Monday, July 30, 2018

Mace #6: The Year Of The Boar

Mace #6: The Year Of The Boar, by Lee Chang
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books

I’ve been looking forward to this sixth volume of Mace for quite a while. Because my friends we’re finally out of the weeds, ie the previous five volumes by Joseph Rosenberger, and as if in reward for enduring those five beatings we’re graced with an installment by Len Levinson (using the same house name that Rosenberger did, “Lee Chang”). So even though Len delivers a protagonist much different than his usual (at least when considering his other ‘70s novels), it goes without saying that The Year Of The Boar is vastly more entertaining than any of Rosenberger’s installments.

I know from Len himself that he never read those previous five books; in fact as he most memorably informed me once: “I never heard of Joseph Rosenberger.” So for all intents and purposes this could be considered a standalone novel. And in many ways it is much different from Len’s other books of the decade, with a straight-shooter protagonist wholly at odds with Len’s typical main characters from this era. In fact Victor Mace is kind of boring, and makes one miss, for example, the neurotic Johnny Rock of Len’s three Sharpshooter novels.

Len was clearly given at least a character outline to work from, though. It’s still Victor Mace, Chinese-American kung-fu wizard from Hong Kong who has relocated to America, but whereas Rosengerber’s Mace did CIA jobs on the side, Len’s is the head instructor at the Lotus Academy on Canal Street, in the Chinatown section of Manhattan. There is of course no mention of the previous five volumes, though if anything Len’s novel harkens back to the vibe of Mace #1, in that it doesn’t have any espionage commando stuff and is more of a simple “kung fu master versus stupid thugs” sort of thing.

The simple nature of the storyline is made clear by the plot: Mace goes up against some crooks who plan to burn down tenement buildings in Chinatown and build luxury high-rises in their wake. Mace comes into it when one of his students is killed in the latest fire; he learns later that another building was recently burned down in the same area. But as the dead guy’s teacher Mace is sworn by the ancient rules of kung-fu to avenge his student’s murder within a few days or something, so he’s off into action posthaste.

Mace starts off the novel being interviewed by sexy journalist Joyce Wilson, who is doing a story on the kung-fu craze. Len sort of pulls a fast one on the readers; we know that Joyce is attracted to Mace and hopes he asks her out – indeed she hopes he’ll take her back to her place and boff her brains out, being a “liberated woman” and all – but it never happens. Mace goes off with Joyce within the first few pages, but is first distracted by some would-be muggers who give him the handy opportunity to show off his skills, and then he’s further distracted by the burned-down building his student lived in. He ends up telling Joyce “maybe next time” and sets off – and Len apparently forgets all about Joyce, having her disappear for the rest of the novel, only returning near the very end when Mace calls her up to see if she knows a mob boss’s address. 

Instead, the novel is given over to a lot of chop-sockeying; same as in the Rosenberger era there are random all-caps bursts of “CHINK!” from Mace’s enemies, followed by Mace’s shouts of “KIII-AAA!” as he kicks them into oblivion. However the incessant “shuto chop” of Rosenberger is gone, replaced by various combinations of punches and kicks, though Len’s own “shuto chop” (meaning his own overused pose, a la Rosenberger’s shuto chop) would have to be the “horse stance,” which it seems Mace is going into every few pages. That being said, Len’s fights are more entertaining, even though they’re really the same as Rosenberger’s – endless, extended sequences of Mace kicking and punching people. But as I’ve said before, I personally feel that martial arts combat isn’t as suited to prose as say gun combat is. There are only so many ways you can describe a punch or a kick.

And as mentioned Mace is kind of boring anyway…he’s too much of a straight-shooter, and his occasional speeches on the kung-fu way kind of make him a bore. That said, he does have an incongruous habit of putting an unlit match in his mouth, which I guess is intended to make him seem tough – otherwise he’s very tall, slim build, long back hair, same as the cover. Also in an interesting bit of cross-series continuity, or at least what might be seen as such, Mace has a pal on the New York police force: Lt. Raymond Jenkins, who we can assume might be the brother of Lt. Richard Jenkins in Len’s Bronson: Streets Of Blood, written around the same time as The Year Of The Boar. Jenkins even gives Mace a gun at one point, insisting he keep it for protection against the Mafia enforcers who are coming for him, but of course Mace doesn’t use it.

Another harbinger of the Rosenberger installments is that Mace is suitably superhuman; he’s actually up in the Dr. Strange league this time, able to see and hear beyond normal human perception with his “shuh” talent. As if that weren’t enough, he’s even able to focus his “chi” to such an extent that he can stop the flow of blood from a gunshot wound in his shoulder…and when the bullet’s extracted (by a Chinatown acupuncturist, naturally), Mace is able to focus his will and re-seal the wound!! All of this, coupled with his take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward sex, makes Mace more of a sort of kung-fu Jesus than the typically-rabid (or at least driven) Len Levinson protagonist.

The title comes from Mafia bigshot Frank Zarelli, whose plans Mace threatens; Zarelli and Chinatown opium importer Mr. Sing concoct a scheme to hire some kung-fu killers to come over from Hong Kong and kill Mace. It’s Mr. Sing who compares Zarelli to a boar, so one assumes Len was given this title before he started writing and found some way to accommodate it into the narrative. Led by seven foot tall sadist Rok Choy, who happens to have been a kung-fu schoolmate of Mace’s who was kicked out twenty years ago, these kung-fu assassins are pretty cool and definitely bring the novel the flavor of vintage bell-bottom fury movies; upon their arrival in Manhattan they’re instantly getting drunk and taking advantage of Mr. Sing’s teenaged assistant – the only part of the novel to feature any dirty stuff, and most of it relayed via dialog.

However Rok Choy is dispensed with sooner than expected, and Mace quickly sets his sights on his remaining followers. In fact Mace is so superhuman that the question isn’t so much if he’ll survive but how quickly he’ll take out his opponents, no matter how greatly they outnumber him. I guess in this way Len’s book is also similar to Rosenberger’s, but it must be said that his Mace is a bit more likable, if too distant from the reader due to his perfection. As for Zarelli, his fate is a bit unexpected, and it occurs shortly afterward, as Mace promptly assaults the man’s heavily-guarded home. Len ends the novel right here, with Mace catching a taxi back to Chinatown – there’s a goofy out-of-nowhere recurring bit about a new cabdriver who doesn’t know his way around Manhattan, and the various characters keep getting into his cab – and that’s that. Vengeance has been meted out in the demanded time.

Overall The Year Of The Boar was entertaining, certainly when compared to Rosenberger’s previous five books, but at the same time I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Len’s other books from this period. Not that there’s anything wrong with his prose or his dialog, it’s just that it lacks that zany spark the others had. And mostly I feel this is due to Mace himself, but again this isn’t Len’s fault – he was hired to write a book about a kung-fu master and that’s how a kung-fu master is written. So in that regard he certainly exceeded, but when you’ve read say Shark Fighter you just expect something more from the guy. I mean when a cab driver who appears on maybe half a page total is more memorable than the lead character, you know something is up.

Back in July 2012 I asked Len about Year Of The Boar as part of the interview I did with him for The Paperback Fanatic. I asked him again about the book now that I’ve read it, and he decided to “augment” his original Paperback Fanatic comments for my review. So here’s Len on the origins of The Year Of The Boar – and I have to say, the “rapacity” of New York landlords (as Len memorably described them in a recent email) comes through loud and clear in the novel!

THE YEAR OF THE BOAR began with a phone call from an editor I knew at Belmont-Tower, don’t remember his name. He said he was working for a new publishing house called Manor and asked if I would write for them. I said “sure,” which was how a desperate freelance writer naturally would respond. 

I lived at 114 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in those days, and walked uptown to the meeting at Manor’s office located in the same vicinity as Belmont-Tower on lower Park Avenue south of 34th Street. Zebra Publishing for whom I later wrote was in the same area. 

Also in attendance at the meeting was a young lady editor who I also knew from Belmont-Tower. No one else was in the office, which as I recall, consisted of only one medium-sized room. This young lady editor had previously told me that she worked with Nelson DeMille when he was in the Belmont-Tower stable. I suspected that Manor was connected to Belmont-Tower in some way. 

I don’t remember details of the meeting but I ended up writing two novels for Manor, THE YEAR OF THE BOAR and STREETS OF BLOOD in their BRONSON series by Philip Rawls. I don’t remember which I wrote first. 

THE YEAR OF THE BOAR really stimulated my imagination because I was very interested in Eastern religions at that time, and had studied karate under the great Okinawan master Ansei Ueshiro who worked out in class alongside us students in his studio on West 14th Street in New York City around 1962. His speed, strength and precision seemed supernatural. Inspired by him, I affixed a bamboo mat to a wall of my apartment and punched it in order to build up callouses on my knuckles, but my knuckles bled and no callouses ever happened. 

In addition, I had studied Vedanta Hinduism plus Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, attending many lectures and reading lots of books. I also spent much time in NYC’s Chinatown, largest Chinatown in America, which was spilling over into Little Italy and the Lower East Side. Often I explored out-of-the-way streets and alleys, hung out in Buddhist temples, ate at funky restaurants, and munched on lotus seed buns as I wandered about. Sometimes I wished I could move to Chinatown because I loved the exotic atmosphere, almost like being in Hong Kong. 

I also had watched a few Kung-Fu movies on the Bowery in Chinatown. None had subtitles but were fascinating anyway. The nearly 100% Chinese audiences seemed to enjoy them very much. Those King Fu movies doubtlessly influenced action scenes in THE YEAR OF THE BOAR, which begins in Chinatown and much of the action occurs there. 

The character of Joyce Wilson, described as reporter for a NYC daily, was based loosely on a real reporter for an underground NYC weekly newspaper who lived in the same building as I in Greenwich Village, and was a friend of mine. Now she is a famous reporter for the NEW YORK TIMES. I don’t want to mention her real name because I don’t want to embarrass her. 

While writing THE YEAR OF THE BOAR, I was having problems with my landlord because my apartment was rent-controlled and he wanted me to move out so that he could jack up the rent. He refused to fix what was broken and threatened to have me beaten up if I complained to the Housing Authority. So he transmogrified into the predominant villain of THE YEAR OF THE BOAR and came to a very dark end in the novel. 

All these experiences and semi-understood theologies served as foundations of YEAR OF THE BOAR. As I skim through the novel today, I think the narrative was undermined by my tendency to toss in sex scenes that seem casual and unmotivated, but it seemed like a lot of sex was casual and unmotivated during the seventies. It was a strange time and I spent much of it sitting in a series of non-luxury apartments in Manhattan, writing action/adventure. To paraphrase Marcel Proust, it was life carried on by other means.

Thursday, July 26, 2018


Coffy, by Paul Fairman
No month stated, 1973  Lancer Books

This paperback tie-in to the famous Pam Grier movie Coffy is notable for one thing – it takes an already sleazy story and makes it MORE SLEAZY. All I know about Paul Fairman is that he was a prolific writer who died in the late '70s, but he really hits the ball out of the park with this novelization, which is really all a grindhouse fan could ask for.

What Fairman does throughout is take already lurid material and just builds on it; there are no fade to black moments here, and if someone's merely shot in the movie you can be sure that in the book it will be elaborated with exploding brains and gore.  But most particularly what Fairman has done is just sleaze the story right the hell up.  My friends, Coffy the novel is damn sleazy.  How sleazy, you may ask? Just take a gander at the first-page preview, folks – I mean this the very first page of the book!! 

The book follows the same path as the film, so I’ll skip my usual overlong rundown. (I can hear your cries of relief even from here.) Fairman follows director/writer Jack Miller’s script most faithfully, only changing the most minor of details, but sleazing it up good and proper whenever the chance presents itself. Whereas the film would fade to black before the real kinky stuff, Fairman just keeps on going – hell, even in something as harmless as a catfight, ie when Coffy is fighting King George’s stable of whores, we’re informed that Coffy’s toe jabs up into a certain part of the female anatomy.

Fairman informs us that Coffy’s full name is Flower-Child Coffin, something I don’t think was made clear in the film. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it so I might be wrong on that. And also that she’s comprised of so many various ethnicities that she comes off like a dark-skinned vision of bona fide lust; indeed, Coffy is “the kind of broad who could bring a man’s cock up with one look… Even decent guys got lustful where Coffy was concerned.” She’s got an Afro and she flaunts her stuff, but Coffy honestly comes off as a bit innocent in the novel – other that is than when she blows off a dude’s head within the first few pages of the book, forcing another guy to OD.

Coffy’s kid sister is now in a funnyfarm outside LA, her brains scrambled from the heroin she got hooked on. So Coffy lures the guilty pusher away with promises of sex, blows his head off with a shotgun, and then forces his companion to take a fatal overdose…and then she heads for work at the hospital! Coffy’s a nurse, same as in the film, though even here it’s not much elaborated on. What is elaborated upon is, as mentioned, the sleazy sex, so posthaste we’ve got Coffy bumpin’ and grindin’ with her politician boyfriend of sorts, Brunswick. But while Fairman might not leave the kinky details unexplored, he does drop the ball on important stuff – like the fact that Brunswick is black, something he doesn’t bother to inform us for quite a while.

On the side Coffy’s also giving the juicy goods to Carter, a black cop who refuses to give in to corruption, mostly after visiting Coffy’s sister in the asylum and vowing never to become part of the dirty machine that could produce such a wasted life. For this Carter’s beaten up by dudes with bats until he’s a vegetable, leading to one of those unforgettable lines: “Maybe he’ll be able to go to the bathroom on his own – someday.” Coffy’s with Carter when the two guys in masks attack him, and here Fairman elaborates in his own special way once again, with Omar, the more lecherous of the two hitmen, raping Coffy in graphic detail. This does at least get Coffy’s vengeance instincts all fired up; she vows to take apart the men who were behind Carter’s attack.

This puts her up against Carter’s corrupt partner McHenry (who of course is a white guy) and a local Mafia kingpin named Vitroni. But to get to the latter Coffy must first get through heroin dealer/pimp King George. In one of the book’s (and of course the movie’s) more memorable moments, Coffy goes undercover as it were as a high-class hooker from Jamaica named Mystique. Fairman as one might expect elaborates the sleazy world of King George’s harem, even including dialog between various whores about their johns.

To get the job though “Mystique” must first be “interviewed” by King George, leading to the sequence featured on the first-page preview; in the book itself it’s actually more graphic, and again a good indication of how Fairman indulged in his sleaziest impulses while writing the novel. But then the entire harem stuff is great, with Coffy instantly running afoul of the other hookers, leading to the memorable bit where she sews razor blades into her Afro and King George’s main woman grabs Coffy’s head in the catfight, slicing her hands up in the process. Even more so in the novel the reader can’t help but feel bad for King George, though; his fate – tied to a car and hauled along by Vitroni’s thugs – is much more grisly and gory here, with copious detail of his mutilated corpse.

Coffy herself doesn’t come off as hard-bitten as Pam Grier potrayed her. While the Coffy of the novel starts off strong, she’s prone to self-doubt and fearful at times, like when she’s captured in her failed attempt at killing mob boss Vitroni. Here we see Coffy pleading that she just “wants to go home” when Omar tosses her into a pool outhouse for safekeeping. But Fairman does his best to make the character more believable: when the novel storms for its awesome conclusion, Coffy realizes she’s able to change her personality like she changes her clothing – veering from a frightened woman to an emotionless killing machine in response to whatever situation she’s faced with.

There’s a line near the very end of the movie, which also appears in the book, where Coffy says over the past few days she’s been living in a nightmare, and that she’s still in the nightmare, and I recall reading something once where Quentin Tarantino raved about this line, how it was great writing – in fact he might’ve even been arguing that the line could be taken literally, that the events of the film really were a dream. Whether intentional or not, Fairman does capture the surreal texture of a dream in the finale, which faithfully follows the onscreen events – Coffy is taken off to her death, but through a series of events both accidental and planned, she’s able to not only escape but to turn the tables on her would-be killers. It’s a great sequence, complete with cars crashing on the freeway and a shotgun-armed Coffy taunting her former captors.

Fairman goes for more of a downer ending than the film – not that he changes anything. It follows the same course, Coffy extracting bloody vengeance at Vitroni’s house with that shotgun, then heading for a final confrontation with her old boyfriend at his beach cottage. But after dispensing justice Coffy tosses the gun aside and walks out along the beach, knowing that the cops are on the way and not caring – she just walks on and on, hoping to walk forever. What a bummer! The reader can be cheered up by the fact that Coffy did return, sort of; the following year’s Foxy Brown, again written and directed by Jack Hill and starring Grier, was conceived and written as a sequel to Coffy, only for the studio to request at the eleventh hour that it become its own thing, as sequels weren’t doing well at the time or something.

Overall though, I was grandly entertained by Paul Fairman’s Coffy novelization, which was a breeze of a sleazy read, coming in well below 200 pages of big print. Lancer clearly wanted to cater to the porn readers of the day, as the back of the book’s filled with ads for Lancer’s sex-focused books. One imagines then that Fairman was given the marching orders to filth up the story, and he succeeds admirably – I was actually more entertained by the novel than by the film, and that’s really saying something.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Specialist #9: Vengeance Mountain

The Specialist #9: Vengeance Mountain, by John Cutter
June, 1985  Signet Books

It’s hard to believe, but The Specialist is coming to an end; after this one there’re only two more, and the shame of it is that by this point John Shirley (aka “John Cutter”) has gotten his template down – basically, The Specialist at this point has become a sort of parody of The Executioner, with everything taken well over the top. Vegeance Mountain is very much an indication of this, as it’s basically just a long-running action sequence with some of the darkest comedy you’ll find in men’s adventure. That being said, the series still isn’t as cool as the stuff Shirley was writing at the same time for Traveler

Another thing that makes it unfortunate that the series is ending soon is that Shirley sets up a subplot that promises big changes for tough-ass hero Jack “The Specialist” Sullivan: namely, he’s considering adopting a young girl and raising her! This character is named Melina and is introduced in one of the grimier opening setpieces yet in the series, reminding readers that, of all the ‘80s men’s adventure series, The Specialist comes closest to capturing the grimy vibe of such books from the ‘70s. Whereas most other series in the ‘80s glossed out the sick-o material one would find in a ‘70s men’s adventure novels, replacing the sleaze and filth with detals about guns, guns, and more guns, John Shirley delivers what comes off sort of like a more polished installment of The Sharpshooter.

We meet Melinda in an opening sequence which sees Sullivan taking out a kiddie porn producer in the woods outside New York, where the bastard shoots his “movies.” It is of course an unsettling topic, but it must be stated that Shirley has his tongue firmly in cheek throughout, ramping up the insanity. In other words he takes a subject that is disquieting and disgusting in reality, but puts an almost surreal spin on it, with a “producer” so depraved that one is certain – or at least prays – that such a creature couldn’t actually exist.

Melinda is the man’s latest “star,” kept naked and shackled in this cabin in the woods, forced to “act” in perverted movies in exchange for bare morsels of food. As ever Shirley goes wildly overboard to make his villain loathsome so that the reader can’t wait to see him axed, but this kiddie porn freak really isn’t around enough to make much of an impression. As expected, Jack Sullivan makes short work of the guy’s henchman, delivers the producer a fitting sendoff to hell, and saves little Melinda – Shirley keeping the scene refreshingly free of treacle. Sullivan drops the poor girl off with Bonnie, the hotstuff private eye who first appeared in the previous volume, and asks if Bonnie would consider adopting her – then, after some off-page good lovin,’ Sullivan splits!!

He's soon contacted by another private eye, this one a sleazeball by the name of Preminger. This guy’s been hired by several victims of one of the more depraved and psychotic characters you’ll ever encounter in fiction: Jerome Farady, Jr, who according to Preminger has murdered 180 women(!!) over the past years, each of them in sexually sadistic ways. Farady, a Ted Bundy type (in that he has boy-next-door good looks, and isn’t a slavering wild-eyed freak as one might expect), has escaped prison because his father, Farady Sr, is a multi-millionaire with all kinds of power and influence.

But these victims of Jr’s excesses have banded together; each of them has lost someone due to the sadist, and they’ve heard of the Specialist and knows he’s the guy who can permanently punch Faraday’s ticket. Sullivan briefly meets them – taking the opportunity to check out hotbod brunette Angela Mills, whose mom was chopped to hamburger by Faraday – and promptly takes the job. Sullivan, as ever fueled by the need for vengeance, is almost at comic book levels here, becoming more and more enraged by the stories he’s hearing about Farady, and vowing to kill him but quick. Unfortunately Farady Jr and Sr have both sequestered themselves in an old fortress deep in Mexico, guarded by roving packs of ruthless mercs.

Sullivan heads for Mexico, where the rest of the novel plays out. He picks himself up a CAWS auto-shotgun thing, as memorably featured in the later Cybernarc #4. Shirley pulls a fast one, making us thing the novel’s going to be a long-simmer affair of Sullivan posing as a mercenary hoping to get a job at the “castillo,” as the fortress is constantly referred to. Posing under the in-joke name of Richard Stark, Sullivan beats up a few of the mercs, including fat boss Ludlow and drug-dealing punk K.C., and gets a successful audience with Faraday Sr, who doesn’t trust “Stark” but decides what the hell, he’s hired. Sr by the way is appropriately insane, ranting and raving beneath the framed painting of his forebear. In a bit of series continuity he also reveals he was once a client of the Blue Man, from volume #3. As for Jr, he’s locked away on his own floor of the fortress; no one’s allowed to see him, but Sr occasionally sends local whores in there to be raped and killed.

Shirley really goes for an over the top dark comedy vibe throughout; the mercenaries who guard the fortress are all criminals of the most depraved sort, boasting of how many women they’ve killed. Even “harmless” K.C. brags about wasting a couple people who found out about his dope-smuggling venture. While the reader settles in for the long haul on this – Sullivan dealing with these guys while trying to figure out how to kill Jr – Shirley pulls the rug out with it all happening in the next few pages. Sullivan takes out a monstrous Jamaican merc (who of course is toking on an equally-monstrous joint before the fight) – and gets into Faraday Jr’s chamber. But he misses his chance to kill him and has to escape into the jungle.

From here Vengeance Mountain employs the same template as all the other John Shirley men’s adventure novels I’ve read: it becomes a long chase scene. Sullivan spends more time fighting the corrupt local cops, all of whom are in Faraday’s employ. Shirley doesn’t muddy up the storyline with too many characters; Sullivan befriends a local bar owner who considers gringos his best customers, and the only other character here is the mandatory easy lay Sullivan must have each volume: none other than Angela Mills, who has come to Mexico because she wants to see Faraday Jr dead, and just hiring the services of the Specialist isn’t enough.

Sullivan is more pissed than anything at the girl’s presence, but of course we have the expected sex scene – up to the usual explicit standards we now demand from Mr. Shirley. Angela by the way has “the most incredible body” Sullivan has ever seen; indeed, his “heavy artillery [begins] to throb” when Angela tries to seduce him back at her hotel room. A graphic sequence which has Angela promising Sullivan that he won’t make her climax. If you think Sullivan fails in this, you are hereby sent to the men’s adventure remedial class.

The plot is barebones but what keeps it moving is Sullivan’s near-insane resolve to kill Jr; there are moments where he basically fuels himself with thoughts of getting his hands on the bastard’s throat. But it must be said that Shirley himself finally seems to be running out of fuel. Much, too much, of Vengeance Mountain is padded-out backstory about Sullivan’s days in ‘Nam. Too many times he’ll be looking off into the Mexico jungle and think how it’s so similar to ‘Nam, and from there we go into an extended backstory about a hairy patrol he once endured with his loyal soldiers. This seems to be setting up the plot of the next novel, which promises to see Sullivan leading a new team of soldiers, this time in an excursion into Iran.

The fun as ever comes in the unexpected moments of dark humor. Like when Sullivan discovers a traitor in his midst, one who has come down to sell info to Faraday Sr; when Sullivan gets him, he beats the traitor so badly that his face looks “like a cherry pie that’d been run over by an 18-wheeler.” When the going gets too tough Sullivan sends out for help, and old familiars Merlin and Rolf show up for the climactic assault on Faraday’s castle. Angela takes part, too, getting some field experience with assault weaponry. Shirley doesn’t shirk on the gore, either, so his action scenes are always entertaining, though it must be said that the Specialst doesn’t do near as much gory damage with his CAWS as Rod and Drake did in Cybernarc #4.

For the most part, though, it was the dark comedy I most enjoyed in this Specialist. Otherwise the storyline was a little too simple, and the volume was a bit of a comedown after the more entertaining previous installments. As mentioned though, there was only two more volumes to be, so we’ll see if Shirley gets back to previous standards. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Death Rock

Death Rock, by Maxene Fabe
No month stated, 1972  Popular Library

Several years ago I was on this late ‘60s/early ‘70s counterculture kick, reading a bunch of “hippie lit”-type novels of the day. I was also into early ’70s issues of Rolling Stone, or “The Rolling Stone” as it was then known, back in the days when it was a newspaper and hadn’t devolved into the glossy celebrity rag of the ‘80s and beyond. In its early years it was practically The Communist Manifesto with a record review section.

So I was very happy when in the fall of 2007 the CD-Rom boxset Rolling Stone Cover To Cover was released: a digital archive of every page of every issue of the magazine from its first issue to the latest one from 2007. You could search, scan, filter articles and reviews by contributor, etc. Very cool. Unfortunately though, the proprietary software the CDs are encoded with has stopped working on many operating systems these days; I recently put CD 1 in my home laptop for the first time (it’s been many, many years since I was into this stuff) and had to download a “patch” to get the damn thing to work – and even then it was faulty.

Anyway somehow after searching through reams of old Rolling Stone articles and reviews on the CDs back in late 2007, I landed on a 1977 feature by Greil Marcus in which he discussed how most “rock novels” were just plain bad, in particular Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street. But Marcus said there was in fact one good rock novel: Death Rock, by Maxene Fabe. In the article Marcus mentioned that Death Rock was long out of print; by 2007 the book was completely off the radar. I could find zero info about it; it wasn’t mentioned (and still isn’t mentioned) in any “great rock novel” lists. At that time I was only able to find two copies for sale at Abebooks; the cheapest one cost me $15. (More about the other copy later.) Today it doesn’t look like Death Rock is available anywhere. It’s as if the book never even existed.

I’ve sort of been on a late ‘60s/early ‘70s rock kick lately – so happy I bought such records back in the ‘90s, before they went up to the insane prices of today (I mean I spent three bucks for a copy of Abbey Road at a Half Prices Bookstore in ’97; today they sell that record for at least $40) – so I decided to give my treasured copy of Death Rock another read. I have to say, I enjoyed it just as much on this second read, even though I’ve long since moved past all that hippie lit stuff I was once into. But author Maxene Fabe doesn’t really write a hippie lit type of novel – in fact the closest comparison I could think of would be the fuzzy-freaky parables early Rolling Stone contributor JR Young once passed off as “reviews.”*

Like Young, Fabe wholly captures the vibe of the era; hers is a story of dopesmoking, LSD-dropping countercultural types who let their freak flags fly high. Like Passing Through The Flame, Death Rock takes place in the early ‘70s and is concerned with the death-throes of the counterculture, but unlike Spinrad’s later tome this one is still fueled with the energy of the era. While Fabe understands the rock era has a short lifespan – she even mocks Mick Jagger for being old (in 1972!!) – there’s still a wide-eyed sort of innocence to it, with Commie symp hippie terrorists who truly believe they’re about to bring about a new social order.

But make no mistake, Fabe mocks these idiots soundly. Actually as I re-read the novel I realized that subheading Death Rock as “A Rock Novel” was a bit misleading, as Fabe is more concerned with the countercultural revolutionary spirit of the day. (Of course, only a fine line really separated the two at the time.) It’s not so much a novel about a rock group giving concerts and going through all the cliched stopping points of your average rock novel. Indeed the rock star who brings all these counterculture characters together, Sissy Ripper – a sort of amalgamation of Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, and Sly Stone, plus others besides – stays peripheral to the plot for most of the narrative, and only appears a few times.

Another point of reference to Fabe’s style would be another rock reviewer, this one a bit more famous (or perhaps infamous): Lester Bangs. Fabe capably captures the same sort of amphetimine-fueled, coked-up narrative drive as Bangs at his best; Death Rock is told in this sort of rambling, omniscient tone very similar to what one might find in the diatribes-cum-reviews found in Psychotic Reactions And Carburetor Dung. Another similarity would be the hazily omniscient tone Wilson and Shea used for Illuminatus!. Actually the two books are very similar (Illuminatus!, despite being published as three paperbacks, actually having been written as one book), both in tone and in plot; they both even climax at a massive rock festival.

Anyway, psycho superstar Sissy Ripper sets off the proceedings; in vague backstory spun throughout the novel, Sissy’s been a reculse for the past two years, after some wildness happened with his girlfriend, Alicia Dubrow (who herself went missing). Sissy we learn is from Africa, basically the Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica(!), but whereas Jimi was the most mellow cat to ever walk the face of the friggin’ earth, Sissy is a wild child who feeds off “dark energy.” Sort of that dark god image Mick Jagger appropriated up toward Altamont (and channeled in Performance). But Sissy means it, man. And whereas the Altamont disaster had Jagger promptly changing his image, Sissy needs the evil vibe of a crowd to keep going.

But he’s been gone two years now, and the novel opens with Sissy making his first appearance since his seclusion – incongruously enough, on the Ed Sullivan show! After running through his new hit, “I Wanna Rip You Up The Middle,” Sissy announces that in two months, ie late August, he will be holding a tryout concert in Lebanon, Kansas, aka the center of America. He invites all the freaks in the audience to head on to Lebanon and show off their skills for the chance at being Sissy’s new backup band. This rallying call sets off the activities of the handful of characters who star in the novel; Sissy himself thereafter disappears in the narrative, only popping up now and again. 

Instead, the brunt of the narrative is given over to the antics of these characters:

Venceremos (aka “Vence”): A devoted revolutionary who quotes Chairman Mao and preaches about the post-revolution society, as expected completely oblivious to the fact that he’s a fascist. (The more things change….“Hey, let’s put on masks and outnumber our enemies and then beat them up, and we’ll call ourselves Antifa! You know, like Anti-Fascists!” “Great Idea!...You think your mom could give us a ride?”) Having come from the big city to Kansas University, Vence has found his Commie preachings falling on deaf ears; the local corn-fed jocks could care less. But Vence sees Sissy’s imminent arrival in Kansas of all places as a divine gift – he could use the superstar to spur the masses to revolution. But first Sissy must be converted! To accomplish this Vence puts together a rock group, heedless of the fact that he has no musical skills, hoping to win the audition and gain Sissy’s ear.

Ruby: A 15 year-old blonde beauty from Lebanon, Kansas who sees Sissy on TV and vows to have sex with him. First though she’ll have to get rid of her pesky virginity. To this end she runs away from home and begins a pilgrimage which will see her sharing the bed of several famous rock stars of the era, Fabe taking the opportunity to skewer everyone from Joe Cocker to Bob Dylan.

Angel: Another Kansas U. character, but one that’s been expelled for having dynamited a teacher’s office so as to impress a radical chick. Angel is a “cocksman” as the saying goes, and has slept with an untold number of college girls, all of whom look up to the wild-haired anarchist. The fact that he makes his own LSD and gives it out for free doesn’t hurt matters. He sees Sissy on TV (while tripping on acid and having sex) and can’t believe the dark energy that floods out of the screen; Angel vows to “save” Sissy.

Alicia Dubrow: Sissy’s old flame; a rail-thin, redheaded beauty who shaved off her hair two years ago after a horrific night in which Sissy, riding those dark energies, savagely whipped her until her back was scarred. Now she goes around the country as a “mystery woman,” uniting all the females in various universites under the banner of women’s liberation – women’s lib of a very sadistic sort. She also rails against rock music, claiming it is misogynist. (Honestly this novel predicts so much nonsense that has become commonplace today that it’s almost scary.) While Angel wants to save Sissy, Alicia wants to kill him, hopefully at the concert in Lebanon. It’s through Alicia’s sections that we see the most of Sissy Ripper, usually in flashbacks to the good times.

These four characters guide us through Death Rock, each of them interracting in unexpected ways – like Vence being the guy Ruby decides to give her virginity to, having come upon him practicing with his new rock band (another funny scene that skewers Vence’s know-nothing know-it-all firebrand arrogance) and assuming he’s a rock singer. Angel and Vence already know one another; former best friends, they’re now enemies, all over that girl Angel tried to impress by dynamiting a teacher’s office. Alicia ends up trying to use both Vence and Angel for her own violent whims, though she has much more success with Vence, as one might expect.

Ruby probably gets the most narrative spotlight, given that through her Fabe parodies the early ‘70s rock scene. Ruby makes her way through a host of rock singers, none of them named, but all of them easily spotted – there’s Mick Jagger (desperate now that he’s “old” to strike up some heat from his audience), there’s Crosby, Stills and Nash (awfully singing together in their live shows, as they were roundly criticized for back in the day), there’s Bob Dylan (who wants Ruby to pay him a thousand bucks for sex – but he’ll settle for fifty), there’s Pete Townshend (who so scares Ruby with his on-stage chaos that all she can do is ask for his autograph). There are others besides; we know from a throwaway line that “Jimi” is one of Ruby’s many conquests, and there’s an eerie bit that foreshadows reality where “Jimi” threatens to kill himself, and Ruby mutters that he’s always making such threats. But then again maybe Fabe wrote this after Hendrix’s death, and made this line intentional. 

One thing sort of becomes clear, though…Maxene Fabe doesn’t much like rock and roll. At least that’s the impression one gets from reading the novel. The superstars are all fakers, their glory years at least ten years behind them (and keep in mind it’s only the early ‘70s!!), and their fans are loyal dupes with chemically-fogged brains. In fact, hardly any of the rockers come off well in the book, though I did note that the one band to escape criticism was the Beatles. This is as it should be, though. I wonder if Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs (another Death Rock fan, per the below) also got this feeling from the novel.

Sissy comes and goes in the text – we learn he came to prominence in mid-‘60s London, like Jimi Hendrix, and there he picked up Alicia as his consort. From there to mega fame, his rock hits becoming wilder and wilder. Given that he also did a few songs promoting social revolution – a la Beggar’s Banquet Stones – Sissy’s not only beloved by the regular rock freaks but by the hippie terrorists too. So they all come out to Lebanon, blitzing the midwest in a vast unwashed throng. However the climactic concert isn’t given as much narrative space as you might expect; we read about a few bands auditioning for Sissy, but then Vence’s group takes the stage and Alicia’s stashed a bomb in the drum kit and the novel is heading for a conclusion before we know it. Ruby and Angel also take the stage, these two having become “married” via LSD.

The finale is bizarre, and again harkens to Altamont, with Sissy and Vence inflamed by that evil energy from the crowd and setting to on a cowering Angel. Meanwhile that bomb blows up in unexpected fashion. Greil Marcus in his brief mention of Death Rock got the end wrong; per Marcus, Sissy Ripper was sacrificially killed in the finale. Rather, Sissy lives, but another character is killed in front of the audience – a clear bit of metaphor, given that this particular character represents the peace and love ethic of the ‘60s, torn apart by the nihilsm of the ‘70s. Fabe clearly saw which way the wind was blowing. As for Sissy, his sendoff is just as fitting; when Ruby finally has her chance for sex with him, she instead realizes Sissy Ripper is a piece of filth and whips him! 

Suprisingly, Maxene Fabe never published another novel; the only other book I can find by her is a guide to TV gameshows, published in 1979 (Greil Marcus reviewed it in Rolling Stone, too). In early January 2008 when I first read Death Rock I contacted Fabe and told her how much I enjoyed her novel. She sent me this nice response:

What a great email to get out of the blue. It particularly got my 25-year-old film-maker son all revved up; he's talking screenplay. It also got me to haul out my 1 remaining copy and start scanning it so i can indeed get it online. I also ordered another copy from Abe. You spent $15? You're lucky; mine is costing me $25. =)

I believe the Creem review of Death Rock appeared in October, 1973. I have a copy of it somewhere in a box in my storage room under a bunch of other boxes, otherwise I'd resurrect it. As an interesting footnote, Lester Bangs called me shortly thereafter asking me to write for the magazine, so, for a time, sporadically thru 1974 and into 1975, I was Creem's TV critic and had a column called “Prime Time.”

That’s how scarce Death Rock is, friends – even the author herself had to shell out twenty-five bucks for a copy! Unfortunately it doesn’t look like she ever did “get it online,” as I don’t see an eBook for it. I contacted her again before writing this review (she now goes by Maxene Fabe-Milford, and runs a college essay consultancy called Uniquely U.); I actually went on Facebook to write her, and folks I hate Facebook like some people hate [insert the name of your least favorite politician]. When I went back on there I saw a note that said “Maxene Fabe-Mulford has accepted your request,” so I assume that to mean she was saying it was okay if I quoted the letter she wrote me back in 2008.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Death Rock, probably even more this second time around. But this puts me in the same unfortunate situation as when I raved about Shark Fighter; I’m raving about a book no one will be able to find. Actually that changed with Shark Fighter, which is now back in print; hopefully someday Death Rock will be too.

Finally, I end the review with a question – I know the cover of Death Rock was used on a jazz LP from the early ‘70s. I have a couple hundred such records but not that one, though I’ve seen it before. For the life of me I can’t remember the artist or title, so if anyone knows what record has the same cover as this book, please let me know!

*JR Young is almost wholly forgotten today, with scant info known about him, but the line “Put on the Dead, and spread!” from his Live Dead review was legendary in the early ‘70s underground. Back in 2007 I started a thread about him at the Steve Hoffman forum, but it doesn’t look like much more info has surfaced. Maybe one of these days I’ll do a post on his various reviews, though per the Rolling Stone Cover To Cover set, he only published around 25 reviews in the magazine, all between 1970 and 1973.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Iceman #2: The Golden Shaft

The Iceman #2: The Golden Shaft, by Joseph Nazel
March, 1974  Holloway House

Has it really been eight years since I read the first volume  of Iceman? Judging from my review, I didn’t much like it, but I bet if I were to read it again I’d enjoy it more. Eight years of reading trash pretty much rots your brain, folks, so whereas I was apparently expecting something more “literary” back in 2010, these days I’d probably just be content to read all the copious descriptions of guts getting blown out.

Well anyway I didn’t even realize I had this second volume. I knew I had a couple of the later ones, thus it was a pleasure to discover The Golden Shaft sitting in the same box as the rest of them. It seemed then only mere logic that I read this volume next, having previously read the first volume. Sorry, no idea where I was going with that. To cut to the chase, I actually enjoyed this one – as with Billion Dollar Death, it’s basically full-on Blaxploitation, lacking only a suitable soundtrack.

Speaking of that previous book, too-cool-for-words Henry Highland West, aka the Iceman, often relfects back on the incidents which occurred therein, “some time ago.” We’re first treated to an overlong prologue which reminds us who Iceman is, how he got his start, how he moved to his high-tech casino-fortress-cathouse, the Oasis, in the desert outside Vegas, complete with a massive computer in the bowls of the place that keeps Iceman abreast of what’s going on in the outside world. As ever he’s accompanied by his consorts Kim (Chinese) and Solema (African), and his favorite color is powder blue, so all his various Adventure Joe-like accessories are colored thusly: his dirt bike, his helicopter, his dirt buggy.

We start right in on the action, as a pack of bikers bully an old gold prospector, ultimately blowing him away. But this old prospector happens to be a friend of Iceman’s, and indeed all this is happening not too far from the Oasis. Not only that, but Iceman happens to be dirt-biking with Kim and Solema, and he heads off to see what the hell’s goin’ on. Probably the Man, fool! Just kidding; the spirit of these books is contagious. Anyway Iceman busts out his .44 automatic and starts gunning down biker scum – Nazel as ever delivers good gore, with brains blown out and the like. Iceman’s women all carry .38s in their knee-high leather boots, by the way, so Solema also guns down some biker creeps. 

Iceman’s been burning for some action, so he sees this as a chance to let it all hang out, baby. Eventually this puts him on the track of a wealthy enterprenneur named Johns and a sadistic South African mercenary Johns employs named Martin. These two did in fact hire the bikers, as it turns out Dipper, Iceman’s prospector friend, had discovered gold on Iceman’s land, and was hiding it from Iceman; Johns wants to buy the land, and still posing as just a regular businessman he visits the Oasis with Martin in tow. True to this subgenre, the racial invective runs rampant as racist Martin leers at the women and wants to tame the black ones.

Nazel does have fun with it, like when Iceman, who instantly detects the true motive of these two, plays up to their racist attitudes, acting as if he’s having a hard time reading the funnies in the newspaper. In truth though Iceman, you of course know, is not only street-wise but brilliant, thus he has these two fools under his thumb in no time. Nazel pads a lot of pages with cutovers to the two villains, plotting and bickering, the latter because Johns is against killing to get their way. Martin though is the cliched evil white villain mandatory of the Blaxploitation genre; the fact that he comes from a country in which whites rule the blacks is often mentioned.

Last time one of Iceman’s hooker-babes was killed in the action, something Iceman reflects upon quite often – indeed, much of the too-long word count is given over to arbitrary reflections on the previous book. But while at the Oasis Martin really has his depraved eye on Brenda, a black babe who decides to do her own work when she finds out that Iceman wants to know what Martin and Johns are up to. She figures maybe she can take the bastard up on his sleazy offer to come visit him, and get some intel while he’s humping her. What’s bizarre though is that Martin, despite wanting her badly, instead goes crazy and accuses Brenda of spying for Iceman, eventually killing her in a bloody struggle. In other words, no sex, nor are there any sex scenes featuring Iceman.

For yes, once again, Joseph Nazel has taken a novel about a pimp who runs a high-tech cathouse filled with ultra-hot fillies…and does not feature a single sex scene!! I mean where’s the sex?? It’s like that Living Color skit with Sam Kinison in hell: “Where’s Hitler??!!!”

Cut to Iceman and Solema in Iceman’s blue dune buggy, heading for Dipper’s shack. Here Iceman discovers that the old prospector was ripping him off (damn white folk!), but also that old Dipper apparently regreted his duplicity and was about to come clean with Iceman. But then Iceman and Solema are ambushed by Martin and forces; Iceman seeks cover in an old mine, where he gets some dynamite. This he puts to use pronto, blowing up Johns’s home, anticlimactically killing off one of the main villains off-page. Martin meanwhile heads home to South Africa, figuring the game is up here in America.

Little does Martin know how determined Iceman can be. He’s going to South Africa to kill the mofo. Along comes Christmas Tree, Iceman’s colorfully-attired pimp pal who appeared in the previous volume. Together they, with ever-present Solema and Kim, board Iceman’s private plane and head for South Africa. Nazel delivers a brief shoutut to the previous book when the four stop over in the fictional African kingdom that was home to the diplomat almost assassinated in the previous volume; here Iceman feels he’s “home,” “among his people.”

Nazel doesn’t belabor the point when the four fly into South Africa; Iceman basically points the plane in the direction of the mine Martin’s providing security for, they land, and they proceed to kill whitey. Iceman, surprisingly, is captured, but the other three come to the rescue. It must be said that New York City pimp Christmas Tree takes quite easily to chopping off heads with a machete. And Nazel makes a hilarious miss in this same scene; he introduces the fact that Kim is armed with nunchucks, but doesn’t have her do anything – the action is solely handled by Christmas Tree and Solema. 

Iceman of course promptly frees himself, leading to an overdone finale in which Martin runs away into the nearby mine, and Iceman follows him into the total darkness of the place. He ends up kicking the guy’s ass and leaving him to die in a cave-in. And that’s all she wrote for The Golden Shaft; Iceman heads on back to the Oasis to his loyal fillies, and they’re all a family again.

All told I found this one pretty entertaining, and also Iceman has a couple bad-ass lines throughout, but given that he usually refers to himself via the dreaded N-word, I fear if I quoted any of them Google would probably shut down the blog.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Dirty Harry #6: City Of Blood

Dirty Harry #6: City Of Blood, by Dane Hartman
May, 1982  Warner Books

Here’s another series I’ve been meaning to get to. I’ve also never gotten around to collecting all twelve of the volumes in the series, and doubtful if I will, for Dirty Harry is one of those series that’s priced too high on the used books marketplace…I’ve seen some of these offered at insane prices. But anyway this was another Warner Books “Men Of Action” title, and as with Ninja Master Ric Meyers  was one of the writers, though he didn’t write this one.

As typical with this line, it’s uncertain who other than Meyers wrote what. My hunch is that Stephen Smoke, who reportedly wrote Ninja Master #1: Vengeance Is His, wrote this book. Like Vengeance Is His, City Of Blood is saddled with a bland, boring protagonist, bland, boring prose, and overall is quite lifeless, save for a few unexpected moments of sadism; it’s also written in a needlessly-convoluted style, as if the author is constantly tripping over himself. The writing is the definition of perfunctory, coming off with a sort of passive style that is wholly unacceptable for this genre, as I’ll show in an excerpt below.

And yes, you read that right – Dirty Harry is bland in this novel. Dirty Harry! It takes a writer of a certain caliber to make the most famous tough-ass cop of all bland, but Smoke, if indeed it be he, has done it. The Harry of the movies has been replaced by just your average everyday cop; we’re told that Harry’s boss, Lt. Drexler, can’t stand Harry for all his rule-breaking and bad-assery, but it’s very much a case of tell not show. Harry in fact is even polite not only to witnesses and potential suspects, but even to the latest partner he’s been saddled with. As Marty McKee notes, it seems evident that this ghostwriter had never actually seen a Dirty Harry movie.

The unfortunate thing is that City Of Blood is one of the sicker men’s adventure novels I’ve read, but then that seems to have been a common thread in all the Men Of Action books; take for example Ninja Master #6, which seemed to relish in describing the gruesome murders of children. This book features a “sex killer,” per the hypberbolic back cover copy, one who likes to decapitate his victims after engaging them in graphically-described sex scenes. This stuff is as lurid as the men’s adventure novels of the previous decade (it seems to me that the genre, for the most part, was a bit sanitized in the ‘80s, at least in regards to the perverted stuff, replacing regular old porn with gun-porn).

But if only we had a suitably deranged protagonist to navigate us through this sleaze! Instead, City Of Blood is like, I don’t know, Bronson: Blind Rage if it had starred Killinger. The novel is also poorly plotted, jamming two separate subplots in a wild disregard for narrative construction. Okay, we open with one of those sick-o sequences, where “Teddy” avidly screws a pair of high-class hookers in a sleazy San Francisco hotel, then hacks them up into hamburger. From this to Dirty Harry Callahan, called onto the scene. But instead of chasing down this killer, Harry is instead ordered to track down another serial killer: the Mission Street Knifer, who has murdered sundry bums and thus far eluded capture. 

How tracking one serial killer will put Harry on the trail of another serial killer is something the ghostwriter hopes we won’t dwell upon too much. Anyway, Drexler sets Harry up with a new partner, much to Harry’s chagrin. This is Drake Owens, actor turned cop(!); he carries a “.356 Magnum.” (Well, the novel is fiction.) The ghostwriter doesn’t really articulate it, but Owens seems to get the gig due to his disguise abilities; much like the short-lived later men’s adventure series Decoy (not to be confused with the ‘70s Decoy), Owens can capably change his whole being through costuming and makeup and etc, and thus poses as a bum on loooong stakeouts in the hopes of baiting the Knifer.

In another parallel to Vengeance Is His, this ghostwriter seems to just want to turn out a generic, soapy novel about ritzy people doing ritzy things, and doesn’t want to bother with the blood and thunder expected of the genre. To wit, we have parts where Dirty Harry visits Drake and his wife at their home, accepting their offer of a homecooked dinner, and there’s even an overlong visit to the set of a movie, where Drake’s wife works as a seamstress or somesuch. However this does ultimately have something to do with the plot, as it’s her expertise which figures out the clothing on the hookers murdered in the opening section (unidentified due to their missing heads) came from expensive boutiques – a hunch that results in the humorous development of Harry visiting expensive clothing stores. However it must be stated that the author again fails to capture the dark comedy that would naturally ensue were such a scene to ever feature in one of the films.

The Mission Street Knifer subplot is not only ridiculous but poorly handled. After lots of padding with Drake as a bum and Harry on stakeout, it finally leads up to an endless part where, on Halloween night, Drake gets a hunch that this tall, mysterious figure dressed like the Grim Reaper (complete with a skull mask) might be the Knifer. And he just follows after him…and follows after him…and on and on. I forgot to mention, there are huge chunks of City Of Blood where Dirty Harry just disappears, and Drake Owens becomes the hero. But this guy is in fact the Knifer, and we do at least get a memorable climax, with the massive, robed figure seemingly impervious to bullets – even those fired by Harry’s infamous .44 Magnum.

Drake is nearly killed in the fight, and we thereafter have parts where Dirty Harry sits around and worries about him. I’ll just let that statement speak for itself; it pretty much says all there is to say about this novel’s handling of the character.

Now as for the main plot, “Teddy” continues to screw and kill with aplomb, including another sleazy bit where he goes to a club with his latest babe, and hacks her up while she’s having sex with some other dude. Now, in this particular ghostwriter’s usual penchant for sloppy editing, early in the book Harry and Drake are called onto the scene of some random shooting, an action bit that sees them taking out terrorists who are gunning for wealthy CEO William Maxim-Davis outside his corporate headquarters. This inrecibly lazy, coincidental plotting serves to bring Maxim-Davis into the plot, and Harry meets with him occasionally while tracking leads, and well…guess who Teddy turns out to be. 

Action is only infrequent, always bloodless (save for Teddy’s gruesome kills), and usually arbitrary, like when researching leads Harry and Drake stay with the uncle of Drake’s wife, and an assassin tries to take them out in the middle of the night. Unbelievably, Drake actually survives the novel, though the poor uncle is blown away. This bit takes us into the climax, which is straight out of a cliffhanger serial; Harry confronts Maxim-Davis in his office, and with the push of a button on his desk the CEO opens up secret passageways into his office, and in come a couple dudes toting guns! Off Harry’s taken in the bastard’s limo, a henchman pointing a gun at his head, when those same terrorists from early on attack again. But even here in this climactic action scene the prose is bland and lifeless:

[The guns held by Davis’s henchmen] contained a clip of eight rounds each, which would mean that before Harry could get out his own weapon and do much of anything with it, he would very likely find his body riddled with sixteen rounds. 

This prospect did not strike him as a very pleasing one, and, even as he cursed himself for blundering into Davis’s trap he tossed aside his .44, complying with the order Davis had just given him, almost casually, for he was still working on his contracts, signing his name over and over again as though he wanted to prove just how meaningless he had ever viewed the threat that Harry had posed. 

Harry remained seated, saying nothing – what was there to say with two guns targeted at your head? – waiting for Davis to conclude his business and get to the point which, he supposed glumly, was his imminent execution.

Folks, don’t write your action novels like this. Especially don’t write a Dirty Harry novel like this.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Double Identity (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #22)

Double Identity, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1967

I didn’t have big expectations for this volume of Nick Carter: Killmaster, yet another courtesy Manning Lee Stokes; I mean the whole “evil twin of the hero” concept has never much appealed to me. But man, it turned out to be one of my favorites yet, featuring a wild opening half that comes off like a men’s adventure version of Lost Horizon, only instead of a monastery of immortal Chinese monks it’s a monastery of horny Chinese women. And the less appealing material, ie the whole “evil Nick Carter” plot, doesn’t really come up until later on.

We start off with perhaps the longest opening section I’ve yet read in a Stokes installment, as the head of Chinese intelligence shows off his prize “Turtle” (aka a US soldier captured in the Korean war and brainwashed) to none other than Chairman Mao and his son. “Turtle Nine” has had extensive plastic surgery so that he looks identical to infamous AXE agent Nick Carter, who apparently is so popular with the Commie powers that they know everything about him, even down to the fact that he wears “crisp linen” boxers. This brainwashed American now thinks he is Nick, living in a New York penthouse built exactly like the real Nick’s, sleeping with a bunch of gals, and armed with Nick’s customary trio of weapons.

Only, in one of those goofy Stokes touches I love so much, the “penthouse” is really a set in Chinese intelligence HQ, and Mao and the others secretly watch from above, looking through a mirrored floor at the action below. They watch as the fake Nick first gets busy with a hot Asian babe, really a hooker hired for the job and to be disposed of later. Then some dudes come in to kill him and the “Turtle” springs to action, moving as fast and fierce as the real Nick Carter. Meanwhile the hooker’s accidentally killed in the melee. Chairman Mao (don’t expect to make it with anyone if you go carrying pictures of this guy, by the way) is satisfied with the performance and sez it’s time for Operation Whatever to commence, blah blah blah.

So just as we’re preparing to settle in for the long haul of a turgid “Nick Carter vs Nick Carter” scenario…Stokes drops us into the middle of snowswept Tibet as the real Nick Carter makes his way to a forbidden lamasery populated by horny Chinese babes(!?). Indeed, so horny that they’re known to screw men to death. Nick thinks this sounds like paradise, but according to Hafed, boss of the sherpas leading Killmaster through this rough terrain, most men avoid the place, particularly married ones like Hafed’s sherpas. Hafed himself isn’t married, though, and he shares Nick’s sentiments. 

Nick’s been sent here due to the recent murder of an AXE agent who was based out of Tibet – an AXE agent killed by Nick Carter! So, in the usual goofy-but-cool manner of these books, only the real Nick Carter can handle this problem. He’s to head to the monastery, known as the Lamasery of the She-Devils, and meet up with the high priestess of the place, the wonderfully-named Dyla Lotti. The high priestess herself is an AXE agent, and what’s more she met the fake Nick Carter as he passed through, thus will be able to provide the real Nick with pertinent info about his doppleganger. 

Stokes doesn’t swindle us when we get to the lamasery, save for the strange note that the hot Chinese babes all have shaved heads. So it’s like a monastery filled with Chinese Sinead O’Connors. If that’s your thing, great! Anyway at this point Nick is out of it, and this is one of the few instances in a Stokes joint where superheroic Nick Carter is out of sorts…suffering from the exposure to high altitudes on such short notice (literally called out of bed by boss Hawk, we’re informed via brief backstory), Nick is nearly at death’s door.

Nick wakes up in the monastery, having passed out on the long flight of stairs leading to the place; he’s out of his mind on “sanga root,” which he’s told is for his illness. But it really just makes him high and horny. He’s kept alone, only tended to by a few of the older temple women. When he finally is granted an audience with the high priestess, it is one of those moments Manning Lee Stokes does so well – full-on pulp with a sort of Conan fantasy vibe. Indeed this entire opening sequence in the Lamasery of the She-Devils is almost a trial run for Stokes’s later work on Richard Blade. The same vibe, even down to the “exotic Oriental” bent Stokes captures here so well.

Dyla Lotti comes into Nick’s chamber alone, appearing from behind a statue, wearing a robe and a demon mask. It’s all just so weird and wild, particularly given that Nick’s high as a kite and while part of him knows it’s all a put-on, another part keeps wondering if he’s really talking to a demoness. Dyla answers a few questions about the fake Nick, but needs to leave for temple duties – strange, then, that Stokes immediately cuts to the next chapter, with Dyla returning to Nick’s chamber. Why’d he even have to fool around with her leaving? Anyway I digress. Nick, due to the sanga and the hot bod he can detect beneath that robe of Dyla’s, is “immensely ready for the physical act of love.”

The high priestess unveils herself and of course she’s a hotstuff Chinese babe, plus she has long black hair, so at least she isn’t bald. Plus she’s got a brick shithouse bod. Who would’ve expected otherwise? It gets even more Richard Blade esque as the two get down to business in the ancient chamber while incense sticks burn all around them. But Dyla reminds Nick – a bit too late, I might add – that she’s taken a vow of virginity, so can’t have full-on sex. Bummer! However, due to the “kama sutra,” she knows how to do other stuff…stuff that will still take Nick to “nirvana.” Stokes doesn’t go full sleaze here, but it’s raunchy enough. Even raunchier is the very next sequence, in which Nick gets to satiate himself in full, engaging in a day(s) long orgy with a trio of temple babes. 

Nick basically becomes a proto-hippie here, which was pretty cool to see in a Stokes novel, as typically his characters are paragons of macho posturing. All our Killmaster wants to do is hit the sanga and bang the three temple broads; even when the gals finally leave and Hafed comes in, having to smack Nick out of his stupor, he’s still out of sorts. Hafed you see has been banging some temple babes of his own, but got some free time and went looking around and has discovered some weird, wild stuff, to quote my man Johnny Carson.

Hafed leads a dazed Nick into a hidden chamber deep in the temple – and there, tossed in a closet, is the corpse of the real Dyla Lotti, who turns out to have been an old lady. Hafed’s heard talk from the sisters that, a bit ago, a hot young half-Chinese lady named Yang Kwei arrived at the temple and took over duties, and surely it is she Nick just engaged in naughtiness with, only pretending to be Dyla Lotti. Thus, Nick figures, the lady is a Chinese spy and was trying to stall him. Sure enough, Chinese soldiers are on the way.

When the two get hold of the fake Dyla Lotti, Hafed again proves his sidekick prowess by taking over the job of torturing her, even though Nick suspects she’s already told them everything she knows. Regardless, Hafed puts a fire-heated blade on her boob, burning off a nipple. Nick is actually out of sorts even here; whereas Stokes’s Killmaster can be more brutal than most heroes – let’s recall when he shot and killed an unarmed (and naked) woman – here he actually feels bad for the fake Dyla, and regrets her torture. Plus he decides not to kill her; Hafed stuffs her into the closet she herself stashed the corpse of the real Dyla Lotti.

Hafed throughout displays almost magical powers, indeed coming off as more resourceful than Nick himself. For this transgression he suffers the expected fate, a casualty of the mortars Chinese soldiers fire at them as he and Nick make their escape from the monastery. After this, sadly, Double Identity loses some headway. Nick’s now in Karachi, where the fake Dyla said the fake Nick was headed; the bastard has already killed another rep of the US government. It gradually develops that the fake Nick Carter’s mission is to jinx the ceasefire between Pakistan and India, hopefully bringing the US and Russia into the crisis or somesuch. Why it would take a fake Nick Carter – and only a fake Nick Carter – to do such a thing is something Stokes doesn’t want us to dwell on.

Speaking of hippies, Nick sort of retains the services of one, though he isn’t technically referred to as such. His name’s Bannion, a former news reporter who came to Karachi ten years ago, got drunk, and “has been drunk ever since.” Now he lives here, mostly hanging out in bars, and has a native wife and a bunch of kids – we’re often reminded that his wife is fat “from having so many kids.” Nick needs this guy because he can speak the local dialects, or something. We get back to the pulp stuff when Nick investigates the house of the murdered government agent and finds a poisonous snake hidden in a drawer of his desk.

Actually this part is pretty goofy, in that Nick finally confronts the fake Nick, but it happens in a pitch-black room and throughout Nick can’t tell if the other Nick is even there. It just goes on and on past the point of absurdity, indeed just trampling right over it into parody, like something out of Mad’s “Spy vs Spy.” And when I say it goes on and on, I mean it – Nick, “getting very near to panic,” crawling around the dark room, desperately searching for his enemy whom he’s certain is there but can’t find, even with the humorous moment of Nick slashing his knife beneath the bed in the room but hitting nothing. But there’s a corpse on the bed, a just-killed maid or something…and the fake Nick’s hiding beneath her, in a section carved out of the matress, breathing through an oxygen mask!

The two have a quick scuffle…we’re informed the real Nick is slightly stronger, though the fake Nick is just as brutal. He gets hurt and runs away, and the real Nick vows to kill him. I’ve mentioned before how one of the great things about Stokes is there’s none of the modern chickified sentiments of today…I mean, the fake Nick, we’ll recall, is a captured US soldier who has been brainwashed. In other words he’s a victim, despite his evil deeds. In the chickified fiction of today, where “emotional content” is all that matters, Nick would go out of his way to “save” the fake Nick, to bring him back to who he once was. Not in Stokes. Nope, Nick just wants to kill the motherfucker.

The final section sees Nick and Bannion going up the Indus, following a gruesome trail of the mutilated corpses of Pakistani soldiers, buried to the neck with their eyelids lopped off and little taunting notes from the fake Nick beside them. It develops that the fake Nick’s intent – ie the Chicom plot – is to arm a group of radical Muslims and get them to attack Pakistani soldiers, making it look like Indian soldiers did it, thus setting off the war between the two countries once more. In Peshawar things come to a head – Nick spys the fake Nick, meeting up with a lovely young blonde American babe, who we know from the long opening chapter is a Chicom agent who works in the Peace Corps as her cover.

She is the fake Nick’s control, able to activate his brainwashed mind, and here Stokes eerily hits on topics that would have real-world ramifactions in a few years’s time, particularly the RFK assassination. And humorously, despite his realization that the fake Nick is hypnotized – something Nick deduces while his double and the American babe have sex in a car, Nick listening in on them – he still intends to kill him regardless. (AXE agents, we learn, can’t be hypnotized – a “rudimentary requirement for service.”) Anyway the control’s name is Beth Cravens, and if you figure the real Nick will be banging her soon, you are of course are spot-on. And, as you’ll also no doubt guess, she instantly realizes she’s just been screwed by the real Nick Carter, because this guy’s a helluva lot better in bed than the fake one is!

Stokes as ever throws all sentiments out the window – Nick knocks Beth out immediately after taking her to, uh, “nirvana,” and then he and the fake Nick get in a Mexican standoff; fake Nick shows up with a gun, using just-captured Bannion as a human body shield. Please skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid spoilers, but I just had to mention it because it’s another indication of how Stokes’s heroes are cut from a different cloth: Nick shoots through Bannion to kill the fake Nick, just unloading his Luger on Bannion’s chest! But at least he promises to send some money to the guy’s wife and kids! Jeez!

Anyway, Double Identity was one of my favorite Stokes installments yet, mostly due to the crazy opening half. After that things settle down to the usual turgid Stokes pace, but really I don’t mean that as a criticism. I like his style, and I like his brutal heroes. But one must admit the book is lacking in action…Killmaster doesn’t even kill anyone until the final quarter, and the only action scene we get is a brief sequence where he takes out some of those Muslim terrorists, using gas bomb Pierre on a few of them. One must also admit that Stokes seems a bit obsessed with the word “little,” which appears on practically every page.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Adrano For Hire #2: Kill The Hack!

Adrano For Hire #2: Kill The Hack!, by Michael Bradley
March, 1974  Warner Books

It’s been so long since I read the first volume of Adrano For Hire that I had to go back and read my review to familiarize myself with this short-lived series; I’d honestly forgotten pretty much everything about it, other than I hadn’t enjoyed that first installment very much. Sadly I must say the same about this second volume, again turned out by Gary Blumberg posing as “Michael Bradley.” Like the first one it is stuffed with too many characters, lacks much action or bite, and indeed even misses the sort of arrogant drive of the first volume, for this time “hero” Johnny Adrano is “for hire” to save his life, not for reasons of arrogance.

But to tell the truth, Adrano is sort of lost this time around. In my review of the first volume I compared this series to Narc, but a more apt comparison might be Mafia: Operation. Just like that four-volume series, Adrano For Hire is more of an ensemble piece, featuring too many criminal underworld types vying for the reader’s attention. But unlike Mafia: Operation, this series has a recurring character in titular Adrano, who as we’ll recall is a conceited young punk looking to use his fancy Ivory Tower college degree to strike it big in the world of the Mafia. In the first volume he successfully screwed over his old mobster pals, making a deal with an overseas heroin dealer.

It appears that this second volume opens up soon after the first volume – Adrano is holed up in some dive in New York after the fallout of an attempted hit in New Jersey a few hours before. The Mafia is after him for screwing them over, and in particular a capo named Steve Rizzo is out for his blood. (Any relation to Frank Rizzo??) We get lots of scenes of Rizzo screaming at fellow mobsters about getting Adrano. Meanwhile a hirsute freak by the name of Louis Cerelli – who by the way was castrated in Vietnam – is hiding way down in Mexico and pulling off contract kills. Nicknamed “The Hack,” Cerelli gets overly excited on his kills and is known for hacking and slashing his victims to bloody pieces.

These various plots unsteadily unite in a single thread in some of the more lazy plotting I’ve yet encountered; okay, first Rizzo wants Adrano dead, and he’s all fired up about it. But then Rizzo gets word that the Hack is operating down in Mexico – the novel opens with Cerelli killing an Indian anthropolgist, in a subplot which itself will lazily be threaded in – and abruptly Rizzo changes his focus: now he wants Cerelli dead. Why? Because many years ago Rizzo hired Cerelli to kill a rival capo, and Cerelli did the deed, but as was the Hack’s wont he also hacked up the busty babe the capo happened to be in bed with at the time – complete with lurid descriptions of her breasts being lopped off and the machete rammed up a certain part of her anatomy. Well, the babe in question happened to be Rizzo’s fiance(!?), so now the Hack Cerelli is #1 on Rizzo’s shit list. 

Here comes the lazy thread-combining: Rizzo decides to sent Adrano down to Mexico to kill Cerelli. Huh?? To this end he hires some black thugs to round up Adrano, who happens to be hiding out with an old Harvard pal named Arturo Zamora, who now works as a people’s lawyer in Harlem. Given the financial status of his clients, Zamora is poor, and thus had to represent criminals so as to get money for his brother, an anthropologist looking to work in Mexico. And yes, folks, you got it – the very same anthopologist who was killed by Cerelli in the opening pages! All the plot threads so lazily connected!

Now mind you folks, I’m informing you of all this due to the omniscient power of hindsight, because the honest fact of the matter is that, for a good fifty percent of Kill The Hack!, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Blumberg is a capable writer, but damn does he just drop you into the deep end and let you fend for yourself. Newly-introduced characters refer to other new characters in passing, or past events with little elaboration, and there’s hardly any setup or development of anything. But hey, at least the cover’s cool, and Adrano For Hire is similar to the Smuggler series in that the cover art is the best thing about it…and, also like the art on The Smuggler, you get double bang for your buck, with an additional painting on the back.

Well anyway since I’m in full admission mode, here’s another one – I’ve never been much interested in stories set in Mexico or stories about Mexican village life (save of course for One Hundred Years Of Solitude), which made Kill The Hack! even more of an unenjoyable read for me, as the second half occurs in, you guessed it, Mexico, deep in the jungle. I mean, unless it’s Predator we’re talking about, I’m just not interested, so sue me. But we’re very much on that tip here, with Mexican natives engaged in their own subplots…there’s some shit about up-and-comer Mexican crook Ramon, who hired Cerelli to kill Zamora (the anthropologist), because Zamora was screwing Ramon’s girlfriend Consuelo. And yep, if you didn’t noitce, this is the exact same plot as the Rizzo backstory. Ten points to Blumberg for ripping himself off in the same novel.

Adrano and Atruro Zamora (the lawyer, not the murdered anthropologist) are sent down to Mexico. They bicker and fight the whole way, and not in a fun Razoni and Jackson way. It gets to be annoying. Action is infrequent, and when it happens it’s over in flash, like when Adrano discovers he’s being followed by would-be assassins, ones hired by Cerelli (WTF? I mean Cerelli himself is an assassin, righ??). He guns ‘em down with his .38 and goes back to bitch at Zamora for bringing the villains onto their trail or something. Meanwhile we have more fussing between Ramon and Consuelo, and Cerelli sweating bullets because he realizes the Mafia, in particular Rizzo, has tracked him down.

The finale is almost maddeningly boring. The action having moved down to Veracruz, our characters engage in a loong standoff, Cerelli hiding in the jungle and waiting to take out our heroes. Meanwhile Consuelo is on her way down here, I guess because Blumberg feels he’s padded so many pages with her subplot that he should have her, you know, maybe be integral to the plot in some fashion. Well, she is…she sees Zamora, in particular how he’s identical to his murdered brother, and the two promptly fall in love. Meanwhile after a lot of “tension” Adrano’s able to get the drop on Cerelli and shoots him. That’s it.

This one was really a mess…just a long-simmer, disjointed affair with too many characters and too little “good stuff” to at least make it worth your while. Cerelli’s gruesome backstory and modus operandi are about the only memorable elements…I mean it’s like he just walked out of one of those sicko Men’s Detective Magazines of the day. But his lurid star is also tarnished by the general vibe of malaise which settles over the novel. Really hoping the next one is better.

Monday, July 2, 2018

See The Red Blood Run

See The Red Blood Run, by Niles N. Peebles
May, 1968  Pyramid Books

A “private cop” ventures into the underground world of LSD in this Pyramid PBO, which was the first of two books to feature P.I. Ross McKellar. About author Niles N. Peebles barely anything is known; the two McKellar novels are the only books published under his name, but after some digging I discovered that Peebles also ghostwrote a book that has become legendary with the Alcoholics Anonymous crowd: Dr. Bob And The Good Oldtimers (1980).

In true private eye fashion McKellar narrates the story for us; he’s New York City born and bred and operates out of Manhattan. He’s “close to forty years old” and is not married, though he was once – and has vowed never to be again. He doesn’t carry a gun and his sleuthing is carried out more so by following leads and visiting suspects; in other words, you won’t find any Mike Hammer action here. He’s also such a New Yorker that he’s never learned to drive, and he’s not too ashamed to admit it. He’s also more of a gentelman than you’d expect, given the genre, and for the most part just comes off like a regular guy.

The back cover copy oversells the lurid quotient of the book. Sad to say, there just isn’t much of it; McKellar does okay with the ladies but Peebles always cuts away from the sleaze. The back cover also overhypes the “psychedelic” nature of the book, in particular spotlighting a part where “the needle jabs in” and McKellar is dosed with LSD against his will. I’ve never heard of LSD being taken this way but what the hell. At any rate it sends him off on a “Love is Truth” sort of quest rather than any sort of lysergic hellhole nightmare, so even that part isn’t too lurid, more’s the friggin’ pity. 

McKellar is promptly hired by lovely, svelte Alexandra Justin, a high-class socialite currently engaged to Robbie Quigley, president of a local Anti-Vice union. I had some problems with all this…the whole Quigley-Alexandra relationship is hard to buy, and plus methinks Peebles could’ve given his hard-assed, anti-“filth” politician a tougher name than “Robbie.” But anyway the case Alexandra wants to hire McKellar for is this: Quigley’s wild child niece Lydia, whom Quigley has served as guardian for since Lydia’s parents died, has gone missing, last seen with the beatniks and hippies and other drug addicts in the gutter of the East Village.

Alexandra wants McKellar to find Lydia, bring her home, and keep it all out of the papers – it would be a political nightmare for it to be discovered that straight-shooter Quigley’s own niece is a doped-up hippie. McKellar takes the job, mostly because he’s also taken with Alexandra, and wonders often what she’s doing with a chump like Quigley. McKellar has heard of the man and doesn’t like him, though honestly McKellar comes off like such a straight-shooter himself that you wonder what his problem with the guy is. It would be one thing if McKellar himself was presented as a dopesmoking, acid-dropping PI (now there’s a novel!), but in truth he’s pretty bland.

Lydia has been hanging around a hippie named Muzzy, who fancied himself a psychedelic artist. Now both of them are missing, and McKellar gets leads on them from Leon, a fellow psychedelic artist. But when McKellar heads to the hovel Leon says the two were shacking up in, he finds a pair of corpses. It turns out though that this dead couple is not Muzzy or Lydia, but some random hippies who were crashing there and OD’d. Here we get another reminder that McKellar isn’t your typical hardboiled PI, as he refrains from looking at the corpses in the morgue, unable to stand such sights. 

McKellar’s search takes him around the grungy environs of the East Village, and being a lifelong New Yorker McKellar informs us how the place has just been given a fancy new name by the hippies who congregate there. We get a lot of New York info in the novel, as McKellar walks around a lot and informs us what is where. In this way the novel is a time capsule of a long-gone Manhattan, much in the same way that the ‘70s novels of Len Levinson are. An interesting thing though is that McKellar isn’t as cynical about this psychedelic New York as one might imagine; indeed he treats most people with respect, even if he finds their ways odd.

In the course of his investigation McKellar mostly visits a psychedelic art museum, an LSD retreat in the woods, and a couple grimy tenement buildings occupied by dirty hippies. So we don’t get the psych-pop jet-set vibe of similar Pyramid cash-ins of the day, like Fun City, though there is a part later on where McKellar attends a mod party at a socialite’s place…and he literally runs away from an orgy taking place therein. Instead of sleaze, we get lots and lots of exposition about LSD research and mind expansion and whatnot. This is mostly courtesy a character named Jed, owner of that psych art place, Contra Galleries. McKellar takes the opportunity to hit on Naomi, pretty brunette Contra employee and former stewardess. He also finds the time to romance Alexandra Justin, and while McKellar scores with the latter, Peebles is not one to elaborate.

The scoring takes place when McKellar gets a lead that takes him upstate New York to a retreat started by an early LSD pioneer named Dr. O’Meara (gee, I wonder who that could be??). Muzzy and Lydia were frequent visitors of the place, but aren’t there now. Time for more LSD exposition courtesy the good doctor, though up here they’ve moved beyond LSD into more legal methods of mind expansion. This entails film projections and light shows and the like; later in the book McKellar watches a psychedelic “happening,” complete with Warhol-esque art films, rock groups, and more psych light shows, all of it put together by an Abbie Hoffman-esque rabble rouser named Lennie Burns.

Anyway McKellar has to bum a ride from Alexandra to that upstate retreat, and on the way back they give in to their mutual attraction and engage in some hot off-page lovin’. Meanwhile Muzzy and Lydia turn up dead, found in Leon’s place, another OD. This time there’s a suicide note courtesy Muzzy. Leon’s jailed under suspicion and McKellar takes up his cause, figuring something’s not right about all this. As he continues poking around he’s “jabbed” by that LSD syringe in the sequence excerpted on the back cover…a sort of brief deal where McKellar, realizing he’s been dosed with acid, stumbles around and gawks at New York and realizes the profound truth that “Truth is Love” and “Love is Truth.” It’s to Peebles’s credit that this sequence isn’t too goofy.

There really isn’t much action per se; even the LSD “jab” is courtesy someone who bumps into McKellar from behind on a darkened street and then takes off. The finale is more of a tense deal, with McKellar thinking the Contra Galleries owner was behind a sort of LSD-importing scheme and killed Muzzy and Lydia for various reasons. Actually the finale is pretty goofy; trying to entrap him, McKellar bluffs a story to Jed, the gallery owner, that co-worker Naomi was using her old stew job to run drugs…then it turns out that’s really what was happening! McKellar hides in the closed store while the two confront one another, and meanwhile Naomi has come with a gun to take out Jed; in a seriously lazy reversal, Naomi is suddenly revealed to be a cold-blooded killer slash LSD drug-runner.

Only…it gets goofier! Even though Naomi, shot by Jed and near death, admits to having killed Lydia and Muzzy…McKellar still doesn’t buy it, and confronts Robbie Quigley. Then Quigley admits he killed them! Once again McKellar stands by while someone else shoots the villain for him…seems McKellar doesn’t do his own villain-shooting or car-driving…then grills Quigley some more while he dies. Unsurprisingly, Alexandra breaks it off with McKellar soon thereafter…I mean it’s one thing to have an affair while your fiance is alive, but once your investigation has outed him as a murderer and gotten him killed, that’s where she draws the line.

As mentioned McKellar returned in another Pyramid paperback the following year, Blood Brother, Blood Brother, but it seems to lack any of the psychedelic stuff of this one and seems more of a generic detective sort of deal.