Monday, July 31, 2017

Massage Parlor Part II

Massage Parlor Part II, by Jennifer Sills
July, 1974  Ace Books

It took me a few years, but I’ve finally gotten back to the sleazy trilogy begun with Massage Parlor, that Ace Books cash-in on Xaviera Hollander’s The Happy Hooker which did so well it actually sold a million or so copies. “Jennfier Sills” once again blithely tells us all about her whoring; this book, which follows the same template as the last (namely, each chapter is basically just a sex scene) has Jennifer moving shop to Los Angeles and opening a massage parlor for the elite.

As mentioned in my review of the previous volume, it seems to have been an open secret that “Jennifer Sills” was really an author named Stephen Lewis. He turned out a plethora of sex books for Ace, as well as a few trashy potboilers; the back of Massage Parlor Part II even has an ad for Lewis’s books right beneath the listing for the two Massage Parlor novels. I’ve found a contemporary interview with Lewis about the Sills books here, carried out while Lewis was writing this book (which we’re told was yet to be titled – looks like Lewis didn’t strain the imagination too hard coming up with it!). According to Hawks’s Authors Pseudonyms, Lewis died very young, the years of his life stated as being 1946-1981. It’s impolite to speculate, but I wonder if he was an early victim of AIDS.

Because there is a sudden focus on kinky sex in Massage Parlor Part II, not to mention lots of stuff about gay or bi guys; I mean, you’ll read these puke-out parts where there’s an explicit sex scene between a man and a woman, and then “Jennifer” will mention that one of the dudes licks up the, uh, effluvia of the men. Per the above link Lewis was a single guy living in Manhattan who was clearly quite familiar with the underground world of sex for sale, so I can’t help but wonder if his own life mirrored his books.

Anyway it’s a couple months after the first volume and Jennifer opens this book with her having sex with some dude she met at Kennedy Airport, right before her flight here to LA. Jennifer reveals that she broke off her relationship with cop boyfriend Tom, who wanted to marry her; she also sold off her Massagarama parlor, mostly due to all the massage parlor busts that were going on in New York. Most importantly, Jennifer reveals that her book, Massage Parlor, sold so well that she has become almost a celebrity – the novel occurs in this almost metafictional realm, in which fictional Jennifer’s real book has made fictional Jennifer famous in her fictional world.

In fact this latest lay is a dude she spotted grabbing Massage Parlor off the spinner rack at Kennedy; Jennifer arranged to sit beside him and kept spying on him during the flight as he read it, to see if he got hot and bothered; Jennifer informs us she received many letters from people claiming that they got so turned on by her first book that they had to masturbate posthaste, etc. This guy is named Don, he’s a wealthy lawyer, and he and Jennifer hit it off well – soon enough she’s nude at his place, listening to “the latest Led Zeppelin album” while checking out a closeup of her own nether region on the closed circuit TV Don has in his room. “Don began to eat me out like a madman,” Jennifer casually informs us, and off we go into Massage Parlor Part II.

Jennifer and Don also hit it off business-wise; Don convinces Jennifer to open a new parlor here in Los Angeles, and he will co-manage it, using his connections with famous and wealthy people to make it the top sex spot. Jennifer comes up with the idea to call it The Body Club, and after a screening of a porn director’s latest flick, she also decides to hire a bunch of its performers. This sequence is the first evidence of the kinky bent which will drive this volume; there are few straight-up sex scenes this time around, with more focus on oddball stuff. As evidence, Jennifer notes that, after the actors in the movie have sex, they piss on each other. Hmmm….

But one new element this time is that Jennifer actually massages people; whereas the previous book was all about the sex, this one Jennifer keeps reminding us that she gives bona fide rubdowns, and good ones, too; here she proves herself to the porn actors with a bit of zone therapy, making massively-hung actor Geraldo (likely a Harry Reems stand-in) “shoot his load” with some masterful massaging. But Jennifer has her own limits; when an orgy threatens to break out, she says no thanks – and then changes her mind after a little amyl nitrate from an inhaler.

The Body Club is set up in the rundown mansion of an old ‘30s director, who died years ago. Jennifer and Don pay exorbitantly to fix it up, complete with three sex rooms that have different themes and also closed circuit TVs in them. Don also comes up with Jennifer’s price list, which shocks our narrator: it’s a thousand dollars to join the club, and Jennifer’s “services” cost a whopping five hundred bucks…and that’s in 1974 money! Don’s argument is that it’s all about “flash” in Hollywood, and the higher the price tag the more people will covet whatever it is your selling; he also informs Jennifer that they need to capitalize on the fame her book has given her. Now that she’s seen as an expert on sex, she should be paid accordingly.

But Jennifer rarely has just normal sex with any of her clients; at least, Lewis doesn’t focus on those. Instead we get a dude on “a baby trip,” who likes to wear diapers and be rubbed down and spanked and baby-talked to, the climax coming when he breastfeeds off Jennifer. Then there’s the football star who only gets excited when Jennifer slips a finger into his ass – he bridles at the insinuation that he might be gay – and royally gets off when Jennifer puts a pair of her panties on him. And then there’s the guy who hires Jennifer and another massuese, jams sausages and fruits and whatnot in all their passages, and starts to eat them! The “subuman look” in the man’s eyes scares even grizzled Jennifer. 

Indeed, Jennifer gets burned out with all the kinky shit, and wonders “what’s going on with sex?” She complains to Don that no one just wants to screw anymore, that it’s all about the latest weird and freaky scene. I would say this is Dean Koontz’z dictum, from Writing Popular Fiction, being proven once again – that the author of sleaze will eventually reach burnout. And Jennifer does periodically throughout the novel, which turns out to be Lewis developing his escape route; late in the game Jennifer tells us that this volume “finishes” her story, which began in the first book (despite which another one came out, two years later, via Fawcett Books: Jennifer’s Boys).

During a weekend getaway with Don – who doesn’t achieve the narrative importance that Tom did – Jennifer meets an older, “World’s Most Interesting Man”-type Latino dude named Giorgio who seems very interested in her, and vice versa, but Don won’t give Jennifer the chance to talk with him, as the dude is mega-wealthy and Don wants to take advantage of that. Occasionally in the novel Jennifer will muse about Giorgio, wondering if she should take him up on his invitation to visit one day; Giorgio does not know Jennifer is a massage parlor girl/whore.

More johns ensue, from a married couple who get off on jet sprays in the Body Club pool before having sex with each other, to an actor Jennifer names “Dick” who is about to appear nude in a women’s magazine centerfold but is afraid his equipment’s too small. Clearly inspired by Burt Reynolds’s Playgirl appearance, this part has Jennifer using everything from a “penis vacuum” to some pubic trimming to convince “Dick” that his equipment isn’t small at all – capped off with the joke finale that the magazine uses a photo of him with a hand over his crotch. Then there’s the Howard Hughes stand-in, whom Jennifer calls “The Bashful Billionaire;” he rents out the club for an entire night and watches in the darkness as Jennifer and employees carry out a prepared script and screw. The Hughes stand-in plays “pocket pool” and then bids them adieu.

But Jennifer is getting more burned out; it’s been months and she’s had at least two men a day, despite her outrageous fees. Also she fights more and more with Don, though Lewis doesn’t do much with this subplot, not even giving a final confrontation between the two. Instead Jennifer, inspired by a famous diplomat whom she gives a handjob (while spouting awful, punny “policy” dialog), tosses a coin and decides to hell with it – it’s off to Giorgio’s to announce who she is.

For Jennifer spent a weekend with him previous to this, concerned that Giorgio never made any advances on her, just wanted to get to know her. At first Jennifer wondered if Giorgio was gay, before it hit her that he was merely courting her! In the finale though Giorgio admits that he’s known who Jennifer was all along, and about the Body Club as well, but could care less about her past.

The novel ends six months later and Jennifer is now married to Giorgio, living with him in Rome: “Instead of being a happy hooker, I’m a happy woman.” She tells us her story has now come to its close, her massage parlor life behind her, but as mentioned Lewis delivered another novel as “Jennifer Sills” two years later. I’ll get to it eventually.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Hardboiled Lineup

The Hardboiled Lineup, edited by Harry Widmer
September, 1956  Lion Books

I have never been much of a short story reader, but I’ve found when it comes to hardboiled pulp I tend to prefer the short stories to the novels. Maybe because in my mind the more streamlined and focused these noir tales are, the better, and sometimes their plots are so thin it takes a bit of padding to fill out a whole book. Anyway this slim little paperback, 128 pages of fairly small print, really hit the spot – I was in the mood for some hardboiled yarns, and the book really delivered. Edited by Harry Widmer, the tales here are collected from Justice magazine, which Widmer also edited. He doesn’t waste our time with an intro and just gets right into it.

“Las Vegas Trap” by William R. Cox starts things off; it’s from the October 1955 issue of Justice. Told in third-person, “Trap” is the longest story in the anthology, practically novella length. It has the hardboiled feel down pat – a long-simmer tale with a grizzled cast of characters. I’m no expert on hardboiled or noir or whatever you want to call it, but to me the difference between it and men’s adventure is that the former is all about the setup and the latter is all about the payoff. You could read an entire Gold Medal paperback from the ‘50s or ‘60s and it could just be building and building toward something, with the eventual action almost hastily rendered in the final pages. Meanwhile, Mack Bolan could blow away a dozen mobsters within the first chapter of any volume of The Executioner.

And Cox’s story is definitely all about the setup. It opens like a ’55 prefigure of Frank Miller’s Sin City, with gambler Nick Crater (not to be confused with Nick Carter, of course!) having run afoul of Vegas kingpin Makowsky, who more than likely will be sending over his sadistic henchman Buster to beat Nick to a pulp or kill him. Then “zero girl” hostess Meg Bond shows up in Nick’s hotel room – only gradually does he realize how smokin’ hot she is, for some reason – and tells Nick his one shot is to come out with her to her Merc, which despite looking like a “heap” can move like hell thanks to a souped-up engine no one knows about.

The two take off, Nick certain Makowsky’s goons will be closing in, and he’s also uncertain how much he can trust Meg, whom he only knows slightly. But what starts off like one story soon veers into another. Driving through Vegas and on into the periphery of California, the two stop off in nowheresville Suntown, where they grab a motel – Meg actually blushes when Nick asks about the sleeping arrangements, given they’ve checked in as a married couple. Despite Meg’s wishes, Nick goes out to check out the poker game the manager’s having out back. Big money’s at stake, and next morning the manager is dead from a dozen knife wounds.

Now “Las Vegas Trap” becomes a murder mystery; having discovered the corpse, Nick is involved in the scene whether he likes it or not; his main concern is that a photo of him will make it into the paper, and thus Makowsky and goons back in Vegas will see it. The only cop in town, Sloan, is almost casually dismissive of Nick’s shady past; Sloan is certain the murder’s going to be pinned on young Andy Perez, given that he’s Mexican-American and the locals have been historically distrustful of him. Around Suntown Nick goes, gathering clues and meeting people, the most memorable being Myra, widow of the motel owner, a big-boned beauty who, pulpishly enough, is a former lady wrestler.

The finale has the locals closing in on the sheriff’s office, ready to lynch Perez; Nick, Meg, and Sloan wade through them, wielding shotguns and pistols. At this moment Buster shows up in a Cadillac, mowing down pedestrians, and Cox delivers the firefight in that almost outline vibe typical in hardboiled pulp – chaotic shooting in the melee and people falling down. Myra again scores the most memorable moment, catching her husband’s killers – they’re trying to escape in the chaos – getting them in hiplocks, and smashing their heads together! Oh, and Buster’s taken out, his car all shot up – another cool part where Meg blasts her double-barrelled shotgun right into the open door of Buster’s Cad. Meanwhile Nick decides he’s going to marry Meg – the end!

“Justice Is Blind” by Ad Gordon is next, from the May 1955 issue. As Bill Crider notes, this story is unusual in that it’s “about 90% telling.” The story is relayed in almost a summary format, telling us of the torrid affair between stud Tony, a dayworker hired to work the field of wealthy Grasso, and Gina, Grasso’s sexy young wife. We’re informed how the affair started, the two running off into the mansion to screw while Grasso was away, etc. The one day Grasso discovered the treachery and, in one of those moves only possible in fiction, beats up whelp Tony, lashes two saplings together, and ties Tony to them, then cuts the cord, wrecking his body. Gina ends up killing Tony to relieve his suffering – this is how the title is explained, as by law, Gina is the one who killed Tony. The story ends with an unexpected, surprise flashforward in which we learn who has told us the tale.

“Hot Snow” by Vin Packer is another short one, from the January 1956 issue. Taking place solely in a dingy bar, the tale opens with an unkempt young man declaring “I only love the white snow,” much to the interest of a lovely young lady sitting nearby enjoying a few beers. The story is mostly dialog between the two, with what appears to be a budding relationship blossoming – but then this guy comes in, goes in the back, and the unkempt man is called back there: “snow” is in reference to heroin, and this guy has just cleaned up his act and was about to leave for Alaska, but his old supplier knows he will squeal and gives him a fatal “hot shot” of heroin. Then the cops rush in; it’s too late for our unkempt dude, though, and the lady, who is revealed to be a cop herself, watches him die and mutters she never thought the job would be so hard. “You’ll get tough,” one of her fellow cops tells her!

Next is “Living Bait” by Frederick Lorenz, from the May 1955 issue. Our narrator, Roy, is captain of a small fishing vessel in Florida, and he and his sole crewmember, Wiley, who has one arm, are taking out wealthy Mr. Langler and also-wealthy Ms. Starr on a fishing trip. The two are business owners and are discussing a merger. Wiley is the star here; “I got more nothing than anybody,” he boasts, declaring that he too is a CEO in his own way. But when Langler loses a day-long struggle with a big tarpon, he blames Wiley and that night calls him a “one-armed freak.” The two fight, and Wiley’s knocked overboard. Meanwhile Langler claims he was attacked by Wiley.

Despite a big search Wiley can’t be found, and Langler is arrested for murder. Then on a hunch Roy finds Wiley hiding out on a little island – Wiley wants Langler to go to prison, even if he isn’t responsible for “drowning” him. Then Ms. Starr shows up, toting a rifle; she also wants Langler in prison, so she can get his business for a pittance. This one ends with a high-speed boat chase which sees the unfortunate Ms. Starr become sharkbait – eaten up by a great white nicknamed Whitey. I liked this one a lot, the characters were memorable and the action kept moving.

“Scented Clues” by Richard Deming follows, from the January 1956 issue. This one is also in first-person, narrated by a cop named Sullivan. It features a memorable opening, of Sullivan and Sam London, his partner of the past ten years, looking down at the negligee-clad corpse of Marge, London’s wife. This lurid procedural has the two investigating her murder, with the new lieutenant willing to throw the rules out the window and let London handle the case of his own wife’s murder. 

Deming delivers taut prose and good lines, but cheats the reader unecessarily. For one we are told Marge was strangled by someone big, and Sullivan often intimates how he’s a muscular dude, and there’s also how Sullivan acts more torn up over the lady’s death than London himself does. When it develops that Marge was carrying on affairs with multiple men, even keeping a little book with all their names in it (and Sullivan even knows where she hides the book!), Sullivan’s name is in there – and the reader can’t help but think that Sullivan’s the killer.

So too does the new lieutenant, and only here in the final page does Deming reveal that…Sullivan was Marge’s brother!! It’s just a rotten cheat and comes off as stupid because you’d figure this would be common knowledge at the precinct, or even that Sullivan himself would’ve, you know, told the lieutenant straight up. But then, Lost ran for several seasons on the same lame “everything could be solved with just a single simple question” premise. As if trying to top his own lameness, Deming here has Sullivan deduce, while sitting in a chair across from the lieutenant, that it was Sam London himself who killed Marge – an angry Sullivan jumps on him, tries to strangle him, and London admits it. The end!

Up next we have the now-culty Gil Brewer with “Die, Darling, Die,” the title of which made me think of “Die Die My Darling” by the Misfits. This one is from the January 1956 issue as well. A bit longer than the previous stories, but not as long as Cox’s, Brewer’s yarn as ever occurs in Florida, and as ever concerns two characters burning up for each other. Joe Morley is our hero, a guy who just gave up on his fiance and has come here to a hotel along the Gulf to forget about things. Meanwhile he’s got the burnin’ yearnin’ for a raven-haired sexpot named Miriam, who stays in the room across from Joe’s; he spends his days gawking out at her screened porch to monitor when she sunbathes. He’s made his interest known to her, and despite seeming interested herself and kissing him once or twice, the lady is aloof and keeps telling Joe it can never be between them.

Then one afternoon Joe finds a dude sitting in his room – it’s a cop named Thompson, who reveals that Miriam is a “moll,” the wife of bank robber Frank Garrett, and she’s here at the hotel waiting for her husband. Garrett just pulled a job in which he killed his comrades and the cops hope to pin him when he sneaks here to the hotel, but meanwhile there’s also a contract killer on the premises who has been hired by the heist backers, who want Garrett dead for doublecrossing them. But the cops don’t know who the killer is. So now Joe is pushed into working for the cops, who want to exploit Miriam’s interest in him to keep her there – Brewer intimates that Joe and Miriam finally go at it, but it being 1956 and all he leaves it vague whether they do it or not.

The finale sees Garrett’s arrival, and the surprise reveal of the killer’s identity – not too surprising, really, as there are only a handful of characters in the story. While Thompson’s off looking after Garrett, Joe is left to handle the killer himself, but is unable to save Garrett or his wife – “Die, darling, die” being the words Garrett screams to Miriam as he guns her down, as it turns out that Miriam was working with the contract killer to off her own husband. After this bitter ending, Joe figures he’ll head back home and look up his fiance, after all! I enjoyed this one, too, and it is more easily found these days, having been collected in the 2012 Brewer anthology Redheads Die Quickly.

“The Trouble With Alibis” follows; it’s by John Mulhern, from the May 1955 issue, and is one of the shorter tales in the book. This one’s about the owner of a “broken-down ranch” whose shapely but shrewish wife has just crashed her car on an icy road, and our hero figures he might as well leave her there to die – problem solved! She’s been cheating on him (a common theme in this anthology!) and she deserves to die; meanwhile he’s more concerned about the calf he’s left out as bait for a cougar. This one features an EC Comics finale in which our hero finds that he might be joining his wife in the afterlife a lot sooner than expected.

“Don’t Go Away Mad” by Robert Turner follows, from the January 1956 issue. This ten-pager is a breeze of a read, and it too has an EC Comics-esque vibe, the same I’ve noted in the few other Turner crime short stories I’ve read. Our narrator, Connaught, brings us into the action after he and his short-fused partner Briggs have pulled a payroll job. During the escape on foot they’re attacked by a dog, which bites Briggs in the calf; Connaught suspects the dog might’ve been attracted by the hoses he and Briggs are still wearing over their heads. They escape to their fishing cabin in the woods, where Brigg’s sexy girlfriend Julie waits, a brunette nymph who wears “snakeskin” shorts so tight Connaught wonders they don’t split when she sits down. He lusts for her – not to mention Briggs’s portion of the cash.

Then on the radio they hear about the heist, only for the announcer to state that a witness saw one of the robbers attacked by a dog, and the dog has rabies! The announcer pleads with the bitten robber to seek medical attention immediately, otherwise suffer the drawn-out death of hydrophobia. Briggs freaks, Connaught figures it’s a scam to get them to turn themselves in…but then he uses his slim knowledge of animal husbandry to play on Briggs’s growing paranoia, lying to him that the symptoms will set in quickly – symptoms which are really just indications of anxiety. Briggs goes slowly nuts over the next few days, to the point where he beats up Julie, demanding his gun so that he can rob a nearby drug store. Julie brings him the gun, alright – a moment which is sort of captured on the back cover:

Connaught ends the tale with he and Julie in Mexico, six weeks later, and all is great…save for the itch that’s begun to develop in Connaught’s calf, right where an insane Briggs bit him. The first sign of hydrophobia. This was a very entertaining one, my favorite story in the anthology, and it made me glad I finally forked over the dough for a copy of Turner’s sadly-scarce paperback collection Shroud 9.

“The Sinkhole” by James P. Webb, also from the January 1956 issue, closes the collection. This is another short one about a farmer getting revenge on his sluttish wife. It almost has the ring of a Stephen King story, with good old country boy Eli figuring out that his sexy wife Janet is cheating with Barney, a muscular young stud who just bought the farm nearby. Eli mulls over that sinkhole he’s been needing to fill in the backyard. Webb just keeps dragging it out, even though a crayon-sniffing toddler could figure out where it’s going from page one; Eli announces to everyone that he’s going to fill that hole with rocks, but he’ll need help, and hey, that Barney is muscular, ain’t he?

But Eli doesn’t toss Barney in the sinkhole, when the tale comes to the climax, instead pulling a gun on him and telling him to scram and never come back. Meanwhile Janet’s gotten so suspicious, particularly when Barney turns up missing, that she eventually calls the cops – who come over and say they’re gonna dig out that sinkhole and want Eli to stay here while they’re doing it, in case they find something down there they shouldn’t. A cocksure Eli says he might as well go along with them…the end!

I enjoyed each of these stories, even though none of them were knockouts that had me plunging back into a hardboiled kick – the book did at least make me want to read more of Turner’s work, as mentioned, so I’ll be reviewing Shroud 9 soon.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Inquisitor #3: Nuplex Red

The Inquisitor #3: Nuplex Red, by Simon Quinn
May, 1974  Dell Books

Like Operation Hang TenThe Inquisitor is one of those series that goes for high dollars these days, mostly because “Simon Quinn” was a pseudonym of future bestselling author Martin Cruz Smith. Over the years I debated tracking down this six-volume series, but a while back I decided not to when I learned that protagonist Francis Killy, the titular Inquisitor, serves as a soldier for the Catholic Church but tries his best to refrain from killing in the line of duty. Isn’t that like a porn movie where the actors don’t have sex??

So I passed up on a few opportunities to pick up the series, never at a nice price to begin with, but recently I got a few of them for a pittance. This is the earliest one I have, and now that I’ve read it, I have to say I’m glad I never went to the trouble of tracking down the series. Perhaps it’s just this third volume, but I have to say I didn’t enjoy it at all; Nuplex Red is padded, boring, and poorly constructed, with a cipher-like hero lost in the quagmire of intense info-dumping about nuclear plants and nuclear waste and nuclear etc; there’s hardly any action at all until the final pages, and even then it is so hazily sketched out that it fails to leave an impression. Surely Smith banged this one out to meet a deadline, and it cannot be compared to his “serious” work (or perhaps even the other five installments).

Overall the book has the vibe of Nick Carter: Killmaster, which Smith also wrote a few installments of (the first-person volumes from after Lyle Kenyon Engel left the series), mixed with a bit of a Catholic overlay. Francis Killy (arbitrarily referred to as “Killy” or “Frank” in the narrative), according to the interminable backstory arbitrarily shoehorned into the text midway through the book, was a wayward punk kid in ‘50s New York (where he tossed a desk at a stern Catholic priest in school), before finding his way to ‘Nam and eventually the CIA. In overlong, summary-style backstory we are informed that, after a Catholic priest prevented an attempt on Killy’s life during his Agency years, Killy eventually learned that this priest (actually a Monsignor) headed up a newfangled Inquisition branch of the Church, and was looking for Inquisitors; Killy got the job, and now globetrots as a Church troubleshooter. I have to admit, I find no interest in the series setup.

But I also have to admit, maybe if Nuplex Red was more compelling, I might be more into it; this is not the best introduction to the series. It has more in common with the average thriller of the mid-‘70s, as I know off-hand of a few cime novels dealing with plutonium heists, only Smith pads out the pages with way too much info on how nuclear reactors run, what kind of damage nuclear waste could wreak, how security works on nuclear reactor sites, etc. It’s just deadening stuff, folks; I mean there are parts where nuclear scientists go on and on in technical detail for a few pages of unbroken dialog. To the point where the reader is about to yell, “Just shut up and KILL SOMEONE already!!”

The majority of the novel has Killy in Maryland (where I was born – useless info alert), posing as a representative of the Church at a meeting of the Atomic Energy Council(!). His commander, Monsignor Cella, has tasked Killy into looking into a bomb that was made for some mysterious individual; in the first instance of nuke info-dumping we’ll be assaulted with, the novel opens with a dying nuclear scientist creating a dirty bomb for a group of priests in the Vatican, expositing on the act step by step, and informing them that he’d been paid to make a similar one. So off Killy goes to Hessian, Maryland, where he spends like a hundred or so pages sitting around and listening to nuclear scientists info-dump on nuclear research.

Meanwhile a guy named John Peay, the security chief at the AEC meeting in Hessian, is masterminding a heist that’s about to go down at the Mohawk nuclear base in New York. Smith spends more time with the heisters, many of whom are Haitians; strange backstory, awkwardly written like most else in the book, has it that Peay “fell in love” with the people of Haiti or somesuch, and is pulling off this nuke rip-off to benefit the island. His men are sadistic, too, gunning down Mohawk guards in cold blood. This only happens after lots of “scene-setting,” with the heisters posing as truck drivers, etc. The book is almost methodically paced.

Two of the nuke scientists come to the fore: Kitakami, a Japanese pacifist who survived Hiroshima (as did Monsignor Cella in more backstory), and Vera Tesaru, a science-babe from Russia who also happens to be a KGB spy. In between all their expositing Tilly is called into Peay’s office, where Peay reveals that he knows Killy is a fake – and in fact he knows Killy himself, as back in ‘Nam Peay was responsible from exfiltrating fellow CIA agent Killy out of the latest hellhole. Then the Mohawk heist goes down, and Peay, still posing as the security chief, pretends to answer the summons of the hijackers, catering to their whims to fly out a few nuke scientists to confirm that the heisters have in fact created a nuclear bomb on their own. Killy goes with them.

Our hero makes his first kill of the book on page 160(!), taking out a guard with a .38 revolver – this is after Killy has glibly informed Vera that Peay is behind the heist, Killy having figured it out from the suspicious way Peay’s been acting. Peay wants 100 million in diamonds, and there begins this incredibly drawn-out bit where he sends his demands to the White House, and meanwhile Killy is in communication to, all of it via Telex, and there’s all this stuff about “nuplex red,” which is the shortwave radio designation for a nuclear disaster, yet it’s a Federal offense to not declare nuplex red, or to somehow assist in the disaster spreading, thus everyone washes their hands of it, including the president(?!). I guess this was back in the days where one could still get arrested or charged for something in Washington; these days you can just leak classified info to your pal so that it spreads in the news, even if you’re the head of the FBI, and no one seems to care!

So Killy finally takes out a guard or two, and in one of the novel’s few memorable bits one of the Haitian heisters, fatally shot by Killy, says “Stay cool” as he dies. Then Killy and Vera, who is only in panties, are locked in the Mohawk control center, where Vera asks Killy if he’s ever fantasized about being the last man on earth, running into the last woman – they engage in somewhat-explicit sex (“Killy took her standing up… Inside she was softer and hotter than he expected.”). Immediately thereafter Killy realizes that Peay intends to destroy Mohawk all along, which leads to a tense bit where he and Vera must defuse two dirty bombs, however it turns out one of them’s a fake. Running around in radiation suits, they confront Peay, armed with an M-16, who leaves them with the last bomb before he escapes. In the defusion of this one, Vera plummets to her death in the reactor core. Oh, and Peay shoots Killy in the gut and he’s more dead than alive.

The novel’s final chapter picks up months later, and Killy has just barely survived that gutshot. He’s 25 pounds lighter, still mostly bald from radiation poisoning, but he’s tracked Peay to Haiti, where even here Smith denies us much in the way of action. Instead Killy confronts Peay on this super-bizarre corpse-smuggling business Peay has started up(!?), and Killy reveals that Peay’s latest batch of corpses, conveniently sitting around the room, might not be dead after all – some of them start moving, and Killy ends up shooting Peay when Peay draws a gun. Turns out the corpses were cops, and all this was an elaborate sting operation. WTF? The end, at least.

The book is just, I don’t know, bad. Listless and dull.  It’s just so poorly constructed and awkwardly written, vague when it should be focused and focused when it should be vague. And Killy does nothing to capture the reader’s interest, even considering the ultra-lame “one-liners” Smith tries to give him. Like when Vera asks him, “How is it you are on one side and [Peay] is on another?” To which Killy replies, “I was breast-fed; maybe that has something to do with it.” Mind you, that’s the funniest one-liner he has, and it sucks!!

Here’s hoping the other volumes I have of The Inquisitor are better…but judging from this one, I’d say this series does not deserve the exorbitant prices.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mafia: Operation Hit Man

Mafia: Operation Hit Man, by Don Romano
October, 1974  Pyramid Books

Allan Nixon and Robert Turner deliver their final installment of Mafia: Operation. Technically this was the fourth volume of the “series,” with Operation Hijack by Paul Eiden being the third one, but Mafia: Operation has more in common with the crime thrillers “produced” by book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel than the actual series he oversaw, like John Eagle Expeditor or The Baroness. There is no continuity in the five volumes of Mafia: Operation, with each book really just a standalone crime novel. 

While Operation Hit Man is pretty cool and sometimes attains the sleaze level of the previous two offerings from these authors, it sadly fails to live up to expectations, and is nowhere as phenomenally lurid as Operation Porno. More than anything Operation Hit Man reminds me of Scorpio, a BCI crime paperback that was written by Robert Turner on his own. Like that novel, Operation Hit Man is mostly made up of arbitrary narrative digressions, with lots of background histories of one-off characters, usually shoehorned willy-nilly into the plot. It also lacks the sleazy drive of the previous two installments by Nixon and Turner, and comes off like something quickly banged out to meet a deadline. Given this my suspicion is Nixon was the main writer of Operation Porno and Operation Cocaine, and Turner wrote most of Operation Hit Man. But I’ve been wrong before, as my wife likes to remind me.

Turner got his start in the pulps, editing The Spider and writing scads of stories himself, and he did tons of crime short stories in the ‘50s for publications like Manhunt. It seems to me that he brought the short story aesthetic to his novels: lots of scene-setting and character-building before getting to the action. In other words there’s a lot of telling before showing; Operation Hit Man is filled with a lot of backstories and background setup before we get to “the good stuff,” which was also the case in Scorpio. I mean in point of fact, the novel is ostensibly about a Mafia hit man, yet we only see him carry out a handful of hits – and there’s no pure action stuff, like shootouts or whatnot. I assumed this installment would have more action than the previous two books by these authors, but as it turns out Operation Cocaine was the most action packed.

Also, sadly, the sleaze is kind of gone too, this time, which I think is more indication Turner was behind it; whereas the previous two books had all kinds of hardcore shenanigans, Operation Hit Man only gets down and dirty a few times; I knew something was up early on when a Mafia capo had sex off-page. Off-page!! This same sort of thing happened in Scorpio. And speaking of which when we meet our “hero,” Dominick Caressimo, he’s just gotten lucky with the landlord’s slutty wife in the sleazy Manhattan hovel he’s staying in. Caressimo is 25, a ‘Nam vet who ran a suicide squad, where he was nicknamed “The Noose” for his proficiency with strangling Charlie in the dead of night with a garrotte. (Unbelievably, the authors do nothing with this in the story that follows – I thought it would be a given that Caressimo would carry out a Noose-style hit at some point, but it never happens.)

Caressimo is offered his hit man job within the first few pages, proposotioned by Anthony Vicarella, the aforementioned capo. Vicarella’s been monitoring Caressimo, noting he’s a former ‘Nam badass who has had a hard time transitioning back to “the world.” He offers him the chance to make big bucks killing people for the Mafia; Vicarella wants to start a new Murder, Incorporated, which he will name “Operation Hit Man.” Caressimo would be the first assassin he’s hired, but if it all goes well Caressimo could be the top guy with his own legion of hitmen. The authors don’t waste the reader’s time; Caressimo accepts posthaste.

Whereas the previous two books were mostly ensemble pieces, hopscotching around a large group of characters before settling on one (or two) in the final chapters, Operation Hit Man keeps Caressimo in the spotlight for most of the narrative. Unfortunately he’s kind of a cipher…he literally becomes a Mafia hit man because he needs the cash, and there but few moments of introspection or self-doubt. But he’s definitely the man for the job; Vicarella clarifies that most of these assignments won’t be simple gun-them-down deals; Caressimo will need to show some invention in his work. He also must follow an elaborate method of getting his jobs, going to a dead-drop box when notified, collecting the dossier left for him, and studying his latest target.

His first job has him taking out a CPA who has somehow run afoul of the mob; since Caressimo himself isn’t in the Mafia, he is never given the reason why he must kill. But usually he figures it out. This first job takes up a good portion of the opening quarter and has Caressimo shadowing his prey, discovering that he has a hotstuff mistress on the side, and deciding to kill them both when they go away for an illicit weekend in the countryside. On the job Caressimo drafts a fellow vet, a black dude named Hampton Jarvis who was in Caressimo’s suicide squad. This one involves a lot of setup as Caressimo, using a cheap rifle, figures out the range and distance to blow out the CPA’s tire as he drives up the mountain; he ends up killing both the CPA and his mistress in a tire blowout that sends their car flipping down the mountain.

Vicarella isn’t happy that Caressimo has taken out an innocent, and advises that if something like that happens again, Caressimo himself might end up dead; the Mafia only wants the person in the dossier dead, no one else. But otherwise Caressimo did great and is on his way to money, with ten thousand and up for his hits, even more for big jobs. Vicarella cautions Caressimo not to go overboard with the high life, which ultimately leads to a subplot in which Caressimo develops an alternate identity for himself. He has a hidden door built in his apartment – again, all of it described via page-filling backstory summary – which leads into an apartment in the high-class building that happens to be on the other side. Caressimo merely slips through the hidden door and becomes a high roller; a pulpish vibe from former pulp-writer Turner.

More jobs follow, each of them playing out more as interesting obstacles Caressimo must encounter and overcome rather than slam-bang pieces of action. Caressimo takes out a pair of brothers who have been notorious thorns in the Mafia’s side by electrocuting them in their pool, and another guy, who has been skimming the Mafia’s cigarette-tax-scheme profits, he bulldozes right in front of his employees. This latter one definitely has the feel of a short story, all of it being relayed through the perspective of the witnesses. Eventually Caressimo does head up his own execution wing for the mob, with Hampton Jarvis as his right-hand man; the other killers are taken from Caressimo’s old ‘Nam unit.

After that first kill, of the CPA, a horny Caressimo picks up a married cougar-type babe; he’d once been told that if a guy wants to score quick, look for an older, married woman, as most of ‘em are super-horny thanks to husbands who no longer screw them. Caressimo does just that, leading to the novel’s first explicit sex scene, which brings to mind similar sequences from the past two books. Caressimo doesn’t even learn her name – but he does learn it, memorably so, when the same woman turns up in the drop-box dossier some months later. The Mafia wants the woman dead, despite the fact she’s just some random wife and mother of two teen kids; Caressimo deduces on his own that the husband has set up the hit, likely to get her out of the way and cash in on life insurance.

Not that this stops Caressimo from carrying out the hit. As yet a reminder of the cretinous cur we’ve been presented for a protagonist, Caressimo not only kills her – but makes it look like the work of a rapist-murderer who is operating in the vicinity! In one of the more bizarre segments I’ve ever read in a novel, Caressimo calls the lady up, tells her he’s looking to rekindle that one-night stand they enjoyed months ago – but first wants her help trying to make a break in that whole rapist-strangler deal that’s going on in her neighborhood. Caressimo tells her this tall tale about being a psychic who has helped the cops break similar cases; he needs to go to the rape-murder scenes with a woman, concentrate, and let his psychic skills tell him who the rapist was(!).

The woman goes along with him, and Caressimo ends up raping her – not that she doesn’t enjoy it. Then he strangles her! He tosses her nude corpse aside, wondering if he’s impregnated her…meaning, if so, he didn’t just kill her but also his unborn kid(!). Folks, nothing beats the sleazy vibe of these ‘70s crime novels. But even though Caressimo ends up killing the husband in vengeance (on his own dime, and without the Mafia’s knowledge), he is so unnerved that he’s unable to have sex…three weeks later and only a talented hooker can get him to rise to the occasion. He takes a trip to Europe, where a horny American governess takes him to a torture-sex show in Amsterdam; Caressimo’s so excited he loses it in his pants, relegating a hasty retreat back to the hotel for more explicit sex.

Gradually Caressimo learns that he can only overcome his limp hangup by getting whipped and beaten every once in a while; this he learns via a hooker Hampton knows. Once she hears Caressimo’s problem, she gives him a phone number, which leads Caressimo to a strange interview with a professional-looking lady in some business office. From there he’s sent to a location where he’s blindfolded, taken somewhere else, and then whipped and sodomized by a gorgeous nude dominatrix and her teen accomplices, after which Caressimo screws them all. At this point the novel is far beyond a Mafia yarn and into the realm of pure sleaze.

Eventually the don of Vicarella’s family gets wind of Caressimo’s quirk (the whips and chains hooker service being yet another Mafia venture), and he doesn’t like it; he summons Vicarella and tells him Caressimo is now an asset, as you can’t trust a guy who gets off on being whipped and tied up. As Zwolf said, “Murder doesn’t phase these guys, but a liltte hanky-spanky gives them the vapors?” But this takes us into the homestretch, as one evening Caressimo goes from his high-class secret apartment into his Vicarella-appointed one next door and spies Vicarella’s henchman waiting in there for him. Promptly Caressimo realizes the man is here to kill him, and blows him away. Next he takes care of a traitorous “best friend” before (almost anticlimactically) dealing with Vicarella himself.

But Dom Caressimo has done too many evil things to get a Happily Ever After. Justice finally finds him months later, living on the beach in Cannes, delivered via a submachine gun salvo to the crotch and sternum – a fitting finale, but an unexplained one, given that the authors have informed us that Caressimo is here in Cannes under yet another fake name, one that no one knows about. So how did the Mafia gunners find him? The authors hope we’ll overlook this, more intent on giving their series-mandatory downbeat ending in which everyone dies.

I guess Mafia: Operation didn’t do well enough to continue past five volumes, which is a shame; these two authors certainly could’ve come up with a sleazy fourth book together. Anyway next time I’ll move on to Paul Eiden’s two contributions; having now read Crooked Cop, which I think was by Eiden, I’m game to read anything he wrote.

Monday, July 17, 2017


Vendetta, by Joseph Gilmore
March, 1973  Pinnacle Books

Joseph Gilmore, who wrote several volumes of Nick Carter: Killmaster in the ‘70s and ‘80s (and who wrote Operation Nazi - USA as “James Gilman”), turned in this standalone crime thriller that apparently did so well it warranted a second printing (cover below). Tapping in on the revenge angle that fueled so many crime novels of the day (not to mention practically every single men’s adventure series Pinnacle published), Vendetta is about a New York patrolman who pursues his own justice, gunning down the drug-runners who inadvertently killed his wife.

The novel opens with the first hit in effect, as a cop in patrolman’s garb breaks into the posh home of a mobbed-up drug kingpin named Lucius Pavan, trusses him up “like a pig,” takes out a snub nosed .32, screws on a silencer, and blows off the back of his head – that is, after saying, “This is for Betsy.” It is an effective opening, but admittedly the effect will ultimately be weakened because every single kill in the novel follows this exact same pattern. There is no variety to Vendetta; the novel is curiously unimaginative, and reading it one might get the impression that, to gain vengeance on the drug kingpins of the world, all one needs to do is make a list of such kingpins, scope each of them out, then wait till they’re alone and truss ‘em up before shooting them in the head. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

The patrolman is named Alex Braley, and he’s “a big, muscular cop with brooding good looks” who is known as “the drug cop” in the papers, due to all the drug busts he’s made in his seven years on the force. But two years ago Alex’s wife Betsy died of a heroin overdose; the backstory has it that she was first hooked on pain pills from some shyster doctor in the Village, which created a habit that eventually blossomed into full-blown heroin addiction. Betsy was a waif-like hippie-type, totally at odds with Alex’s character, as he’s such a square-shooter he doesn’t even drink or smoke.

But Alex loved her, and now he’s planning to reap his vengeance on the drug world. He’s spent two years planning his vendetta, and used his job as a cop to even get himself an off-the-record gun: a .32 he nabbed from a “cheap hoodlum” Alex killed in a shootout. The .32 was the hood’s backup piece and Alex didn’t include it in his report. Now it becomes his prime dispenser of bloody retribution.

Oh, and that snub nosed .32, we’re informed late in the game, is a revolver! Which Alex puts a silencer on. As all gun enthusiasts know, it is impossible to put a silencer on a revolver. And yet the “revolver with silencer” was a common image in ‘70s crime thrillers, from movies (most notably, Magnum Force, which is a curious gaffe given that it was written by gun nut John Milius, who should’ve known better – but then, it was likely the director’s fault) to TV shows (just one case in point – the Hawaii Five O episode “Tricks Are Not Treats,” from Season 6, a phenomenal Blaxploitation cash-in episode and one of my faves). One wonders what the prop masters thought of these requests…you know they had to be aware that you can’t put a silencer on a revolver, but what can you do when it’s what the director wants? To tell the truth, I think these silenced revolvers look kind of cool, almost like rayguns or something.

Alex doesn’t waste any time now that he’s gotten started. Almost immediately he flies to Los Angeles to take out the next drugger on his list. He poses under a carefully-setup fake name and hobknobs with a drunk cougar-type babe, putting off her requests for booze and sex, and uses her as a decoy. Coincidence be damned she happens to be acquainted with Alex’s latest quarry. But Gilmore keeps this kill off-page, having us read about it in a police report…the impact not much lessened when we learn that Alex not only killed the kingpin but a blonde floozie he was banging at the time. But more importantly, while in LA Alex encounters a lovely widow named Karen Cosgrove and her two prepubescent kids (the daughter, Beth, reminds Alex of Betsy), and he begins a (sexless) relationship with Karen, who lives in Seattle.

This brings us to what I assume is intended as the hero of the novel: Detective Sgt. Wayne Crestwood of the Long Island PD. I came to resent this dude, whose goal is to bring down the “vendetta killer” he’s sure is behind all these drug kingpin murders. While the rest of the cops think it’s a gang war – not to mention the fact they could care less that drug dealers are being killed off – Crestwood takes it upon himself to bring the killer “to justice.” Sine the Pavan kill was in Long Island it’s Crestwood’s jurisdiction, and he’s able to talk his captain into flying him all over America and Europe in his quest to track down the sole individual he’s certain is behind the killing.

So the novel appropriates the cat and mouse approach that was common in ‘70s crime novels, with us readers witnessing Alex’s latest kill…and then backtracking through it all as Crestwood puts the pieces together. Along the way Alex realizes he’s in love with Karen Cosgroove and further realizes that, if he’d met her sooner, he likely wouldn’t have gone on his vendetta after all, as she would be able to fill the vacuum left by Betsy’s death. They get to spend more time with one another when Alex’s next scheduled target, who is supposed to be in Miami, happens to be up in Seattle for his mother’s funeral, so Alex kills two birds with one stone – he journeys up there to kill the bastard and also visits Karen and her two kids. This time she practically chases him off, asking him to bed and Alex getting cold feet.

Meanwhile Crestwood has come up here as well…Alex you see is working off a list he’s composed of “all the top drugdealers” in the world, and he’s killing them off in order of importance, from high to low, with occasional detours for ones who might’ve had something to do with Betsy’s death. Crestwood, gifted with a sort of omniscience or something, figures out the killer is working on a list and comes up with his own, and it turns out to be exactly the same as Alex’s. This was so damn dumb I had a hard time accepting it. But nope, Crestwood’s list is apparently identical to Alex’s, despite the fact that it amounts to a couple hundred druggers, even down to their order of importance in the underworld.

And maintaining that blasé feel which permeates the entire book, Alex’s kills as mentioned are just repetitve to the point of boredom. Scope ‘em out, wait till they’re alone (arranging for them to be alone with a few phone calls if necessary), then truss ‘em up and shoot ‘em in the back of the head. There’s no single part where say a henchman comes in early and gets in a firefight with Alex, no part where he has to defend himself with some fancy martial arts or something. Nope, the kills go down humorously easy; the druggers usually turn out to be older types, or cowards, and either meekly accept their fate or try to plead for their lives. Meanwhile Alex has lost his drive, given his love for Karen and the number of men he’s already killed, and when the heat gets too close he decides to beat it.

This in fact is the only part where Alex suffers much setback; Lucia Pavan, gorgeous daughter of murdered mobster Lucius, also has figured out one person is behind these attacks, and further she’s figured it must be “the drug cop” who tried to arrest her dad the other year. She sends some thugs around; first they kill the hunchbacked bookseller who occasionally acts as Alex’s informant, and next they beat up Alex himself, sending him to the hospital. This is all the evidence Crestwood needs that Alex Brailey is the vendetta killer – through lots of police work Crestwood has traced the ballistics on the .32 used at the crime scenes and learned it was the favored backup piece used by a hoodlum killed in a firefight with the officers of Brailey’s precinct. At length Crestwood has figured Bailey is his man.

Instead Alex escapes to Europe with a few hundred thousand bucks purloined from the various druggers he’s executed; he hangs out with the hippie set in Paris, pining for Karen. He figures the vendetta is behind him until one of Lucia’s globe-spanning minions tracks him down. From there it’s full-on back to the war, with Alex racking up kill after easy kill, flying around Europe and executing druggers. But back in Paris he’s finally captured, by none other than Crestwood – Long Island PD must have a hefty budget, given all the air miles Crestwood scores in the course of his investigation. But Gilmore makes odd choices in his plotting, sometimes telling us too much and other times too little; next we know it’s weeks later, they’re back in the US, and Crestwood has developed a fodness for Alex, even sometimes regretting that he captured him!

This at least takes us into the homestretch….Lucia Pavan plots the death of Alex Brailey, who is about to be arraigned at the FBI office in Manhattan. She assembles a few cars filled with gunners, the idea to shoot Alex down on his way into the building, along with any other innocent bystanders who might get in the way. But when one of Lucia’s henchmen, due to an act of kindness on Alex’s part in Paris, gets second thoughts, he blares his horn in warning and Alex manages to run away in the commotion. Meanwhile all of Lucia’s people – all of them save Lucia herself, actually – are gunned down by the cops. What happens to Lucia is unstated, as Gilmore ends the novel with all sorts of questions unanswered.

He also ends the book on a jarring note…Alex, injured in the firefight, escapes on a subway train and finally decides he needs medical treatment, but knows he’ll be arrested. So who else to call but that Village quack who started all this in the first place; you know, the one who got Betsy hooked on heroin? Here Vendetta ends, with what happens next being kept from us. I mean, what it have been too much for Gilmore to have given the doctor his comeuppance, or at least had maybe one confrontation between Alex and Lucia, who hunts for him for half the novel?

Otherwise Vendetta is passable fare, with a cool opening that promises more than the novel delivers. Gilmore does get a nice Pinnacle in-joke, though, with that hunchbacked bookseller saying that his favorite writer is Don Pendleton.

Here’s the cover of the second volume, dated July 1976, which almost makes Alex Brailey look like a deputy from Mayberry:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Death Flight (Airport Cop #3)

Death Flight, by Charles Miron
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books

Charles Miron wraps up the Airport Cop series with this third volume; while the previous volume was a lurid murder yarn which often lost sight of its titular protagonist, Death Flight sees Miron apparently attempting to refashion the series into a sort of Airport thing (both Airport and Airport 75 are namedropped on the back cover), with a large group of characters going about their own adventures around Kennedy Airport.

At least I think I’ve figured out what kind of a cop main character Verban is; looks like I was correct in my assumption, last time, that he’s an NYPD detective assigned the Kennedy airport detail. But again Miron does nothing to bring Verban to life or to explain anything about his world, let alone what Verban’s first name is. There isn’t even any pickup from the previous book, with nothing mentioned on how long ago it was or anything. The reader is just thrust into the story, which to tell the truth isn’t that memorable…and by the way the title is as misleading as can be, as there’s no damn “death flight” to be found anywhere in the book!

Miron’s prose continues to be nearly psychedelic in how fractured and strange it is, with mindbending phrases like, “Verban sat between the two of them like some Buddha with a hernia,” or even “Everybody loved humility. Like lozenges for the soul.” And though Miron’s dialog has a natural ring to it, most of the time you have no idea what anyone’s talking about – as in The Twilight Strangler, Miron just sort of drops us in on the proceedings, as if were a fly on the wall. He at least maintains a healthy sleaze level, though like last time it’s rather awkwardly shoehorned in via flashbacks – though there is an “I’m gonna barf!” bit where a female character pleasures herself (quite explicitly) with a banana…

Anyway, Death Flight at least opens on an in-jokey moment, as Verban and his latest girlfriend, a psychiactric student named Alix who likes to psychoanalyze everything, are watching an Airport-type aviation disaster movie on TV at the home of Freddie Karp, Verban’s partner, and his wife, Ruth. Here Verban berates the over-the-hill star of the movie, Glenn Gibbons (a sort of John Wayne/Charlton Heston type), calling him a “screaming faggot,” much to Ruth’s dismay – she tends to believe Glenn Gibbons really is a hero, even though he only plays one on TV.

This bit with Glenn Gibbons might seem like a joke at first…but the dude actually turns out to be a character in the book. In fact, he’ll get what seems to be more narrative space than Verban himself, who sits out long portions of Death Flight. He’s a larger-than-life blowhard type of nitwit who confuses reality with the movies he’s made, but he’s fallen on hard times. Considered too old to star in the action movies that were once his forte, Gibbons’s idea for his latest film is rejected by the studio. To come up with money to fund it himself (at least, I think this is his plan – Miron’s kind of murky with the details), Gibbons plans to smuggle millions of dollars of heroin into the country. 

Perhaps this is what the “death flight” refers to (though no one dies on the flight); late in the book Gibbons flies an airline from France to America, the heroin with him. But there’s no action on this flight…other that is than a dual handjob/blowjob Gibbons gets from a stewardess and the ever-horny blonde traveling with him. Her name is Leona Bing and she’s the publicity person for a film festival being thrown in France; she’s hounded Gibbons for months to appear and provide commentary on a marathon of his movies, and he’s decided to take advantage of this opportunity for a free trip to France, where he can hook up with the underworld drug-smuggling contacts and pitch them his offer – for who will search the luggage of world-famous Glenn Gibbons?

Meanwhile Verban gets in completely-arbitrary action scenes, starting with a random trip to a black bar in the opening pages, where he and Alix run into racist patrons who resent Verban’s whiteness. Verban beats up three of them, but his biggest action scene is saved for midway through; Verban gets in a long chase with a triple-jointed conman the “Airport Cop” has run into before – this guy swindles people by staging falls, throwing his joints out of whack and pretending grave injury. This guy almost gets the better of Verban, kicking him so savagely in the balls that our hero is in the hospital with a “bleeding crotch,” uncertain if his equipment still works. For this Verban shoots the triple-jointed freak in the throat, something his “stupid chief” boss Captain Kinsella complains about.

Miron seems to want to expand upon Verban’s world, with more scenes focusing on Kinsella and the other cops in his aiport detail, among them the lovely Candance Reuscher, who we’ll recall worked with Verban last time (and also occasionally slept with him, though none of that here). This time she’s on canine patrol with a black cop named Crockett, and Miron fills pages with abitrary background details on the dude. We also get lots of stuff from the perspectives of Glenn Gibbons and Leona Bing, who by the way is the character who pleasures herself with a banana, and also, apropos of nothing, flashes back to one time she was screwed in high school. She also has lots of sex with hero Gibbons, though Miron doesn’t go into it too much, just relaying from Gibbons’s perspective that he’s “balled” her.

The separate plots have nothing to do with one another for the most part; Verban’s tangle with the conman turns out to be his major setpiece, and his and Karp’s investigation of a suspected heister doesn’t pan out, though it does feature an entertaining bit where they run into a group of young bikers outside a diner. Candace and Crockett get the brunt of the action, running into a pair of Hispanic theives who try to make off with some cargo, leading to a shootout which climaxes with poor Crockett being gutted by a knife-wielding crook. As with The Twilight Stranger, this leads to a hilariously rushed finale in which Verban tracks down the Hispanic thieves, corners them in a gym frequented by gays, and after a hasty firefight decides to just arrest and not kill them.

Meanwhile there’s Glenn Gibbons on a flight back to the US, where he manages to get a stewardess to feel him up while Leona Bing goes down on him. He’s made a deal with a French drug kingpin to deliver some horse to a California-based mobster, but unknown to Gibbons a New York mobster has plans to intercept. Indeed, Miron as ever is so haphazard in his plotting that Glenn Gibbons, a primary character throughout most of the book, is dispensed with in such a casual, uncaring manner that I actually had to go back and re-read the part again. But there’s no part where his plot connects with Verban’s or anyone elses’s.

Overall I found Death Flight to be pretty muddled and dispirited, as if Miron had gotten the contract to turn his novel Airport Cop (which I don’t have and don’t plan to seek out) into a series, and just barely managed to eke out a second installment before giving up entirely with this third one. Indeed one can easily see why the series ended here. I have some standalone crime novels Miron published with Manor around the same time, so I’ll check those out next – here’s hoping they’ll be more enjoyable.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Bite

The Bite, by Eric Corder
July, 1975  Dell Books

Eric Corder, a pseudonym used by an author named Jerrold Mundis, published several “plantation lust”-type paperbacks in the ‘70s, with lurid cover paintings promising forbidden interracial romance. As far as I’m aware, The Bite was the only contemporary novel Corder/Mundis published, and it’s just the sort of sleazy ‘70s crime novel I love, taking place in dingy Manhattan and featuring a cast of appropriately screwed-up characters.

One thing Corder retains from those plantation yarns is the dual black-white leads; here we have Wylie Lincoln, a black ex-cop who was kicked off the force years ago due to a graft crackdown, and who now runs the Cerebrus School for Dogs in Manhattan. Wylie has kept his love for the high-life and lives in a cozy penthouse suite, dresses to the nines in all the current pimp-esque fashions (there’s about as much clothing label namedropping here as in the average installment of The Headhunters, by the way), and he has all the expensive toys a jet-setting dude could want. He’s also got an ex-wife named Evadne, a black fashion supermodel, who still grants him occasional sex privileges. Wylie maintains his love for the high life via a sort-of private eye business he runs on the side, taking the occasional job for big cash payoffs.

Russ Turner (mistakenly identified as “Ross” on the back cover) is the white lead protagnoist, Wylie’s partner in both Cerebrus and the PI biz. In fact Russ, an ex-con who fought in the Special Forces in ‘Nam, does all the heavy lifting for Wylie’s private eye jobs: tailing suspects, beating them up when necessary, threatening their lives and whatnot. His backstory, strewn through the narrative, has it that he was raised in various foster homes before finding a lease on life in Vietnam, but when he was shot to pieces and returned to New York with a game leg, he turned to knocking over stores. After his second bust he found a job at Cerebrus, where he discovered his natural talent for training dogs. Now he’s Wylie’s best friend and main confidant.

But don’t let the black-white leads fool you into thinking this will be a wisecracking combo along the lines of Razoni & Jackson. While Wylie has the occasional smart-ass line and joke, Russ is more of a taciturn sort, morose and moody. I’ve never read any of Max Collins’s Quarry books, but from what I know of the titular character, Russ Taylor is very similar to Quarry, even down to the fact that he took a few hit contracts after ‘Nam, murdering people for cash before he found his own personal redemption.

The novel opens with Corder capturing mid-‘70s New York in all its funky, tawdry glory, as Wylie, Russ, and Evadne come out of Madison Square Garden on a nice spring night, having caught a heavyweight boxing match, and Corder brings to life the Big Apple in all its flowing colors. I knew I was in for a total ‘70s joint when he had a pair of pimps in outlandish attire checking out Wylie’s threads and throwing appreciative come-ons to Evadne. Throughout Corder delivers those shaggy ‘70s details I so love, and here for once is a ‘70s crime novel that totally captures the sordid vibe of the era. It is in many ways a sort of time capsule.

The trio is accosted by a man in a limo who pulls up and insists they come to a party he’s headed for, over at millionaire Malcom Chasteen’s penthouse. The guy in the limo is Neal Cummings, he’s been hitting on Evadne for a long time, and he says all the jetsetters will be at the party. But the trio says no and heads their separate ways, Corder capturing more of that ‘70s zeitgeist with Wylie and Evadne getting high in Wylie’s lush bachelor’s pad on high-grade marijuana before having some fairly-explicit sex. Next morning Wylie’s mind is blown when he reads in the paper that Malcolm Chasteen’s party was knocked over –two people were gunned down by masked, shotgun-wielding burglars, and tons of jewelry and cash was stolen. The cops have no leads.

Here we get to the material that will make up for the majority of the narrative; the life of a dog trainer. I’ve found that Mundis has published a few dog training books under his own name, so the dude certainly has experience in the field. The Cerebrus school staff handles a wide range of dogs, and Corder shows us all the details of training dogs to do this and that. Admittedly I didn’t have as much interest in this material and wanted to get back to the sleazy crime stuff. But there’s a lot of dog-training material in The Bite, and readers who happen to be dog-lovers will no doubt enjoy it more than I did.

Almost as narrative-consuming as the dog material is the trash fiction-esque stuff of the assorted high-society types Wylie encounters throughout, from an obese lady who tries to get him to bring some dogs on a fundraising venture (from which she tells him how they can reap profits) to a Norman Mailer-esque novelist who was at the party at Chasteen’s and has gotten a contract for a book on the subject. Another high-society type Wylie meets is Lesley Maraceck, a friend of Evadne’s and a fellow model; Lesley offers Wylie the job which will make up the main plot.

Lesley was at the Chasteen party, and a special golden cigarette case was taken from her by the heisters. What makes it special was the photos Lesley had hidden inside a special compartment of the case. Lesley is the mistress of a Mafia boss named Victor LaMorena, and the sob story Lesley tells Wylie has it that, prior to her relationship with LaMorena, Lesley would have sex with various men at some hotel. Someone has gotten photos of these illicit meetings and is blackmailing Leslie; she must pay a monthly fee, or the negatives will be turned over to LaMorena, who no doubt will maim and mutilate Lesley in rage. Each month Lesley is mailed a new set of photos with payment demands; after the latest payment she’d put the photos in the cigarette case, left them there without thinking, and now they are in the hands of some criminals. She’s terrified the criminals will find the photos, recognize her face, and somehow LaMorena will find out about the photos after all.

Wylie takes the job, though he has no leads to go on, and figures the heisters will care less about Lesley’s cigarette case in the first place, given all the cash and diamonds they scored at the party. The private eye portion of the narrative comes and goes for the first half, and in its own way attributes to the page-filling, like for example an overlong card game Russ takes part in to root out more info from partygoers who witnessed the masked robbers. However the stuff with the negatives leads to what for me was the highlight of The Bite. Shortly after being hired by Lesley, Wylie and Russ go about figuring out who is blackmailing her in the first place.

Russ tails the guy from where Lesley drops off her payment, in a garbage can at Grand Central Station, and ends up cornering him in his fleabag apartment. Tying the dude up and brandishing a gun, Russ successfully scares the shit out of him – literally. This whole sequence is done in that hardcore ‘70s crime style I so love, though Russ doesn’t kill the sap. Turns out the guy is a professional photographer who runs a sidejob with a dude who works in a local hotel; they secretly photograph the occasional guest in the hopes of scoring nice blackmail material. Wylie accompanies the man to his studio where he burns the negatives. This takes care of one part of Lesley’s problem, but there’s still the issue of the surviving photos in the stolen cigarette case.

Corder also brings in the occasional bit of ‘70s sleave I also love. Early in the book a lonely Russ goes out into the Village, which he lives near, and picks up a scrawny but “big-breasted” hippie chick like seconds after leaving his place. He takes her back and she ends up living with him for a time, and Corder seems as if he’s building up a sentimental sort of love story in which dour Russ and the bitter hippie chick, who is named Beth, will find love with one another. Corder even delivers appropriately heartwarming dialog courtesy Beth in their initial, graphically-depicted sex scene (“Stick your finger up my ass! Hurry!”). But Beth turns out to be a user, having guys up to Russ’s room when he isn’t around, and then just flat-out taking off one day while he’s out working on the Maraceck case.

Once we get through more Cerebrus school stuff, including an arbitrary subplot in which one of those society dames develops a thig for Russ and unsuccessfully tries to get him in bed, we finally get back to the case. In that overlong card game Russ has learned that one of the heisters got cut and seemed paranoid. From this Wylie deduces the man must’ve been a hemophiliac, and he checks hospital records for that night. In this fashion they finally track down one of the heisters, who lives in Illinois. He is in fact a hemophiliac, and was one of the shotgun-wielders, but didn’t shoot anyone. Wylie flies there, breaks into the guy’s place, and interrogates him.

This lead sends Russ, still in New York, into the dingy depths of the city, where he roots out more of the heisters. As mentioned, Corder litters the book with topical ‘70s details, and one of them really made me chuckle. One of the robbers lives in a torn-up apartment rife with hippies and psychedelic art, and when Russ goes there Corder notes that one of the posters is of “Dennis the Menace on a souped-up tricycle giving the viewer the middle finger.” Folks, this is a real poster; in fact it’s a blacklight poster. I know this because I actually have it – it’s from the early ‘70s and I got one several years ago when I was on a blacklight poster kick. (It’s still sitting in a frame in my study room, where it’s been waiting to be hung on the wall for the past 11 years). Here it is:

Russ is able to lure out more of the robbers, which leads to a brief shootout on a darkened pier, Russ wielding a Mauser he keeps hidden in a secret wall in his apartment. Russ also scores his sole kill in the novel, courtesy a Special Forces-taught palm to the nose, which sends shards of bone into the victim’s brains. Ransacking the corpses’s pockets, Russ and Wylie get an address in New Jersey, which turns out to be a house owned by the dead man. They search the place, calling in their dogs, and gradually find all of the diamonds and etc in a special gasoline tank in a van sitting in front of the house. Also here is Lesley’s cigarette case, for which Wylie is able to collect his hefty fee from Lesley, who initially tries to cheat him out of his pay.

The finale is this slow-burn, inordinately drawn-out sting Wylie plans out to capture the man he has determined was behind the robbery – which turns out to have been a hit disguised as a heist. It’s none other than Neal Cummings, the man who invited them to the party in the first place, and Wylie capitalizes on his interest in Evadne, using her to lure Neal on a date, during which some cops swoop in and bust him. It’s kind of a middling finale, and I personally would’ve preferred more gun-blazing, palm-slamming action courtesy Russ.

Speaking of whom, Russ gets the finale of the novel, and it’s an off-kilter finale at that, with a lonely Russ again heading out into the city and going on a run with his dog(?). But this is how The Bite ends, and while it isn’t the most memorable finale, at least our two leads are still alive, and it makes me wonder why there was no followup; Corder easily could’ve turned in a few more books about these two characters.

Corder’s writing is good, with as mentioned colorful topical details and memorable dialog, with a heaping helping of sleaze to gussy up the proceedings. But it must be mentioned that he strives for a “literary” vibe throughout, with stuff like, “Times Square was a wet rectal chancre.” Or how about: “…the city was made restless in sleep by dreams of rupture in the encircling membrane, seepage and metastasis. Times Square was weak and vicious, a flayer – like its people, who could not wholly believe in their own existence.” This sort of thing borders on The Ninja-esque pretentiousness, folks, but bear in mind the whole novel isn’t so self-indulgent.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Chopper Cop #2: The Hitchhike Killer

Chopper Cop #2: The Hitchhike Killer, by Paul Ross
No month stated, 1972  Popular Library

Fortunately, the second volume of Chopper Cop is the last one to be written by Dan Streib; one can almost imagine series producer Lyle Kenyon Engel putting down Streib’s manuscript and immediately drafting a letter of termination (not that he wouldn’t still send it to Popular Library – there being a deadline to meet and all). For once again Streib fails to grasp the gist of the series plot, turning in a slow-moving murder mystery that could just as easily feature a 90 year-old widow as the protagonist.

As we’ll recall, the titular “Chopper Cop” is 27 year-old Terry Bunker, who despite the cover image has “slightly long brown hair and muttonchop sideburns.” He’s based out of California and basically answers to the Governor only, though he reports to “stupid chief” Raymond Haggard, with whom Bunker has a venemous relationship (Haggard refers to Terry as a “long-haired ape”). We’re often informed that Terry’s “craggy looks” are appealing to the ladies, and he’s racked up quite a healthy score-count in his day, with the tidbit that at one point he even had to hire a secretary to keep track of all the women calling for him.

Not that we get much of that, this time. No, Streib once again must remind us that Terry is “lonely;” as I mentioned in my review of the first volume, Terry Bunker is altogether womanly, at least when compared to the average men’s adventure protagonist. He’s constantly moping or brooding, and he’s more often afraid than not. So far as the babe magnet quotient goes, there’s a part early on where he runs into Haggard’s sexy secretary, with whom Terry was once involved, and Terry thinks to himself that, while the lady is suitably hot and being with her was fun, she wasn’t able to quelch “the loneliness inside” Terry. Oh, brother!!

Streib makes vague references to some woman in Terry’s past, one who was apparently killed sor something, and Terry’s never been able to get over her. Streib doesn’t elaborate, and I can’t recall if this woman was mentioned in the previous book, but as someone once said, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” This was it for Streib on Chopper Cop and I highly suspect the co-authors of the next one (which was to be the last) won’t dwell on all the maudlin bullshit and just deliver a fun book about a chopper-riding cop. At least, here’s hoping they will.

Streib does make Terry suitably rule-breaking – but to the point where he’s mostly an asshole. When heading into Sacramento to meet with Haggard on the latest assignment, Terry, for no reason at all, begins taunting his fellow cops – none of whom realize biker Terry himself is a cop – and leads them on a chase through the city streets, with the outcome of Terry being arrested on the steps outside the capitol building. Chief Haggard has to come out and admit Terry is actually a cop. One begins to understand why Terry is so hated by his brothers in blue.

Terry refuses to read the paper so the recent murders of three girls around California is literally news to him. We readers have already witnessed one murder in the book’s opening: a biker in a leather jacket and a “full face mask” of white plastic picks up a hitchhiking young girl named Diana Cole, gives her a lift, and takes her to an abandoned area, where the biker then runs over her. Terry learns there have been two similar murders across the state and the governor, aka Terry’s boss, wants Terry on the case, as he’s certain only the “Chopper Cop” (a title never used in the books, by the way) can prevent more murders.

Here’s the funny thing about The Hitchhike Killer. Throughout the book Haggard keeps nagging Terry to look into “the biker gangs” that are plaguing California, as Haggard and his fellow cops are certain it’s a bunch of bikers doing the killings, and not just a sole murderer, as Terry suspects. So in other words a bona fide pulp biker novel is promised in the text but denied us; Streib is determined to turn in another slow-moving murder mystery when he could’ve easily done something like The Blood Circus (which likely is what editor Lyle Kenyon Engel had in mind when he came up with the series concept!).

Because honestly, Terry’s biker aspect doesn’t factor much into the tale; he spends the majority of the narrative flying a commuter airline around California and then staying in a house with a pair of stews. Immediately upon looking at the items found at the murder sites Terry notices something the other cops missed – cigarettes from sample packages once given out by certain airlines. While Haggard keeps pressuring Terry to look into those biker gangs, Terry instead flies around with a regional plane that goes to the three areas the murders occurred – and sure enough, the crew reveals that those cigarettes are no longer given out due to “health concerns,” but there’s so many of them left over that the crew has open access to them.

So basically Terry’s already solved the case…someone in the crew of this very plane killed the three girls. We even learn that all of them, pilots and stewardesses alike, are biking enthusiasts! But Terry shoots the breeze with them, smoking cigarettes in the cockpit(!), and here we meet the incredibly small cast of characters Streib gives us for the duration: co-pilot Paul Dunn, Terry’s instant prime suspect; super-sexy blonde stew Lisa; and Lisa’s roommate, equally-sexy brunette stew Chris.

Terry has an instant thing for Lisa, but we’ll recall that Terry is more than just virile lust; he thinks Lisa might be “the one.” (Oh, brother again!) He thinks there’s equal sparks, thus he’s crestfallen when it turns out Lisa is having an affair with Paul, who is married. Instead, Terry goes back home with the stews and ends up boffing Chris, who doffs her top and says “Announcing Twin Mound National Park.” Streib doesn’t get too explicit in this or the few other sex scenes, though he does add the memorable bit that a climaxing Chris starts screaming for someone named “Joey.”

But mostly Terry just tries to put the moves on Lisa, who is alternately interested and stand-offish. Occasionally he tracks clues, visiting the various murder sites and putting himself in the minds of the victims, complete even with a moronic scene where Terry runs along the desert, tracing the footsteps of one of the murdered girls, and only stops when he notices his fellow cops laughing at him(!). Chopper Cop, baby!! I mean the whole book is damn hilarious in how lame it is. We do finally get a bit of biker stuff when, in San Bernadino, Terry runs afoul of some teen bikers who discover the two-way radio on his chopper, call him “pig,” and beat him unconscious.

Streib from what I’ve read of him was fond of female villains, and he pretty much lays all his cards on the table with an arbitrary chapter from the point of view of “the killer,” in which the gender is cagily never mentioned. But anyway “the killer” dreams as the various girls die over and over again, unsure if they are dead in reality or if it’s all a dream. So by this point the reader is pretty certain the mystery has been figured out – the killer is a woman. Couple this with stew Chris, given to her flighty emotions, her disappearing at night, and her being near the murder locations in each instance.

We get a chase scene in the final quarter – but notably, Terry is not on his bike during it, which should be all the more indication that Dan Streib was the wrong writer for a series called Chopper Cop. Instead, Terry’s not only in a car for the chase, but he’s riding shotgun as a fellow cop drives! They’re chasing after Paul Dunn, who turns out to be innocent – Chris, meanwhile, has been uncovered as the villain, killing the girls in vengeance for a boyfriend named Joey who was sent to prison on a rape charge.

Terry finally gets on his bike for the finale, high-tailing it into the desert, where an oblivious Lisa is going to pose as a hitchhiking decoy for Chris, in one of Streib’s more belabored and unbelievable setups. Terry’s desperate to get to her in time, as Terry has finally gotten to act upon his “thing” for Lisa, engaging the somewhat-reluctant girl in one of Streib’s somewhat-explicit sex scenes (“He did things with his hands and his tongue until she was ready” and the like). And since Terry earlier cried wolf by having Chief Haggard summon the forces on a bust of a stakeout, the chief refuses to answer Terry’s pleas this time, so it’s only Terry himself who can ensure Lisa doesn’t become the latest victim.

But our hero is such a friggin’ chump, he fails!! He gets there just in time to see Lisa’s bloodied form, having been run over by Chris, and Terry goes off in pursuit. Here Chris becomes a raving lunatic before driving herself off a cliff, all while “the Chopper Cop” just sits there like a lummox on his bike. And meanwhile we never learn if Lisa even dies…Chief Haggard, who did in fact send a squad car after all, has her sent off to the hospital, and tells Terry “if she lives” it will only be because Terry got to her in time…

And here Streib ends the tale, on a downbeat note that was typical of the grindhouse biker fare of the era, so at least he got that part right. But boy The Hitchhike Killer was a lame, tedious affair. The next one has to be better, if only for its awesome title: Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Chinese Connection

The Chinese Connection, by William Crawford
September, 1973  Pinnacle Books

I was under the impression, due to a misleading comment on a review, that this was a BCI crime paperback. But producer Lyle Kenyon Engel’s name is nowhere to be found in the book, which is copyright William Crawford himself; it was published around the time he was also writing the Stryker series for Pinnacle.* In fact one gets the impression that Pinnacle was looking to make Crawford the William W. Johnstone of his day; the first Stryker includes an ad for Crawford’s other novels for the imprint, and also he was given the job of turning in the infamous 16th volume of The Executioner.

I’d like to know more about William Crawford; all I know is that he was a cop of some sort, that he was friends with fellow Pinnacle Books scribe Mark Roberts (Roberts mentioned Crawford in The Penetrator #9 and dedicated The Penetrator #17 to him), that he clearly lived near the US-Mexico border, and that he did some novels for Lyle Kenyon Engel under various pseudonyms (including a few volumes of Nick Carter: Killmaster which were never published). He also seems to have done all of his writing in the ‘70s. At least, I can’t find anything published by Crawford after 1977, which is the year The Death Connection came out (which he did for Engel under the name “Roger Brandt”). The latest book of his I can find is a Pinnacle reprint of this novel, The Chinese Connection, from 1979 (I’m unable to find the cover online). We do know from a comment Crawford’s stepson left on Zwolf’s hilarious review of Stryker #1 that Crawford is dead, so perhaps he passed away sometime in the late ‘70s.

Anyway, this book is not to be confused with the Bruce Lee film of the same title. It is very much in the vein of Stryker and does in fact live up to its cover proclamation of being “savage.” Of the three Crawfords I’ve read, this one by far is my favorite, with the caveat that, though Crawford once again turns in a tough novel with almost brutal, Gannon-esque violence, he constantly undermines himself with too many digressions –overlong background histories of one-off characters, too many endless and arbitrary cop-world details, too many page-filing lectures on the drug trade, government corruption, and what-have-you. To be sure, this sort of thing isn’t as egregious as it was in, say, The Rapist (another one Crawford wrote for Engel), but it does make the book a bit of a chore: The Chinese Connection runs to 223 pages of small, dense print, but with some savvy editing it could’ve been much snappier at the 180-page Pinnacle Books norm.

One recurring theme in Crawford’s work is that his hero will be a grizzled, older cop who, while not sporting the gym-culture physique of the genre norm, is still as tough as they come. Real salt of the earth types. His grizzled protagonists hate everything, particularly the young (not to mention Hollywood), and they resent the encroaching, emasculating societal changes that are being forced upon their profession, not to mention how the world of policing is being hamstrung by liberal lawyers and by new recruits just out of college with “fresh ideas.” Crawford protagonists are hard men, not handsome or humorous or even polite, with bony frames and sunken cheeks and flinty eyes – in other words, Steve Holland types.

Such is the case with the hero of this novel, Tom Belcher, a 20-year veteran of some narcotics agency. Folks, I had a helluva time figuring out what kind of a cop Belcher is…my best guess is he’s a US Marshall, as he keeps referring to his department as “the Service,” never “the agency” or “the Bureau.” For the latter, he certainly isn’t in the FBI as he’s constantly looking down on that agency. The DEA isn’t mentioned, nor is the ATF. He’s not a city or state cop, as his partner is killed within the first few pages and later Belcher refers to him as a “federal agent.” Otherwise I have no idea who exactly Belcher works for – not that it much matters, as he quickly goes rogue and begins his own trackdown of “the Cinese Connection,” which, by the way, is never referred to as such in the novel itelf. Nope, it’s “the Chink Connection,” friends – even referred to thusly in big and bold print on the back cover! 

Belcher is a stone-cold bastard, of the type who could probably even give Joe Ryker pause. When we meet him he’s on the Texas-Mexico border, waiting for an informant to come across into the US with a batch of heroin supposedly gotten from a mysterious Chinese supplier. Mostly though Belcher’s sick of his annoying new partner, a college grad punk kid. Belcher goes out of his way to insult and belittle him. When the truck with the drugs barrels through the border, dumping out the body of Belcher’s informant, a biker roars by, blasting a shotgun, and takes off his partner’s head. Belcher could give a shit; when his boss later tells him that the partner “Left a wife and two small children” behind, Belcher quips: “Don’t they always?”

Regardless, Belcher goes out for revenge; later he will even admit to himself that he could care less that the kid was killed, and isn’t avenging him per se, but rather is avenging the fact that someone killed a Federal officer and the higher-ups are more concerned about red tape than about finding the killer – not to mention finding all the heroin that just slipped across the border. Belcher is basically fired by his stupid chief, who insists that Belcher take a month’s vacation after this snafu; Belcher knows that, like many men his age, he’s being put out to pasture. So he decides to take the law into his own hands. He’ll find the killers of his partner, the heroin, and “the Chink Connection” too, all on his own – he needs a big collar like this, so as to regain favor in the agency.

Sounds like a lean and mean yarn, and it has the skeleton of one. But here Crawford begins his, uh, Crawfordisms; Belcher’s murdered informer was named Pacheo, and abruptly we’re taken into an extended flashback on how Belcher recruited the Mexican drugdealer, including egregious and arbitrary background on Pacheo, not to mention his blonde slut of a wife, Gloria – I’m talking incidental backgrounds on each that have nothing to do with the novel at hand but go on for pages and pages. Such nonsense will occur throughout The Chinese Connection, constantly stalling forward momentum. Anyway it’s through Pacheo that Belcher learned of the Chinese contact who claimed to have a vast source of heroin, and Belcher quickly deduces that it was Gloria Pacheo who likely set up her own husband to be killed – she’s a notorious whore and was sleeping with his comrades, among others.

Belcher breaks into Gloria’s home and ties up a has-been actor named Rick Rawlson who is living with her. More Crawfordisms ensue as Rawlson goes on for pages and pages about his sad-sack Hollywood career and how he’s mooching off of Gloria ‘cause he heard she’d come into a windfall. But when Gloria shows up the bad-assery comes back in full force. Friends, you remember that part in the almighty Bronson: Blind Rage where Bronson interrogated that gal and lit her pubic hair on fire? Belcher pulls the same schtick here – and it’s possible that the still-unknown “Philip Rawls” who wrote Blind Rage might’ve been inspired by The Chinese Connection. (Good Lord…could it have been William Crawford??? Nah….)

Stripping Gloria down and trussing her up (noting of course her big boobs – Crawford seemed to’ve had an obsession for “silicone tits” while writing this book, as practically every female character has massive mams due to implants), Belcher squirts lighter fluid on Gloria’s exposed privates when she refuses to answer his questions (this after he’s done the same to her hand and actually set it on fire). He threatens to get her where she “lives;” she’s a nympho, and if Belcher takes away that special part of her anatomy, what the hell is she going to do with herself? “If you don’t tell me, then I’m going to burn your goddamn snatch off,” he informs her. The gal breaks, the fluid is never lit, and Gloria and Rick Rawlson disappear from the narrative, making the reader wonder if Belcher did in fact kill them.

From here it’s to El Puerto, Texas, where Belcher has been put on the trail of Rajar Creasy, a foul-smelling biker of monstrous proportions who’s a “pukepot stone queer” to boot (Crawford’s books, by the way, are almost blueprints of a pre-PC worldview; there’s even a part later on where Belcher, and therefore Crawford, defends his right to use the words “chink” and “gook” and etc). Rajar operates out of a strip joint called the Sandbox, where he runs a whips-and-chains biz for other “stone queers.” He’s notoriously rancid, not having washed himself in decades, and he’s even more notorious for his sadism.

Not to fear – Belcher captures Rajar, putting his precious chopper on fire and then sapping him. He takes him out to the desert where he gives the bound Creasy a Gannon-esque beatdown. The novel is almost relentless in its brutalism; it’s only a shame that Crawford keeps hamstringing himself with the constant stallings and out-of-nowhere lectures on this or that. Creasy turns out to have been the biker who shotgunned Belcher’s partner, but Creasy was actually hired to kill Belcher, only he missed. He blabs a few more names for Belcher to track down; hating himself for his weakness, Belcher lets the biker live, and heads on down to Mexico, where he’s promptly captured by the crooked cops who work for heroin kingpin Umberto Garcia.

Baddass Belcher “wonder[s] how long it was until midnight,” as being tied up, stripped, beaten, and having his balls crushed by a bicycle lock is “the kind of thing that ruin[s] a man’s whole day.” Our hero endures more suffering than practically any other I can think of at the moment; we’re informed that his balls are so swollen afterwards that he can barely walk. He’s being tortured by a pair of Mexican cops, and when Belcher reveals that he too is a cop they’re immediately shamefaced. Garcia lied to them, making them think Belcher was just some American hustler or something. After a phone call to Belcher’s cop buddy Daol over in El Puerto, our hero limps to freedom, where he spends several days in the hospital.

Oh yeah – another recurring motif in Crawford’s work is that someone, somewhere in the narrative, is going to shit himself. It’s happened in each Crawford I’ve read, usually more than once. And the protagonist isn’t excluded from the rule; Belcher we’re informed shits and pisses himself here, and pukes as well. There are other characters who shit their pants during the course of The Chinese Connection, to the point where you wonder about Crawford’s obsession; as Zwolf so aptly stated in the above-linked review, it’s almost like “scat-porn.”

As mentioned Crawford and Mark Roberts apparently knew one another, and I wonder if they were fellow aviation freaks; anyone who has read Roberts’s The Penetrator installments knows how some of them make unexpected detours into what is basically aviation porn, with longwinded descriptions of the private planes hero Mark Hardin is piloting. Belcher hooks up with a friend of his – a writer who struck it big and lives in Arizona – and borrows his private plane (the guy is much too successful and famous for it to be a fictional analog of Mark Roberts, though). But yeah, our grizzled, old-fashioned veteran cop can also, uh, fly his own planes, and thus he takes himself into Mochis, Mexico.

Here Belcher digs up the corpse of Pacheo, his informat, and finds that it’s been “eviscerated.” Heroin was stashed in the empty cavities, which is now gone. Belcher is jumped in the cemetery and gets in another quick but brutal fight, killing one dude with a shovel blade to the face and another with his two-shot derringer. Belcher next picks up a local floozie named Chinita – small but big-boobed, of course – and Crawford doesn’t even provide us the details, just throws her into the book and tells us that Belcher’s screwed her off-page and is happy his equipment still works. For that matter, Crawford shows a curious reluctance to use the word “fuck;” twice in the narrative he writes it just as “f – ” as if self-bowdlerizing, but in the final pages he actually writes the word. It’s strange and off-putting…it’s like Crawford is fine with writing about “chinks” and “silicone tits” and threats of burning off “snatches,” not to mention guys “coming a quart” in their excitement, but “fuck” is where he draws the line!

More aerial fiction ensues as Belcher gets in a plane chase, realizing he’s come upon all the heroin and has been set up for a contrived bust. He’s chased after by none other than Umberto Garcia, who, for no other reason than “why the hell not?” also has Gloria Pacheo and Rick Rawlson in the plane with him. Belcher manages to make them crash, circles back and lands, and finds everyone dead but Umberto, who is dying. To continue with the savage theme of the book – not to mention the general misogyny of Crawford’s oeuvre – we’re informed that Gloria’s breasts have been lopped off in the crash, given how she was killed by the crushing force of the crashing plane due to an improperly secured seatbelt.

From the dying Umberto – Belcher gives him a pistol to off himself – our hero learns of the mysterious Chinaman, Ky Sao, who is operating out of Mazatlan. Crawford finally cuts out the fat – the stuff in Mochis was weighed down with inordinate material about Belcher hanging out with a group of hard-drinking pilots and also dodging a contrived setup in which heroin was stashed in his plane – and delivers a taut finale, as Belcher, armed with a carbine and explosives, scopes out Ky Sao’s gated villa and determines that his best bet is to corner him on his boat while he’s meeting his various underworld contacts. A brief shootout ensues in which Belcher captures “the Chink.”

The finale takes place in that gated villa, with Belcher shooting down Ky Sao’s guard dogs and some more of those Mongols. Crawford develops a last-minute reversal in which Belcher’s pal Daol turns out to be working with Ky Sao – or is he? This leads to the ‘70s-mandatory downbeat ending in which Belcher, who has gotten his vengeance and stopped the heroin pipeline at the cost of his freedom (he’s now on the FBI wanted list for all the murders he’s committed), gets in his plane and heads out of Mexico, not caring what happens to him.

So overall The Chinese Connection is pretty good, especially when it’s getting down and dirty and skipping the lectures and arbitrary backstories. When Crawford reins himself in he’s capable of delivering violent pulp fiction that hits all the ‘70s bases, and I enjoyed this one enough that it’s made me figure I should probably get back to his Stryker books.

*I was also under the impression that another Crawford paperback, The Assassin, credited to Paul Ross and published by Manor Books in 1974, was also a Lyle Kenyon Engel joint, but it isn’t; it’s just copyright Manor. But from Hawk’s Authors Pseudonyms we know it was by Crawford.