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.  


Grant said...

I don't guess the "full-scale combat with Hong and his black leather garbed female commandos" involves anything but guns? I know I harp on this, but I always like a showdown between a protagonist and a woman to use something either MORE direct than guns (like in the Destroyer books) or LESS direct than guns (like in the "exploding headquarters" scene in x amount of spy movies).

Joe Kenney said...

Grant, the fights are also hand-to-hand -- in particular Don gets in some martial arts brawls with a few of the ladies in one sequence, punching one of them in the crotch(!).