Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Slasher (aka Ryker #8)

The Slasher, by Edson T. Hamill
No month stated, 1976  Leisure Books

The Ryker series ends with a whimper, with an installment that appears to have been written by a new ghostwriter…one who basically just turns in a slow-moving police procedural that has nothing in common with the preceeding volumes. No idea who wrote this one, but I’m sure it’s not the same “Edson T. Hamill” who wrote the much superior Motive For Murder. In fact I wonder if this one was just a standalone procedural Leisure got hold of, and then editor Peter McCurtin turned into a Ryker book. But I doubt this is true, as there are none of the Leisure-typical goofs in the text. Ie, Ryker is solely referred to as “Ryker” throughout.

However he bears little resemblance to the Ryker of those earlier books, and none of the recurring characters appear. If this was commissioned as a bona fide Ryker novel, then the author clearly didn’t read any of the originals. This Ryker is also a weary cop, but there the resemblance ends, for the most part. He has no family, unlike the character created by Nelson DeMille, and he displays few of the racist/sexist/what-have-you tendencies of the normal Ryker; in fact at one point he’s told, by his girlfriend no less, that he’s a “good person” and “not racist or sexist.” Also, this Ryker isn’t a dick to his fellow cops, even trying to help out one of them who is laid off. He appears to only get angry when his latest case is compromised by laziness or judicial corruption, and then he will let fly with the racist/sexist/what-have-you stuff.

None of the regulars are here; this Ryker, while still in Homicide, reports to a Lt. Carley, who himself reports to Captain Creech. These are all new characters, yet they are presented as Ryker’s long-term colleagues. And Ryker seldom shows his superiors any of the hostility typical for the normal Ryker, only running afoul of them due to his complaints over the corruption of judges, city hall, etc. As for Ryker’s partner, first we’re told that his partner “of over two years” is being laid off due to the cutbacks hitting the city, and later he is given a new one: Frank Bailey, fresh out of admin and new to the world of detective work. Ryker harrasses him for a bit, but it’s nothing along the lines of the harrassment Ryker doled out to his new partner in #2: The Hammer of God, and in fact there are parts where Ryker doesn’t even call Bailey to the latest crime scene, telling Bailey that he wanted to ensure he got enough sleep(!!).

The Slasher occurs in a nightmarish New York in which budget cuts have whittled the police force down to nothing, the liberal civil rights parties have neutered the arm of justice, and a cape-clad sadist runs amok, slicing the throats of hookers with a surgical blade. So far he has killed seventeen women, and Ryker is thankful his team doesn’t have the case. Unfortunately the Slasher, referred to in the papers as a modern Jack the Ripper, stays off-page for the majority of the novel. Instead, The Slasher is a 180-page slog of small, dense print, more concerned with documenting the travails of an overworked cop than the lurid, sensationalistic stuff of, say, Motive For Murder, which is still my favorite Ryker novel of those I’ve read.

But it’s real slow-going. With the emasculated “Ryker” of the novel, there isn’t even any of the fun stuff to get us through the first third of the book. What makes it worse is that “Hamill” writes the novel like he’s John Gardner or something, overstuffing it with needless, pointless detailing. Instead of just writing “Ryker went home” or whatever, we’ll get several paragraphs of Ryker putting on his hat and tie and tossing his coffee cup in the trash and walking by the night clerk and stepping out onto the sidewalk, etc. For example:

Bailey looked at him and then at Creech, cleared his throat uncertainly and nodded, and turned to follow Creech. Ryker walked over to the coat rack and hung up his top coat, suit coat, and hat. He took the two envelopes out of his coat and dropped them on the desk and he picked up his coffee cup, and he took the cup to the urn and filled it. Carley got up from his desk and kicked his door closed with a boom. The men on Bodecker’s side of the office looked up, looked at each other and shrugged, and went on with their business.

Every page is like this. It might not seem like much when just a single instance is displayed, but when every single paragraph on every single page is filled with mundane incidentals fully spelled out, it gets to be a dead bore. The vast majority of the manuscript should’ve had a red marker slashed across it – I mean, we’re talking about a novel with a titular villain who wears a disguise, slashes throat, and might even be of supernatural origins (a tidbit only revealed in the very final pages, alas), but instead of all that we instead read tedious detailing about Ryker pulling on his coat and tie and etc. Or filling out paperwork. Or ensuring that the office door doesn’t slam so the captain won’t be annoyed. 

Another drag is that the titular Slasher is barely in the book. Plus it isn’t even Ryker’s case until midway through; initially he’s working on a rape-murder case where an unknown black assailant broke into an apartment and raped a single mother and her two daughters, including a prepubescent one who later died from the assault. Strangely, Ryker eventually hooks up with the single mom, who invites our hero up to her apartment for some somewhat-explicit sex. Ryker actually scores twice this time; we’re informed he has a girlfriend: Shirley, an “aggressively liberated woman” who doesn’t agree with Ryker on anything. She likes to call him a “fascist pig” and he likes to call her a “bleeding heart bitch.” Shirley enjoys psychoanalyzing Ryker, but weirdness ensues when we learn that she gets off on Ryker’s graphic descriptions of the dead and violated victims of the cases he works on! 

Eventually the Slasher case is thrown at Ryker. Hamill writes all of the “action” the same as he does with the rape-murder case; this version of Ryker is strictly a by-the-book investigator and uses his smarts and solid researching skills to track leads. There are no chase scenes or fights in The Slasher until the very end, and even then it’s over too quickly. Through his stolid method Ryker discovers that the killer is a former mental patient named Albert Grimes, a guy who killed women several years ago while fashioning himself as a modern Jack the Ripper. Ryker has no evidence to back up his theory, though. Here, too late in the novel, we also learn that the Slasher might be supernatural – cops who come across him during his latest kill swear he’s not only invulnerable to bullets but also disappears into thin air.

The climax has Ryker and his partner tracking the Slasher to his woodshop, where Hamill finally delivers the horror-thriller the back cover promised. Here the killer has devised a series of traps, using sharpened chisels as weapons, hurling them at the two cops. Ryker blasts at him with his pistol – Ryker by the way uses a Walther P-38 this time – and discovers that the stories are true, as the Slasher appears unfazed. Surprisingly, Ryker’s partner is not killed, just injured, and Ryker at length discovers that the Slasher is human after all…plus a bullet between the eyes finishes him off for good. And that’s it for the Slasher, who appears and is ultimately dealt with in the span of twenty or so pages.

The novel free-falls into a middling climax in which Ryker saves the life of a cop horribly injured by the Slasher, then heads on back to his apartment to have some more somewhat-explicit sex with Shirley, who again gets sexually excited by Ryker’s graphic descriptions of the injured cop. Hamill ends the tale on the note of despairity that hangs over the entire book; despite being promised a commendation for taking out the Slasher, Ryker learns that red tape prevails, with more cutbacks coming to the department and even the chance that the rapist-murderer he collared on his other case might get out due to liberal lawers.

And that was it for Ryker. While I found The Slasher ultimately listless and boring, it must be said that this version of Edison T. Hamill at least tried to write a solid police procedural, with a bit of literary flair outside the genre norm. (Yet for all the good stuff there are head-scratchingly stupid lines like, “He silently shrugged, sighing.”) I really didn’t enjoy the book, and I still think Leisure should’ve turned The Savage Women into a Ryker novel. Now that would’ve been a memorable finale to the series!

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