Bronson: Switchblade, by Philip Rawls
No month stated, 1975 Manor Books
Believe it or not, the Bronson “series” wraps up with a volume that actually continues from the one before it! There goes my theory that the three books in this series were each standalones; I’d known from Len Levinson, author of the second volume, that he’d never read the first volume, the phenomenal Blind Rage (and I’m still wondering who wrote that sick masterpiece), so I just assumed that the author of this third volume, Joseph Chadwick, had never read Len’s.
Turns out I was wrong, as Chadwick demonstrates throughout Switchblade that he’s read Len’s Streets Of Blood…while at the same time he proves that he also has not read Blind Rage. Series protagonist Richard Bronson here is the same character as Len’s version, with the same background and same history – Chadwick even reminds us that Bronson’s wife and kid were murdered in October 1972, the same date Len presented. The events of Blind Rage are now relegated to what is for the most part a standalone novel, unrelated to the two books that followed it. But Chadwick appears to have studied Len’s novel, bringing back the same characters Len introduced in his; all save for Bronson’s model girlfriend, Natalie, whom we’re informed this time is on an extended vacation in Europe.
Chadwick also appears to try to write the book in Len’s style, or perhaps the authors just have similar styles. It’s just a hunch, but given the way Switchblade is written, I’m willing to bet that Joseph Chadwick was the mystery author who turned out the odd volumes of Ninja Master, starting with the third volume. Switchblade is written in almost the exact same style, with a sort of casual flair to the narrative, more focus on dialog and daily incidentals, and less focus on action, suspense, or violence – indeed, when the action does happen in Switchblade (and in those Ninja Master books), it’s quickly over. (“Bronson got him in the gut with the switchblade,” is a perfect example of the extent of violent carnage you’ll encounter throughout.) Chadwick was a very prolific author, mostly given to writing Westerns, but he also did a lot of ghostwriting on various non-Westerns, and I’m betting he was the guy who traded writing duties on Ninja Master with Ric Meyers.
At least Switchblade opens with some bloody violence, as Bronson takes out a trio of young rapists-robbers-murderers who have been hitting stores in Times Square. Chadwick quickly brings us back into the scene developed in Streets Of Blood, with Bronson’s cop pal Detective Jenkins basically giving Bronson carte blanche and leaving the job to him. Bronson is all excited to try out his new vigilante toy: a custom-made switchblade, which he promptly uses to kill the trio of criminals. He catches them while in the process of raping a woman who owns a shoe store, her wheelchair-bound husband meanwhile having been beaten by the sadists. Bronson guts one, slices the other’s throat, and kills the final one with his bare hands.
Unfortunately the leader of the goons was a white punk named “Herbie the Brain,” who we learn was the son of mega-wealthy international banker Herbert Vincet Mardin. Chadwick will spend time – too damn much time – with Mardin senior and Mardin’s hotstuff young wife Carole. The novel runs to well over 200 pages of small print, too long for a piece of men’s adventure fiction, and Chadwick proves his uncertainty with the genre by spending most of that time dwelling on the thoughts and worries of minor characters. Bronson himself disappears for long stretches of time, and his actual vigilante affairs are relegated to a handful of situations, most of them quickly dealt with so Chadwick can return to the soap opera stuff with minor charactres like Carole Mardin or Detective Harper, an uptight square of a cop determined to bring Bronson down. This sort of genre-uncertainty was also prevalent in those odd volumes of Ninja Master, by the way, but at least those books were a lot shorter.
Switchblade instead just sort of plods along. The stuff with Bronson is good, though, with Chadwick bringing back a sort of grimness to the character that was lacking at times in Len’s version – though, to be sure, this Bronson is still nowhere in the psychotic realm of the character in the first book. He gets jumpy when he doesn’t hit the street, and this time he likes to get a little more close and personal on his kills, that switchblade in particular mostly being his chosen tool of the trade. Chadwick opens up the character a bit with the introduction of Nora Foster, gorgeous younger sister of Miriam Foster, ie Bronson’s murdered wife; Nora shows up at Bronson’s plush penthouse suite shortly after his first kill in the book, basically announcing her plans to screw him.
Nora, who it should go without saying has never been mentioned before, is a dead ringer for her departed sis, but she lacks that one’s charm or maturity (at least, so Bronson muses – we readers have never gotten to meet Miriam, not even in the first book, where she was already dead when the novel began). This doesn’t stop Bronson from banging her, though. Indeed the two have sex posthaste, though Chadwick doesn’t provide details. That being said, there are occasional sex scenes throughout Switchblade; the first one he actually writes featuring Bronson and Nora is pretty explicit. But after this Chadwick instead provides the sleaze mostly through dialog or introspection, usually from Carole Mardin’s perspective, given her nymphomania. She also gets the best line in the book, trying to sway her notoriously-unhorny husband with the unforgettable line, “I’ll let you screw my backside.”
But whereas the first two volumes were sleazy, violent thrillers about an unhinged protagonist taking out street scum with impugnity, this one just gets bogged down with too much melodrama. Pretty much all of the material with Carole Mardin and her growing horniness for Bronson could’ve been cut from the novel. Indeed Chadwick shows himself to be so disinterested with the title character that he spends more time with deadbeat detective Harper, not to mention arbitrary, time-wasting details like Harper’s weird sex life (a veritable shut-in, he has sex with a lady now in her fifties who took his cherry when he was a teenager). Midway through Herbert Mardin, looking for vengeance for the murder of his “misguided” son, makes use of his impressive contacts and calls in a CIA team, led by an ex-spook named Matthews. These characters too take the spotlight from Bronson.
To tell the truth, those who enjoyed Blind Rage and Streets Of Blood would be well advised to check out the Vigilante series by Robert Lory, which picked up the “street vigilante” thread much better than Chadwick does here. Because Switchblade limps whereas the first two Bronson books hurtled; Chadwick is also guilty of telling us the same stuff over and over, like for example where Bronson confronts Herbert Mardin, putting the fear of god in him…and then we read a long scene as Mardin runs home to Carole and tells her everything that just happened – everything we just read. It’s this sort of thing that ultimately makes Switchblade a chore to read at times.
Also, whereas those first two books were all about Bronson’s street vigilante activities, this one gets more into the CIA stuff…Matthews, working with Harper, quickly figures out who the myterious vigilante is, but they have no evidence. They try to set Bronson up but end up planting a piece of “evidence” that doesn’t even belong to Bronson, let alone have his fingerprints. While it’s all cleverly plotted it’s ultimately underwhelming because, for one, it takes up a lot of pages, and more importantly two, Bronson gets off scot free just through sheer dumb luck. A hero should always have to struggle to escape danger. Chadwick does pull some unexpected bits here, like the person Matthews choses to kill in his frame-up for Bronson. We also get a payoff on Nora’s growing horniness, with her offering Bronson sex in exchange for insider info on what Herbert Mardin is planning – and assisting Bronson when he goes to Mardin’s place to finally settle matters.
Chadwick also develops an interesting relationship between Bronson and Nora, but unlike in the previous two books our hero doesn’t tell his lady what he does at nights. Instead Nora constantly asks Bronson what he’s hiding from her and then tells him the cute recurring line “I love you – sort of.” This being said, Chadwick plain just drops Nora from the book in the end, first having her take a sudden trip to Hawaii near the finale, and then coming back to New York long enough to say “so long.” Seems clear Chadwick might’ve figured he would have to write another installment and thus didn’t want to saddle his protagonist with a steady girlfriend. At any rate Nora at least points Bronson in the direction of his last kill in the book, constantly complaining about the random criminal acts perpetrated by sleazy ambassador Rodridgues of San Cristobal.
Taking advantage of his “diplomatic immunity,” Rodrigues is known for raping girls and leaving them half dead, even running over people in the street. Early in the book Bronson runs afoul of the man, roughing up one of his security men, but by novel’s end Bronson has decided the bastard needs to pay; he’s no different than the street scum Bronson normally disposes of. Thus Switchblade – and the series itself – caps off with Bronson carjacking Rodrigues, tying him up, and blowing up his car.
And that was it for Bronson, a wildly uneven series for sure, and one of these days I’m going to find out who wrote Blind Rage!