Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Mexican Connection

The Mexican Connection, by Alexander Mason
No month stated, 1977  Leisure Books

You’d never guess it from the cover, but this Leisure paperback original is a drug smuggling caper in the vein of Night Crossing and High Fliers. (In fact, “High Flying” is the back cover slugline.) I wonder if Ken Barr’s typically-great cover art was commissioned for something else, maybe for the Sharpshooter series, given how it misleadingly presents the novel as an action yarn. That being said, there is a sort of airplane shootout, and a jeep does crash into flames in the desert, so who knows.

No idea who Alexander Mason was; the book is copyright Leisure. There was another paperback credited to him in 1980 (Losers Keepers). My hunch is this was a real writer, maybe someone who shot for the hardcover market, failed, and ended up publishing via Leisure. Because really there’s a world of difference between this and the imprint’s typical books. It’s more of a novel, if you get my meaning, and not something quickly cranked out to meet an editor’s request.

Whereas Night Crossing is a sometimes-humorous buddy smuggling tale and High Fliers is a straight-up comedy, The Mexican Connection is more serious. For this it lacks the charm of the other two, and could’ve used a little levity. Also the rapport of the main characters is nowhere near that of the other two books. On the other hand, this one gives a bit more detail on the drug smuggling efforts of the day, even if it does lack the adventurous spirit one would expect, given that the smuggling entails night flying over the desert with federal agents in hot pursuit.

The novel has an effective opening, though: Steinman, our terse hero, is flying his Piper Navajo over the Mexico-US border when he realizes another plane is chasing him. This leads to an actual aerial gunfight, or at least sort of one, as the other pilot leans out of his window and starts shooting at Steinman’s plane. Later we’ll learn that this other pilot is crazed Federal agent John Roy Corrigan, infamous even among his fellow officers for the lengths he’ll go to enforce the law. Steinman and Corrigan have an intense personal rivlarly, due to the little fact that Steinman blew up Corrigan’s house(!).

Losing Corrigan, Steinman manages to offload the grass he’s flown over the border, then he heads on to his spartanly-furnished home in Barstow. The furnishings match Steinman’s personality; even we readers don’t learn much about him, or what brought him into the drug running biz. A brief background on him lets us know that the novel takes place in 1973 or so; we’re told Steinman began flying drugs in ’69, three or four years ago. His partner is Harry Crane, a guy who in somewhat-confusing backstory got into the biz thanks to someone else: Winnie Secker, a young surfer dude Harry met shortly after Harry got divorced, who made his living selling drugs.

Harry ended up managing the business with Winnie, building it up to the point that he ran everything on his own. Eventually he realized he’d need his own pilot, and this is how Steinman was referred to him. Since then the two have managed the business, with Winnie now relegated to a hanger-on. Also there’s a stigma about Winnie, given how he was recently abducted by Corrigan, who beat him unmerciful in the effort to get info on Steinman and Harry. Winnie was let go, but now Steinman and Harry are uncertain if they can trust him and wonder if he told the Feds anything. Particularly given that Steinman’s recent flight was almost blown – how could Corrigan have known he’d be crossing over at that time?

The titular Mexican connection is a drug dealer named Sanchez, who when we meet him is in the process of killing off his cousin. This is because the cousin was revealed to be an informer, and it was he who blabbed about this recent border crossing, not Winnie. Meanwhile Sanchez is planning a bigger deal: he’s going to heist a million quaaludes and sell them to Steinman and Harry, who figure they’ll make enough money out of it that they’ll be able to retire and go legit. Sadly though this is the sole bit of drug running we get; I was hoping for a few such scenarios of Steinman skillfully piloting a cache of good Mexican grass across the border. But they’ve learned they can make much more money smuggling these quaaludes, so this entails a lot of planning.

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t mentioned a single female character. That’s because there isn’t one! Not until the end, at least, and even she is reduced to just a few words and standing on the sidelines while Steinman deals with a traitor. Otherwise there’s no women involved, not even a lame eleventh-hour romance for any of our heroes. Instead, Mason builds up more of a suspense angle, with Steinman starting to believe Winnie is indeed innocent, and that someone else he trusts is really the traitor. To his dismay he will be proven correct, but the only problem is when the confrontation goes down it lacks much drama, given that we’ve barely even seen these two characters together. Hence the reader is not party to the camaraderie and trust that has been destroyed.

While Sanchez is sadistic, he’s no match for the cops, in particular one who is Corrigan’s Mexican counterpart. But the quaalude deal still goes down, and we finally have another aerial chase, with Corrigan again going after Steinman. This eventually leads to a car chase, with Corrigan, having been unable to find any drugs on Steinman’s plane, relentlessly shadowing our smuggling hero, certain that he dropped the drugs off somewhere (which he indeed did). The car chase passes by the San Diego campus of UCLA and eventually ends up with a flaming crashed jeep, as depicted on the cover. 

There’s action here and there, and the writing is as stated a caliber above the usual stuff you get from this publisher, but for all that there seems to be something lacking about The Mexican Connection. It’s as if Mason wasn’t sure how he wanted to write his book. It has a great idea, but too much of it is composed of Steinman sulking around, drinking beer, and plotting against people he’s certain are plotting against him. Most inexplicable of all, there’s no feel for the drug world; we’re not even told if Steinman himself smokes dope, and none of these characters have the countercultural flair you’d expect. None that is save for Winnie, who barely appears in the novel, anyway.

All this leads me to believe that Leisure purposely spun the book as “a tough narc versus druggers” action yarn, hoping they’d rope in easily-duped blue collar readers who were expecting to see a bunch of hippies getting their faces bashed in.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child Of The Aquarian Age

Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child Of The Aquarian Age, by David Henderson
No month stated, 1978  Doubleday

I’ve gone through periodic bouts of obsession with the music and life of Jimi Hendrix, and it just so happens I’m in the midst of one right now. I tell ya, this guy’s music just gives and gives, which is crazy when you realize he was only 27 when he died and he was only in the public eye for less than four years! Yet to this day, almost 50 years after his death, “new” Jimi Hendrix albums are still being released…the guy practically lived in the studio, and there’s still tons of unreleased material in the vaults. And people are still buying his records.

In a previous such phase I read the paperback edition of this bio, published by Bantam in 1982 and retitled ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky; at one point it was pretty common, given that it was for a time the only extensive biography of Hendrix. However David Henderson’s book has fallen out of favor in recent years; folks don’t much like the mytho-poetic approach he’s taken to Jimi’s life, the way he sometimes dips into the thoughts of Jimi or other characters, the way he fictionalizes certain people and events, the occasional inaccuracy he presents as fact. In particular, they don’t like the way he tries to convey Jimi’s music through poetic word-painting.

But I friggin’ loved it – all of it! In fact I enjoyed it so much that, even though I first read the book back in the summer of 2001, parts of it still rolled around in my head. I decided recently to read it again…only to recall that the paperback edition was an abdridgement of this original hardcover. So of course, this time I had to get the hardcover, which is now scarce and overpriced on the collector’s market. But it was worth it; it was just what I wanted: a veritable doorstop of a book, 500+ pages of incredibly small, dense print, all about my man Jimi Hendrix, written in a super-hip, super-literary style. The book is very much of its time – and around here, in case you haven’t guessed it yet, that’s meant as a compliment.

Personally, I don’t want a rock bio that tells me that a recording session took place on such and such a date, and the umpteenth take of a particular track was recorded on that date, or that the musician was wearing red socks at the time. I could care less about that stuff. I want a book that captures the spirit of rock, and folks in my opinion Henderson has captured it perfectly. His book is very much in the mold of the New Journalism, as it was then called, as popularized in Rolling Stone and such; it reads like fiction (and some detractors would claim that’s because it is fiction!), like the greatest blockbuster ever about James Marshall Hendrix, aka the greatest figure in rock history. (Or at least he is to me!) 

Henderson takes his time with the story. As evidence of this, the first hundred or so pages are devoted to Jimi’s history, from how his parents met to his hardscrabble childhood in Seattle, traded from one family to another, given how his dad was fighting WWII and his mother was either too sick or too drunk to care for him. One curious thing I found to be missing was why Jimi, or “Jimmy” as he was then known, was drawn to the guitar; Henderson tells us that he eventually took one up after playing other instruments, but leaves it at that. Luckily we have Jimi’s own words on this, as related in the pseudo-autobiography Starting At Zero (2013): Jimi claimed that he was more interested in pianos and such, but wanted an instrument he could easily carry around. And since guitars were plentiful, that’s what he ended up playing.

But it’s a testament to Henderson’s word-spinning that these initial hundred pages are still so gripping. I mean, like most I just wanted to get to the good stuff – the formation of the Experience, the recording of their first album, all that stuff. But I really enjoyed reading about Jimi hanging out with his childhood friend, getting involved with various bands in his hometown of Seattle. One wonders though how much of this, too, is anecdotal; it’s my understanding that Jimi’s father, Al Hendrix, was prone to spinning tall tales about Jimi’s youth, usually presenting himself in a flattering light. Again we know from Starting At Zero that, at least according to Jimi, Al would occasionally beat him, and was generally overbearing.

I also appreciate how Henderson foregoes all opportunities to sap things up, as would be mandatory in a book published in today’s touchy-feely, “movie moment” world. Like Jimi’s troubled relationship with his mother. She died when he was just a teenager, but Henderson doesn’t dwell much on the sad scene, and only relays that Jimi didn’t say much about it at the time. He only did later, through his music – years later he would record “Gypsy Eyes,” take after take after take of it, and what his increasingly-frustrated bandmates didn’t realize was that the song was inspired by his mom. Nor does Henderson sap up the admittedly-moving part where Al, returned finally from the war, takes a train to go pick up Jimi, whom he’s never even seen before.

Speaking of Al, one also gets the suspicion that Jimi’s brief Army career is a bit gussied up. We’re not told, for example, that teenaged Jimi was given a choice: Army or jail. This is due to the fact he was arrested for joyriding in a stolen car. (Jimi claimed he didn’t know the car was stolen.) But his dad was in the Army, and Jimi strives to retain the family name by going airborne. We know from Jimi’s own comments that he hated the Army, but Henderson doesn’t convey that as much, angling more for the idea that Jimi was really trying to make his dad proud. But meanwhile the other guys were hassling him because he was such a weirdo, playing his guitar all the time and even sleeping with it.

Jimi’s departure from the Army is also a little vague; I’ve read multiple stories, from him injuring himself to faking his way through psych eval tests so he could be discharged as a nutcase. At any rate, soon Jimi’s back to the hardscrabble life, slumming around the south and playing for a variety of R&B groups. Here he also meets funky bassist Billy Cox, who would factor heavily in Jimi’s later years – and in my estimation was the best bassist Jimi ever recorded with. I’d never had much interest in this early period of Jimi’s career before, but Henderson tells it with such enthusiasm that I was caught up in it neverthless. And one really gets to feel some sympathy for Jimi, being screwed over by unscrupulous band leaders and management companies.

Chief among the screwer-overs would be Ed Chaplin, who early on has Jimi sign a contract for a measly one dollar; this laughable contract would come back to haunt Jimi in his final years, his useless lawyers unable to free him from it. (Though we learn in the “Coda” that that this was handled posthumously, by lawyers who actually knew what they were doing – folks, Jimi just never got a clean break in his life.) Eventually he winds up in New York, living in Harlem but spending more time in the Village, where he discovers and becomes obsessed with the music of Bob Dylan. Jimi plays in dingy clubs, and here he is discovered by Animals member Chas Chandler.

Henderson doesn’t mention much about Jimi’s band at this time; one of them, we’re told, is Randy California, but Henderson doesn’t tell us this guy will eventually become a rock star himself (though not nearly as popular of one as Jimi), in the group Spirit. Instead, Jimi sorta coldly ditches his backing group and heads on over to England with Chas, taking him up on his promise to make him a superstar. We’re told that upon arrival in London it’s been decided that “Jimmy” will become “Jimi,” but we’re not told why this decision was made. My assumption is it must’ve been an idea of Chandler’s, as “Jimi” Hendrix does look a little cooler than “Jimmy” Hendrix.

Now we get to the good stuff. Jimi is feted by the English rock establishment, with the Stones and the Beatles following him around London. And we already know he’s been successful with the ladies, but here he goes into overdrive; Henderson has Kathy Etchingham as Jimi’s main squeeze in London, though she’ll gradually drop out of the text. (Henderson is more focused on making Devon Wilson Jimi’s sort-of soulmate, and one wonders if this is because Devon is black – more on which anon.) There’s no outright sleaze in the text, but we are aware that Jimi is quite the swordsman; we even get a report from the infamous Plaster Casters, ie the American gals who cast plaster statues of rockstar dicks. Jimi’s is recorded as being the biggest this particular Caster has ever seen.

But when it comes to the music Henderson really shines. He has a definite understanding of Jimi’s music and in addition to describing the sounds will often tell us the keys and the chords being played. That being said, he’s guilty of overusing the word “dubbing” in his frequent song descriptions (ie “Jimi dubbing the rhthym” and such). As mentioned a lot of online reviewers bitch about this excess of word painting, but I really enjoyed it. As an example, here’s Henderon’s breakdown of one of the tracks on the first album, Are You Experienced:

On “Love Or Confusion” the setup hook chord delineates the entire song. The strange harmony between the long sustained sitarlike chord and the overdriving Fuzz Face and Cry-Baby combination creates a tremolo that double-times against the 4/4 time, thus belonging to both the rhythm and the harmony. Jimi makes his guitar do a Sagittarian bow thrust, like the sound heard in cartoons when the Road Runner takes off. Mitch beats out a snare-in-the-round intro. In a fast 4/4 the funky hambone bass lines are joined by Jimi’s skipping rhythm work. The bass evokes cavernous underground insurgency in echo. Jimi gets an exotic sitar sound on one guitar track and a harmonizing sustain tremolo on another. The major chord drone dips into a lovely minor mode… 

The Fuzz-Face-Cry-Baby combination is jacked to the upper registers where the looney distorted Cry-Baby peal takes over. Driving to a peak of oscillating intensity, it begins to solo as Jimi shouts, his voice integrated into the sound on an equal par with the rest of the instruments: Is it love! Baby, or just a confusion?

And by the way, “Sagittarian bow thrust” is used almost as frequently as “dubbing.” But it’s a cool phrase, so no big deal. Anyway maybe this little excerpt will give an idea of what I’m talking about. We get thorough rundowns of many of Jimi’s songs, with most focus placed on the first album. Surprisingly, Henderson doesn’t have much to say about Axis: Bold As Love, which is strange given that it’s one of Jimi’s more lyrical albums. He does appropriately spend some time on the title track, one of Hendrix’s best and most unsung, with a phased guitar coda that never fails to send shivers down the spine. Henderson gets a bit more in-depth with Electric Ladyland (Jimi’s masterpiece, in my opinion), in particular “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” And I really appreciated his examination of “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be),” my favorite of all Jimi’s songs, and a damn revelation on headphones on the recent Sony Legacy 180 gram vinyl remaster (all analog, baby!).

Henderson ranks the material Jimi recorded in his final two years as his very best, and I tend to agree; over the past few decades I’ve found myself listening to these songs, slated for an album to either be titled First Rays Of The New Rising Sun or Straight Ahead (or something else – Jimi was always coming up with new titles), more than I’ve listened to his stuff with the Experience. Henderson and others often stress that this material was different than what came before, but relistening to these albums in sequence (again, on those awesome Sony Legacy vinyl remasters), it seemed to me that Jimi’s biggest artistic change occurred in the year between Are You Experienced and Electric Ladyland. The former is heavy psychedelic rock, the latter is more organic (though still quite heavy at times). To me, this ’69-’70 material is really just a logical progression of Electric Ladyland; “Night Bird Flying,” for example, could’ve fit right on that album and not seemed out of place. 

Another thing I dug about the book was that Henderson clearly understands that there was something of the “Other” about Hendrix – as former bandmate Buddy Miles once said of him, “It’s as if he went through something the rest of us haven’t,” or something to that effect. Jimi was a high school dropout who had an intuitive grasp of heavy concepts. He was in many ways a sort of rock ‘n’ roll shaman. And in case we don’t grasp this ourselves, there’s a character in the book who articulates it for us – that Jimi is the “Axis” as defined by Manly Hall in The Secret Teaching Of All Ages. This character is identified as Ray Warner, “a guitarist for the Chambers Brothers;” he is so inspired by Jimi upon meeting him in early ’68 that he forms his own group, called Axis.

Folks, I can find no info of any such person – Google searches of “Ray Warner” with “Chambers Brothers” just returns hits for this very book! Also no such group member is listed on I started to wonder if Warner was just a composite of other characters, or if Henderson was using him as a stand-in for himself. Especially given that Warner baldly states what Henderson implies about Jimi throughout the book – that there was something special about him, something alien:

Jimi would take the words from the songs on the Axis album and repeat them back to Ray and they would make a completely different story that was not as farfetched and odd as the album itself sounded. He was trying to say that he could take you to a place without even moving your body – and he wanted to do that. It was not about LSD or any hallucinogenic – he was the drug, he was the high. He had a way to work that was going to reach across the nation. And any extraterrestrial beings out there would have to pick up on it. It was a heavy communications thing. Jimi knew he could not tell a whole lot of people about where his head was at and what he wanted to do, but he could give little hints in interviews and some of it in the songs and all of it to a few. He saw the music in the sky. He saw his music as a living life form that had the potential to give people a direct feeling, a direct understanding – that would open their eyes to cosmic powers by simply directly experiencing his music. Ray Warner began getting the distinct feeling that Jimi Hendrix was not of this Earth.

I could be wrong, and there really was a Ray Warner of the Chambers Brothers who had these heavy talks with Jimi and started a band in tribute to him, but I do wonder if the character isn’t a creation of the author. I read somewhere that David Henderson wrote this book because he met Jimi in the late ‘60s and promised to write his bio someday, but this story is not related in Voodoo Child Of The Aquarian Age. Also, I know from other sources that Henderson himself is a guitarist – in fact, one so gifted that for some years a track of his was passed around the trading community as an actual Hendrix outtake. Instead it was a prank on Henderson’s part; apparently he was trying to fool Alan Douglas, the guy who at the time was in charge of the posthumous Hendrix albums, into believing it was a legitimate Jimi song. Somehow the track leaked out to the bootleg community. But anyway my argument is this – Henderson met Jimi and he was a guitarist in his own right, so perhaps he himself is “Ray Warner.”

At any rate this character only comes and goes in the text. Jimi has a lot of clingers-on, more and more of them as time goes on. This was one of the many things that drove him apart from Noel and Mitch. Eventually we’ll meet Vishwa, a “black cat into TM” who comes off as one of Jimi’s few friends not in the music biz (until that is Jimi coldly dumps him, a week or so before he dies), and also Finney, Miles Davis’s official hairdresser who, with Miles’s permission, also works on Jimi’s hair. But most focus is placed on Devon Wilson, Jimi’s sort-of girlfriend, sort-off secretary, sort-of housekeeper, sort-of pimp, full-time heroin addict. (Jimi himself never touched heroin, by the way – something the coroner made explicit, as there was no sign of needle damage on him.) At the expense of Kathy Etchingham, whom many would argue was “Jimi’s Yoko,” Devon is presented as Jimi’s soul sister in all but name, his star-crossed lover.

Henderson covers everything, from all the albums to most of the concerts to most of the TV apperances. There are some mistakes, of course, but unlike the diehards I didn’t let them bug me. Some of them are unintentionally humorous, mostly because they only made it into the book thanks to sloppy editing. For example, we’re told on one page that Noel Redding was hired for the Experience due to his frizzy afro. But on the very next page, we’re told that Noel had short, almost buzzed hair when he joined the group! There are also misspellings throughout the book, almost but not quite to the level of what you’d encounter in a Leisure Books publication of the era. Even names are wrong; Eric Burdon of War is consistently referred to as “Eric Burden.”

On a geekier level, Hendrix fanatics will instantly detect some mistakes. This ranges from major stuff – and Henderson states in the “Coda” that he willingly committed fallacies or fictionalizations in order to streamline the book, which is fine by me – to minor stuff, like when we’re told that Jimi writes a new piece he calls “Pali Gap.” In reality, “Pali Gap,” a wonderful instrumental in a Santana vein, only received its title posthumously, when the soundtrack for Rainbow Bridge (1972) was being put together; supposedly Mike Jeffrey, Jimi’s manager, named the track after a wind that blows in Maui, location of the film. Recently it’s been suspected that the track was actually titled “Electric Lady,” an otherwise mysterious song that only appears in Jimi’s handwritten tracklist for his never-finalized fourth studio album.

But obviously that’s not a big deal at all. Nor is stuff like the claim that Jimi was unhappy with the 1970 single “Izabella/Stepping Stone” because the label had recorded over Buddy Miles’s drums and replaced them with Mitch Mitchell’s. Actually, Buddy’s original drum track was on both sides of the single, which was quickly withdrawn (and is rare as hell today); not because of Jimi’s request, but because Capitol complained it was interfering with sales of the just-released Band Of Gypsys, out on Capitol (and not Jimi’s label Warner Reprise) due to that Chaplin lawsuit. Also, Mitch recorded his drum tracks at Jimi’s request, and Jimi was there to oversee the recording; one fan met Mitch many years later, and Mitch stated that he himself preferred Buddy’s original drums, but only did his takes because Jimi was unhappy with Buddy’s work.

Of course, it’s easy for me to be such a know-nothing know-it-all about this stuff because I’m writing this review in 2018; all the above info and more is available with just a few internet searches. In particular, the Steve Hoffman music forum is a treasure trove of Hendrix data; I’ve spent hours reading the various threads about his music. Henderson obviously was writing long before the internet era, so he had to do his own research, thus one can’t really fault him for a few minor goofs. 

However what is kind of a bigger deal is that Henderson sort of implies throughout that Jimi never made it with black audiences because The Man was keeping him down. There’s a part where Jimi plays a concert in Harlem and Henderson has these black radio DJs apologizing to Jimi for never playing his music – it’s pretty much stated that the white bastards who run the station insist on only black music being played. This is an untruthitude of the highest order. The reality is, black audiences did not, for the most part, respond favorably to Jimi’s music or to Jimi himself. Indeed he was derogatorily referred to as a “Jim Crow” for playing with two white guys. (We live in an era where “racism” is always used to describe white-on-black hate, but folks – racism is universal.) It’s debatable if Jimi himself was overly hung up on not being a superstar among his “own people;” Jimi Hendrix had ascended far beyond race, and I’m not just saying that because he liked to sleep with white women. (And really, who doesn’t??) The other week, though, I saw a young black lady at the mall wearing a Jimi Hendrix shirt, so Jimi, you finally made it.

But Henderson is a little guilty of playing up Jimi’s blackness; we’re often told of how happy Jimi is to meet a “brother” when he’s out and about, and in this book at least he definitely wants to incur the support of black audiences. In this regard Jimi’s short-lived Band of Gypsys (Billy Cox on bass, Buddy Miles on drums and sometimes-egregious backing vocals) is given a lot of focus: the first black power trio, Henderson is sure to remind us. We’re also often reminded that Jimi’s management (aka white guy Mike Jefferey) doesn’t “get” the Band of Gypsys, doesn’t like this funkier, more soulful shit Jimi is playing, and just wants him to get back with the white boys in the Experience and make music for white audiences. And that bigger group of black musicians Jimi briefly formed before, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows (ie his Woodstock band), was even worse.

Given the era in which Voodoo Child Of The Aquarian Age was published, one really can’t blame Henderson, who himself is black, for trying to bring Jimi Hendrix back into the black community. Given the sort of black renaissance going on at the time, it’s likely Jimi would’ve been accepted as a superstar among black audiences if he’d lived. Some of his later music would’ve killed it on soul stations of the day, like the recently-unearthed master mix of “Power Of Soul,” inexplicably kept from release until it appeared on the compilation Both Sides Of The Sky (2018). In fact in his last interview Jimi immediately responded that Sly Stone was a performer he himself was knocked out by, so I suspect if Jimi had lived he would’ve found some way to bridge the divide between “white music” and “black music.”

The final pages do veer into what can only be deemed as fiction, though, mostly because Henderson for the most part relies on Monika Dannemann’s story of what happened in Jimi’s final hours, and also in how we’re informed jazz producer Alan Douglas befriended Jimi and was poised to take his career in a whole new direction. For the former, Monika was a chronic liar, at least about her relationship with Jimi (this isn’t my theory – it was proven in a court case which she lost in ’96, committing suicide immediately afterward), and for the latter, Douglas no doubt wanted to make himself seem as if he were important to Jimi when Jimi was still alive, instead of being the guy who plundered the vault recordings after Jimi was gone, wiped the backing musicians off the master tapes, and replaced them with his own session men. And credited himself as co-writer on a few of the resulting songs!

But the rundown of Jimi’s death is wholly fabrication – he wasn’t still alive when he was put into an ambulance, and the paramedics didn’t strap him into an upright position so that he choked on his own vomit. All this nonsense comes from Monika, who changed her story multiple times over the years. It’s unfortunate that Henderson didn’t track down the paramedics or the doctor or the coroner; in his “Coda” he states that he spent five years writing this book, meeting with multiple people who knew Jimi, so it’s a shame he didn’t get a chance to set this particular record straight. If he had, a generation wouldn’t have grown up incorrectly believing that Jimi died of a drug overdose, or that the most incompetent paramedics in history accidentally killed him. In reality, Jimi was long dead when the paramedics arrived, but I already went into too-much detail about this in my review of Jimi After Dark.

More interesting is the discussion of where Jimi’s music might have gone if he had lived. It’s universally agreed that he would’ve at least dabbled in jazz, and he did plan to record an album with jazz bandleader Gil Cohen. That sadly never happened, but Cohen released Plays The Music Of Jimi Hendrix in 1974, for the most part a pretty cool melding of big band, cosmic jazz-funk, and psychedelic rock that gives an indication of what the real thing with Jimi might’ve sounded like. But to get what I consider the truest indication of what “Jimi goes jazz” would’ve sounded like, look no further than Miles Davis’s live release Agharta (1975), one of the greatest albums in the history of music: a 2LP excursion into heavy psychedelic jazz and fuzzy electronics, recorded before a mind-blown audience in Japan, lead guitarist Pete Cosey channeling Jimi’s spirit throughout. Indeed, Jimi’s spirit loomed over Miles Davis’s entire ‘70s output; even the man’s wardrobe began to resemble Jimi’s.

As mentioned, Voodoo Child Of The Aquarian Age is too long (sort of like this review!), but I enjoyed every word of it. I really did. But I can see where some things could’ve been whittled out. Some of the contemporary reviews and interviews Henderson shoehorns into the text could’ve been tightened up or just plain removed. Some of this stuff is just far-out inexplicable, like an interminable stoned conversation Jimi, Eric Clapton, and assorted hangers-on have in a London club; somehow Henderson got hold of a tape of this “conversation,” and he transcribes the whole thing…even the parts where the tape cuts off and some of the words are lost. And it just goes on and on and on – and it’s about nothing! Jimi was super-awesome, super-talented, super-everything, but one thing I’ve noticed…when you listen to him talk in his interviews (or check out his “as himself” appearance in Rainbow Bridge), it quickly becomes clear that the dude enjoyed his booze and his drugs. I actually followed this whole conversation, trying desperately to divine some sort of meaning or even a thread, but failed miserably. It occurred to me that I wasn’t high or drunk enough to follow it.

I no longer have my paperback copy of the book, but as mentioned ’Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky was abridged. I’m assuming it’s this sort of stuff Henderson edited out. I don’t know much about Henderson’s most recent revision, now subtitled Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child, other than he now puts forward the notion that Jimi was murdered. This is a longstanding theory, but much of it revolves around the misinformation that Jimi was “drowned” in wine. In truth, only one person claimed this – the doctor who tried to revive Jimi’s dead body when it arrived in the hospital – but his comments were given decades later and it’s clear he was thinking of another patient. No one else, including the paramedics who first arrived on the scene, mentioned Jimi’s body being covered in wine. You can read more about Jimi’s last days here. But then I don’t even know if this is part of the theory Henderson puts forward in his latter revision.

So yeah, the book is long, perhaps inordinately so. But good grief did I enjoy it. I looked forward to reading it every day, and my enthusiasm never waned. In fact I intend to read it again someday. Now that I think of it, this would also make for a great “desert island book;” by the time you finished reading it, you’d be rescued!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 10


Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971): Aka Godzilla vs The Smog Monster, this is the Godzilla franchise at its most psychedelic. Like no other Godzilla movie you’ve seen, Hedorah features rampant use of the wide angle lens, not one but two psychedelic nightclub scenes, an LSD-esque tripout, and Godzilla ripping the innards out of his monstrous foe. Not to mention more horrific human deaths than are normally seen in the films; usually the monster destruction is limited to buildings, but this time we see corpses and skeletons in Hedorah’s wake. A shambling creature with big eyes that glow a psychedelic red (I have always loved how the eyes glow on Japanese monsters), Hedorah is the mutant spawn of pollution, and it goes through a series of evolutions in the film. It’s also the first stoner monster – made clear early on, as Hedorah inhales from a smokestack and makes purring noises, after which his eyes seem to be even more red. Godzilla shows up soon after and fights Hedorah throughout; this one’s filled with a lot of knock-down brawling between the two, and Godzilla takes some damage, even getting his left eye burned shut by Hedorah’s acidic spew.

The humans are comprised of a marine bioligist and his prepubescent son (the same actor who would show up as the obnoxious shit “Rokusan” in Godzilla vs Megallon, two years later) and a pair of hippie teens; the girl, who is also a singer at the psychedelic club, isn’t even named, I think. The movie features a hilariously arbitrary bit where the hippie teen hallucinates in the nightclub and sees everyone with fish heads – a bit that is unexplained and unexplored. The movie is filled with such bizarre shit, though, even periodically flipping over to crude animation that looks like it could’ve come off The Electric Company or somesuch.

Hedorah is very divisive among Godzilla freaks, but I do like it, mostly because it’s so different. Not to mention trippy – speaking of Hedorah’s red eyes, there’s a part at the end where the military shines lights at the creature to distract it, and the director just lets the camera sit on Hedorah as it stares back. It’s strangely compelling, not to mention more indication that Hedorah is a stoner, transifixed by those blinking lights. Plus the fights are pretty brutal and gory, with Godzilla ripping Hedorah apart – this particular monster really seems to piss the big guy off. However the movie was so bizarre that it got the director fired from the franchise; it was the one and only Godzilla movie he got to make, though he planned to do a sequel.

American fans were ticked that the recent DVD/Blu Ray only featured the “International English Dub,” ie the one heard in English-speaking countries other than the USA; fans wanted the old AIP dub. Personally I prefer the international dub, and not just because it features voices familiar from the many kung-fu and Shaw Brothers dubs of the day. The AIP dub I find annoying, as it’s one of those where the American voice actors give all the characters fake “Oriental” accents, which is more annoying than offensive.

Godzilla vs Gigan (1972): Released in the US in 1977 as Godzilla on Monster Island, Godzilla vs Gigan replaces the dark psychedelia of Godzilla vs Hedorah with super-bright colors, a goofy cast, and comedy hijinks. It also comes off as a lot more ponderous, despite featuring four monsters who engage in a brawl in the final quarter. Whereas Hedorah, while strange, was still compelling, Gigan seems to just drag. It isn’t helped by the fact that, for the first half, the human characters take center stage. They’re a diverse lot, from a manga artist to a female karate expert to a fat hippie who looks like Sammo Hung. Another gal is searching for her missing brother, a scientist. He’s been kidnapped by men who are creating a Monster Island sort of amusement park, an element which makes no sense within the context of the overall story. Anyway, the kidnappers are really space-cockroaches, and their goal is to control Godzilla and the other monsters, so they can kill them with their own space monsters(?).

As you can see, this film is from the era of the franchise in which Godzilla movies were exclusively made for children. The titular Gigan is the first of two space monsters called in – looking sort of like a cyborg chicken, Gigan has a very cool red-glowing visor for his eyes. The villains also call in three-headed King Ghidorah, who appears courtesy recycled footage from the earlier Monster Zero (1968). Meanwhile Godzilla slowly makes his way to Japan, bringing along his pal, stegosaurus-like Angilas. Godzilla vs Gigan is notable because we actually hear Godzilla talk – early in the film he bosses Angilas around, and in the English dub they gave Godzilla a voice. (The Japanese version kept it as backwards screeching sound effects – also heard in the English dub, over which you hear the spoken words – but they explained what the Big G was saying via kanji-filled word baloons.)

The finale is given over to a positively endles fight between these four monsters – with the Angilus-Ghidorah matchup again all recycled from Monster Zero – and it’s very ponderous despite the action. Godzilla takes a beating here, and we get a big splash of monster blood courtesy Angilas, but for some inexplicable reason Godzilla gets a second burst of energy and kicks monster ass. Neither Ghidorah nor Gigan are killed – Gigan in fact would return in the next film – but the Earth is saved and the space cockroaches are vanquished. Overall Godzilla vs Gigan is fun for the most part, but could’ve used a little tightening up.

Godzilla vs Megalon (1973): I’ve loved this movie since I was a kid, back when I got a VHS of it for Christmas in 1986. Parts of the English dub are ingrained in my brain – little did I know at the time that all of the dubbers were veterans of the Shaw Brothers English dubs. Thus there are familiar voices throughout the English dub of Godzilla vs. Megalon, which Tokyo Shock thankfully included with their recent Blu Ray (which also includes the original Japanese audio track). I’ve read online complaints about the low quality of this blu ray, but I assure you it’s a thousand times better than the pan and scan VHS tape of my youth. So many details are apparent here that were invisible on that shoddy tape – most humorously the tattoo on the Seatopian leader’s shoulder! Surely they could’ve covered that up?? The blu ray also includes the Japanese cut of the film, which features a bit more violence: the annoying little kid in the short-shorts is forcibly abducted at one point, snatched off his bike into a car, and there’s a bit more violence in the few fights.

The movie is dumb in a glorious way, with shoddy production and a phenomenal jazz-funk score, aptly compared to Yusef Lateef by Tom Servo in the great MST3K version of the movie. Godzilla here looks like a toy and Jet Jaguar is a poor man’s Ultraman, but there’s still something likable about him. And Megalon is cool, like a giant beetle with drills for hands who shoots exploding hockey pucks from his mouth. Gigan makes a return appearance from the previous film, teaming up with Megalon against Godzilla and Jet Jaguar; his visor glows a very cool red.

People deride this one but no one seems to understand it is intentionally goofy. It’s clearly not meant to be taken seriously; for example, toward the end Megalon and Gigan are getting the better of Godzilla and Jet Jaguar, surrounding them in a ring of fire. Then Godzilla throws his arms over Jet Jaguar’s shoulders and the two fly off, out of the fire’s reach. Megalon and Gigan – two mutant monsters – sort of look at each other and then throw their arms up, like “What the hell?!” This movie was clearly made by some people who were having a lot of fun, and unfortunately that’s lost on most who watch it – but then, most geeks are humorless twits, anyway. But I love all the little touches, even the weird interpretive dance beneath the Easter Island head carving in Seatopia. This is easily my favorite Godzilla movie.

Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla (1974): The goofy/campy tone of the previous film is gone, replaced with a more serious sort of approach that brings to mind the Godzilla films of the decade before. That being said, there’s precious little Godzilla to be found in this one; the big guy shows up for a brief patch early on and then disappears until the final fight. For the most part Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla feels more like a Japanese attempt at a Eurospy film, mixed with a bit of a Planet of the Apes ripoff. The focus is more on suspense and intrigue as our cast of heroes – a marine biologist, his mostly-useless brother, and two gals, one of whom is a photographer and the other the daughter of a scientist – run afoul of a shady group who turn out to be evil monkey-men aliens from space who disguise themselves as humans.

The film features more human-on-human violence than other Godzilla films of the era, with “human” characters strangled and shot, sometimes in the face – leading to cool, somewhat-psychedelic special effects of the skin “melting” off, revealing the Planet of the Apes ripoff faces beneath. But where is Godzilla? He shows up early in the film, or at least appears to – but when “Godzilla” gets in a bloody fight with series mainstay Angilas, even the humans know something is up. During the fight Angilas knocks off some of Godzilla’s skin, revealing a Terminator-esque steel skeleton beneath. This is MechaGodzilla, which reveals itself later in a brawl with the real Big G. Controlled by those aliens, MechaG’s intent is to destroy Japan and kill Godzilla, or something. Anyway Godzilla gets knocked into the sea and isn’t seen again for a helluva long time, save for a brief (and also slightly psychedelic) bit where we see him like inhaling lightning bolts and glowing a blacklight poster purple.

After interminable hijinks with the human actors, things finally get to the monster bash we want, with Godzilla and new pal King Ceasar (a monster that looks like a big puppy which is called forth by an endless song courtesy some kung-fu like chick in Okinawa) take on MechaGodzilla in a two-on-one brawl. Monster blood flies here and MechaG unleashes hell courtesy eyebolts, finger missiles, chest missiles, a force field, the works. But Godzilla manages to win the fight (no thanks to Ceasar, who sort of hides behind rocks throughout the fight) and then storms off back to Monster Island without even a glance back at the cheering humans. This was the last one courtesy the director who gave us the previous two films; after this old hand Ishiro Honda returned for Terror of MechaGodzilla, which was the last Godzilla film until 1984. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Butcher #7: Death Race

The Butcher #7: Death Race, by Stuart Jason
July, 1973  Pinnacle Books

My assumption is Harlequin Books briefly took over The Butcher, at least for this one volume, as James “Stuart Jason” Dockery gives us a slow-moving yarn in which usually-gruff Bucher falls in love with a lovely young Eskimo gal, spends lots and lots of time pondering his feelings, and ultimately decides to quit White Hat and live here in Alaska happily ever after. At the very least, Dockery can be credited for finally straying outside the rigid template he has followed for the preceding six volumes.

I’ll skip my usual belabored rundown of the purgatory-esque sequence of events Bucher experiences in each and every volume: let it only be said that yes, the novel opens with him being tailed by two superdeformed Syndicate goons who knew him back in the day, and yes, Bucher makes short work of them. After which he is, once again, bailed out of jail by a slackjawed local yokel cop who can’t believe this grim-faced killer has such governmental clout. From there to the assignment briefing with the aged Director of White Hat, who has it that the Dewline defense system on the US-Canada border has been compromised.

In yet another similarity to a previous volume, duplicates of the thoroughly-vetted defense personnel are apparently being put in place by a mastermind (or “The Snake,” as Bucher eventually begins to think of him, apropos of nothing). Due to a random accident one of the dupes was outed, and now the Director is frantic that all of the remote Dewline outposts, each manned by one person, have been compromised by lookalikes. But as usual there’s nothing to go on, no leads to track. All White Hat has is a letter the sister of one of the personnel sent to the President, complaining that her brother was acting strange lately, probably due to all the pressure running his outpost. The Director suspects that her brother is one of the dupes.

Bucher flies to Alaska to investigate. It’s page-filling of the most egregious kind as we’re informed of all sorts of “life in Alaska” bullshit. I experienced a bad flashback to the similar page-filling “life among the Eskimos” stuff in John Eagle Expeditor #7. Dockery pulled similar stunts in previous books, usually with shoehorned detail about the Middle East or Egypt or whatever, so this time it’s at least a change of scenery. But it does go on and on, with zero in the way of action. It gets worse when Bucher meets Sonja Rostov, the sister who wrote that letter to the president about her brother – and it’s love at first sight.

The Butcher gets all lovey-dovey as our hard-assed hero finds himself acting like a smitten fool around Sonja. We’re informed she’s not classically beautiful, but appropriately hot, with a jawdropping but petite body. More importantly, there is a “primitive” look about her – she makes her appearance draped in animal skins and wielding a Bowie knife – and gradually Bucher understands that the two are very alike. Soon enough she’s giving him a leather band that symbolically binds them as mates(!). There follows lots of crap seemingly lifted from a RomCom as Bucher relaxes in a steam bath, shocked when Sonja and a female friend happen to see him nude, Bucher embarrassed and getting tongue-tied and etc, and you just wonder to yourself, “When, Lord, when will Bucher start killing people again??”

After an extra-long haul some action presents itself: Sonja is being hassled by two locals, and after an interminable sequence of setting the situation up they arrive in the village. Bucher goes out to confront them, first shooting their dog as a sign of his bad-assery. But other than this it’s anticlimactic as all get-out; Bucher whips out his Walther, and it’s “koosh-koosh,” goodbye both tough guys. We’re back to the romance stuff…and by the way, as ever Dockery is reluctant to provide any explicit material. About all we get is Sonja wrapping her arms around her stomach and murmuring how she feels she’s been “wifed” good and proper. And meanwhile Bucher has decided that this is his last job, he’s going to quit White Hat, stay here in Alaska, and get married.

But Dockery hasn’t forgotten the other mainstay of his series template: the mission Bucher’s been sent here on abruptly changes. Ostensibly he’s here in this backwoods Alaskan village waiting for Sonja’s brother to arrive; White Hat arranged for Rostov to be sent home on a temporary leave of absence, with the idea that Bucher would be waiting here for him and figure out if he’s the real thing or a dupe. Sonja for her part is certain the man she saw a few months ago was not her brother, which is why she wrote that letter. Okay, so we’re waiting for all this to happen. Then the Director swings into town and reveals that Sonja’s brother is not coming, and also it was all a mistake and there really were no “dupes” as such, just personnel who were pretending to be dupes, as part of a diversionary meaure to distract attention from the real plot of the mastermind behind all this!!!

And who is the mastermind? In some of Dockery’s lazier plotting, Bucher early on just happens to see an old photo of some village schoolkids, and one of them has a hideous birthmark on his face. Identical to a Chinese doctor Bucher once knew named Wu who was employed by the Syndicate but was finally retired due to the fact that he liked to strap people up and feed them to his trained dogs. Well guess what, folks. Wu is, believe it or not, the mastermind behind the Dewline plot!! The Director reveals as much, and also that Wu’s real plot appears to be the unleashing of an army of saboteurs into the US.

As if waving a big middle finger at his readers, Dockery then has the big climactic action scene occur off-page; the Director reveals that a team of Marines are right now converging on Wu’s hideout! Indeed, more priority is put on the “big revelation” that the Director’s real name is Sam White; he comments that he always wondered why Bucher never asked him what his real name was(!). So now Bucher’s job is to voyage out into the Alaskan wild and get the list of saboteurs from Wu’s training base, which is of course nearby, him being a hometown boy and all. Bucher will be assisted by an Amazonian White Hat agent named Olga. Sonja of course manages to bully her way into going along on what Bucher vows will be his last mission – he’s already tendered his resignation to the Director.

Now, anyone who even harbors a suspicion that Sonja might make it through Death Race alive is in serious danger of flunking Men’s Adventure 101 (and there is no remedial class!). As Marty McKee succinctly put it, “It comes as no surprise that Sonja doesn’t live to the end of the book.” So of course, she’s dead before the last page. But let’s take a moment to dwell on her murder, which Dockery delivers as expected, but in such a half-assed manner that I had to laugh at his bravado. I mean, Bucher has lost lady loves in previous volumes; it’s part of the template. But this time, we’re led to believe, it’s much different – he plans to marry Sonja, he plans to quit White Hat for her. Yet when Sonja’s assassinated by a sniper, just a few pages before the end of the book, we’re never informed who shot her!

Bucher’s kissing her goodbye, about to make his final assault on Wu’s lair, and Sonja’s shot at that moment. Bucher watches in a daze as she falls, dead…and then the next chapter has him storming in upon Wu, who’s in the midst of feeding a fresh victim to his dogs. Wu is shocked that Bucher is even here; the sadist has so descended into full-blown madness that he’s not even aware his main base has been attacked. Plus he hasn’t seen Bucher since his Syndicate days. We’re informed that Bucher killed off Wu’s two sole security guards on his way in, so that would mean it wasn’t either of them who shot Sonja – not only were they guarding the boss, but the boss wasn’t even aware Bucher was around! So it wasn’t Wu or any of his men who killed Sonja.

So then…who the hell was it? My guess is it must’ve been White Hat itself. In fact it’s the only possibility. The Director is initially startled that Bucher intends to quit, then brushes it off with a smile and something to the effect that he loves how Bucher is a man of his convictions and could make such a life-changing decision so quickly. In reality though, “Iceman” would be too valuable an agent to lose, so clearly Sonja Rostov must die. The more I think of it, I’m sure this was Dockery’s intention. Otherwise no info is given on who killed Sonja, and I’m betting no mention will be made of her in the next novel, which will see the usual “game reset” taking place.

But anyway as mentioned Wu, when we finally meet him, is about to feed an old Eskimo man to his dogs. And it still drives me nuts that Dockery creates these crazy, disgusting villains and never properly exploits them. I mean, Wu has two brains, one of them on his face, and he gets his jollies tying people up and setting his dogs loose on them! But as with all the other main villains in the series, Wu stays off-page for the duration, only showing up right before the very end – and only then to meet his expected fate: becoming dog food. At least Dockery goes full-bore with the graphic violence here, with Bucher feeling like he’s about to puke as he watches. Not that he stops watching it.

Here’s the last paragraph:

Bucher stared grimly at the grisly scene for a long half minute, then turned from it and headed out of the cave toward the cabin, the bitter-sour taste of galling defeat strong in his mouth.

On an unrelated note, only one post next week – it’ll be up on Wednesday.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Jimi After Dark

Jimi After Dark, by Stephen Mertz
November, 2018  Wolfpack Publishing

First published by Perfect Crime in 2017 (with an atrocious cover), now brought out in a new edition by Wolfpack Publishing (with a much better cover), Jimi After Dark is an action-filled yarn that combines Ennis Willie with Swinging London; Stephen Mertz even dedicates the novel to Willie, so the tone is unmistakable. The book also comes off like Don Pendleton at times – and let’s not forget Pendleton sent his own two-fisted hero to Swinging London, in Assault On Soho.

Regardless, this is a fun, inventive mixing of influences: psychedelic rock meets hardboiled action. And there certainly is more action here than you’d find in something by Hard Case Crime, evidence of Stephen’s history with Gold Eagle Books (not to mention his sort of apprenticeship with Pendleton himself). It seems as if our hero, the anonymous “Soldier,” is constantly either getting shot at, knocked out, beaten up, threatened, chased, or just in general mistreated. He does though manage to pick up one of those infamous English “birds,” though. Actually she’s a Houston transplant, so maybe she doesn’t count as an English bird after all.

The novel is an effective mystery thriller, and takes place in the very last days of Jimi Hendrix – I mean like the last three or so days before he died, on September 18, 1970. Stephen wisely keeps Jimi as a supporting character; only the prologue and a few other brief sequences, all of which are in third-person, feature him in the sole spotlight. Otherwise he is a supporting character, usually off-page, with Soldier carrying the brunt of the tale, and narrating it for us. As mentioned Soldier wishes to be anonymous; he tells no one his name, and Jimi, who knows what it is, doesn’t tell anyone, either. Eventually I pretended that Soldier was just Mark Stone…or maybe even John Cody.

All we do know is that Soldier’s the same age as Jimi, 27, and he sports a facial scar. (So if my Stone/Cody theory is valid, we’ll just have to discount that!) He’s just rotated out of ‘Nam and is on his way to Germany when we meet him. But first he’s making a brief stopover in London to help out his old pal, none other than Jimi Hendrix – the two were stationed together during Jimi’s ultra-brief Army career and became fast friends. We know from the outset that Soldier owes Jimi his life; later in flashback we see that Jimi prevented Soldier’s brains from getting blown out at a black bar, near their base.

But that was a few years ago; the Jimi of late 1970 is in some ways a different person. Withdrawn at times, worn out from years of incessant touring, a little bitter. He wants to be back in America, in the new studio he just opened in Manhattan: Electric Lady, but he’s stuck here in Europe on this tour his manager, Mike Jeffrey, insisted he do so as to pay all the mounting bills. Jimi’s also in hock to some underworld types for money he borrowed. But now there seems to be a new element to it all, and Jimi is paranoid that someone’s out to do him in. Soldier’s here because he received a note from Jimi – they’re penpals of sorts – asking Soldier to stop by when he flies into London, because Jimi needs some help.

Soldier for his part doesn’t tell us much about himself. He’s fresh out of the shit in ‘Nam and he’s old buddies with Jimi. Soldier not only doesn’t want to tell us his name, he also doesn’t want anyone he meets to know his name. Even when his ID is confiscated, his name is not mentioned. Of course, the heaviest Pendletonisms are courtesy Soldier’s narration; not just in how he periodically flashes back to stuff in Vietnam, usually when he’s knocked out (and folks Soldier gets knocked out a whole bunch), but in how he uses his jungle warfare background to frame his experiences in London. Just as Pendleton would introduce a concept or theme early in a volume of The Executioner and then reinforce it throughout the narrative (sometimes relentlessly), so too does Soldier compare and contrast his ‘Nam background with this current caper in London as he tries to figure out who means Jimi harm.

And so just who is trying to kill Jimi Hendrix?? Everyone, that’s who! Humorously, it appears that everyone’s out to get poor Jimi – in this book he’s not only abducted but also dangled from a rooftop, and just in general is threatened with bodily harm throughout. It appears that Stephen has personified Jimi’s various personal and business problems into real-life foes; even his manager, Mike Jeffrey (whose name has really been dragged through the mud since he died in ’73), is presented as a thug-employing crime kingpin. I almost expected Noel Redding to show up wielding a meat cleaver. Seriously though, Stephen doesn’t bother too much with the music side of Jimi’s life; the opening sequence takes place at Jimi’s last official concert, at the Isle of Fehmarn in Germany, and Jimi’s band members (Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell) aren’t even named.

Speaking of which, Stephen has whittled down the cast of characters who surrounded Jimi in his final days, removing some and adding others of his own creation. Of the missing ones, Devon Wilson would be first and foremost. Anyone who knows about Jimi’s life will know of Devon, the super-groupie who inspired the track “Dolly Dagger.” Her outrageously complex relationship with Jimi entailed everything from being his live-in girlfriend in New York to acting as a female pimp for him. She was in London these final days, in fact had a mysterious encounter with him the night of his death, but she’s not to be found in Jimi After Dark.

However, Jimi’s other girlfriend of the day, Monika Dannemann, is here, and Stephen successfully captures this needy, domineering woman who appears to have implanted herself like a parasite on Jimi in his final days. Soldier meets her early on and forms an instant dislike for her, and it’s hard not to blame him. Jimi for his part excuses the clingy German blonde, saying she’s a sweetheart or whatever. Meanwhile little does Jimi know that Monika has inadvertently brought even more problems upon him: Soldier soon takes on a group of German crooks who have come here to London to harm Jimi, so as to make themselves look good to Monika’s ultra-wealthy family, as none of them like the idea of Monika running around with a black man.

Upon his arrival at Heathrow, Soldier meets the first of the fictional characters Stephen has placed in Jimi’s life: her name is Syndney Blanchard, and she’s a pretty redheaded Londoner who comes from a wealthy family but likes to mingle with the rock stars of the day. She approaches Soldier seeming to know where Jimi is, but not giving him any info – later we’ll learn she’s trying to protect Jimi. And anyway we promptly learn why, as Stephen presents us with the first of many such action scenes that will ensue: Soldier, still in his uniform, is accosted by a couple punks and makes short work of them, seriously injuring one of them.

When Soldier tracks down Jimi, who is staying at a crash pad, it’s to Stephen’s credit that he doesn’t sap it up. Jimi comes here to hang out with Angel, an American expat hippie babe from Houston (she’s another of the fictional characters), and to get away from the heavy shit going on in his life. Stephen presents us with a haggard and stressed-out Jimi who is nothing like the ultra-mellow guy more familiar to those who love him so much. And by all accounts Jimi was seriously stressed in his final days; it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy and the miserable fate he suffered.

But Jimi at times doesn’t come off very well in the novel, not very bright on what’s going on, who is after him, or how in deep he is. Soldier also doesn’t like all the drugs Jimi takes – there’s a curious anti-drug stance in Jimi After Dark, given that it takes place in 1970 – and the drugs only serve to make Jimi seem even more addled and clueless. He also doesn’t play as much music as you’d expect, though again the novel only occurs over a few days. But as mentioned, Stephen wisely keeps Jimi off-page for most of the novel, only occasionally featuring him in his own scenes.

Soldier is the star of the show, and he’s very much in the Mack Bolan/Mark Stone mold. He storms his way through London trying to find out who is hassling Jimi, finding the time along the way to almost hook up with Syndey and ultimately to hook up with Angel. He’s also framed for the murder of a female character, and this proves to be the central mystery of Jimi After Dark, which makes sense; I mean the whole world knows that Jimi himself is dead, so there’s no mystery there. This frame makes Soldier a wanted man, so along with the other sundry characters he goes up against while protecting Jimi, there’s also a bulldog of a cop after him.

As for Jimi, at one point he’s abducted and strapped to a chair for a day or so; in the Afterword, Stephen says this was inspired by a comment the real Jimi once made, in 1969, about being briefly abducted. No one knows if he was being serious or not, but Stephen took this ball and ran with it, just changing up the dates a little. Jimi we learn has been captured by a group of thugs he borrowed money from, one of the thugs being Angel’s ex-husband. But then there’s the question of who hired these thugs to capture Jimi, and why they want him dead. Jimi actually takes his captivity pretty well, even attempting an escape at one point. That being said, he sort of gets over it a little too quickly in the finale, casually heading off to a nightclub for what will be his last gig.

Meanwhile Soldier busts heads and tracks leads as he tries to find Jimi; at one point he runs afoul of the German thugs, and later on he meets a dude who claims to be a former CIA agent who desperately needs to get in touch with Jimi, because the United States government is trying to kill him. Here it’s brought up that Jimi has been making positive comments about the Black Power movement and etc, and thus the uber-evil Nixon administration wants him dead. In reality Jimi Hendrix had ascended beyond race, just one of the bujillion things that were so cool about him. I’ve read my share of Jimi Hendrix interviews, and he rarely talks about being black. He literally cared nothing about race – “no matter what color the eyes or armpits might be,” as he once wonderfully put it. I’ve also seen a few interviews where he claimed the Black Panthers were going about things the wrong way, so I’d guess any such involvement with them would’ve ultimately proved short lived. 

Regardless, this conspiracy theory is a central thread of Jimi After Dark, at least in how it’s one of the main efforts to kill off Jimi. This meeting with the former agent leads to another running action scene, as Soldier and Angel are fired at by a hidden sniper. Ultimately we’ll learn the CIA is involved with Jimi’s abduction, and it’s up to Soldier and Angel to come to his rescue – that is, after a little kinkiness between the two. Stephen gets slightly risque as Angel treats Soldier to a little down-home hospitality; it’s more action than Bolan ever got on page, that’s for sure.

One can also tell that Stephen is more invested in this tale than he was in, say Saigon Slaughter or whatever; the tone is somewhat the same, but there’s more care and craft in the telling. Things are always entertaining, and the characters come off as three-dimensional. I do feel that the mystery angle got a little in the way of the action, particularly the long outing of the true killer in the climax, which is relayed via dialog. I only say this because it comes after the scene in which Soldier rescues Jimi, which features dudes getting their faces blown off. But then this mystery schtick is part of the hardboiled template.

I actually suspected I’d get a different story in Jimi After Dark. There are enough mysteries in Jimi’s death, let alone any CIA hit teams, German thugs, or shady managers. The chief mystery of them all would be what happened in Jimi’s final hours. This is because the last person with him, Monika, changed her story countless times over the years. According to her story (or one of her stories, at least), Jimi took some of her sleeping pills after drinking a lot of wine at a party, and when Monika woke up early in the morning, Jimi was sick, so she called the ambulance, and rode in it with Jimi to the hospital. Monika further claimed that the paramedics improperly strapped Jimi into a sitting position, and when he tried to vomit in his comatose state he was unable to move and thus choked to death on his own vomit, right there in the ambulance. This is the story most early Hendrix bios stick to, among them David Henderson’s phenomenal Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child Of The Aquarian Age (aka ’Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky in its paperback edition), which I intend to review shortly.

The only problem is, the story is bullshit. Many years later the paramedics who arrived on the scene were finally tracked down and interviewed. They each stated that no one was in the apartment when they arrived, and also the door was unlocked. Monika was not there, nor did she ride in the ambulance with them. They also stated that Jimi had clearly been dead for quite a while, given that the inside of his mouth was turning black. However they went through the fruitless motions of reviving him before putting him in the ambulance. The coroner later determined that Jimi had been dead for at least seven hours before the paramedics arrived, placing his death around 4AM. As for who called the ambulance, again, we only have Monika’s dubious word on that. Records of such things weren’t kept back then.

Long story short, it would appear that Jimi’s death is just what it’s seemed to be all along – an unfortunate, easily-avoided mistake. He took too many of Monika’s powerful sleeping pills and choked to death on his vomit, unable to move because of the barbiturates in his system. The question is, why wasn’t anyone there to help him? Or was Monika indeed there, but asleep at the time, and woke to find Jimi’s corpse and freaked out, running out of the apartment, her later stories just a way of repressing her memory of the truth? Part of this must be true, as apparently she called Eric Burdon of War and he and some others cleaned the place of drugs and guitars, steering clear of the corpse on the bed, before they called the ambulance.  (Priorities, people!)  Or was Jimi indeed murdered, waterboarded with wine by Mike Jeffrey and a few cronies as Tappy Wright claimed in his 2009 book Rock Roadie? (Overlooking the fact that Mike Jeffrey was in Spain, not London, on the night Jimi died…not to mention that Tappy later admitted he made it all up to drive book sales!)

But here’s another weird sidenote…on July 30th, 1970, Jimi was in Hawaii, doing a private concert for the film Rainbow Bridge, an occult, New Age-themed hippie movie financed by Mike Jeffrey. Jimi, asked by Jeffrey to appear as “himself” in the film, got drunk for his appearance so as to quell his nerves. I mean he literally stumbles onto the scene chugging from a bottle of wine. In this brief sequence shortly before the end of the film, Jimi engages in a nonsensical stoned rap with the lead female character and a “young guru” type in a goofy headband (none other than director Chuck Wein himself). Jimi describes an out of body experience in which he astrally voyages above the Sphinx and meets Cleopatra. He’s been drinking in the astral trip, too, and he relays that he suddenly feels the need to puke up the wine. But he holds it in because he wants to play it cool for Cleopatra: “The grape chokes me almost. But I can’t let the choke come out.” He then mimics choking on vomit. It’s all very creepy, because this is exactly how Jimi died less than two months later. Was he experiencing a premonition?

Check out this concise but thorough overview of Jimi’s last days, which gives all the pertinent info and also debunks the conspiracy theory that Jimi was waterboarded with wine.  The entire website is a treasure trove of Hendrix info and is highly recommended!

But anyway, none of this is actually in Jimi After Dark, so I apologize for the interminable detour.  And Stephen has written a novel, so he is not beholden to catering to facts or theories. In his book, Jimi’s death happens between chapters and is relayed in mournful backstory by Soldier, who sort of implies that Jimi died by his own hand. Or maybe it was another a backup CIA hit team. Either way, it’s a miserable loss, and Soldier – who as mentioned is telling us this tale years later – has already mourned him, thus doesn’t treat us to histrionics when he and Angel hear that Jimi’s dead on the car radio. Despite which, it is the ultimate in buzzkill to learn that Jimi’s died between chapters, given that the entire book was all about Soldier trying to save his life!

Soldier does tell us that many years later he met Angel again, this time in Texas, thus implying there is another tale to tell. I enjoyed the character and wouldn’t mind reading another story with him, but it won’t be the same without Jimi. Anyway, I definitely recommend Jimi After Dark, and I’m happy to see it’s available again…when I tried to track down the original Perfect Crime edition, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Luckily now it’s available from Wolfpack – and as mentioned with a much more fitting cover.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way…

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dark Angel #4: The Godmother Caper

Dark Angel #4: The Godmother Caper, by James D. Lawrence
July, 1975  Pyramid Books

Friends, it’s a damn shame this was the last volume of Dark Angel. While James D. Lawrence floundered with the previous volume, this time he turns in a wild, wild novel that comes off like 192 pages of madcap sleaze. His operating principle appears to have been: When in doubt, have someone try to take advantage of heroine Angie “The Dark Angel” Harpe. And boy do they try to take advantage of her throughout The Godmother Caper, sometimes in the most outrageous ways imaginable.

Just like last time, it’s clear that Lawrence is plowing ahead with no clear direction for the narrative. But last time this resulted in a ponderous, repetitive book with few thrills. This time he practically throws everything in just to keep things moving. More importantly, everything is ramped up in this final volume. While the series was always pretty kinky, this time it’s downright hardcore – not up to the pages-filling boffs of The Baroness, but much more detailed in Angie’s frequent sexual shenanigans, whereas previous books would just give some juicy details and then fade to black. Here Angie gets it on in graphic splendor throughout, and Lawrence even treats us to a girl-on-girl scene as Angie seduces a “closet lesbian.”

Also the violence has been greatly expanded; I think the previous volume was the first time Angie even killed anyone, and that was only relayed briefly, almost as an aside, in the final pages. This time she’s “drilling” would-be rapists and muggers left and right, blowing them away with her Baby Browning or backup .25 with nary a thought. Previously she’d just bust some heads with her martial arts skills or her lead bar-lined purse and then run away. Now the Dark Angel plays for keeps, resulting in a novel that has more graphic sex and violence than the previous three installments combined. Lawrence also doles out an eleventh-hour subplot in which it’s revealed that Angie, in the past, has done contract spy work for various super-secret intelligence agencies, some of them “kill” missions, implying that future volumes might’ve seen the series progress in more of a Baroness direction.

Regardless, Angie is in full private eye mode here, as usual offered a job that turns out to be vastly more complicated and dangerous than she initially suspects. Only problem is, the back cover copy sort of blows the mystery. Angie’s approached by a platinum blonde in “goofy” glasses with “voluptuous tits;” as ever, the cover art faithfully captures characters and scenes from the novel, even down to the “Negroid Faye Dunaway(!)” ensemble Angie sports for this meeting. The blonde gives her name as “Marilyn Johnson” even though her cigarette case is stamped “GM.” Angie will spend the upcoming 180-some pages of dense, small print pondering over who this woman really is, until late in the game she realizes it’s the infamous “Godmother” of New York’s most exclusive cathouse, thus the “GM” on the woman’s case. Meanwhile, the back cover text – not to mention the title of the novel – already clues us in.

Marilyn Johnson offers Angie five thousand bucks to look into the rape of her 20 year old niece, who says she was just raped on the streets of Manhattan by a Mafia torpedo named Carlo Fosca. Angie, suspecting there’s a lot more to this than she’s being told, takes the job, and when she goes to Fosca’s place she finds a pair of balls nailed to the wall. Perhaps Lawrence wanted to be sure we were aware that this would be a “balls to the wall” sort of novel. And it is, as Angie’s jumped right on the scene by a pair of hoods who try to rape her. Lawrence is one of the few men’s adventure writers to offer topical details of his era, and it’s these touches I love so much; he also often mentions rock acts of the day, and this folks has got to be the one and only mention of Black friggin’ Sabbath in a ‘70s action novel, as Angie’s forced to strip and dance a go-go to “a hot and heavy number” by Ozzy and the boys.

This sequence in a nutshell gives us another indication of the prime concern of the novel: Angie getting raped. Indeed one almost gets the intention that it was Lawrence’s express purpose to piss off any feminist who might, for whatever reason, happen to read The Godmother Caper. Angie throughout is getting stripped down, fondled, assaulted, and nearly raped, and that’s not even mentioning the number of times she’s propositioned. In one particular sequence she actually throws a guy a mercy fuck just to get the intel he’s promised her. The rape stuff was there in previous volumes, but like the sex and violence it’s been ramped up tremendously this time; here the two hoods in Fosca’s place force Angie to strip and then one prepares to rape her while she’s forced to give the other a blowjob. Or as Lawrence refers to her as she performs the act: a “n – fellactrice!” For once again, Angie’s only referred to as black (in the most derogatory manner possible, of course) when she’s being mocked; otherwise she’s consistently referred to as “bronze-skinned.”

Here we also get our first taste of how Lawrence is just going to keep throwing plot developments at us, some as arbitrary as can be – the most egregious being the aforementioned bit where Angie, apropos of nothing, is contacted by a “glutinous”-voiced Peter Lorre type who works for a top secret agency called ALICE and tries to draft Angie’s services, complete with a necklace he insists she wear which serves as a two-way radio and homing beacon. It can also tighten on her throat Running Man style, to the point of decapitation, so as to keep her in line; the “slave collar,” the cretinous agent calls in – and then goes on to inform Angie he must know all of his female agents “carnally.” You guessed it, another attempted rape ensues, with Angie saved at the last moment by her main squeeze in the novel, a young stud named Jeff North. After which the two run away – and the incident is just brushed under the narrative carpet. And that’s just one example of the arbitrary subplotting that goes on throughout.

The main plot has to do with an ancient bust of the goddess Selene which was stolen from Turkey and smuggled into the US, eventually landing in the hands of Nimrod North, elderly art dealer who was a friend of Angie’s. But Nimrod’s dead of a heart attack and his hunky nephew Jeff is certain someone caused the cardiac arrest. He runs into Angie when she is, naturally, fully nude, escaping from that attempted rape-blowjob scene described above. She jumps in his car and they take off and Angie knows Jeff can barely contain himself, what with all the “naked tits and pussy” on the car seat beside him. But Jeff’s engaged to a knockout named Beryl who insists on putting off sex, so he doesn’t respond immediately to Angie’s propositions that night in her swanky pad. Of course he eventually gives in, and becomes Angie’s main bedmate.

That isn’t enough for Angie, though, as later on she meets Beryl, who worked as Nimrod’s assistant, and succeeds in seducing her, as well. The second volume had a brief lesbian sequence, but here Lawrence goes full-bore with it. Angie even suggests a three-way, but surprisingly that doesn’t happen. The stuff with Marilyn Johnson and her raped niece and the literally emasculated Carlo Fosca gradually plays into all of this, as does seemingly-unrelated stuff like an anti-rapist and mugger vigilante group and a possibly-related enforcement wing of the group called “LF.” Lawrence gets way out with this; when we finally see the LF in action, sticking up a dingy bar that Angie of course happens to be in, they’re wearing “UFO getups:” green coveralls with masks that have speaker grills that distort their voices. “Buck Rogers stuff,” as another character refers to them, perhaps indicating Lawrence’s past writing the juvenile sci-fi series Tom Swift.

But this is just the framework for lots of sleaze and attempted rapes. The novel occurs over two or three days, and these are hectic days for Angie to say the least. She’ll go from bed with Jeff to almost getting raped on the street to dining at the Y with Jeff’s fiance to a gunfight with some Mafia hoods, all within a few hours, like a Blaxploitation 24 or something. Much of this too is as arbitrary as can be, like when Angie decides to scout around New York to see who is spraypainting all the vigilante slogans, finds one guy in the act, and sneaks up on him, only to discover too late that he’s spraypainting an anti vigilante message! You guessed it, this guy tries to rape her, too – indeed, he strips off her panties and prepares to do her “Greek” style. Or rather, “Angie could feel his penis start to anally penetrate her.” But Angie manages to save herself with a ring that contains a small but razor sharp stiletto.

It goes on like this throughout, with action and sex sprinkled here and there. The Godmother stuff doesn’t even play out until the final pages; Angie spends more time chasing various leads and red herrings trying to track down the missing bust of Selene. The finale brings it all together, though, with Angie retaining the services of a ‘Nam pilot vet (a smooth black guy who likely would’ve turned up again in ensuing volumes) who drops her and Jeff off on the Godmother’s Manhattan building. Dressed in black jumpsuits with hoods and toting Sten submachine guns (a recurring theme from the finales of previous volumes), the two storm the cathouse. Lawrence busily wraps everything up here, and even manages to throw in a guy with an acid-disfigured face who wears a metal mask and mummy-like wrappings.

And I haven’t even mentioned all the other random wildness, like the part where Angie, offered a job by a creepy old Mafia don, instead pulls her gun on him and forces his men to strip and strike homosexual poses for photographs that will be used for blackmail purposes, should the don attempt any reprisals on her! Or when Angie visits the Godmother’s cathouse and deems the place a “veritable cuntropolis,” given the number of customers and sex acts being performed behind unlocked doors. Or the guy who gets Angie in a chair with cuffs that rotates around and turns into, you guessed it, a handy platform for raping her. Lawrence has so much fun with this particular sequence that he doesn’t even bother telling us how Angie breaks free of the cuffs, though I figure she used that stiletto ring.

Really, The Godmother Caper suffers from a lot of problems – messy plotting, random subplots, bald exposition serving as plot developments. But as trash it’s pure gold. It was by far my favorite volume in the series, and really I enjoyed them all except for the third one, which was tepid. But this one makes me wish there had been a fifth volume. My assumption is the readers of the day just didn’t take to a “bronze-skinned” heroine in the male-dominated world of men’s adventure, and more’s the pity.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Abandon Galaxy! (Commander Craig #2)

Abandon Galaxy!, by Bart Somers
March, 1967  Paperback Library

The second and final volume of the short-lived Commander Craig series is much better than the first one. It seems that Gardner Fox (aka “Bart Somers”) spent the time between volumes actually figuring out what his publisher wanted; whereas in the first book he turned in a juvenile snoozefest with a too-amorphous threat and a lackluster hero, this time he delivers just what Paperback Library no doubt wanted from the beginning: James Bond in space.

And this is the movie Bond for sure; like Connery’s take on the character, Commander John Craig now sexually harrasses all the hot women he meets (playfully, of course), likes to indulge in the occasional bit of gambling, and goes up against oily, despicable villains straight out of SPECTRE. The exploitative elements have been greatly expanded – nothing too explicit, though – with copious mentions of nude women at the various space-dives Craig frequents, waitresses in “transparent boleros,” man-hungry cougar types, etc. The lead female character is even a super high-class courtesan from a planet named Veneria in which all the women are trained love-artists, boasting that they’ve discovered a hundred and some ways to have sex.

There is only infrequent reference to that previous volume; it’s a short time later, and we are informed that Craig has broken up with his girlfriend, Eva Marlowe. No doubt because Fox has learned the last thing you want to give your swinging intergalactic spy is a steady girl. He’s gotta be stone free, baby! Fox has also learned to truly make the series “intergalactic,” too; no more constant mentions of Earth cities. Instead, Fox has gone overboard in the opposite direction; Abandon Galaxy is stuffed with arbitrary mentions of far-off planets, places, and people, not to mention bizarre alien oaths and curses. My favorite would definitely have to be, “By the nine births of Lamarkaan!”

When we reconnect with Craig he’s already on his latest assignment, which sees him watching over a lovely young museum curator on one of those far-flung worlds. Her name is Irla, and she’s become a target of LOOT – the League Of Outer-space Thieves. (Pretty sure that would actually be “LOOST,” wouldn’t it?) Ultimately we’ll learn it’s because the bastards intend to bump her off, replace her with an android, and use the android to steal a priceless artifact belonging to the Rim Worlds and thus start a war between the Empire (aka the US) and the Rim Worlds (aka the USSR). We see from the outset that there will be more action this time, as Craig takes on the LOOT thugs, even engaging them in an air car chase.

Also, Craig is more brutal this time; he melts sundry faces with his “rayer” gun; the novel is by no means gory, but Fox does often mention exploding blood and flesh, which is a far cry from the juvenile tones of the previous book. And also he appropriately exploits his female characters a bit more; we’re often reminded that hot redhead Irla has one helluva nice body, and she’s often getting nude for various reasons. However Fox does not dwell on the juicy details when the bumping and grinding finally happens – all of Craig’s sexual encounters happen off-page.

After all this, Craig looks forward to a nice vacation on Pleasure Planet, a sort of global resort where vacationers can let it all hang out. But on his way to the planet, riding with other vacationers in a massive cruise spaceship, he’s contacted by his boss, Dan Ingalls. This is one of Fox’s more interesting creations: a gadget that rides over the cosmic waves and allows you not only to hear the person you are talking to, but to feel their emotions as well. At least Craig has updgraded from that stupid “sack” he put everything in, last volume. Ingalls informs Craig that LOOT is up to more trouble; they are planning to plant a megapowerful bomb on – you guessed it – Pleasure Planet itself. Once again the hope is to spawn a war between the Empre and the Rim Worlds.

It's all very much on the Bond tip. Craig figures out that one of his passengers is the secret LOOT agent, and sure enough it’s a smokin’ hot babe who is posing as a sexually insatiable “tigress” headed for Pleasure Planet for some illicit fun. Her name is Kla’a Foster, and she’s met at the Pleasure Planet landing site by an oily, creepy-looking obese man named Alfred Bottom, who will soon be revealed as the main villain. True to the template, Bottom and Craig are soon challenging each other in high-stakes gambling matches, and Bottom is wining and dining Craig in his luxurious villa while a half-nude Kla’a sits at his side, tempting Craig. However the two never get it on, and Kla’a is sort of a dropped ball on Fox’s part, only returning to meet her hasty demise – not at Craig’s hand – in the finale.

The main setpiece of the novel is just as depicted on the cover; Craig takes up Bottom on his challenge to Schiamachy, an ancient, rarely-indulged Pleasure Planet feature in which two contestants vie against one other on a sort of elevated chessboard. Each level has a different challenge, and if the contestants survive to the top they have to fight each other to the death. Only Bottom at the last minute reveals he doesn’t plan to compete himself; the rules allow a stand-in, and Bottom will retain the services of his “bruitor” henchman, a massive alien creature with three eyes and tentacles, giving him four arms to bash his human prey.

It's a cool, pulpy scene, with Craig up against a giant spider, an android, and even an invisible killer plant. The battle with the bruitor is also nicely done. The only problem is it’s over too quickly and the novel sort of pads around for the last half. There are some cool pieces here and there, though, like Craig swimming through a monster-infested ocean to spy on Bottom’s beachfront villa. Craig throughout though is able to spend some quality time with his new lead female character: Mylitta, a “dusky” skinned, “slant eyed” ultra babe from the planet Veneria, which isn’t a planet of nasty diseases but one of high-class whores, of which Mylitta is the best of them all. Craig wins her as part of that Schiamachy duel.

Mylitta proves herself to be a memorable character; initially she’s only concerned with her courtesan reputation and is put off by Craig’s constant refusal to bed her(!). This is because Craig’s more concerned with the attempts on his life he’s sure Bottom is about to make, and his concerns of course are quickly validated. But once they finally get all that out of the way (off-page of course), Mylitta becomes more active in the action scenes, even using her disguise skills to make the two of them look completely different so as to elude Bottom and his men. That being said, there’s actually a part where Craig disguises himself as a janitor, folks, complete with a mop and pail. The future!!

The climax plays out in Lewdity City, to which Bottom, Kla’a, and the other LOOT villains have retreated after Craig, with some governmental help, prevents their ship from leaving the planet. Here upper-class citizens come to indulge in their lower-class tastes, posing as bawdy villagers and the like. It’s all very goofy, as is an arbitrary plot point Fox quickly introduces that allows Craig to rally the villagers to his cause and assault Bottom’s fortress. The climax is unexpectedly brutal, though, with eyeballs getting scratched out, people falling to their deaths, and a knock-down, drag-out fight between Craig and Bottom. Also more exploding flesh and blood thanks to Craig’s rayer.

It’s kind of a pity that this wasn’t the first installment of the series; if it had been, perhaps there would’ve been more than two volumes. I feel that Beyond The Black Enigma did little to engender the interest of sci-fi readers of the day, what with its general suckiness and all. In fact I wonder if this is why that first book was reprinted in 1968, to see if there was any interest in further Commander Craig adventures. Clearly there was not, and that was it for the adventures of Commander John Craig.