Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Butcher #1: Kill Quick Or Die

The Butcher #1: Kill Quick Or Die, by Stuart Jason
October, 1970  Pinnacle Books

The first installment of The Butcher serves as a perfect introduction to our terse bad-ass of a hero, a man who literally makes his enemies soil themselves in fear. James Dockery serves as “Stuart Jason,” his unique style and disjointed plotting firmly in place as he takes Bucher The Butcher from Atlanta to Cairo and then back again. Interestingly, this first volume is copyright Pinnacle; the rest of the series was copyright Script Associates.

Having read now an installment of Sand, I can see how The Butcher is so firmly indebted to it. It’s so similar that you could probably figure that Evan Sand actually is Bucher; maybe “Sand” was just a name the Butcher used for a while. Actually that’s a stupid idea. What really happened is that Dockery stuck so close to the vibe of the Sand books that Ennis Willie could’ve almost been co-credited as the author of the book.

That being said, Dockery’s style is a lot different than Willie’s; whereas everything in Willie’s books is terse, particularly the narrative style, in The Butcher only Bucher himself is terse. Dockery is a talented word-spinner and he doles out a brace of memorable and unusual phrases throughout Kill Quick Or Die. He also proves himself capable of developing and expanding upon themes, which gives the book, despite its grimy nature, a relatively “literary” sort of feel.

But it’s the grimy nature that wins; in Dockery’s hands, The Butcher comes off like a more polished Gannon. And actually Bucher is himself similar to Gannon, enjoying beating his opponents to gory pulp with his “brass knucks” (just like Gannon and his “spiked knucks”), but given that this series was published first, perhaps Dean Ballenger gained some inspiration from it. Indeed I think Bucher, as Dockery depicts him, could even make Gannon himself piss his pants. The dude is more machine than man, almost inhuman in his perfection. The Destroyer was loglined by Pinnacle as “the Superman of the ‘70s,” but Bucher could just as easily lay stake to that claim.

I’ve only read two volumes so far, but already I see what appears to be a formula at work for The Butcher: Bucher, already on assignment, will inadvertently stumble across a pair of goons who are chasing a young woman. Bucher will recognize one or both of the goons from his Syndicate days, and will dispatch one or both of them with his infamous quick-draw technique. The girl may also accidentally die. Bucher will continue to puzzle over this caper as he flies around the world; at some point he’ll end up in a bar or somesuch, where he will be confronted by a muscle-bound stooge. Bucher will beat the guy to a pulp. Bucher will also hook up with some woman, usually one from his past, and she’ll tag along with him, perhaps dying by novel’s end. At some point Bucher will discover there’s another, more important job he needs to take care of, at the expense of the original assignment. After much globe-gallivanting he will return to the city in which the novel started, stage an assault with a submachine gun, and turn away from the scene of carnage, “the bitter taste of defeat thick under his tongue.”

All as in Kill Quick Or Die, which has a great first half (and the title, we learn, is Bucher’s method for deailing with his old Syndicate pals). Bucher’s in Atlanta, tracking down leads on missing scientist Dr. Fong, a Chinese national who has invented a “microtransformer” which is the size of a pinhead and can provide the same energy as something a few thousand times its size. Whoever gets hold of this thing can own the world, and Fong has escaped China, which has apparently turned to the American Syndicate to track him down(?!). Bucher has it that Atlanta mob boss Big Sid Lujac is somehow involved with all of this, and thus has come here to investigate.

Bucher’s origin by the way is capably dispensed in a few paragraphs. He’s 37 and was Syndicate boss of the east coast, one of his bases of operations being Atlanta. He also served a tenure in Cairo, of all places, which serves to be quite convenient for this novel – especially the fact that he’s also fluent in Arabic! But due to a sudden onset of morals and principles Bucher quit the Syndicate, which isn’t too surprising when you see what kind of people congregate to it in Dockery’s fevered imagination: they’re all sickos, pedophiles, rapists, torture freaks, drug addicts, etc. Now Bucher works for ultra-secret White Hat, his code name Iceman (which Bucher mocks as something out of a “Grade B movie”), and he’s worked for them for several months as Kill Quick Or Die opens.

Just like in a Sand novel, Bucher immediately runs into some old friends – two Syndicate hoods chasing a pretty young woman. “The Butcher!” they scream, same as all the others will scream in ensuing books. “Koosh! Koosh!” goes Bucher’s silenced P-38, and brains and gore go flying. Bucher’s superhuman speed with the fast-draw technique is especially hammered home in this first installment. He leaves one of the stooges alive, and the dude literally shits himself in his terror. But this is one of Bucher’s few mistakes, as the dude comes back with an accomplice who blows off the back of the poor girl’s head.

Bucher puzzles over the caper as he heads on to Cairo. Dockery I’m assuming must’ve had some experience with the place as he well brings “the cesspool of the Middle East” to life, particularly with a recurring joke about how the natives fear Americans due to paranoid invective they hear on Radio Cairo. Bucher finds himself tailed by a pert little belly dancer named Tzsenya, an old fling of his from several years before, when he helmed the Syndicate heroin operation from here in Egypt – we learn later that when the two were an item, Tzsenya was a mere sixteen years old, but now feels herself an “old crone” at twenty-three.

The dark comedy is really strong in the initial Cairo action, which sees Bucher strapping on his brass knuckles and giving a hulking Egyptian stooge a thorough working over. The dude is beaten to bloody ribbons and Dockery goes into chortling overkill as he describes the gruesome scene. This whole bit is capped off by a laugh-out-loud bit where another Syndicate stooge thinks he’s gotten the drop on the otherwise-busy Bucher, only to get his brains blown out by that superhuman fast-draw technique.

Tzsenya is all over her man and misses him and etc, praying that he’ll give her some good lovin’, but Bucher’s stone cold this first volume, refusing to “mix women with work.” He comes close to giving Tzsenya what she wants once or twice, but the fact remains that there isn’t a single sex scene in the entirety of Kill Quick Or Die; Bucher fails to score in this one, but it’s due to his own stubborness. Meanwhile he has no problems with taking Tzsenya with him over to Israel, to research more leads; Bucher you see has discovered that there’s a lot more to this caper than just some microtransformer thing.

A Syndicate sadist named Lobertini, known for only being able to get off as he tortures and mutilates victims, has apparently started up a “pipeline” here in the Middle East where he secretly ships wealthy Arab men into the US. Bucher fears what could happen were this pipleine to get into enemy hands: what if some foreign power could slip agents into the US without anyone knowing? (Just to show how the times have changed, these days it’s the President who’s trying to create a pipleline for Middle Eastern terrorists to enter the US!!)

The pipleline isn’t Lobertini’s only venture; he also kidnaps prominent Israelis and ransoms them, but usually just throws the poor souls into his torture den, where he puts them in an Iron Maiden and other medieval torture devices before dipping them in vitriol, burning the flesh right off their bones. Dockery has a knack for horror-esque scenarios and well brings to creepy-crawly life one of Lobertini’s torture dungeons, which Bucher discovers in some nowhere stop near the Israeli border. 

Action is frequent, mostly just quick gunfights and brutal fistfights, but for the most part Kill Quick Or Die is more about the dark comedy and the sadism. Dockery’s Syndicate is populated by mutant freaks who get off on bloodshed and rape and torture; both pyhsically and mentally superdeformed, they’re all like something out of a depraved lunatic’s worst nightmare. Even minor, one-off characters are insanely overdone, like one who is a notorious pedophile rapist-murderer; Dockery writes a jolter of a flashback to when Bucher, then Syndicate head in Atlanta, confronts the fiend while he stands over the freshly-sodomized corpse of a young boy. No detail is spared here, and it’s unsettling for sure.

True though to this era of men’s adventure fiction, while Bucher himself remains unscathed, the same can’t be said for those close to him. Dockery is at pains to display Tzsenya’s love for Bucher, preening and stripping for him, begging him to screw her. Each time Bucher spurns her, worrying for her safety, and you can easily guess what fate is in store for her. When the inevitable happens Dockery presents a scene that could easily give one of Don Pendleton’s “turkey doctor” sequences a run for the money. The outcome of this is that Bucher is red-hot with vengeance and becomes, believe it or not, even more merciless and inhuman.

Just when you think the plot has become hopelessly jumbled – Dr. Fong and the microtransformer are completely forgotten as Bucher focuses on Lobertini’s pipeline – it all comes together somewhat satisfactorily. Dockery provides not one but two memorably-loathsome Syndicate sadists in the finale, which has Bucher back in Atlanta. First he takes on Big Sid Lujac, a bodybuilder ladies’ man who has a shotgun trap waiting for Bucher, set up for him by the awesomely-named “Green Jesus.” To get to Sid, Bucher doses some torpedos with amonia and then goes in, wearing a gas mask, and blasts them away with a submachine gun. Big Sid paves the way for Lobertini himself, and Dockery makes the reader want this bastard to get his just rewards.

Taking on the Syndicate bigwig in one of his torture dungeons, Bucher decides to put aside his gun and knucks and beat the son of a bitch to a pulp with his bare hands. Suprisingly, Bucher has gotten sick of killing (more of which below), and wants to see Lobertini either rot in prison or go mad in an insane asylum, denied the torture and mutilation he needs to survive. This proceeds into a bloody spectacle as Bucher beats the man to burger…but when Lobertini has a vitriol vat in his dungeon, only one outcome can be expected. Dockery goes to wonderfully insane lengths here, complete with the final image of a skeleton with eyeballs sort of croaking in rage at Bucher.

As for Bucher’s growing “bitterness” with killing in Kill Quick Or Die, one of the noted things about this series is how each volume ends on a variation of “the bitter taste of defeat” being thick on Bucher’s tongue. This first volume actually gives the origin of the theme, as Bucher tastes defeat after blowing away a “pus-eyed hippy” Syndicate stooge who tried to rape Tzsenya:

Briefly [Bucher] relived the killing of Rach Wilson and the bitter-sour taste of defeat came under his tongue. Not because he regretted burning Wilson – some people never earned the right to live – but because he had been forced to kill another of his own kind. Therein lay the well-spring of the bitter-sourness.

Dockery’s style is like an unholy combination of Russell Smith and Joseph Rosenberger; the former due to the outrageous dark comedy and the latter mostly in how he’ll randomly jump into the perspectives of the sadistic simps who populate the Syndicate; some of this stuff in particular is laugh out loud funny. But Dockery I’d say is a stronger writer than both, particularly Rosenberger; Dockery clearly is having fun with his story and characters, but unlike say The Destroyer it never descends into parody, due to the important reason that the events, no matter how crazy and outlandish, are as serious as death to the characters themselves.

And here’s the last line of the novel:

He retrieved his coat and weapons from the floor and started slowly down through the darkness toward the distant door of the warehouse, the bitter-sour taste of defeat strong under his tongue.


Zwolf said...

Love the Butcher! But they are definitely the most formula-ridden series out there. I even caught one of them re-using the same first chapter as a previous volume... they just changed the name of the syndicate sadists.

It's death to read two of these in a row, because they're all basically the same book... it's kind of like the Rat Bastards. But, if you space them out, they're usually good. Hey, if you like one, you'll most likely like the others! :) They do get pretty funny, though, with every bad guy SO depraved and horrible-looking it could almost be weird-menace fiction instead of crime. Everybody Butcher goes against is like some kind of puppy-rapist with a face full of pus-filled warts.

And Butcher can totally win and save the world, but he'll still end up with that taste of defeat. He's the Charlie Brown of the men's adventure fiction universe. But, he's probably the last one of 'em I'd want to fight. He always came across as very Mike Hammer-ish to me.

Kurt said...

I like this series a lot also. I have a bunch of the later ones by Micheal Avallone that are pretty cool. I want to find some of the early ones in the series though. Terrific review as always.