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.


Grant said...

That third paragraph is pretty surprising. When it comes to the villainous kind of female army or gang, I've never heard of even a weak story that doesn't actually SHOW them being stopped.

Felicity Walker said...

It’s a long slog towards acceptance in fictional media when you’re a minority. Like gay men in the noir era, transwomen are frequently depicted as killers. After the “killer” stage comes the “comic relief” stage and then finally acceptance. We’re only just now beginning to see enough advocacy for transwomen and transmen (though, interestingly, it’s always the MTFs that bigots seem to a problem with) that a writer might think twice before assuming no-one will care if the story takes a few shots at trans people.