Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hanoi (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #15)

Hanoi, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1966  Award Books

One of the last volumes of Nick Carter: Killmaster to be written by Valerie Moolman, who may or may not have been the actual author of the first volume of the series, Run, Spy, Run, Hanoi unfortunately once again proves my sexist theory that women authors just can’t write men’s adventure novels. I’m not saying it’s bad or anything. I’m just saying it lacks much bite and it comes off as an exercise in padding until the rushed finale. And while “Nick” scores with some babes and kills a slew of bad guys, it’s all delivered in a rather restrained manner.

The opening is effective; the sergeant of a Green Beret squad, deep in the jungles of ‘Nam, employs some fancy technology to spy on a recently-discovered camp outside of Hanoi. What’s strange is that the camp is guarded by Chinese soldiers, but appears to be populated by German men in lab coats. There’s also a woman with them – a total blonde babe the sergeant just can’t stop gawking at through his binocs. Something nefarious no doubt is afoot, but what?

Cut to DC, AXE headquarters, which Moolman depicts as a crowded office. Whereas all the other volumes I’ve read usually just feature Nick and AXE chief Hawk in these scenes, Moolman has an entire roomful of agents taking part in the brief, and goofily enough they all have code numbers – like B-5, a guy who has an “inevitable stick of chewing gum” in his mouth, or Q-7, aka sexy Ellie Harmon, whose “willowy form” is constantly being checked out by our boy Nick. Ellie though seems to be Hawk’s version of Moneypenny; she’s just there to run the projector while the boys listen to the briefing and forumate their separate plans of action.

Hawk relates that this secret jungle station near Hanoi is sending out mysterious radio signals, and intelligence has gotten word that a scientist named Erich Burgdorf is about to make his way there, though it’s unknown how. The various AXE agents must come up with their theories of how he’ll arrive, present them to Hawk, and then get the approval to move forward or not. Nick’s, of course, is the only correct one: that Burgdorf will secretly fly directly to Hanoi. Hawk per the template doesn’t believe it – and in Moolman’s hands, by the way, these two have more of a bickering, stern-teacher-and-smartass-student vibe to their relationship. In fact one gets the opinion that Hawk doesn’t much like Nick. 

The Killmaster parachutes into ‘Nam and promptly disguises himself as a native peasant. These early volumes are big on Nick’s chameleon-like ability for disguise; upon arriving in Hanoi, he switches identities again, this time disguising himself as a Czech agent who is a notorious spy in the area. Sure enough here comes Burgdorf, flying into Hanoi airport in a disguise of his own; in a scene that seems clearly inspired by the finale of Thunderball, Nick exfiltrates both himself and a captured Burgdorf, hooking a harness to a plane that flies by. Burgdorf is then drugged, revealing that his goal was to deliver something to Krutch, brutish ruler of the secret Hanoi compound.

So Nick goes into disguise number three; he’ll boldy venture to the camp as none other than Erich Burdgorf himself. Carrying the plans the real Burgdorf worked up for Krutch, Nick hopes to bluff his way long enough to figure out what the goal of these Germans is, operating under the assumption that he will be outed quickly. But Moolman really stretches it all out; the novel is devoid of action until the finale, and for the most part is comprised of Nick hobknobbing with the German scientists and trying to determine what they’re up to. He’s suspected from the start, though; in particular Krutch and Ah Choy, the Red Chinese backer of this whole scene, doubt “Bergdorf’s” story.

At least Moolman delivers in another regard – the naughty stuff. Both Krutch and Ah Choy plan to distract “Bergdorf” with willing gals, in the hopes that the women, getting as close as possible, will learn if it’s really Bergdorf or someone posing as him. So Krutch sends hotstuff Ilse, that blonde babe the Green Beret lusted after in the opening chapter, and Ah Choy sends Lin Suy, an ever-horny Chinese sexpot. Nick gets back-to-back busy with both of them, on the same night, but Moolman isn’t too graphic; here, for example, is how it goes down with Ilse: “Her legs went around [Nick’s] and locked him close to her, and he felt as though he were driving into a deep, quiet pool that bubbled with turbulence far below its surface.” 

After all this torridness, Nick goes back to his room to relax…only to find Lin Suy waiting for him, she of the “small, delectable breasts” and insatiable sex drive. This one goes on all night…and then, the very next day, Nick’s right back at it with Ilse. Of course Nick realizes that he’s being “pumped” (sorry) for info by both women, but he’s mostly amused by how openly Ilse in particular goes through with it, asking him blunt questions in between the rampant boffing. But this is what passes for action for the most part, Nick trying and failing to discover what secrecy Krutch and his lab-coated German scientists are up to here in the camp.

The violence doesn’t kick in until over halfway through, and it too is of a muted nature. One of the Germans is in love with Ilse, bridles that she’s been having all that sex with “Bergdorf,” and in the hopes of outing him succeeds in discovering some of Nick’s hidden AXE gadgets. Nick, having just boffed Ilse yet again a few minutes before, finds this guy snooping in his room and wastes him. Right on cue Lin Suy shows up yet again, wanting more good lovin.’ “You gorgeous bitch,” Nick greets her, then proceeds to have sex with her yet again, having hidden the fresh corpse nearby. “He brutalized her and she reveled in it.” The Killmaster is particularly indefatigable in this installment, to say the least.

This takes us to the climax; almost perfunctorily – and hastily – Krutch and Ah Choy have decided that Nick really is an imposter and the order is out to capture him. The Killmaster finally lives up to his AXE title in a running action sequence. And Nick really kills a slew of ‘em, probably more than in any other Killmaster I’ve yet read. It’s not gory in the least, but it’s high in the number of fatalities. What tips Nick off that he’s been outed is when Ilse, again obeying Krutch’s orders, slips him a drug, one that turns out to be poisonous – something Ilse herself was unaware of. Nick knocks her out…then proceeds to puke endlessly, trying to get the poison out. From there he breaks out his killing gadgets.

Chief among them is a laser pistol disguised as a pair of binoculars. Nick fries a bunch of Chinese guards, vaporizing them. He also takes out a whole roomful of guards with poison gas bomb Pierre. But as opposed to the more brutal version of Nick Carter you’ll encounter in the installments written by Manning Lee Stokes, Moolman’s version of Nick ensures that “innocents” don’t die. Despite being trapped in the mess hall with the guards he’s just gassed to death, Nick holds his breath and bars the door until an impatiently-knocking Lin Suy finally goes away. Another dude Nick merely knocks out with a non-fatal dart. Stokes’s Nick Carter would’ve killed ‘em all.

And even when Moolman’s Nick is particularly bloodthirsty, he kills in a somewhat goofy and contrived fashion: like going around, still disguised as Bergdorf, and handing out free cigars to all the Chinese soldiers. Cigars which have timed explosives hidden in them! It’s like something out of a Loony Tunes cartoon as the Chinese guards suddenly start blowing up, and in the melee Nick starts running around and zapping them with his handy laser pistol. After all this, Nick’s climactic brawl with Krutch is a bit underwhelming – particularly when Krutch actually gets the upper hand. It’s only thanks to the miraculous appearance of that Green Beret sergeant, returning from the first chapter, that the Killmaster survives the tale.

Moolman ends the tale on the same sex-focused tone as the middle portion of the narrative; it’s a bit later, we’re in New York, and Nick’s about to have some hot and heavy sex with Ilse yet again, having used his clout to get her out of any and all charges in Krutch’s plot. She was an unwitting dupe all along, not aware of Krutch’s ultimate plan – which by the way was something about shooting metal ball bearings into space to jack up US and USSR space launches or somesuch.

Overall though Hanoi was mostly interesting as a display of how different authors approach Nick Carter. Otherwise I didn’t enjoy it very much – Moolman’s narrative comes off as tired and disinterested, and it’s clear why she only wrote one more volume of the series.


James Reasoner said...

This was the first Nick Carter I ever read. I was a freshman in high school and enjoyed it enough that I immediately started looking for all the others I could find and read a bunch of them over the next few years. I agree, there are better books in the series, but I still have a lot of fondness for it because it was the first one I read. My favorites of the early Nicks (at least back then, I've never reread them) were WEB OF SPIES, THE 13TH SPY, and DRAGON FLAME.

andydecker said...

I didn't like any of the first Carter's I read much; they have aged badly and are all underwhelming and restrained. Still, these books are more then 50 years old. (Of course I thought them already dull when I read them 25 years ago before I knew they were written by Moolman instead of a guy.)

But for me these books are kind of an enigma. Were they really all written by Moolman? Did she plot the novels and actually wrote them - instead of editing and re-writing the work of unknowm writers, like she supposedly did with the Avalones? In this case I really would like to know her story.

Think about it. How many female writers were writing pseudonymously man's adventure books in 1965? And spy books at that? Considering how times were, it seems strange that Lyle Engel gave his new and untried series to a woman. She must have been tremendously talented. If she really did those 8 novels by herself, she was one of a kind. Even if her Carter novels were kind of dull. But so were a lot of the later novels too.

Todd Mason said...

In contrast, my first thought was that they at Award were almost certainly not paying enough to make anyone care Too hard.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. James, I also like Web of Spies, but I haven't yet read the other two you list. I have a theory that Web of Spies was originally titled The Red-Black Terror; maybe that was Manning Lee Stokes's original title. In Will Murray's Killmaster article in that 1982 issue of Armchair Detective, he briefly lists a few unpublished manuscripts in Engel's vaults, and one of them is titled The Red-Black Terror. If you'll recall in Web of Spies, Mr. Judas has a zombie-like henchman whom Judas operates via remote control. The control has a red button and a black button on it. It might just be a coincidence, though, and maybe The Red Black Terror really is an unpublished Killmaster novel.

Andy, that same Murray article gives a little detail on Valerie Moolman. She hailed from South Africa and, prior to being assigned Killmaster writing duties, she'd only written a few travel guides for Engel. She'd never written a novel before, but it was felt her travel guide work would be a good fit for international espionage. She'd also written some scripts for a few British TV shows. Murray states that Award was very unhappy with Michael Avallone's work, and demanded rewrites. Moolman got the gig, apparently rewriting his #2 significantly. According to Engel in the article -- Moolman herself is not interviewed by Murray -- she would often write herself into a corner and call Engel up for advice, ie "How do I get Nick out of this mess?" She burned out after writing 8 novels, after which Stokes, Messmann, and others came on board. No mention of what happened to her after her Killmaster tenure.

allan said...

Looks like Moolman died on December 23, 2002 (age 75), possibly in Brooklyn.

James Reasoner said...

Joe, I agree with you that The Red-Black Terror was probably published as Web of Spies. I know that Moolman edited some non-fiction after leaving Engel's outfit, including some of the books in the Time-Life Old West series, but that's all I recall about her later career.

andydecker said...

Thanks for the infos about Moolman, all. One of a kind.

Nice to hear that she worked longer in the industry. I know the Time-Life Old West books.