Monday, December 14, 2015
The Hook #2: Sight Unseen
The Hook #2: Sight Unseen, by Brad Latham
September, 1981 Warner Books
William “The Hook” Lockwood returns for another caper, a few months after the previous volume (though published the same month); this one sees him going up against some Nazis who have stolen a top-secret experimental bombsight. It’s the late 1930s, America still considers Germany and Japan its allies, and Lockwood spends the whole novel disbelieving that America will get into another world war.
At 180 pages of small, small print, Sight Unseen just sort of drags on and on. Not that the first volume was a rollercoaster or anything, but still in comparison it was a lot more fun, what with the bizarre assortment of underworld types Lockwood interacted with. But this time the Hook’s purely in insurance investigator mode, dealing with Treasury Department agents (aka “T-men”), scientists, and most importantly a redheaded beauty.
Whereas the first novel traded off between lots of boring “investigation” stuff and super-hardcore porn, this one focuses more on the former and really tones down the latter. In fact there’s such a disparity between the explicitness of the sex scenes that I wondered if maybe some editor at Warner might’ve gotten freaked out by some of the stuff in The Gilded Canary Caper and asked the author to lessen the impact this time. Who knows. But sadly, that ultra-hardcore stuff was about the only enjoyable aspect of the previous novel, mostly because it was so crazy and so weird and most importantly because it jolted the reader out of the stupor he’d fallen into.
So while there’s some sex in Sight Unseen, particularly with the redhead, who turns out to be the head of research on the bombsight project and is named Myra Rodman, it’s nowhere as graphic as in the previous book. I believe this is so because Lockwood actually falls in love with Myra over the course of his investigation, which takes a few weeks; long parts of this book are like a romance novel, as Lockwood courts the beautiful young lady, taking her out to dinner and dancing and whatnot. But then later in the book, when also as part of his investigation, Lockwood sleeps with a hooker, this scene too isn’t very explicit, which again makes me suspect “Brad Latham” (supposedly David Schow) was asked to tone down the naughty stuff.
Anyway, Myra Rodman works for Northstar, a company in Long Island founded by Dr. Josef Dzeloski initially as a refrigerator manufacturing company, but due to (too long) backstory we learn the military eventually started using the company as a weapons contractor. Now Northstar has made a 500-pound bombsight, which is so top secret that Transatlantic, Lockwood’s employer, has insured the item without even knowing what it is. But the thing’s somehow been stolen out of Northstar’s windowless, single-entry plant in Long Island, and Lockwood must figure out if it was an inside job or if a foreign power stole it.
The novel is more of a private eye thriller than the previous book, with much of the narrative given over to Lockwood ambling around and interviewing this or that suspect. There’s Pops, the elderly guard who was on duty that night, Guy Manners, the engineer on the project, even Dzeloski himself. But as mentioned most importantly there’s Myra, who Lockwood starts falling for pronto. There are also several T-men afoot, a dude named Guy Manners in charge of them; he and Lockwood immediately get in a contentious relationship, but eventually Manners makes Lockwood a temporary Treasury agent to help with the investigation.
There’s no action at all – that is, unless you count the parts where Myra takes the train into New York City and goes out to the hottest restaurants and clubs with Lockwood. There’s a Casablanca riff going on, as Lockwood refuses to get involved with the anti-Nazi sentiment sweeping across “the liberals” of America; Myra is very political and is desperate for the US to step in and do something about Hitler and his legions, otherwise all of Europe will be engulfed in war. Lockwood starts to suspect the lovely lady is correct, particularly when he comes across the intel that some Germans might’ve stolen the bombsight.
In addition to fighting with Manners, Lockwood also periodically argues with his boss at Transatlantic, Mr. Gray , who demands that Lockwood find the bombsight so TA doesn’t have to pay. Lockwood mostly uses his underworld contacts to find out where the bombsight might’ve been spirited away to, but every time we think there’s about to be an action scene, like when Lockwood and friends sneak up on a warehouse, it fizzles out, with the place being empty. There’s only one action scene in the book, really, and that’s later when Lockwood leads some junior T-men on an ambush of a Nazi hideout, but it’s over quick, and Lockwood even gets shot.
Another too-long sequence has Lockwood investigating the German girlfriend of Heatherton, a secret Treasury agent who poses as a Nazi. This lady throws herself at Lockwood, but he turns her down, caught up in his growing love for Myra. After all, he’s already feeling guilty for having screwed a hooker named Barbara Wilson, a suspected Nazi spy, earlier in the novel, all so as to secretly get some info out of her as part of the investigation. Yes, Lockwood is totally in love with Myra, even thinking what it will be like to marry her and to begin “a new adventure” in his life, with kids!
So my friends, I think it’s plainly obvious what fate is in store for poor Myra Rodman. What action reader will be surprised when, just a few paragraphs after thinking about having children with her, Lockwood discovers Myra’s corpse? It’s such an expected “shocking moment” that you have to laugh out loud. What makes it all the more humorous is that, other than a burning desire for revenge, Lockwood doesn’t act much different afterward; he isn’t too heartbroken or devastated. Of course, the novel ramps up to the finale within the next twenty or so pages, but I’m betting Lockwood will barely even recall Myra by the next volume.
For the finale, Lockwood impersonates an American Nazi and goes out to a U-Boat that’s docked off New York to get the bombsight. Even here the author tends more to dialog and suspense, with Lockwood planting an explosive and hightailing it out of there before she blows. Lockwood himself takes some damage this time, getting shot in the novel’s sole gunfight and having to recuperate in the hospital. He rarely busts out the boxing moves which gave him his nickname, only at one point using his famous “hook” on an old man who turns out to have been Myra’s assassin – but since the guy was only following orders and gives Lockwood the desired info, Lockwood lets him live(!?).
Anyway, Sight Unseen wasn’t too great. It was boring, padded to the extreme, and suffered from the diluted naughtiness – the previous volume was boring, too, but at least it had crazy, Harold Robbins-esque moments of sleaze to sporadically liven things up.