Monday, October 20, 2014

Narc #6: The Beauty Kill

Narc #6: The Beauty Kill, by Robert Hawkes
March, 1975  Signet Books

The sixth volume of the Narc series is full-on blaxploitation; hell, Superfly is even namedropped on the cover. Yet again our hero, John Bolt, is lost in the colorful shuffle, Marc Olden focusing more on his vast cast of street-wise villains.

Also as usual, The Beauty Kill has no pickup from previous volumes; the Narc series has never really had much continuity, other than the recurring characters (none of whom ever mention the incidents of previous volumes, anyway). Like Narc #4, this one takes place during a hot summer, right in the middle of July, and again Olden reminds us so forcefully of the oppressive heat that we break out into a psychosomatic sweat. But then, I read the book late in August in Dallas, so I didn’t need much help.

The title is in reference to Black Beauty Saxon, an uber-handsome Superfly type who makes his money heisting drug dealers and other criminals. Beauty (as he’s usually referred to by Olden and the others) dresses to the nines in mid-‘70s wardrobe, in particular a light blue jumpsuit which he leaves open to the navel so he can show off his Zodiac medallion! (And once again the cover artist has perfectly captured the characters in the book, as well as a handful of the incidents that occur within.)

The aftermath of a Beauty heist starts off this particular volume, as Beauty and his three goons have made off with $850,000 and lots of heroin, stolen from Harlem drugrunner Calvin “The Blue Star” Otis, who got the money from his rich white male kingpin, Charles Kingsley, aka King Charles. Another series motif is John Bolt getting hurt quite often, and The Beauty Kill opens with our hero half dead, shot twice (and his partners killed) after stumbling upon the heist, which takes place in Washington, D.C.

Bolt’s head wound is just a “scratch” and the side wound he bandages up, dragging himself into his boss’s office and demanding he be allowed to handle the case. After getting his way, Bolt is again connected with the two fellow narcs who have helped him in the past books, Masetta and Kramer. The trio go around New York trying to determine who was behind the opening heist which left two narcs dead. This entails many scenes where they go into Harlem and Bolt is fearful of starting riots.

Olden per tradition places a lot more focus on the villains. In particular we get the tension among Beauty’s goons, mostly caused by Joe Heston, a white convict who is sick of Beauty’s preening and just wants his money from the score, pronto. Calming Heston is Noah Amos, another white guy, and the one who recommended Heston as being part of the job. Finally there’s Clay Cooper, a black member of the group who later on inadvertently allows Bolt to infiltrate the group, posing as a former cop looking to make it big.

There isn’t as much action in The Beauty Kill as in other volumes of the series, with more focus on plotting and planning. There isn’t much sex, either, with most of it shown as yet another plotting/planning move, like how Beauty sleeps with a plump black lady who works for Calvin Otis, preparing his cocaine and heroin. When Otis deduces that this woman is likely the person who blabbed about the drug deal which lost him the $850k and the heroin, he sends some thugs over to her apartment, while Beauty happens to be there; this leads to a crazy scene where Beauty blows the poor girl away and escapes naked.

Actually, naked black men fleeing through the streets of New York City is a recurring theme in The Beauty Kill; it also happens again later, this time to Clay Cooper. Makes me wonder if Olden had recently read James Mills’ Report to the Commissioner (or had seen the movie, which would’ve been released around the time he was writing this), which climaxes with a similar incident, of a naked black drugdealer running through the streets and holing up in an elevator.

Meanwhile Bolt puts clues together, soon figuring out that Black Beauty was behind the $850k/heroin steal, and that Otis and King Charles are looking for him. In particular the narcs are looking to bust King Charles, whom they have never been able to pin anything on. There are a few chase scenes, but really no action until toward the end, when Bolt and team capture Clay Cooper, a former cop himself, and convince him to play along. Cooper, injured by Otis’s thugs, lies to Beauty that he was hurt in a car wreck, and recommends fellow “former cop” Bolt as a perfect replacement.

It’s all like Miami Vice ten years earlier and in a different city as Bolt, undercover and unarmed, tries to both convince Beauty that he’s legit and also to figure out where Beauty’s big upcoming heroin deal’s going to go down. Meanwhile King Charles has hired a pair of gunmen to kill Beauty. But this is a Marc Olden novel, where no character follows a straight line, and soon enough the gunmen are looking to cut in on the action themselves. It all leads to a tense firefight in a stinking tenement building, and believe it or not for once the villains are actually disposed of, either killed, injured, or arrested. This seldom happens in the world of Narc, where the villains escape and are never mentioned again.

Speaking of never being mentioned again, each volume Bolt’s had a different lady love, and it’s kind of funny that they’re never women he meets while on the current case; instead, they’re women who are presented to us as already being a part of Bolt’s life, and very important to him. This lends the series a bit of unintentional comedy, as these women only appear for one volume and are never mentioned again!

This volume’s “Bolt girl” is Doreen Priddy, a “sexy bitch” (!) who apparently is a bit of a feminist; Olden puts more focus on her ten-year-old son, who is a brainiac who consistently beats Bolt at chess. Olden serves up a regular “happy family” image for the three, adding more unintentional comedy to the series by informing us that Bolt and Doreen have been together for a year! So I guess he just forgot about her in previous volumes, or who knows, maybe Bolt is in multiple serious relationships. The novel does take place in the ‘70s, after all.

The Beauty Kill was okay for the most part, but didn’t pull me in like some others in this series have, and I wish there had been more focus on Bolt and action and less on the internecine stuff among Beauty’s followers – though this part does feature a memorable (but goofy) scene where Beauty, “hiding” underwater, drowns one of his men in the deep end of a public pool, and no one notices!


Kurt said...

Small world! I just finished Black Samurai #2 by Marc Olden over the weekend. Nice review.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comment, Kurt. I've been reading Black Samurai #1, but haven't gotten to the second one. A few years ago I read #6: The Warlock, and it was pretty great.

RJR said...

Marc was a good guy and a great writer. He's done some stuff that was much better than these series, more realistic police procedurals. Since he was a black belt himself, martial arts plays a large part in most of his books--well, except for POE MUST DIE.