with. Unbelievably, Streib, despite building it up to the bursting point, doesn’t even write the actual sex scene! After ending yet another chapter on a cliffhanger (throughout the novel Streib cuts from the airplane storyline to Maria Alvarez, back in San Diego, dealing with her stupid colleagues), Streib comes back to a post-coital Tabor and Sabine, who have indeed gone all the way, with Irving Vernor never once stopping them. Meanwhile Berlet is busy raping the other gals, after all.
So our hero cop has turned over the plane to hijackers (seriously, he could’ve just yelled to the captain, while the door was still locked, to make an emergency landing) and he’s screwed a married woman, right in front of her husband’s face. The one smart thing he does in the novel is send Maria a coded message over the plane’s radio – but while his action is smart, the clue and its reveal is stupid. Tabor calls Maria “Sally,” and, completely apropos of nothing, a cop later just mentions out of the blue that Hale (the name of the hippie hijacker girl) is “Sally” in Hawaiian, and Maria suddenly realizes that Tabor was giving her a clue, letting her know that the hijacked plane, which is flying below radar, is headed for Hawaii!!
This leads us to the finale, which is even more preposterous. While Tabor and Lincoln still sit in the plane, “biding their time” and doing nothing, Maria, who has flown to Hawaii (where of course she has zero authority) commandeers a fuel truck, drives it across the tarmac after the hijacked plane lands, and sprays the entire thing with jet fuel…! Apparently this is to dissuade the hijackers from thinking they can get away safely; meanwhile they’ve already set the plane to blow (our heroes Tabor and Lincoln even sitting still throughout this and watching them do it…but then, they’re biding their time, “waiting for the right moment to strike,” remember).
The long-awaited final battle, sadly, lacks much spark, so to speak. In the conflagration of the jet fuel flames on the tarmac, Tabor rushes around telling everyone not to shoot, but apparently it is okay to shoot if you get away from the spilled fuel, because when Tabor does he grabs a gun and blows away Hale, the hippie girl, then watches as more of the hijackers blow up, including Irving Vernor, who you won’t be surprised to discover was in fact behind the entire plot.
Oh, and Chief Jackson flies to Hawaii to tell Tabor that his Squad is reckless and dangerous, and by the way Tabor is back on the force, but why not go ahead and take a vacation in Hawaii?? But Tabor, recuperating in the hospital from burns, says he craves action asap, and will be headed back to San Diego posthaste. The end! Thus Streib wraps up the novel, with barely any violence, zero sex, and hardly any of the exploitative stuff I demand in my ‘70s pulp fiction. Most damningly, Dead Wrong is boring, and while it should’ve been fun to read, it was more of a chore.