Thursday, May 30, 2019

Room At The Bottom (Jeff Tyler #2)

Room At The Bottom, by J.L. Potter
No month stated, 1962  Chicago Paperback House

In a parallel to Ennis Willie’s Sand, Jeff Tyler was a hardboiled pulp series that was published by a sleaze imprint that grossly overhyped the exploitative elements. Unlike Sand, this series, which I think ran for three volumes, hasn’t gotten its due; I could hardly find anything about it online. I don’t even remember how I came across this volume.

Jeff Tyler, who narrates the books, is a WWII vet (a frogman in the Pacific action) who now operates the Loafalong, a reconditioned sea-air craft that’s over 80 feet long. He makes his living as a salvage consultant and his home base is New Orleans. Writing wise the series comes off like Mike Hammer guest-starring in a Travis McGee novel. Mickey Spillane is a bigger influence on the series than John D. MacDonald (not to mention that the McGee books hadn’t even started yet), with Tyler a hard-hitting, two-fisted ladies man who answers to no one but himself.

First a note of confusion. I can only find three books in the series. This one, which is numbered “A103” by the publisher; Or Murder For Free, which is numbered “A104,” and Kill Sweet Charity Kill, which is numbered “A109.” All three are from 1962. The numbering would imply that this one, Room At The Bottom, is first in the series. However, the back cover says it’s “the latest saga” about Tyler, and further, the back cover copy of Or Murder For Free seems to introduce Tyler. Thus I’ve concluded that Or Murder For Free must be first in the continuity, followed by this one, with Kill Sweet Charity Kill being the last volume; I can’t find any others listed, but it looks like Potter did a non-Tyler novel for Chicago as well, Jambalaya Loverman, published in 1961.

Anyway, this is a very hardboiled novel, as evidenced in the very beginning. Tyler when we meet him is in a deep diving suit, salvaging an old wreck outside New Orleans. Later we’ll learn the boat sank “15 years ago,” specifically 1942, when it was on a New Orleans-Liverpool run for WWII. Curiously this would set the action of Room At The Bottom in 1957, but then there are no topical details in the book to speak of, and at any rate the ‘50s setting just gives the novel even more of a hardboiled vibe. 

Tyler’s air is running low, and then he’s trapped by a steel beam in the collapsing ship. He talks to his tender, “the kid,” up on the boat way above. (Later we’ll learn the kid is named Jimmy, but we don’t get much detail about him.) Tyler tells the kid his oxygen will be gone very soon and to call the Navy, etc. All very calm. Then the kid comes back on and says the closest Navy guy is 5 hours away and there’s no help anywhere else.

Here’s how Tyler responds to this veritable death sentence: “Looks like supper’s a long way off.” That’s how hardboiled the novel is. Tyler has similar toughguy quips and retorts throughout the novel, which really gives the impression of Mike Hammer.

This opening sequence was my favorite part of the novel. Jimmy the kid, against Tyler’s stern admonishings, gets on his scuba gear and comes to the rescue. But he quickly runs out of air, so now a freed Tyler has to get both himself and the kid back to the surface, and they’re now both out of air. 

It’s all very tense and conveyed with none of the overwrought atmosphere you’d get today. Tyler is a professional and drowning is just one of the potential hazards of the job. He of course manages to get them to safety, after which he berates the kid for refusing orders to stay topside – and then thanks him for saving his life. Meanwhile Tyler has even more problems: he was hired to get a couple hundred thousand dollars from the safe of the sunken ship. But the safe was empty, save for the log book. Tyler suspects someone else has been down there in the past 15 years, or else Tyler’s been set up.

He figures it’s the latter when he visits the office of Laird’s Casualty and Marine Insurance, the outfit that hired him for the job. Goldbaum (or “Goldpop,” as Tyler refers to him, saying that Goldbam doesn’t make that big of a noise in his book – admittedly, one of Tyler’s lamer smart-ass lines) flat-out accuses Tyler of taking the money himself, hiding it on the ocean floor, and planning to collect it at a later date.

The majority of the narrative features Tyler going around New Orleans seeking out the survivors of the crash, all those years ago. In this regard the novel works like a private eye yarn, and the Loafalong stuff doesn’t return until the end of the tale. I forgot to mention, Tyler has a crew that follows him around, but they don’t take much part in this particular adventure: in addition to Jimmy, there’s Jack Price, the “red-headed first mate,” deckhand Stuke a “brawny Polack,” and also a cook whose name I’ve forgotten, who is sort of cowardly when it comes to the guns and action and stuff. 

The cover overhypes the sleaze quotient by a country mile. Tyler gets laid a lot but Potter keeps it all off-page. Even the customary exploitation of the female characters and their ample charms is minimal…even more minimal than the average pulp publication of 1962. Kind of makes you wonder why J.L. Potter even published with Chicago House in the first place; with a more reputable publisher and better distribution it’s possible Jeff Tyler might’ve been more successful, or at least better remembered.

Tyler’s first score is the sexy roommate of a woman who is married to one of those shipwreck survivors; Tyler heads over to their apartment to interview the latter, finds she’s at work (dancing at a strip club), and ends up getting cozy with this lady; her name is Daisy and she too is a stripper, but also a fortune teller and other odd jobs to pay the bills. Later Tyler will score with the other roommate, who’s husband is in prison.

It’s certainly not an action-packed novel. Tyler sort of drives around New Orleans and gets in conversations with various shipwreck survivors. The first, the old captain of the ship, proves to be the most fruitful, at least so far as Tyler’s love life is concerned; he takes an instant shine to the man’s sexy young daughter Ellen. You know she’s going to be the main female character because Tyler doesn’t immediately have sex with her. Instead they go on a couple romantic dinners and Ellen constantly begs off before the dirty deed can be done.

But par for the course in hardboiled pulp, Tyler runs afoul of various thugs. At one point he’s accosted in his trailer home (which impresses the ladies!) by a duo of torpedos, who punch him around a little bit; he later manages to get some payback with help from Ellen. Here the plot gets all twisty because the dude who pays the thugs is named “Goldbaum,” same as the name of Tyler’s boss at the insurance company, and gradually we’ll learn this is the stepson of that older Goldbaum…and also was a passenger on that wrecked ship. There’s also a little lurid stuff late in the game, when Tyler comes back to his trailer home and finds the strangled, nude body of one of the women waiting for him. Another attempt at a setup courtesy the villains.

Tyler carries a .38 but uses it sparingly, most memorably during a nighttime chase featuring those two torpedos from the earlier scene. Throughout he doles toughguy smartass quips that would have Mike Hammer red with envy. Oh and I forgot to mention that Tyler is sort of famous now in New Orleans due to events that happened in the previous novel (I assume), which I guess took him to Nicaragua. Anyway his crazy escapades there are the source of much conversation, and he even bothers to tell others what happened to what I presume was that volume’s leading lady (they’re taking a break or somesuch), so there was definitely a bit of continuity in the series.

The climax takes us back to where we started, with Tyler and crew (this time with two of the female characters in tow) heading back out to the wreckage site. Here Tyler and Ellen finally consumate their budding romance, but as ever it’s totally off-page. This features a humorous cap-off in which the girl tells the guy this was just a one-time thing! She’s engaged and just wanted to sow her wild oats with Tyler, who comes off as so dashing and handsome and whatnot.

The underwater sequence isn’t as gripping as the one at the opening, but that being said this time Tyler’s attacked by a scuba diver at the wreckage site. Here he finds out what’s been going on (basically, a rotten deal between the two Goldbaums back in 1942) and turns the tables on his enemies (planting an explosive on the underside of their ship). After which Tyler gets his name cleared and is free for more adventures – of which as mentioned there was at least one more.

I wasn’t blown away by Room At The Bottom but I suspect if I’d read it during my hardboiled kick a couple years ago I might’ve enjoyed it a lot more. J.L. Potter (I believe his first name was also “Jeff”) is no Ennis Willie, and Jeff Tyler’s no Sand, but I do like the sea adventure vibe of the series, so maybe someday I’ll seek out the other volumes.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Mafia Women

Mafia Women, by Joseph Cenni
No month stated, 1973  Award Books

Mama always told me about those Mafia women. Actually she didn’t, but that just sounds like the great country music hit that never was, doesn’t it? Anyway I used to always wonder what this ultra-scarce Award PBO was about, assuming it was just a sleazy cash-in on The Godfather. Turns out that it’s more of a study of various Mafia-world women, with more literary aspirations than sleazy ones. In fact it’s a wonder it wasn’t published by Pocket or Dell or Bantam or the like, as it’s more along the lines of those imprints than something from the publisher of Nick Carter: Killmaster.

Per the Catalog of Copyright Entries “Joseph Cenni” was the pseudonym of an author named Miles Donis. According to the pre-failing New York Times, Donis was a “novelist, screenwriter and former advertising director for Columbia Picutres.” Per this obituary, he died at the young age of 43 in 1979, the pedestrian victim of a car wreck. The article cites only three novels for Donis, so obviously his authorship of this pseudonymous novel wasn’t known at the time. But then it would appear he was a relatively obscure novelist, and of course now has only become more so.

The novel centers around several women who were either born or married into the Mafia, and the various trials and tribulations they’ve gone through as a result. There is no crime novel stuff per se, even though the novel opens with 50-something godfather Joe Banno being assassinated. The news of this is relayed to his wife, now widow, Lorraine, who acts as martriarch of this New York-area family. Donis uses this development as a frame to hang the novel around; Loraine will think of this or that Mafia woman who comes to visit her and help prepare for the funeral, and then each chapter will focus on this new woman and her past and all that. I was surprised though that Donis didn’t elaborate much on Banno’s assassination; we learn he was shot dead in a car, a young woman also murdered with him, but this plot thread isn’t resolved.

Instead we hopschotch from one Mafia woman story to another, so that the novel has more the vibe of a collection of short stories. Lorraine’s story is first and it’s fairly bland. She’s become godmother of this family through nothing more than just being the wife of Joe Banno. There’s no lust for power on her part and really not much of interest happening. She gets married, she’s a happy housewife, she’s the godmother of the Banno family, and now she’s in her fifties and her husband’s brains have been blown out by a rival family.

Linking the various flashbacks is this framework story, in which Donis introduces the concept that these Mafia women are basicaly kept women, with no ability to make any decisions on their own other than keeping the home and raising the kids. Donis will proceed to beat this story to death over the course of the short book. Even her husband’s funeral is something that is taken care of for Lorraine, so that she just sits in the house as other women come visit her, the family consigliere keeping her up to date on the funeral and ensuring guys are there for security. As each new woman comes to pay her respects Lorraine will consider her for a moment, and then the next chapter will be devoted to this new woman.

So after Lorraine we have Angela, the “most beautiful of them all,” and also at 25 the youngest. Her story takes us back to two years before, when she moved to New York from a small town and became involved with a young torpedo named Sal. After setting Angela up with a job at a club, Sal was arrested and sent to prison, and soon Angela was being propositioned by Frankie Gatto, owner of the club and a bigwig in the Banno family. When he has a limousine around to bring her to his place that night for some sex, Angela bluntly turns him down, for which she’s given increasingly-expensive presents, and ultimately a marriage proposal. But even after marriage Frankie won’t have sex with her, wanting just a blowjob, so Angela begins a secret relationship with Johnny, groomed as Frankie’s replacement. The reader can see where this is going a mile away, and by chapter’s end Angela is back to her “cage” aka expensive home, there solely to provide the oral needs of Frankie Gatto.

Joan’s story, up next, is sort of similar. This one takes us back to the mid 1950s, and Joan falls in love with dashing Vince, who heads up various rackets for the Banno family. But it becomes increasingly obvious that Vince gets his jollies by slapping Joan around. This starts with random slaps to the head and proceeds to full-on whippings, with Vince so excited that he has sex with her immediately after the beatings, then walks away afterward and refuses to discuss it. As mentioned though Donis never goes for outright sleaze, writing even the sex scenes in a pseudo-literary style. There’s a darkly humorous part where Joan is mistakenly informed that Frankie’s been killed by a rival family. This chapter caps off with Joan trying, as Angela did in her story, to escape, but is caught and dragged home. For this she is so beaten she ends up in the hospital, but Frankie lies to the doctors that she fell down the stairs, and the guy’s so friendly and cordial who could doubt his story?

Cynthia’s story follows this theme of being unable to escape the Mafia. Her husband’s in prison for tax evasion, so Cynthia, still attractive and young, starts openly hitting on young torpedos in the family. Her friends and the consiglierie intervene each time, so Cynthia resorts to booze. Soon she’s a roaring drunk, so the family stages an intervention, and she’s sent to an upstate rehab spa. Here she encounters a handsome young doctor, and soon they’re engaged in some hot pseudo-literary lovin’. At least Cynthia’s paramour escapes death; she returns home “cured” of booze, her love affair still a secret, with the promise that the family will send her back up there every couple months to ensure she stays cured.

Up next is Theresa, another pretty and young one, whose husband Rickie is an up-and-comer in the Banno mob, but who refuses to get his hands dirty in the “old way.” In other words he’s one of those executive types who were changing the face of the Mafia at the time, away from the “Moustache Petes” of the 1930s. Theresa is similar to Lorraine in that she’s content to just be a happy housewife, but she does become hooked on their ever-more-exorbitant lifestyle, thanks to the pay Rickie is getting for his jobs. But when Rickie pulls a hit because it’s path to an even bigger promotion, she calls him a “Murderer” that night and closes herself off to him. This story seemed pretty half-baked, not helped by the fact that it offers no resolution.

The last Mafia woman is Dorothy, in what is by far the goofiest chapter. The only one who isn’t Italian, Dorothy is a heavyset mother of three who reads magazines and likes to think she’s more intelligent than she really is. Thus she’s incensed by how the Mafia are presented in TV and movies like ‘30s gangsters. So Dorothy calls up the paper and gives an interview as the “wife of a prominent mafioso,” for which her husband is properly pissed off. He’s instructed by the consiglieri to beat her, but he can’t. Next Dorothy decides all the gals need to go on a popular afternoon talk show hosted by David Erskine. She talks all the other women save for Lorraine into it, but when she arrives at the studio the next day, none of the others are there. When she calls them she learns all of them are “sick,” ie clearly prevented from appearing by their more-domineering husbands, so Dorothy runs from the show.

And that’s it for Mafia Women; we close with Lorraine in the limo to her husband’s funeral, reflecting how it’s the woman’s place to bury the man. As mentioned there’s no followup to who killed her husband, who the mysterious woman was that was also killed in the car with him, or any of that jazz. The focus is really more on telling the same story over and over again – you marry into the Mafia, you say goodbye to your freedom. But then pretty much the same could be said for any marriage, Mafia or not.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Adjusters #3: Doomsday Vendetta

The Adjusters #3: Doomsday Vendetta, by Peter Winston
No month stated, 1968  Award Books

My assumption is this third Adjusters was written by whoever did the second volume, which I’m guessing was Jim Bowser, who, in addition to Paul Eiden and Jack Laflin, was one of the three writers on this short-lived series. I don’t think it was Eiden, who clearly did the first volume, given internal evidence. Eiden’s style doesn’t seem as apparent in Doomsday Vendetta, the “Adjusters” setup follows that of the previous book, and the female characters are only mildly exploited.

However the similarities to The ABC Affair are strong; “hero” Peter Winston is pretty much a sexist asshole, even more so than the genre norm, and one gets the impression the author watched the Connery Bond films, took notes, but forgot to temper his hero’s assholic, arrogant nature with any charm. I’m repeating myself because I wrote the same thing in my review of the previous volume. Well anyway the complaint holds true for this one. But if anything it’s more overboard. Winston, who has a “special kind of viritily” which makes him have to shave twice a day, is such a babe magnet that he merely has to look at a woman and she’s his. But like with the previous book, his frequent scores are off-page.

With no setup from previous books, we meet Peter (as he’s referred to for the most part) as he’s just arrived in Tangier – and promptly being propositioned by the sexy young babe who acts as the White Whittle rep here. Like last time there’s a huge underground network of “A” operatives for the company, which is known around the world as a construction and etc type of outfit, but also dabbles in a little “adjusting” for liberty and justice. So this girl, Pat, knows that Peter is a specialist from the company, but apparently has no idea he’s an undercover agent sort of dude. Anyway she’s too busy telling him she’s going to jump his bones as soon as possible.

Peter is here because Pat’s boss, the main White Whittle rep in Morocco and another of those undercover “A” agents, has been murdered. Our hero will stay here in Morocco for the duration of the novel; this is the first installment that doesn’t give us a scene at the company HQ in New York. While checking out the office Peter’s shot at by some unseen assailant, and ends up chasing him through the bazaar, toting his Magnum revolver. This will prove to be one of the few action scenes in the novel; like last time, much too much narrative is given over to Peter sitting around.

The action scene out of the way, the author gets to the sex posthaste; this volume I guess you could say gets a bit more raunchy than the last one, mostly courtesy goofball lines like, “They fused together and [Peter] gave her the caveman type of love she begged for.” As mentioned Peter’s a bit of a dick, so to speak, so he makes sure Pat understands this is a casual sex sort of thing and he’ll be free to screw any other woman he pleases, and also don’t expect him to stick around ‘cause he’s an important Adjuster and all. I mean this sort of thing should be understood, it just comes off as assholic when the dude bluntly tells it to the lady’s face.

And right on cue Peter comes upon another lady, Kristina, sexy blonde who is part of an all-female magic act. No exaggeration, Peter will spend the rest of the novel banging her. That’s pretty much the extent of what he does in the novel. Honestly it’s like a pseudo-sleaze paperback with Morocco travelogue replacing the actual hardcore material. The murdered Adjuster uttered a phrase to the attending doctor, his last words: “Newk she wrote.” Peter at length deduces the “she” is Kristina, blonde American beauty who had a thing going with the murdered Adjuster – or was it another girl in her magic act? Peter also deduces – quite ridiculously – that the dying Adjuster was struggling to say “new king,” which just came out as “newk,” likely referring to the new king of Morocco, who is pro-American and in danger from the native radicals for it.

If nothing else this allows the author to pad pages as Peter investigates this line of reasoning, even though it should be clear as friggin’ day that “newk” means “nuke.” Peter won’t figure it out until near the end of the book – which by the way is again deceptively slim. This is a very slow-going book. Gradually Peter will hit on the fact that Kristina and her magic group are up to something nefarious. And meanwhile Kristina’s throwing herself on him with abandon, which leads to more of that Peter Winston “charm” in action: Kristina rakes his back rather sharply before the expected sexual tomfoolery, for which Peter slaps her “hard” in the face, telling her, “Don’t you ever, ever do that again, you hot little bitch!” Of course, this only makes Kristina all the more eager for some of that good Adjuster lovin’.

And as mentioned this is pretty much the extent of Peter’s “work” for the majority of the novel…he dates Kristina, going around Morocco with her group, sleeping with her every night. Along the way he also finds the time to get cozy with Toni, the other hot blonde in the magic group; she’s initially frosty, but that rugged Peter Winston virility soon thaws her out for some more largely-undescribed sex. There’s also some lame mystery here that Toni might’ve been the “blonde” seen with the murdered Adjuster in his final days; she wears a wig during the shows, because Kristina demands she get the star treatment as the only blonde in the group. 

Action is even more sporadic than previously. There’s a part where Peter contacts another local Adjuster – like last time they’re all over the pace – and they pose as air conditioner repairmen or something and end up getting in a shootout and then briefly caught. Peter frees himself with a gadget watch that has a blade in it. We see some of the same gadgets Peter used last time, like the noise blaster thing that deafens opponents. His trip down south here only confirms that Kristina’s involved in some bad stuff – printing anti-American propaganda for the native radicals – but our boy continues to sit on his hands, biding his time.

Later on some dude attacks him and Peter tosses him off a cliff, killing him…and in one of those arbitrary pulp developments it turns out not to be a spy or anything, but Toni’s abusive husband! After showing Peter the proper appreciation, she begins spying on her magic group for him. It just sort of goes on and on. Peter even has the time to head back to Tangier and “reconnect” with Pat. That’s how leisurely-paced this installment is. Not until the homestretch does the author realize he’s writing an action yarn, and suddenly gives us the book this should’ve been all along. Peter deduces that the “newk she wrote” was actually “nuke ship Rota,” ie a nuclear submarine heading into the Morroccan port of Rota.

Now, way too briefly due to the dwindling pages, we have Peter scuba diving and setting bombs, then getting in a gunfight with Kristina’s group. Crazy shit here that’s barely explored due to all the page-padding that came before, like the revelation that one of the “women” is really a dude in drag! Per pulp standards, though, Peter himself doesn’t shoot any of the women, with them either hit by friendly fire or being inadvertently blown up in the explosives Peter set.

And that’s all she wrote for this third installment of The Adjusters, which was marginally better than the previous volume, but still not that great. Man, I know they can’t all be winners, but I’ve been reading some blasé books lately. Well, I still love them all, even the ones that suck – I’d still rather read Doomsday Vendetta than whatever crap Oprah’s peddling.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Deadly Companions

Deadly Companions, by Bob Sang and Dusty Sang
No month stated, 1977 Belmont Tower Books

To address the elephant in the room straightaway, Ken Barr’s cover clearly rips off the poster for Diabolik, one of the cooler films of the ‘60s. And while Barr’s art is as great as ever, unfortunately it does not convey the true vibe of this novel, which is more of a light caper sort of thing. The main character at no point dons black garb nor totes a submachine gun, and the main female character isn’t even a blonde. However diamonds do play into the plot, so that at least is accurate.

The novel almost comes off like an installment of a series that never was. Protagonist Jacob Pendleton isn’t given much setup – not even much of a description – but we’re informed his various past adventures have become almost legendary in his home base of Chicago. He has a circle of friends, one of them being the commissioner of police, which lends the novel the vibe of a ‘30s pulp. Otherwise we’re not given much info on Mr. Pendleton. He has a penthouse with a view of the Chicago skyline and he’s got a luxury yacht; he’s got a chaffeur/bodyguard named Willie who’s like a karate master. He picks up ladies with ease due to his dashing looks and ruggedly virile charm – take note, though: there’s zero in the way of exploitative stuff, with the violence minimal to the point of PG and the sex strictly off-page.

The Sangs (not to be confused with the Spangs) toss us right into the story with little setup or explanation. We meet Pendleton as he’s coming out of a concert, his palm bleeding; his heavyset pal C.S. Barnes just introduced him to a lovely young lady named Nadia O’Connell, daughter of fellow adventurer Charlie O’Connell, and when Nadia took Pendleton’s hand she sliced his palm open with a serrated fingernail, then happily walked away. Now Pendleton’s left the concert early – he detests the sight of his own blood, we’re told – and retreats to his limousine, where chaffeur Willie tells him some dudes came by to deliver a note: Stay away from the girl.

This bizarre setup will only be repeated throughout the novel – this is one of those books my friends where I didn’t have a clue what was going on most of the time. Pendleton quickly deduces that the palm-cut and the letter were tests courtesy Nadia’s father; he’s a notorious hardcase and likely is testing Pendleton’s mettle before offering him a job. This apparently is what Pendleton does for a living – he goes around the world on various exotic jobs. He frequents a bar tended to by an old man and his grandson and both discuss how “you can always tell” when Pendleton’s about to go on a new affair because of a look in his eye. Again the whole thing is like an installment of a pulp series that never was; the reader really feels as if he’s missing backstory.

 Pendleton has already arranged to have dinner with Nadia the next night, where she admits that the whole palm-cutting deal was an idea of her father’s. Her dad wants to pay Pendleton half a million to fly around the world and visit various banks; O’Connell has diamonds in each and he wants Pendleton to merely check and ensure they are there. This whole job had me so confused I had to re-read the section a few times. The important thing is Pendleton takes Nadia back to his yacht and has sex with her – all of it off-page, even the traditional exploitation of Nadia’s body. Bummer! Indeed all of Pendleton’s frequent scores will be off-page.

But this leads to more of that bizarre shit the narrative does little to explain. While Pendleton and Nadia get busy in the main cabin, Willie tools the yacht around the harbor. He sees a fishing boat in distress and goes to help, but the guys hit him with a tranquilizer and storm the boat. Then someone alerts the cops and this brings police comissioner Joseph Grimboldi onto the scene. Pendleton’s ship is a mess; Willie’s still tranqued out on the deck, and Pendleton’s cabin suite is destroyed and covered in blood, with imprints of Nadia’s curvaceous form in the blood. Jacob himself is passed out on the bed, also drugged.

This is all very strange and sordid…so imagine the reader’s shock when Charlie O’Connell shows up the next day and says his daughter is fine and it was all yet another test! And Commissioner Grimboldi is basically like, “Okay – I know that’s how you roll, Charlie.” It’s all so preposterous and weird; it’s like the authors had these visuals in mind – a yacht cabin covered in blood with imprints of a girl’s body everywhere! – but had no idea how to convey these visuals in the novel itself. And Nadia is okay, the whole contrived scenario an attempt to fool…who? Eventually we’ll learn Charlie O’Connell is having Mafia troubles, but this elaborate scenario serves no purpose in this regard. I mean folks it was at times a surreal experience reading Deadly Companions.

And for that matter, I don’t even know who the hell the “deadly companions” are supposed to be! Despite all common sense, Pendleton goes on the job anyway, but he flies around alone (picking up the odd stewardess or two), and Nadia isn’t his “companion” on the job. Perhaps it refers to young Peter Garabaldi, nephew of old Mafia godfather Dominic Garabaldi; he shadows Pendleton around the globe, checking the diamonds after Pendleton leaves the bank and ordering the occasional assassination attempt on our hero. But Peter and his grandfather are what pass for enemies in the novel, so they’re certainly not “companions.”

At length we’ll learn that O’Connell was pressured by the Mafia to start selling stolen diamonds as well as heroin, but it’s all so twisty and relayed so off-the-cuff that I had a hard time following the plot. What it boils down to is O’Connell, without giving Pendleton all the info of what’s going on, keeps sending our increasingly-addled hero around the world to visit these banks, and at each bank he meets not only Peter Garabaldi but also the same damn clerk. At each bank around the world. The novel quickly attains a repetitive tone, and it’s not helped by the lack of action. In Geneva someone takes a shot at Pendleton – on Peter’s orders – but misses, and another minor character sacrifices himself for Pendleton at one point. But our hero himself doesn’t pull a gun or fight anyone or anything. Mostly he just smokes his pipe and reads Nero Wolfe.

Women certainly go for his rugged charm, though; he picks them up with infinite ease, but there’s no naughty stuff at all. Nadia sort of emerges as the main female character, and she comes back into the narrative once Pendleton’s settled again in Chicago and trying to figure out what’s been going on for the past 150 or so big-print pages. At this point the authors kill off a character off-page – I spent the rest of the book assuming it was a fake story, only for it to turn out to be the truth – and finally Pendleton confronts old Dominic Garabaldi. This leads to a pages-long exposition from the godfather on what O’Connell was up to, why the charade of Pendleton flying around and always seeing Peter there (his job was to ensure the heroin was in the packets or somesuch).

Other than an eleventh hour car chase, in which Willie does all the work, there’s no big action finale. Actually there isn’t much of a finale at all. We learn that some strings are pulled and Peter Garabaldi will be arrested, but otherwise the novel sort of drifts to a muddled close. Pendleton heads back to his frequent watering hole, where the bartenders chuckle, “With Pendleton, it’s never over!” Referring again to his knack for action and intrigue. But it really was over for Jacob Pendleton, and I can’t say the reading public has suffered from the loss. The novel wasn’t terrible and it wasn’t great – it was just sort of blah, really, and more confusing than anything.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Chase, by Norman Daniels
No month stated, 1973  Berkley Medallion

Chase was a cop show that lasted a single season, running from September of ’73 until spring of ’74. I never saw it, mostly due to the fact that I hadn’t been born yet. And I probably never would’ve even heard of it had it not been for this paperback novelization of the pilot episode, courtesy Norman Daniels, the author who gave us the Man From A.P.E. series and tons of other books, most of them paperback originals.

But I of course had heard of series creator Stephen J. Cannell; probably any guy around my age will remember his name, if anything due to The A-Team, which Cannell created about a decade later and memorably featured that goofy bit at the end of each episode with him yanking the latest hot page off his typewriter and tossing it. I remember in college in the ‘90s my friends and I had recurring jokes on what Cannell was typing and throwing away – this was back before cell phones and the internet was still dial-up (plus it was for geeks anyway), so it’s not like we had much else to do or talk about. 

A little research shows that Cannell wrote this two-hour pilot, but then per network tradition the concept was altered before the actual series began – pretty much the same thing happened with The Six Million Dollar Man. It’s a wonder the show even got off the ground, because it has one of the most ridculous concepts I’ve ever encountered. Basically a police inspector in some unstated city wants to start a “secret” cop squad (gee, what could go wrong??), and when he can’t get the idea approved, he moves forward with it anyway…but it’s all so off-the-book that the squad members will have to cover operating costs out of their own pockets. And there are no promotions and no recognition. So this is like the one job that would be worse than being sent to Vietnam.

The novel opens with what will turn out to be the sole death in the novel; an undercover cop named Dan Freeman finally collars a thug he’s been chasing named Traynor, but Traynor gets the drop on Freeman and blows him away. He then stashes Freeman’s corpse and plants a gem on it, giving the implication that Freeman was dirty and on the take. This is the incident Inspector Dawson uses to make his “secret police force” a reality. Actually the concept wasn’t Dawson’s idea – it was Captain Chase Reddick’s, a “heavyset” cop “well into his 40s” (Daniels by the way seems to mean “stocky” by “heavyset,” as he uses the word a few times throughout). But Reddick had been drinking at the time and didn’t think Dawson would take him seriously.

So it’s all off the books and Reddick is to put together a top-secret team, one which will conveniently enough be called “Chase,” even though Reddick didn’t come up with the name and doesn’t like it(!?). Freeman himself was working on a secret case (one wonders what the hell is going on in this nameless city) and no one knows what it was, but due to the gem planted on him his widow and kids are being screwed out of his pension – as expected, the stupid city officials are more than willing to believe the cops are dirty. As expected, they also turn down Dawson’s “secret squad” idea in the opening, but their reactions are more sensible than Daniels intends to convey – I mean, a secret police squad, accountable to no one and totally off the books, could lead to nothing but trouble.

But to hell with sensibility! Reddick takes the job of leading the squad, even though he won’t get extra pay, the hours will be lousy, the danger will be high, and there will be no recognition for his deeds. Hell, there won’t even be any backup if he gets in too deep. It’s even more incredible that three younger cops join him, all of them “chosen by computer:” Fred Sing, a Chinese guy who is an expert biker (and it’s pretty cool that Daniels doesn’t constantly remind us Sing is Chinese, so the book’s kinda modern in that regard at least); Norm Hamilton, a pilot who flew tons of helicopter missions in ‘Nam; and finally Steve Baker, the top driver on the force.

I mean it’s ludicrous – we gotta find out why this undercover cop was killed, so we’re gonna need a motorcycle, a helicopter, and a fast car! Oh and we gotta pay for all of it ourselves. Anyway I digress. Baker has history with Reddick; hazy backstory has it that Baker and his partner were on the scene during a bank robbery or something, and Reddick barged in, causing the crooks to kill Baker’s partner. This backstory was kind of hard to get a handle on but the long and short of it is that Baker hates Reddick’s guts and instantly wants off the Chase squad. Oh, and that’s the other bullshit thing – you can’t quit!! Even though the squad doesn’t officially exist and all that jazz, if you’re assigned you’re assigned, and if you want out your only option is to quit the force.

Sing and Hamilton are all for joining, but Baker resents the transfer and spends the rest of the novel bitching about it and sending in transfer requests (which Dawson constantly denies). The Chase squad is set up out of an abandoned fire station, which reminded me of another cop novel I recently read: Killer At Large by Manning Lee Stokes, which also featured a new squad operating out of an abandoned fire station. The coincidence of this was too much; Stokes was likely writing Killer At Large when Chase was on the air, so I wonder if he ripped off the idea from this show. Well, I’ll just pretend like he did. I always enjoy these little synchronicities which have no meaning to anyone but me, but then that’s the very definition of a synchronicity – they only matter to the person who notices them, per Jung. (I’ve waited nine years to use “per Jung” in a review.)

I’m really digressing now. Reddick’s first order to the three men is to get some mangy clothes and grow their hair long – to look “disreputable and hippie.” Even Reddick goes for a long-haired grungy look, much to the ribbing of Inspector Dawson. Meanwhile Baker is tasked with souping up an ordinary-looking car and Sing is tasked with souping up a motorcycle. Hamilton meanwhile calls in on a favor an old friend offered him and gets a helicopter for a cheaper rental fee. Dawson even offers to pay for expenses out of his own pocket. It’s all very, very hard to believe, particularly given that the “disreputable hippie” look serves no purpose other than occasional jokes. 

A glaring problem with the book is that too much of it is comrpised of exposition, usually informing us of stuff we just saw happen. But its even worse in the action scenes. The first one sees Baker and Sing chasing a suspect in their souped-up car and motorcycle, Hamilton following from above in his helicopter, and the entire scene is relayed through dialog. Reddick, in a regular car and unable to keep up with the others, must listen on his radio as Hamilton reports on everything as it happens, as if he were a sports announcer calling plays. As for the straight-up expository stuff, as mentioned it’s usually Reddick meeting up with Dawson and going over the current status of the case. Material we readers already know. Clearly this is Daniels’s attempt at filling out the pages, but man, the book’s a mere 160 pages of fairly big print. He could’ve expanded on Cannell’s script and added more fireworks.

Because it’s clear that Cannell’s pilot suffered from the constraints of a TV budget. A concept like this needs to be wildly over the top; Chase and team should almost be like a commando squad, with constant firefights and chases on the ground and in the sky. But as it is, there’s absolutely no need for a motorcyle, a helicopter, or a souped-up car when you’re researching a homicide, and Cannell tries as hard as he can to make it work, as does Daniels. Who actually has a tougher job of it, because he can’t rely on visuals and a soundtrack to keep his readers from noticing all the problems with the concept and story.

Another thing missing, as expected, is any adult stuff; the sole female character in the novel is a lady named Barbara who was supplying Freeman with info. It’s intimated that Barbara was a hooker, but this being the novelization of a 1970s TV movie, it’s not very clear. She turns out to have more up her sleeve, though, working with Traynor, the thug who killed Freeman in the opening pages. These two characters are plotting to screw over wealthy criminal Quentin Mackenzie; Reddick discovers, through hard-to-believe means, that Freeman was very interested in an upcoming motorcyle race that starts in Tijuana and goes across the border into the US. At length we’ll learn Traynor is competing in this race and will be hiding diamonds or heroin in his bike, moving the stuff for Mackenzie, but secretly planning to make off with it on his own.

Finally the concept is worked into the plot, sort of; Sing heads to Mexico and tries to get in the race, having to break into the sign-up office to do so. This gets him arrested and into the orbit of Lt. Salizar, an old colleauge of Reddick’s. Now working with the Mexican police the Chase squad attempts to bring down Traynor and Mackenzie, with the highlight of the novel being the race. However again it’s mostly relayed via dialog. The other big action scene has Reddick and Hamilton chasing after Mackenzie as he tries to escape in a plane. No bullets are fired, though – in fact the heroes never fire a single gun in the book, which I guess is nice so far as keeping down the costs goes, but kinda sucks if you’re an action-starved reader looking for a cheap thrill.

The book ends with a “Special Note to Readers” which informs that the series itself will see Reddick in more of a behind the scenes capacity, with some new guy out in the field with Sing, Hamilton, and Baker. Plus there’s gonna be a dog. So the show was experiencing the usual post-pilot network retooling; it’s my understanding that further retooling occurred late in the season, with Sing, Hamilton, and Baker removed from the series entirely and replaced with three new guys. Not sure if this is indication that the show was doing poorly and the recasting was an act of desperation, but as for Chase the novelization, it seems to have fared pretty well, garnering two editions.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Red Horse Caper (Renegade Roe #1)

The Red Horse Caper, by L.V. Roper
No month stated, 1975  Popular Library

Here we have another mystery series that was packaged as men’s adventure by Popular Library, same as Hardy and Cage. Renegade Roe didn’t last as long as either of those; the first page lists a handful of “forthcoming books” in the series, but only one more volume was published: The Emerald Chicks Caper. Having read this first book, I can see why the series didn’t resonate with readers, but at the same time it’s still a lot better than Hardy, so it’s a mystery why it didn’t last longer.

The awesome cover art had me expecting the series Dakota promised to be – a kickass American Indian protagonist with fast-moving plots involving babes and bullets. But instead it’s along the same lines as those other two Popular Library series: a slow-moving mystery with very, very little in the way of violent action or steamy sex. I mean friends series hero Jerry “Renegade” Roe doesn’t even own a gun, so there goes the cool cover painting. There is however a blonde in a white bikini, but she barely even says hello to our hero.

Anyway the series is set in New Orleans, but there’s really not much effort to bring the city to life; it’s not like we’re talking A Confederacy Of Dunces or anything. Jerry Roe (I think the “Renegade” nickname is only mentioned once in the very beginning; Roper just refers to him as Roe) is a 35 year-old private eye of Cherokee descent. His background isn’t much elaborated; it seems that his grandmother or great-grandmother had a child with an Irish man or somesuch. Otherwise we get no info on Roe, whether he’s a vet, how he got into the private eye game, etc. He co-runs a P.I. agency with Stuart Worth, a married guy who is one year older than Roe but acts like a more mature, responsible adult in comparison and thus is the straight man of the duo.

Roe plays up on the “wild Indian” image with shoulder-length hair and his customary “Indian” attire, complete with deerskin moccasins and headband. Or, as Worth refers to his look: “a mod hippie with a pigmentation problem who can’t grow a beard.” There’s a lot of un-PC banter throughout, and it would appear L.V. Roper might’ve been a little inspired by the similar racist-baiting banter of Razoni & Jackson. Hell, within the first few pages Roe’s already doling out the hoary “White man speak with forked tongue” line. We also learn via Fran, the long-suffering young lady who serves as secretary for the two P.I.s, that Roe hopes to impregnate every white woman he meets, so that he can make “America a red race again.” Not that Fran has indulged; she makes it clear to her boss that she’s never had sex with Roe. Actually this whole conversation is hilarious in today’s era of #metoo and whatnot; Fran says she puts up with Roe’s constant advances because “he can’t help himself.”

With his new Mustang, crazy wardrobe, and brazen nature, Roe promises to be a much more, uh, “colorful” protagonist than he ultimately proves to be. Here are just a few of the “badass” things Renegade Roe does in the course of this novel:

Drinks endless amounts of Maker’s Mark bourbon

Says he never carries a gun because he’s afraid of them

Relentlessly hits on his partner’s wife; she politely puts up with the harassment

Relentlessly hits on his secretary; she politely puts up with the harassment

Gets abducted and tortured by thugs, who use pliers to rip off two of his fingernails; he’s rescued by his partner

Kicks an unarmed guy in the balls and on the jaw while his partner holds a gun on him

Stands in clear view while spying on people with his binoculars

Talks out loud to himself while hiding from enemies who are just a few feet away

Gets abducted (again) and imprisoned on a boat, manages to free himself and jump in the water, then paddles there uselessly; he’s rescued by his partner

Goes on a date with the client’s secretary, hits on her relentlessly; she politely puts up with the harassment

Cracks the case by hiding in a closet all day

Rushes off to confront the main villain, once again without a gun, and is instantly captured; he’s rescued by his partner

This is another of those times where I honestly don’t know if the author intends this as parody or if he really has no idea that his “badass” character is actually a loser. Anyway as mentioned we don’t get any background on Jerry Roe and Stuart Worth…how they became partners, past cases they’ve handled, etc. We do learn that Roe has a bit of a name about New Orleans due to his brash actions and all the hot women he usually has at his side, but again, we don’t see anything of the sort in this volume. The two seem more content to drink beer in their office and have secretary Fran answer the phone. And Worth is the total straight man, constantly bitching about Roe’s wardrobe, how he’s late for work, how he drinks all the time, and all that jazz.

Roper is guilty of doling out every single “Indian cliché” he can in the course of the novel; Roe is constantly drinking and is mocked by other characters as being the stereotypical drunk Indian. And Roe for his part doesn’t help things, trotting out “paleface” rejoinders. It gets to be a bit much, particularly the humor about his drinking. Also Roe deals with his share of bigotry; their client in this book is a wealthy guy named Langden who demands that Roe not be allowed to work on the case because he doesn’t want to deal with a drunk savage. Of course Langden relents: his story goes that his business was retained by the government to develop experimental fuel for “the new piggy back space shuttle program.” The fuel is called “Red Horse,” and some of it’s been stolen.

Langden is certain his young new secretary, Lisa, stole the fuel, and now she’s missing. He can’t go to the Feds because his company will lose the Red Horse contract. So it’s up to Roe and Worth to find it. Our heroes tour Langden’s facility and Roe hits on his original secretary, an attractive 40-something named Ethyl who is filling in now that Lisa’s missing. Langden says that Lisa is involved with a shady entreprenneur named Lon Brandon (it’s so, so confusing to have characters named “Langden” and “Brandon”) and Langden’s betting Brandon is behind both her theft and her disappearance.

Sure enough, Roe runs into some thugs of Brandon’s, and after a meeting aboard the guy’s ship Roe agrees to drop the case in exchange for a few crates of Maker’s Mark and ten thousand dollars. This is because Roe has already found Lisa’s corpse, strangled by a lamp cord in her apartment. Later on Roe will be captured by more thugs; these ones only appear in this sequence and are led by a scar-faced sadist who has two of Roper’s fingernails ripped off by pliers. Worth shows up to save the day, toting a revolver, but his sole shot doesn’t hit anyone; the scene also serves to introduce Lt. Ken Marshall of the New Orleans police. He has a longstanding feud with the two detectives but agrees to give them 48 hours to solve the case before he steps in.

Roe’s sole action scene comes toward the end, when he’s again captured by Brandon’s men and taken aboard his ship. Escorted to a holding area by a massive “Negro,” Roe manages to hoodwink the guy and beats him up, making an escape. Otherwise he doesn’t do anything else; Worth does all the heavy lifting when it comes to guns and rescuing people. Before his capture Roe saw Ethyl, Langden’s original secretary, carrying a picnic basket off Langden’s ship. Sure enough, while hiding later in Ethyl’s closet, Roe will find some Red Horse cannisters – and also that they store “a horse of a different color,” aka heroin. The whole thing’s a convoluted heroin import scheme, and the whole “experimental fuel” bit is just padding. This is another of those books where the “climax” is composed of our heroes expositing for pages and pages about the villains’ motives.

Incredibly, Roper keeps the arrest of all the villains off-page, Worth and Roe having sicced Lt. Marshall and the Feds on them. Meanwhile the main villain has managed to escape, so as mentioned Roe rushes off to get him, having deduced where he’s hiding. This leads to another scene that’s heavier on dialog than action. Roper pulls this throughout; there’s a lot of stuff in the book that has no meaning other than to fill pages, and when it gets to the good stuff Roper breezes through it. For example, several pages are wasted on Roe bartering for the rental of a boat, hiring a young punk to sail him out to Langden’s ship one night. But after all this buildup, Roe ends up on the ship without any need of the kid’s boat, and later on tells the kid “thanks anyway.”

So as stated it’s not too surprising that only one more volume followed, but again there’s nothing here as lame as in the Hardy novels, which are even more misleadingly packaged, promising sex and violence when they’re really more about what Hardy eats and watches on TV. I’m not too familiar with Roper but other than the second Renegade Roe I have another paperback he did for Popular, Hookers Don’t Go To Heaven, which has a pseudo Donald Pleasance on the cover and promises all kinds of sordid sex. I’m going to imagine though that this is once again some creative license from whoever wrote the cover blurbs for Popular Library.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The New Stewardesses #2: The London Affair

The New Stewardesses #2: The London Affair, by Judi Lynn
No month stated, 1975  Award Books

The second installment of the three-volume New Stewardesses series is titled “The London Affair,” but friends, the titular stewardesses are in and out of London within the first several pages. This is very funny, given how much the previous volume built up the trip to London. The stews actually spend more time in Montreal, with the majority of the tale set in New York City. But then I don’t think “Judi Lynn” put much planning per se into the series, as these “novels” really come off more like arbitrary short stories featuring an easily-confused cast of characters.

And boy are they easily confused, mostly because the author does nothing to vary their personalities. Or for that matter, to even friggin’ describe them. Whoever this mystery author was, she or he is very much in the Irving Greenfield mode; if you missed the previous book, you’re just shit outta luck. There’s no recap of the first volume, no re-introduction to any of the characters or their ongoing plots. But those of us who did read the first one will recall the climactic events saw most of the stews on a flight to London. Well, they arrive on the first page of this volume…and the author, same as last time, does zero to bring the locale to life. If you are looking for a glimpse of swinging ‘70s London, you won’t find it here.

What you will find is a lot of softcore smut, and it gets a bit more explicit than it did last time. But we’re still not talking full-on sleaze or anything. As with the previous book, there’s more focus on heavy petting and “Let’s screw” dialog, before the author leaves the actual tomfoolery off-page. So we get to London, the stews talk excitedly of being here…then they go to a hotel and get caught up in their various soap opera subplots. Actually that implies there’s more meat to the subplots than actually exists. The characters on display are such ciphers, folks, that nothing much makes an impression – I’d forgotten how hard the New Stewardess books are to read, let alone to review.

So first up Captain Rick Andersen and stew Jennifer get busy, and if I recall part of the previous book’s subplot was that they’d been a couple years before, then Jennifer found out about Rick’s old wife and kid or somesuch, so ended it. That’s not really elaborated here. Instead it’s straight to the softcore smut, while at the same time in another room another stew named Laura finds out that a doctor she’s having a fling with has flown across the ocean to spend the night with her. “They shared their ultimate joy and fell asleep in each other’s arms,” it goes, again reminding one of the stuff in the previous book. But as mentioned, this one does get a bit more explicit at times:

Here in London we meet John Carter (not the Martian one), head of World Wide Airlines, a portly 53 year-old who makes it a point to bang all the sexy stews in his employ. His assistant, James Gilbert, has a “pimp instinct” for such things and to this end scopes out hotstuff stew Cynthia. But Cynthia refuses to sleep with Carter, having sworn to back off on sex for the time being, given how outrageous her sex life was becoming. This plot initially appears to be going somewhere, but ultimately doesn’t. Instead two other stews, Sandy and Esther, discuss opening a fashion store in Manhattan when they get back home, calling it Cloud Nine and staffing it only with stews. Surprisingly, this subplot actually does pan out.

But before we even get to page 25 the stews have already left London. Next up they go to Montreal, which actually takes up more of the text than the London trip. Humorously, the author doesn’t seem to understand that people in Montreal speak French. However the crux of this particular storyline is that Jennifer, who is once again shacked up in a hotel room with Captain Rick, is arrested by a cop making a random “morals raid” and hauled off as a prostitute. Despite her protestations that she’s Rick’s girlfriend, the cops insist the hotel is frequented by whores and Jennifer and Rick aren’t married, thus she’s a hooker and she’s under arrest. A lawyer character is heavily built up and quickly dropped once he gets Jennifer freed from jail the next day.

Jennifer really can’t catch a break this time around. Next up she and Laura are working on a Miami-bound flight…and there are three hippie terrorists onboard, a girl and two guys. This is actually the situation hyped the most on the back cover and the first-page preview, but it too only lasts a few pages. And the hijacking attempt is ludicrous in today’s post-9/11 world; the hippie freaks have smuggled a knife onto the plane, one of ‘em whips it out, and they insist the plane fly to Cuba. The pilot has “no choice” but to comply. Oh, and even more ludicrous – a cop happens to be onboard, a new character brazenly introduced into the text and specifically stated as carrying a gun…and he doesn’t do anything!!

Instead everybody bides their time – perhaps indication of the author biding his/her own time as the pages pad out – and eventually they’re on the way to Miami, despite the storm front they’re flying into. We’re told the veteran pilot has handled all sorts of severe weather but this one’s a doozy and even he’s scared. The attempts at ratcheting up the tension are laughable because, as stated, there’s absolutely no characterization on display, just ciphers with names. Even worse, at this point the cop finally decides to do something and disarms the terrorist, and that’s it for the attempted hijacking. 

And Jennifer, who as you’ll notice is the closest we get to a main character, still can’t catch a break – next she finds out she’s pregnant with Rick’s child. Her immediate response is to get an abortion, which her fellow stews encourage her to do, even though Rick is against it. After some deliberation Jennifer has it done (thankfully off-page), and afterwards she has the expected second thoughts about it. And Jennifer still can’t catch a break! Later on she’s propositioned by a passenger during a flight, one who naturally assumes she’s a whore, and Jennifer turns him down cold…only to be called into an executive office a few days later, where she’s informed the passenger has sent the airline a sworn statement that Jennifer propositioned him.

Even more ludicrous than the hijacking storyline, this one sees Jennifer being reprimanded, the airline taking the passenger’s side without any attempt to hear Jennifer or to believe her when she protests that the guy was the one making the indecent proposition. She’s put on unpaid leave, but some fellow stews band together in a strike. Finally the airline hires a former FBI agent to look into it, and he puts things right…and also gets a date with Jennifer, unsurprisingly. Oh, and as if paying off the karmic balance for Jennifer’s abortion, the author has stew Sandy delivering a passenger’s baby on one of her flights. Sandy you’ll recall becomes co-owner of Cloud Nine boutique in Manhattan, and the novel climaxes with its grand opening.

Only one more volume followed, The Diary, which appears to have received a scarce printing. Somehow I was able to get a copy for cheap so one of these days I’ll get around to reading the damn thing.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Beirut Incident (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #92)

Beirut Incident, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1974  Award Books

Forrest V. Perrin, a veteran pulp writer, turned in his sole contribution to Nick Carter: Killmaster with this volume. With a plot about Mafia killers and a back cover slugline announcing “MASSACRE,” it appears that Award Books was looking to ride on the coattails of The Executioner and other mob-busting vigilantes.

However, Perrin writes the novel more along the lines of a hardboiled ‘50s private eye yarn; tellingly, Nick (who narrates the story) at one point reads a novel by Richard Gallagher. Both the sex and the violence are toned down, and the story seems to occur twenty years before it’s set – late in the novel Nick handles one mobster by locking him and a nude girl in a hotel room and calling up a newspaper reporter to exploit the scandalous situation! And yes, Beirut Incident is indeed about the Mafia – one of the few instances in which Nick tangles with the Cosa Nostra – but the title actually does work into the story and isn’t just an example of Award slapping any random title on a manuscript, which per Will Murray’s research they were wont to do.

Beirut, Nick learns from his boss Hawk, is being used by the mob to smuggle in Sicilian killers. Per Hawk, the old dons of the American Mafia are pissed that the organization has been taken over by new blood, young punks who act more like lawyers or businessmen. They want a return to the old ways – the violent ways, where things were resolved by force and not paperwork. To this end they’ve begun importing goons from the Old World, natural born killer types who will help these old mobsters show the new, wussified mobsters how it’s done. Through some laborious reasoning, Beirut is the locale they’re using to secretly bring the Sicilians into the States. Actually now that I think of it maybe “Beirut Incidentwas a title Award came up with and Perrin had to figure out a way to work it into a story about Sicilian mobsters.

Nick, who when we meet him happens to be in Lebanon, chasing down a terrorist in the desert, is brought onto the job by Hawk. His mission is to smash the Sicilian-smuggling ring and also to kill the members of the Council, ie the group of old dons who run the American Mafia. Nick has been especially requested for this job by no less than the President. Nick heads to Nicosia, the “sewer of the Mediterranean,” and bullies an old acquaintance into creating a new identity for him. This guy seems to be working for someone else, but Nick’s a bit clueless this time around and disregards the obvious warning signs – one of the many pitfalls of writing these sorts of books in first-person.

Now posing as “Nick Cartano,” a Sicilian-American, Nick heads for Beirut, the “cesspool of the Mideast” (one can almost detect a pattern here; I kept waiting for Nick’s next stop to be “the shithole of Arabia”). He slums around, hoping to bump into a lead. This happens when he randomly saves some guy from being hit by a car, and the guy turns out to be the nephew of the top-ranking don in New York. This is Louie, an affable sort who, we’ll gradually learn, isn’t involved with the mob’s dirty half and solely works in its legit operations. Regardless Louie is of course here as part of the Sicilian-smuggling ring and as expected Nick’s hit the jackpot without much effort. After hitting a few bars with Louie they’re BFFs, and when Nick drops a few hints that he’s a tough s.o.b. on the run from the law due to some stuff in Sicily, Louie takes the bait and offers him an exciting job in America.

Here the plot becomes even more bizarre because running the smuggling operation is a smokin’ hot and stacked Chinese lady named Su Lao Lin, who happens to be the top Red Chinese agent in the Middle East. Nick knows this because he saw her file recently and has a photographic memory; also because she’s one of the most beautiful women he’s ever seen. When Louie brings in the new guy there is of course some hot and heavy stuff going on in the air when Su Lin gets a gander at Nick. She practically pulls him into the next room and, after much groping, Nick props her up on a desk and does her. Perrin though isn’t too explicit – again, the vibe is of an older pulp novel – with the extent of it being stuff along the lines of, “At the first penetration she gasped aloud.”

Su Lao sends Nick off to get a fake passport, and sure enough it turns out to be courtesy the same dude who did the “Nick Cartano” passport for him. In other words, this is the “other job” Nick suspected the guy of secretly having; he’s the man behind the passports for Su Lao Lin’s Sicilian mobster pipeline. Oh and why the top Chinese spy of the Middle East is helping the Mafia is something left unanswered; Nick wonders about it a bit and moves on to other things, Perrin keeping the ball rolling to prevent any questions. The problem is, this guy not only knows Nick’s an imposter, he also knows he’s an AXE agent, so we get a bit of nicely-done suspense as Nick tries to figure out how to handle him.

And our hero’s a bit heartless, even though he makes a few passing mentions on how he feels bad about it. He also knows Su Lao needs to be silenced. So after yet another somewhat-descriptive boink, Nick plants some plastique under the woman’s bed and catches a redeye flight to New York. He doesn’t even find out the bomb’s gone off until later in the book, getting confirmation that Su Lao is dead. This was one of the lamer handlings of a villain I’ve ever encountered in the genre, and Perrin should be ashamed of himself.

At this point Beirut Incident becomes more of a Mafia yarn and less of an international espionage thing. However it’s clear that Perrin is breaking the back of his story to make it fit in the men’s adventure genre; Nick, new on the scene as a Sicilian mercenary, instantly sets the two major Mafia factions against one another, and it would be clear as day that the new guy is responsible – I mean, reports of course come in from Beirut that both Su Lao Lin and the passport-forging guy are dead, and Nick was the last person seen with both of them! And whereas the two families here in New York have had a friendly rivalry that hadn’t resorted into violence, now corpses from each family are showing up, with clear – ie planted – evidence that the other family was behind it.

Louie’s uncle is Nick’s new boss – Don Joseph “Popeye” Franzini, a Mafia Council bigwig. He’s a wheelchair-bound curmudgeon who keeps Louie and his smokin’ hot niece Philomina out of the family’s illegal activities. There’s more burnin’-yearnin’ in the air as soon as Nick and Philomina see each other, but the latter plays it cool because as far as she’s concerned “Nick Cartano” is just more riffraff her uncle uses in his criminal pursuits. Nick of course is determined to correct this notion. The rest of the novel plays out in New York and I’m guessing Perrin lived there or at least had a thorough guidebook, because like a vintage Len Levinson yarn we get all kinds of ‘70s Manhattan details, down to street locales.

Action is infrequent and usually features Nick pulling some stunts on the mobsters, making it look like the work of the Ruggiero family, ie the traditional enemies of the Franzinis. Along the way he finds the time to get “familiar” with Philomina in somewhat-explicit detail; turns out she’s an undercover FBI agent and has taken this duty to bring down her uncle, who killed off Philomina’s father when she was a little girl. Nick tells her he’s a secret agent and all that jazz, and soon enough she’s feeding him info. However Philomina doesn’t play as much into the action as she would in a similar story of the modern era; there’s no part where she totes guns and helps Nick take out mobster scum, as would be mandatory if this novel were written today.

Perrin’s writing has that typical “veteran pulpster” flair, where he keeps things moving even if not much is actually happening, but like so many of those writers he basically drops the ball in the finale. After cooling his heels the entire book, he rushes through the climax, literally killing off the majority of the villains off-page thanks to a bomb Nick’s planted. Even before this we’re merely told of all the violent action Nick’s caused, with various mobsters getting in shootouts off-page. The last pages feature “so-and-so was killed” sort of expository dialog and most of the time we have no clue who the hell just got offed. As usual with this sort of thing you wish the author had spent a little more time on this action stuff instead of rushing through it.

As mentioned this was Perrin’s only Killmaster. He published a lot of books, some under pseudonyms and some under his own name – one of these was The Don a Godfather cash-in from 1971. I tried reading it a few years back but found it a little too dry for my tastes. One of these days I might give it another try.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Outrider #1

The Outrider #1, by Richard Harding
June, 1984  Pinnacle Books

What were they thinking [for the cover], having Andrew-Dice-Down’s-Syndrome as the hero? 

 -- Zwolf

Over the years a few people have emailed me about the Outrider series, which was Pinnacle’s attempt to jump on the post-nuke pulp bandwagon. It ran for five volumes, with an unplublished sixth volume. According to an Amazon reviewer who hunted down and contacted Robert Tine, the author who served as “Richard Harding” for the entire series, Tine still has this unpublished manuscript but has no plans to ever release it. Anyway I figured it was time I got around to reading the series.

I remember seeing these books in school back in the ‘80s when I was on my original men’s adventure kick, but I don’t think I could ever find the first volume, so I never started reading the series. Somehow I was under the impression Outrider took place in the immediate aftermath of nuclear war, but it’s at least a hundred years out, so pretty much it’s along the same lines as Doomsday Warrior. Even the writing is similar; Tine goes for what’s almost a juvenile fiction tone, save for the egregious usage of the word “fuck,” which peppers the narrative more times than the average David Mamet script. He also POV-hops like a mother, with the narrative jumping willy-nilly from one character’s perspective to another with absolutely no warning for the reader. This still bugs the hell out of me but these days I’ve tried to consider this lazy writing as “psychedelic.”

Our hero is Bonner (I spent practically the entire book misreading it as “Boner”), a legendary badass in this Road Warrior retread of a post-nuke future. Gradually we learn that years before he was the first “Outrider:” a sort of post-nuke Knights of the Round Table who ventured around the blasted remains of the United States. Actually maybe they were more like leather-clad variations of Lewis and Clark, as they were also mapping out the nuked ruins of the country. But all that fell apart when Leather, formerly Bonner’s friend, went bad and took over “the Slavestates,” running his fiefdom from “the Cap,” aka Washington, DC.

Now Bonner makes his home in Chicago, humorously presented as a safe haven in this future society; it’s basically like an Old West town, in which the gun is still the law but everyone tries to get along and live free of the various tyrants who control the country. Tine doesn’t tell us too much about his setting, likely intending to gradually world-build as the series progresses. We don’t even learn when the nuclear war occurred; in fact, no one knows anything about the society that came before, save for Bonner, who has learned stuff from books. I thought this concept came off a bit awkwardly. At least Doomsday Warrior has the premise that Century City was founded by survivors of the nukes, thus explaining how society is still remembered a hundred years later, or at least looked to as a golden age of sorts.

When we meet him Bonner’s in bed with some woman whose name isn’t mentioned – not that Tine delivers any sex at all in the novel (again, it’s very juvenile in tone) – when some dude comes in and tries to kill him. Bonner is known for using knives and the occasional shotgun, and as mentioned there’s a legend about him, how badass he is and etc. Initially he comes off like any other character in the book, but only eventually do we learn he goes into a sort of kill-lust when engaged in combat, like the living embodiment of death or something. This first action scene doesn’t give any indication of that, though, and mostly serves to set up the sole plot of the book: this would-be assassin reveals that Leather has captured Dara, Boner’s old flame, and has put a bounty on Bonner’s head.

With no explanation-via-narrative of what he’s planning to do, Bonner gets his car gassed up (as Zwolf accurately described it, “basically pipework welded around an engine”) and heads out of town. His destination – much to the consternation of his friends – is the Cap, where he’s going to settle the score with Leather. There’s a goofy part where outside the city Bonner bumps into another former associate – a recurring bit seems to be he knows everyone out on the road, but then the implication is that not too many people have cars, thus it’s a small group of people to even know – and this one too decides to try for the bounty on Bonner’s head. It of course turns out to be a bad idea, however Tine is not a men’s adventure author to dwell on the gory details.

Another guy Bonner runs into turns out to be one of his companions for the trip: Starling, whose schtick seems to be that he’s good with rifles or something. He decides to go along with Bonner basically for the hell of it. A more dynamic personality is introduced in Cooker, a “gashound” the two free in an extended action sequence against the Stomers, Leather’s, uh, leather-garbed goon squad. Foregoing guns, Cooker employs a flame thrower on his massive vehicle, which is basically a rolling gas tank. He’s one of the new breed of men who only think of gas – the comparison is made to the gold rushers of the past – and also foregoes such basic necessities as washing and taking care of himself and etc. The endless banter between him and Starling is one of the high points of the novel. 

Along the way we get a glimpse of Leather’s hellish domain, the Slavestates – this via a random character who is set up in another of those abrupt POV-hops and who makes his laborious way back to the Cap to tell Leather Bonner’s alive and coming for him. Leather as described sounds like he walked out of a ‘70s heavy metal group. He doesn’t do much to bring himself to life – there’s a blandness to all the characterizations, save for Cooker – and indeed his whole sudden idea to get Bonner isn’t much explained. But he’s the villain of the piece so it’s no biggie. We also don’t get too much irony out of his living in the White House, because like the rest of the characters, he has no understanding of the world that came before.

That’s another thing that bugged me. During their trip south Bonner, Starling, and Cooker comment on the ruins of the past and the latter two marvel over Bonner’s book-learned explanations of what such and such a thing was, or what strange customs the pre-nuke Americans had. I felt that the total lack of comprehension was a little hard to buy; the characters were more like aliens on a new world. But perhaps that was the intent. Some of it is pretty hurmorous, like their reaction to astroturf in a stadium. Per the post-nuke template, there’s also an element of horror, particularly when the trio encounter mutant rat-creatures in a New York subway. Just as freakish is Leather’s army of Radleps, apparently a contraction of “radiation lepers:” mutants who are mindlessly devoted to Leather and will fight to the death for him.

Throughout the quest the group gets in frequent firefights with the Stormers, and there’s a cool part midway through where they free another of Bonner’s old comrades from Alcatraz. Here the three ransack the Stormer weapons cache and come out with some unused Steyr automatic rifles. Even these Cooker refuses, torching people with his flamethrower instead. As for the old comrade they free, this is unintentionally humorous because it’s never properly explained why Bonner even needs him. Anyway it’s a guy named Harvey who dresses up in an old business suit because he considers it a sign of status – yet another thing that’s come down to these nuke descendants is that important people wore three-piece suits.

Harvey himself doesn’t bring much to the tale, but it’s through him that Bonner’s party also takes on the so-called “Mean Brothers,” a towering, troll-like pair of brutes who would be more at home in the pages of Doomsday Warrior. In fact it’s hard not to think of the character Archer when reading about them – they eschew weapons save for the odd axe or hammer, preferring to literally rip people apart with their hands. The last addition to Bonner’s party is a bona fide lesbian biker gang: the Sisters, who wear “old jungle fatigues and the bits of high fashion paraphernalia they had been able to loot from the old world,” including knee-high boots.

What makes Bonner’s careful assembling of his special team is the fact that he doesn’t even use them when he makes his final assault on Leather, in the Cap. As if in brazen disregard of the previous hundred-some pages he’s spent on introducing each new “team member,” conveying the idea that Bonner at least has some plan in mind and needs these particular people to make it happen, Tine just has Bonner make a sudden decision to handle things solo, and he marches right into Leather’s lair and confronts him, all by himself! But again, this just only furthers the juvenile tone of the series. He’s of course quickly captured and tied up.

Here another long-developed subplot is abruptly fizzled: Dara, who you’ll recall was the whole purpose behind Bonner’s quest to DC, is barely in the book for a few pages. She’s hauled out by Leather’s goons, already half-dead from beatings and rapings, and Leather announces that he’s going to rape her right in front of Leather. But after she kicks him in the balls, Leather orders his men to “cut her…beat her,” and several Stormers and Radleps set in on her, beating her to a pulp. The brazen disregard for plot structure sort of undermines the intended horror of the situation.

Worse yet, Tine seems to end the story well before his word count has been hit; Bonner’s friends come to the rescue in spectacular fashion, and Bonner and Leather confront one another. Bonner chops off Leather’s hands – per Zwolf, the villain will come up with goofy hand substitutes in future installments – but, like some ‘80s action cartoon, Leather escapes before Bonner can finish him off. This would seem to be the end of the story, but I can only imagine Tine got a phone call asking him to “elongate” (per Carsenio) the tale, thus the final quarter features this newly-introduced character, a badass tracker type named Beck, hunting Bonner and team through the Firelands.

Yet another of Bonner’s old companions, Beck is kept in captivity by Leather and is described as “a huge granite boulder of a man,” even taller and heavier than the Mean Brothers. In what can only be seen as absurd reasoning, Leather is certain that Beck will hunt down Bonner, despite the fact that they were once best buds, because Beck “goes to the highest bidder.” But then Leather’s suffering from a lack of hands so probably isn’t thinking straight. Anyway this whole final part is ridiculous because it’s clear as day what’s going to happen when Leather releases Beck from his dungeon and just swears he’ll give him a bunch of money and let him go free in exchange for hunting down and bringing back his best friend. So in other words the “suspense” is laughable.

As Zwolf also mentioned, the final half of the novel sort of descends into constant action; it also gets a bit gorier, with nice touches like severed Radlep heads being thrown around. But on the whole I’d put this series on the level of Endworld, only with as stated more of an R rating so far as the language goes. Otherwise it very clearly seems to have been written for 12 or 13 year-old boys, and it’s my suspicion that’s exactly what Tine set out to do. In that regard Outrider can be seen as a success. Personally I prefer a slightly more “mature” tone in my post-nuke pulp (say written for 14 or 15 year old boys!), so to me it’s got nothing on Traveler or the almighty Phoenix.