Monday, August 24, 2015

Blood #3: The Cat Cay Warrant

Blood #3: The Cat Cay Warrant, by Allan Morgan
No month stated, 1974  Award Books

Billed on the back cover as “a new kind of action series,” Blood only ran for three volumes and, judging from this final volume, was like a combo of Award’s Killmaster series and a sort of Travis McGee-esque mystery thing. And it’s also very clear why the series only ran for three volumes; The Cat Cay Warrant is a dud of the first order. 

The series was credited to Allan Morgan, which according to Hawk’s Authors’ Pseudonyms was a house name used by an author named Marilyn Granbeck. One of the very few female writers to work in the men’s adventure field, Granbeck also co-wrote with Arthur Moore the Peacemaker series (as “Adam Hamilton”) and also delivered a volume of the Killmaster series, 1976’s Assignment: Intercept.

Judging from her entry in Hawk’s, Granbeck had a preference for mysteries, and that’s exactly what she writes with Blood. The series is written in first-person, which in my opinion is not a style that meshes well with the genre. No matter who or what your narrator is, the tale will come off like a hardboiled private eye yarn, as is the case here. Our narrator Mark Blood is a ‘Nam vet turned professional assassin, but in reality he’s a complete and utter idiot. Seriously, this book reads like an entry of the Killmaster series, only with Nick Carter replaced by Jason Striker.

Not that Blood’s a judo or martial arts master – no, he’s just Striker’s equal in the moron department! And that isn’t just me criticizing him. At least two characters in two separate situations tell Blood “you’re a lousy agent,” and boy they aren’t kidding. In the course of 203 pages Blood is caught unawares, knocked out, gotten the drop on, fooled, poisoned, abducted, stranded, kicked in the balls, sabotaged, ridiculed, betrayed, and even fired from his assignment. He blindly overlooks clues, eagerly trusts people who are clearly hiding ulterior motives, and proves himself the most ineffectual men’s adventure protagonist you could imagine. Hell, it takes the “professional assassin” 160 pages to even kill anyone.

But so far as Mark Blood is concerned, he’s a primo shit-kicker, the best professional assassin money can buy. Like a regular Jason Striker he pompously narrates his middling story, apparently not realizing how moronic he comes off. About the most he does is smoke cigarettes; this dude smokes more than even Alexander Jason, which is saying something. The novel is almost a paean to smoking, how relaxing cigarettes are, how they help take the edge off even in crisis situations. Anyway, usually in cases like this I’d figure the author was having fun and it was all intended as a spoof, but I don’t get that vibe here. It seems to me that Granbeck really was trying to deliver a quality men’s adventure novel, she just didn’t understand the genre very well. 

The book opens with a chapter written in third-person, which details the grisly hijacking of a train in London that’s transporting half a million pounds in gold. While it opens slowly, what with the old conductor and his thoughts on life, it becomes very violent once the hijacking occurs. Overseen by an older man with Italian features but a (fake) American name, the heist goes off flawlessly, with everyone dead but the Italian criminal. Granbeck disproves the notion that a female action author might refrain from too much gore with lots of descriptions of heads blowing up when shot and etc. Also the old man behind the heist, gradually revealed to be a former Mafia hitman named Edward Sorrento (not “Nick,” as claimed on the back cover), is merciless, killing off his underlings with casual savagery.

Then Chapter One rolls along and it all goes downhill. Mark Blood becomes the narrator of the novel, having been flown over to London. He’s offered the “warrant” from Scotland Yard, who tell him Sorrento’s background. A sadist of the first order, the old bastard’s so cruel that even the Mafia was sickened by the way he’d take out innocents in his hits. In particular Sorrento was ousted for killing some kids during a hit at an amusement park. All of this background detail really makes the reader hate Sorrento and want to see him get his comeuppance. Unfortunately our author forgets all about Sorrento and indeed he basically disappears from the text.

Instead, the book is more about the foolish exploits of Mark Blood. Within moments of arriving in London he’s already almost dead. Buddying up with an airline pilot named Charlie, Blood heads back to the guy’s hotel and hammers a few beers with him. Blood you see is a beer man, which should already tell you something of his quality as a men’s adventure protagonist. I mean, I love beer myself, but seriously, if you’re a professional assassin you might want to consider upping your alcohol game. But after a few bottles Blood’s woozy and next thing he knows he’s on the ground. 

Here the novel would end, as Blood’s been fatally poisoned, but some Yard investigators just happen to show up and pump his stomach. Throughout the novel Blood is being saved by people who just happen to show up; this is only the first such instance. The Yard officials explain that Sorrento has absconded with the half-million pounds to Cat Cay, a British-owned island in the Caribbean. Blood’s mission is to kill the man and return the gold, of which he’ll be entitled to a five percent commission. Immediately after this Blood’s almost killed again, this time by a raising bridge in London; immediately after that he’s briefly taken captive by a Mafia boss, who tells Blood how he too wants Sorrento dead.

Blood’s next easily-avoidable death sees him on a cargo plane bound for Miami; he’s hitched a ride with hotstuff stew Helen, Charlie’s former casual bedmate. (Charlie by the way is dead from that poisoned beer.) The cargo plane’s main passengers are a bunch of dopesmoking rockers, and this entire section reminded me for all the world of something you’d read in a Thomas Pynchon novel, in particular Vineland and it’s subplot about the groovy airline the main character once worked for. But anyway Blood soon learns that both pilots are dead (later we learn they too drank some of that damned poisoned beer).

Now Blood has to land the plane in the water, talked through it by air control. Here’s where we learn that cigarettes can help soothe the nerves, even when you’re piloting an airliner that’s about to crash into the ocean. Oh, and everyone does die in the crash, save for Blood, who emerges unscathed, and Helen, who loses one of her eyes and gets her face smashed up. Blood later almost pukes when he sees her in the hospital (he’s constantly almost blowing chunks when he sees something gory, yet another knock on the guy’s men’s adventure worthiness). He bullies the doctor into performing plastic surgery, no matter the cost, and says he’ll foot the bill.

And he still hasn’t even gotten to Cat Cay! Coincidence continues to abound, as the world in which this novel occurs seems to only have a few people in it. One of them is Carl Malden, a friend of Blood’s from ‘Nam that Blood just happens to run into here in Miami. Malden is a longtime conman and seems to have something going on. Meanwhile Blood hooks up with Merinda, wife of the man who was supposed to be his contact, but who turns out to be dead. Merinda informs Blood that her husband was hacked up by someone and tossed in the ocean; as proof she takes her husband’s left arm out of the tacklebox on her boat! She knows it’s her husband’s arm because, “I bought him the watch last Christmas!” The watch she ends up giving to Blood.

Oh, and speaking of exclamation points, our author is very fond of them. They pepper Blood’s narration throughout the novel, usually for no reason at all. Like this! Or this! It all just further serves to make Mark Blood seem like a ninny. He’s also constantly spurning the advances of women, though he eventually gives in to Merinda, after conceding to her demands that she be allowed to take him to the remote isle of Cat Cay. It’s a sort of swinger’s paradise and only couples can go. Merinda by the way is a stacked Cuban beauty who used to make her living walking the streets, something that’s constantly mentioned by everyone.

Well, the two are making it on a deserted little island in the middle of the ocean when Merinda’s boat explodes. At a recent port Blood had been informed that some mystery man had briefly gotten on the boat while he and Merinda were out and about; of course, our dumbass protagonist never thought to check the boat out. But now it explodes, and Blood and Merinda are not only stranded on a remote island but naked to boot. But don’t worry, the next day a Coast Guard plane just happens to fly over and Blood’s able to get the attention of the pilot. But wait – it’s carrying a Yard official, one who is here looking for Blood!

Yes, this guy just happens to be flying around this remote section of the Caribbean, looking for Blood. Further, he informs Blood that he’s fired from the assigment, due to how poorly he’s doing. No shit! Blood beats the guy up and demands that the pilot leave him on the island!! Now he and Merinda get to Cat Cay…where Blood only now realizes that he’s basically walked into the lion den. You see, the few people on this tropical isle are either swinger tourists here to get high and orgy or mobbed-up Sorrento employees who have been expecting Blood’s arrival. I mean hell, someone calls him “Mr. Blood” moments after he signs the register under a false name, and it takes like several moments for Blood to even realize it!

Well anyway, it all just keeps stumbling along. Blood’s been informed his Scotland Yard contact here is named Margo, and after sending off Merinda (Blood by the way having gotten sick of her, given that she peddled her ass to that Coast Guard plane crew mere moments after they arrived on the island she and Blood were briefly stranded on), he gets busy with her. Margo has been hiding for the past week, Sorrento’s people having uncovered her as an agent and tortured her. But she escaped and has managed to survive, but more importantly she’s gotten real horny living alone there in the jungle. 

I should mention here that Branbeck usually fades to black in the sex scenes, though sometimes she gives a bit of the juicy details. It’s not full-on explicit but it’s more than nothing, and she has no qualms with describing the female anatomy. She even goes the extra mile by occasionally referring to “breasts” as “tits.” So clearly she was making the attempt to cater to the demands of the genre. And yet for all of that you can still detect something afoot, as Blood appears to develop feelings for most every girl here, and indeed tells us he can’t have sex if there are no feelings involved – what more proof do you need that the writer was a woman??

Blood only kills a handful of people in the novel, the first a pair of would-be hitmen who attack Margo the morning after she sleeps with Blood. But then Blood’s caught when he tries to sneak to Sorrento’s mansion, deep in the jungle – only for his captor to turn out to be Carl, who beats Blood up and then throws him in a locked room on his huge boat with the mutilated and beaten Merinda. Carl’s certain Merinda knows where that lost gold is…her husband apparently stole the gold from Sorrento. I mean, what?? It’s like this entire goddamn novel started out being about one thing but changed its mind and became something else.

Merinda dies right after Blood sees her, and after choking on his gorge a bit at her ghastly sight, Blood finds himself stranded in the locked room with her. Oh but wait – there’s a bunch of dynamite in here!!! Seriously! Yep, Blood makes use of the dynamite that just happens to be in the locked room and blows his way out. When later he sneaks again to Sorrento’s mansion, he finds the old Mafia sadist bedridden and comatose. Blood perfunctorily shoots him in the face. My friends, I cannot tell you how unsatisfying all of this is. We started off the novel seeing how cruel Sorrento is, then waited and waited and waited to see him get his just desserts, only for the author to change her mind halfway through and basically forget about him.

Sorrento dead, Blood now goes after Carl. But the dolt still hasn’t figured out who has been duping him all along, even though an idiot would’ve long ago realized it was Margo. But it all plays out more on suspense and scene-building, with Granbeck in no hurry to get to the climax, such as it is. The final moment of the book is at least memorable, with Margo hugging Blood and Blood literally stabbing her in the back. Why? Because Margo is revealed as the true villain, the person who had Merinda and Merinda’s husband killed, who was behind Carl; she also has the gold, now, the location for which was scrawled in the watch of Merinda’s dead husband.

Blood ends the tale telling us he’s gonna go see if stewardess Helen is better yet, ‘cause he’s hoping to get a little lovin’ from her. Oh, and if another Sorrento-type comes along, Blood will kill him, ‘cause that’s his job. I guess no further “warrants” (as Blood refers to his contracts) were ever issued him, as this was it for Mark Blood. This is the only volume of the series I have, but I don’t see myself seeking out the other two.


Zwolf said...

Great review! I read the first one recently, and don't worry, you're not missing much with that one, either. In fact, I had to make two runs at it -- I started it once, couldn't get into it, thought I just wasn't in the mood, and then tried it again a few months later. Nope, it wasn't my mood, it was just a blah book. It's not badly written, but just mundane. So, unless the second volume is just major-kick-ass, I'd say the series is a wash... I got lucky and found all three for about five bucks, though, so I can't complain too much.

Grant said...

Was there a purpose to the name Carl Malden? It doesn't sound like just a coincidence.