Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Hand Of The Mafia (Morocco Jones #2)

Hand Of The Mafia, by Jack Baynes
June, 1958  Fawcett Crest Books

The four-volume Morocco Jones series continues with another volume that comes off like the Mike Hammer books if they had been handled by Lyle Kenyon Engel’s fiction factory instead of Mickey Spillane. This one hews a little more closely to the Spillane mold than the first one did, with bad-ass Morocco Jones heading down south to bust up some heads, meet some willing dames, and deliver a couple tough-guy lines. 

There isn’t much pickup from the previous volume, nor any idea how long ago it was. We do learn that Llora Madigan, aka former spy babe The Countess, now works at Morocco’s P.I. firm in Chicago, along with their old boss General Weyland. Whereas that first book implied that Morocco and Llora would become an item, in this one she only gets a couple lines of dialog in the opening pages, and it’s clear that she doesn’t have any proprietary rights on our two-fisted rake of a hero. This is of course as it should be so far as men’s adventure goes (or at least proto-men’s adventure), and thus Morocco will be free to score with a couple new willing babes in this installment.

Morocco learns in the first few pages that Chris Shane, his old intelligence world comrade (and a supporting character in the previous volume) has been murdered down in Border City, a badlands in a southern state which is never identified. Morocco decides to head down there posthaste, find out who killed Shane, and deliver some bloody payback. He tells Llora so long – the General we’re informed being in DC on business – and heads on down to Border City, where the rest of the novel plays out. It’s very much along the lines of the later Vice Town, a small city totally in the grip of crime; Morocco gets a lot of info from pal Joe Kincaid of the Chicago police, and learns that a new boss named Carlo Fontana has taken over the town, complete with his own army of henchmen and a dirty police force. The question is how Fontana is keeping the Syndicate out of the picture, as he appears to be running the entire city without the influence of the Mafia.

Our hero’s entrance is very memorable; a couple Border City hoods accost a local muckracking journalist and a pretty young woman in a bar, about to take them on a one-way ride. Then the big lanky new guy gets up from the bar and proceeds to maul them, even killing one of them with his bare hands. It is of course Morocco Jones; the reporter is a guy named Larry Mellon whose life has been endangered for his attempts at uncovering the truth (wow, even then it was rare for a journalist to seek the truth!), and the woman is a beauty named Brenda, a former flame of Carlo Fontana’s.

I’d forgotten that Morocco has this comic book schtick where his gray eyes turn green when he’s in a rage; Brenda duly notices this, getting all hot and bothered when Morocco wipes the floor with Fontana’s toughs in the bar. That night Morocco takes her to dinner, and too late Morocco realizes that Brenda’s car parked out front will bring in more toughs. So using those quick wits he often boasts of, he buys a pail of oil from the kitchen and sits in the passenger seat as Brenda tears through town, the stooges giving chase. Like that old Spy Hunter video game I played religiously in the ‘80s, Morocco tosses the oil onto the street and causes the car pursuing them to crash spectacularly. Immediately after this Brenda pulls over to the side of the road, hops on Morocco’s lap, and tells him she wants him, the shameless hussy.

But as with the previous book, the actual tomfoolery is left completely off page, usually denoted by an ellipsis. The raunch occurs in a “secret” cabin Brenda has in the woods; we do get only a minor bit of exploitation as Morocco checks out Brenda’s gloriously nude bod as she lays on the bed for him. But really he’s more concerned about leaving the windows out front open, as someone might sneak in. Baynes (I insist on referring to Bertram B. Fowler by his much-cooler pseudonym) spends so much dialog on this that, when the unexpected guests finally appear, it’s a foregone conclusion – and again Morocco takes Fontana’s stooges out without much fuss, killing all four of them without even the use of a gun.

Brenda turns out to be here on her own vendetta; her sister, also a former flame of Fontana’s, was killed – and in fact Brenda’s the one who hired Chris Shane to look into it. Then when she heard nothing more from him she came down to Border City herself, changing her last name and herself becoming a floozy of Fontana’s. This plot element is lost in the shuffle – like last time, Baynes throughs way too many characters into the mix – and indeed Brenda herself soon disappears from the narrative. Now that she’s served the function of providing Morocco with his first lay in town, she’s no longer needed…and Morocco scoots her off to safety with “a friend” and periodically calls her on the phone to make sure she’s still alive.

The opening half is very much in the hardboiled action mode; Morocco seems like a force of vengeance, mauling and killing Fontana’s goons without breaking a sweat. But as with last volume Baynes can’t contain his impulse to muddy up what should be a streamlined action yarn. So we have this triple mystery – how Fontana runs town without the Mafia, who killed Chris Shane, and what happened to the son of local newspaper magnate Blake Ellis. Of course all of it is mixed together, but Morocco chases separate threads, at one point even wasting time on former town boss Mike Dravo, a dude who employs his own henchmen (one of them an albino) but is otherwise Mr. Rogers when compared to Fontana.

Baynes tosses so much stuff into the middle half that the reader can quickly become lost; nothing lasts long enough to make an impression. I mean Morocco goes to great lengths to disguise himself as a bum and then, not too many pages later, has to drop the act. Or things that pomise to blossom into more interesting developments don’t pan out, like the passing mention that Fontana employs roving gangs of juvenile delinquents. Morocco gets in a quick fight with some of them, showing the punks the proper use of a chain, but it’s over too quick and nothing more is made of it. At least the element of Fontana employing a gang of crooked cops pans out, one of them a sadist named Granger who gets his mitts on Morocco and beats him to a pulp.

But the thing about Morocco Jones is that he’s got all the tough-guy lines, he’s got all the fancy espionage and commando training…but he keeps walking into traps and he keeps getting saved by other people. Like here, when he’s pulverized by Granger and other dirty cops in a dingy room in the local precinct…I mean that’s it for Morocco, he’s toast. Then a local crusading lawyer happens to come in and save his ass. The same exact thing happens at the end of the novel, Morocco caught dead to rights by Granger and Fontana…and he’s saved by one of the most brazen acts of deus ex machina I’ve ever read in a novel. But more griping on that in a minute.

Gradually heroin smuggling works into the plot; Morocco gets word to be on the lookout for a certain ship coming in from New Orleans. Once again he gets the drop on Fontana’s men, discovering that they’re bringing heroin in on it and going to elaborate lengths to get it off the ship before it docks. Morocco hides the stuff in the bum area of Border City, using a spot he learned of earlier thanks to a bum; as with the previous volume, Baynes again displays compassion for the downtrodden of society. While posing as a bum, Morocco becomes friends with a real one, a guy who knew another Border City character Morocco’s been hunting for, and the bum makes for one of the more interesting characters in the novel. But like the juvenile delinquents and sundry others, he disappears from the text too soon.

Morocco’s next conquest is another local babe: Dorsa Ellis, hotstuff blonde daughter of the newspaper owner. She too practically throws herself on Morocco moments after meeting him, but before the expected shenanigans she first takes him to a local watering hole and introduces him to…Carlo Fontana. At first I thought Dorsa was a honey trap of sorts, but she claims to have brought Morocco here to initiate the war full-on; she’s sick of her father’s cowering. Another of the too-many mysteries afoot is why Blake Ellis isn’t using his paper to take down Fontana. It’s clear that his vanished son – and Brenda’s murdered sister – has something to do with it.

The action of the first half gradually fades away and the mystery stuff takes precedence. But as mentioned Morocco does find the opportunity to score again, but as ever the most we get is stuff like, “[Dorsa’s] breasts were superb.” Dorsa’s kind of a trendsetter in her own regard; after some all-night sex she basically tells Morocco so long the next day, that this was a one-time thing she’ll never forget! Later she takes care of Morocco after his savage beating, but has her own cross to bear when her dad finally decides to do something about the situation with Fontana, and pays the ultimate price for it. This leads to the “big finale” where Morocco storms into Fontana’s place…and is promptly captured, once again.

Spoiler warning so please skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know. But man, talk about a brazen copout ending. Morocco’s about to get wasted by Fontana and Granger when someone springs in and shoots Fontana in the arm. And folks it’s – Llora Madigan, the Countess! You see, she has been working the same case these past few days, without Morocco’s knowledge, acting as Fontana’s latest floozy! And General Weyland is here, too! They both waltz in with guns and grins and cover the hoods while Morocco can beat Granger to a pulp. It’s all so brazen and unsatisfying; Baynes attempts earlier in the book to set up this lame reveal, with Dorsa Ellis casually mentioning she’s heard that Fontana has a new girl, “a real beauty,” but the revelation that it’s Llora is incredibly flatfooted, because it just reinforces the notion that Morocco Jones always needs help to get out of scrapes.

But really, the first half of Hand Of the Mafia is very cool and comes off just like you’d hope a series titled Morocco Jones would. Our hero comes off like this inhuman force of wrath, beating the shit out of various hoods and delivering one-liners with aplomb. Even when the odds are against him, Morocco wades into combat with a grin, confident that the training he received in Europe will make him more than a match for his opponents. He doesn’t use as many guns this time, using his fists to do the killing; he also employs some Judo moves to further maul and maim his enemies. But the thing is, Baynes retains his strange tendency to make Morocco a fool for plot contrivances…he’s forever forgetting to do something or overlooking something obvious and walking into an easily-avoided trap.

The book ends with Morocco and Llora deciding to take a quick vacation before getting into the latest caper the General has cooked up; there’s a bit of a modern feeling in how it’s implied Llora had to sleep with Fontana as part of the job, but it’s nothing for her to be ashamed over. In fact, she’s the one who scolds Morocco for sleeping around so much on this one. But at any rate we are reminded that Llora is Morocco’s woman (or she’s “his person,” in the gender-neutralized parlance of our miserable modern world), and all these other babes are just passing fancies. Two more volumes followed, and Morocco’s image returns to the covers; looks like the repeating image of his upper body, used on the first, third, and fourth volumes, couldn’t fit on this volume’s cover painting.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Hellcats

The Hellcats, by Robert F. Slatzer
No month stated, 1968  Holloway House

If The Hellcats is remembered for anything, it’s for being featured on an earlier episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But it warranted its own paperback tie-in courtesy writer-director Robert Slatzer, who per the back cover bio was “not new to writing” and got his start in Hollywood thanks to Bob Hope! One wonders if Slatzer gave Hope a copy of this novel, because folks that “adult reading” tag on the cover isn’t publisher hyperbole: Hellcats is straight-up sleaze, about on the level of the average Beeline porn novel of the day.

I should admit up front that I’ve never actually seen The Hellcats; I’ve got the MST3K DVD release, but haven’t watched it…or if I did it was many years ago and I no longer remember it. I’ll try to rectify this situation as soon as possible. In the meantime I can only judge the book on its own merits. And as mentioned it is unrepentant sleaze, clunkily written sleaze at that: exposition reigns supreme, the author consistently tells instead of shows, description is practically nonexistent (other than when it comes to sex), and character/plot arcs are hamfistedly executed. There’s also lots and lots of stuff that should’ve been cut; the novel runs to an unwieldy 312 pages, and my only assumption is that this exorbitant page length was mandated by Holloway House. Because it’s clear Slatzer doesn’t have enough story to actually warrant such a length; there’s a lot of repetition throughout, a lot of arbitrary detours that have no relevance to anything.

One thing to also clear up posthaste is that the cover – which was also used for the theatrical release – is a lie of the first order. The Hellcats is not solely a female biker gang; it’s made up of men and their mamas, and right now the gang’s led by one of the mamas: a redheaded beauty named Sheila. At least I assume she is pretty; Slatzer seems incapable of much describing anything, and it’s not even for a while that we learn Sheila is a redhead. Anyway Sheila was the mama of former Hellcats boss Big Daddy, whose funeral opens the proceedings; the Hellcats rip and roar on their choppers through a cemetary while a young man and woman secretly watch from afar.

These two will be the main protagonists of the tale: the hunky dude is Monte Chapman, back here in California on special leave from a tour in Vietnam; the pretty young blonde with a “full bosom” at his side is Linda Watkins. They’re here watching the Hellcats because they both have a score to settle with the biker scum: Monte’s brother Dave was an undercover cop trying to figure out how the gang was involved in a heroin pipeline, and he was recently murdered while on the job. Linda was Dave’s fiance. Now they’re here to get revenge, certain that one of the Hellcats killed Dave.

The flashback to Dave’s murder is one of the most hilarious sequences I’ve ever read, because my friends he was killed by a sniper immediately after Linda gave him a blowjob! I’ll pause so you can reflect on this. In fact, let me just go ahead and provide an excerpt, because this is truly one for the ages:

I kinda suspect none of that’s in the movie! Well Linda – who despite burying Dave just a week before – is already getting all hot and juicy thinking about her last day with her beloved, and plus she can’t help but notice how studly Dave’s brother Monte is. Thus when Monte announces his intention to go undercover himself with the Hellcats and to find Dave’s killer, Linda asks to go along with him. Monte’s dialog here is also particularly excerpt-worthy:

Monte and Linda’s transformation into renegade bikers is humorously simple, I mean we’re just to assume that they both know how to handle a chopper. But by next chapter they waltz into the Moonfire Inn, a dive near Los Angeles frequented by the Hellcats; Monte’s now sporting outlaw attire, his face unshaven, and Linda’s his mama, both of them posing as hardbitten outlaw bikers. Absolutely no description is provided of their choppers or of any other chopper in the entire novel; for example we only learn via an off-hand comment that one of the Hellcats (a male one) rides a pink chopper. But for that matter it’s not even until page 80 that we even get a scene of anyone actually riding a motorcycle; the entire novel up to that point is comprised of Monte and Linda immersing themselves into the world of the Hellcats.

Slatzer follows the usual cliché of how you join a gang of bikers: you saunter into a dive they frequent, act all cool and mysterious, give vague non-answers to any questions about who you are or where you came from, and then knock out the gang leader with a solid punch to the jaw. All this Monte dutifully performs within moments of entering the Moonfire; the Hellcat he knocks out is a narrative nonentity named Snake who is temporarily acting as gang leader given the recent death of Big Daddy. But Snake basically disappears after this – save for a brief subplot about him harboring resentment for Monte for that punch to the face – and it turns out that Sheila is the true boss.

She isn’t the only sexy one in the group: there’s also eyepatch-wearing Rita, a busty blonde who immediately comes on strong to Monte. There’s also a couple other gals in the gang, but they really fade into the narrative woodwork, as indeed do the male members. So far as the novel is concerned, the only Hellcats of any importance are Sheila and Rita, who we eventually learn despise one another – in fact, Rita casually informs Monte later in the novel that Sheila knocked her eye out in a chain fight a few years back. This was a fight over the attentions of the mysterious Mr. Adrian, a powerful figure who – Monte learns quickly and easily enough – uses the Hellcats to run heroin in from Mexico.

The helluva it is, despite the exposition, the lack of description, the exorbitant length, The Hellcats is actually a lot of fun to read. But make no mistake, it’s a sleaze novel. This is proven posthaste, as Monte realizes that he can use his natural male mystique to score with these Hellcats women, and to, uh, pump them for info at the same time. So even though he’s got a thing going with Linda – the act itself taking up a few pages of hardcore description when it finally occurs, around fifty or sixty pages in – he capitalizes on the attention he’s shown by horny Sheila and Rita. Oh and I forgot to mention, but none of the female biker chicks actually act like female biker chicks. Rita in particular, despite the eyepatch and the general bad-assery, comes off like the heroine of a Gothic novel, constantly afraid that she’s going to give in to her “female nature” and fall in love with Monte. There’s even a part late in the book where Rita and Sheila tell Monte they’re engaged in “girl talk!”

The confrontation with Snake plays out in a bit where the pseudo-boss challenges Monte to a Hellcat trial: lay between a pair of big three-wheeled choppers and hang on to the axles of each for the count of fifteen; if you can’t do it you get your ass dragged around the track. Well, Snake makes the challenge and can’t do it, but of course Monte can. After this he gets his “award:” sex with Sheila. And it’s done out in the open, too, with Linda forced to watch – true to the era, Linda isn’t allowed to hobknob with any of the male Hellcats, given that she’s Monte’s woman, but Monte himself is free to do whoever he wants. (Oh and by the by – that bit in the excerpt above where Monte says he’ll let one of the male Hellcats do him if it means helping him catch Dave’s killer, well that never pans out, and as mentioned the male Hellcats are nonentities.)

As if marking off his sleaze novel to-do list, there’s also a gang rape early in the book; Monte and Linda ride off with the Hellcats to another hangout area, and on the way they pass by an artist and his model, who is posing nude here in the countryside. The male Hellcats beat up the artist and then gang-rape the woman, all while Monte and the female Hellcats watch on. Monte throughout proves himself to be a rather despicable “hero,” telling a shocked Linda that this is the price the rape victim plays for being a beautiful woman! In fact Monte’s kind of a dick; he constantly refers to Linda as “mama” and gives her frequent pep talks in which he reminds her that he’s going to keep on banging as many of these Hellcat babes as he needs to, whether she likes it or not.

Rita will turn out to be the only other one he spends time with; as mentioned she has an immediate attraction to Monte and is game to tell him anything she can about the secret workings of the gang. It’s through her that Monte learns basically everything: Mr. Adrian uses the gang to run heroin, getting it from some grungy Mexican named Scorpio, and Mr. Adrian retains a pair of flunkies named Dean and Pepper. Monte also comes to the conclusion that Pepper, a sadist who gets off on torturing women, is likely the person who murdered Dave. Rita gives Monte all this info, waiting for the “right time” in which they can finally have sex. And when it happens, it’s another of those moments for the ages, as Rita apparently has mutant nipples:

But it isn’t all bland exposition and hardcore pornography: occasionally Slatzer cuts over to arbitrary, pages-filling scenes with Mr. Adrian, a fifty-something man of wealth who lives in opulence in LA. But Adrian we learn is impotent, and these days gets his kicks hanging around with “dirty women” and giving them baths and then dressing them in expensive clothes(!). So we get a lot of stuff about him and his current mistress, a former Hellcat named Hilde, and then later there’s a lot more stuff about Adrian contemplating the idea of making Rita his new mistress. Actually Rita by far gets the most narrative time of any female character in the novel, so I guess it makes sense that she graces the cover of the novel (and film poster), but still these long sequences with Mr. Adrian clearly exist so as to fill pages.

What makes it even more goofy is that Monte figures everything out before we’re even halfway through the novel – the Hellcats run heroin for Mr. Adrian, and Pepper killed Dave at Mr. Adrian’s orders – but it keeps on going. This is because the cops, who are humorously blasé about Monte and Linda going undercover on their own, pick up Monte and Linda one day after they’ve been choppering around the countryside (and having more explicitly-rendered sex) and tell them they’ve been drafted. The cops will use them for any new info on the heroin pipeline, which the cops of course are well aware of, they just don’t have any concrete info to pin down Adrian. Thus Monte and Linda get secret police backing, but Slatzer doen’t do much with it until the very end of the novel. 

Things don’t really pick up until toward the end. Monte figures out that the female Hellcats do all the heavy lifting so far as the heroin smuggling goes, running across the border late at night under the idea that, as women, they won’t get hassled like male bikers would. Linda gets drafted into such a run and Monte secretly follows them down into Mexico, where he finds the women about to be abused by the increasingly-psychotic Scorpio. Monte comes to the rescue, beating the dude to a pulp, and here learns the truth about what the Hellcats are up to, clearing up any details Rita left vague. But this will be it so far as Monte’s two-fisted heroism goes, as Slatzer basically neuters him in the climax.

For one, we seem to be heading for the finale here, but Slatzer again page-fills to egregious lengths, with more stuff about Adrian – including a goofy part where he even gets Rita a glass eye. There’s also another sleaze novel list check-off with some old fashioned necrophilia; Adrian winds up killing his mistress Hilde and then screwing the corpse, actually able to “get up” for the perverted act. Actually Slatzer’s so caught up in all this other stuff that the big finale’s upon us before we even realize it; Monte coaxes Rita into showing him where Adrian lives, and then sneaks onto the guy’s property – and is immediately caught. And knocked out. He’ll be knocked out twice more before the novel’s over.

Slatzer seems oblivious to the fact that he’s rendered his protagonist useless; Monte’s tied up and Adrian decides to kill him by burning down his own house. Adrian’s gotten sick of the current setup and is going to leave the Hellcats cold – we’ve learned that he blackmailed them into the whole heroin thing, and now he’s gotten to leave them high and dry. Then Rita shows up and frees Monte, and Sheila’s there, too…and then Adrian shows up again and catches all three of them! And Monte’s knocked out again! Instead it’s up to Sheila to struggle against her bonds and call the Moonfire Inn, begging the Hellcats to get here asap before they all burn up in the house fire.

Monte is still relegated to sideline status in the finale, which plays out along the docks, Adrian trying to escape on his boat. Our hero stands and watches as the Hellcats run roughsod over Adrian and his two henchmen: some unknown Hellcat drives his bike over Adrian, killing him, and Sheila guts Pepper with her switchblade…killing the person Monte’s been waiting to kill for the entire friggin’ novel. So Monte must console himself by beating up otherwise-meek henchman Dean, prevented from killing him by the cops who finally show up on the scene.

Slatzer gets even more hamfisted in the final chapter: there’s no final moment with either Sheila or Rita, and we only learn via dialog that they’ve been arrested but will likely be let go without charges. All this is relayed by the cops, who also tell Monte and Linda they’re free to go. The two of course decide they’ll sell their bikes and go off to a veritable Happily Ever After, and this my friends makes for the spectacularly unsatisfying conclusion of The Hellcats. One of these days I’m definitely gonna check out the movie to see how much it differs from the novel, if at all.

Indeed one wonders why Slatzer even thought his story justified a tie-in novel. The tale is barebones simple and the characters are ciphers. Maybe he just wanted to deliver all the hardcore sleaze he couldn’t in an actual general-release film? I mean nothing here cries out “This story must be told!” Yet as mentioned it’s entertaining in its own clunky way, and Slatzer’s writing is so unhinged that it’s on the level of Ryder Syvertsen. Actually if I didn’t know Slatzer was a real person I’d go off on one of my wild theories that “Slatzer” was just another pseudonym of Syvertsen; that’s how similar the writing styles are.

But anyway, The Hellcats is yet another scarce and expensive paperback, one I luckily got for a nice price several years ago, and my overlong review is intended to prevent the otherwise-innocent reader from spending the time and money tracking down a copy.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Executioner #12: Boston Blitz

The Executioner #12: Boston Blitz, by Don Pendleton
July, 1972  Pinnacle Books

In his interview in A Study Of Action-Adventure FictionDon Pendleton stated that Boston Blitz was his personal favorite Executioner novel, and it would appear clear from the outset, given that he dedicates the book to faithful readers of the series. To cue the old cliché, “this time it’s personal” for Mack “The Executioner” Bolan, as the Mafia has kidnapped Bolan’s little brother Johnny and Bolan’s girlfriend Val.

Now I kept asking myself “Val who?,” but of course we are talking about the young lady Bolan became intimate with way back in the first volume. We’ve not heard much about her since – and Bolan’s enjoyed the company of a few other young ladies in the meantime, all of whom I found more interesting as characters – but we’re told that she’s gone into a sort of witness protection program along with Bolan’s “adolescent” brother Johnny. Leo Turrin, Bolan’s informant for both cop stuff and Mafia stuff, beings that he’s a Boston-based undercover cop ingrained into the families, informed our hero at the end of the previous volume that Val and Johnny had been snatched somewhere in Boston.

This installment opens about twelve hours later; Bolan’s arrival in Boston goes down with as much action as most novels finish with. In the first chapter alone he blows away a series of mobsters, leaving one survivor at each stop to spread the word of his arrival in town. Oh and I forgot to mention, but before this we again get that “Uniform Crime Network” faux-bulletin for a prologue which gives Bolan’s background, again reminding us that he’s 30 and a ‘Nam vet. This time Korea’s not mentioned…but then in the second chapter Bolan’s reflecting on how Johnny was just a kid when Bolan went off to the Korean war! Anyway here we get Bolan’s thoughts on Johnny, how he’s the “last Bolan,” and also lots of stuff on how Val is the love of his life and whatnot, which again is comical because she’s hardly been mentioned since that first volume.

Bolan’s gamble is to keep running roughshod over the Boston Mafia until someone comes forward with info on where Johnny and Val are, and whether they’re even still alive. He meets up with Leo Turrin, who provides intel from the ground, and also apologizes for the mysterious slip-up which even allowed the two to be snatched. Turrin believes a couple patsies took the two, as a pair of hoods were just found dead in a car with a marksman medal sitting between their corpses. In other words someone killed the kidnappers and tried to pin the kill on Bolan, however all this happened while the real Bolan was tearing up the San Francisco mob in the previous volume.

There are so many action scenes that the unfortunate effect is too many of them are rendered via summary. This especially holds true toward the end, but here in the opening we’re treated to a nice running sequence in which Bolan hits a mob convoy with a mortar and then mops up the survivors with a submachine gun. Here he takes along one of the few survivors, a Mafia lawyer named Books Figarone. Bolan only allows him to live in exchange for figuring out who took Val and Johnny. It’s a little unintentionally goofy then that Books finds the snatcher with only a single telephone call! It’s a minor hood named Harold “the Skipper” Sicilia, and for some inexplicable reason Pendleton keeps him off-page for the entire novel…and even more inexplicably delivers his comeuppance off-page as well.

Pendleton skillfully weaves the concern over Val and Johnny becoming “turkeys” thanks to those Mafia sadists…turkeys being mutilated torture victims who are only capable of squawking unintelligibly, as our author helpfully reminds us. We readers learn that Val and Johnny haven’t been harmed yet thanks to a brief scene from Valerie’s point of view; per Gene Cohen’s cover she and Johnny are bound back to back, but they’re lying on the floor of some dank holding area. We get some lurid stuff with one of the captors feeling Val up and considering hopping on her for a free ride, only to be reprimanded by the other captor that “the Skipper” has warned against any such stuff.

But the most inexplicable thing about Boston Blitz is we never learn what motivates Skipper Sicilia…Books calls him, finding the kidnapper of Bolan’s loved ones on his first call, and Sicilia grudgingly admits that he did indeed kidnap the two and that he might’ve made a mistake. Presumably Sicilia thought he could bring the Executioner to heel, but at this point Bolan’s mystique has approached Butcher levels of bad-assery, capable of making hardbitten Mafia goons shit their pants in fear. Books is thus able to talk Sicilia into getting rid of the two – not killing them, just letting them go so the Executioner will call off his war of atrocity on the Boston families.

This leads to one of the more memorable scenes in the book, as Bolan and Books make a late night run upstate to where Sicilia keeps his boat, which he claims is near where Val and Johnny are being held. Only here Pendleton delivers on the “turkey” promise with a car driving by long enough to deposit a bundled pacakge. Wrapped inside are the fresh corpses of a woman and an adolescent boy, their heads seared off via blowtorch. Pendleton gets even more lurid with details on how the woman’s breasts and nether regions have also been blowtorched, with a sickened and enraged Bolan further imagining how the sadistic torture-murder was carried out.

Now Bolan becomes a vengeance-driven force of nature, shutting off all emotions and living only to kill in cold blood. But sadly the method of his vengeance-sating is nowhere as satisfactory as that in, say, Bronson: Blind Rage. He chases down the car that deposited the corpses, causing it to crash and catch on fire. He merely shoots the heavyset freak who did the actual turkey-doctoring, then sends off the driver with a mercy shot, Bolan despite his rage still unable to let someone die by burning to death. I was expecting something a little more prolonged and painful. But this is just a precursor to the unsatisfying vengeage-meting Pendleton delivers throughout.

Because folks at this point The Executioner has lost that mean drive that fueled the first couple volumes; it’s become more streamlined, more refined in a way, at least when compared to truly brutal revenge yarns like Bronson: Blind Rage or even the first couple Vigilante novels. I wanted to read a determined Mack Bolan bashing brains and ripping out guts in his unquenchable thirst for revenge, but really there isn’t much here out of step with any other Executioner novel. I guess we’re to understand that Bolan is even more driven than usual, but as the novel progresses his blitzing is so frequent that it’s rendered in summary, diluting the impact. For example, late in the game we learn, in a single paragraph, that Bolan kills fifty-two mobsters in one hit alone.

Anyway Bolan goes on a nighttime massacre mission (the novel occurs over just a day or two), slaughtering sundry mobsters in his hunt for Sicilia. And again, inexplicably, we never get to see him confront Sicilia! Instead, we get this eleventh hour subplot about an “Al 88,” a mysterious figure who is now running the Boston mob, despite being known as an upstanding citizen in his public identity. Yes, the exact same subplot we saw in previous volumes – “Mr. King” last time in California Hit and “Sir Edward” before that in #10: Caribbean Kill. I guess Pendleton was fascinated by the idea of a well-known public figure secretly being a criminal kingpin, because this is the third time in a row he’s given us the storyline.

And what’s worse, the Al 88 stuff takes precedence over the revenge on Sicilia stuff. Even the revelation that those tortured corpses weren’t actually Val and Johnny is muddled; Leo Turrin somehow finds out and informs Bolan, who takes a while to even inquire who the corpses were. (Leo says the woman was a local hooker and the boy was a local “retarded” kid who’d been reported missing…and after this the matter is dropped.) During a break in the blitz Bolan starts to figure out who Al 88 really is, leading to a memorable discussion with the man’s wife in their large, otherwise typical home. Al 88 we’re to understand is so big in his public persona that he’s got connections in Washington, which seems to be laying seeds for future isntallments. But anyway Bolan, again using Books Figarone, decides to set it up so that Al 88 uses his own resources to track down Sicilia, again leading to a climax where Bolan is to meet his enemy on neutral ground for the handoff of his captured loved ones.

And once again it’s a trap, but as ever Bolan’s several steps ahead of his enemy. But what could’ve been a cool finale is also diluted via too quick of a denoument; Bolan takes out some thugs who have been planted in the darkness, then almost perfunctorily destroys the sanitation truck filled with armed thugs that comes after him. I mean this image alone could’ve been greatly expanded upon – the area’s been closed off, it’s the middle of the night, and a friggin’ garbage truck comes roaring out of the darkness with a bunch of machine gun-wielding mobsters riding on it. But Pendleton’s over and done with it in just a paragraph or two, Bolan destroying the truck with a couple grenades. And what really sucks is we learn, as Bolan briefly views the carnage, that Sicilia himself was on the truck – thus he’s been killed virtually off-page, Pendleton denying us the personal confrontation the plot demanded. 

But at least Val and Johnny are free, however Pendleton isn’t one to spend too much time on this, either; Bolan and Johnny trade a few terse lines in the epilogue, and then Bolan and Valerie have an emotional conversation that occurs entirely off-page. More print is actually spent on Leo Turrin’s comment that Federal agent Hal Brognola wants to talk to Bolan about something; Brognola’s eventually the guy who set Bolan up with the whole post-Pendleton “Stony Man” scenario of Gold Eagle Books, so I’m assuming we’re going to get a precursor of that, but I guess we’ll find out for sure next time.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Vice Town

Vice Town, by Ennis Willie
No month stated, 1962  Vega Books

Published while he was writing the Sand series, Vice Town is another slice of hardboiled pulp featuring a bad-ass protagonist courtesy gifted author Ennis Willie. According to an interview Willie did with Stephen Mertz, Vice Town was rejected by his usual publisher (Merit Books) because the protagonist was crippled, so Willie just took the manuscript to Vega Books. The novel is copyright Willie, so I’m not certain why it’s never been reprinted, even in digital format.

I don’t know anything about Vega Books but I’ll assume it was a sleaze purveyor along the lines of Merit. But mind you this is early ‘60s sleaze, meaning we get frequent mentions of “pert breasts” but the actual sex is off-page. In other words pretty much like the Sand novels. And protagonist Gator is along the lines of Sand as well, save for the fact that he’s missing his left leg from below the knee thanks to a wound in “the war.” No fears on him losing any badass points, though; Gator is constantly bashing out brains and teeth with his crutches, which have been reinforced so he can wield them like weapons. They also have additional surprises stored in them.

Gator when we meet him has just returned to Labanion, “the Friendliest Little Town in the South,” to get some bloody revenge. Willie skillfully draws out Gator’s backstory with enough suspense to keep the reader’s interest, but we learn straight away that Gator was actually lynched by the good folks of Labanion, ten years ago. Thanks to a girlfriend named Trudy who slipped him a knife, he was able to cut his noose and escape. Now he’s back, minus one leg but carrying the scars of multiple battles, and he’s come to find out who recently murdered another of his old girlfriends, a beauty named Castine.

But Gator’s backstory is even more colorful, if even borderline surreal: we’re informed that several years ago he just appeared in Labanion one day, a long-haired boy who entered the town via the supposedly-uncrossable swamp that bordered the town. Even stranger, Gator had no memory of who he was or where he came from. A kind-hearted old lady named Mother Bannister took him in – Castine being another orphan she’d taken in to raise as her own – but the people of Labanion never trusted Gator. In fact his name was given by them, mocking how he crossed over Bama Swamp, something only gators could do. Then one day Mother Bannister fell to her death in a well – Gator and Castine were with her but neither of them saw how she fell – and he was blamed for killing her. The townsfolk tried to hang the 19 year-old Gator, and now upon his return he’s openly stared at and receives handwritten threats that he should leave town.

Labanion in the past ten years has turned into a den of iniquity, and it’s all about as Sin City as you can get. Gator comes back to find a sleazy city of strip clubs and gambling joints. He’s returned due to the recent murder of Castine, who he never saw again after his escape, but who he has thought of often over the past ten years. Now he’s read that her corpse was fished out of the swamp, her face gory mush thanks to a point-blank shotgun blast, and he’s returned to Labanion to get some answers and avenge her murder. The question of who murdered Castine and why is the central mystery of Vice Town. The secondary mystery is what happened to the man who turned Labanion into a sleazepit; he too was murdered, the town now run by his second-in-command, a thug named Charlie Docker.

But this isn’t a mystery novel; it’s a violent yarn in the Spillane mold, though unlike Spillane it’s written in a much-preferable third-person. Immediately upon returning to Labanion our hero is wasting perps; he spots some guys trying to rape a young woman outside a bar and he beats one of them unmerciful with his weaponized crutch and strangles the other. The girl is named Alice, and she’s a 21 year-old writer who immediately wants to write a story on Gator – and lose her virginity to him. My suspicion that Vega was a sleaze outfit would seem confirmed by the amount of women with “pert breasts” who throw themselves at Gator; despite his “go away, little girl” admonishments Gator does eventually give Alice some of that off-page good lovin.’

Another of Gator’s conquests is Ursula, a sexy broad his age who is now married to the guy who owns the hotel Gator’s staying in. This subplot clearly exists so that Gator can have more sex action, with Ursula letting herself into Gator’s room whenever she feels the urge and telling him how much she wants him. Ursula also provides intel on the third of Gator’s old flames – in addition to herself and Castine there was Trudy, who was almost a twin of Castine and always by her side. She would certainly know who might’ve killed Castine, but unfortunately Trudy left town a year ago, marrying some sailor.

So Gator goes about “investigating” in a manner Mike Hammer would appreciate; he sidles into establishments owned by Docker and starts busting heads open with his crutches. Gator’s sure Docker had something to do with Castine’s death, and first he’s led to a Docker torpedo named Church. Here we have a brutal fight scene that’s a precursor to the gory splendor of Gannon. But folks Gator’s not too bright, often walking into clear setups. For example, he leaves Church alive after this beating, then that night at dinner Gator receives a call. It’s a woman claiming to be Trudy, asking Gator to meet her at some location on a rougher side of town. Gator runs right over, only to be knocked out and taken on his last ride by Church and a couple other hoods. Otherwise this is a taut sequence, one that features the memorable revelation that one of Gator’s crutches has a springblade housed in its base.

In fact, Gator’s often walking into traps and getting knocked out. In one part he’s even shotgunned, but basically walks it off; this occurs during a confrontation with Docker himself. After holding a gun to the mob boss’s head and warding off his henchmen, Gator confidently walks out of Docker’s establishment – and then is shot right before getting into his car. Luckily Alice happens to have been following Gator and takes him to a safe place in the woods for some nursing and off-page sex. Humorously the shotgun injury doesn’t much seem to bother Gator anymore. He also appears to be unfazed by the multiple concussions he endures.

Gator is such a bad-ass though, doling out memorable bad-ass lines, that this stuff isn’t that big a deal. But for some reason Willie often cuts away to minor characters, like a heroin-addicted whore named Victory Lane. The book’s only 139 pages, with fairly big print, so you’d think these detours would be unecessary. Even stranger is a late development that Mother Bannister willed Gator her newspaper. So now it’s like “Mickey Spillane does Citizen Kane” as Gator uses the town rag to wage a war in print on Charlie Docker, running exposes on how corrput he is, how he probably murdered Castine, etc. I have to say, though, this is the first violent revenge thriller I’ve read where the hero suddenly finds himself becoming a newspaper editor.

Victory Lane plays into another trap Gator willingly walks into; in the paper he offers a reward for anyone who can give him info on Castine’s murder, and Victory calls in on it. But Gator finds her corpse waiting for him, victim of a hot fix. Only she’s been dead a while and it’s a trap. This takes us into the climax, though, with a captured Gator again escorted into Docker’s headquarters, the goal to kill him here in this soundproofed room. Indeed, to have him killed by someone Docker calls on the phone; now it’s just a matter of time until this mysterious assassin arrives. It’s the weaponized crutches to the rescue again, though…but unfortunately here Vice Town derails a bit, tossing aside all the tension and suspense it has been building toward, with the climax played out mostly via expositary dialog. For somehow Gator has realized who the “real” mastermind of Labanion is, the person who killed Mother Bannister, masterminded the corruption of Labanion, and then ultimately turned it all over to Docker.

SPOILER WARNING, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know…but given the scarcity of the book I figure it’s okay to discuss it. Anyway, Gator has figured out that Castine herself is behind Labanion’s corruption, Mother Bannister’s muder, and the murder of the previous town boss; and further that it was Trudy who was shotgunned in the face, Castine using her virtual “twin” to fake her own death. All this is relayed by a gutshot Gator, who sits dying on Docker’s office chair; Castine has entered the room, of course the mysterious assassin summoned by Docker on the phone. She’s been behind all the failed hits on Gator, and when she finally speaks she reveals she is a treacherous chameleon, able to take on any role to survive. Thus for Gator she was an innocent soul. The cover illustrates this climactic scene, with Gator’s energy failing and Castine slowly taking a gun from her purse. However we’ve been teased that Gator’s other crutch has a weapon he’s never used – and yes, spectacularly, it’s capable of firing a bullet from its base, and thus in pure Spillane mold we have the female villain’s face blown apart in full-on graphic detail. It’s unstated whether Gator himself lives; we leave him sitting on the chair, having bled buckets, and uncertain whether he’s up to the effort of leaving and finding help.

Overall Vice Town runs at a steady clip, filled with violent fights and shootouts. Gator makes for an interesting protagonist; his crutches actually make him more dangerous, and it was fun reading him bashing out brains with the fast-moving sticks. The sleaze element was also nicely handled, with frequent descriptions of the ample charms of the various babes, but nothing outright explicit. The dialog was also great, with many memorable lines from Gator. But then it’s the dialog-heavy ending that kind of left me dissatisfied, with Gator coming to too many conclusions without the reader being aware of them, to the point that the finale almost seemed like Willie hitting his word count and hurriedly wrapping up all loose ends via exposition.

This it seems was it for Gator; Willie continued with the Sand novels for a few years before retiring from the writing business. But as mentioned the book’s copyright him, so it would be cool if he republished it so that a new generation of fans could enjoy it.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1 (aka Best Biker Fiction 3)

Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1
No month stated, 1984  Star Books
(originally published in the US as Best Biker Fiction 3, Dell Books, 1983)

Over the years Zwolf has mentioned the short stories that ran in vintage issues of Easyriders, and that three anthologies had been published of these stories in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I decided to pick up at least one of them, only to find that all three were ridiculously overpriced on the used books market. Then I came across this ’84 British paperback and assumed it must’ve been a retitled reprint of Best Biker Fiction 1 (Dell, 1977) for the UK market. Imagine my surprise when I read this on the copyright page: “Originally published in the United States as Best Biker Fiction 3!” 

Yes my friends, as confusing as can be, Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1 is actually Best Biker Fiction 3. I was bummed about this – I’d read online that Best Biker Fiction 1 had a lot of cool stories in it – but whatever; all three anthologies are pretty scarce, and this UK reprint itself wasn’t cheap or too easy to find. It runs to a little over 160 pages of smallish print, and Star Books has just used the original typeset, as no words have been “British-ized” and we get double quotation marks for dialog. I think that Star has actually split the original Dell edition in two; Best Biker Fiction 3 boasts “39 Great Tales!” on the cover, but this Star book only features 20 tales. My assumption is that Star’s Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 2 features the remaining 19 stories from Best Biker Fiction 3. Also worth noting is that, despite a different by-line for each of these stories, the majority of them seem to have been written by the same person, a skilled writer with a very dark sense of humor.

In my research I discovered that an author named JJ Solari was pretty much synonymous with the fiction published in Easyriders; in particular he penned a darkly comic tale titled “No Class Chick” which has become legendary in its own way. This is the story I most wanted to read, however it was compiled in Best Biker Fiction 1. You can actually read it at the link above, but do not look at the image at the top of the blog. You have been warned! Reading “No Class Chick” after Best Biker Fiction 3 has me convinced that JJ Solari is indeed the skilled author who wrote the majority of the tales in Best Biker Fiction 3, as the writing style is similar – as is the darkly comic vibe. I’d say Joe Lansdale was a fan of Solari’s…I’d also say it’s possible Lansdale himself might’ve written some of the stories collected in this book.

Another thing I found interesting is that, for the most part, biker world stuff isn’t that central to these stories, by which I mean there isn’t a lot of detail about various types of choppers and etc. The motorcycles are basically a representation of the outlaw lifestyles these characters live, and for the most part we just get the random mentions of choppers and knuckleheads or the occasional Harley. Actually, “scooter” is the word most often used for the bikes. Otherwise it’s the dark comedy and wacky situations which take most focus, as well as the weird turns of phrase. Also all the stories are definitely R-rated, at least so far as the language goes, and we also get a few somewhat-explicit sex scenes.

“Night Rider” by Grumpy Joe (any relation to Sleepy?) opens the collection; like the others to follow, it’s fairly short, amounting to a handful of pages, and borderline horror mixed with dark comedy. We meet bikers Crabs and Turks while they’re drinking at a bar (95% of the stories take place in dingy bars, by the way, with the other 5% taking place in jails), then they split up and each head their separate ways home. But Crabs suddenly finds the highway he’s riding on to be empty, and it’s pitch dark to boot; another bike comes out of nowhere and closes in on him. The mysterious rider has a gory, ruined face and Crabs flashes back to that day two years ago when he stole some dude’s bike and the dude accidentally blew his own face off with a shotgun. Well now the corpse has come back for revenge; Crabs crashes and dies.

“Down The Road” by Billy Shore follows suit: a biker named Kirk wakes up one afternoon and hops on his knucklehead, content with the aimless life of a biker. As he’s choppering along “down the road” he crests a hill, only to see a jacknifed trailer in the road. He closes his eyes, sure he’s a goner, but when he opens them later he’s still choppering along and the trailer is behind him. Somehow he missed it. He comes across a sexy blonde hitchhiker (“her ass was a buttman’s wet dream come true”) and picks her up. She just keeps telling him to drive “down the road,” and on and on they go, the gas tank never emptying and the girl’s destination never showing up. Eventually Kirk realizes that he is of course dead, wiped out by that trailer, and now he’s driving into eternity with this strange woman at his back.

“Southern Hospitality” is by Tink and is more of a “slice of sleazy biker life” sort of tale, told in first-person. A group of bikers, Porky, Jerry, and Animal among them, have a party with copious drugs and babes, but it all turns sour when someone rips off Animal’s chopper. They give chase, only to come across the crashed bike; some woman at the party who wanted a ride ripped it off and suffered the consequences.

“T’anks A Lot, Muthatrucker!” is by Weird Willie and is along the same lines, and also in first-person; two bikers run into a trucker at some greasy dive and the trio get in an argument with a random motorist. Later they get back on the road and the motorist tries to exact revenge on the bikers, attempting to run them down, only for the trucker to come to the rescue with his semi.

“The Silent Treatment” is by Dan Irons and is another first-person yarn. The narrator claims to be a folk singing biker, but inexplicably this tidbit isn’t much elaborated on. He’s choppering through Virginia when the tale begins, and comes across a mega-babe hitchhiker. He gives her a lift but starts to go batty when the girl won’t say a word – even when they’re having some off-page sex. He initiates a series of “pranks” to get her to talk, like putting a snake in her sleeping bag and even ultimately beating her up. Finally he drops her off in some town, screaming that he can’t take it anymore – to which she responds, “You’re cute,” the first words she’s ever spoken to him. So he punches her in the face, and a cop sees it. Now he’s in jail hoping to plead self-defense.

“Whatta Surprise” by Johnny Ray Cole is a definite highlight of the collection and no doubt another JJ Solaris piece. The narrator, Frank, choppers through downtown Dallas, checking out the latest new town. Frank ends up in a bar and starts checking out this hotstuff redhead. The redhead invites Frank back to her place and lights a joint, then turns off the lights when the sex begins happening. The redhead asks Frank to “cornhole” her, but Frank begins feeling her up anyway – and discovers the redhead is a man. At this point Frank reveals that “he” is a “bull-dyke!”

“The Tale Of Grumble Rumble” is by Arco Mole and concerns a big scary biker named Grumble Rumble whose name is derived from how he “rumbles” his chopper up beside another biker and then “grumbles” something unintelligible under the racket. Usually the other bikers shit their pants in fear, but along comes Notorious Norton, who is fond of tossing his boogers in the faces of the bikers he races. He and GR get in a race, one that Grumble Rumble doesn’t survive.

“Through The Years With A Hog” is by Timothy Kost and is probably the only “serious” piece in the collection. It’s also the first that might possibly be by a different author. This one concerns a guy who bought his first Harley in 1920 and drove a succession of them around America as the twentieth century went on. But now it’s 1980, the guy is 78, Harley-Davidson’s gone out of business and Japanese crap clutters the street. The guy dies and enters some sort of biker valhalla.

“Ladies Love Outlaws” is by La Bete and tells us of Fish Hook, a scar-faced enforcer for the Mad Dogs M.C. This one’s almost a novella compared to the other shorts. The narrator is best buds with Fish Hook, and tells us how he falls in love with an innocent young woman named Mary. This newfound love causes Fish Hook to lose some of his murderous tendencies, to the point that he merely pulverizes a rival biker named Frog instead of outright wasting him. Then one night Frog breaks in on the narrator, forces him at gunpoint to call Fish Hook, and plots to blow him and Mary away. Only Mary’s got a derringer hidden in her blouse.

“Gonna Have A Party” is by Ed Rules and definitely seems to be courtesy a different author; at points I got a Michael Newton vibe from the narrative style. More importantly, this story seems to have gone through an editorial wringer, as it starts out about one thing and changes course midway through. Anyway, it’s another novella-length piece, but this one’s in third person and features Jason Black, a ‘Nam vet turned freelance author who recently gave up the straight life and bought a chopper. We meet him as he enters a bar and runs afoul of a big biker there; Black smashes his face with a bottle and impresses the biker boss, Big Red. The boss announces a feast that night and invites Black, but first they need to steal a pig to roast. Here the editorial trickery occurs, as Black disappears from the narrative and we get this overlong sequence of Big Red and others enduring hell to steal the pig. Then it’s to the party, where the bikers run a gang on some young girl who shows up. Finally Jason Black returns long enough to have sex with some babe who was giving him the eye earlier, and that’s that – he choppers off to another adventure.

“Sympathy For The Devil” is by M. Skuorov and returns to the dark horror vibe of the first two stories. A biker named Crazy Chester runs into a big biker dressed all in black one night along a dark road; the biker announces that he’s Satan and will give Chester three wishes in return for his soul. Chester’s three wishes are for new lights for his bike, to become a superstud – and to have sex with Mrs. Satan. After ranting and raving a bit on that last wish, the devil gives in, but unfortunately the story ends here, with Chester happily driving back into civilization. We never even get to meet the devil’s wife.

“Kept Promises” is by Dink Ferrell and is a short piece about the narrator, a biker who is now ending his one-year “experiment” in living the straight life. He says so long to the crying girl he was living with, saying he’s back to the biker world and the “strange pussy” he’ll encounter on the road. And that’s that.

“The Mouse” is by John Watson and concerns a little joker named Mouse who acts as the prankster for his club. He decides to gain a little more respect by robbing a bank. This he does, only to get his brains blown out by the cops. The runtime of this one though is more concerned with Mouse’s previous pranks.

“The Payback” is by Alonzo Reed and it’s a belabored story that also seems to have had some editorial changes. A biker named Travis drives through Texas, stops at a bar for several beers and some ‘ludes, and ends up crashing his bike. He wakes in jail to find his bunkmate a fellow biker, this one named Snake, who not only has a coke spoon but also some coke. The spoon is crafted to look like a cobra, and Snake says it was a present from his now-dead girlfriend. He tells the story of how she was killed by another biker, and Snake’s sworn to get revenge. Travis wakes up next day to find Snake gone, and I thought this was going to be another supernatural thing, but instead Travis gets out of jail and passes by a club where Snake’s standing outside, surrounded by cops. Turns out Snake was let out before Travis woke up, went to a bar, found the man who killed his girl, and wasted him. The end.

“A Mama In A Million” is by JJ Solari, here posing under his own name. It takes the misogyny of “The Silent Treatment” and basically turns the dial to 11. The narrator has put an ad in the paper looking for a new mama, otherwise he’s going to be kicked out of his club. A young girl named Jessica shows up, pleading for the job – she shows up outside his door while it’s pouring out, saying that she’s been in the rain for hours to walk here and is at the end of her rope, financially and emotionally. The narrator leaves her outside, eating a large meal with his dog, and then finally talks to her. The “humor” of this one is all around how the narrator confuses Jessica’s dying of pneumonia with laziness. He mistreats her relentlessly while she passes out on the floor, then takes her to a party and chains her to his bike. The punchline finale has it that the bike was stolen anyway – along with the foot it was chained to. So the narrator sends her off, telling her it’s not going to work out, and he buys a monkey to be his new mama.

“A Good Woman” is by Wayne C. Ulsh and it’s about a biker named Lou Hubbard who gets in a roadside brawl with some motorists and two other bikers. Hubbard’s the only one caught and is sent to jail. Five months later he’s able to break free, and heads for the home of his old girlfriend, Molly. After they get friendly a bit they find that cops have surrounded the place. Molly offers to pose as Hubbard’s hostage, but a sadistic cop won’t play along, and Hubbard goes out saving Molly from a shotgun death.

“Dead-End Alley” is by Pockets and is a humorous yarn in which a small biker named Rodent heads to a chopshop in a litter-strewn alley, stops to take a piss, and nearly pisses on a hulking biker named Gronk who is hiding in the trash. Gronk’s staking the place out; he claims that the chopshop owner, Snake, stole his bike. He forces Rodent to assist him, and when they see that Snake does indeed have Gronk’s chopper, the huge biker jumps to action, bashing out brains and killing Snake and his colleagues.

“Rangatang’s Rule Book” is by Rangatang and is a humorous short piece in first-person in which Rangatang advises one of the rules from his book – if the cops ever get you, make ‘em wish they didn’t. He puts this rule to work when he finds himself in jail; first he pisses on a guard, then he shits up his meal and tosses it at the guards(!), then he manages to blow up a toilet, and finally he melts a candy bar, strips down, and licks it off the floor so that the disgusted cops think he’s eating his own shit. Finally the sheriff decides to let him go!

“Death Run” is by Tex Campbell and it’s novella length, probably the longest story in the book. A biker named Rick stops at a dive in Arizona and is hassled by a cop, who gives Rick “directions” which turn out to be bullshit. Rick finds himself deep in the desert, lost, and then his bike breaks down. He patches it up in the heat and then discovers an abandoned house nearby. Planning to sleep there for the night, he goes in the house and finds a pair of murdered corpses. The killers show up, a pair of hoodlums named George and Rooster. They hold Rick at gunpoint and take his money and his coke; he goes off in pursuit and crashes them with a cinder block. This one features the most WTF? downer ending ever: Rick gets his money back from the crashed car and is bitten by a poisonous snake! His bike dies again, the car is destroyed, and Rick dies.

“One On The Way” is by Ron Grate and is the shortest piece in the collection; it’s a biker version of a heartwarming tale, as the narrator befriends a twelve year-old hellion who comes by while the narrator is fixing up his bike. They discuss women and the world over a couple beers, and the narrator promises to let the kid ride his bike one day.

And that’s it for Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1 aka Best Biker Fiction 3. The stories were for the most part entertaining, filled with dark comedy and unique turns of phrase, but so far as biker pulp goes I still much preferred The Blood Circus.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Lorna’s Lust For Men (aka Ladies In Heat)

Lornas Lust For Men, by Dee Laye
No month stated, 1981  Beeline Books
(Original publication 1972)

Originally published in 1972 as Ladies In Heat, Lorna’s Lust For Men is by none other than Gil Brewer, here posing as “Lee Daye;” the original ‘72 publication was credited to “Luke Morgann.” Apparently the book went through several permutations, reprinted under a variety of titles and author names, but these days all of the editions appear to be as rare as hen’s teeth; I luckily came across this latter retitled reprinting at a nice price and, uh, snatched it up.

Now this is a sleaze novel pure and simple – it isn’t just an otherwise-standard hardboiled mystery yarn with an added “risque” element, like some of those earlier so-called sleaze novels were. This one’s all screwing, all the time, with at least one explicity-rendered banging per chapter. I’m supposed to enter the standard caveat that it’s “a shame a writer of Brewer’s caliber had to stoop to porn” and whatnot, but to tell the truth I went into Lorna’s Lust For Men eager to see how Brewer would handle sleaze, and sure enough he does manage to deliver a somewhat-entertaining plot amid the graphic sexual situations.

One thing to note – this retitling makes no sense so far as the actual plot goes; titular “Lorna” only appears in the first chapter. It’s my assumption someone at Beeline just lazily checked this first chapter when coming up with the latest title for this old Brewer novel. Another thing to note is that I only assumed the novel took place in Brewer’s typical location of Florida; we’re informed the town is named Howesville, but Brewer doesn’t do much to bring it to life or tell us anything about it – other than the incredible amount of swap parties that take place there. As one orgiast later notes (while having sex, in fact): “The whole town’s gone batty.”

It’s really hard to review a book like this; the majority of it is comprised of hardcore smut, and while I was tempted I decided not to quote any of it lest anyone get truly offended – for it is pretty sleazy. It’s always crazy to see what these hardbitten drunk old hardboiled novelists are capable of, and Brewer doesn’t let us down. The novel’s as profane as can be, with practically everything, from the narrative to the dialog, having to do with unbridled sex. There’s also some stuff that wouldn’t be publishable today; most notably, while Lorna gets the titular spot in this later edition, the girl our hero spends the most time boffing is named Emily…and she happens to be fifteen years old. And her young age is only seen as an enticement for more boffing.

Anyway our hero is Booth Landers, a professional painter who I assume must be in his early 20s, and this because we learn that “two years ago” he graduated from college. We don’t get much info on his job but he seems to be a painter for commercial accounts; early on a “soda ad” is mentioned. But otherwise the painting aspect has nothing to do with anything, other than the steady stream of willing models Booth gets to screw over the course of a few days. In fact, we meet him as the lovely redheaded Lorna is imploring him for sex – she’s been lusting after him the past few days, particularly after catching a glimpse of him and his eight-inch “pecker” in the shower here in his studio.

Straight out of the gate we see what we’re in for, as Booth and Lorna energetically screw over seemingly endless pages in full-on graphic splendor. We’re to understand that this is a first for Booth; he’s never had sex with any of his models, happily married to a “big blonde” named Verna. And folks guess who just happens to walk into the studio as Booth and Lorna are having round two? That’s right: Verna, who freaks out at the sight of Lorna sitting atop her husband and “slobbering over his dick.” She takes off, and Booth regretfully ends his time with Lorna, who drops from the narrative and never shows up again, so it’s clear the good people at Beeline didn’t put too much thought into the title of this edition.

Booth goes home but is unable to talk Verna out of dumping him, so he takes his stuff and goes back to his studio – just in time to have sex with another model, this one named Cherry. It’s revealed that all of his models have been lusting for him, and now that Lorna broke the dam they’re all bound and determined to have their way with him. So there ensues yet another hardcore a-doings, with yet another intruder coming upon Booth mid-boink: Dr. Lester Doyle, a local sleazebag who lost his license over an abortion years ago. He’s been keeping himself occupied by blackmailing Booth and has come for his latest payment.

Brewer displays his hardboiled background with this subplot: Booth, according to Doyle, raped a young woman two years ago, and now he’s got to pay every week to keep her from going to the cops. The belabored story has it that the girl was actually gang-raped, with Booth being the one who held her down while his buddies took their turns after him. This was after their graduation party, and all the other guys have returned to their homes; since Booth stayed here in Howesville, he’s the only one who can be successfully blackmailed by Doyle – the girl came to him for treatment after the rape and confided in him. Eventually we’ll learn though that she wasn’t raped: it was more of an orgy sort of affair, with the gal getting off on pretending to be taken advantage of by a bunch of guys in the woods. Whatever, we’ll roll with it.

Even here Brewer manages to cater to the sleazy whims of his editorial demands: Coyle plays pocket pool as he watches the half-nude Cherry waltzing around the studio. In a typical hardboiled story, Booth would no doubt be planning how he could kill Coyle – the only people who even know about the supposed rape and the blackmailing are Coyle and the “victim” – but instead Booth has been paying to keep the doctor’s mouth shut. Now though with Verna leaving him he’s not as worried about his wife being told of the incident (one of Coyle’s threats), however he’s still frantic he’ll go to prison if Doyle tells the cops (another of Coyle’s threats). Instead he sends the doctor off, telling him he’ll pay later.

The novel is like Blue Dreams taken to absurd hardcore proportions. For within days of becoming separated from his wife, Booth’s had sex with sundry hotstuff women, only of course this being a sleaze novel the sex is much more explicit than in that earlier, superior novel. And also once again the sex is taken to such extreme levels that it reaches gross-out proportions; Booth is forever “washing off his dick in the sink” and rushing to his next XXX engagement. Throughout Brewer tries to incorporate actual “novel stuff:” Booth’s studio is trashed while he’s out screwing some latest babe, and there’s a running mystery of who did it, and also he has a few confrontations with Verna, determined to reunite with her. As I say Brewer seems to be having fun, like when Booth gets angry at the suspicion that Verna’s already having sex with some new guy…and then realizes that he himself has been with five women in the past day.

Oh yeah and befitting the early ‘70s publication date (of the original edition at least), swap parties are all the rage: Booth goes to about five of them over the course of the novel, each time escorted by his latest model girlfriend. Chief among these is Emily, the aforementioned teenager; of all the female characters in the novel, she has the most sex scenes with Booth and takes him to a couple swap parties. Another running thread is that Booth keeps hearing that Verna is going to be appearing at these orgies, yet he never finds her at one. Oh and one of these orgies features one of the greatest lines of dialog I’ve ever read (not to mention another indication of Brewer having fun): “Put your whang in me, Alivin.”

Booth does finally come across Verna at a swap party, late in the novel, giving an energetic bj to some dude, something Booth learns she’s done for several other guys just before him. “This is my wife!” A naked Booth shouts to the assembled swappers. “She’s been sucking everyone off! Now I’m gonna fuck the shit out of her!” (Actual quotes from the book, mind you.) Thus Booth forces himself upon his wife as everyone watches, and it only occurred to me much later that cagey Brewer had worked rape into the resolution of this subplot – Booth’s troubles with Dr. Coyle being based on a supposed rape, and Booth’s repairing of his relationship with his wife via an actual rape. Not that Verna much minds it, given that she’s all worked up anyway. After this Booth even forces her to give him one of those super bjs, after which the two delcare their reborn love for one another and leave the orgy(!).

But as if we haven’t had enough orgy action, we get another one immediately after this; Booth and Verna have some dialog back home, accepting one another’s infidelities and deciding to have an open, swinger-friendly relationship. Also, Verna admits to having wrecked Booth’s studio, but offers to pay for repair. All that settled, they head to another orgy straightaway – there seems to be several of them going on at any given time here in Howesville – and here the climax plays out, so to speak, when Booth spots none other than Dr. Coyle engaging in the hardcore activities. Not only him, but also the young woman who accused Booth of raping her, two years ago. Booth again shouts to the assembled throngs, informing them of the good doctor’s blackmail attempts and the girl who lied that he raped her. He then proceeds to beat up Coyle, and he and Verna go off happily together.

And that’s it for Lorna’s Lust For Men, aka Ladies In Heat, etc. Hopefully this overlong summary will save others the trouble of actually reading the book. I mean not that it’s bad – as a purefire sleaze novel with explicit sex it’s certainly a success – it’s just that anyone hoping for a glimpse of what Brewer’s truly capable of will come away dissatisfied.