Maryjane Tonight At Angels Twelve, by Martin Caidin
December, 1973 Warner Paperback Library
Sporting an unforgettable cover that seems to have come off a sweat mag of the day, Maryjane Tonight At Angel’s Twelve is courtesy the author who created The Six Million Dollar Man. Possibly due to his famous creation, all of Martin Caidin’s novels are now scarce and overpriced, and this book – both the original 1972 hardcover and this paperback – is no exception. Luckily though I was able to get it via InterLibrary Loan.
This one’s a drug smuggling caper along the lines of Night Crossing and The Mexican Connection, but unlike those novels the plot here is more focused on the actual mechanics of flying; it’s my understanding Caidin was a professional pilot for some time, thus he has no qualms with shoehorning tons of “flying details” into the narrative. In this regard his writing almost reminds me of Mark Roberts, and this goes beyond the flying fixation. Given his success in writing I was under the impression Caidin would be, well…a better writer. I can see now why the contemporary Kirkus review was so harsh on this book. Stylistically, Martin Caidin is akin to William W. Johnstone, in particular the reactionary tone of his protagonist and of the narrative itself.
Whereas those other two dope smuggling books presented some of the dope smugglers of the day as at least counterculture heroes – I mean at least the guys flying in the grass were considered okay – in Caidin’s eyes they’re all criminal scum and deserve death. The dude’s about on the level of my wife, who considers heroin and hash equal in terms of vileness. This would be fine though if Caidin didn’t present us with a protagonist so unsuited to this reactionary agenda: Jim Brian, a blonde-haired ‘Nam hellraiser of a pilot who is only 28 years old but comes off like he’s at least twenty years older. Again, there is a strong similarity to a Johnstone-type protagonist, even down to the endless “now hold on a minute” discussions he gets into.
Eventually we’ll learn that Brian took part in over 300 missions in ‘Nam, flying into various hellzones and kicking Charlie ass, but after shipping home he hit on various hard times and now flies basically for whatever passengers he can get. When we meet him he’s flying a coke dealer and the coke dealer’s hotstuff babe, though it’s intimated Brian isn’t entirely sure the guy’s a smuggler. But it turns out to be a bust and the hotstuff babe’s actually an undercover cop – indeed, one whose name turns out to be Jacqueline Black and who is proclaimed a sadist even by her fellow narcs. Her own barely-explored backstory has it that her husband, years ago, went nuts after taking LSD, drowned their baby, and then tried to strangle Jacqueline! After which she dedicated herself to bringing down all drug dealers, as permanently as possible.
Yes, folks, Maryjane Tonight At Angels Twelve has the tenor of an Afterschool Special taken to absurd degrees; LSD can make you go Instantly Insane, and god forbid you take a “red” or some other pill. The book is stuffed to the gills with various characters running up and telling Brian or others that such and such character has just died of an overdose – this quickly attains humorous qualities, particularly given half the time that the victims are characters we haven’t even seen. But this is another instance of Caidin’s similarity to Johnstone; he doesn’t seem to grasp the basic tenet that action should be shown, not told.
Brian’s hauled before a gaggle of cops from various local, state, and federal agencies, all of them under command of a guy named Smythe, who offers Brian a chance to stay out of jail and clear his name: go undercover in the Cocoa Beach area of Florida (stomping grounds of Tony and Jeannie Nelson, btw) and help them catch bigtime drug dealers. Brian’s to just pose as a pilot, same as normal, and hope to run into some scumbags who want to use his plane for drugs. Jackie Black, who is one of the officers present, is violently against the idea, swearing that Brian was indeed aware that his client in the opening pages was attempting to smuggle cocaine, and that Brian should be locked up as well.
This sets up the almost psychotic antagonism between Brian and Black, but Caidin doesn’t go the expected route with it; ie the pulpy (and thus preferred) route of the two ending up in the sack. Instead, Jackie first attempts to bug Brian’s house and then tries to bust him and his girlfriend Ina (more of whom anon) several times, which has the ultimate effect of so angering Brian that he ends up beating the shit out of Jackie and strangling her until she pukes on herself(!). But after this Caidin drops the ball and Jackie, who indeed is a nutcase sadist, is delivered her final comeuppance by a one-off character…with Brian being informed of it by the now-mandatory exposition. But the part where our hero beats up a woman – even if she is a violent “bitch” (as he constantly refers to her) – comes off as a bit rough in our #metoo society.*
Brian’s first client is the aforementied Ina Joss, a beautiful brunette babe who hires him for a late-night flight to watch a rocket launch. She brings along a group of kids and, wouldja believe it, one of them has an LSD flashback trip during the flight. But Ina herself seems pretty straightaced, and meanwhile there are sparks between Brian and her, to the extent that they go back to her place that night and have some (apparently) hot sex. Caidin keeps all of it off-page, the prude. But we learn that they both had a grand ol’ time and soon enough Brian’s head over heels. A little too soon, for my tastes, as within a couple chapters of his intro the dude’s driving around Cocoa Beach and asking after Ina because he’s so crazy about her. Some toughguy ‘Nam vet!
Through Ina Brian’s put in touch with George Baxter, a wealty young high roller with long hair and all that jazz and yep he’s a drug dealer as expected. (It’s my understanding the recent nonfiction book Thai Stick, about smuggling in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, features a real-life sadistic drugworld criminal also by the name of “Baxter,” but surely this is just coincidence and Caidin wasn’t aware of him? Anyway I’m planning to read Thai Stick soon.) Brian suspects Baxter of being up to no good, as do his narc handlers.
More off-page sex ensues when Baxter, who hires Brian for a weekend flight to the Caribbean, literally gives Brian a girl for the trip. Meanwhile Baxter keeps two girls for himself! Now that’s my kind of high-rolling drug dealer. Brian feels bad about this unfaithfulness for a hot minute, and later on admits to it when Ina questions him about it (she’s a free-lovin’ Aquarian gal so doesn’t much mind). But her curiousity is more piqued by one of Baxter’s two girls; while Brian swears she is busty, Ina insists that the girl is flat-chested. In other words the lady got a boob job. And meanwhile Jackie Black has already stormed into Brian’s place, accusing him of smuggling in a load of heroin with his flight. Eventually he realizes he did, albeit unwittingly…the drugs were smuggled inside the lady’s “fake tits!”
Brian turns out to be as sadistic as the narcs he constantly butts heads with. When they ambush Baxter in his new amphibian craft – Ina along for the flight, Brian having admitted to her that he’s sort of an undercover agent – Brian does some ‘Nam-style flying to prevent his escaping, and crashes the amphibian. It explodes on impact and Brian’s elated, which came off to me as kinda harsh, not to mention that you’d figure the feds would want Baxter alive to figure out his pipeline. But it turns out some other dude was piloting the craft and Baxter has escaped. Also Baxter’s real name is revealed to be Krauss and he himself is a fancy pilot thanks to some self-financed aggressive pilot schooling at Embry-Riddle.
After his own plane is ambushed, courtesy a bomb someone’s hid in one of the engines, Brian gets a new one: an Excalibur. More aeronautical detailing ensues, taking us into the homestretch, which concerns an anticlimactic chase, most of it relayed via exposition and dialog: Brian trying to finally get the jump on Baxter/Krauss on one of his smuggling flights. This part is only salvaged by the .30 caliber machine gun Brian has installed on his Excalibur. Meanwhile Caidin leaves the more interesting climax – Jackie Black’s fate – off-page. Her attempted bust of Ina has so angered the resident hippie community that one of them, a dopesmoking former ‘Nam helicopter pilot (yet another pilot in a book filled with them), devises a special torture for her.
The lurid cover painting actually details what happens, off-page, to Jackie Black…when he’s told about it at the end of the book, Brian says it’s an infamous VC torture technique. You take someone and tie them to an airplane with a three-blade propeller and gun it over and over. This acts as a centrifuge and mashes all the blood around in the victim’s head, making a “sponge” of the brain and rendering the victim into an almost vegetable state. This is what’s done to Jackie (after the hippies ply her with acid, we’re told), but again it’s all relayed via clunky exposition in the final pages. It’s interesting that the uncredited paperback cover artist realized there was more to exploit here than Caidin himself did, but as I say the majority of the book is more focused on explaining how pilots handle things and also detailing the rampant horrors of drugs.
*I’m so out of touch with social media that, I kid you not, I have always pronounced “#” the American way, ie “pound.” I’ve never “Tweeted” or followed a hashtag or any of that bullshit, so I honestly thought that “#metoo” was pronounced “pound me too.” Then I happened to say it aloud one day during a conversation with a coworker, and judging from their reaction I quickly realized my mistake…