Thursday, August 22, 2019

C.A.T. #3: Cult Of The Damned


C.A.T. #3: Cult Of The Damned, by Spike Andrews
May, 1983  Warner Books

The final volume of C.A.T. is courtesy Duane Schermerhorn, hereafter referred to as “Duane S.” for reasons of laziness. Duane S. also served as “Spike Andrews” for the first volume of C.A.T., as I mentioned in my review of the second volume. I could barely remember anything about Kidnap Hotel as I read it so long ago, but it’s no bother, given that it’s never referred to in the course of Cult Of The Damned

Speaking of which, this book proves my universally-accepted theory that the Warner “Men Of Action” line was likely dictated by editors who, Lyle Kenyon Engel style, came up with the titles, plots, and even covers of the books, and then farmed out the actual writing chores to some contract writer. Why? Because there’s no cult of the damned in the book! Okay, very, very late in the game we discover that one of the two main villains was raised by a nutjob lady who runs a Christian cult, but this amounts to like just a few pages…and indeed, seems more like Duane S. desperately trying to work a “cult of the damned” into the, uh, damned book.

Because otherwise this third C.A.T. installment is straight-up sleazy ‘70s crime fiction, with the minor caveat that it was published in 1983…but really, only occasional mentions of “pageboy beepers” belie the ‘80s publication date. Otherwise the novel occurs in a totally ‘70s New York City, complete with outrageously-attired pimps and a tawdry Times Square of porn theaters and hookers. It even takes place during a sweltering August, same as so many of those ‘70s New York crime novels. 

Well anyway, I’m pretty sure Duane S. at one point ran his own website, the name of which escapes me at the moment. This was five or six years ago that I discovered it. I say this because Duane S., writing as “James Marcott,” published a novel through Fawcett in 1975 titled Hard To Kill. No, it wasn’t the novel that Steven Seagal based his later movie on – it was a Parker-esque heist yarn with the unique twist that the protagonist broke people out of places. In other words, a reverse-heist sort of concept, which is pretty cool.

This website had Hard To Kill for free online reading at the time, claiming it was the first of a trilogy. What’s more, the site also had the second volume, The Golden Coach Caper, for free reading as well – and the thing is, I don’t believe this novel was ever even published. At least, I could find no record of it at the time. The site also claimed that the third volume – don’t recall if we were given the title of that one – would be put online for free reading soon, but as I recall it the site hadn’t been updated for some time when I discovered it, and the third volume still hadn’t been uploaded.

I emailed the unnamed proprietor of the site through the “contact” section, asking if it was indeed Duane S. and if he was ever going to put that third book online, because I’d read the first one (I was too lazy to review it on here for some reason), planned to read the second one soon (which I actually still haven’t done – I saved it to a Word file, which proved to be downright prescient, as things turned out), and would want to read the third volume at some point. I never received a response…and a few days later the site was taken offline!! I of course promptly contacted the police.

It appears that by the early ‘80s Duane S. was performing ghostwriting duties; we know from Hawk’s Authors’s Pseudonyms that he wrote the first and third volumes of C.A.T., which we’ll recall stands for “Crisis Aversion Team,” an (apparently) two-man police squad operating out of Manhattan, composed of snappy dresser Vince Santillo and married man Stewart Weston. And that’s really all we get in the way of “personality” for these two guys. This sure as hell’s no Razoni & Jackson; these two guys are easily confused. And that “married man” part doesn’t even really factor for Weston, given that he bangs some broad in the course of Cult Of The Damned, and it ain’t his wife. 

Duane S. actually works up a “crisis” his heroes must avert, something the other series writer (George Ryan) failed to do in Kidnap Hotel. As the novel opens we are treated to a twisted Ric Meyers-esque scene in which a lovely young model is secretly summoned to a tawdry hotel in Manhattan, ostensibly to model a new line of lingerie…but really to be tied to a bed, raped by a succession of businessmen-types, and then have her head chopped off by the psychotic photographer who summoned her here. This is something the murderer, Mitch, has done a few times: his m.o. is inviting hotstuff models to grungy hotels and then killing them; this bit with the rapists is new, Mitch having decided he can make a buck off the poor women before he kills them!

As if that weren’t enough, a sniper is also going around Times Square and blowing away hookers, shooting them in broad daylight as they walk down busy streets. The humorous thing here is that Warners completely ruins any suspense on who the sniper is – folks, the first page preview outs him as “Christian,” who is introduced early in the book as Weston and Santillo’s new partner! And Duane S. tries to make the sniper’s identity a secret, which means that some careless editor at Warner’s didn’t even bother reading the manuscript…he or she just looked through the book for an action scene to spotlight on that first page, even though said action scene features Weston and Christian in a fight to the death!

Our heroes are summoned by their “stupid chief” boss, Lt. Hunt, and put on both cases. To this end as mentioned Detective Tom Christian is reassigned to the C.A.T. team to assist. A muscular karate master, Christian isn’t concerned with winning friends and influencing people; he comes off like an arrogant ass, trying to goad his new partners into a fight. Of course as mentioned that preview page has already blown it that Weston and Christian will indeed fight, but again Duane S. tries to work in the mystery that Christian is a nutjob – he even sneaks in “crafty” touches like noting the sniper’s muscular shoulders, and then dropping in the tidbit that Christian is heavily muscled when introducing him a few pages later.

Duane S. is also a master of the protracted action scene. Like, real protracted. The book runs 221 pages, which of course is way too long for this genre, and a lot of it is composed of action scenes that run for several pages. Like very early in the novel, when Weston and Santillo descend on the sniper’s latest hit in Times Square; Santillo sees a suspicious man on the periphery and assumes (correctly) that it’s the sniper lingering on the scene to check out his work. This leads to a fifteen-page running chase through the grungy streets of Times Square, with Weston getting involved as well. All the action scenes follow this outline, and the majority of them could’ve been whittled down for a less sluggish read.

The boys find time for a little tail, though. While working the model-killings case Santillo gets friendly with a busty model, going out with her a few times before the expected sex transpires. And as mentioned Weston gets some extramarital perks when he hooks up with a hotstuff babe who works as a secretary in a porn company in Manhattan – the company being the publisher of a magazine the sniper left at one of his hits. This sex scene, with unforgettable lines like “He entered her swiftly but gently,” is a bit more explicit than the one with Santillo. It also leads to another of those overlong action scenes: after the festivities, Weston’s putting on his clothes and saying goodbye, and as the gal opens her mouth to say something her head blows off, having been hit by a .357 dum-dum slug fired by an unseen assailant!

This leads to Weston chasing after Christian, of course not knowing it’s him, and it’s another of those running chases that goes on and on. This chase leads to the revelation that Christian is the sniper; while running from Weston he collides with a pigeon coop or something and next day Weston and Santillo find pigeon feathers in the file room…from such meager leads they begin to suspect surly Christian as having some ulterior motives on the sniper case, which he’s insisted on covering by himself. Here they briefly meet his mother, who runs a hardscrabble fire and brimstone church and preaches against sin and whatnot – Duane S.’s attempt at a “cult of the damned.”

As you’ll note, the sleazier model-killing case doesn’t get as much print. The killer has a pretty easy time of it, just talking sexy-but-gullible models into some make-believe photo shoot at various grungy Manhattan hotels. Here he will slap the girl around a bit, tie her to the bed, and then watch from a peephole as various men rape her. But the killer, Mitch, can’t get it up himself, thus uses his knife to “enter” the women as he kills them. As stated all this has the uber-lurid vibe of fellow Men Of Action house writer Ric Meyers. Occasionally Duane S. will cut over to this subplot, showing Mitch in action, piling up headless models. A personal note is worked into this one when Santillo’s new flame, busty model Dawn, becomes Mitch’s next target.

Here’s the other funny thing about the book – these two plots would be enough for any cop action thriller. Heck, even just one of them would be fine. But Duane S. also throws in an arbitrary – and initially unrelated – third subplot about a deposed leader from some fictional Middle Eastern country who is now chaffeured around New York, picking up eager women. At length he becomes involved with Mitch, becoming his latest customer for some model-raping. Duane S. tries to set up this particular subplot early in the book with a long, long action scene at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which seems inspired by the one in Narc #3, at least in that Weston appropriates bladed weaponry from the Medieval exhibit to fight off some would-be assassins.

But the way Duane S. ties it all together at novel’s end is spectacularly unsatisfying. The plot with the sniper is taken care of on page 174, with the Weston-Christian fight which was already spoilered on the first page preview. Then Mitch the model-killer is taken care of on page 190, just before he can slaughter Dawn, Santillo’s new girlfriend. And still we have 30 pages to go. So what does Duane S. do? He brings back those Middle Eastern assassins, who first kill off Mitch and the deposed ruler, then abduct Dawn and take off with her!

Thus the final thirty pages have nothing to do with any of the suspense that’s come before…Santillo and Weston rush after these newly-introduced villains, who end up barricading themselves in a subway train with even more hostages. The finale at least is tense with good action, but again it would’ve been more satisfying to just end the novel with the capture or killing of Christian and Mitch – and also more satisfying if either Santillo or Weston had handled Mitch on their own, instead of some just-introduced minor character.

Not that it much matters; this was the final volume of the series, making it (I believe) the shortest-lived of the Men Of Action line. I’m not sure what Duane S. moved on to…other than perhaps starting up that now-defunct website many years later.

3 comments:

Paperback Warrior said...

Great write-up Joe. Paperback Warrior did the only literary interview with this author. Sadly, just after we published the interview on our site his wife reached out to us to advise he had passed away unexpectedly. You can read the interview here: http://www.paperbackwarrior.com/2018/10/a-paperback-warrior-unmasking-james.html?m=0

Joe Kenney said...

Hey, thanks for the comment and the link. I must've missed that -- I rarely leave the safe space of my blog these days. Seriously though that was an interesting read, and of course, sorry to hear he passed away before he could see it. I just re-read my review of CAT #2 and I see there that it was actually Allen Hubin who outed Duane S. as "Spike Andrews;" in my review above for #3 I mistakenly credited Pat Hawk. However your interview would seem to verify that the website I came across (Pulp something, I believe) was indeed run by Duane S, given that the second "Marcott" novel was never published. Who else but Duane S. would have the manuscript? So it had to be him; too bad he never put the third volume up.

According to my notes I read Hard To Kill in July of 2015, so basically right around when I also read CAT #2, which must've been why I never mentioned much about Duane S. in that review -- I probably planned to do it in the eventual Hard To Kill review, which I never got around to doing for reasons that now escape me. Anyway, that means the site was up until 2015, so I wonder why he took it down? I do remember that the site mysteriously went down like a day or two after I wrote them. Thanks again for the comment!

Grant said...

I don't know these books from Adam, but I can't help sympathizing with that last complaint. It's a little like that scene where the villain's sidekick (including some "Pussy Galore" type female sidekick) turns on him at the last minute and does the heroics - it's entertaining a few times, but the idea can wear thin.