Monday, March 9, 2015

Spy And Die (Hardy #2)

Spy And Die, by Martin Meyers
January, 1976  Popular Library

The most slovenly, lazy, non-compelling protagonist in private eye fiction returns in Spy And Die, the second volume of the forgotten Hardy series. Once again author Martin Meyers spins out a listless tale in which hardly anything happens, other than our “hero” Patrick Hardy stuffing his face and watching old movies on tv.

It occurred to me that perhaps Hardy was Meyers’s attempt at capturing the vibe of James Garner’s The Rockford Files, with a down-on-his luck gumshoe who is constantly thrown into events that are over his head. But man, at least in that show stuff happened! Spy And Die is an endurance test of the first order; without any exaggeration at all, the novel is mostly made up of lists of what Hardy eats and which movies he watches.

My friends, there were too many times in which I wanted to put this damn book down and move on to something more interesting…like maybe watching dust form on the furniture. But I perservered so that I could bring you a full report. In the end though I probably should’ve just watched the furniture. Nothing at all memorable occurs in Spy And Die and it’s such a nonentity of a book that I wonder again if the whole thing was some dire joke – on the reader.

Despite the fact that the novel is filled with beautiful and nude women, tons of sex, a monocle-sporting villainess, and various groups of spies, Spy And Die barely registers on the reader’s consciousness. It would also be a great alternative to sleeping pills. Meyers rarely if ever describes actions, events, characters, or scenery, with those mentioned sex scenes always relegated to, “They made it again.” Action scenes are slightly more fleshed out, with details of Hardy throwing punches, but they are so few and far between that even they can’t rescue the novel from its torpor.

But what’s it about? Well as we’ll recall, Patrick Hardy, our “hero,” is an Army-trained private eye who’d rather eat, read, and watch tv all day. Who wouldn’t?? But you see, this doesn’t make for a very compelling private eye protagonist, and Meyers isn’t very interested in expanding beyond this limited scope; even when Hardy is thrust into situations which take him out of his comfort zone, he just runs away and goes back to gorging himself and watching tv. The novel is almost a litany of the various things Hardy stuffs his face with.

Anyway, some unspecified time after the first volume, Hardy is hired for another job – once again, by some hotstuff gal who waltzes into his big place on Riverside Drive and proposes the task for him. Her name is Alice King, she’s from Houston, and an uncle named Walter whom she’s never before heard of recently died and left her some money, or something. But Alice suspects that Walter was involved with the Army (apparently he died on a “post” somewhere) and thinks the story’s real weird, and wants Hardy’s help.

Well, they screw a bunch (zero details per the norm), and Alice goes back to Houston. Hardy proceeds to sit on a barber chair in his lounge and watch tv, with frequent breaks to the kitchen. We are of course well-informed of what he eats – the one element Meyers doesn’t fail to elaborate on is what Hardy eats. Soon he discovers himself being followed around by groups of strange men – spies, he’s certain.

After a half-assed chase, Hardy ditches his car and heads over to Philadelphia to hook up with his stripper/dancer friend, Ruby Rose, returning from the previous volume. More undescribed sex occurs. Hardy returns to New York, where he is contacted by members of the Central Security Force, headed by obese Julius Foxx, who inform him that Walter Henry was a spy. They want Hardy to keep working his case for Alice, basically using him as a lure for the other group of spies who are tailing him.

These other spies work for Duchess Annette de Montespan, a smokin’-hot, super-stacked blonde who goes around wearing a monocle, and usually nothing else. A bisexual fashion photographer, she calls Hardy over to her place so he can watch her photograph some equally-hot and equally-nude models. Hardy falls hard for one of them, a Chinese gal named Mae-ling, aka Linda. After this the Duchess invites Hardy up to her room, where apparently a whole bunch of sex occurs off-page.

But Hardy "can’t make it.” Due to the valium he’s taking for his high blood pressure, he can’t reach climax, and thus the whole Duchess-banging is a bummer. I forgot to mention – the Duchess keeps on her monocle during all the banging. Anyway the lady is such a missed opportunity, apparently a supervillain in the Bond mold, even with a hulking henchwoman named Claude and an assassin named Korloff. But Meyers would rather tell you about what books Hardy buys on the way home.

Not having gotten enough tail, Hardy also tracks down Mae-ling, and more bland fireworks ensue. Hardy, who is often described as rugged but slightly going to seed around the middle, must be a killer with the ladies. But then, it was the ‘70s. Oh, and like last volume, friggin’ Hardy leaves all the real work to his tv-movie actor friend, Steve Macker – in fact it’s Macker who inadvertently stumbles upon the clue which allows Hardy to break the case!

But yeah, Macker flies down to Houston and Dallas to research leads while Hardy sits in his barber chair and watches old movies. Occassionally he’ll get up to write down an idea on his cork board. People, I’m not making this up. The novel is so eventless (not a real word, I think) as to be hilarious; you can forget about the sensationalistic cover, which has no bearing on the actual contents of the novel.

I’ll just cut to the chase – apparently Walter Henry was an undercover spy, and the name “Walter Henry” was just some random name these dudes would use. Something like that. And, uh, apparently the Duchess and her people were trying to find some MacGuffin he was working on, and Julius Foxx wanted to use Hardy as bait to lure them out. But good friggin’ gravy it’s all so half-assedly played out and revealed that you actually do forget everything except what Hardy eats!

Even the finale sucks – Hardy, with Mae-ling, crashes an upper-crust party and the Duchess captures them. In the span of two sentences, my friends, the Duchess kills Linda, and then Ludwig Lurche, a “black Teuton” who is behind it all, kills the Duchess! Seriously, there’s no drama behind either death…just like, “The Duchess stabbed Linda in the heart. Ludwig shot the Duchess.” It’s like that throughout, like an outline.

In fact, once again it occurred to me (you see, I was desperate to at least find some value in this book) that Meyer’s intent was that he himself was just as lazy and indolent as Hardy; that, just as Hardy is too lazy to actually do anything, the joke would extend into the metafictional realm with the author himself to lazy to write anything, churning out an outline instead of a fleshed-out work of fiction.

Does Hardy learn anything from the tale? Of course not. After Lurche is caught and Foxx and his minions arrive, Hardy mourns Mae-ling for a hot second before announcing, “I’m starving.” At this point Spy And Die mercifully ends, the tedium of it all is finally over, and the reader can recuperate and move on…until the next volume. And like a fool I bought it, years ago – and like an even bigger fool, I’ll read it some day.


Zwolf said...

Okay, I'm sure I'd be bored to death by the book, but I love the review! :) The idea of a book where a guy just sits around eating and watching TV is hilarious, like it's a prank on the reader. At some point you realize you're sitting there reading that and it becomes the funniest thing ever. But, it's funnier as a concept than it is to actually sit through. I had a similar experience reading one of Philip Atlee's Joe Gall books, where the "action" is all reading magazines, eating lunch, and playing cards. In one of the last chapters there's a one-sentence mention of Joe shooting a guy through the knees a couple of times, and that's all the action we get. I almost wonder if Atlee didn't ghost-write this Hardy book, or vice-versa...

Plus, it reminds me of that Joe Don Baker movie, _Mitchell_...

Jason said...

Sounds a bit like Nero Wolfe, with Hardy being lazy and a foodie, and Macker being his Archie Goodwin.

Grant said...

Speaking of pranks on the reader, it sounds like some deliberately aimless Andy Kaufman routine, where the audience is expected to get the joke that there IS NO joke.

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Grant said...

Being such a fan of the "swinging spy" idea, I can't get around the idea of the hero not being able to **** the hot femme fatale! Except in some all-out parody.

About the only thing equally bad (or worse) is the hero who can but WON'T, because he dislikes the villainess "as a person" too much. Again, except in some parody, or at least some extremely tongue-in-cheek story.