Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Bright Blue Death (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #30)

The Bright Blue Death, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1967  Award Books

This was a pretty good installment of Nick Carter: Killmaster, occasionally as over-the-top as The Sea Trap and Deep Sea Death while at other times maintaining the realistic vibe of Blood Raid. In this one Nick Carter must contend with laser forcefields, blue corpses, an army of neo-Nazis…and an unfrozen Viking warrior!

Nicholas Browne wrote The Bright Blue Death, and it was the last of the four Killmaster novels he authored. I’ve already picked up two more of his contributions and I look forward to reading them – the dude isn’t bad, though to be honest there were some awkward sentences at times that had me re-reading certain parts of the narrative to figure out what was going on. Also he jumps character perspectives without warning the reader, but that’s par for the course for the men’s adventure genre so it’s to be expected. On the other hand, Browne definitely has a way with setting up scenes and describing locations.

This is displayed posthaste, with an effective opening of Nick Carter scuba diving in the cold dark waters of Sweden, a junior AXE agent in tow. Their mission is to infiltrate the Musko complex, an underground fortress built on an “island of granite” by the Swedes as a sort of underworld bunker in the event of nuclear war. The Red Chinese are supposedly working on laser beams that could cut through all the granite, and AXE is concerned that, if successful, these lasers could eventually cut through the mountains that contain NORAD. Nick’s job is to see if Musko is truly impregnable. 

Things get nicely psychedelic as Nick, diving deep to get below the submarine netting, experiences delirium caused by the dramatic depths. He fights out of his bizarre visions, but the junior AXE agent doesn’t fare as well, going nuts and pulling off his oxygen tank. Nick gives the poor bastard up for dead. He goes on to infiltrate the place, but discovers that another squad has beaten him to it: not Chinese, as Nick expected, but a group of Germans. Nick kills most of them in silent warfare; eventually he’ll learn they are the Teutonic Knights, apparently the vassals of a modern Hitler named Count von Stadee, who plans to take over both Germanys…and then the world.

Meanwhile we’re introduced to this volume’s “Carter Chick:” Astrid Lundgren, the head of Musko’s Engineering and Planning. She’s in charge of working on various high-tech defenses to the Chicom lasers, but there’s a secret drawback: all of the scientists who work on the defense tech are dying, and their corpses are a bright blue. While this element gives the novel its title, it’s actually kind of buried in the narrative, and not nearly as important as you’d expect. Instead, the greater portion of the novel is given over to Nick posing as a German mercenary who tries to join the Teutonic Knights, offering Astrid as barter – von Stadee wants the beautiful, blonde “ice goddess” so as to prevent her from success with the Musko defenses.

Astrid quickly denies Nick’s amorous advances, but she leaves him salivating over her awesome bod and big ol’ boobs; the lady’s apparently one of the best-looking women Nick’s ever seen, and he’s seen quite a few. But after a long action scene in Copenhagen she begins to warm up to him. This develops once Nick, in disguise, meets with von Stadee, offering Astrid; he’s sure von Stadee will try to kill him, and he does, the action scene playing out in an amusement park. It kind of keeps going, from Nick and Astrid hiding on a sort of merry-go-round to Nick fighting off Loki, von Stadee’s insane dwarf henchman.

Meanwhile von Stadee, who was barely out of his teens when the Nazis ruled Germany, has another henchman: Einar, a thousand-year-old Viking! This mountain of muscle was thawed out by von Stadee after the war; the Nazis found a group of frozen Vikings and Einar was the only one von Stadee was successfully able to revive. Humorously, all of this is just casually dropped into the narrative, and Nick doesn’t even seem much fazed by it. Instead he’s more concerned about Einar’s inhuman strength.

Astrid’s sent back to Sweden Nick’s able to get into the Teutonic Knights by kidnapping someone close to von Standee – the neo-Nazi’s girlfriend, an American biker chick named Boots Delaney. Nick kidnaps the petite gal and takes her back to a cabin in the woods of Denmark. Boots is an interesting character, a total hellion who keeps trying to kill Nick with a vast assortment of hidden weapons. Meanwhile she’s getting randy, given the fact that von Stadee doesn’t have sex with her – he just uses her to whip him! Eventually Boots is nude, coming at Nick with a fireplace poker, and the unstated challenge is there: disarm her and she will be his.

Of course this is what happens, and Browne is fairly explicit in the ensuing scene (though nothing too crazy), with mention of “multiple positions” demanded by the insatiable Boots. Von Stadee concedes to Nick’s demands and allows him to join the Teutonic Knights for returning Boots. Now in von Stadee’s castle in Bavaria, Nick has to go through various boring ideals which consume too many pages, like an endless fistfight with a neo-Nazi champion. Shortly thereafter he discovers, through a fluke, that the “bright blue death” is nothing but a hoax, something von Stadee cooked up to keep the Swedes from working on their Musko defenses.

We get another endless sequence, this time as Nick escapes across Bavaria for the border, von Stadee’s men after him. Most Germans are loyal to the Teutonic Knights order, in what is intended as a parallel with Germany in the late 1930s but comes off as too goofy, so Nick has to run from regular citizens as well. At least it climaxes in a memorable sequence, as Nick’s on a barge having a long-denied meal, and a dirigible flies over the boat and an assault squad jumps out, Boots Delaney, in a mask and a leather catsuit, leading it. Nick’s captured but breaks out Pierre, his gas bomb, killing everyone except Boots, who parachutes out after him and promptly disappears from the narrative. (She mails Nick a bomb at the end of the book, but he laughs off her amateurish attempt at assassination.)

The Bright Blue Death rolls into the final quarter with Nick and Astrid together again; she travels down to Bavaria with him to infiltrate von Stadee’s castle and look at his scientific blueprints to see where exactly he is with the laser he’s building for the Chicoms. Meanwhile Astrid’s decided she wants to do Nick, after all. Cue another sex scene, this one taking place in the cheap showiness of nature as the two hide in the woods surrounding the castle, but this one goes more for the lyrical/metaphorical vibe. And right on cue Astrid gets captured and Nick has to go back and save her.

Browne’s action scenes lack much verve or violence, though we do get a memorable part where Nick blows someone’s head off with his Luger. He engages Einar in a too-quick fight, but the revived Viking wants to die. From there we jump to Greenland, where von Stadee apparently has his secret headquarters(?!). Nick and an Eskimo named Joe Shu travel through the ice on a Sno-Cat and Joe blasts the icy caverns the Teutonic Knights hide in with a flamethrower. In the climax von Stadee shows his cowardly roots and Joe Shu chops off the head of Loki, von Stadee’s annoying dwarf henchman – and then Nick heads back to Musko for more adult shenanigans with Astrid.

As mentioned, this was the last installment written by Nicholas Browne, who turned in four volumes between 1966 and 1967. Too bad, as he proves himself to be one of the better Killmaster authors. Browne himself appears to have been an interesting person. From Will Murray’s article “The Saga of Nick Carter: Killmaster,” published in The Armchair Detective volume 15 number 4 (1982):

[Nicholas Browne] did four Nicks and then vanished. It turned out he was a merchant seaman and presumably had sailed for distant points. His Nicks may constitute all his published writing, and many of them had to be extensively revised by the Engels [ie series producer Lyle Kenyon Engel and his wife].

Vanished after sailing for distant points…creepy! Sounds like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. What makes it even stranger is the melancholy vibe of The Bright Blue Death. There’s a foreboding air to the novel, with Nick often reflecting over how he won’t live long, how his days are numbered. Coupled with Browne’s apparent disappearance, it’s kind of eerie.


Zwolf said...

This one sounds perfect. I'm a sucker for anything with biker chicks in it (I have my reasons ;) ), and the craziness-factor is always a good thing. The last Nick Carter I read (The Mayan Connection, I think it was) wasn't bad but kind of ordinary. I may have to move this one up in my reading que.

Grant said...

I usually roll my eyes when I so much as see or hear the word Nazi in adventure stories, because they're such a huge cliché - and actually seeing or reading the whole story doesn't often CHANGE that reaction (I've never been familiar with Indiana Jones, but I'll bet I'd have the same reaction to those stories, "iconic" adventure stories though they are). Of course, I'm very fond of several adventure story clichés, but that just isn't one of them.
Also, that part you mention about modern Germany in the story all ready to embrace it all over again (under a different name) sounds like the kind of worn-out joke you get from comedians when they get hold of the subject of Germany.
But - after reading the WHOLE description, I can't help reacting the same way as Zwolf. This could be that one in a thousand "hero fights neo-Nazis" adventure stories that I could enjoy.

halojones-fan said...

Was Nicholas Browne an actual person, or just a pseudonym for the Engels?

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. Halojones, that's a good theory. It's hard to say. Engel claimed responsibility for several of the Killmaster books, in particular Cambodia, Ice Bomb Zero, Mark of the Cosa Nostra, and Time Clock of Death. This is from the interview Will Murray did with Engel in Paperback Parade. I figure Browne was a real person, though per Murray's article in Armchair Detective Engel rewrote most of his manuscripts.

Michael G said...

Encouraged by your reviews, I'm working my way through the 1960's Nick Carter's. Just finished Dragon Flame (1968) which was a Stokes, I believe. Read more like a detective novel, than an action piece. The last few chapters where Nick eventually makes it into Red China (inside a coffin) were very slow and drawn out, kinda like Stokes had a habit of doing.
Keep the reviews coming.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comment, Michael, and also for the info on Dragon Flame. Sounds like a Stokes joint for sure. I'm reading another by Nicholas Browne, Operation Starvation, which isn't too bad. Please let me know if you come across any winners in your reading!

Rees Fitzgerald said...

Your blog is awesome! I've been reading it for some time now, and you have inspired me. I'm currently reading the Nick Carter books and have decided to create my own blog. The is my first time blogging, so I'm learning the ropes. I hope you don't mind if I tag you in some of my posts, especially the earlier ones. I already did, but will change that if you want.
That's interesting what you included about Nicholas Browne. I've only read Operation Starvation but am getting The Bright Blue Death soon.

Joe Kenney said...

Hi, Rees, thanks a lot for the comment! I will be sure to check out your blog!