Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Mark Of Cosa Nostra (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #64)

The Mark Of Cosa Nostra, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1971  Award Books

The last Nick Carter: Killmaster courtesy George Snyder,* The Mark Of Cosa Nostra mines the same territory as later installment Beirut Incident: Nick “Killmaster” Carter, who narrates the novel, takes a break from tangling with the usual foreign agents to take on the American Mafia. However this time he does it mostly in Sicily.

Nick when we meet him is already getting in character in a remote AXE training facility in the Arizona desert. This volume’s unusual in that Nick spends the entirety in his disguise, which has him sporting a thick moustache. He’s posing as a high-level Mafioso named Tommy Acasano but doesn’t know why, nor what the assignment will be. At novel’s opening Nick has been here for a week or so, and as he’s walking from his room one morning he’s approached by a sexy young blonde who appears to be very young. She is – we’ll learn she’s only 19, and she’s a junior AXE agent, here for training.

This girl, Tanya, comes on strong to Nick, and without much trouble talks him back into his room for some hot lovin’. As ever Snyder doesn’t much exploit his female characters, but it must be mentioned that Tanya comes off a lot better than his other female protagonists – and Nick himself doesn’t even show the macho misogyny of Snyder’s other lead protagonist Bill Cartwright, in Operation Hang Ten. But this scene proves to be the first in a series of pretty-funny jokes; Nick starts taking off Tanya’s clothes and sees something metal and cylindrical poking from beneath the waistband of her panties. This turns out to be a “panty gun” which Tanya is testing for AXE; when Nick pulls the panties off the gun barrel snaps forward, the barrel right in Nick’s face, and if it had been loaded he’d be dead.

After this the girl makes a nonchalant phone call to someone to say the test was successful, and that’s that! She has no true interest in sleeping with Nick. To his credit our hero doesn’t come off as brutish as one might expect. In fact he admits that this incredibly young junior agent did get the drop on him. The panty gun appears twice more in the text and in each instance it makes for a memorable moment. At this point Nick’s boss Hawk arrives and over breakfast explains to Nick what the mission is.

Like the later Beirut Incident this is one of the few Killmaster yarns where Nick takes on organized American crime: AXE wants to put to stop the potential Mafia takeover being orchestrated by Nicoli Rizano. Having left America a decade ago, Rizano now rules a fiefdom from Sicily and has made a score selling heroin at dirt-cheap prices to US soldiers in Vietnam. He’s recently had a rival godfather killed off in America and is plotting to return to his homeland as the new main godfather of the United States mafia.

Nick is to pose as Acasano, Rizano’s only friend, who was ordered to compile a list of Mafioso who would support Rizano upon his return to America as the reigning capo. However Hawk relates that Acasano is really dead, killed by an AXE agent. Cagey Snyder figures out a way to slip in a few pages of third-person narration as we read of this undercover agent being outed by Acasano and the two killing each other in New York. Hawk is certain Rizano is unaware his friend is dead, so Nick is to go in disguise to Sicily and turn over a fake list of names to gain Rizano’s confidence and bust up the heroin operation.

This bound-for-failure plan is explained away with the goofy note that the two friends haven’t seen each other in ten years, so it’s hoped that Nick’s disguise will be good enough that Rizano will just think it’s the passing of a decade that’s made his old friend look a little different. No explanation is given on how Nick’s voice would doubtlessly sound different. This is why Tanya is here at the training base; Acasano had just acquired a new woman, a 19 year-old beauty Acasano took everywhere with him.

Tanya is a dead ringer for her (the real girlfriend is being kept in a resort by AXE agents), so she’s to go with Nick to Palermo and help him out. Off they go to Manhattan to wait in Acasano’s apartment for a coded message that should be arriving from Sicily. Snyder finally works in an action scene with the two ambushed by a pair of “Orientals” who lurk in the darkened apartment. Since they have heard Tanya call our hero “Nick” they know it’s not really Acasano, and so must die. Here Tanya proves her skills aren’t just in getting guys into the sack; she actually comes to Nick’s rescue a few times.

More importantly, Nick and Tanya finally get down to the dirty business of screwing. Tanya will prove to be Nick’s only conquest in the novel, a total breach of the series template where “Killmaster” scores with at least three babes per book. However this part does contain the most surreal description of an orgasm I’ve ever read:

There was no way I could hold back. I was a balloon filled with water and rolling across a long flat desert. A large spike was ahead sticking out of a weatherbeaten board. I felt myself pulling and clutching and bouncing until at last I struck the spike, and all the liquid water rushed out of me.

Snyder doesn’t much bring Palermo to life, but then this isn’t really the genre for such things. Instead he has Nick and Tanya locked up in Rizano’s fortress in the countryside, where he’s lived like a mafioso Howard Hughes for the past ten years. Rizano’s in deep with the Chinese Reds, in particular a crafty one named Tai Sheng. Nick as Acasano butts heads with Tai Sheng immediately upon meeting him at the airport. It’s clear Tai Sheng is using Rizano, with the ultimate goal of the Reds taking over the American Mafia. Snyder tries to convey more import to the tale – and also explain why Nick doesn’t just kill everyone – with the idea that Nick plans to steal a list of undercover Red agents from Tai Sheng.

It’s more on a suspense tip as Nick sits around in an opulent room, the “guest” of still-unseen Rizano. Tanya was taken away from him as soon as they entered the fortress. Later Rizano, who turns out to be going to seed and completely controlled by Tai Sheng, happily relates that “Tommy’s girl” was really a duplicate…the belabored story has it that the real girlfriend was spotted by Oriental waiters at a resort(!), and it was instantly surmised that this girl who has been going around with “Tommy” is a secret agent…indeed, an AXE agent! How they even know about top-secret AXE isn’t really explained.

Thus Nick watches on a monitor as Tanya is tied to a chair and beaten around by Tai Sheng – who by the way is also trying to convince Rizano that Nick himself is an imposter. The reader wants “Killmaster” to spring to action, but instead Nick bides his time, hoping for the chance to get that list of agents from Tai Sheng. Snyder wrote this thing in such a hurry that at one point he even has Nick trying to protect his list from Tai Sheng – before Nick “remembers” that it’s a fake list he brought here just to get in the graces of Rizano.

Tai Sheng claims to know someone in Turkey who can attest that Nick is an imposter, and further they’re headed over there for a heroin run, so why not bring along the bound and beaten Tanya as well? What the hell. Snyder all along is building a suspense story, as usual for him something more along the lines of a vintage Gold Medal yarn. The only problem is, he’s up against his word count. So, as hard as it is to believe, the climax of The Mark Of Cosa Nostra plays out on an airport landing strip in Turkey…and features one of the most lame copout finales of any book I’ve ever read.

Here be spoilers so be warned. Okay, Tanya’s already been outed as AXE, and is taken away by a flunky to be raped and killed on one of Rizano’s yachts on the bay near the airport. Soon thereafter, Nick’s cover is blown as well – and he’s blown it himself, slipping up when Rizano asks him a sneaky question, something the real Acasano should know. Okay, so here’s the dumb stuff. Rizano takes out a revolver and shoots Nick, point friggin’ blank. He just shoots him! And Nick falls down behind a car…and doesn’t die!! I mean, I can’t understand any writer who would come up with this sort of a lame bullshit copout finale… “I’ll have my hero get shot, but it’ll just be in the side, and he’ll walk it off…!”

I mean there’s no hidden bulletproof vest, no last-second plan to protect Nick’s cover identity. Nothing! Nick just gets shot! Basically point blank by a guy standing a few feet away! No last second dodging behind a car, or kicking at the gun! Nothing! Hell, even getting shot isn’t part of a plan – Nick’s completely caught unawares by the bullet! Him not getting killed is just a total fluke. I mean it’s just some of the laziest writing I’ve ever encountered…folks, you don’t have your protagonist get shot point blank and just happen to live through the good grace of god or poor villain marksmanship. 

But Nick lays there in a growing pool of blood as Acasano and Tai Sheng have their own final moments together. Then Nick, in a stupor, manages to drive a stolen bus down to the harbor, coming to Tanya’s defense. However the girl, we’ll recall, isn’t the typical defenseless maiden of Snyder’s other books, and has things well in hand. Instead it’s she who comes to Nick’s aid, bandaging him up, and later literally jumps to his rescue when Tai Sheng shows up toting a pistol. This leads to a practically endless fistfight between Nick and Tai Sheng, with Nick’s stiletto also employed, and man it just seems to go on forever.

I’d say the copout stuff is indication Snyder was fatigued on this series, not to mention his contempraneous work on Operation Hang Ten. I see now from a post by Paul Bishop that Snyder died last year, which is unfortunate. I also came across this nice interview with him, from I guess a few years ago. It features such memorable lines as, “I’m a junkyard writer who writes junkyard books,” but also some depressing lines like, “My kids had a new dad they liked better than me.” Judging from the interview Snyder became very prolific in the early 2000s, self-publishing a string of series books. Many of them seem right in-line with Hard Case Crime’s output, so it’s hard to understand why he couldn’t find a publisher, as he admits in the interview.

In fact the entire interview depressed the hell out of me…I mean the guy was a gifted writer, particularly in the hardboiled pulp manner, and sure he hit the occasional wrong note like the above Nick shooting, but let’s keep in mind he was likely overworked and hitting a deadline. But still, to write so long and remain unrecognized is just depressing as hell, and makes one wonder if getting into the writing game is even worth it. But as Snyder also states in the interview, the writing itself was enjoyable, so there’s that.

*Snyder’s name is also attached to the 1974 entry Vatican Vendetta, but as noted in my review that volume was a Ralph Hayes revision of a Snyder manuscript. My assumption is Snyder wrote his manuscript sometime in the late ‘60s and it sat around for a few years until Hayes did some work on it for “producer” Lyle Kenyon Engel.

Monday, June 24, 2019


Deathmate, by Martin Caidin
October, 1982  Bantam Books

Here’s another review I’ll begin with thanks to Zwolf, who mentioned this novel in my review of Martin Caidin’s subpar drug smuggling yarn Maryjane Tonight At Angels Twelve. I found a copy of Deathmate immediately after I read Zwolf’s endorsement, and luckily this one turned out to be a lot more affordable than Caidin’s other books, particularly his Six Million Dollar Man novels.

But speaking of Caidin’s famous creation, it would appear that by 1982 Caidin himself wasn’t a “name” author, for Deathmate was a paperback original. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer paperback originals, always have and always will. But anytime I see an author moving from hardcover, with all the prestige, industry reviews, and marketing that entails, to the sometimes-obscure world of paperback originals, I figure his popularity has waned. The same thing even happened to Herbert Kastle, who briefly was relagated to paperback originals in the mid-‘70s.

Regardless, Deathmate is a lot more entertaining than that earlier Caidin novel, and for the most part avoids all the goofs and clunky writing of Maryjane Tonight At Angels Twelve. Until the very end, at least. The first third of Deathmate barrels along at a crazy clip, featuring a “hero” who massacres thousands of men, women, and children in early 1960s Vietnam.

I put hero in quotes for several reasons. For one, protagonist Ron Previn is such an emotionless cipher that it’s hard to feel anything for him in the course of the novel (which by the way runs to a too-long 226 pages of small print). But also because, as mentioned, he kills literally thousands of unarmed villagers in pre-war Vietnam, either blowing them up or ripping them apart with his .22 Magnum “Spaghetti gun” (presumably the machine pistol depicted on the cover).

Curiously, Caidin doesn’t inform us at the beginning of the book that all this is occuring at least twenty years before the publication date. In fact, the majority of Deathmate appears to occur in the early ‘60s or even the late ‘50s. When we meet him Ron is fresh out of college, heartbroken from a bad breakup, and is making pretty good money on a small crew working deep in the jungles of ‘Nam laying oil pipes.

The opening of the novel is pretty much horror fiction. First we see a series of innocent Americans getting butchered by the Vietnamese natives they considered their friends. We readers know this is the work of the Viet Cong, but it’s so early in the confrontation that the Communist group is totally unknown to the Americans who have come here as missionaries, civilian contractors, or whatever. There’s no revisionism here, either – the VC are brutal scum and they massacre people in the most horrific ways. A later bit even has them getting their hands on a prepubescent American girl.

There’s more “horror novel” stuff besides with a creepout description of the massive insects Ron and his fellows encounter deep in the jungle. But that’s just for starters; Ron’s unaware that Americans are being butchered around the country. Then the natives he works with begin acting stranger and stranger, stealing stuff from the site and not showing up for work. One day they set something to blow and one of Ron’s coworkers is killed. They make the grueling trip back to the main site and are met with total disaffection; there’s so much strife here that human life has absolutely no value.

This we’re informed is the inciting incident that makes Ron a killer. While we’re often told he’s just a normal guy and etc, we never actually see it; instead we meet him as he’s reacting to the growing horror of Vietnam, and as he comes out of the shock he realizes there’s something dark deep within him. It’s this spark that makes Ron a natural born killer, the sort of man the Company would love to hire. Soon Ron and Gary, his muscular but otherwise simpering coworker, are being propositioned by some suited spooks, who offer the two the chance to deliver Charlie a little payback.

They’re trained by a muscle-bound merc named Mike who basically steals the novel but only appears in this sequence. They’re trained in everything from explosives to firearms, and even here Ron has the edge because he grew up hunting and has worked on construction sites so he understands how to blow stuff up real good. Mike also tells them to select a firearm that will become their main gun. Gary gets a regular submachine gun but Ron selects the aforementioned .22 Magnum machine pistol which Mike refers to as a “Spaghetti gun” because it rips out like a string of bullets in one go.

The spooks have offered Ron and Gary the mission of going into a VC camp and rescuing a kidnapped American child, a little girl who was taken a few weeks back and might not even still be alive. The three go off in the night and this is probably the most thrilling scene in the book because it actually plays out in “real time,” whereas the later ones are relayed mostly via summary. It’s also an indication of the type of “action scene” we’re going to get in Deathmate. I mean there isn’t a single part where Ron gets in a gunfight with anyone; the entire book is comprised of him massacring unarmed civilians in a variety of methods.

So here Mike sets up some explosives and wipes out most of the village, after which Ron and Gary will do these sorts of jobs themselves. In fact it gets to be a bit humorous because as mentioned these guys waste literally thousands of Viet Cong villagers in the first few hundred pages of the novel, and the reader has to wonder if just two non-soldiers could be so devastating to the enemy then why did the war drag on for so long? I mean these two guys alone could’ve wiped out the entire population of Vietnam in a couple years.

Throughout this Ron becomes even more of a cipher, but an asshole of a cipher. He’s brutish and rude to everyone and bosses Gary around like a peon. He takes increasingly risky jobs and eventually even demands that only he and Gary go out as a two-man team instead of being a part of a larger force. I mean the government could’ve saved millions if these two guys really existed – oh, and I forgot to mention that Caidin opens the novel stating that there really were people like Ron and he even dedicates the book to him. WTF?

This goes on for the majority of the novel, with absolutely no topical details of what year it is, what’s going on with the war, or anything. Ron lives in a daze, only living for his massacre missions. But then on one mission as he’s blowing up another village he cuts down a little figure with the Spaghetti gun and to his horror sees it’s a little American boy, the son of a missionary who was in the village. Ron abruptly quits the massacre business and even hands over the few hundred thousand dollars he’s amassed on his missions to the boy’s parents, after informing them that it was he who accidentally murdered their son!

Unfortunately the novel continues after this point, and here the clunky writing of Maryjane Tonight At Angels Twelve returns in full force. I figured the CIA would just terminate Ron upon his resignation, but instead they send him back to the States and put him up in a nice cabin in the woods. They even provide him with a woman who serves him up some off-page lovin’. After this Ron decides to live in rural New York, and here the novel again descends into unintentional humor.

Caidin flashes forward seven years and tells us everything Ron’s been through in summary – I mean we’re told he met and married some lady on one page, and on the next we’re told that she’s developed a blood disease and is confined to the hospital! We’re also informed he has two little girls. I mean none of the characters live or breathe, they’re just wallpaper – the intention is for us to feel for Ron, to empathise with him, but in reality it’s hard to care about his wife or kids because Caidin does nothing to bring them to life.

It gets even more humorous when Ron is confronted by some guy in a bar one night, tired from working two jobs to support the sick wife, and the guy claims to remember him from ‘Nam – which the dude mentions is now a full-scale war, so my assumption is we’re now in the late ‘60s, not that Ron bothers to notice his own era. Ron shuts the dude down permanently – surprisingly, the only true “action scene” in the book, and it’s really just Ron nailling the guy with a bottle – and gets bailed out of jail by his CIA handler, the first he’s seen him in all these years. 

But here comes the goofy stuff. Ron keeps getting hassled by a woman who claims to be the widow of the guy he killed in the bar. She just keeps pestering him and calling him, claiming to know the “truth” of what he did in Vietnam and how she’s going to tell everyone unless Ron does what she asks, etc. What exactly she wants is never explained; the implication I got is that she wants to get laid, even more humorously enough, because apparently the two have all sorts of hot off-page sex…however Caidin completely forgets to inform us of this until we have a scene where Ron is visiting his wife in the hospital and feeling guitly.

But apparently Ron did the deed with this lady, Helen, and from here it becomes like a proto-Fatal Attraction. Ron’s wife gets out of the hospital, still frail, but Helen starts calling them, following them in her car, and even standing outside her house and staring at their house all day – goofily enough, her house is right across the street. It’s just some of the dumbest shit I’ve ever read in a novel, particularly given that Ron, the object of her obsession, killed thousands of people in Vietnam but for some reason can’t bring himself to kill off this nuissance of a woman.

It gets dumber. Ron’s wife, pushed into depression by the constant harrassment, kills herself with an overdose of pills, and Ron’s family is removed from the narrative just as half-assed as it was introduced. Ron sends the daughters he supposedly loves so much off to stay with an aunt and that’s it for them – he’s already forgotten about them. Caidin wants us to understand that Ron’s shock has broken down the safeguards he erected post-Nam and now the true killer is coming back.

He’s also a psychopath thanks to CIA brainwashing, with a “chorus of voices” in his head vying for control. But again the narrative spirals in an arbitrary detour. Ron goes to San Francisco…and does nothing except walk around. This part was so immaterial to anything I wondered if it was there to fill a word count. Then Ron goes down to Florida and hooks up with a group of “friends” he’s supposedly made at some point, even though previously it’s been implied that Ron has no friends because he talked to no one in ‘Nam and just lived a simple life with his wife and kids the past few years.

However these dudes are all former Company mercs and they let Ron know he’s being tailed and all that jazz. Then Helen shows up again and Ron figures she too must be a Company plant. At least he finally gets rid of her after some off-page sex…in another goofy bit, she basically tries to blackmail Ron into living with her(!?). Instead he kills her in a complicated manner involving makeshift explosives, which is pretty hard to buy given that all his previous kills in the jungle were courtesy the Spaghetti gun and ready-made explosive devices.

Even more humorously, Ron here transforms into like the ultimate secret agent, again displaying training and skills we never knew he had – in fact, skills that would be next to worthless in the jungle. He’s losing his CIA shadows via convoluted schemes, setting up bombs in decoy vehicles, and making elaborate plans of vengeance on the Agency. However he does get back to his chief m.o. of massacring unarmed individuals.

It gets even more difficult to root for our “hero” as he not only wipes out otherwise-defenseless CIA agents but even their families. But he doesn’t stop there. Next he takes out an entire airliner filled with innocents so as to kill more Agency targets. And Caidin even resorts back to his flying fixation with an overlong scene of Ron renting a plane (somehow he learned how to fly, too) and setting up a bomb on a remote control airplane he launches from it, basically an oldschool drone.

It’s all just really over the top and crazy but ruined by the fact that we care nothing for Ron and all this happens without much dramatic thrust. Worse yet we learn in the finale that the CIA is watching all this and indeed is appreciating the skill on display – Ron had a tracer implanted in him courtesy an operation he got without his awareness while drugged in ‘Nam, and the CIA is now shadowing his every move. It’s implied they’re maneuvering him to become an Oswald type who will kill the President.

However here Deathmate ends, on a total cliffhanger. But really after 226 pages of small, dense print the reader is more relieved than frustrated. I was glad to say goodbye to Ron’s adventures and kind of wished the book had ended a good hundred pages before. The Vietnam stuff was crazy in a good way, and well written, but everything after it was a chore to get through, stymied by an author who seemed unable to convey any tension, drama, or emotion.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Last Ranger #7: The Vile Village

The Last Ranger #7: The Vile Village, by Craig Sargent
April, 1988  Popular Library

The seventh volume of The Last Ranger as ever follows immediately after the previous volume; Martin Stone is just where we left him, caught in the middle of an acid rain thunderstorm. He crashes his Harley and he and his pit bull Excaliber are hammered by the rain into unconsciousness.

A near-dead Stone and Excaliber are found by a pair of redneck boys the next morning and hauled to a big farm owned by a bearish dude named “Undertaker” Hansen, who runs a profitable coffin-making business in this post-nuke world. I went overboard last time on my theories of how Jan Stacy (aka “Craig Sargent”) might’ve been aware of his impending death from AIDS and worked things out via his dark, ghoulish narrative. I won’t belabor the point this time other than that a good portion of the first quarter of The Vile Village is all about the funeral business. But this time the grim vibe is at least tempered with the goofy dark humor Stacy does so well:

Undertaking equipment stood everywhere, embalming fluids in ten-gallon glass bottles lined a whole wall, planking from local trees rough-hewn with bark and splinters erupting from them like a rash were piled up along one wall. Bandages, saws, needles, paint, everything that one might need to make corpses look friendly and happy for their bereaved families. Giving them the opportunity to say, “Doesn’t Tom look nice,” or, “How peaceful Fred went out,” when in fact Tom and Fred and Jervis and the whole bunch of them had gone out screaming and howling, had had to have their guts and noses and tongues sewn back on, or their blue skin painted with rouge and blush to make them look like they had just been out chopping wood in the yard when in fact they were already starting to rot, to stink up the place.

One thing gradually becomes clear, though. Stacy was struggling with the series at this point. Or at least with this installment. For one, he breaks away from the format of the preceding six volumes and has Stone engaged in an arbitrary storyline that has nothing to do with the grander scheme of Stone trying to find his perennially-kidnapped sister April. The back cover promises a Yojimbo riff of Stone putting two rival gangs against one another, but this doesn’t actually occur until the final several pages. In fact The Vile Village is a bit of a chore to get through and I suspect Stacy struggled with it.

Undertaker Hansen is one of those comically larger-than-life characters Stacy excels in, the sort of character you often see in the Doomsday Warrior series. He has a countless number of children – he can’t even remember their names – and rules them with an iron fist. Or actually a hickory cane, as he’s fond of whacking them when they get out of line. But he allows them their freedom, as Stone finds out during some hot and heavy sexual shenanigans with hotstuff blonde daughter Luann, in one of Stacy’s patented goofy-hardcore sequences:

If Stone thought he had made love with wild women before, they had been like Doris Day compared to the creature atop him. For she went wild. Her entire body jerked and bucked and twisted around him. Gritting her teeth hard, almost as if she were in pain, the woman ground around on Stone as if she were trying to grind his pelvis into flour. And Stone contributed his part too. As tired as he was. As much as his muscles just didn’t want to move – the instinct of desire was just too powerful to resist. After all, men with mortal wounds had been known to grab and “have knowledge of” field nurses in wartime. The most powerful instinct of all. To merge, to become one with the other in paroxysms of animal joy.

From Doris Day to philosophy, Stacy covers all the bases. Luann is Stone’s nurse over the course of a week, bringing him and Excalibur back to life thanks to some paste-like poultice she rubs on his acid rain-burned skin. But after this the egregious page-filling rears its head. We learn posthaste that two gangs rule nearby Cotopaxi, Colorado, the “Vile Village” of the title (Stacy must not’ve liked the place, that’s for sure): a biker gang and a redneck gang – this info relayed in a memorable bit where a Hispanic farmer comes into the Hansen clan dining room and displays the gory severed head of one of his kin, murdered by the gangs.

But after this insanity Stone spends pages learning the undertaker business from Hansen. This does include another humorous bit where we’re informed that the Undertaker’s funeral speeches are a combo of Billy Graham and a used car salesman. But it just kind of goes on, and also Stone’s impetus for even going into Cotopaxi is hard to buy. He recalls how he was referred to as a deliverer of death by the Indians “months ago” in the first volume, so he figures he’ll go into the vile village and kill some gang scum. There’s also the barely-explored motive that he’s pissed how the gang killed these farmers right in front of their wives and kids, and Stone wants revenge for them.

That’s all well and good, but the problem is he goes into town and just wastes time for the majority of the novel. Assuming the name Billy “Preacher Boy” Pinkus, Stone waltzes into the only bar in town that serves both the Head Stompers (the bikers) and the Strathers Brothers (the rednecks) and ends up blowing away a goon who works for the former gang – Stone’s first kill in the book, and his only one until near the very end. In fact The Vile Village is mostly bloodless, particularly when compared to the ultra-gory previous volumes.

But while the gore is minimized, the goofy humor is thankfully back – Stone takes a gander at herculean Head Stompers boss Bronson and reckons he “had hardly seen such muscles on anybody since he’d watched his Wrestlemania tapes on VHS back at the bunker.” Unfortunately the biker element is quickly dropped; Bronson and gang make threatening remarks to new guy “Billy” and take off, and Stone spends the majority of the novel ingratiating himself into the trust of the much-less-interesting Strathers Brothers.

The goofy vibe is what predominates. Stone makes pals with Vorstel Strathers, one of the three brothers who run the place, comparing war wounds. After this he’s given a job as a sidearm, Stone having presented himself as smarter than the redneck morons who serve the brothers, thus according more privilege. Vorstel puts him up in the local bordello, and get this, folks – even though he lives in a cathouse for the duration of the book, Stone doesn’t have sex with a single one of the women there! 

In fact the focus here again is on humor, particularly with hijinks concerning Excaliber, stuff which I think is getting to be a bit of a nuissance now. But it’s all “funny” as Excaliber keeps destroying the plush room every day when Stone leaves, and the old whore who runs the place complains about it, and Stone hands over a few silver coins for the troubles, and etc. That being said, there is some funny stuff here and there, like the unforgettable line that climaxes this paragraph:

Most of the early-morning staff hadn’t arrived yet, as it was only 6:48, so the place was nearly empty downstairs but for two old women who polished all the woodwork in the place, keeping it shining for the “gentlemen” customers. They looked at the savage-looking Stone and shuddered, looking away, wondering silently to themselves just how bad the place had gotten if it was taking in clients of such low repute. Perhaps they had better start looking for jobs elsewhere. The Hot Vagina might not be the kind of place they wanted to work anymore.

Things really don’t pick up until toward the very end, beginning with a wildly over-the-top July 4th celebration in which the bikers and rednecks have a truce to celebrate America in their own strange ways. But even here it comes off like page-filling, and for a lot of it Stone just stands around and monitors the proceedings. Finally things get real when he’s sent with a group of thugs to kill some of the local farmers who have been causing trouble for the gangs, and Stone ends up killing his own men to protect the farmers.

This proves to be the undoing of his cover, and thus Stone’s entire plan is blown – his goal is to set the gangs against each other, but it never happens. Instead he’s strung up and beaten and good as dead, but in a lame copout the Strathers Brothers decide to mess around with the just-abducted 8 year-old son of Bronson instead. Stone’s able to free himself and the boy in a hard-to-buy but still tense scene that has him employing the “push dagger” hidden in the heel of his boot.

Even worse, the finale still has Stone just standing around while the Head Stompers and the Strathers Brothers wipe each other out on the streets of Cotopaxi. That being said, Stone does blow up one of them with the missile launcher on his Harley, and Excaliber literally jumps to the rescue and takes on the Strathers Brothers’s pet lion.

But overall The Vile Village just comes off like an afterthought, as if Stacy was just churning something out quickly to meet a deadline. Which I’m assuming was the case, but still. At least the book ends with Stone deciding it’s time to get back on with his main mission and finding that damn sister of his.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Circle Of Iron

Circle Of Iron, by Robert Weverka
February, 1979  Warner Books

I was probably one of the very few 19 year-olds who had a copy of Circle Of Iron on VHS in the summer of ’94, and I certainly was the only one who got his girlfriend to watch it…several times! It’s a wonder she didn’t break up with me halfway through the first viewing, because Circle Of Iron is a bad movie, one that should’ve been roasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but for some reason never was.

The film, released in early ’79, started life a decade before as a script by none other than Bruce Lee, co-written with his student, screenwriter Sterling Silliphant. Then it was titled The Silent Flute and was envisioned as not only a vehicle for Lee but also for his Jeet Kune Do style. James Coburn was to star in it as “Cord,” arrogant but open-minded fighter who would serve as an empty vessel for Lee, who would play several roles in the film, from the old and blind Ah Sam to Death itself in the form of a panther-man. The movie, due to studio nonsense, was going to be filmed in India, with the trio even heading over there to scope out locations.

Ultimately the film fell apart and Lee ended up going back to Hong Kong, where of course he became a sensation. At some later point someone got their hands on the Silent Flute script and realized the now-dead Lee’s name could be exploited good and proper. Now it would star David “Kung Fu” Carradine in the role(s) Lee would have played…and instead of James Coburn as Cord we’d get unknown actor Jeff Cooper, who I always thought was the guy who played Rostov in Invasion U.S.A. but actually wasn’t. Oh, and we’d get Eli friggin’ Wallach in a cameo as a nude guy hanging out in the middle of the desert in a big vat of oil. Plus Roddy McDowell and Christopher Lee.

Years ago in one of the Bruce Lee DVDs the Silent Flute script was included as a PDF extra and someone sent me a copy. I read it and couldn’t believe how outrageous it was – full nudity, graphic sex, hardcore violence, the works. It would’ve been rated X at least. It was also written in the style of a novel; I recall a note in the intro stated that it was in the “European style” of scripts, so it intentionally read more like a book. But anyway no one could’ve made the film in ’69, it was too extreme then (and perhaps now, too, at least so far as the sex and nudity goes…but you can see gory corpses and heads blown off on TV shows, because that’s okay).

By 1979 films were already more conservative in tone than they’d been a decade before, so Circle Of Iron, as the property was eventually released, doesn’t nearly have the exploitative bite of the original Lee-Sillphant script. Nor does it have the quality. This is one of those movies where you’ve gotta wonder if the filmmakers knew they were shooting a turkey and just decided to go all the way with it. 

Veteran movie tie-in novelist Robert Weverka, for his part, treats everything on the level, save for one or two instances where he clearly mocks things. He doesn’t do much to elaborate on the plot, either, so like the Prime Cut novelization it’s sort of a case of what you see is what you get. The only “new” material is a bit of background on main character Cord, how he’s come from a temple; there’s an occasional flashback to some teaching he received there.

Otherwise the novel proceeds on exactly the same path as the film. As the back cover helpfully informs us, Circle Of Iron takes place “beyond Time,” as if this were a Zardoz sort of thing…and in fact, one could argue that Circle Of Iron is to martial arts movies what Zardoz is to sci-fi. There’s more of a fairy tale-esque vibe to this one, though, or at least fantasy; it takes place in some pseudo-ancient past in which all and sundry practice the martial arts and everyone wants The Book of Wisdom, which is owned by a legendary but never-seen warrior named Zetan.

Cord is an arrogant young fighter who when we meet him has come to an apparently-annual tournament in which fighters from various tribes compete for the right to seek Zetan. An interesting thing about Cord is that, even though he’s a top fighter and overly confident in his abilities, he’s still open-minded enough to change his methods when necessary and to learn from others. In other words he’s a top candidate for Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. So then Cord sits and watches other fighters, already knowing which will be the opponent he faces to win the entire deal: Morthand, a big but oafish fighter whose clear weakness is that he has no imagination and sticks rigidly to his style.

But in the inevitable fight Cord makes “hard contact” with Morthand, taking advantage of an opening when the other lets down his guard, and this is against the rules. This part is clearly inspired by Bruce Lee’s own criticisms of martial arts tournaments of the day, which were even more strict. Morthand is made the victor, but Cord argues that he was the true victor. When the judges don’t budge, Cord merely waits around and then follows Morthand when he begins his journey to find Zetan.

Here Cord has his first encounter with the man who will become his ultimate teacher: a blind beggar-type who plays a flute only Cord seems to hear. The bickering and bantering between Cord and this blind man is the highlight of Circle Of Iron, with the blind man, whom Cord dubs “Ah Sam,” bouncing Zen koan sort of teachings off Cord’s dense, bullish head. And Ah Sam is clearly a top fighter; his memorable intro has him taking out a group of nigh-primordial “assassins” who attack him in a ruined castle.

It quickly becomes apparent that Ah Sam’s riddle-ish teachings have import on Cord’s upcoming trials – there are a few trials the Zetan-seeker must overcome, and upon each victory he is given the info on how to proceed in his quest. The first trial, which Morthand faces, is against a group of “monkey-men” who tear Morthand apart off-page. Cord helpfully assists him in some hara-kiri ritual suicide. After this Cord takes advantage of the situation and dubs himself the true seeker of Zetan. However, in plot that’s not explored, other fighters seem to be on the same quest.

Cord’s fight with Jungar, leader of the monkey-men, is pretty cool. Ah Sam has already displayed to Cord how one fights a monkey – always keep your face to him. So when Jungar goes through all his chattering and jumping and moving around, ie psychological tricks to break his opponent’s concentration, Cord keeps facing the monkey-man and kicks his ass. He doesn’t kill him, though, even though the monkey-men are fond of ripping apart their opponents.

However one thing that’s not apparent in Weverka’s novelization is that the same actor playing Ah Sam also plays Jungar – David Carradine. Indeed Carradine plays all the opponents Cord must face. Here in the novel Jungar just comes off as a one-off opponent Cord must defeat, and thus misses the pseudo-mystical connotations of the film, that all the various opponents in the trials are really Ah Sam, testing Cord in a host of different guises.

Jungar tells Cord to look for a rose, which will lead him to the second trial. Thus begins more travelogue as Cord walks over endless stretches of tough terrain. A lot of Circle Of Iron is made up of Cord walking…and walking…and walking, only occasionally livened up. Like when Cord encounters a dude in the middle of the desert who stands in a big cauldron of oil to melt off his friggin’ dick so he won’t have anymore lustful thoughts and cheat on his wife!

As, uh, “memorably” portrayed by Eli Wallach, the Man in the Oil is one of the more bizarre figures in film history. Weverka himself struggles with the concept; as Cord trades “what the hell??” dialog with the man, who happily explains that he put himself in the oil ten years ago, Cord thinks to himself that he’s never seen anything so “stupid” or “ridiculous.” If that isn’t commentary by the author I don’t know what is.

The next trial is a little more belabored. Cord finds himself in the middle of a rioutous caravan that’s settled down in the desert, with orgies and drinking in progress. A Turk named Changsha runs the place, and the rose Cord seeks turns out to be carried by one of Changsha’s wives, a beautiful babe named Tara. Cord, despite his vow of celibacy, has some tame, mostly off-page sex with her (ie, “They once again affirmed their need of each other” and the like). Here the novel gets goofy because Cord immediately falls in love with her and wants to run off with her, to hell with the quest, etc.

Next morning Tara’s gone and Cord finds her corpse nailed to a friggin’ cross! This is the trial, as Cord realizes so quickly that it’s almost funny – that one cannot possess love. Cord might be a hothead, but damned if he doesn’t quickly absorb the most esoteric of teachings. More comical stuff ensues when, mere pages after Cord’s freaking out about Tara’s fate, he bumps into Ah Sam again and starts joking around with him! Anyway Cord’s also learned Changsha’s secret, even though he hasn’t yet fought him: he’s the “rhythm man,” using the beat of a drum and sinnuous movements to throw off his opponents.

Things get progressively goofy with the duo first encountering a guy and his nagging wife who have a boat for rent, followed by a random bandit attack in which Ah Sam calmly walks around despite the flying arrows, trying to rebuild a damaged house. All of which is later explained, sort of, though again Cord quickly accepts things, even though there’s no way Ah Sam could’ve known any of this stuff without the omniscient gift of foreknowledge. This is passed over in the text with yet more rumination courtesy Cord, in which he basically just decides to go with the flow.

The best opponent doesn’t come off as well here in the novel as it does in the film: Death itself, as personified by a Panther Man. Cord is confronted by the beast one night, and again in that comically-quick way he has of figuring things out, he immediately knows it’s Death. And just as quickly he’s like, life is a passing thing and death is inevitable, so come for me anytime you please. This ultimately leads to the finale in which Cord fights Changsha, who morphs into Jungar the Monkey Man and Death the Panther Man, but Cord is undeterred, and of course is victorious.

Which brings us, finally, to Zetan, who lives on a far-off island where he is surrounded by beauty. More like stifled by beauty. In a clever reveal it’s learned that Zetan, decades ago, decided to take ownership of the Book before first looking at it – and now he’s desperate for someone else to be as stupid. For the Book turns out to be “pages” that are really mirrors – another of Bruce Lee’s bits of wisdom. I’m not sure if the movie makes it as clear, but here in the book Zetan mentions that past seekers who turned down the offer of guarding the Book have gone back into the world as teachers. 

This of course would mean Ah Sam, and the novel ends with Cord meeting back up with him and the two going off into the world. And that’s pretty much all she wrote for the movie and for the book. I can’t say Weverka’s novelization had me raring to watch the movie again after all these years, but he does a passable job of conveying the pseudo-mystical vibe of the film without making it seem like the farce that was the movie.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Revenge At Indy (Don Miles #3)

Revenge At Indy, by Larry Kenyon
June, 1967  Avon Books

The third Don Miles takes place four years after the first volume, and we’re reminded of this often because ultimately the main villain of Revenge At Indy turns out to be a character from that earlier book. This also means that Challenge At Le Mans took place in 1963, as Lew “Larry Kenyon” Louderback makes it clear that this installment occurs in 1967.

At 176 pages of small and dense print, Revenge At Indy is as busily-plotted as the previous two books. This seems to have been a thing with Louderback, as evidenced by his Nick Carter: Killmaster novel Danger Key, which featured enough plots for ten books. This one isn’t as bad but it’s close. That being said, Louderback is a fine writer and delivers some big action setpieces, not to mention a cool pulp touch. 

In fact the opening is pulp heaven; we meet Don as he’s barreling across some land in Indiana in his Panther sportscar, being chased by a black helicopter. At his side is his secretary, Sierra Stover, a hotstuff blonde who was once a racecar driver herself; I think this is the first time we’ve actually seen her in the series. The helicopter shoots at them and Don crashes, and a bunch of submachine gun-toting women in form-fitting black leather catsuits get off the ‘copter. Indeed, “jut-breasted” women with swishing thighs and knee-high boots, plus eye masks. Leading them is a Fu Manchu type in a cape.

Then some dude yells “Cut!” and we see this is all a movie – Don’s doing stunt-driving work for a TV show pilot called Owlman based on “the old pulp series.” A “high camp for adults” sort of thing masterminded by a fellow vet named Tom Jerrold, who is producing. Jerrold, we learn in complex backstory, was a POW in Korea in ’50 with Buck Garrett, Don’s Texas-drawling mechanic and himself a top-secret agent of SPEED, though in more of an advisory capacity than Don’s field duties. And for any who don’t get the Batman spoofery, we’re informed that in the show Don’s Panther will be referred to as the “Owlmobile.”

Playing the female Owlman lead is Chan Pelletier, a super-gorgeous and stacked Eurasian babe who has made her name modeling and is now starring in her first movie, mostly as a favor for her new husband Tom Jerrold. But it’s clear Chan can’t be contained by one man and is having an open affair with the lead actor. All this we learn in opening setup with the various characters congregating on the shooting location, among them the mysterious Hong, a professional magician who is playing the Fu Manchu-esque villain in the pilot.

Soon enough yet another new character is introduced: Kay Yen, one of the “black leather gang-girls,” all of whom are Asian women who are part of Hong’s magic show. Part of the belabored setup is that Owlman is being filmed here in Indianapolis because Hong’s a locally-famous magician and refused to go to Hollywood. But this is also tied in with the upcoming Indy 500, which of course Don is about to take part in.

Kay asks Don for a ride back to his hotel and he gives her one, and given the genre and Don’s studly manliness and all it’s clear they’re about to have some sex. Kay is worried and claims she’s in trouble, and further has come to Don for help, but she refuses to divulge any details until after she and Don have screwed. But when Don comes out of the shower and is ready for some lovin’, he finds a nude Chan waiting for him in his hotel bed and Kay is gone without a trace.

Don isn’t one to stand on ceremony, though, and gives Chan some brutal loving. There are only two sex scenes in this volume, but they each get more risque than the previous books. The Don-Chan conjugation goes on for a few pages and doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. Also Chan wears an expensive French perfume which stirs memories of Ulla, the hotbod evil spy from the first volume; there are frequent flashbacks to Ulla and that first volume throughout, so you certainly want to read Challenge At Le Mans before this one.

On his way out of the hotel Don sees a crowd of onlookers and sure enough there’s Kay’s corpse on the pavement; she’s clearly been tossed off the roof way above – and Don’s suite is on the top floor. This sets up an annoying, go-nowhere subplot where a local redneck cop sets his sights on Don and is determined to bring him down on murder charges, mostly out of jealousy because the cop himself is a never-was on the racing circuit. This entire subplot could’ve been taken out and the book would’ve benefitted from the loss.

Don soon learns that Kay was really an American Indian of the Namakan tribe who was briefly famous several years ago for leading an all-female “squaw squadron” in rebellion over fishing rights in Namakan territory, in Minnesota. Yet now here she was posing as an Asian actress in a magic act in Indianapolis. The Indian stuff ties in with Buck’s time as a POW, as one of his fellow soldiers was a Namakan Indian named Wayne Deerfleet who turned traitor and began working with the Reds, before coming home to the US.

Louderback piles the “Indian stuff” on pretty thick: when one of his crew gets sick, Buck basically hires some guy off the street named Gump Pine Tree who himself is a Namakan Indian, but Buck doesn’t see anything coincidental about that. Later in the book Don goes to the local university and checks out a thousand-page tome on the tribe, treating us to lots of page-filling “excerpts” from the book. But when Don sees it’s been written by a teacher at the college, he heads onto campus to grill the guy.

Only, in one of the more arbitrary “I need to write another sex scene” incidents I’ve ever encountered, the professor who wrote the book turns out to be a hotstuff blonde babe…who is more than ready to hop in bed with Don. It’s not as long as the material with Chan, and Louderback tries to incorporate more exposition about the tribe here. Ultimately all this stuff will play out, with the Namakan Indians being part of the latest plot against the United States, a plot which has something to do with Buck and Tom Jerrold’s POW time in Korea seventeen years before.

Louderback’s scheme gradually becomes clear, and he carries it off well – the opening fake-out Owlman stuff turns out to be the ultimate course of events. For it becomes more and more apparent that Hong really is evil, and he also retains a squad of Asian women…indeed, the very same women who portray the “black leather gang-girls” in Owlman! Halfway through the book I figured that’s the way it was going, and hoped I was right. Sure enough the final quarter of the novel sees Don in full-scale combat with Hong and his black leather-garbed female commandos – and Louderback is one of the few men’s adventure writers to actually have his hero killing female opponents.

The book as usual is a little overstuffed; part of the elaborate, overly-complex plot has it that there’s a guy in Hong’s circus called Mr. Memory, who can spout all kinds of trivia and answer high math questions in seconds. But otherwise he has the mental capacity of a child; Don eventually learns that Mr. Memory was in prison and was part of a test group that was taken to a top-secret experimental weapons factory in Texas called the Jefferson Proving Grounds. Don flies down there and goes on a tour of the facility, complete with a lecture on its setup, and again it’s material that should’ve been cut.

In fact the problem is the plot becomes hard to buy, which is sometimes the kiss of death in this genre. Like for example Chan chases after Don’s Panther on the freeway and another car shoots at her and Don comes to the rescue. She claims her husband, Tom Jerrold, is trying to kill her. Further she claims to be a secret agent, and says that Kay Yen was also an agent, and these people who were trying to kill Chan also know that Don himself is an agent. But she offers no more details. So Don hides her from Tom in his trailer at the speedway.

And through all this…Tom Jerrold continues to film the TV pilot, with Sierra Stover doubling for the missing Chan. And Tom keeps confronting Don over “stealing” his wife/lead actress…and it becomes more and more evident that Hong isn’t just a villain on-screen but off as well. Yet the wheels just slowly grind for a good poriton of the narrative as Don slowly puts things together, even though they should be apparent to him from the get-go.

But things perk up in the final quarter. There’s a fun action scene where a carnival barker shoots at Don while keeping up his spiel for the audience over the P.A. system. Also here we first see Hong’s female soldiers in action, complete with Don hitting one of them right in a delicate part of her anatomy. After this, again as if in complete disregard of plot logic, Louderback has Don getting in a helicopter with Tom Jerrold as he films the make-believe takeover of a small town.

And sure enough…fantasy is reality, and those gang girls in black catsuits and eye masks are toting real submachine guns, and the residents of little Indian Springs, Indiana are being taken hostage for real. Tom here reveals himself to be part of the plot (duh) and Don’s taken captive; he’s put on various manual labor duties with the other captured townspeople. The belabored plot is this: Jerrold and Hong plot to simulate a nuclear explosion, which will not only trigger a US-USSR war but will also entail the removal via train of various top secret weapons from the Jefferson Proving Grounds. This they happen to know thanks to the photographic memory of former prisoner and Jefferson test subject Mr. Memory.

Honestly you wonder why Louderback even put so much effort into this stuff – the series is about a racecar driver who doubles as a secret agent. The plot almost writes itself but Louderback insists on turning out intricate storylines that are a lot more complex than they need to be. Oh and by the way Don’s racecar driving is more of a nuissance than anything this time around; there’s actually more of it, with pages-long sequences every few chapters of him racing various heats. But it has no bearing other than to fill the “racing quota” Louderback doubtless was given by series producer Lyle Kenyon Engel. In fact the novel ends with Don about to start the Indy 500, so we don’t even see him actually race in it.

But the finale’s pretty cool, and makes all the busy plot-building mostly worth it. Don frees himself, arms some of the townspeople of Indian Springs, and kicks “black leather gang-girl” ass, then gets back his Panther and books it at a steady 150 mph for several hours, racing for Minnesota. Apparently not a single cop is on duty during this cross-country race, but whatever. Here everything gets even more pulpy, with Namakan Indians in full war paint taking Don captive upon his arrival in their territory.

Louderback does an admirable job of tying the disparate strings together. So the gang girls aren’t Asian after all…they’re really Namakan women, and Hong himself is a disguised imposter. The entire thing is really an American Indian plot, in conjunction with the Red Chinese. Pretty bonkers stuff, and it gets even more surreal…spoiler warning here friends so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t wanna know. But Chan herself is an imposter…she’s really Ulla, the evil spy babe from the first volume, after some cosmetic surgery to make her look Asian! She became part of this plot and, against orders, involved Don in it so she could exact her revenge (and get a little more sack-time with him, I guess). Anyway Ulla is sucked into some quicksand at novel’s end and seems gone for good now, but Don wonders.

Louderback always keeps the action moving, save for the aforementioned plot and exposition heavy stuff. He’s one of those men’s adventure authors who knew how to deliver the goods but at the same time seemed to doubt himself; you don’t need this much setup for a series about a racecar-driving secret agent. I guess readers in 1967 must’ve felt the same, as there was only one more volume to follow.  

Monday, June 10, 2019

Hickey & Boggs

Hickey & Boggs, by Phillip Rock
No month stated, 1972  Popular Library

Hickey & Boggs is a cool crime movie from the ‘70s – the decade when all the best crime movies were made, in my opinion – but it’s been semi-forgotten in the ensuing decades. And now what with Bill Cosby’s name being ruined and all, it will probably stay forgotten for many more years to come. This is unfortunate, because Cosby and co-star Robert Culp (who also directed) are great as hard-bitten, cynical, weary private eyes in this Walter Hill-scripted caper.

But as good as the film is…well, if it had been more like this novelization by Phillip Rock, it would’ve been great, and perhaps might’ve done better upon release, and be better remembered today. I can only assume Rock was more faithful to Hill’s script than Culp was. Because Rock gives us Lethal Weapon about a decade early – black-white partners bicker and banter their way through a case that turns out to be a lot bigger than they expected.

I can tell you another thing: Warren Murphy without question read this book. His Razoni & Jackson series, which began the following year, is so close as to be plagiaristic. The only thing changed is the locale (New York instead of Los Angeles) and the profession (cops instead of private eyes). Otherwise Murphy’s series is identical to Rock’s novel, even including the same sort of recurring jokes; for example, early on we learn that Boggs (Culp’s character) is trying to sell his house, which is small and located directly underneath a highway. Hickey (Cosby’s character) pokes fun at him about this through the entire book. It’s all exactly like something you’d get in Razoni & Jackson…but the thing is, none of it’s actually in the film! Hickey and Boggs’s dialog mostly just sticks to plot advancement in the movie, with none of the colorful commentary we get in this novel. Indeed the film protagonists are basically terse ciphers when compared to their much-more-memorable novel incarnations.

I rewatched Hickey & Boggs after reading the book and had to wonder why so many changes were made. If it was the director’s doing, then Culp did himself a disservice, because Boggs has all kinds of extra dimensions in the novel when compared to the film. But then, all the characters have more dimensions, even the trio of hoods who shadow our heroes and periodically try to kill them. These three are given their own share of the narrative with their own recurring bickerings and banterings in what comes off like a proto-Tarantino sort of thing. In the film these characters barely even talk. 

Just to close out on the Warren Murphy angle, I realize of course he was already a prolific writer and was doing similar sort of bickering protagonists stuff in The Destroyer. But the thing is, in an interview with Justin Marriott years ago Murphy specifically stated that he was thinking of Culp and Cosby when he created Razoni & Jackson, though he was referring to their work together on I Spy. I’d say in reality it was this particular film, and probably this very novelization, which was the true inspiration behind his series.

Anyway, Rock’s novel is great and if it weren’t “just” a movie tie-in it would likely be remembered as one of the better crime novels of the ‘70s. It is in many ways the opposite of Leonore Fleischer’s Prime Cut novelization; whereas that one stuck close to the film, only elaborating here or there, Rock’s novelization comes off like an original work and features all kinds of material that didn’t make it to the film.

This is evidenced posthaste in a Prologue that comes off like a self-contained short story; here we actually witness the heist of the $400,000 that will serve as the Maguffin of the plot. The movie merely opens with a woman getting off a train and then riding in a taxi. The book is so much better; a team of heisters in rubber animal masks hit an armored truck in Pittsburgh, and it gets bloody quick. Rock doles out some admirable gore, like one dude’s arm literally getting blown off by a .357 Magnum slug. This was probably my favorite part of the entire novel, just a fast-moving and bloody crime story…again with the kicker that none of it’s actually in the movie!

All but one of the heisters are killed on the scene, and the one who manages to escape is himself dying from wounds he’s sustained. When next we see him he’s already dead and his girlfriend has the stolen money; she puts it all in a case and leaves his corpse behind. The woman is named Mary Jane Bower (actually this is a fake name, we gradually learn), and she acts like a phantom through the rest of the novel – everyone, including the syndicate, is after her, but she proves almost impossible to track down. She is a completely different character here than in the film, which features a lame-in-comparison opening of Mary Jane arriving in Los Angeles via train and burying a suitcase of money for her husband to find. The film also has a similarly lame subplot about Mary Jane having a daughter. In the novel Mary Jane stays behind the scenes, only appearing at the very end.

This is where we meet our protagonists and Rock introduces them to us with little fanfare; like the movie poster says, Albert Hickey and Franklin Boggs aren’t “cool slick heroes;” “they’re worn, tough men.” They’re also down to their last dollars, living in veritable poverty in L.A. and co-running a P.I. agency that’s doing so poorly they had to let go their secretary. They can barely even pay for the answering service. One gets the impression these men haven’t bathed in a long time; Rock drops the gross tidbit that Boggs only has one suit, which he’s worn so much that the collar has turned yellow at the edges. None of this is reflected in the film, where Hickey and Boggs come off as much more presentable and less destitute.

This is another crime novel that takes place in the midst of a grueling, hellish summer; Rock excels at conveying the brutal heat of Los Angeles. And for that matter the guy clearly was familiar with the city; he drops street directions and names of various places with the casual familiarity of someone who has actually lived there. But as for our main characters, we don’t get much background for them, other than that Hickey was a decorated cop back in the late ‘50s and Boggs was a top soldier in Korea.

Now though they’re at the bottom of their respective barrels; there’s no backstory on why or when they became partners, nor even much detail on how Hickey fell from grace in the police force. And any expectations that Boggs’s military service will result in an action-ready protagonist, a la Riggs in Lethal Weapon, are soon dashed in the few action scenes; Boggs’s advice is to run from anyone with a gun, and in another of those recurring jokes we see that Boggs never actually hits anyone he shoots at, even though he carries a .357 Magnum!

The details behind the heist are never made clear. But long story short, the money belongs to a syndicate bigwig based out of Los Angeles named H. Hammond Brill; he has his own share of the narrative, trading memorable dialog with a flunky named Floyd Ballard. Brill tasks Ballard with finding the money and Mary Jane. To this end Ballard calls in the three-man team he apparently uses for all such jobs: a “wheel jockey” named Monte, a Browning Automatic Rifle-toting killer named Nick, and finally Fatboy, a gargantuan nitwit who serves as the muscle.

Hickey and Boggs come into it thanks to a guy named Carlton Rice, who leaves a message with their answering service and meets with Hickey along the beach the next day. Rice is clearly gay and there’s a fair bit of gay-bashing in the text for those readers who are sensitive to such things. He hires Hickey and Boggs to find Mary Jane, just saying she’s an old girlfriend – something Hickey immediately doubts. Rice gives Hickey a paper with various names written on it, people he claims knew Mary Jane.

So this is the simple plot of Hickey & Boggs; our heroes drive around Los Angeles (either in Hickey’s Nova or Boggs’s half-dead ’59 Edsel) and track down various leads, all while bickering and bantering like an old married couple. And speaking of which Hickey’s subplot has him trying to get back with his ex-wife, Nyona, with whom he has a five-year-old daughter, and Boggs is desperate for the love of a stripper who has left him so many times it’s become a joke. Boggs is also a drunk, and Hickey is a straight arrow.

While the plot is simple it’s all done so colorfully that I figure I’ll read the novel again someday; that’s how much I enjoyed it. As with Murphy’s novels the highlight is the bantering, like when a hungover Boggs grudgingly takes a ride on the L.A. freeway with Hickey, who turns out to be a wildman behind a wheel – when Boggs informs Hickey that their exit is here and Hickey’s not even in the right lane, Hickey’s casual response is, “I will be in a second,” and then immediately cuts over three lanes of traffic.

The violence comes from the three heavies who themselves are trying to find Mary Jane; in one gruesome moment Fatboy literally crushes a guy’s skull with his bare hands. Hickey and Boggs run into the trio three times; first at the home of one of the names on Cartlon Rice’s list, where Boggs slams a window on Fatboy’s hand and then blows up their GTO, and later in two big action setpieces, the first at the L.A. Coliseum and the second at Dodger Stadium.

Both of these sequences are cool because they come off as big setpieces even though they’re relatively smallscale. In the first Nick guns down a “bagman” with his BAR while Hickey and Boggs seek cover and deliver ineffectual return fire. The final big action piece in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium is even better, with Nick strapped into the back of a station wagon (a replacement for the destroyed GTO) and blasting away with the Browning. This time Hickey actually hits someone with his .38.

These setpieces seem so big because Hickey and Boggs are such menial protagonists, at least when compared to the genre average. When the bullets start flying they’re more about diving for cover and screaming for each other in all-caps. I mean it’s not like we’re talking about a pair of Mike Hammers. Boggs for that matter can barely even run, due to a hernia, and doubles over in pain anytime he chases someone. Part of the concept is that Hickey and Boggs are downtrodden, loser P.I.s up against a syndicate so big it has its own private army, but despite it all they keep hammering away at the case, and Rock conveys it all so wonderfully that the reader is fully swept up in it.

The action also brings in the mandatory “stupid chief,” an LAPD captain who is determined to revoke Hickey and Boggs’s licenses. But our heroes aren’t entirely losers and are able to figure out things the cops can’t. Like when Boggs visits a crime scene after Hickey’s aborted attempt at finding anything there; Boggs is able to bullshit his way past the patrolman guarding the closed-off area, makes nice with the landlady who barely even let Hickey inside the apartment (a nice, subtle bit of racial commentary here), and proceeds to find a few hundred thousand dollars hidden inside an otherwise empty package of frozen peas. Something the cops completely missed in their search.

The action has more dire consequences: in another mandatory development for ‘70s pulp, those closest to the hero must suffer. Thus Hickey comes home after the Dodger Stadium fracas to find Nyona’s nude corpse waiting for him, and Boggs finds his home trashed. It’s never outright stated in the text who the perpetrators were, particularly Nyona’s murderer, but we know H. Hammond Brill was behind it. However there’s no comeuppance for the main villain; our heroes are much too small to handle the big fish.

Instead the finale proceeds on that smallscale but hard-hitting vibe; having determined that Mary Jane Bower is actually Mary Quemando, wife of one of Brill’s thugs, the heroes stake out the rural area where Mary Jane intends to finally unload the cash, using her just-released-from-prison husband as bait. But this too quickly goes to hell, with Monte now in a helicopter and Floyd Ballard manning a machine gun – and once again it’s Hickey who manages to take anyone out, despite Boggs trying to shoot at the ‘copter’s engine with his Magnum (and missing).

While much is changed, at least the ending stands the same, with Hickey gesturing for Bogg’s .357 so he can dispense justice – namely, blowing away Fatboy, who happens to be charging toward them while brandishing a helicopter blade! The film at least makes it more clear that Fatboy was behind Nyona’s murder, thus Hickey was exacting his vengeance; the novel isn’t as obvious in this regard. At any rate, the end leaves ample opportunity for more adventures for the duo, but it’s my understanding Hickey & Boggs didn’t much resonate with viewers of the day, most of whom probably yearned for the less-grim vibe of I Spy.

Phillip Rock published other novels, most of them originals, but the only other book of his I currently have is another novelization, for the first Dirty Harry movie. I definitely look forward to reading it.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Bodyguard #2: The Blonde Target

Bodyguard #2: The Blonde Target, by Richard Reinsmith
No month stated, 1980  Tower Books

The Bodyguard series started off at lowly Tower Books for two volumes before moving over to sister imprint Leisure, and Richard Reinsmith, a real person and not a house name, handled the entire series. This second volume is the first one I’ve read and the writing is better than I expected it would be, but be aware there’s some lurid material that might not sit well with sensitive readers of today – or probably did with readers in 1980.

The titular Bodyguard is Ray Martin, who, other than his gray hair, isn’t much described. This is because Ray narrates the books. I’m really not into first-person narration in men’s adventure novels, I think it always comes off more like hardboiled detective fiction than action fiction, and such is the case with The Blonde Target. But this seems to be Reinsmith’s intent, as the novel is more influenced by Spillane than Pendleton.

A unique thing about Bodyguard is that, at least judging from this installment, the action comes to the hero. Usually it’s the other way around – the men’s adventure hero tracks down some quarry and eliminates him. But Ray Martin is a bodyguard, operating out of the Maryland area, and the quarry comes to him…it seems he just locks down his latest client in one of his two safehouses and waits for the bad guys to take a shot at them.

Another unique thing is that Ray Martin is constantly – practically incessantly – referring to past cases. A good quarter of the narrative is comprised of references or even straight-up flashbacks concerning previous bodyguard jobs. This does lead to humorous revelations, like that Ray doesn’t actually pay anyone. His assistant Pop is a retired private eye who does the work for fun, and Ray’s secretary (unseen this volume) performs her duties in exchange for living in one of the houses for free. We also learn of Ray’s other cost-cutting measures.

The “blonde target” of the title is April Harris, an up-and-coming Farrah Fawcett-type actress on the cusp of fame who has been targeted by some unknown killer. In bizarre backstory we learn that April made her break thanks to a photo of her signing a bum’s autograph in an airport. Now whenever she goes to an airport she’s surrounded by bums looking for autographs, all of it a strange PR gimmick thanks to her agent, Tony. But most recently the bum April was autographing a photo for got his head blown off by a sniper, and Tony has insisted she get a bodyguard.

This is how Ray has come onto the case, and when the novel opens April has just moved into his safehouse deep in the Maryland woods; probably around where I grew up, now that I think of it. Reinsmith takes care of the expected sex scene posthaste – the first-page preview even spotlights this scene – with the two trading some dialog after Ray wakes April up in bed to get more info on the stange case.

Here Reinsmith displays his talent with dialog and character, at least when compared to the genre norm; Ray won’t be bought by anyone, and ends up literally burning five hundred bucks of April’s money – she wants some orange juice, he tells her where to get it (he’s her bodyguard, not her assistant, he says), and when she gives him $100 to go get the juice, he puts the bill in an ashtray and burns it. They go through this four more times.

The cash-burning does get April nice and randy, though, leading to the aforementioned boink. It happens completely off-page; Reinsmith isn’t even one to exploit the ample virtues of his female characters (though he has no qualms with having them raped, as detailed later). He is though pretty good with the dialog, with humorous exchanges between April and Ray. Reinsmith isn’t as good with the lame “mystery” behind the plot, as it’s clear from the get-go who is trying to kill April, given that only one person knows where she is.

There are a lot of red herrings, like Ray making a few calls to have a lecherous old movie producer checked out, or even dumber Ray checking to see if the killed airport bum was the true target of the sniper hit and not April. This even after Ray himself is attacked at an airport; agent Tony is having a screenwriter flown in to hand over his script (as explained in ridiculous backstory), and while on an escalator April is attacked by a dude with a switchblade. Ray ends up pushing him off and the dude falls down and breaks his neck.

Ray’s arm is slashed up and he recuperates in a very hardboiled manner; mixing up endless pitchers of some vodka cocktail. Meanwhile April successfully sex-blackmails him (man I wish I could get blackmailed that way) into letting her friend Jackie come stay with her. Jackie turns out to be a cute brunette but again Reinsmith doesn’t do much in the way of describing her. She expectedly comes on strong to Ray when Pop and April leave for the other safehouse, Ray staying behind to see if any strangers come by to scope out this house, thinking everyone’s left.

Again it’s mostly done via dialog, with Ray and Jackie monitoring a strange car from the cramped, sweltering attic space, and the conversation somehow turns to blowjobs. Here Jackie reveals she’s “one of those girls” who just love oral stuff, and gets to work posthaste. Later they end up in bed for another off-page go around. But Ray isn’t too smart because he just casually leaves the house, and he and Jackie are instantly knocked out and taken away by the occupants of that strange car.

Here comes the stuff that will be off-putting for sensitive readers. Ray wakes up to find himself on a ship, bound to a chair, and across from him is a half-nude Jackie strapped to her own chair. She’s been raped repeatedly and while Ray lays there the four captors come in and have their way with her again and again. This is the only novel I know of where a female character keeps up a humorous running commentary while being raped; the “punchline” is that Jackie claims she has an orgasm with each rape. Later though she’ll reveal this was all an act for Ray’s part, so he’d think she was strong, and she suffers a sort of nervous breakdown, but still – the rape stuff goes on for a long time, with even Ray tossing in his own jokey dialog.

Here Ray realizes that the captors show absolutely no interest in where April Harris is; not once have they even asked him about her. Instead they just tell Ray they’re going to kill him, but claim they’ll let Jackie go, but this seems to be a clear lie. Their escape from this situation is hard to buy, but Jackie talks one of the rapists into untying her so they can use the bunk bed, and further asks for her purse so she can put on lipstick. Of course it turns out she has a little pistol hidden in there. Something neither Ray nor we readers were aware of.

Reinsmith isn’t one for exploitation of the violence, either. Jackie shoots two and Ray shoots two, but there’s no gore to speak of. The vibe is very much of a hardboiled tale from decades before, other than the sometimes-raunchy dialog and the rape stuff. Even the beatings Ray endures comes off like a hardboiled yarn; at one point he’s even run over by a car, but literally walks it off. Ray’s customary weaponry is a .38 and a Schmeisser submachine gun he carries around in a case. He doesn’t use the latter until the finale, which sees him taking out a group of would-be assassins in similarly-bloodless fashion.

Despite the title being The Blonde Target, Jackie is actually the lead female character of the book; April disappears for the majority of it, in the safe house with Pop. The biggest setpiece is actually Ray and Jackie’s imprisonment on the ship and Jackie’s rape. After freeing themselves Ray and Jackie get a motel room and here Reinsmith further brings the poor young girl to life, with her backstory, how she inadvertently became the owner of a charter boat, and etc, and all of this Ray’s gambit to keep her talking so she doesn’t have a complete breakdown, the reality of what happened to her finally coming home.

Also Jackie is adamant that April not find out she was raped, so Ray has to lie to April and Pop about their abduction. All that taken care of, he goes back to chasing a few red herrings, one of them an old boyfriend of April’s who turns up dead so clearly isn’t behind anything. At this point it should be more clear than ever who is behind the assassination attempts. And sure enough the finale features this character showing up to take April home, only for Ray to confront him on what’s really been happening. This leads to that assault on Ray’s house by a squad of armed men, but Ray takes them out in pretty quick fashion.

And that’s it for The Blonde Target. Overall what I liked was the snappy dialog, and I also liked Ray’s close knit group of recurring characters. But the mystery itself was subpar, as was the action. I’ve only got two more volumes, from later in the series, and I doubt I’ll hunt down any more.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Prime Cut

Prime Cut, by Mike Roote
No month stated, 1973  Award Books

A big thanks to my man Marty McKee who sent me a DVDR of Prime Cut six or so years ago; I’d only just discovered the movie, it shames me to admit, and Marty hooked me up with a copy. And man, what a movie it is – I’d rate it at the very top of the list of ‘70s crime films (either it or Charley Varrick, another unjustly obscure one).

I saw that there was a novelization of the film, but didn’t pick it up, because it was by Mike Roote, pseudonym of veteran film novelist Leonore Fleischer. She also wrote the Enter The Dragon novelization, and from my years of Bruce Lee obsession (I even got married on the 29th anniversary of his death! Okay so it was a coincidence, but still!) I knew that Fleischer’s novel treatment wasn’t held in high regard. But I finally got it and I’m glad I did, because it appears that the Prime Cut novelization has recently gotten a bit too pricey on the used books market.

And I’m also glad to see I was wrong to dismiss Fleischer’s work without ever having read it myself, because simply put her Prime Cut novel is great. It captures the vibe of the grim, exploitative film perfectly while adding a few touches. In my reading experience I’ve found two kinds of film novelists: those who turn in what comes off like original novels and those who turn in near-transcriptions of the film, with only a few additions. Fleischer I would say is the latter type of novelist, with the caveat that her writing is strong, she adds a depth to the characters that film won’t allow, and her additions to the tale are not obtrusive. 

Years ago I checked out a book about Film tie-ins from Interlibrary Loan, the name of which escapes me, but I recall there was an interview with Fleischer in it. She stated that, like most film novelists, she either worked from an early draft of the script or a rough cut of the film, the latter usually in the presence of film critics who, Fleischer suspected, were laughing at her behind her back. She also shared the humorous story of how she once went to a screening of a Woody Allen film, one that featured a line poking fun at film novelizations, and she knew the critics around her were silently laughing at her.

In this case I’m betting Fleischer saw a cut of the film that was close to final, as there isn’t much different here than what you’d see in the actual movie. I guess this would’ve been a blessing in those pre-VHS, pre-cable days; if you wanted to remember a movie, you had to read the book. So in that regard her novelization is a success. But in this era of Blu Rays and DVD and etc, the modern reader hopes for a bit “more” in an old film novelization, the hint of missing and now lost scenes, or perhaps even an entirely different plotline, as was the case with the Rambo III novelization.

But that’s not the case here; the only “new stuff” I noticed was the occasional dip into the past of main character Nick Devlin, portrayed in the film by the ultimate tough guy Lee Marvin. Fleischer also develops – without outright describing – a longstanding grudge between Devlin and Mary Ann, sadistic Midwestern mobster memorably portrayed in the film by Gene Hackman. There’s also a part, which I wonder was filmed, where during the drive from Chicago to Kansas City Devlin’s limo passes a cattle car, and inside it Devlin thinks he sees a bunch of caged women instead of cows. He’ll later discover his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him.

I’m getting ahead of myself; anyone who has seen Prime Cut will know it’s one of the more exploitative movies to ever be released by a major studio. The plot’s about a hitman for the Irish mob being sent to Kansas to exterminate a dude who auctions sex slaves and who turns his enemies into sausage! To me, Prime Cut is the closest anyone’s ever come to capturing the lurid vibe of a Sharpshooter or Marksman novel. You could easily see “Nick Devlin” as being a stand-in for Johnny Rock, wiping out a particularly nasty Midwestern branch of the Mafia. He even uses pretty much the same weapons: a pair of Beretta 9mms and an M76 submachine gun he carries around in an attache case, similar to the weapons case Philip Magellan always lugs around.

The opening follows the film, even the entire credits sequence, which sees Mary Ann’s meat processing plant in action. Here Mary Ann’s muscle-bound moron of a brother, Weenie, temporarily handles the conveyor belt that propels freshly-killed cattle into the various rippers and choppers – just as a pair of human feet come into view, stashed in there with the cows. We follow the process until this unfortunate victim is turned, literally, into sausage links, and then mailed to Chicago.

Devlin’s intro is one of those parts where Fleischer is free to wax creative; it’s a bit more elaborate here, with an Irish mob boss pulling up to a bar in Chicago, going inside with his latest hotstuff babe, and scoping out a too-cool-for-words Devlin, who sits at the bar with his ever-present chaffeur-bodyguard, Shay. And also here Devlin is a bit more resistant when offered the job, however his interest is captured when he’s told he’ll finally get the chance to punch Mary Ann’s ticket. There’s also a bit more setup here – again without an actual explanation – of a woman named Clarabelle, who apparently was once Devlin’s but is now married to Mary Ann.

Again it’s clear Fleischer saw the film and transcribed it dutifully; even the long limo drive to Kansas City is featured, but here Fleischer takes the opportunity to dip in and out of Devlin’s thoughts. In the film he’s presented as a cipher, Lee Marvin’s badassery more than enough to bring the character to life. Fleischer captures that tough vibe in the novel, but augments it with Devlin’s occasional thoughts of his hardscrabble past and how he fought his way up in the Chicago mob. She also brings a little more to life Shay and the three young Chicago enforcers Devlin’s brought along.

More importantly, she greatly brings to life the grungy, white trash brothers Mary Ann and Weenie. She also implies there’s a bit “more” to their relationship, mostly conveyed via an impromptu wrestling match that is a bit more rough than necessary and features Mary Ann telling Weenie how much he loves him. Also Mary Ann as described is a bit brawnier than Gene Hackman, but I believe Fleischer has done this to convey a more threatening nature to the situation. I mean, Lee Marvin versus Gene Hackman?

Mary Ann’s slavery operation is also slightly more developed, with the additional sicko tidbit that he “owns” a bunch of little boys. The majority of the film and novel takes place during a county fair, and in the film we see a group of boys getting first place for their steer. In the novel we learn that these boys “belong” to Mary Ann, and presumably are part of the human beings he has “raised special,” same as the women he sells off for sex. This latter part is where all the exploitation comes in, with Sissy Spacek getting the main female role as Poppy, one of Mary Ann’s sex slaves.

Mary Ann’s intro follows the film, same as everything else, with a bit more elaboration. Devlin barges in on Mary Ann’s massive farm just as one of those sex-slave auctions is underway, “healthy Midwestern types” walking around and casually inspecting nude young women as they lay in an opium stupor in hay-covevered pens. This is also where Poppy is introduced, and Devlin takes her on “account” for the half-a-million Mary Ann owes Chicago. But also he takes her because he sees a spark in the doped girl’s eyes and feels something for her – this is an element Fleischer captures much better than in the film, where the relationship is harder to buy.

Fleischer here does add something new; in the film, Devlin wraps Poppy in a blanket and carries her into his hotel, telling the clerk to send up clothes for her. Fleischer gets a bit more outrageous, and I wonder if this was in the rough cut she watched, but I doubt it. Here, Devlin carries Poppy’s still-comatose form into the hotel clothing store, tells the lady behind the counter he wants clothes for her, and when asked for Poppy’s size Devlin merely takes off the blanket, displays Poppy’s nude body, and tells the lady to guess her size!

Given that Fleischer also dips into Poppy’s thoughts, the budding romance between the two characters is easier to buy than in the film. Here we learn that Poppy is young, like just out of her teen years, and grew up in an orphanage with other girls – an orphanage owned by Mary Ann which is run expressly for his slavery operation. Devlin is the first “real man” she’s ever seen, and he’s saved her to boot, so she’s instantly in love with him. Devlin for his part sees a totally innocent human being in Poppy, and this attracts him more than he could’ve expected. Plus she’s hot and all.

An interesting thing about Prime Cut, the film, is that it’s not overly sleazy, despite the subject matter. While Sissy Spacek gets fully nude, the camera does not dwell on her nor the other naked girls who are up for auction. And the violence is not overly bloody, despite the fact that characters are sometimes literally turned into hamburger. This I think adds an extra impact to the film, as it’s so professionally staged and shot – it’s like any other big budget crime film from a major studio, only with an horrific extra nature. Whether by accident or design, Fleischer’s writing follows suit: she does not exploit the nude bodies of the women, and Devlin-Poppy’s expected sex scene takes place off page. As for the violence, this is very much a “get shot and fall down” sort of novel; Fleischer doesn’t indulge in any gore.

As with the film Fleischer saves all the action for the final third. It begins with a visit to the fair, where Mary Ann has promised to give Devlin the money he seeks. Instead Mary Ann sends in a bunch of shotgun-toting blonde farmboys (more of Mary Ann’s oprhanage kids?) who try to blow away Devlin and comrades during a turkey shoot. This features the memorable “movie moment” of Devlin and Poppy being chased by a massive thresher, which ends up eating Devlin’s limo instead. 

The finale is even better, with an M76-toting Devlin and his surving comrades staging an assault on Mary Ann’s farm. However this scene is not as action-packed as in the film, and Devlin’s confrontation with Mary Ann and Weenie is a bit anticlimactic when compared to the movie. That being said, the end I think is handled a little better than in the film, where it’s made clear that Devlin and Poppy have freed the kids and young women in Mary Ann’s orphanage. We also get the implication that Poppy in her own way is as tough as Devlin.

I really enjoyed this novel. It’s well written, much better written than you might expect. Fleischer especially excels at capturing the bitter vibe of Devlin’s thoughts and impressions. While it’s pretty much exactly what you see in the film, and of course could never serve as a replacement for the film, it’s still an entertaining read, and adds a slight extra dimension to the story.