Monday, December 30, 2019

The Aquanauts #7: Operation Deep Six

The Aquanauts #7: Operation Deep Six, by Ken Stanton
No month stated, 1972  Manor Books

Judging from the previous six volumes, I knew what to expect for this seventh installment of The Aquanauts: a lurid crime yarn with some sleaze, some exploitation, and some padding. And that’s pretty much what I got…for the first half, at least. The second half of Operation Deep Six was a taut action thriller with sci-fi overtones, and by far this one was my favorite installment yet. Manning Lee Stokes (aka “Ken Stanton”) was often guitly of turning in overly-padded digressions, but when he was on form he was on form, a la Valley Of Vultures and Liberator Of Jedd, and he was on form for this one.

There’s no pickup from the previous volume (which anyway was set before the fifth volume), and for once we aren’t given the date that all this occurs. Instead we open with Secret Underwater Service honcho Admiral Coffin receiving a typewritten letter warning him that something’s about to happen to experimental submarine J2, and further, that previous experimental sub J1 wasn’t actually lost at sea, last year, but was hijacked. There are enough pertinent details in the letter to convince Coffin that the unknown letter-writer might not just be a crackpot. And by the way we get the usual stuff with Coffin talking the caper over with his equally-old colleague, the head of the Navy, but Stokes much reduces this stuff, this time, and I’m happy to report that he’s finally hit on a template that lives up to the plural of the series name, ie The Aquanauts: Admiral Coffin, Commander Tom Greene, and William “Tiger Shark” Martin. All three get a moment to shine, with none of the non-Tiger Shark sequences coming off as filler, as they often did in the previous six books.

Coffin sends Tiger and Greene to Boatville, North Carolina, the personal fief of reclusive billionaire Harry Janus, who “makes Howard Hughes seem like Tiny Tim.” Janus owns the company that developed the J1 and J2; he swore he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the J1, even though the last received transmission from the sub was that the course was being changed “per orders of J–.” Posing as FBI agents, Tiger and Greene are to see if anything’s up in Boatville, the coastal town in which the final touches are being put on the J2. Also, the anonymous person who sent that warning to Admiral Coffin mailed the letter from Boatville, however Greene thinks the entire thing is a fool’s quest and that the letter was written by a nut.

This first half plays out like a crime yarn, same as the previous six volumes, with zero in the way of “aquanaut” type stuff. Actually, the majority of this part isn’t even crime – it’s the long, long buildup to Tiger having sex with a hotstuff brunette named Millicent “Millie” Carter. He’s introduced to her shortly after arriving in Boatville, informed she’s the town lay, and promptly set up with her. She works PR for Janus Industries, and there follows a nice bit where the assembled Janus employees – the billionaire owns the entire town, and everyone in it works for him – listen as their never-seen leader issues his daily pronouncement from a speaker in the ceiling. Tiger says it reminds him of a séance; he also notices that Janus, Millie, and Janus computer programmer Paul Thomson all have similar-sounding voices, a sort of hoarse quality. Stokes doles out a lot of foreshadowing in this sequence (ie, “When Tiger thought of it later,” and the like), in particular the tidbit that both Thomson and Millie have faint scars on their throats.

Stokes really brings Millie to life – she’s a hardcore drunk and sex maniac and doesn’t care who knows it. She also has the mouth of a truck driver, a humorous reminder of how women were once known for not cursing as much as men. Another interesting tidbit for armchair historians: Millie tells Tiger that some of the people in Boatsville often get together in parking lots and have “trunk parties,” a trend – and phrase – Tiger’s never heard before. Apparently the early term for the modern-day trend known as tailgating. This is relayed to Tiger as Millie, already riproaring drunk, speeds home with Tiger so they can have sex, like within minutes of meeting each other. Stokes again here doles out foreshadowing, particularly that Millie is older than Tiger first suspected. We already know she has the greatest pair of legs he’s ever seen, shown off by a miniskirt – Tiger’s clearly a leg man – but whereas Tiger first thought she was in her thirties, he’s now suspecting she might be in her forties, or maybe older.

Stokes has a lot of repeating themes in his work and the “old man-eater with the body of a young woman” theme is one of the most prominent, as exemplified by such novels as The Golden Serpent and even an earlier Aquanauts yarn, #3: Seek, Strike, And Destroy. This one promises to be wilder than even those earlier instances, as the subtle hints make it clear that Millie’s a lot older than Tiger thinks. There’s also a strange surgery scar around her throat, a subject which Millie refuses to talk about. Humorously so much of this early sequence is devoted to foreplay; Millie’s either fondling Tiger under the table at a bar, in her car, or giving him a few seconds of oral ministration in the elevator, to the point that Tiger’s about to blow, so to speak. But she keeps stalling on the actual meat of the screwing, as it were, either tucking Tiger back into his pants and going for another drink or wanting to tell him more about the mysterious, reclusive Janus. Tiger even says he thinks they’re never going to get around to the actual deed.

I say “humorously” because when the tomfoolery finally happens, it’s for the most part tame, at least so far as some of Stokes’s other stuff is considered, with minimal description like, “[Tiger] was deep in her and stroking” and whatnot. I only say this is tame mind you because honestly about twenty or more pages are devoted to the foreplay, with plot and character-building dialog worked into it. Another recurring theme in Stokes is the brutal murder of a woman after – or during – sex, usually via strangling or such, and again Stokes doles out enough foreshadowing here that even someone new to this lurid genre will know Millie’s not in for a nice future. I mean she’s going for seconds shortly after the first boff and telling Tiger she loves him; the latter in particular is basically a death certificate in the world of men’s adventure. Only it’s going to happen a little more quickly, this time; Millie gets a phone call that seems to disturb her. She says it was Greene, calling for Tiger, and asking that he come back to their hotel immediately. She gives Tiger the keys to her car and asks him to come back soon.

Only, we readers know Greene hasn’t called Tiger; indeed, he told Admiral Coffin he’d leave Tiger alone until the next day. Thus upon returning to his hotel Tiger learns the truth, and that Millie lied to him for some reason. Tiger suspects foul play, Greene says she probably just wanted to go do some other guy! There’s even a subplot about a drunk security chief who lusts after Millie, who shows up to threaten Tiger – turns out this guy went over to Millie’s place shortly after Tiger left, found the apartment in chaos, and blood everywhere. But it won’t be until the very end of the novel that we learn what happened to Millie. As it is, Tiger wonders about her occasionally, but so far as the “babe quotient” of the novel goes, Millie’s it for Tiger this time around; promptly after this sequence in Boatville we jump ahead a few days and Tiger’s on the second leg of his assigment, in KRAB and shadowing the sub J2 on its first test run.

Just as with the ill-fated J1, the J2 receives abrupt summons to change course. Tiger follows along, into the Yucatan Channel near Honduras. The destination turns out to be an island where no island is supposed to be, according to all the maps; but then, Harry Janus is so wealthy he could pay to keep his private domain off any map. Here the novel appropriates a supercool suspense-thriller vibe and doesn’t let up until the end. Tiger watches as the J2 circles the island, rewarded with a brief glimpse of the reclusive Janus, who reclines kinglike atop a sort of metal strutcture that automatically rises from the ground. The J2 then is ordered to dock outside the island while Greene, the captain, and another officer are invited to dine on the island with Janus.

That night Tiger gets in his scuba gear and slips onto the heavily-patrolled island, armed only with a “killing knife” and a .45. He watches in shock as a group of natives in uniforms converge on the sleeping J2, affix hoses to it, and begin pumping gas into it. Tiger somehow knows it’s poisonous gas and everyone onboard the ship is good as dead. This is a tense scene, effectively rendered by Stokes, with Tiger unable to do anything to prevent the massacre; he wants to kill as many of Janus’s goons as he can, but knows if he does he’ll show his hand and soon be caught or killed. Tiger’s best weapon is the fact that Janus doesn’t know he exists. Stokes also tries to brush off the grander question why Tiger doesn’t immediately call in the Marines; instead there’s the reasoning that he needs to prove something is really afoul before he contacts Coffin.

Meanwhile Greene has dined with Janus, who turns out to be short and fat and surrounded by goons. But Greene’s drugged, and wakes up – par for the norm in the work of Stokes – while puking his guts out. After this he’s escorted by hotstuff native babes in red satin hotshorts and bras to a Turkish style bath…after being shown the murdered corpses of the captain and other officer from the J2. Finally he is presented to Janus, who admits to having killed everyone on the J2, as well as on the J1, and wants Greene to tell him everything he knows – Janus has determined that Greene is more than just a Navy overseer, which was his cover on the J2 run. Janus also claims to be able to grant Greene “quasi-immortality;” Janus says he is over 140 years old and in perfect health.

Stokes does an admirable job of playing this plot out in Tiger’s portion of the narrative; while lurking around the jungle Tiger runs into Paul Thompson, the computer engineer for Janus Inudstries who bears the same strange throat scar that Millie had. Tiger catches Thompson as the older man is walking in the jungle and here Tiger Shark again proves his cold-blooded nature, threatening to drown Thompson if he doesn’t tell all he knows – and then actually drowning him, having to do CPR to bring him back to life. Thompson finally claims to have come here to confront Janus, as he suspects it’s not the real Harry Janus who now runs this island and has stolen the J2.

Thompson also claims to be a hundred years old; he’s a member of the Stonehenge Society (aka a “Stoney,”), a pseudo-Freemason sect comprised of just a few individuals around the globe, each who have been granted a sort of immortality. Millie was also a member, and Thompson suspects the fake Janus is also one. And here’s the secret – old heads on new bodies! This is why both he and Millie (who Thompson claims was 90 years old!) have those strange scars on their throats; their original heads are constantly removed and put on fresh bodies. Thompson doesn’t divulge where the new bodies come from. He also says that Stoneys too can die, as the head-transplant thing can’t continue forever.

All this is beyond crazy and Tiger doesn’t much believe Thompson’s story. So instead he strips the guy nude, ties his hands behind his back, and brings him along as he infiltrates Janus’s heavily-guarded compound. This entire sequence is supercool and if only the rest of the series was up to the level. But then who knows, maybe the next volumes will be. Tiger wipes out several guards with knife and gun, including a few guard dogs, and finds Greene drugged in bed with a couple native floozies. True to the series template, though, Greene hasn’t had sex with them – his undying love for his wife and all – and Tiger finds him half-asleep while the two bimbos start going to town on each other(!). Soon Tiger’s gotten Greene sober again – more of Stokes’s patented weirdness where Tiger makes Greene drink some medicine that’s mixed with Tiger’s urine – and the three pull a ruse to gain audience with Janus.

This part is like an old cliffhanger, as Janus has a trapdoor beneath his desk, and he goes down it as soon as Tiger swoops in for the kill. It leads to an underwater bomb shelter, and eventually Tiger’s in KRAB, trying to get into the place. And folks believe it or not we actually get some “aquanaut” stuff as Tiger scubas around, trying to find the location of the bomb shelter, and is attacked by a couple frogmen. We even get to see the Sea Pistol in use here. But Stokes fails to give us a confrontation with Janus; Tiger plants explosives around the shelter, then has to fire all KRAB’s torpedos to set them off. In the ensuing conflagration he only assumes Janus has been killed, but as it is we never do find out – Coffin later even muses that Janus survived – and folks we never even learn who this fake Janus was. Not that it matters, I guess.

All we learn is that Paul Thompson suspected he was a fake because Millie, who occasionally slept with the real Harry Janus, had nomiated Janus for membership in the Stonehenge Society, but after “Janus” returned from the operation (which was done in Tibet), Millie suspected it was an imposter. (Oh, and as for Millie – Thompson also casually admits to having killed her and chopped up her body that night, after Tiger left; it was he on the phone, telling Millie to get rid of Tiger, and then he went over and murdered her, so as to keep her mouth shut about the Stonehenge Society and whatnot…and yes, meanwhile Thompson himself gives away all their secrets, but what the hell, that’s Stokes for you.) Thompson, who further admits to having written the letter to Admiral Coffin so as to get the SUS involved, has come here to confront Janus and determine if he is indeed a Stoney.

The finale is also sort of a copout; everything builds to a grand climax with Tiger fighting frogmen and desperate to get into KRAB to fire his torpedos, and Greene up on the island fending off Janus’s goons with a rifle…then the final chapter is presented as Greene’s typewritten report, which Admiral Coffin reads a few days later! But at this point I was so swept up with Stokes’s weird sci-fi action hybrid thing that I really didn’t mind at all. I mean I really enjoyed this one, and it was a nice reminder of how Stokes can often hit them out of the park. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: he’s one of my favorites. There’s just something so “off” about his plots and his writing that I can’t help but admire him.

So anyway sure, the first couple Aquanauts yarns were subpar. But Operation Deep Six was a different story. Here’s hoping the remaining volumes are up to this level.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Music To Read James Bond By (A Glorious Trash Bondsploitation Compilation)

Over the years I’ve collected many LPs from the ‘60s and ‘70s that cashed in on the James Bond craze; sometimes they’re referred to on the collector’s circuit as Bondsploitation albums. Most of these records were released in the Bondmania heyday of 1964 to 1966, back when you could chose between the stereo release or the mono release. The majority of the records featured cover versions of John Barry’s music from the official soundtracks, with a few of the releases getting more adventurous and attempting original songs based on the Bond novels that hadn’t yet been filmed.

Recently I started thinking about putting together a compilation centered around this “original song” theme, with the idea that this could be the third Music To Read James Bond By compilation we never got. In 1965 United Artists released Music To Read James Bond By, and a year later they released Music To Read James Bond By Volume Two. The records featured loungy, easy listening covers of tunes from the Bond movies up to Thunderball (the most recent film) as well as original songs in the same vein, all of it in a “spy” mold to go along with your next reading of Fleming. But when Sean Connery announced he was done being Bond while filming You Only Live Twice, it was as if Bondmania was gutted overnight – heck, even Eurospy movies abruptly came to an end. Same goes for the majority of the Bondsploitation records.

So since there was never a third Music To Read James Bond By, I decided to make my own – and in our imaginary world we could pretend it was released in 1967, right as You Only Live Twice came out, and also we could pretend it was a triple album. Why not? It’s our dream and we can make it as big as we want. Further, the tracks on the compilation would be arranged in the order of Fleming’s novels, focusing on original theme songs for as-yet unfilmed books, original music, and cover versions of the actual John Barry/Monty Norman scores. My goal was to have at least three songs for each novel: one theme and two songs representing incidents that occur in the narrative. For novels that had been filmed by 1967 I of course had more to chose from, Goldfinger in particular. That movie came out during the height of Bondmania, and there are a wealth of Bondsploitation records that cash in on it.

The album Confidential: Sounds For A Secret Agent by David Lloyd And His London Orchestra was key – this 1965 LP features superb original theme songs for unfilmed Bond novels. As for covers of songs that were written by John Barry et al for the first four Bond films, there were plenty of choices. I went with the ones I like the best, in particular the ones by Ray Martin And His Orchestra; the two Bond-themed albums Martin released are the pick of the Bondsploitation litter, I think, though unfortunately the second one only features two Bond tracks.

In one instance I had to cheat: track 57 is from 1972, from an obscure LP only released in France, Italy, Belgium, and Japan. It was produced in Japan and features a few original themes for novels that hadn’t yet been filmed; while the songs are much more orchestral than the groovier stuff on Confidential, I just had to use the track “Octopussy And The Living Daylights.” How could I not use a song that was composed for “the last great adventures of James Bond 007,” as Signet Books hyped its 1967 collection of Bond short stories?

Many of these Bondsploitation LPs featured generic music that was, no doubt, just given arbitrary 007-esque titles, to cash in on the craze; in particular there’s Casino Royale by the George Mann Orchestra. This LP features a cover version of Burt Bacharach’s theme song for the ’67 film (which my compilation pretends doesn’t exist), followed by a bunch of smokin’ instrumentals. I tried to insert a few of these in the tracklist in places that I thought made sense. Anyone who has read You Only Live Twice will hopefully see how fitting it was to include a track titled “Who’s James Anyway” in that novel’s sequence. In a similar regard is Theme From Thunderball And Other Themes by The ”Sleepwalk” Guitars of Dan and Dale – which has a sticker on the cover stressing that this is not the original soundtrack. As if anyone could confuse Dan and Dale’s bland surf instrumentals with the real thing! This record in particular is filled with music that has nothing at all to do with Bond, other than the arbitrary titles, and some of the songs are borderline plagiaristic, as evidenced by the Bach-inspired “J.B. On The Rocks” which I included in the Man With The Golden Gun sequence. This is the sort of thing I went for throughout; if there was a song title that fit that particular novel’s theme, I used it – and James Bond is certainly on the “rocks” at the start of the final Fleming novel. Sometimes though it worked out very well, like Dan And Dale’s “Eve Of Explosion” and “The Shark Bite,” which neatly sum up the climax of Live And Let Die – Bond waiting for the limpet mine to explode and Mr. Big’s grisly fate in the gaping maw of a shark.

Some of the Bondsploitation LPs tried to pass themselves off as pseudo-soundtracks, likely in the hopes of fooling potential customers who didn’t bother to check the album credits. The Dan & Dale LP falls into this category, though as mentioned it at least has a cover sticker announcing that it isn’t the real thing. But two Bondsploitation records in particular are guilty of misinformation: Casino Royale by the Hollywood Studio Orchestra, and Thunderball And Other James Bond Favorites by the The Cheltenham Chorus And Orchestra (which exists in a stereo version, which I have and have used for the compilation; for some reason only lists a mono release). Both albums were released by budget label Wyncote, and both pass themselves off as soundtracks of their respective films, yet neither Burt Bacharach nor John Barry are credited. In fact, no one is credited for anything on either album. In the case of Casino Royale though this appears to be intentional, as the song titles are named after the chapter titles in Fleming’s novel: ie, “The White Tent Song” is named after chapter 19, in which Bond convalescences on the French coast, “Black Patch,” is named after the title of chapter 25, and so on. So in other words, this particular record is a soundtrack to Casino Royale the novel, not the goofy 1967 film. Sounds great, doesn’t it, until you discover that the tracks on it are exactly the same as those on Thunderball And Other James Bond Favorites by the Cheltenham Chorus and Orchestra, just given new titles! Only the cover version of “Casino Royale” is new. Bondsploitation buyer beware!!

Fellow Bondsploitation enthusiasts will note two records in particular are missing from this compilation: James Bond Songbook, by James Bond & His Sextet (Mirwood, 1966), and The Bedside Bond, by Des Champ and James Economides, Jr (Decca, 1966). Both albums are filled with Bond originals; the former, like David Lloyd And His London Orchestra’s Confidential, attempts theme songs for novels that hadn’t yet been filmed. The latter features groovy easy listening originals based around characters in the franchise. I didn’t use anything from James Bond Songbook because it’s officially available on remastered CD, and I didn’t want to piss any lawyers off – but more importantly, I didn’t use any of it because I’m not very fond of the album, even though like a true obsessive I have the LP (and scored it for two bucks!). It’s all swinging jazz courtesy bassist Jimmy “James” Bond and his sextet, done on organic instruments, without any of the electric embellisments I prefer in music. Given that, the music would sound at odds with the other material compiled here. 

As for The Bedside Bond, it’s not here for a few reasons, even though I love the album. For one, it was only released in the UK (by Penthouse Magazine!), and it was only released in mono. My goal was to use stereo mixes for my compilation. Also, The Bedside Bond LP is very scarce, and I personally don’t own a copy. However, the Vocalion label released it on CD in 2010 with a first-time-ever stereo mix, and it’s highly recommended. A brief sidenote on this one, and the work of James Economides, Jr; his name graces many Bondsploitation releases. He produced Elliott Fisher’s Bang! Bang! Bang!, and he wrote the three originals on Ray Martin’s Goldfinger. But here’s where it gets confusing. That Goldfinger LP suffers from some weird mistakes; the titles of two of those originals are different on the cover than on the LP label, at least on my copy. For example, the cover states “Doublecross” as the title of one of them, but the LP label states “Glarore’s Theme.” And for that matter, this exact same song – only with a different arrangement – appears on The Bedside Bond under the title “Prissy Miss Galore.” Another mistake on the Goldfinger cover is that “Honey’s Theme” is listed as one of the tracks “from the film Goldfinger,” whereas in reality it’s an original song dedicated to Honey Rider of Dr. No. (It also shows up with a different arrangement on The Bedside Bond). I’ve reflected the differing song names in my tracklist below, and “Honey’s Theme” is placed with the other songs inspired by Dr. No.

Without a doubt I spent more time on this post than any other I’ve done for the blog. I converted all my Bondsploitation LPs to MP3, determined the songs I wanted to include, and worked hard on the sequencing. Hell, I even spent a late night designing the cover on my phone. It was an obsession, I tell you! I actually did the brunt of the work two years ago, ironically right before I upgraded my turntable. Then I let the files sit around for a few years, too lazy to put everything together. I finally decided to finish the project, just in time to sort of be the Glorious Trash version of a Christmas present.

Anyway, enough interminable preample. Follow the link directly below, where you can download a zip file with the MP3s, the cover, and the tracklist, which I’ve also included below. Then get out your favorite Bond novel, pour yourself a dry martini (and unlike Daniel Craig’s so-called version of the character, you do give a damn whether it’s shaken or stirred), and enjoy Music To Read James Bond By – in stereo!

Music To Read James Bond By (Click Here To Download):

1. James Bond Theme – Ray Martin And His Orchestra
2. Casino Royale – David Lloyd And His London Orchestra
3. Baccarat – The Hollywood Studio Orchestra
4. The White Tent Song – The Hollywood Studio Orchestra
5. Oh! Oh! Seven – George Mann Orchestra
6. Live And Let Die – David Lloyd And His London Orchestra
7. Solitaire – The Sounds Orchestral
8. Eve Of Explosion – The “Sleepwalk” Guitars Of Dan and Dale
9. The Shark Bite – The “Sleepwalk” Guitars Of Dan and Dale
10. Moonraker – David Lloyd And His London Orchestra
11. “M” Joins The Hunt – The Zero Zero Seven Band
12. Moonshot – The Sounds Orchestral
13. Diamonds Are Forever – David Lloyd And His London Orchestra
14. Warm And Deadly – The Zero Zero Seven Band
15. Theme For Brawling – George Mann Orchestra
16. The Chase – Studio Group
17. From Russia With Love – The Sounds Orchestral
18. The Golden Horn – Elliott Fisher And His Orchestra
19. Girl Trouble – Ray Martin And His Orchestra
20. 007 – Ray Martin And His Orchestra
21. Dr. No’s Fantasy – Elliott Fisher And His Orchestra
22. The Island Speaks – Elliott Fisher And His Orchestra
23. Honey’s Theme – Ray Martin And His Orchestra
24. Underneath The Mango Tree – Ray Martin And His Orchestra
25. Blues For Dr. No – The Zero Zero Seven Band
26. Twisting With James – The Roland Shaw Orchestra
27. Goldfinger – Elliott Fisher And His Orchestra
28. A Gilded Corpse – The Zero Zero Seven Band
29. Pussy Galore Meets Bond – The Zero Zero Seven Band
30. Undercover (aka Bond’s Lament) – Ray Martin And His Orchestra
31. Doublecross (aka Galore’s Theme) – Ray Martin And His Orchestra
32. Blues For Pussy – The Sounds Orchestral
33. Mr. Oddjob – The Sounds Orchestral
34. Music Galore – Studio Group
35. Fort Knox Swings – Studio Group
36. Theme For Pussy Galore – Billy Strange
37. For Your Eyes Only – David Lloyd And His London Orchestra
38. Sporting Girls – George Mann Orchestra
39. Violence! – The Zero Zero Seven Band
40. Thunderball – Ray Martin And His Orchestra
41. Spectre Theme – The “Sleepwalk” Guitars Of Dan and Dale
42. The Bomb – The “Sleepwalk” Guitars Of Dan and Dale
43. Sea Chase – The Cheltenham Orchestra And Chorus
44. Mr. Kiss-Kiss, Bang-Bang – Elliott Fisher And His Orchestra
45. The Spy Who Loved Me – David Lloyd And His London Orchestra
46. Shiny Chandelier And Silk Stockings – George Mann Orchestra
47. Golden Glow – Studio Group
48. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – David Lloyd And His London Orchestra
49. Night Love – The Cheltenham Orchestra And Chorus
50. Spectre – The Sounds Orchestral
51. You Only Live Twice – Billy Strange
52. Kissy Suzuki – The Sounds Orchestral
53. Who’s James Anyway – George Mann Orchestra
54. The Man With The Golden Gun – David Lloyd And His London Orchestra
55. J.B. On The Rocks – The “Sleepwalk” Guitars Of Dan and Dale
56. O.K. You’re Faded – George Mann Orchestra
57. Octopussy And The Living Daylights – The London Original Sounds Orchestra
58. Caribbean Nights – The “Sleepwalk” Guitars Of Dan and Dale
59. Mr. Bond – The Roland Shaw Orchestra

Tracks 1,19,20,23,24,30, and 31 from the album Goldfinger And Other Music From James Bond Thrillers, by Ray Martin And His Orchestra (RCA Camden, 1965)

Tracks 2,6,10,13,36,44,47, and 53 from the album Confidential: Sounds For A Secret Agent, by David Lloyd And His London Orchestra (Epic, 1965)

Tracks 3 and 4 from the album Casino Royale, by The Hollywood Studio Orchestra (Wyncote, 1967)

Tracks 5,15,37,45,52 and 55 from the album Theme From The Motion Picture Casino Royale and Others, by George Mann Orchestra Featuring The Golden Trumpet (Custom Records, 1967)

Tracks 7,12,17,32,33,49, and 51 from the album Impressions Of James Bond, by The Sounds Orchestral (Parkway, 1965)

Tracks 8,9,40,41,54, and 57 from the album Theme From Thunderball And Other Themes, by The “Sleepwalk” Guitars Of Dan and Dale (Diplomat Records, 1965)

Tracks 11,14,25,28,29, and 38 from the album James Bond Thrillers!!!, by The Zero Zero Seven Band (Somerset, 1965)

Tracks 16,34,35, and 47 from the album Theme From Goldfinger And Others, by “Studio Group” (artist is not credited on the album) (Crown, 1964)

Tracks 18,21,22,27, and 43 from the album Bang! Bang! Bang!, by Elliott Fisher And His Orchestra (Capitol Records, 1966)

Track 26 from the album Themes From The James Bond Thrillers, by The Roland Shaw Orchestra (London Records, 1964)

Track 35 from the album Goldfinger, by Billy Strange (GNP Crescendo, 1965)

Track 39 from the album Thunderball And Other Thriller Music, by Ray Martin And His Orchestra (RCA Camden, 1965)

Tracks 43 and 49 from the album Thunderball And Other James Bond Favorites, by The Cheltenham Orchestra And Chorus (Wyncote, 1965) (note: Discogs only lists a mono release, but there was also a stereo release – the tracks here are taken from it)

Track 51 from the album James Bond Double Feature, by Billy Strange (GNP Crescendo, 1967)

Track 57 from the album James Bond 007 by The London Original Sounds Orchestra (Music For Pleasure, 1972)

Track 59 from the 45rpm promo-only single Thunderball/Mr. Bond (London Records, 1965)

Artwork credit: Daniel Schwartz: illustration for “You Only Live Twice, Part II,” Playboy Magazine May, 1964; I designed the cover with the Canva app

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Paperback Writer

Paperback Writer, by Mark Shipper
October, 1980  Ace Books
(Original private press edition 1977)

This is another one I read twenty-some years ago when I was on a Beatles kick, around the time I first read The Last Days Of John Lennon. This one I didn’t enjoy nearly as much, though; it was lauded by all the industry reviews of the day as the “best rock novel” ever, but I found it mostly tedious and annoying, not to mention the finale bittersweet because it was all about a Beatles reunion that never happened – and never would happen.

The book has always been rather hard to find, whether in the original small-press 1977 trade paperback edition or this Ace Books mass market edition from October 1980 (two months before Lennon’s murder), but it’s another instance in which I stumbled across a copy for cheap. Several years ago I found a mint condition copy at a Dallas Half Price Books for half off the cover price. I dutifully bought it, but didn’t plan to read it again. But recently I decided to give Paperback Writer another shot, and this time it resonated with me a lot more; in fact, I’m not sure if I even read the whole thing back in ’97. I think I just skipped forward to the reunion stuff. This time though I read the full monty and, while it’s certainly no Death Rock, it’s still a mostly-entertaining spoof of the now-sacred Beatles story, taking no prisoners in its acidic tone.

Which is not to say this is a dark comedy masterpiece along the lines of Boy Wonder. Indeed, Shipper’s humor is much more of the “groaner” variety, and isn’t subtle in the least. We’re talking “Plastic Bono Band” sort of unsubtle, ie the group John and Yoko start with Sonny and Cher in this spoofy retelling of the Beatles saga, rather than the real-life Plastic Ono Band. And for that matter, the ill-fated John-Sonny friendship, which is only started because Sonny gives John a reason to scream (this being during his primal scream years, and an otherwise-content John can find nothing else to scream about other than Sonny’s awful singing), is centered around Sonny’s hoarding of a long-discontinued brand of toothpaste.

I mention John Lennon so many times already because he is the protagonist of the tale, with George Harrison and Ringo Starr getting supporting status and Paul McCartney basically a glorified cameo. It becomes clear early on that Shipper is no fan of Paul’s, and it also becomes clear that Shipper was hoping John Lennon himself would read the book. Practically the entire thing is written from John’s point of view, and the absurd skewering of Beatles myths seems to be designed to catch John’s sense of humor. One wonders if Lennon indeed was aware of the book. John also doesn’t come off as poorly as the other Beatles: George is presented as a holier-than-though killjoy, Ringo an empty-headed fool who just wants to improve his skill at billiards, and Paul is a bossy, ego-driven opportunist.

But while I didn’t find the book as laugh out loud funny as others, I did appreciate how it so savagely spoofs the Beatles story. I mean their story has only become even more sacred forty-some years after this Ace publication, thus Shipper’s satire seems particularly irreverent and totally lives up to his declaration in the intro that Paperback Writer intends to capture the fun, punkish spirit of early rock, in which nothing was taken too seriously. In this regard all the familiar events of the Beatles history are taken out of proportion, or out of context: for example, Paul we are informed is already a celebrity in 1961, with his own recording career, and John is pushed by George, drummer Pete Best, and bassist Stu Sutcliffe to recruit Paul, as the Beatles need “a pretty face.”

Shortly after this Brian Epstein witnesses a Beatles gig and decides to give up his lucrative career as a plumber to manage them. Epstein being a plumber is a recurring gag that runs through the novel, as does his increasing reliance upon screenwriter Colin Owen, who charges ridiculous fees for ridiculous opinions. (For example, twenty thousand pounds to come up with the title for a movie that documents the Beatles’s 1966 concert at Shea Stadium…and after a few days of pondering Owen declares the movie should be titled “The Beatles At Shea Stadium.”) We know from the start that this isn’t a book the Beatles scholar should refer to; Epstein pushes the boys (now minus Stu, who dies off page, and Pete Best, who is perfunctorily replaced with Ringo) to record a demo…which features “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” alongside stuff like “Twist And Shout.”

Here we also see that Shipper’s humor is zany; Epstein barges into EMI and tries to talk up the demo to producer George Martin, wanting to record it on cassette tape…only to be informed by Martin that cassettes haven’t been invented yet. The rampant footnotes throughout the novel serve up more zany humor, for example a comment like “This Beatles single still stands up today” receives the footnote “Particularly when it is leaned against a wall,” and the like. As I say, it’s lowbrow humor for sure, and only late in the novel (which runs longer than you’d expect, at 254 pages) does Shipper start to get a little more high-brow. In the first half of the book his focus is more on taking various stages of the Beatles myth and poking fun at them.

I appreciated that Shipper wasn’t too hung up on any one Beatles era; he rushes through all of them, with maybe a little more spotlight here on the early days of their budding fame. Even here John Lennon is the main protagonist; at a club he sees a rival band performing, and it is of course the Rolling Stones, but John’s eye is more on the “mature-looking Oriental woman” at Mick Jagger’s side. Yes, it’s none other than Yoko, though Shipper doesn’t tell us her name for a few chapters; in one of the more acidic of his in-jokes he has that Mick is the one who met Yoko at her famous art happening, not John, after which she was forever by Mick’s side. But John, despite being bluntly turned down by Yoko, pines for her to such an extent that he even agrees to write a song for the struggling Stones (“I Wanna Be Your Man,” of course).

Oh and I should mention, even though the Yoko meeting is much earlier than in reality, John is also already married when he meets his soul-mate, a tidbit Shipper just casually drops. The Beatles don’t have any children in this book and Yoko and Linda McCartney are the only two women who are ever mentioned; we learn Ringo’s married in the late ‘70s section of the book, but his wife isn’t even named. For that matter, when John finally does end up with Yoko, it too happens off-page and we meet up with the duo as they’re headed for their famous bed-in. I guess stuff like this is indication that Paperback Writer is just a satire, a spoof, and one shouldn’t look for actual “novel-type stuff” in it. But it seems like a big miss that Shipper doesn’t even bother showing us how John and Yoko finally get together, particularly given that John’s unreturned love for her serves up several running gags in the first quarter of the novel. 

But don’t get me wrong, some of the goofy stuff really is funny. Like the movie A Hard Day’s Night, which here is a serious dramatic effort, starring Ringo, with no music. This is the first appearance of screenwriter Colin Wilson, and the movie is his brainchild; it features Ringo in a library for the entire runtime, occasionally asking librarians (played by the other Beatles) for such and such a book. We even get a fake industry review of the film – the novel is filled with captioned photos and review excerpts, all of which add to the pseudo-nonfiction vibe of the book. Only the captions are all goofy (like the TWA plane the Beatles flew on their first trip to America being one of the hottest Beatlemania collectables these days), and most of the “reviews” just repeat what Shipper’s already written in the narrative. (Save for a long pseudo-Rolling Stone review of their ’79 comeback album, Get Back, which successfully spoofs the famous RS house style.)

The “bigger than Jesus” incident is summarily satirized, but here George quits the band due to the ungodliness of John’s comment; he only comes back if he can have at least two of his own songs on each Beatles album. The spoofery continues with the album Help!, which here isn’t a movie soundtrack – in this novel the Beatles only ever made one movie, which was a flop – but an album comprised of music written by other musicians. This is because the Beatles were too exhausted to write their own material and sent out ads in music magazines for “help.” Humorously, one of the tracks on this album is written by a young Jim Morrison: “Peace Frog.” The famous India trip is summarily trotted out and spoofed, with John bullying folk singer Donovan and Beach Boy Mike Love buddying up with the Beatles.

Sgt. Pepper’s gets the most spotlight of all the Beatles albums, which makes sense, as at the time of Paperback Writer’s publication it was still considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time. (As if! Hell it isn’t even the best Beatles album – not by a long shot.) John, on location for a bit part in How I Won The War, learns that officers in the British army are given special pepper and salt, and he mentions this to Paul. Months later Paul is still thinking about it, and wants to do an entire album protesting this elitism. The best part of this section is the material about the “Dronees,” ie the hardcore fans who listen to the famous inner groove tone on side 2 of Sgt. Pepper’s that was only audible on manual turntables – which Shipper informs us will play into eternity, or at least until the turntable breaks. An entire cult springs up around this, with activists listening to the tone for days, weeks, and in one notable instance, years.

Otherwise Shipper skips entire albums, not to mention songs – curiously, the song “Paperback Writer” itself isn’t even mentioned – and from Sgt. Pepper’s we go straight into the White Album, which turns out to be the last album the Beatles release as a group. Due to increasing in-fighting during recording of that album, with each Beatle using the others as his veritable backing band instead of collaborating as in the old days, the four are ready to split. This is exacerbated by their desire to get a new manager after Brian Epstein’s passing. John and the others want Allan Klein, and Paul wants the father of his new girlfriend, Linda Eastman. They break up over this, years earlier than in reality, and the ensuing cobbled-together album is titled The Beatles Break Up. It’s sort of an amalgamation of Abbey Road and Let It Be, with Phil Spector performing production duties on it; he strikes up a friendship with John, occasionally doling out career advice in between interminable reflections on his early career.

Post-breakup Shipper gets even more fictitious in his mock history. As mentioned John and Yoko hook up with Sonny and Cher and form the Plastic Bono Band, and this part actually gets a long portion of the narrative. George, much as in real life, uses up the majority of his song ideas with a triple-album release and spirals into a freefall afterwards, struggling to complete albums. The humor is scathing when it comes to Ringo and Paul; for the former, Shipper has him becoming the biggest success of the post-Beatles, with a succession of top ten hits (unless I missed the joke, they’re all songs Ringo merely drummed on in real life, not songs he wrote or sang); for the latter, Paul is roundly mocked as a shell of his former self, turning out albums that no one listens to or buys. Here Paperback Writer really shows its age, as McCartney’s early albums, especially his first self-titled release, have become very well respected. McCartney basically prefigures the lo-fi movement of the ‘90s, some of it sounding eerily like Beck. But then, this could just be Shipper’s own bias; as stated, he clearly has no love for Paul.

As the ‘70s progress, with John again taking up most of the narrative as he briefly becomes involved in revolutionary politics, the fortunes of the Beatles continue to wane. To the point that Linda carries out an intervention on Paul; shortly before their latest Wings tour is to begin, Linda first drops the bombshell that Steely Dan has asked her to join them. (More contemporary bias here with Linda’s musicianship constantly mocked, though in reverse fashion; Shipper often informs us how stellar a keyboard player and singer she is.) She’ll only go on the Wings tour if Paul credits her name above his! This though is her wakeup call; she wants Paul to admit he has been considering returning to the Beatles all along. He sees the light, and calls up the others…more anticlimactic stuff here with John himself already having decided to get back with the others. His musical career too has plummeted…no Imagine exists in this novel, and John’s totally lost his creative edge.

Curiously, we’re given the actual date the Beatles get back together: February 5, 1979. This was actually the future, so far as Shipper’s original ’77 publication was concerned. The reunion occurs at Ringo’s Los Angeles mansion and here, finally, Shipper is free to write an actual sort of novel, now that he doesn’t have to concern himself with detailing various “Beatle moments” to spoof. There’s a nice bit where the first day is just the friends getting back together, ie John, Paul, George and Ringo goofing off, as in the old days, and how this is the actual reunion for the Beatles themselves, not the “Beatles reunion” the fans have clammored for. But after this it’s down to the business of writing music for a new album. Only problem is, they’re all fresh out of ideas.

Many contemporary reviews claimed that this reunion section was likely an accurate prediction of what a Beatles reunion would be like – how the four would be unable to capture their early magic, how the ensuing album might be below expectations, a la the Byrds’s ridiculed (but unsung, dammit!) ’73 reunion LP. What these reviewers failed to mention was that in Shipper’s world the Beatles are at a creative nadir when they reunite in 1979. In reality, John Lennon was about to come out of his brief retirement with a wealth of new material, and Paul was about to again predict the musical future with McCartney II.

In Paperback Writer, John and Paul have to sit and labor over new music; this leads to a very effective scene where Paul tells John to stop worrying over rock perfection. The drive they had as kids in Hamburg is gone, will never return, because they achieved their dreams. Now there’s nothing left but to please themselves. Paul states that he’s known all along his solo songs are no good (again, this is Shipper talking – I love the majority of Paul’s solo output); “Silly Love Songs” in particular is mentioned as a song Paul wrote just to please himself, to feed his own creative drive. John is inspired by this…and then sits down to write a song about Gilligan’s Island. This sequence comes the closest of anything in Paperback Writer to capturing the acidic whit of Boy Wonder, and it’s a shame the rest of the novel isn’t up to the level.

We don’t get much detail on what the new songs sound like; in fact, Shipper never describes the actual music of the Beatles throughout the book, just mentioning the occasional lyrics. We do learn that George Harrison delivers “Disco Jesus,” which caters to his religious impulses as well as the hot new disco trend, and that John has one called “Please Freeze Me,” which is about his desire to be cryogenically preserved upon death. I found this very peculiar, and proof that Shipper knew his Beatles…it would appear that John’s fixation with death was noted even before his murder, or at least that Shipper noted it. Seriously, the guy was often mentioning death or dying, from his Beatles work to his solo output…even in interviews on the day of his actual death…and whether by accident or design Shipper managed to work this into his fictitious Beatles reunion album.

The album is titled Get Back and it’s produced by Phil Spector; it’s released in July of 1979, just in time for a national tour the Beatles have planned. It is a massive critical and commercial flop. Shipper doesn’t dwell too much on the Beatles’s disappointment over this; Paul just gives John another pep talk, reminding him of the discussion from a few months back in which he told John that feeding the creative drive is all that matters, and who cares what the critic or the fans think. However things get even worse – the album’s such a bomb that concert promoters will only take the Beatles if they take second billing to Peter Frampton. The Beatles even have to fight to get co-billing with…the Sex Pistols. We only get to see their first show, which takes place of course in Shea Stadium; the Beatles lose the crowd until they play the oldies, ie their very earliest hits.

John’s the one who sums it all up for us, as the Beatles recuperate backstage; their time as idols is long over. There follows another memorable moment, again played for laughs but having deeper connotations, when all four Beatles spring for cover at the rumble of what they think is an earthquake. However it’s just the fans out there reacting to the entrance of Peter Frampton. John here says let Frampton enjoy his moment, as it won’t last, either. And further, the fans haven’t reacted well to the Beatles reunion because they never really wanted the Beatles to reunite…they just wanted to go back to their youth, and looked to the Beatles as the symbol of their youth. The novel ends here, with the Beatles declaring that they’ll finish out their tour of America, but that’s it – the Beatles are officially over for good.

All of this is more so a commentary on the expectations Shipper and his generation placed on the Beatles, not so much what an actual reunion would’ve been like. Despite Shipper’s intentions to skewer all reunion expectations, it’s absurd to think that these four would together deliver something as miserable as Get Back is described. And I was born like over four years after the group broke up, thus I personally don’t in any way see them as the embodiment of my younger years – I just see them as the defining rock band of their era – so Shipper’s plot rings hollow forty-plus years on. People will probably still be playing the Beatles when mankind migrates to other planets.

It must’ve made for a bittersweet experience for the fans who read this book shortly after the Ace publication. Lennon’s murder casts a depressing shadow over the events of the final quarter, as obviously we’ll never know what a Beatles reunion would’ve really been like. I also wonder if Lennon’s murder is a reason the book so quickly dropped off the radar, receiving this Ace mass market edition and nothing further. More people should be aware of it, though, if nothing but for the irreverent mocking of the Beatles myth. But I still wouldn’t say it’s the greatest rock novel, and not even close.

Shipper too seems to have disappeared; he didn’t publish any more novels. In February 2007 Blog To Comm ran a feature on Shipper’s ‘70s rock fanzine Flash, and Shipper himself left a comment on the post, where he briefly mentions Paperback Writer, stating that he wrote it “to get known, [but] now I prefer not to be known.” If Shipper’s still around maybe he could reconsider, and at least epublish Paperback Writer so more people could have the opportunity to read it.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Mission: Impossible #2: Code Name: Judas

Mission: Impossible #2: Code Name: Judas, by Max Walker
No month stated, 1968  Popular Library

The second installment of the four-volume Mission: Impossible tie-in series isn’t by Walter Wager, who wrote the first one; whereas Wager posed as “John Tiger” for his book, this second volume is credited to “Max Walker,” which was a Popular Library house name used by a few writers. One of these writers was Michael Avallone, who served as “Max Walker” for his 1970 novelization of The Last Escape, and perhaps it’s due to this that most assume that Avallone also wrote the second and third Mission: Impossible tie-ins. However, it’s clearly not Avallone – his style is not evident at all in Code Name: Judas – and thus was the work of some other still-unknown writer. (I also recall seeing a thread somewhere, years ago, where someone who knew Avallone said that Avallone himself stated that neither of the “Max Walker” Mission: Impossible novels were by him.)

At 126 pages of big ol’ print, Code Name: Judas is more of a glorified novella. It’s definitely fast-moving, filled with shootouts and car chases. As a swinging ‘60s spy thriller, it’s a success. But as a Mission: Impossible novelization, it’s a failure. While Wager clearly was familiar with the show, Walker only seems to be aware of the minor details, ie the names of the protagonists and the fact that they each have different specialties. Otherwise he turns in something wholly different from the show. Impossible Missions Force leader Jim Phelps is the star here, with the other IMF members getting minor spotlight. In this regard the book is like any other generic ‘60s spy yarn, featuring a square-jawed, action-prone hero with a love for danger. He even packs a gadget sort of gun – a .32 caliber pistol hidden in the brass buckle of his belt.

Unlike the strong and silent strategist of the actual show, this Jim Phelps has an eye for the ladies and looks at the espionage business as a “game.” He also lacks the thorough planning of his TV counterpart; Code Name: Judas breaks the cardinal rule of Mission: Impossible in that not only is Phelps’s cover blown, but outside disturbances threaten to wreck the entire IMF plot. The planning in the show ran with clockwork precision, even the “mistakes” usually revealed to be part of Phelps’s master plan. Not so here. But then, Walker has turned in something that would seem more in-line with one of the Eurospy movies of the day; it’s all fistfights, shootouts, and car chases as various enemy agents try to take out Phelps.

We meet Phelps in Paris, having just broken off a nightcap engagement with some busty Swedish babe he’s met. Word has come in that there’s a new assignment, thus he goes to an electronics repair shop to pick up his dictacting machine. Inside the booth, after trading a code phrase with the proprietor, Phelps is given his mission via audio recording; the tape erases itself after playing. This, followed by the bit where Phelps looks through a dossier of IMF agents to pick out his team, will be the only scene in the novel that vaguely seems like Mission: Impossible. Phelps’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to find out if a notorious freelance spy codenamed Atlas has really died in a car crash in Geneva, and if he’s still alive to find out what Atlas has learned about Red China’s plans for nuclear weaponization.

Of course after some deliberation Phelps picks the same team as appeared in every season 2-3 episode: electronics whiz Barney Collier, honeytrap Cinnamon Carter, strongman Willy Armitage, and master thespian Rollin Hand. Walker doesn’t know what to do with them, really; Barney’s gift for invention only comes into play in the climax, with a crane-like contraption which is built and used virtually off-page, Willy spends the entire novel posing as a hotel valet (save for one part where he carries a guy wrapped up in an exercise mat), Cinnamon poses as a nightclub chanteuse (with Barney as her piano player!), and Rollin poses as an addled tourist from the Midwest. Meanwhile Phelps does all the heroic man of action stuff, acting more like a field agent than a strategist; in this way the novel predicts where the series would ultimately go, particularly when Martin Landau (aka Rollin Hand) and Barbara Bain (aka Cinnamon Carter) left the show. (And I still like the final two seasons the best!)

We know we’re in for a different sort of Mission: Impossible immediately after Phelps receives his audio briefing; the proprietor of the repair shop is abducted by a group of gunmen, taken off for interrogation. Then on the flight to Geneva Phelps is bored by an “old Brixton” in the seat next to him who won’t stop talking about this or that; the man insists Phelps take the book he’s reading. Upon arrival in his hotel Phelps will discover the book is actually a bomb. Thus he knows his cover has been blown – and the assignment’s just started! The IMF team all operate out of the same Geneva hotel, Phelps as a banker here to “investigate the credit” of Cinnamon’s character. And Rollin is posing as the cousin of the man killed in the car crash, the man who might or might not have been Atlas: I forgot to mention, but Atlas has never been properly photographed, and one thing known about him is that he wears a false nose, his real one blown off in WWII. It’s suspected that he staged his death here, using a phony passport. Thus Rollin poses as the phony “cousin” of this phony “car crash victim.”

Honestly, the stuff with Rollin, Cinnamon, and Barney is page-filling at its worst; Willy isn’t included because Walker doesn’t even waste any time on him. The dude literally spends the majority of the tale off-page, posing as a valet. But again there’s little fidelity to the true Mission: Impossible vibe; Rollin is confronted by Swedish authorities who accuse him of being Atlas, here to cover his tracks, so Rollin takes a pseudo-cyanide pill which mocks heart attack symptoms. With the help of an apparently-pretty nurse – alternately described as chunky or leggy – he’s able to free himself. We also get a lot of padding about Cinnamon singing various torch songs in the hotel club, Barney doing his best to accompany her on piano. It’s very evident that Walker is struggling to justify the presence of these other IMF members, but ultimately they don’t contribute much.

Instead, and again unlike the actual show, things move along due to outside interferences. The old Brixton shows up in Phelp’s room one night and announces he was previously with “the other side” but wants to come over to Phelps’s. He claims he was pushed into those failed assassination attempts, and also that he too is here to find Atlas, and also might know where he is. This leads to another very un-Mission: Impossible-esque moment, as he and Phelps get in a car-chase/shootout, one that leaves the old man dead. From his dying words Phelps learns that Atlas is in disguise in the very same hotel Phelps and his team is staying in, taking us into a Scooby Doo sort of finale in which Atlas is outed, of course via yanking off his fake nose!

But this too is out of touch with the show’s vibe; it happens during a knock-down drag-out fight between Atlas and Phelps in the hotel gym. Phelps gets the upper hand, which leads to the aforementioned scene of Willy carrying an unconscious Atlas in a gym mat up to Phelps’s room. But even here things continue in your everday spy pulp vibe, with “enemy agents” capturing Cinnamon and offering her in exchange for Atlas. Phelps goes against the IMF policy – ie that a mission is a success if the goal is achieved, not necessarily if none of the IMF agents are injured or killed – and plans to rescue her. Here Willy’s crane device is quickly used to hoist Cinnamon to safety while the enemy agents are blown up. Walker can’t even pan out on his own subplots; we know early on there’s a brawny Chinese agent with martial arts skills who is also after Atlas, but we never even meet him, and must assume he’s one of these enemy agents!

Humorously, the book caps off with Phelps and his team having brief moments of reflection; Willy regrets he gets all the grunt work but he’s happy to see it’s going to be a sunny day today(!), Cinnamon realizes “the boys” came to her rescue and thus plans to reward them in some way (one wonders what the hell that is going to lead to), Rollin enjoys losing himself in his roles, Barney enjoys using his skills for invention, and Phelps enjoys the game itself. And that’s it, folks – we’re informed that the last part of Phelps’s plan involves smuggling Atlas back to the US so the Red Chinese info can be extracted from him, but all we see is a goofy scene where he’s hidden inside a piano and Barney, still posing as a pianist, fools some customs agents into letting it through. We don’t even find out what happens to Atlas, the info, anything – we just end the tale knowing that Phelps is about to get lucky with the Swedish babe he almost hooked up with at novel’s start.

While it’s definitely not what you’d expect from Mission: Impossible, Codename: Judas is a perfectly fine piece of ‘60s pulp spy-fi. Oh and I forgot to mention, the otherwise-inexplicable title comes from Cinnamon, who claims that Atlas is a “Judas” given to his willingness to sell info to any power. I assume Popular Library came up with the title and Walker had to justify it somehow. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if the same Walker wrote the next one; Wager didn’t return until the fourth (and final) volume of the series. No guesses on who this Walker was; his style (or her style, come to think of it) is fairly bland, just giving the necessary info and moving on. Other than a fondness for paranthetical sentences, there’s really nothing noteworthy about the style, or any clues about who the author might’ve really been.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

City Come A-Walkin’

City Come A-Walkin,’ by John Shirley
July, 1980  Dell Books

Back in the early ‘90s at the height of the cyberpunk craze I first heard of John Shirley’s City Come A-Walkin,’ which at that point was a nigh-legendary early example of the subgenre, supposedly impossible to find. I remember seeing ads in magazines for a pricey trade paperback reprint of the book, wondering if it would be worth checking out. Then I moved on to other things and forgot about it, until one day sometime in 2005 I found this original Dell paperback at a Dallas Half Price Bookstore. At half off the original cover price and in mint shape, to boot. This was back in the days when HPBS didn’t put stickers with inflated prices on every single damn “old” book and actually lived up to the name of the store.

An interesting note is the big and bold “Fantasy” on the cover of this Dell edition. This is an accurate designation, because it turns out City Come A-Walkin’ is less Neuromancer-esque cyberpunk and more of a magic realism sort of thing. This isn’t just due to the premise of the book – that the city of San Francisco is personified into a living being which interacts with chosen vassals. It’s true of the entire narrative. Characters react to bizarre situations with nonchalance, and we even have some characters who are capable of ESP, apparently a fairly common thing.

This would be one thing if we were in some far-off future, but City Come A-Walkin’ is set in 1991. The vibe is cyberpunk in how the corporations and banks have pretty much taken over daily life and also in the general air of urban decay. Otherwise there are no parts where the heroes jack into the Net and go off into virtual reality worlds, a la William Gibson. In this regard Shirley’s work is actually more prescient, as the computers are mostly used for financials and surfing the web – there’s an accurate prediction of what the internet will be like when one character visits a phone booth that’s also a news kiosk, magazines and newspapers being searchable onscreen.

The urban malaise is made clear posthaste; the novel starts in the grungy inner city of San Francisco and stays there for the duration. “Angst rock” is the music of the day, the polar opposite of the bland disco music which still plays in clubs. Shirley clearly wrote the novel in the late ‘70s, but he does get it right in that the “disco” of his 1991 is “made by computers,” and thus has more in common with the “disco music” we really did get in the early ‘90s: techno. As for angst rock, it’s clearly modelled after punk, only apparently with more of a heavy metal edge and adlibbed lyrics. At least when Catz Wailen is doing the singing; she opens the novel, sitting down in a studio booth to hear back a few hours of music she’s recorded with her band. Only in a prefigure of the EVP phenomenon, she starts hearing a familiar voice speaking to her beneath the music.

The voice belongs to Stu Cole, and it’s clear from the outset he’s “no longer with us.” But rather than speaking to Catz from the afterlife, he’s moved into some sort of quasi-limbo. He wants to tell Catz what happened to him, but to do so he will go into “the necessary mindset [of the] third person,” which fortunately means that the novel’s not going to be in first-person – I personally hate sci-fi that’s written in first-person. From here we slip back a few weeks to May of 1991, as Cole tends to his grungy bar in San Francisco while Catz Wailen, uh, wails away with her punk-metal band. Cole isn’t your average protagonist: forty-two, with thinning hair and a growing pot belly, he was briefly involved in local politics and is in love with San Francisco, even decorating his hovel of an apartment with photos he’s taken of it.

This night Cole notices a strange patron in his bar, an otherwise nondescript dude of medium height and build who has a granite-visaged face which is mostly hid behind a pair of mirror-lensed sunglasses (a look soon to be a cyberpunk staple). Cole notices this guy interracting with some of the patrons and gets a weird vibe from him, so he asks Catz to check him out. Catz has ESP, conveniently enough, and is able to get a good look at who this guy is and what he wants. She sends Cole what she’s learned via “psi-shots” as she sings with her band. In other words she sends Cole mental flashes and also sings about this stranger in her ad-libbed vocals. This is where the title of the book comes from. It’s all pretty goofy.

Even goofier – the stranger is City, ie the City of San Francisco itself, taking the form of a human and walking among his people. Cole just accepts this, again indicating that this is more of a magic realism sort of affair. Catz for her part knows beyond question who and what City is thanks to her ESP – and folks I have no idea why Shirley gave the book’s three protagonists names that all start with “C.” I mean, Cole, Catz, and City. Why not just add a Cora and Carlos to the lineup? Luckily there’s a bit more inventiveness with the plot. City isn’t just the city in a human body, he’s also the personification of the will of the people, a subject very near and dear to Cole’s heart. His own political objective was to give voice to the inner city dwellers who are increasingly straightjacketed by the corporations and banks, thus we are to understand why he’ll be drawn to City.

City makes a memorable first impression. He causes two men and a woman to start fighting and stabbing each other; turns out City has informed the trio that they’re cheating on each other. After this City rushes off to confront some hookers, returning them to their parents, City adopting new guises with each visit. Oh and goofily enough his being always emanates disco music, which only Cole can hear, and this is supposed to be another indication of City’s bizarre powers, but really it just made me think of that pimp in I’m Gonna Get You, Sucka who had a dude with a boombox follow him around to provide his theme song. There’s also a running subplot about Vigilantes who wear stockings over their faces and who have declared war on the hookers of the city; Cole’s received a threat from them, given that his business is an unofficial headquarters of the local hookers. The Vigilantes are basically the brownshirts of the government and will serve as the main villains throughout.

Eventually the plot surfaces: the Mafia is becoming involved with the banks and the government in a corrupt scheme which will further shackle the miserable populace; more importantly so far as City is concerned, a global internet will eradicate the boundaries which separate cities, rendering them needless, and City will die. Shirley of course doesn’t use the term “internet,” but this is what he describes – all customers and employees shopping and working from their own homes via computer interface. I found this interesting because Shirley in his own way is advocating populism over globalism – there’s actually less of a leftist reactionary tone to the novel than I expected there would be – with the concern that the identities of individual cities (and people) will be lost in the sprawl of global conformity.

The only problem is, City gradually proves to be what the British would call a “nutter.” He has chosen Cole as his latest vassal due to Cole’s love of San Francisco and its people; Catz can also come along due to her psi abilities, which allow for easier grasping of City’s goals and objectives. Thus he sends the two off on increasingly-dangerous missions to destabilize the Mafia-bank corruption which threatens San Francisco’s autonomy. From the start City is sadistic; he sends Cole and Catz into a bank building, armed with guns and wearing masks, and somehow compels Cole to pull the trigger and kill a Mafia bigwig. A guard is also killed in a particularly cruel manner, with a firehose jammed through his eye.

In addition to the thinning hair and expanding gut Stu Cole is a much different protagonist than Shirley’s series characters Jack Sullivan and Traveler; he dwells on his acts of violence through the novel, plagued with nightmares of having taken lives. Another big difference is that Cole isn’t as likable as either Sullivan or Traveler, but this is mostly because he becomes an unthinking dupe of City as the novel progresses. He not only lacks the backbone but also the memorable spark of either of those later characters. And as for the narrative itself, true Shirley was more of a veteran writer when he moved on the The Specialist and Traveler, but it would seem the action-centric themes of those series books forced him to be a more streamlined writer; too much of City Come A-Walkin’ comes off as filler, a lot of it comprised of word painting or flights of fancy which Shirley didn’t saddle his later novels with.

As mentioned Cole becomes more of a willing pawn in City’s increasingly maddened schemes. City doesn’t have as much power during the day, thus can’t appear in human form during daylight and will speak to Cole over the TV airwaves. Cole meanwhile is under attack by the government, his credit erased – a theme here is that there’s no such thing as physical money anymore, all of it credit via bank accounts, and Shirley’s argument is how a corrupt, overbearing government could destroy someone’s entire wellbeing with the click of a button. Cole’s also losing his club, the banks asking for an insane fee to buy it back. At this point though he’s almost in a zombie state, shuffling around the city at City’s behest, usually getting in scrapes with the Vigilantes.

Cole’s also not as savvy as Sullivan or Traveler when it comes to the action stuff; he constantly makes bonheaded moves. Like when he and Catz get in a firefight with some Vigilantes, then run after them and jump in their truck as they get away. In other words the two just pretty much hand themselves over to their enemies. Here Cole and Catz are beaten for info, and finally City’s able to free them – starting a fire in the house – but Cole’s forced to leave Catz behind. He gets her back in another action scene, one with a memorable start: Cole meets himself, appearing as a ghostly figure a la the “Burning Man” material in The Stars My Destination. Ghost-Cole tells our Cole where Catz is, what to look out for, and etc. Another reminder of the surreal nature of the novel is that Catz, upon being freed by Cole in a brief action scene, is pretty nonchalant about Cole’s story of meeting his future self.

Another big difference between this and Shirley’s series work – the sex is a lot less explicit here. When Cole and Catz get to the expected tomfoolery it’s all off-page. Cole for his part has been suffering from impotence, something Catz intuits thanks to her ESP, but he’s also nervous because he’s so “old” and out of shape and Catz is all young and pretty and stuff, or at least I assume she is; Shirley doesn’t much describe her, but she comes off like Patti Smith mixed with Debbie Harry or something. When Catz pleads with Cole to break it off with City because of the increasing danger, not to mention Cole’s increasing slavery, he refuses. At this point Catz herself is already on City’s bad list; he’s told Cole that “the girl can no longer be trusted” because she doubts City’s omniscience. Catz ends up leaving San Francisco with her band.

It’s hard to root for Cole at this point; he hides in an apartment, having lost his own place, waiting loyally by the TV for any messages from City. Now he’s a terrorist for City, planting bombs and getting in firefights at his behest without ever questioning anything. And City becomes more and more of a villain, even beginning to question Cole’s loyalty. The book climaxes with a bizarre, surreal moment in which City tries to kill Cole, with Cole ultimately finding himself in a removed sort of reality. This takes us back to where we started, and Shirley gives a memorable finale in which Catz basically tells ghost-Cole to kiss off – she’s too busy living life to care about his deranged “cities must survive” shit.

Shirley includes some cool stuff here and there, in particular an angst rock concert by a group called The First Tongue, which as described sounds like modern group Ghost, down to the clerical robes and facepaint. Even cooler, Shirley references Blue Oyster Cult here. The urban squalor is well depicted, as are the dangers of an overbearing totalitarian government. But I really didn’t care for any of the characters. Sure, Shirley probably considers The Specialist and Traveler as just contract work, but the protagonists of those series were likable and easy to root for. His writing in City Come A-Walkin’ is strong, though, and in some ways prefigures his later work in the masterful Wetbones. Overall I can kind of see why this one was so regaled in the cyberpunk days, but I personally didn’t think it lived up to its reputation.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Operation Hang Ten #8: Beach Queen Blowout

Operation Hang Ten #8: Beach Queen Blowout, by Patrick Morgan
No month stated, 1971  Macfadden Books

Well it only took eight installments, but we now actually have a volume number on the covers of Operation Hang Ten. Unfortunately only two volumes were to follow, so one wonders if the numbering helped or hurt the series. George Snyder again serves as “Patrick Morgan,” turning in basically the same novel as the other three volumes I’ve read: egomaniac protagonist Bill Cartwright (aka “The Cartwright,” as he often thinks of himself) bumbles his way through a lurid caper in which at least one curvy young beauty is sadistically murdered, usually as a result of Bill’s own foolish actions. We also get sermonizing on the general shittiness of the world.

That being said, Beach Queen Blowout certainly promises a lot. In fact it has a setup frequent blog commenter Grant would appreciate: a gang of hotbod young women, led by a bikini-clad babe who sports a heart-shaped birthmark above her left breast, has been knocking over banks and terrorizing the business establishments around Huntington Beach, California. There’s also some stuff about oil rigs off the coast being sabotaged as part of a blackmail scheme. But Snyder takes this material – which possibly was devised by series producer Lyle Kenyon Engel – and basically ignores it, instead intent on telling the tale of how “The Cartwright” falls in love for the first time

Yes, friends, it’s a “very special episode” of Operation Hang Ten, with Bill (as Snyder usually refers to him) falling head over heels for a young beauty named Lynn he meets early in his investigation. This at the expense of the more lurid (and potentially sleazy) setup promised by the back cover copy – no lie, much is made of this mysterious criminal babe in her bikini that shows off a heart-shaped birthmark, and while Bill makes some cursory attempts at finding out who she is, ultimately her reveal is almost casually dropped on the reader and Bill doesn’t even bother taking her down himself. And the rest of her bikini-clad gang is similarly dispensed with off-page, our hero more concerned with doling out justice to a handful of people.

As usual the entire premise of “Operation Hang Ten,” as devised by chief Jim Dana, is hard to buy, especially if Bill Cartwright’s performance in the line of duty can be taken as a sign of how the other operatives fare. Regardless Dana, who appears a bit more in the narrative this time than in previous volumes, vociferously defends his organization, claiming that the young surfers, punks, and whatnot he’s hired have a better chance of squaring counterculture problems than regular secret agent types could. So Bill’s been sent to Huntington Beach to figure out who the girls are behind these crimes.

There’s no pickup from the previous volume, but John “Fast Black” Washington, the black surfer we saw in #3: Deadly Group Down Under, is again hanging out with Bill. We aren’t reminded as often that he’s black this time, no doubt because he isn’t in the narrative very much, other than to meet some local gal and fall in love with her. Love is certainly in the air in Beach Queen Blowout. Bill and John are hanging around Huntington Beach, complaining about all the lousy beaches given the recent oil spills. Bill meanwhile has been sent here specifically to find out who is damaging those offshore rigs, but instead he bitches about the “punk waves” and wonders if he’s ever going to crack this case.

We’re often told via Bill’s reflection on events that some hotbod women (along with a few “hard-core bitches” who are a bit more “Amazon” in stature) have been hitting businesses, led by the notorious birthmarked babe. Bill’s sure these girls are behind the oil rig hits – eventually we’ll learn the oil company which owns the rigs is being blackmailed for a million dollars or the rigs will be destroyed – but he doesn’t do much to investigate. Not that he needs to, as all the answers will literally fall into his lap. And I mean “literally” in the, uh, literal sense, and not in the figurative sense that most people mistakenly use it in, ie “Steam literally came out of his ears.” (A comment I’ve actually seen online.) 

Bill and John run into a pair of gals in a dune buggy, both of them “table stuff,” as Bill often reflects. He goes for the hotter of the two, Lynn, though keeps reminding us that the other one, Alice, is almost just as hot – she’s just more quiet and shy. Lynn seems to like Bill and tells him she knows of the one good beach left in Huntington, a private cove. She invites him to it, and Bill finds it inundated with women – some of them rather butch-looking – with “Beach Queens” painted all over the place. He makes cursory attempts at looking for any heart-shaped birthmarks; he’s determined Lynn doesn’t have one, thanks to her skimpy bikini, but shy and quiet Alice always covers her big ol’ boobs with a t-shirt, mysteriously enough.

The focus is more on the budding relationship between Bill and Lynn. He finds himself falling for her quick wit, and the great body doesn’t hurt. However, she has ulterior motives; she wants to hire Bill, having seen the “Private Eye” sign on his trailer. Speaking of which, we get a running tour of Bill’s swank trailer, with it’s refrigerator-sized computer that controls everything from the temperature to the drinks Bill is constantly “dialing up.” We also get a good look at his swinging bedroom, complete with mirrored ceiling, colored lighting which matches the mood and flow of the “violin” music that pipes through the speakers, and a roller bar that goes from the foot to the top of the mattress and back again. This latter element is put to memorable use when Bill and Lynn get to their inevitable tomfoolery, Snyder again not descending to outright sleaze but not fading to black, either. In fact this is the most explicit volume of the series I’ve yet read.

Next morning Lynn’s gone and Bill finds himself thinking about her all day. That’s right, folks, even “the Cartwright” can be bitten by the love bug. Meanwhile he’s accosted by Juanita, one of those “hard-core bitches” of the Beach Queen set; she demands Bill get his trailer off their cove by nightfall. While looking down Juanita’s shirt for the birthmark, Bill notices that “it’s a man, baby,” per Austin Powers (probably my favorite bit in that entire movie) – and promptly yanks off Juanita’s fake tits! Operation Hang Ten once again proves itself of a different era as Bill demeans Juanita for “soiling real women,” mocking the she-he good and proper. A dude could get hauled off to jail for shit like that in today’s enlightened era.

But seriously, Juanita’s penchant for cross-dressing is never explained…we do eventually learn “he-she” is the ringleader of the female heisters, even training them for the scuba missions to hit the oil rigs, and I was under the impression the cross-dressing was so as to fool people into thinking he was just “one of the girls.” But Snyder, even if he intended this, doesn’t follow through; he’s too intent on the Bill-Lynn subplot, which becomes the plot of Beach Queen Blowout. And speaking of Lynn, she returns that night to inform Bill she’s really the daughter of a senator, and has been working here undercover herself, helping her dad figure out who is hitting the oil rigs. Hence her interest when she saw the P.I. sign on Bill’s trailer; she feels she’s gotten in too deep and needs some help.

Well after another fairly-explicit all-night bang-o-rama, the two exchange declarations of love. Bill’s caught so off-guard by his own words that he doubts himself for a moment; later he’ll clarify that he’s never told a single woman he loves her, thus Lynn is a first. Finally Lynn gets around to telling Bill what she’s been up to on Queen Cove and how she’s helping her dad and whatnot. And folks this part is laughable because Mr. Bill Cartwright again proves himself to be a jackass of jackasses, probably the biggest dick in the entire men’s adventure universe. Without even hearing Lynn’s full story, Bill starts ranting and raving about her senator father, a guy Bill’s never met and doesn’t even know, accusing him of being dirty and only looking into the oil pollution affair because he’s in the pockets of the oil companies. A crying Lynn storms off to walk the beach and cool down, and jerkass Bill just stands there, fuming. Because Snyder knows we veteran readers understand what’s going to happen to Lynn, he decides to dig the knife in deeper, and has Lynn abruptly turn back and tell Bill he didn’t give her a kiss goodbye! This Bill does, and off Lynn trudges along the deserted beach

Then Alice comes along, asking for Lynn…and here we get more of those “earlier era sentiments” as Bill accuses Alice of being a lesbian, hot for Lynn, and launches off into another rant. But no, Alice has a thing for Bill, she’s just failed to act on it due to her best friend screwing him and all. At this point Alice slinks into Bill’s lap and info-dumps all the, you know, plot stuff we readers have been missing out on: conveniently enough, Alice’s mom runs a motel, and the leaders of the oil company blackmail scheme are all staying there! And Alice overheard their plans! Long story short, there’s some old former madam named Mamie who is plotting with a Mafioso named Eduardo, and Juanita is the hired goon who is training the Beach Queens to do the job – after which the Beach Queens will of course be set up as patsies. Oh, and Alice is worried about Lynn, because she overheard Juanita vow to kill her before storming out of the motel a few hours ago…

Friends, guess what that grisly cover image depicts? (Note even the gash in the poor girl’s throat; the uncredited cover artist is nothing if not thorough.) Yes, Lynn never makes it back from that little walk on the beach. Bill feels an icy coldness descend upon him as he discovers her corpse in the sand: the case no longer matters. His life mission is to find Juanita and kill him slowly. At this point we seem gearing up for a brutal William Crawford-esque revenge thriller, but Snyder just doesn’t have it in him – he’s still intent on doling out something more hardboiled. Thus Bill will ultimately swindle the saboteurs into turning on each other instead of killing them all himself. In this capacity he basically goes rogue from Hang Ten, keeping pertinent info from an increasingly-demanding Jim Dana, and the novel almost works as a finale for the series itself: Bill Cartwright going solo for his own purposes.

The shifting plot focus is displayed posthaste when Bill, about to go out for some vengeance, is accosted in his cabin by sexy Millie, a Beach Queen hotstuff who has been trying to get her hooks in him. She saunters in, announces they’re about to screw, and starts to undress. This was actually a well-conveyed scene because normally such a sequence would be done for titilating purposes, yet the reader is still numb from Lynn’s murder – she was just in Bill’s bed several pages before – thus the exploitation of Millie’s ample anatomy does as little for the reader as it does for Bill himself. Oh, and it’s casually dropped that as Millie doffs her top Bill notices a heart-shaped birthmark above her left breast and thus, literally as I said, the infamous heist-girl leader has fallen into Bill’s lap. So he ties her up, calls Jim Dana, and goes off on his vengeance quest.

But Bill Cartwright isn’t just a dick, he’s also a bufoon. Time and again he’s either outwitted, caught unawares, or makes some foolish mistake. For example, he gets Juanita in his sights several times but loses the “she-he” due to some goof-up on Bill’s part. Then Bill’s caught by Eduardo, the mobster who is backing the blackmail scheme. This at least leads to Bill finally killing someone; he outwits the two hoods who were ordered to kill him, has them lay side by side on a motel bed, then coldly shoots each of them in the head with his .22 Magnum, even after promising not to – and we even get a prefigure of Arnold’s famous Commando line when Bill informs one of the pleading mobsters, “I lied.”

Sadly, the cold revenge yarn Lynn’s murder promised is constantly derailed by Bill’s screwups. I wondered if this was Snyder’s commentary on Bill’s actual youth – the dude’s not even 25, I think – but instead I think our author was just desperately trying to meet his word count and didn’t know what else to do. His attempts at conveying suspense and tension actually make his protagonist seem like a foolish jackass, and this goes on for like 50 pages. And meanwhile Jim Dana’s about ready to fire Bill from the Hang Ten program, given how his “top operative” keeps hiding things. Bill does manage to get Dana to collect a million bucks from the oil company, all as part for Bill to bluff the blackmailers into killing each other – he’s swindled both Eduardo and Mamie into thinking he’ll get the money for them. Oh and meanwhile Bill’s sicced Dana on the entire Beach Queen gang, having snuck on the boat Juanita was piloting to one of those oil rigs. Bill merely waits until the girls have left, then commandeers the boat so that they’re abandoned there…and has them arrested off-page. And meanwhile Juanita escapes Bill yet a-friggin’-gain!

To make it worse, Bill watches on the sidelines as Eduardo and Mamie take each other out, the surviving Beach Queens going full-on Bacchante and tearing Eduardo apart. Then Bill finally gets to square things with Juanita – who incidentally has admitted to killing Lynn – but after shooting him in the kneecap Bill has a “what have I become?” moment and realizes torturing the bastard to death won’t help anyone. Thus Juanita is given a quick sendoff – and it’s a ripoff. I mean I was expecting some William Crawford-esque brutalism. Instead, Bill limps back to his trailer, tells a waiting Alice it’s a no-go on the sex thing (and I forgot to mention the unconfomfortable scene where Alice tries desperately to screw Bill, performing every trick she knows, but the poor grieving boy can’t get it up), because she’ll always remind him of Lynn. And then Bill goes to sit alone in his trailer in misery. “The Cartwright knew love.”

The helluva it is, Beach Queen Blowout is entertaining and sometimes gripping when you read it. At least the first half. But as the various subplots are cast aside, and as Bill constantly screws up his attempts at simple revenge, you start to notice how messy everything is. I mean it’s the second half that really undoes the novel. If only Snyder had gone through with the “cold-blooded Cartwright” plot he initially promised. Instead it’s a mire of crosses and double-crosses, of Bill constantly letting Juanita slip out of his grasp, of various hoodlums getting the advantage f our hero. However, the plot of Bill and Lynn’s romance is well handled, even if Snyder is a bit guilty of telegraphing what’s about to happen to the poor girl.

As stated this would’ve been a fine finale for the series; Bill’s relationship with Dana and Hang Ten is put to the test, almost at times reminsicent of the Timothy Dalton James Bond flick Licence To Kill. However there were two more volumes after this one, and I’m curious to see if Lynn’s even mentioned in the next one. I’ll be surprised if she is.