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.