Thursday, February 28, 2019

Richard Blade #8: Undying World

Richard Blade #8: Undying World, by Jeffrey Lord
July, 1973  Pinnacle Books

Manning Lee Stokes ends his tenure on Richard Blade with a whimper, not a bang; it seems clear to me that the poor guy peaked way back in #5: Liberator Of Jedd and has been coasting ever since. For that one – which in hindsight I’d say is my favorite of the eight volumes Stokes wrote, mostly because I remember it the most – was such a multi-layered, “everything and the kitchen sink” sort of affair that I suspect Stokes was unable to drum up any more enthusiasm.

And sadly this one’s lacking everything we know from the series…I mean it’s all still here, following the usual template, but it’s all so dispirited. Stokes fails himself, really, for the novel opens with Richard Blade, in London some unspecified time after the previous volume, suffering from impotence. Or, “A member of the limp phallus club,” as Blade thinks of himself. Despite taking tons of gorgeous babes to bed, Blade’s been unable to get it up for them, and has even resorted to visiting psychiatrists. One of them suggests “a new setting,” so Blade takes this as the doctor’s unwitting order to get back to Dimension X.

Stokes skips over the usual belabored setup of Blade’s other-dimensional jaunt, other than an off-hand mention that yet another potential replacement for Blade has failed; this one came back from his sole trip to DX repeating “The worm has a thousand heads” over and over. However the psychedelic “trip” scenes in which Blade travels into DX only get more outrageous; this one features a leggy blonde traveling with Blade on a train to Hell. But anyway I say Stokes fails himself because Blade’s impotence is just another indication of the validity of my “alternate reading” of Stokes’s work on Richard Blade: that all these trips to Dimension X are really just the products of Blade’s own limited imagination. Not only would this explain why each and every volume is mostly the same, but it would also explain how Blade’s troubles in Home Dimension are either mirrored or solved in Dimension X.

Thus, Blade has absolutely no problems getting it up in DX – and he even spends the first weeks as a royal stud, his mission to impregnate hundreds of women. Brace yourself for this one, folks: Stokes keeps all of it off-page! Indeed, there isn’t a single “full-on” sex scene in Undying World, not even the previously-mandatory bit where a busty native babe remarks something to the effect of, “You are very big” to our strapping hero. Even though Blade bangs more DX women this time than in any of Stokes’s others, there’s hardly any salacious content.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Upon his arrival in this latest patch of DX, Blade finds himself among a modernistic city filled with “sleepers,” humans with small antennae behind their ears. It’s as if they were all knocked unconscious en masse; Stokes fills pages with Blade exploring the place, finding an eerie scene of people just lying around as if they were frozen in time. There’s also a moon that’s somehow so close that Blade can not only see cities but cars on the road(!). Eventually he encounters the Gnomen, hairy primitives who live in the sewers beneath the sleeping city. The sleeping people are called the Morphi, and they were knocked into a centuries-long sleep by a “sweet-smelling bomb” dropped by the “orbfolk,” aka the Selenes, the high-tech people who live on the moon.

The recurring theme of the series (and Stokes’s work in general) is the “bluff or brawn” ethic, and posthaste Blade puts this to use, challenging the Gnomen who surround him. He kills two in a bloody battle, the Gnomen using hooked spears (as depicted on the cover, once again courtesy Tony DeStefano) and Blade using a sledgehammer. And per the template here Blade gets a loyal native follower: Sart, leader of this group of Gnomen, but per tradition bound as Blade’s slave due to being defeated by him. Regardless of this temporary victory, Blade is soon a prisoner of the Gnomen, who we learn are all sterile, save for their leader, Jantor. Oh, how could I have forgotten to mention this: prior to challenging the group of Gnomen, Blade stripped off his clothes and fought them in the nude…so one gander at that massive wang and Jantor wants to know if Blade can, uh, get it up.

So here is clear indication that all this is a product of Blade’s imagination…I mean he’s suffering from impotence in the “real world,” and here, in this fantasy world that he can only access via his mind, he finds himself in a situation where all other men are impotent, and only he can satisfy the women. You don’t have to be Harold Bloom to see the metaphorical connotations. So he’s put on stud duty, his order to screw an endless stream of Gnomen women. Stokes doesn’t give any details, picking up the narrative thread weeks later, with Blade having banged countless women already. You would think Stokes would’ve at least documented the first such bang, given that the entire first quarter of the novel was concerned with Blade’s concern over his impotence.

This might be because the Gnomen women are “a mangy lot, dirty and stupid” …not exactly the usual DX sort of babes with the bodies of Victoria’s Secret models. Save, that is, for Norn, a Gnomen woman who has “visited” Blade a few times. Given her general hotness, Blade favors her, insisting she take a bath(!) and grooming her a little before the – believe it or not – ensuing sex occurs off-page. I mean WTF, Stokes?? Anyway Blade soon deduces that Norn is spying for Sybelline, the white-haired, half-Morphi sexpot who co-rules the Gnomen. And for all you Richard Blade vets who can see an inevitable Blade-Sybelline boff coming, prepare to be shocked: it doesn’t happen, even though she throws herself at Blade a few times.

Here’s a funny story, friends – I was well over a hundred pages into Undying World when it occurred to me that hardly anything had happened! Blade spends a lot of time serving as Gnoman stud, learning what he can about the Jantor-Sybelline rivalry (another recurring bit – trouble in the palace and whatnot) and learning about the silent Morphi city above, which is powered by this deus ex machina device that can revive (or shut down) the Morphi people with the touch of a single button. I mean there isn’t even a failsafe or anything. Things finally pick up when Jantor summons Blade and tells him that together they’ll rule the Morphi city and etc, and meanwhile here’s my favorite daughter, Alixe – be sure to have a lot of sex with her.

Did I forget to mention that the Gnomen like to scrawl swastikas on their heads and practice incest? I often wonder what the hell was wrong with Manning Lee Stokes. Alixe turns out to be a troublesome, prepubescent nuissance, and enjoys sexually taunting Sark, Blade’s slave. Sark snaps and kills her, and he and Blade must escape deep beneath the Gnoman city, down to the power control center, Sybelline showing them the way. It all gets goofy with quick reactivations of the Morphi, and various turnarounds and betrayals. Soon enough Jantor’s Gnomen are up there raping and looting the silent city. The raping occurs while the Morphi women are still comatose, and they wake up to find that countles Gnomen have been at them, so they commit suicide by jumping off buildings, per Morphi custom. Again, I often wonder what the hell was wrong with Manning Lee Stokes.

As if things weren’t weird enough, Blade even goes to the trouble of shaving off his hair and smearing blood all over his half-nude body, so he can blend in with the raping and pilaging Gnomen. Then we have an arbitrary “Blade to the rescue” bit where he saves Norn, who has grown to love Blade (even though we’re reminded again and again that he doesn’t love her – I mean, as if!). She’s dangling over a pit of “mole rats,” ie the feral creatures depicted on the cover, clearly used as bait by Jantor. Things get even more haywire here with the surprise reactivation of all the Morphi, and a pitched battle ensues…then Stokes, even though he’s pages away from the end, realizes he forgot all about that moon with its high-tech Selenes, so he has Blade summoned up there by its godlike rulers. 

At this point the reader wonders why the entire damn book hasn’t been set up here…not only are the Selenes, aka the orbfolk, so technologically advanced that they have spaceships and sci-fi weaponry, but they even have their own DX technology, and have sent their own people out into the various dimensions!! I mean folks, this is the sort of thing you focus an entire novel on, not just the last five or six pages. Blade has a glib conversation with his Selene handler, his head pains alerting him to the fact that his return to HD is imminent, and sure enough he’s zapped back. The novel ends with our reassurance that Blade’s impotence has been cured; the scientific formula he brought back from the Selenes may “gibberish,” but by god he gets a hard-on at the sight of a hot nurse…

And this is the sad end of Manning Lee Stokes’s duty on Richard Blade. At least he ended where he began, focusing on Blade’s dick. But his exhaustion is evident – he never showed much variety in his novels, and there’s only so long you can keep banging out the same story. My assumption is this book, like the previous volume, was one Stokes wrote a couple years before publication; note Pinnacle published both volumes the same month. He would be replaced on Richard Blade by Roland Green, who wrote the series until Pinnacle cancelled it a decade later; I look forward to seeing how his work compares to Stokes’s.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Golden Groove

The Golden Groove, by Dale Greggson
August, 1970  Dell Books

Here’s another rock novel I was raring to read, only to discover on the very first page that Billy Blake, megafamous protagonist of The Golden Groove, is actually a folk singer. Friends I was ready to chuck the book right then and there – I mean so much for the “hard driving rock” promise of the cover slugline – but I perservered, and I was glad I did. For the “soft willing flesh” portion of the slugline does not lie; this novel is filled with some raunchy, explicit sex, beyond even what Harold Robbins was turning out at the time.

I know from the Catalog Of Copyright Entries that “Dale Greggson” is a pseudonym, but of whom I don’t know. Perhaps the answer might lie within Hawk’s Authors’ Pseudonyms, but I don’t have a copy at the moment…I try to limit Interlibrary Loan orders of that two-thousand-page behemoth because I always get dirty looks from the librarians who struggle to get it across the checkout counter. My assumption is he was a professional writer churning out a sleazy tale for a quick buck. However his writing is good, doling out soapy soul-plumbing drama along the lines of Burt Hirschfeld mixed with the hardcore shenanigans of Penthouse Letters.

Well anyway, Billy Blake, born Malcolm Lutz, is the “best male folksinger” of his day; he’s 29, with a mop of curly red hair and a wiry, muscular body. He hit the big time ten years ago, when he stormed his way into the office of a music agent and forced him to listen to his protest songs. Despite all odds Blake’s single was a huge hit, and from there on he became, well, basically Bob Dylan, for clearly The Golden Groove is a roman a clef about Dylan, though this is a Dylan who goes through women in such numbers that Wilt Chamberlain would be envious. And that’s not even counting the ones he bangs in the frequent flashbacks.

The novel is also sort of focused on Blake’s struggles with the changing nature of his art. We learn that over the years he gradually moved away from protest folk, and now does songs about women or love or what-have-you, his previous acoustic-only backing replaced by full-blown studio production, courtesy his manager-slash-producer, Max – aka that music agent Blake stormed in on years before. In one of the novel’s sadly-unexplored elements, we’re informed that this guy’s speciality is “Max’s Mix,” in which studio musicians record countless instruments on various tracks – including even tabla and sitar on Blake’s latest – and Max uses the best takes to assemble a Frankenstein sort of creation, angled for total mainstream success. “Electronic gimmickry,” as Blake’s detractors call it. 

And Blake has achieved this fame, his songs instant hits, but it only now dawns on him that he’s suffered as an artist – yep, he’s “sold out,” as the saying goes. And plus his former fans, those ardent protesting hippie college students, deride him as a total sellout. They claim his only fans now are teenagers, and once they get older even they’ll start to mock Blake’s vapid crap. Of course his older stuff is still big with the college crowd, but the problem is Blake no longer feels the drive to sing stuff like it. Eventually we’ll learn all this came about three years ago, upon Blake’s divorce from his Joan Baez-type wife, Carla Montrose, a brunette beauty with big ol’ boobs – just one of Blake’s many conquests in the novel, though this one’s in one of the flashbacks.

We don’t get a single glimpse of Blake in the studio; the novel opens with he and Max discussing Blake’s latest track, which has been given the Max Mix treatment. But Blake feels unsettled…not that this stops him from picking up the first of several chicks. This one’s a top-heavy babe named Betty he meets in a Manhattan club, and he takes her back to his posh, three-floor brownstone. He bangs her silly over several pages and it must be stated again that Greggson isn’t shy about all the juicy details. And yet the novel is written with a sort of flair – I don’t want to say it’s literary, because that implies pretension, and the novel’s certainly not that. It’s all very direct and easily-digested, the very definition of pop fiction, so to speak, yet the author manages to turn in hardcore material that doesn’t come off like grimy sleaze. That being said, there’s actually a flashforward to Robbins’s The Betsy; when Blake takes a leak, Betty insists on holding his dick and aiming the stream into the toilet bowl! 

But while Blake may be the darling of the left-leaning protest punks of his day, his treatment of women would not win him many friends these days – he’s very much a screw ‘em and forget ‘em type. For example Betty is thought of as “dumb as a cow” the next morning, Blake giving her a very obvious cold shoulder so she’ll get out of his house. He even lets his assistant, an employee of Max’s named Audrey, escort her off the premises. Audrey, a small-breasted beauty, is of course another of Blake’s conquests; she started handling Blake’s concerts and appearances several years ago. We learn that he literally raped her early in their relationship – of course she ended up enjoying it, leading into a casual sex thing that’s chilled in recent years, as Blake’s lost interest in her.

As if in spite of this Blake proceeds to have sex with Audrey that very morning, but it’s awkward and unsatisfying for both. After this they ride in heavy silence upstate for a folk convention Blake’s scheduled to attend, where he’ll speak on folk music and give a concert along with a few other top folk artists of the day. Only here does Audrey inform him that Carla Montrose is a last-second replacement for one of the singers who was scheduled to attend. Blake decides to go on, after all – it’s clear he still has feelings for his ex-wife, and we’ve already had an XXX-rated flashback to his first meeting with the busty beauty, in which she threw herself upon him and they did it right by a lake. And once again we get all the juicy details, baby. Speaking of hardcore action-via flashback, we also have a somewhat arbitrary bit where we see how teenaged “Malcolm” lost his cherry to the married lady who was giving him guitar lessons.

Now as for his marriage to Carla, it didn’t last too long, because even then Blake couldn’t keep other women out of his bed. The last straw was when Carla came back early from a gig to find Blake in their bed, performing a 69 with a busty Italian beauty (one with incredible oral skills). Humorously, Carla storms out and Blake is quickly drawn back into the mood by the Italian babe’s mouth skills, though surprisingly this is like the one sex scene in the novel Greggson doesn’t fully describe. But that was three years ago, and Blake still carries a torch for Carla, even though he won’t admit it…however Greggson doesn’t sap up their reunion at the upstate college too much. We do learn that Carla has been through a few men herself in the past three years, and is now considering marriage to one, but needs to determine if she still has feelings for ol’ Billy.

Meanwhile Blake is already close to getting into the pants of another busty beauty – young Ruth, who is part of the college’s folk department, along with her boyfriend Gary. There’s also hotstuff rock reporter Cindy afoot; she trades sparks with Blake early in the novel, interviewing him during a photo shoot in a Manhattan studio. This is one of the too-few scenes which actually provide a glimpse into the rock world, for really the majority of the book is Blake screwing various women while worrying that he’s sold out. Cindy becomes Blake’s third conquest in the main storyline; after throwing himself at Carla that night in her room and being rejected, Blake heads back to his own room, finds that Cindy is next door, and forces himself on her.

As feared Blake is pilloried by the college punks during the conference portion of the folk festival, called a sellout and whatnot. Surprisingly Carla comes to his defense (she’s still regularly arrested for various acts of protest, so her underground cred is unsullied). A worked-up Blake experiences a sort of catharsis that night, finally confronting his womanizing and slipping artistic values through the form of young student Ruth, who throws herself at Blake at a party. Her boyfriend takes offense and the two men have a brutal brawl, Blake implementing some of the dirty fighting he learned in order to survive back when he lived on the streets – he grabs poor Gary’s balls and squeezes. Not to worry, though, as Audrey sends Cindy off to screw Gary that very night, to make up for all the trouble she put him through.

At this point everyone’s sick of Blake, probably like everyone’s sick of this endless review; everyone except for Carla, who has decided she wants to be with Blake again. His concert’s the next day and it starts well, the audience reacting favorably to his old stuff, but when he plays new material he’s actually booed. But the previous night Blake started writing a new pair of songs, ones this time straight from his core, and he breaks them out to massive cheers. At least Greggson cuts the treacle with a triumphant Blake giving his audience the finger before leaving the stage. In the meantime he’s decided he might just quit being “Billy Blake” and is going to give it another shot with Carla, staying monogamous this time…

What I wish there’d been more of was a look into the rock world, or at least some topical details about the era in which this occurs. Other than the opening in swinging Manhattan, the novel takes place either in flashbacks to the early ‘60s or in the rural upstate college (which is fictional, and I’ve already forgotten its name). I also would’ve enjoyed seeing more of Blake in the studio, particularly the psychedelic concoctions Max brews up for him. But Greggson really just uses Blake’s muse as the subplot, with the main plot focused on all that “soft willing flesh” Blake so often enjoys in full-on explicit detail.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Destroyer #13: Acid Rock

The Destroyer #13: Acid Rock, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy
December, 1973  Pinnacle Books

I enjoyed this thirteenth volume of The Destroyer a bit more than the others I’ve read, with the caveat that once again Sapir and Murphy have turned in a darkly comic satire with very, very little in the way of action –now that I think of it, there isn’t really a single action scene in the novel, other than a few quick “fights” in which superhuman protagonists Remo and Chiun take out their opponents practically between sentences. That being said, Remo does get laid in this one, so there’s that. Of course he doesn’t even enjoy it, but you take what you can get in The Destroyer.

I decided to check this one out because I’ve been on a rock novel kick lately. Be warned though that the authors only deal with the actual rock stuff intermittently, with more focus placed on the wacky would-be assassins who try to kill the teen girl Remo and Chiun are protecting. And also the authors mix up their eras…Acid Rock sort of combines the anti-Establisment, “up against the wall” vibe of Woodstock and other late ‘60s/early ‘70s rock festivals with early ‘70s sleazeball horror-rock. Because the main rock character in the novel – Maggot – is clearly an Alice Cooper stand-in, but hippies go to his gigs and Hell’s Angels provide the security. 

As usual it comes down to the goofy relationship between Remo and his “Little Father” Chiun, who, despite being the “wizened old Oriental” of cliché, is really just a petty old prick. There’s a lot of fun rapport between the two this time around, and some memorable bits of acidic wisdom from Chiun, my favorite being his commentary on US highways: “It must have taken much planning to build roads that are too big for light traffic and too small for heavy traffic.” Also humorous is his response to Remo’s argument that Chiun doesn’t understand the American counterculture movement: “How can you oppose something that does not exist?”

Anyway this one’s really more about the cast of assassins out to collect the bounty on the head of young Vickie Stoner, a brain-fried groupie type whose entire raison d’etre is to “ball that Maggot.” Vickie’s dad is an millionaire who, per Vickie, is in cahoots with the Russians on a grain deal that could topple the US economy or somesuch. Vickie has come forward as a witness against her own dad, and thus has incurred an open contract – something so mythical that even the FBI agent initially ordered to protect her doesn’t believe it exists. Of course he’s killed in a failed attempt to capture Vickie, and when hundreds of thousands of dollars are delivered at the funeral of the would-be assassins, it’s clear that someone out there is actually going to pay out the open contract on Vickie’s head.

All this catches the interest of Remo and Chiun’s boss, and posthaste they’re ordered to descend upon the acid rock scene and protect the young groupie chick. The recurring (and annoying) joke of Acid Rock is that addle-headed Vickie keeps eluding everyone, from her would-be protectors to her would-be killers. The rock novel stuff only factors into the beginning and end of the book, and as mentioned has more to do with the whole “shock rock” thing of Alice Cooper than anything else – Maggot even has his own guillotine on the stage. And since nothing’s sacred to our authors, Maggot is really a mild-mannered germophone named Calvin Cadwalder who just poses as Maggot.

And that’s really the thing about The Destroyer that can get annoying after a while…it really is a satire in the Swiftian sense, in that Sapir and Murphy have an axe to grind about virtually everything. So what I’m trying to say is that this isn’t a traditional action series in the vein of The Executioner, such that one of the highpoints is Remo taking advantage of an open tryout with the Atlanta Eagles and wiping out virtually the entire team. But honestly there’s no action in the traditional sense, and as with the other volumes I’ve read, when Remo does fight someone it’s always relayed from that person’s point of view, so that we don’t even read what the hell Remo’s doing…just the victim’s experiences as he suddenly finds his arms no longer working or his heart about to exlode or something.

But one of those recurring jokes is that Remo and Chiun are totally out of sorts with the rock festival crowd, though there is some funny stuff in that the vapid hippie types instantly assume Chiun, in his flowing robes, is “someone,” and flock to him like the Maharishi. This has a nice cap off in the finale, in which Chiun preaches to a group of hippies at a big Maggot festival. But there is of course plenty of venomous condemnations of the gullible hippies in these parts, though Sapir and Murphy don’t go as far with it as they could. I’m not exagerrating when I say the rock festival stuff is just a small percentage of the narrative, because in reality more of the running time is devoted to the oddjob assassins who try to collect on that open bounty.

Like Willie the Bomb Bombella, who takes up a bit of the narrative – before being perfunctorily killed by Remo. This indeed proves to be the gist of Acid Rock, folks; we get long, almost digressive sequences from the POVs of the various assassins, who either kill each other off or are casually killed by Remo – for once again, the guy’s such a superman that there’s zero drama or tension. This time the authors even take the schtick too far, as Remo is caught in an exploding car and flies out of it unscathed. It’s more like something out of Looney Tunes, and yes it really happens in the novel – again, I’m not exaggerating. The authors seem to hate everything about the action genre, a hatred which appears to extend to readers looking for a vicarious thrill.

Oh and speaking of which, Remo gets laid this time – by Vickie. And like I mentioned in my previous review, our hero lacks a sex drive, so basically he bangs Vickie to shut her up…and doesn’t even enjoy it, even though we’re informed she gets off ultra-royally. There are no juicy details, of course, but Remo goes at her a few times…and tries not to fall asleep. I mean I know it’s all supposed to be humorous, a piss-take on the basic action-adventure model, but the thing is, I like the basic action-adventure model. I enjoy it. I always think how great this series could’ve been if it just handled things on the level…Sapir and Murphy could’ve retained their piss-taking vibe, but toned it down a little, indeed made it more subtle, while still doling out the expected men’s adventure tropes without the satiric trimmings. Now that I think of it, that would’ve been more challenging for them, and perhaps more rewarding – to write the series “on the level,” as it were, with hidden layers of satire. Only a few men’s adventure series have achieved this – off the top of my head: TravelerThe SpecialistDoomsday WarriorPhoenix, and especially The Hitman.

The authors (but I suspect the majority of this one was courtesy Murphy alone) stomp on modern sensibilities with the character of Abdul Hareem Barenga (aka Tyrone Jackson), a Black Panther type who attempts to cash in on the open contract. The stuff with Barenga is hardcore racist with zero in the way of apology – he’s a complete idiot with zero morals, and talks like he walked out of the crudest of Blaxploitation flicks. Murphy – and again I suspect this is mostly his work, given that later volumes apparently dip into racial caricatures – even goes to the trouble of mention the rolling whites of his eyes when a terrified Barenga runs away from Chiun – “Feet get moving!”

But the assassins who get by far the most narrative time are the Nilsson brothers, Lhasa and Gunner. Part of their own assassin clan – one that tangled with the House of Sinanju centuries ago – these are the last surviving two, one being a big game hunter and the other an old doctor. The authors try real hard to make the reader give a shit about them and wonder if Remo and Chiun will have a chance…as if forgetting that they had Remo take on an entire football team and fly out of an exploding car. But it does go on, with the Nilsson brothers taking up way too much of the running time. And they don’t even have their own special powers, per se, like the beyond-ninja skills of Sinanju; rather, they just rely on handguns. Pretty lame.

The rock material comes and goes, mostly relayed through Vickie and her single-minded quest to “ball that Maggot.” I started to have déjà vu, flashing back to the equally-annoying Lori Thomas in The Scene. But Vickie’s a bit more of a fun character, mostly due to her interractions with Remo and Chiun. As mentioned Remo blows her mind with some undescribed sex, so Vickie figures “that old Oriental” will probably be even better in the sack. Unfortunately she interrupts Chiun’s soap operas, and he nearly kills her, knocking her into the next room. Remo has to use martial arts skills to get her heart beating again.

This sort of “sadism played for comedy” seems to be a recurring element in the early volumes. For example, later in the novel Remo nearly kills the aforementioned Barenga, taking out his anger on him with a devastating strike – and mind you, Remo isn’t even aware that Barenga’s one of the would-be assassins. He just happens to run into him as Barenga is running away from Chiun’s floor in the hotel. Later Remo momentarily plans to toss a little dog down an elevator shaft as part of a split-second decision to give another would-be assassin a Viking funeral, but is only stopped by the sudden appearance of the dog’s owner. But there’s no indication that Remo would’ve changed his mind.

And even Maggot turns out to be a total chump, a germophobe who could probably give Howard Hughes some pointers. We’re supposed to laugh of course that he goes into concert in a white jumpsuit with bloody raw meat dangling from his neck. Despite being a hard rocker he has the mind and personality of an accountant, and this ultimately is what gets Vickie in his bed – Maggot of course turns down her constant offers of sex, given the germ-exchange that would be involved in such an act. But when Vickie starts casually tossing market predictions, gleaned from her millionaire enterprenneur dad, Maggot finally becomes excited.

The climax occurs at one of Maggot’s rock festivals; Lhasa Nelson stalking Remo and Chiun while keeping Vickie, who now is engaged to Maggot, in his sights. The highlight here though as usual has nothing to do with the action; Chiun begins discoursing to a flock of hippies, giving Remo subtle messages about the lurking presence of Lhasa in his speech. This leads to a humorously-unclimactic finale in which, despite the authors’s best attempts to build suspense that Lhasa might kill Vickie as well as our heroes, it all again comes down to a quick strike that’s written from the perspective of the victim – I don’t think I’ve yet encountered the phrase “Remo kicked him” or the like in any of these Destroyer books I’ve read.

But as mentioned this time I tried to let go of any such expectations and enjoyed the book for the goofy satire it is. The Remo-Chiun interplay was as fun as ever, and Remo taking on the pro football team was also very memorable. However the digressive stuff on the various would-be assassins got to be a drag after awhile, and the “mystery” of who ordered the open contract was lame, because it was obvious from the first chapter of the book.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Scene

The Scene, by Mike Jahn
January, 1971  Pocket Books

First published in hardcover by Bernard Geiss Associates in 1970, The Scene is courtesy Mike Jahn (aka “Joseph Michael Jahn” per the copyright page), who years later would write Six Million Dollar Man novels like Wine, Women And War. Here though he’s in much more of a literary mode, turning in a “Documentary Novel” that has more in common with the pretentious hippie lit of the era than the steamy potboilers Geiss was known for – Geiss of course being a Lyle Kenyon Engel type of book producer, one whose claim to fame was the publication of Valley Of The Dolls.

This underground literary style is evidenced posthaste; in a present-tense, almost stream-of-conscious opening Jahn elaborates on how those crazy kids today just love rock ‘n’ roll and, unlike the pulp readers of the past, they’re not ever gonna outgrow it. (And, uh, “Did anyone want to go down on Bob Kane for drawing Batman?”) All this was interesting to read from the perspective of decades later, as today of course grown adults collect toys, let alone rock albums. But at any rate this overly busy intro just serves to bring us into “the scene,” as it were – both the “rock scene” itself and the actual Scene Club, aka Steve Paul’s Scene. This was a real place, right on 46th Street in Manhattan, and we’re informed in the first pages that it closed in “mid-1969.”

I imagine then that the novel occurs in 1968 – we’re only told it’s “September,” and we’re introduced to Lori Thomas, who unfortunately will serve as our protagonist in this short novel. Lori is a 22 year old blonde with the expected great bod; she’s fully into the scene, both the vibe and the club, and while she dreams of being a singer-songwriter she’s really more of a groupie superslut. At least she is in the first half of the novel, until she experiences some hard-to-buy character growth.

Jahn at this time covered the rock scene for The New York Times (he also published a slim book on The Doors that’s highly collectible these days), so he knows his stuff – the novel is peppered with random notes about rock groups and the like. And in another similarity to those hippie lit novels of the day it’s not told in one plain fashion; interspersed with Lori’s main story we have digressive, interminable “tapes,” presented as interviews with three unnamed characters – a Groupie, a Guitarist, a Manager. Most of these are made up of the rambling, disjointed material as seen in the average Rolling Stone interview of the day, though some of it’s fun, like the Groupie’s astrological reading of the Beatles and other groups.

Lori Thomas is perhaps one of the more vapid, cipher-like protagonists I’ve yet encountered in a mainstream novel. Her entire goal seems to be screwing…well, everyone in the rock world. She specifically goes to the Scene to scope out rock world dudes, picking them up in blatant fashion. Lori’s top target is Gino Henley, of the Gino Henley Organization, an ersatz Jimi Hendrix who fronts a Family Stone sort of group that includes horns in addition to the basic rock instruments. A “spade Mick Jagger,” as Jahn refers to him – but let’s recall, this is from the era in which a Rolling Stone reviewer referred to Hendrix as a “psychedelic super spade” in his review of Electric Ladyland. Anyway Henley doesn’t sound very great, his guitar work and mannerisms expressly copied from Hendrix and Townshend and others, but Lori has her vapid sights set on him.

Thus she’s blown away when Gino shows up at the Scene one night. She brazenly hits on him, slipping her hand onto his crotch as he sits at a table, but her advances are turned away and Lori ends up with…“the bass player.” All we’re told is he’s a British dude, we’re never given his name, and I really thought at first that it was Noel Redding himself; Jahn doesn’t inform us that the “Him” Lori lusts over is a fictional rocker named Gino Henley. It really seems as if it’s Jimi himself, particularly given his easy-going manner and the fact that he’s accompanied at all times by a Devon Wilson-esque black beauty. But Lori, her head hanging low, goes back with the bassist to his hotel and proceeds to fuck him silly over the course of several pages in super-explicit detail; I can almost see Bernard Geiss rubbing his mitts together at this point – “Finally! This is what my readers want!”

Jahn has a tendency to perspective-hop, so we learn the bass player develops feelings for Lori, not that they’re reciprocated. In fact she’s angry that she even had to stoop to screwing the bassist, and basically tells him to fuck off the next morning. Here her character is developed slightly in that we finally see her doing something other than screwing rockers. She heads to the studio, where she’s working on a record with her producer, Tony, who of course was a former lover, but Lori dumped him because he wasn’t a real rocker type. Lori’s music is described as folk with a jazzy bent, just her and her acoustic guitar, so one wonders how much “producing” is necessary.

But Lori’s so caught up in recording her crap that she forgets she’s supposed to meet her friend – a fellow vapid groupie – at the Scene. Thus Lori is bummed to discover she’s missed an impromptu Gino Henley Organization gig! Here Lori commits another of her aggressive come-ons…she pushes her way backstage and slaps Gino on the ass! Well this time he takes her back to his hotel, Lori pointedly ignoring “the bassist,” but when the expected a-doings are about to transpire, Gino leaves Lori high and dry. Not only that, but he basically makes a fool of her in a roomful of people – Lori’s strung out on grass and whatnot – and once again leaves her with the bassist!

This horrible development serves to make Lori a better person, we’re to understand. Humiliated by the experience, she shuts herself off in her apartment, playing records. She then pours herself into the recording of her album. Here Jahn changes the format – previously the book has occurred over a few days, but now months pass between chapters. Despite all odds – because it sounds like awful, played-in-Starbucks shit, Lori’s LP is a smash success. Tony builds up an aura of mystery about her, keeping her out of the public eye. Meanwhile Lori’s been doing this pretty much on her own, no longer going to the Scene and ignoring all of her old friends there.

Around here Jahn begins to develop a sort of redeemed-through-love theme that’s hard to buy, given the cipherlike, one-track-mind Lori previously displayed. But slowly she begins to fall (again) for Tony, mostly because of the way he cares for her and whatnot. This leads to the novel’s big finale, at the Miami Pop Festival in January; Lori’s first unveiling to the public. Even here she stays in her hotel room, and on the big day she walks through a gauntlet of dudes she’s slept with as an increasingly-uncomfortable Tony escorts her backstage. A nice reminder of the girl’s rock-whoredom past.

But inexplicably the audience goes ga-ga for Lori, singing alone with her acoustic guitar, and she’s an overnight sensation. The novel ends with Lori on the cusp of major fame, but also in love with Tony – we don’t even get a “she’ll go back to her old ways” sendoff, as Lori has the chance to sleep with an old lay but turns him down, thinking about Tony. Meanwhile Gino Henley hasn’t been mentioned since he left Lori cold, so in reality The Scene is sort of like a period rock novel featuring a Joni Mitchell type, instead of the rocker type of progatonist most readers might want – at least that’s what I wanted.

The period details are somewhat cool, though, and it’s interesting to read a book from a time when Jimi and Janis and Morrison were still alive, and the other rockers were in their prime. And Jahn drops all kinds of rock world info on us, though sometimes it’s quite arbitrary, like a digressive bit on The Rascals, aka “the best known American rock group.” Huh?? There’s also a random flashback to when Lori saw Iggy and the Stooges in concert, and that’s megacool, given the early publication date of the book. In fact if the entire damn book had been about Iggy (or at least an Iggy-like character...or better yet he shoulda just made Gino Henley the protagonist), it might’ve been great. 

But I don’t think The Scene has been forgotten because it’s such a period piece; I think it’s more that the protagonist is unlikable and her story seems lifted from innumerable other rock success stories.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

You’re Hired; You’re Dead! (Hitman #7)

You’re Hired; You’re Dead!, by Kirby Carr
No month stated, 1975  Major Books

The final volume of Hitman* takes the series in a sleazier direction – even when compared to previous installments – but be aware it’s not “fun” sleaze, but sleaze of an off-putting nature. For in this one Mike “Hitman” Ross goes up against brainwashed teenaged girls, and Kin Platt (aka Kirby Carr) takes a sick delight in exploiting them throughout, particularly those younger than 16, with even a few random hardcore sex scenes featuring a 14 year-old.

In many ways You’re Hired; You’re Dead! is a lazy rewrite of the previous volume, which featured the exact same plot – a bitter woman sending out young female assassins to do her bidding. But this is just one sign that Platt has grown bored of the series; much of the book is comprised of page-filling of the most egregious nature, with Ross most times just standing around and wondering what to do…before a plot contrivance stumbles along to point him in the right direction. Otherwise we get lots and lots of digressive material on one-off characters; even Ross’s action scenes are sorely compromised, amounting to two such sequences, both of which are blatant rehashes of the ones in the previous volume.

The opening even demonstrates an author winging it as he goes along; Ross wakes up in his own bed to find a hot young girl beside him, nude and ready to go…he has no idea who she is or what’s going on. Then she reveals a knife and goes for the kill, and Ross, being the Hitman and all, kills her with her own knife, later regretting that he didn’t keep her alive to question her. Only belatedly does he realize he hired her as a maid the other day and she just spent the night in his home as part of an “overnight contract.”

However, Platt tries to cover himself when Ross admits he had a few drinks the night before, thus his temporary confusion in the opening pages – whether intentional or not, another parallel to the Spider pulps is the implication that the nutcase “hero” of this series is in fact drunk most of the time. Before death the girl blabbed something about “Murder Maids.” We soon learn there’s been a rash of murders around Los Angeles, the killers all young blondes posing as maids and babysitters (in one cruel sequence we learn a 5 year-old had his throat slashed), all of them hired via classified ads. When recurring character Lt. Wilson of the LAPD tries to investigate, he finds all the ad postings were one-time deals and can’t be traced, or somesuch. So he calls in Mike Ross, the Hitman.

We readers know the culprit is Martha Hamilton, a hotstuff older blonde with an axe to grind on male society; her backstory is even a retread of the female villain’s in the previous book, with men treating her woefully since childhood. Now she’s got this army of young girls, all picked up off the street and promptly brainwashed by hunchbacked genius Dr. Shult, who has developed a device that controls minds. He even gets his own digressive backstory which shows how he ended up working for Martha, who as a millionaire thanks to her dead criminal husband could give Shult all the money he wanted for his invention. A vague backstory also has it that Ross killed Martha’s husband or something, hence one of the girls being sent to kill him.

As mentioned the girls are all young, 18 at the most, but Platt focuses mostly on the young ones. It’s my understanding Platt made a name for himself, such as it was, as an author of juvenile fiction in the ‘70s. If so then he must’ve been having some sick fun with this series, because it’s like the sleazeball alternate reality version of juvenile fiction – grimy, outrageous exploitation of preteen girls, up to and including their deaths. The cover painting actually depicts a scene in the book, sort of, because folks the guy with the sword turns out to be Master Lo, Ross’s 80 year-old martial arts teacher, and he’s taking care of a pair of brainwashed teen girl assassins by chopping their heads off.

There’s lots of shit about the various assassin girls going about their chores, including another one sent after Ross. This one he successfully stops by re-hypnotizing her, figuring he can trail her back to wherever she came from, but a timed explosive in her car finishes her off. Around this point Ross gets in one of the few real action scenes in the novel, as a squad of killers who work for mobster Joey Massina descend on Ross’s nigh-impregnable mountaintop home. Joey was hired by Martha to round up a bunch of guys to kill Ross…yes, exactly as in the previous book.

And it goes down the same, though this time Ross is alerted to his visitors by an anonymous call, which turns out to be from Dr. Shult – he’s worried Martha will send her killer girls after him one day, too, so figures he should keep Ross alive for protection. But once again Ross is nearly superhuman; he takes care of the invaders as easily as the average guy might stomp on a cockroach. A later scene has him decked out in his Hitman gear – black nylon combat suit and cowl with eye-slits – and launching a raid on Joey’s place. Here he kills over a dozen guys without batting an eye. The action scenes lack any thrilling content but are at least slightly gory, if less so than previous books. Platt does look forward to the men’s adventure of the ‘80s with occasional gun-porn, like a digressive rundown on the armament in Ross’s “Chevyvan war wagon.”

Platt, apparently realizing he blew a good chance to fill pages with the abrupt car-bomb murder of the previous brainwashed gal, introduces another one in the latter half of the book, this one a 14 year-old hooker named Alice who also poses as Laurie and Lori. She too comes to kill Ross, showing off her body in a failed attempt to screw him – Ross goes without sex this volume – and our hero successfully deprograms her. He even offers her a job. Alice leaves to “think about it” and ends up being picked up by Martha – the series has always existed in its own little universe, populated by just a handful of people – who, brace yourself folks, promptly seduces Alice right there in the car, in outrageous XXX detail. Alice, who royally gets off on it, declares Martha a supreme “muff-diver.”

As if that weren’t enough, Martha sends Alice over to Shult’s as the latest candidate for brainwashing…and now it’s the good doctor’s turn to boff the preteen girl in outrageous XXX detail. But Alice sort of falls in love with Shult, mostly due to his massive wang, and in the homestretch the plot turns into Shult planning to use Alice against Martha. Meanwhile a squad of girls have been sent to Ross’s home, making for the third time he’s been visited by brainwashed preteen killers. Here Platt goes through the roof with the off-putting sleaze, because the girls go into a sexual frenzy, tearing off their own clothes and Ross’s as they attack him en masse – complete with explicit detail of the parts of their bodies being jammed in Ross’s face as he struggles against them. He’s saved by the appearance of Lt. Wilson, who just laughs and wonders if Ross took the opportunity to fuck any of them first, because that’s what he would’ve done!

Since the book’s so scarce and obscure (likely because Major didn’t want to waste much money on printing this crap), I’ll spoil the finale…it’s dumb. In a complete disregard for any sort of reality, even “reality” as it exists in this bizarre, pulpy series, Platt has Master Lo basically “sniffing” the aether and, like a human hound dog, tracking down the hiding place of the villain who has been sending out these killer girls. And folks he just walks right up to Martha’s door and hacks her head off. He later does the same to Shult. Meanwhile Ross is still busy struggling with those nude teen girls. When Ross, Lt. Wilson, and Lo meet up at the end, they all have a good chuckle over how Lo took care of everything for them!

This was easily my least favorite book in the series, though the only one I really liked was the first volume. It would seem apparent that Kin Platt quickly grew bored of the series, and by this last volume he was completely checked out. But then, Major Books was, too – note that the cover does not state “Hitman” anywhere, nor is there a volume number presented. For that matter, neither Ross nor “Hitman” are even mentioned on the back cover copy. Now that I think of it, this has been true since the first volume Major published, You Die Next, Jill Baby!  So maybe Major quickly churned out these three final volumes so as to be done with it.

*As mentioned in previous reviews, the 1975 Major paperback The Impossibe Spy, also credited to Kirby Carr, is often listed as the eighth and final volume of Hitman. I dutifully picked up the book several years ago…only to discover it’s a standalone novel, not connected to the series. Thus You’re Hired; You’re Dead! is actually the final volume of Hitman.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Up And Down With The Rolling Stones

Up And Down With The Rolling Stones, by Tony Sanchez
October, 1980  Signet Books
(original trade paperback edition 1979)

In many ways this sleazy tell-all is similar to Frederic Seaman’s later The Last Days Of John Lennon; it’s written by a former assistant whose job mostly entailed getting high with his employer-slash-best friend, and it seems to have been written with a grudge to bear. But this book’s a whole helluva lot more fun, because the employer-slash-best friend is Keith Richards, and the documented events cover a lot more time than the few months that made up Seaman’s book.

“Spanish Tony” Sanchez, who died in 2000, is infamous in the Rolling Stones mythos as the band’s drug dealer; his name was immortalized on the original version of the Beggars Banquet cover, the one of the gross toilet seat with graffiti on the wall…Keith Richards, per Sanchez in this very book, is the one who scrawled “Spanish Tony where are you?” on the wall. Speaking of Keith, the man apparently has a gift for one-liners, as upon reading this book he supposedly commented, “Spanish Tony can’t write his own name, let alone a book.”

He wasn’t alone in his suspicion; it doesn’t seem to be well-known yet, but Up And Down With The Rolling Stones was actually ghostwritten by a British music journalist named John Blake, who still owns the copyright on the book and republishes it frequently. I guess he and Sanchez followed the template of all those William Shatner bios and other celebrity books – the celebrity tells his tale to the professional writer, who commits it all to paper (with a few embellishments) and doesn’t get a shred of credit. But I’ve read a few online reviews of this book that question the authenticity of “Spanish Tony’s” voice. Well, there’s the answer – it’s not his voice. It’s John Blake’s.

But this isn’t a criticism, because the book is a blast to read, and it’s everything you’d want in a Rolling Stones book. That is, if you want to read about their wild, drug-fueled adventures and don’t care as much about their actual music. And also if you don’t want to read much about Mick Jagger. Sanchez (or Blake) doesn’t much care for poor old Mick, it seems – or maybe it’s the other way around, and Mick didn’t care much for Sanchez. Because Mick doesn’t seem to have much use for Spanish Tony, other than an occasional request for coke. Otherwise our author(s) is content to let us know that Mick is an egalitarian prick, posing as a Cockney-accented rabble rouser but really worried someone might “spill something on his Persian rugs.” That being said, Tony does grudgingly admit that Mick is stronger than Keith, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Palenberg, producer Jimmy Miller, scads of others, and Spanish Tony himself, in that he never uses heroin, and thus doesn’t share the plunge into addiction practically every single character in the book experiences.

Sanchez comes into the Stones fold right as the glory years are beginning (ie the mid ‘60s), and stays with them up until the glory years begin to fade (ie the mid ‘70s). Coincidence? Probably! The book is very focused on Brian Jones, the “forgotten” Stone who started the group, gave them their name, got hooked on drugs and busted multiple times, was fired from the group, and died a few days after. In an opening sequence Sanchez never really returns to, Brian comes to him one night looking for coke and other goodies, and from there Sanchez flashes back to how he became the Stones’s unofficial drug dealer – though for some goofy reason he reminds us throughout that he’s not a drug dealer, per se.

It begins in the post-Aftermath era, and the Stones are just embarking on their psychedelic trip, which we’re supposed to hate but to tell the truth I love. For a very long time, Their Satanic Majesties Request was the only Stones album I had on vinyl, and that was for a reason. (I mean let’s be honest, “2000 Light Years From Home” is one of the greatest songs of the psychedelic era – or any era, for that matter.) Sanchez has various connections to the underworld and soon becomes the Stones’s go-to guy for grass, hash, speed, and eventually coke and heroin.

Keith Richards (though at this point he was still going as “Keith Richard,” per old manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s suggestion) is the Stone who gets the most study, with Brian Jones coming a close second. Jagger comes and goes in the text, and Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts basically don’t exist. As Sanchez writes, these two didn’t have much in common with the others from the beginning. Jones replacement Mick Taylor enters the narrative midway through, but he also doesn’t get much focus, other than being another example of a naïve, almost innocent soul who gradually sucumbs to the Stones’s dark demonic sway.

Sanchez himself doesn’t come off as the most likable guy; as with Seaman, he’s careful to present himself as level-headed, particularly when confronted with the continuous goofery of the rock world, and there is a definite air of judgment in his depictions of how the Stones treat their women and children. And yet for all that Sanchez freely admits that he abandons his wife and toddler son to be with some long-legged model chick (who eventually dies of a heroin overdose – spoiler alert). But then, none of the people in the book are in danger of winning a Parent of the Year award. At least Seaman made clear that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had various maids and nannies to look over Sean; Sanchez spends the entire book giving the impression that Keith’s son Marlon is being raised by a pair of heroin-ravaged incompetents, before slipping into the very final pages that there are nannies for the boy.

There’s a lot of focus on Brian, and Sanchez goes out of his way to let us know how the Stones screwed him over, while at the same time implying much of it was Brian’s own fault. His growing dependence on drugs and troubles with the law pushed him into a corner the other Stones were incapable of getting him out of. Sanchez relates that in these earlier days whoever was pals with Brian was the boss of the Stones, and it was only around this psychedelic period that Keith went over to Mick’s camp, and the two went about knocking Brian from his throne.

Superbeauty Anita Pallenberg played a big role in this; the former “Great Tyrant” of Barbarella entered the Stones picture initially through Brian, then moved on to Keith, and also reportedly took the time to seduce Mick on the set of Performance, which she co-starred with him in. Like Brian, Sanchez presents Anita as a tragic figure, though again much of it is due to her own actions – her conniving, her heroin addition, her eventual pursuit of black magic, including a bizarro part where Sanchez has Anita dipping a piece of cloth into the blood of a man lying near death on a road in Tangier, the victim of a car wreck. Per Anita’s satanic guru Kenneth Anger, the blood of a dying man is quite powerful. And yet for all that Anita doesn’t seem to get much done other than hook herself and others on heroin.

Marianne Faithfull also enters the picture around the time of Anita, and Sanchez follows the now-cliched angle of presenting her as the ray of light to Anita’s shroud of darkness. However Marianne just sticks with one Stone: Mick. But the old boy treats her pretty rough; he’s not into beating her around, as Brian reportedly was with Anita, but he is guilty of ignoring her a lot. A funny thing about this book is that it’s pretty anemic so far as the sexual sleaze exploitation goes – Mick, we’re informed, enjoys the occasional dalliance, but Keith we’re told isn’t much interested in sex at all; he’s too heavy into heroin. In fact it’s not until near the end of the book in which Keith even says he finds a woman sexy (Ronnie Wood’s wife, fyi), and Sanchez is properly shocked because it’s the first time he’s ever heard Keith say he “fancies” someone.

The interchanging Brian-Keith, Keith-Mick alignments come off as petty bickering, because the biggest miss of Up And Down With The Rolling Stones is that Sanchez fails to tell us anything about what made the Stones so popular to begin with – their music. If you are looking for peeks inside the studio during the recording of their various albums, or even some of their historic concerts of the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Only rarely – very, very rarely – does Sanchez even mention the music of the Stones. He does take credit for inadvertently causing “Honky Tonk Women” to be recorded (the best Stones song ever, per Sanchez!?), given the piano he had installed in the London club he briefly owned with Keith; Mick and Keith, who were supposed to be helping decorate the place, sat down and started plunking out the song.

But Sanchez clearly wasn’t there for the recordings of Beggars Banquet or Let It Bleed or Sticky Fingers or etc, though he does sort of imply he was in Keith’s house while Exile In Main Street was being recorded, though he fails to give even a smidgen of info on the recording sessions. And that to me is the most damning thing about the book. There’s absolutely no understanding how these guys, who are presented as just looking for the next drug kick, could have recorded some of the most defining music in rock history.

I found though that the book is more enjoyable as just a gossipy tell-all, as was the case with Seaman’s book. And speaking of Lennon, he appears a few times in Sanchez’s book, and perhaps tellingly, he comes off pretty much identical as to how he did in Seaman’s expose – easily confused and overly bossy, but with a quick wit. Paul McCartney also shows up, if only briefly, at Mick’s birthday party at the aforementioned club, where – per Sanchez – he’s the last person to leave, and discovers the comatose hat-check girl. We also learn that he brought along an acetate of “Hey Jude” for the party, thus invoking Mick’s wrath for having been upstaged at his own party…and later Linda, not yet Paul’s wife, calls Tony and hassles him for the record back, lest bootleggers get hold of it. 

Things really pick up when Keith takes over the baronial Redlands out in the and gets in one goofy adventure after another. Unlike the major events – the infamous drug bust, the disastrous Altamont concert, and every single recording session – Sanchez is actually present for most of this. So we have Keith shooting arrows across a lake and then skimming over it in his hydrofoil to collect them, and also his increasingly hostile run-ins with the locals. I also got a post-ironic chuckle out of Keith’s immediate response to the rash of crime he endures in the area, mostly from locals who keep breaking into his house: that’s right, friends – he builds a wall…

There’s a lot of intentionally funny stuff throughout, most of it involving Keith. Like for example an altercation in the Exile years where he gets in a fight with some guys at a wharf in France, and starts waving around Marlon’s toy pistol like it’s the real thing. There’s also Keith’s quickly-dashed plot to sink a boat once belonging to Errol Flynn so he can reclaim it and thus get it for a fraction of the price. As Sanchez elaborates, with his growing heroin addiction – which matches his growing bank account – Keith becomes increasingly price-conscious. This is another parallel to Seaman’s book, where millionaire John Lennon also came off like a cheapskate.

The book also answers the question of how one becomes a heroin addict; as Sanchez relates it, the experience starts with coke, which the performer needs to constantly get up in front of the masses and do the same show over and over. But eventually the performer needs a comedown, otherwise sleep is impossible. This is how heroin enters the fray, initially snorted but eventually injected via “the works.” This process happens to virtually every person in the book save for Mick, and in many cases – so Sanchez claims – Anita Pallenberg is responsible. Per Sanchez, junkies are only happy when their misery is shared, so Keith and Anita relish in getting people in their orbit hooked on heroin, even if it’s just some harmless young rock reporter.

It’s hard for me to review a book like this. It’s engaging and witty, and at times hard to put down, but at the same time you come away from it with little understanding of what made the Stones one of the greatest rock groups of all time, if not the greatest. Overall I enjoyed the book, even if I didn’t come away with a better appreciation of the Stones, their music, and their legacy.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Inquisitor #6: Last Rites For The Vulture

The Inquisitor #6: Last Rites For The Vulture, by Simon Quinn
May, 1975  Dell Books

Well, I liked this sixth and final volume of The Inquisitor slightly more than the the third volume. Apologies to fans of this series, but I have to conclude that I just don’t dig it. It’s not the fault of Martin “Simon Quinn” Cruz Smith, as he delivers exactly what the label on the spine promises – a “Mystery” novel. That’s all this series is, even though it was packaged and sold (and thus tagged here on the blog) as men’s adventure.

Despite the salacious copy on the first page preview and the back cover, there’s nothing in Last Rites For The Vulture that would be out of place in a TV movie of the era. If anything this one’s even slower-paced than Nuplex Red, and throughout Smith is content to dwell on scene-setting and dialog. As for the elements expected of the genre – sex and violence – he is not concerned with them at all. In many ways this series is similar to another slow-burn “men’s adventure series,” Dakota, though thankfully not as sleep-inducing. (But then how could it be?) 

The novel opens with a nicely-written but ultimately digressive scene in which a young pair of backpacking tourists in Spello, a village in Umbria, Italy, turn out to be traveling assassins. They use a contraption of their own invention to spray a poison in the face of an 80-year old monk – a monk who, strangely enough, seems quite able of handling himself against two opponents. But they spray him regardless and he dies of a heart attack, one that will seem to be natural in the ensuing autopsy. When series protagonist Francis Xavier Killy enters the fray, it’s weeks later and he’s here with his boss Cella, both of them come to Spello to see if the murdered monk, Brother Pietro, is worthy of sainthood. If you’re looking for a peek into the machinations of the Chuch, then this is the series for you.

If you’re looking for action and sex, it’s not. It’s very much in the mystery mold as Killy, posing as a priest, investigates Spello and Pietro’s past at the behest of Cella. Smith excels in the description of Spello, bringing to life its hardscrabble peasants and shifty town leaders who yearn for Brother Pietro’s sainthood. Though, in a nice moment that undercuts the sap, Cello eventually reveals that Spello is dying while a nearby city is thriving, and why? Because that other city has its own saint. It seems that having a town saint is a tremendous boost for tourism.

Meanwhile Killy has discovered that Brother Pietro’s heart attack might not’ve been as natural as believed. Here Cella also reveals another big tidbit – that Pietro was at one time known as “The Vulture,” and he was an ally of Al Capone who ran whores and whatnot. He was extradited from the US shortly before WWII, going on to live in wealth in Italy. Then the Nazis rounded him up, he escaped, freeing the prisoners with him, and eventually went into hiding as a monk in Spello. But he took to this simple life and stayed that way until his murder, his vast resources funnelled into a Mexican banking firm called Condor. Now the question is, who killed him and why?

Killy next heads for Baja California, and we’re treated to a practically endless hang gliding race in which one of Killy’s opponents, unbeknownst to him but made clear to us readers, is one of Pietro’s assassins. From here Killy, posing as a gadabout sportsman, ingratiates himself into the jet-setting fold of Roberto, Allan, and Alexandra Ciccio. The former two are the assassins, we readers know, but their dayjob entails running the Condor bank. Alexandra is the hot-to-trot granddaughter of Brother Pietro – a carefree babe who tears her jeep across the Baja desert while smoking grass.

Alexandra provides most of the thrills in the novel, not to mention the little salacious content. She is of course horny for our hero, and the two exchange barbed dialog before the inevitable screwing. For it must be said that Smith shines in the dialog department, particularly Killy’s deadpan lines. Alexandra’s most notable sequence displays her rock star lifestyle; after some hard drinking and dopesmoking she insists on driving Killy back to her place in her new sportscar, but instead she intentionally flies off a pier and lands the car in the ocean. It’s submerged to the doorhandles and sharks swirl outside, and she and Killy are trapped in here until the tide goes out, taking the sharks with it. Smith as expected leaves the ensuing sex off-page.

But it does just go on and on…Killy hanging with Roberto and Allan, who have proclaimed him their new best bud, while Killy suspects the pair might be involved in something nefarious. Meanwhile he’s here to keep an eye on Alexandra…it turns out that the assets of Condor are being used in a land-buying scheme in the desert near San Luca or somesuch. Later on Killy flies to Tokyo for a few pages and then to Montreal for a few pages more, each time coming upon a businessman who has just been murdered; more to do with this property scheme.

It’s not until the final quarter that the novel really kicks into gear – and mind you, Killy hasn’t gotten in a single gunfight or killed anyone yet. The most he’s done is get in a brawl with a drunk rival of Condor during a yacht party. But at this point Roberto and Allan are forced to finally show their hand, and meanwhile Killy’s deduced why they’ve been treating him like their BFF; they intend to kill Alexandra, the last obstacle in their gaining all of Condor’s assets, and make it look like Killy did it. And of course they’ll kill him, too; the goal will be to make it look like an accident.

This leads to another nice sequence with Alexandra, with her and Killy stranded on a cove that’s used for sea turtle burial; the place is surrounded by a barbed wire fence and a faroff sniper prevents Killy from scaling over it with a towel. Instead they put those turtle shells to use and dig their way out. Throughout Killy keeps Alexandra from realizing the life-or-death situation they’re in, trading more of that deadpan dialog with her. Some of it is pretty funny, like Killy’s “Talk about problems” when Alexandra notes that his shoulder is bleeding from a .22 bullet.

The finale slightly ramps up the tension. Killy and Alexandra escape Florita via a sailplane – Smith seems to have had a major interest in hang gliders, sailplanes, and vintage light planes when he wrote this one, because it seems that a good portion of the narrative is given over to Killy flying various small aircraft. But they’re chased by Roberto and Allan in their old Vampire plane and they crash in the desert. Killy’s again hurt, getting a concussion, and they hole up in an old mission for a few days, slowly dying of thirst and hunger.

But they’re able to escape again, and we get another long aerial chase, as if the previous one was just a bit of page-filling to meet the word count. And folks, at least in Nuplex Red Killy lived up to his name and killed someone. I mean I don’t expect much from my men’s adventure protagonists, but I at least expect that! But again, take a look at that label on the spine…we’re reading a Mystery novel. Mother nature ends up doing Killy’s work for him. He leads the Vampire into a lightning storm, and while Killy’s sailplane has no issues, flying into a storm in a light plane like the Vampire is “like jumping off a cliff.” Smith even teases us that Killy might shoot someoneone, earlier on; he takes a revolver from some dirty Florita cops he knocks out, but ultimately the gun’s just used to kill a few snakes.

However it must be stressed that this lack of exploitative content doesn’t mean Last Rites For The Vulture is bad…it’s just very safe and mainstream ready. It packs in just a few memorable moments of weirdness, but never goes too far with them. Killy comes off like a paperback James Gardner with his glib dialog and self-deprecating manner, and he lacks the merciless nature of the average men’s adventure protagonist of the ‘70s. In fact it’s surprising this series hasn’t been republished or epublished with appropriately bland, photoshopped covers, as with the recent bowdlerized Specialist ebooks. There’s nothing here Smith should be ashamed of, and it’s safe enough for grandmothers to read.

While the writing is fine, the depth of characterization above the genre norm, and the snappy dialog certainly beyond anything else in the genre, overall The Inquisitor just doesn’t do much for me, because it’s not what I want from the genre. It is, for the third and final time, really just a mystery series, more focused on sleuthing. But as for me personally I found a lot of it, like Nuplex Red, downright boring. So I doubt I’ll seek out any more of these books, which as mentioned previously are more expensive than they’re worth.

Monday, February 4, 2019

In Hot Blood

In Hot Blood, by Mercer B. Cook
No month stated, 1966  Challenge Books

This lurid, sleazy cash-in isn’t to be confused with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood at all. The similar titles are just a coincidence, of course. In fact, in the “Author’s Introduction” Mercer B. Cook sniffs that the “nonfiction novel” is nothing new, and that this particular nonfiction novel is about the growing threat of…well, something…and if, well, something isn’t done about it, the country’s gonna suffer!

Well anyway, thanks to Hawk’s Authors’s Pseudonyms I know that “Mercer B. Cook” was a pseudonym of that erstwhile pulp author Robert Turner. While the book is copyright Challenge Books, we are informed from the outset that “Cook” is the pseudonym of a Los Angeles-based author who has written a variety of genres, with a focus on mystery and crime. I wonder why Turner didn’t just publish the novel under his own name and be done with it. Likely it was a publisher demand, or maybe Turner just didn’t want to be ridiculed for this cheap ripoff of In Cold Blood.

I’ve never read Capote’s book, I’m unashamed to admit, but I’m aware of it. Given that it was published the same year, my assumption is this one was rushed out to capitalize on it. In the breezy 150 pages of this book we read as a trio of sadists descend on Elmorra, South Carolina one July night in 1965 and kill and rape several people. It’s not the feel good book of the year, that’s for sure – it’s pretty grimy and lurid, particularly given the publication date.

Turner writes this book as if it really is true crime…there’s lots of page-filling, from arbitrary breakdowns of how Elmorra is layed out to impromptu psych evals of the three hoodlums: Fitz, Townlee, and Parsons. We gradually learn they met in the clink and banded together upon their release into an unsuspecting society; now they drive south in an Olds posing as businessmen and hit random business offices at night, stealing the checkbooks and writing exorbitant amounts to themselves. This is of course elucidated for us at length…Turner, the old pro, leaves no page-filling stone unturned, and as is his usual wont he info-dumps a helluva lot. The book is almost all show and too little tell.

The opening, titled “After,” is a case in point. We have this long, digressive intro in which an Elmorra teen is shacking up with an older guy who travels through town on business. Lots of detail on her background and whatnot; Turner will pull this trick throughout, as he has in every other book of his I’ve read, but here at least the info-dumping isn’t as egregious, given that it’s presented as a nonfiction novel. Well anyway, this gal has some hot off-page lovin’ with the dude, and meanwhile she’s prepared a cover story with her chunky galpal Vangie…but after that aforementioned lovin’ the gal falls asleep, wakes up from a nightmare in which someone was screaming her name…and yep, she’s got ESP, and she knows some bad ju-ju has gone down in Elmorra. Soon enough she learns that Vangie and another girl, as well as a few teens and an adult, have been murdered…

Then Turner jumps back to “During” and tells us how all this sordid stuff went down. Long story short, Fitz, who strangled a cat as a kid, is the boss of the other two guys on their cross-country crime spree: Townlee’s a big bruiser who constantly giggles, and Parsons is the handsome Elvis lookalike who reads Westerns and is the most sadistic of the bunch. Fitz orders that they lay low when they stop in each town, but on this night of July 28 in Elmorra, Townlee and Parsons succeed in getting Fitz to slacken off on his strict “no booze” rule. Then they slip him some speed along with it.

Earlier, Townlee and Parsons, out getting the booze when Fitz was asleep in the motel, ran into a group of teens who were on their way to a meeting at the home of CL Hinkelman, a widowed bachelor in his late 40s, for a Church steering committee or somesuch. Vangie, the pudgy gal in the group, stupidly invited these two older strangers over to Hinkelman’s…just trying to be “right friendly” with these out of towners and all that. Now, back at the motel, the two sadists urge Fitz to go to Hinkelman’s – Parsons has the hots for Vangie and he’s sure Fitz will go nuts over the brunette teen who was with the group.

Soaring on the speed and booze, Fitz agrees. Here we go straight into drive-in trash territory; it’s a shame a cheap, black-and-white exploito film was never made of In Hot Blood, for of course eventual skewering on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s super-insane as the three just show up at Hinkelman’s house, and of course the dude has no idea who they are or why they’re here. But Vangie’s invited them, and it’s the neighborly thing to do…pretty soon they’ve knocked the guy over and are ransacking his pantry for food and booze. The vibe is almost that they’re vampires who have been welcomed into a home, and now they’re free to cut loose.

Turner pulls no punches in the ensuing grim sequence, which sees Hinkelman’s rifle put to use – conveniently just sitting in his kitchen. Hinkelman and the two teen boys are almost perfunctorily dealt with, and then Parsons and Fitz set on the two girls. Turner at least doesn’t go full-bore with Vangie’s rape, providing just enough exploitative elements of her clothes being ripped off before cutting away. Meanwhile Fitz ends up strangling the other girl while raping her. He then orders Parsons to go back in the bedroom and shoot Vangie, who’s passed out! So it’s safe to say these three are the villains.

After this the novel goes into free-fall; Turner page-fills with abandon, including an egregious bit where we read the pscyh evaluations of Fitz, Parsons, and Townlee, written during their prison terms years before. We learn how the people of Elmorra deal with the tragedy, and how the girl who opened the book – the one with ESP who was screwing a married man – has to leave town in shame. Occasionally we cut over to the three killers, who continue their way south, knocking over businesses. They begin to go crazy, apparently from their vile deed in Elmorra, and when Parsons rapes another girl and blabs to her about having killed someone, the cops get their first lead.

There’s a nicely-developed tension as the novel grinds to its close; Fitz, Townlee, and Parsons are now in Clearwater, Florida, oblivious that the cops have found out who they are and are closing in. But when the police stage their ambush the crooks end up turning on each other; one kills the other two, for being cowards, and then he himself dies a few weeks later when trying to escape police custody. But not before he’s told his story of what happened in Elmorra.

Overall this is a fairly quick, sleazy read, though a bit hamstrung by the intermittent narrative rambling. There’s just too much info-dumping about random characters or places, with the forward momentum constantly stalled. It’s for this matter that I prefer Turner’s short story work, as collected in Shroud 9.