Thursday, April 30, 2020

Depth Force #8: Suicide Run

Depth Force #8: Suicide Run, by Irving Greenfield
March, 1987  Zebra Books

I’m missing the seventh volume of Depth Force, but for once we get a little bit of backstory in this eighth volume; Irving Greenfield usually doesn’t tell us much about what came before, but at least this time we find out it’s “several months” after #6: Sea Of Flames and there have been a few soap-operatic changes to the characters and story. For one, hero Admiral Jack Boxer apparently suffered some sort of breakdown in the previous volume, but he’s doing fine now and he’s about to marry some lady named Francine, who made her first appearance last time. 

Boxer’s also now in charge of a sub called the Barracuda, so presumably the Shark was destroyed by the nutjob who hijacked it toward the end of the sixth volume. Boxer’s also got new commanders: Tysin, his direct commander (inexplicably referred to by the nickname “Chi-Chi”), and Mason, the new director of the Navy. Humorously, not only do these guys hate Boxer but they’re actively plotting his death!! Apparently Boxer embarrassed the US last time by insisting that a bravery award be given to best bud-archenemy Borodine, the other series protagonist – and Borodine has his own continuing “As The Periscope Turns” subplot, with a new wife and his own skirmishes with commanding officers. I usually skim his parts because they bore me.

Actually the whole series is pretty boring. A weird thing about Greenfield’s style is that he always foregoes any opportunity for excitement; seriously, main characters will be killed off and it’s relayed so casually, in a humdrum narrative style, that you have to go back and re-read the section to be sure you understand what’s happened. It’s almost as if the series were catered to invalids, or people with nervous conditions – “I want a yarn about submarine commanders in some near-future Cold War setting, but for god’s sake no action or suspense – my heart couldn’t take it!”

Per series template, we meet Boxer just as he’s wrapping up the events of the previous volume; as mentioned before, every volume of Depth Force follows the same path. We’ll have the first quarter-plus devoted to wrapping up the previous book, then we’ll have the meat of the tale, which is comprised of plotting and counterplotting and other soap opera stuff, and then we’ll get to the “main” plot (ie the plot described on the back cover)…and this “main plot” will only take up about twenty pages of the book. Indeed, the back covers of Depth Force usually are more accurate at describing the next volume. So then Suicide Run (the title a perfect summation of how the reader feels when undertaking one of these books) doesn’t get to this promised plot – the Russkies attacking a section of Alaska – until page 200, and the book only runs 220+ pages.

As usual we meet Boxer while he’s dealing with Borodine and other Russian forces, fighting them and then coming to their aid, or vice versa. So this time Boxer’s just prevented the Russians from assaulting Yemen or somesuch, and he’s making off in his sub with the actual raiding party, looking to reunite them with their countrymen. Of course, his commanding officers demand that he bring them all back to the US as prisoners of war, but Boxer refuses and shuts off communication. He runs right into a trap, as Borodine’s sub has been positioned as bait by the Russians – Boxer’s objective is to drop the men off with Borodine and then head home. He manages to evade the trap and drop off the men, but unexpectedly encounters a more devastating attack in the waters outside Virginia, where the Barracuda is hit by some mysterious object. Here Boxer’s first mate, Cowley, is killed in the action…but again the reader has to go back and make sure this is what’s happened, as it isn’t much elaborated upon.

At this point the plot settles into the usual soap opera dynamic; Boxer reports to Tysin and Mason, who immediately begin plotting his death – in particular, Tysin plans to use Sanchez, Boxer’s former best buddy, to kill him. Sanchez appeared in the earlier volumes and had a falling out with Boxer, presumably in the previous volume. However this won’t pan out until the very end of the novel, when Tysin meets with Sanchez, asks if he’d be interested, and Sanchez says he won’t kill Boxer but he will abduct Boxer’s fiance Francine and hand her over to his “friends in Arabia,” who I guess must run a sex-slave ring.

Now I know what you’re thinking – it might be boring and all, but at least we can expect some random explicit sex in Depth Force right? Well friends brace yourself for this one: there’s no sex in Suicide Run! I mean the one thing that at least keeps you turning the pages, in the hopes you’ll come across some Harold Robbins-esque filth, and it’s not even there! Francine serves more in the capacity of Boxer’s confidant, more so than any previous female character, there for a shoulder to lean on and to come to his aid in unexpected moments – there’s another vague subplot about Boxer trying to get custody of some kid (I presume his son, last mentioned a few volumes ago), and the lawyer’s trying to pull a fast one on Boxer, until Francine reveals she’s got info about the lawyer’s gay frolics, which will make for a sensational news story.

It just goes on and on, with only occasional action. Boxer scuba dives with another shipmate where Barracuda was mysteriously attacked; he comes to the conclusion it was a missile, and we readers already know Tysin was behind it. Boxer gets in a skirmish with some enemy frogmen, sent here by Tysin to plant evidence so it looks like Barracuda hit a motorboat. Boxer uses an “underwater rifle” and takes them both out, but of course his friend is killed. This leads to another action scene as Boxer, a local cop, and Stark (Boxer’s former commanding officer, now retired and living with Boxer and Francine) get in a brief firefight with some men – a sequence that could’ve been much more exploited.

The “main plot” as mentioned comes up very late in the book, and has to do with the Russians closing in on some “newly-discovered oil fields” in Alaska. Boxer is put in charge of a new sub, Tiny Tim, and heads off with another assault team he’s supposed to drop off. And once again all the action happens off-page while Boxer stands in the control room, watching monitors. This time a nuke is even set off, with the last image of Suicide Run being particularly apocalyptic; a mushroom cloud in the distance, the entire assault team and Russian invading force wiped out, and, once again, Borodine and Boxer trapped in quickly-failing submarines, about to go to one another’s rescue. I’ve got the next one, at least, so will see how some of these plot threads play out.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Cult Of Killers

The Cult of Killers, by Donald MacIvers
No month stated, 1976  Leisure Books

This lurid Charles Manson cash-in has become scarce over the years, probably because Justin Marriott spotlighted it The Sleazy Reader #8. I luckily managed to get a copy several years ago, but am only just now getting around to it – I’m not often in the mood for Manson-themed books, as I’ve never been much interested in the guy. I also put it off because I suspected this would be another of those Leisure winners where the back cover copy had nothing to do with the novel itself…and it turns out I was correct.

At any rate, The Cult Of Killers (the title page doesn’t have a “The,” by the way) is like a sweat mag yarn taken to novel length, and by that I mean the latter-era men’s mags, the ones from the early ‘70s that featured sleazy yarns about killer hippies and Satanic cults. Stories that were written in first person, purportedly by escaped victims of the cults. This book follows the same template, as “Donald MacIvers” is not only the name of the author but also the name of the character who narrates the book – the idea being that this is his own story, in his own words, of his escape from the Manson “cult of killers.” Unfortunately the spine of the paperback ruins the conceit, as it’s labelled “Fiction!”

I couldn’t find out who really wrote the book – it’s copyright Nordon, aka Leisure/Belmont Tower, and the Catalog Of Copyright Entries was no help. But as I read the book I began to experience déjà vu, as the narrative voice was very similar to a novel I read a few years ago. My suspicion is that the author of The Cult Of Killers is the same author who wrote The Rock Nations: George William Rae. In my review of that one I speculated that “Rae” might’ve been a pseudonym, as the book was copyright the publisher, but now I’m not so sure, as there are too many similarities between it and The Cult of Killers.

To wit, The Rock Nations is ostensibly a novel about the rock scene, about a guy going to all the major rock festivals of the day, but in reality it turns out to be a hate-filled polemic on practically everything, narrated by a bitter young counterculture type from Boston. The Cult Of Killers is ostensibly a novel about a murderous Manson cult, about a guy’s escape from the killers, but in reality it turns out to be a hate-filled polemic on practically everything, narrated by a bitter young counterculture type from Boston. More importantly, the narrative voice of the two novels is identical. For example:

The ride was smooth and fast. The cabbie was a young black guy and he didn’t talk at all. I hate the blabber-mouth hackies who bore you to death bullshitting about who they hate and who they like. Who cares? He turned across Twenty Third Street and I saw a girl I used to know. At least I think I did. 

We grew up together and she’s the first girl I ever made it with. There were all these good-looking girls. Blondes, ones with big tits, others with cute asses. But the good-looking ones were usually uptight. They would kiss with their teeth clenched. Strong-jawed Janes, you know? But this chick, Moira, she was really something.

This could’ve been lifted directly from The Rock Nations, but it’s from The Cult Of Killers. The two novels are very similar in how they start off in one direction but then get mired in incidental bitchery, lending the impression of an author angrily bashing the typewriter keys and using the plot as an excuse to take out his anger on the world. The knowledge of Boston and New York’s slummier areas is also strong in both books. I’m now suspecting that George William Rae followed a sort of Manning Lee Stokes career path: he published his own material in his early career but eventually ended up writing pseudonymous books that were copyright whoever hired him. Another clue might be Confessions Of The Boston Strangler (Pyramid Books, 1967), another book credited to George William Rae – which would indicate that Rae was familiar with both Boston and with murderers.

Well anyway, enough armchair investigation. As mentioned the novel has the same sleazy vibe as one of those “I escaped a hippie death cult” men’s mag stories, even opening the same way, with “Mac” telling us he’s now hunted by them, and beginning his story with the day he decided to get out of the cult. The book by the way operates in a sort of alternate reality in which Manson started off a nation-wide “Cult of Killers,” composed of drug-crazed fiends who do Charlie’s bidding, receiving his orders via telepathy or something. Unfortunately Mac never gives us much of a reason of why he even joined the cult in the first place, but the front cover doesn’t lie: Donald MacIvers is indeed a “sadistic killer,” who along with his fellow cult members has murdered innocent men, women, and even children. This really makes it hard to root for the guy, particularly given that, by his own admission, he basically joined the cult because he didn’t have much else going on!

This opening part is almost squirm-inducing in how grungy and gross it is; Mac and his fellow cult members live in total filth and squalor in a Lower East Side apartment, and per tradition for any crime novel set in Manhattan it’s a sweltering summer. Mac wakes up from a nightmare and beside him on the bed is Big Esmerelda, aka Big Es, a “big fat blonde broad” cult member who carries a .45 strapped to her meaty thigh. Mac casually informs us that he “fucks” Big Es a lot, as he has so many other women in the cult – as well as some of the men, per Charlie’s encouraged switch-hitting. Leading the gang is Crazy Mary, a thin brunette with a slight build who emanates an aura of evil comparable to Manson’s; Mac implies that she’s basically a female Manson. And also she apparently does receive ESP directions from her unholy master, as Crazy Mary and her gang will mysteriously track Mac wherever he goes around the city, always at his heels.

The author also well captures the pure evil of Mary as she closes in on Mac, suspecting something’s up with him. We don’t get much explanation – in fact Mac’s pretty vague about most everything – but he’s had his fill of the killing and the blood and he wants out immediately. It’s all clammy and sweaty and smelly in the grungy room, the other killers surrounding Mac at their leaders’s behest. There are only a few of them, and they aren’t much brought to life: there’s some nameless guy new to the group, a couple other girls, but sad to say this is all we’ll see of any of them. Even Crazy Mary! This will be her only “real” scene in the entire book, with Big Es doing all the heavy lifting. This is a shame because Mary has the potential of being a great villain…she’s apparently pretty, other than those crazy eyes, and also has “big breasts” for a slim girl, but amazingly enough Mac does very little to exploit any of this; Crazy Mary exists more as a representative of Manson, directing her minions from afar.

Big Es speaks for Mac’s innocence, and Crazy Mary temporarily calls off her plans to kill him – the idea being, the cult sees life as so meaningless that they’re doing people a favor by killing them. However someone who runs from the cult would warrant a much more lasting punishment before death, hence Mac’s terror that Crazy Mary has figured out that he plans to run away. But again it’s hard to give a damn about Mac because, by his own admission, he’s murdered various innocents. At any rate he and Big Es are ordered to go out and steal some groceries. The author certainly knows New York City, and at times attains almost a Len Levinson vibe with topical details of the various streets, to the point that it almost comes off like a guided tour of mid-‘70s Manhattan. Big Es and Mac end up in a place off 9th; Big Es goes into a routine of pretending to choke, but instead of stealing groceries Mac makes a run for it.

Here we get the first glimpse of the unintentional humor the novel will attain. For despite being “passed out” on the grocery floor mere moments ago, Big Es is right behind Mac moments after he dashes out of the store – not even hampered by the fact that she’s a “big fat broad.” Yes, she’s immediately seen Mac run out of the store and she instantly gives chase, her sharpened knife ready to gut him. Mac jumps the subway gates and is promptly caught and arrested, relieved to be taken into custody and away from the waiting Big Es. Another big problem with The Cult Of Killers is that our narrator is a murdering cultist…yet it never occurs to him to fight back against his former comrades. He just runs like a dog until the very end, when he belatedly realizes: “Hey, I can fight them -- that might keep them from chasing after me!”

It was at this point that I began to suspect “Donald MacIvers” was George William Rae, or whoever wrote The Rock Nations. There’s a random digression on prison life as Mac is taken through various levels of custody, with equally-random diatribing throughout, including a super-random bit where a famous young black man is thrown in the same jail as Mac and the cops are worried. But then Mac’s bail is paid for, and Mac knows it’s Crazy Mary looking to get him back on the streets so she can kill him. So a freed Mac does what most any other “cult member on the run” would do…he goes into a public bathroom and propositions the first dude who looks like he’s come in here looking for a gay fling. Off they go to a hotel, where Mac gives the guy a bj for some cash.

As if this weren’t random enough, it gets even more random – the dude leaves and Mac stays in the room a bit, wondering what to do. Then he gets a phone call, and it’s the guy he was just with: turns out this dude promptly went to a gay orgy, where one of the guys got a Coke bottle stuck up his ass(!!), and would Mac mind coming over to try to get it out? I mean WTF?? Folks this actually happens in the book. Mac’s been called for the job because his new friend just assumes he knows what to do…and sure enough Mac does. He rolls on over, arranges some towels on the floor, then punches the Coke-bottler in the face…and the dude starts “instantly shitting,” which dislodges the bottle. So now you know what to do if you ever find yourself in such a situation…

The author gradually gets back to the plot at hand; Mac might be from Boston but he knows people all over Manhattan, and through various calls he’s put in line with a safe house he could use. Only problem is it’s owned by the Mafia, and if Mac wants to stay there he’ll have to do courier jobs for them. For some inexplicable reason Mac’s against this, even though he joined a friggin’ cult because he didn’t have anything else to do. What makes it all the more ridiculous is that Mac’s set up with a drop-dead beauty who comes over for some (mostly off-page) sex, after which the mob guy tells Mac that the girl will be his if he takes the courier job with them. But Mac says no, and leaves…then comes to his senses and tries to go back. Unfortunately Big Es is there, the first of many ensuing instances in which she and the other cult members magically appear.

At this point it’s a somewhat tense thriller as Mac rushes all over the city, Big Es always appearing no matter where he goes. Finally he realizes he should just leave the city, and gets on a bus to Boston. Surprisingly here the author delivers what is by far the most explicit sex scene in the novel; a brunette beauty named Trish sits on the seat beside Mac, and after a little conversation she asks him if he wants to screw, right here on the bus. It’s a pretty hardcore sequence, complete with the novel means with which the girl ensures Mac’s, uh, seed doesn’t stain her dress (spoiler alert: it involves her mouth). Trish develops into what could be the main female character in the novel, even though she’s unceremoniously dropped from the text: she’s a hooker whose pimp was arrested, so now she’s going to Boston to stake out new grounds.

The author develops a somewhat meaningful relationship between the two; Mac and Trish spend a few weeks living together, while meanwhile she tries to find a new pimp in Boston’s sleazy Combat Zone, which we’re informed is ten times sleazier than Times Square. Yet even here Big Es shows up! Trish is shuttled off to a nice job at a fancy whorehouse, and nothing else is said of her. For by this time Mac’s finally realized he can fight back, and gets himself a .38 and a hunting knife. His confrontation with Big Es and a few other cult members is capably handled, with Mac shooting and dicing the freaks, and it makes you wish there’d been more stuff like this throughout the book.

But instead…the narrative deflates like a burst balloon…we’re geared for more vengeance-dispensing, particularly a comeuppance for Crazy Mary, but Mac jumps forward in time and says Big Es has posthumously become a hero in the movement, and now the cult is even more determined to hunt him down and kill him. He’s written this book in seclusion, you see, and tells us he might consider the FBI’s offer of security, though he doubts he will. The book is so sloppily plotted that Mac tells us Crazy Mary even tracked him down to a small town he was hiding in, and then he flashes back to an interminable ramble on how he arrived in said small town – yet he never bothers to tell us about Crazy Mary’s arrival! Instead the novel ends with him newly arrived in the town, fearing that Mary will inevitably show up…something we know will happen, as we were just told about it several pages before!

At this point The Cult Of Killers limps to a close. As a “cult member on the run” tale goes, it’s an abject failure; too much of it is comprised of random asides, pontificating, or bitching. The characters are not sufficiently developed to make you care for them, and as I’ve mentioned a few times now it’s impossible to root for a guy who himself is a “sadistic murderer.” However the topical details about Manhattan and the Combat Zone are great, and the author – despite the poor plotting and whatnot – can definitely write. But then, The Rock Nations was also well written, despite being a bore of a book.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Man From Planet X #3: The Devil To Pay

The Man From Planet X #3: The Devil To Pay, by Hunter Adams
August, 1977  Pinnacle Books

A little over two years after the second volume this third installment of The Man From Planet X finally came out, and I can’t imagine too many people across this great land of ours rushed out to buy a copy. There’s no internal evidence that two years have passed, and neither the front nor the back cover mention it, so my assumption is this book was ready to go in 1975, to be published shortly after the first two volumes, but was held back due to the oil crisis. Per Michael Newton in How To Write Action-Adventure Fiction, the men’s adventure market came to an abrupt halt in the mid-‘70s because publishers, facing an energy crisis, whittled their lines back to just the most essential titles. I figure The Man From Planet X wasn’t anywhere near a top seller for Pinnacle, so it was put on hiatus a few years.

So I’ll proceed with my theory that James D. Lawrence (aka “Hunter Adams”) wrote this one around the same time as the previous two, as the book just feels more mid ‘70s than late ‘70s. All the topical references are to mid-‘70s stuff, and there’s no mention by hero Peter Lance (aka alien Pritan Lansol) of any passage of time since Tiger By The Tail. But then at this point Lawrence is writing a straight-up comedy series, so there’s no focus on any sort of recurring storyline; Pinnacle proclaims this a “New Erotic Adventure Series” on the covers, but really “Adventure” should be replaced by “Comedy.” Peter Lance is so superhuman that there’s absolutely no drama or suspense to any predicament he finds himself in, thus everything plays out for laughs; even a part where he has to escape some scuba divers fails to engender any tension, given that, “like all Tharbians,” Peter has gills implanted in his lungs, so can breathe underwater.

Random musing: With this volume it occurred to me that “Tharb,” the planet Pritan Lansol is from, sounds similar to “therb,” the whip-weapon employed in the Balzan series – which was also “produced” by Lyle Kenyon Engel, and which also ran for only three volumes. The similarity of the two words makes me assume Engel himself came up with the terms when he farmed out each series; my assumption is Engel devised the concept, characters, and any recurring gadgets or gimmicks, and then his various ghostwriters delivered to spec. Anyway I’m only noting this because, sadly, the Tharb/therb thing proved to be more interesting than practically the entirety of The Devil To Pay. Because honestly this is a novel that starts with the mixed metaphor “the antlike humans were like fleas,” and that’s just the first paragraph. So you already know from the get-go that you’re in for a book where the author doesn’t give a shit.

Another thing clear with this volume is that Lawrence is bored with writing standard sex material. This already started with the previous volume, where the greater focus was on foreplay and gross-out situations. The initial boink is the most graphic in The Devil To Pay; Peter is walking along Manhattan one night and senses danger – he looks up at the skyscraper he’s walking by and sees a nude hotstuff brunette screaming for help. Peter scales twenty floors and enters the opened window to find the brunette about to be raped by a multiracial trio of thugs, leading to the unforgettable line, “…the Negro prepared to impale her with his huge, clublike ebony phallus.”

Without any effort Peter dispenses of the three, knocking them out and tossing them aside…he unties the brunette, a model named Solange, and when she complains that her arms are numb from being tied up, Peter does what any guy would do – he whips out his whang, which folks is sixteen inches long. You see, Peter’s dick pulses “ultrasonically,” thus he explains to the gal that all she need do is hold onto it and the pulsing will take care of that pesky numbness. Of course one thing leads to another, and soon enough Solange hops up on Peter so his whang is “wetly sheathed,” which causes the gal to scream out what is yet another unforgettable line: “My whole twat’s ultrasonic!” As mentioned this is not only the most explicit sex scene in the book, but it also features the first of many gross-out moments, with detail on Peter’s “spewing geyser” which is so, uh, climactic that it actually suspends Solange in mid-air!

Humorously this “geyser” is witnessed by Solange’s muscular and simperingly gay photographer, Brute Smoot, who doesn’t puke when he sees it, but instead starts checking out Peter, who of course quickly puts on his pants – the Man From Planet X might be an alien, but he’s no switch-hitter. Smoot just freed himself from a closet (unironically, I’m sure); he reveals that the thugs put him there before going after Solange, and Peter discovers that the entire building is crawling with other thugs who are looting the place. This promises a Die Hard situation, but instead Peter calls his boss, crotchety billionaire BG Wyngard, who sends in a private ‘copter to pick up Peter. BG is more concerned with one of his many companies, one that happens to have an office in this building; this place was working on a new energy project called Project Q, and when Peter checks the office on BG’s orders, sure enough the plans for it have been stolen from the vault.

Daphne Wyngard, who served as the main female character in the first volume, is again reduced to a cameo role, same as last time; when Peter goes back to BG’s rolling mansion, Daphne comes to his room to tell him she and her friends had “a little orgy,” one that led to a game of “find the olive.” Well, you know how these things go, and now a pimento is stuck up there and Daphne wonders if Peter could help remove it. “Perhaps if I use my tongue…” muses Peter, an idea which Daphne is eager to try out. This leads to off-page sex, same as Peter’s boff immediately thereafter with Wanda, BG’s insatiable, much-younger wife. Indeed, all the many sex scenes will be off-page from here on out, so while the book is smutty and sleazy it’s never outright hardcore. I mean The Baroness, another Engel production, is much more hardcore, and it wasn’t even billed as an “erotic series.”

The title and back cover copy promise a storyline involving Satanism – yet another element that places the book more in the early-mid 1970s than in the late 1970s – but truth be told Lawrence doesn’t do much to exploit it. BG reveals that one of Project Q’s main scientists, Ghent, went missing during a trip to Italy, but has finally returned and is acting weird. Peter shadows the guy – including a random bit where Ghent receives a package at the post office, Peter intercepts it, and it apparently has shit inside it – and this ultimately leads Peter to a Satanic orgy in a warehouse in SoHo. Here a guy dressed as the devil exhorts his followers to have group sex; more interesting is that Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” provides the soundtrack! This is actually the second time Lawrence has referenced Black Sabbath in a men’s adventure novel; he also did in Dark Angel #4. And also this particular Black Sabbath track, from their 1973 album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, might be another indication that The Devil To Pay was written in ’75, not ’77 – but then, what self-respecting Satanist would play Technical Ecstasy at an orgy?

Even here though the focus is more on sleazy comedy than action, let alone Satanic horror. (I mean if you want sleazy Satanic sex mixed with men’s adventure thrills, you seek out The Mind Masters #2.) Peter doffs his clothes to “fit in” with the others, but of course none of them have coppery red skin (“like a storybook Indian,” per one of Lawrence’s more memorable descriptions)….let alone a friggin’ sixteen-inch cock, so he’s an instant hit when the Satanists get a gander of him. And like the ol’ “dick stuck in the sink” bit from the previous book, this time Peter allows his whang to be strapped into some old piece of machinery, to be fawned over and petted by the orgiasts – Lawrence doesn’t elaborate, but it’s clear that the male orgiasts are stroking and sucking away at it, too, which makes Peter’s earlier abhorrence of Bruce Smoot kind of hypocritical – and then a fire breaks out, and Peter’s stuck. This is actually the most tense part in the book, as Peter has to choose between being burned alive or literally emasculating himself so he can get to freedom…but then our inhuman protagonist merely lifts the one-ton contraption and staggers out to the fire escape. And only after this does his “excitement” sufficiently dwindle so that he can, uh, slip out of the device.

In fact the whole Satanism angle barely fits into the scheme of things, making me suspect it was yet another Lyle Kenyon Engel mandate which Lawrence only half-assedly fulfilled. Instead, Peter figures the Satanism thing was more of just a fun hobby sort of thing for Ghent, and shortly afterward is tracking down another clue left by the scientist – a sex-focused travel agency based out of Manhattan, which has a whorehouse on the property. Peter’s getting busy with a busty Italian hooker when CIA agents raid the place – leading to yet another unforgettable line, as recurring CIA goon McDade orders his men to search the inner recesses of all the hookers: “That’s the spirit, cunthunters!” McDade comes in on Peter and the girl just as they’ve finished, and proceeds to inspect her; this bit probably has the most gross-out moment of all in the book, so gross-out that I just had to quote it in full:

[McDade] plucked from his pocket a slender-barreled optical instrument which appeared to be a battery-powered vaginascope; and after screwing one end to his eye, he inserted the other end into [the hooker’s] vulva – his face taking on an expression of deep interest. 

“Judas Priest, boy!” he muttered. “Talk about giving somebody the Deep Six! You got her pumped so full of pecker juice, I may need scuba gear and sonar to find out what kinda subversive-secret weaponry she’s got stowed up her snatch!”

After this the novel becomes mired in a tiresome espionage-comedy thing; Peter heads over to Rome to further research what happened to Ghent, only to find himself attending another Satanic orgy. While again trying to fit in, Peter is quickly outed, leading to a bit where Lawrence both indulges in the goofy sleaze vibe of the series and his penchant for obscure terms:

The third [Satanist girl] fastened her lips around [Peter’s] genital. But instead of sucking, she seemed to be blowing something up through his meatus! 

Too late, Peter Lance realized what was happening. They were injecting him with some sort of vaporous drug!”

I mean nothing says “New Erotic Adventure Series” like “meatus.” And also “genital” is a recurring term, to the extent that it makes the book seem like it was written by a robot with a limited understanding of human sexual intercourse. But then this appears to have been the idea, as Peter himself has no understanding of human sexual mores; when later he catches Solange, who has followed him here to Italy, having sex with a French triple agent, the girl cries because she can’t understand why Peter’s not upset that she was screwing another guy. To which Peter responds, “Good heavens, it’s your genital. Why should I object to what you allow inside it?”

Ultimately the Satanist angle drops and more focus is placed on Kontides, a Greek shipping magnate clearly based on Onassis who goes by the colorful nickname “Superkunt.” He’s very much in the Bond villain mold, with gold teeth and an army of henchmen. Peter runs afoul of him, is briefly captured and interrogated – he easily escapes, of course – and also Peter manages to pick up a parrot, per Bruce Minney’s cover. As we’ll recall, Peter can telepathically communicate with animals, leading to some humorous exchanges with the bird. And also this whole bit reminded me of a novel Len Levinson told me about back in 2014; he said in the ‘70s he wrote an unpublished novel titled The Parrot “about the world from the viewpoint of a highly intelligent parrot who has various adventures with people,” but it never got past the first draft. He’d recently rediscovered the manuscript and I practically begged him to send me a copy, but he said it needed too much work.

Anyway, that too is more interesting than anything in The Devil To Pay. There’s more espionage stuff, all of it revolving around goofy sex, like when Peter gets a bj from a hooker in an Italian whorehouse and afterwards his whole nether region is numb – metal fillament implanted by the woman’s mouth, connected to electrodes which she controls from a button on the bed. One touch of the button and Peter’s sixteen inches will be fried. There’s also the outrageously-named Tex Happyfeller, a redneck agent for OPEC, but he vanishes from the narrative almost as soon as he’s introduced.

The plot gradually centers around cacatroleum, the (literally) shitty substance Peter discovered in that package he intercepted from Ghent at the start of the book. This material is on the property of lusty Rosa Volterra, and all the action and intrigue have been a result of various factions trying to gain control of it. And also Brute Smoot keeps showing up everywhere, on one pretense or another, and clearly Peter Lance isn’t too smart because it takes him until the end of the book to realize that Brute’s involved in everything. And it’s ironic if the oil crisis really did postpone publication of this book, given that cacatroleum is a newly-discovered natural fuel that has the potential of replacing oil. 

The novel (and series) ends with Peter heading off for more time with Rosa – honestly he sleeps with so many women in the book that the reader needs a scorecard to keep track – and it was with much relief that I closed the book for the final time. Even the funky ‘70s details weren’t enough to save this one, and in fact they’ve dwindled as well…we read about, say, “purple hip-huggers” on Solange, or a denim suit for Peter, but really Lawrence saves all his “sleazy ‘70s fashion” ammo for Dark Angel. So the sex is pretty much nonexistent, the “thrills” are lame and tame because the hero’s superhumanly strong and fast, and the writer clearly isn’t taking anything seriously…which altogether means that there’s not much return on investment in either collecting or reading The Man From Planet X.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Find The Don’s Daughter

Find The Dons Daughter, by Jeff Jacks
January, 1974  Fawcett Gold Medal

Not much is known about mysterious author Jeff Jacks, but one thing we can certainly say is he wasn’t prolific. Find The Don’s Daughter was the second and final novel he published, coming two years after his previous novel, Murder On The Wild Side. This one also features Jacks’s narrating protagonist, ex-cop turned P.I. Shep Stone, and it picks up shortly after the previous book, set in early December of 1970. More adventures for Shep seem to be promised in the climax, but sadly none were forthcoming, and Jacks slipped into the aether, ultimately becoming such a mysterious figure that it was at one time rumored that “Jacks” was just a pseudonym of Lawrence Block (which Block denied).

I had little expectations going into this one, and mostly just got it years ago due to the title and the great cover art (which thanks to Lynn Munroe we know is by Elaine Duillo). But it turns out to be more of a rock novel than some actual “rock novels” I’ve read, with more rock-world and music description stuff in its first half than the entirety of, say, The Rock Nations or Rock & Roll Retreat Blues. This is because Shep’s latest case has him investigating the titular “Don’s daughter,” who happens to moonlight as the singer for a rock band in Greenwich Village. There’s a part where Shep watches the band in action, and Jacks does a great job of capturing what the group actually sounds like, something most of those other rock writers don’t even bother trying to do. In this regard it’s a shame that the rock stuff fades away and is gradually replaced by a sort of espionage plot with maniacal CIA agents and black militants.

At 223 pages of fairly small print, Find The Don’s Daughter is a bit too flabby for its own good, with the cumulative effect that the snappy, proto-Shane Black vibe of Shep’s narration and rapid-fire dialog exchanges gradually lose impact. This too is a shame, because there is some excellent dialog here, with laugh-out-loud smart assed comments from Shep throughout. Jacks also has a great skill with characterization, bringing to life a host of unusual figures. This is particularly true of our narrator, a former alchoholic private eye who lives in near poverty in SoHo and mostly works in the Greenwich area, chasing down runaway hippie kids.

Despite the suave gent on the cover, Shep in the book has long “hippie-dippy hair” and never carries a gun – we’re told he actually hides his revolver “behind the old socks” in a drawer in his SoHo apartment. He doesn’t retrieve it in the book. We learn in brief backstory that he was once a decorated cop, on his way to becoming the youngest captain in NYPD history, but then he was caught taking payoffs or somesuch. After a battle with the bottle, which presumably was part of the plot of the previous book, he started to make his wretched living as a gumshoe. But we aren’t given much info on Shep’s P.I. biz; he doesn’t have an office, and seems to just take jobs on the fly.

At any rate, per tradition, he’s given a case at the start of the book; three hoods come in and round him up in a Lower East Side bar, claiming to be messengers from Mafia Don Marco the Carpenter. One of the hoods was arrested by Shep back when he was a cop, and the thug gets some punches in as they’re taking Shep out to the limo. Surprisingly, Shep will not exact his revenge, and just rolls with the punches and then washes them down with some booze in the limo. This is just the first indication that we are not dealing with a Spillane-esque hardboiled hero. Shep doesn’t do anything physical in the novel and, when he decides to mete out justice very late in the novel, he has someone else do the actual dirty work for him.

The Carpenter, who knows and respects Shep from his days as a cop, wants to hire him to find his “niece.” When Shep bulks at the job, given that he’ll be paid ten thousand for it – he figures he’s being paid to find someone for the mob to kill – the Carpenter admits that it’s actually his daughter, hence the high pay. Her name is Melinda Rossi, but her performing name is Melody. There’s a belabored backstory on this, how he sired the girl with some other woman and thus no one knows that the Mafia don has a daughter. Now she’s a hotstuff blonde in her twenties and into that whole rock scene; the Carpenter insists she’s not on any hard drugs. The problem is she’s gone missing, last seen a few days ago – when she walked out of her day job at the bank with eighteen thousand bucks in her purse, lifted right out of the vault.

With the Don’s inability to understand the girl and this new era, Shep ruminates that he’s witnessing “A Mafia kingpin being victimized by the Generation Gap.” He takes the job, mostly because this is what he does – finding runaway kids in the hippie slums of Greenwich. He heads over to a psychedelic nightclub in the Village owned by an old acquaintance named Carney; this is where Melody’s group, The Riders of the Blue Bus, has a regular gig. I believe this is a double Doors reference, as in “Riders of the Storm” and “The End” (ie, “the blue bus is calling us/meet me at the back of the blue bus”). I wouldn’t be surprised, as Jacks is familiar with the rock scene, given that Shep tells us: “I happen to like Santana. Consider it about the best of the current scene,” and also mentions a Mick Jagger wannabe on stage at the club who is feverishly whipping the floor with a studded belt, a la the real Jagger was fond of doing at this time.

At the door Shep encounters the wonderfully-named Gutbucket, guitarist for the Blue Bus and also a heroin junkie, as Shep discovers after monitoring the long-haired punk. Gutbucket doesn’t seem much concerned that Melody’s gone and in fact bluntly tells Shep he thinks she’s dead. Later we get to see the Riders in action, sans Melody, with Gutbucket leading them through an hour-long jam session. As mentioned Jacks does a good job recreating what rock sounds like, with Gutbucket coming off like a junior grade Pete Townshend. Though you’ve gotta wonder how good the Riders of the Blue Bus really are, given that one of the members plays french horn. This reminded me of an old SNL skit where Phil Hartman (a former rock album cover artist, by the way – he did Steely Dan’s Aja, for example) portrayed “fifth Beatle” Albert Goldman, who was notorious for a mean-spirited John Lennon bio at the time (1988); the skit had it that Goldman had a grudge because Lennon had kicked him out of the group in the early days...saying the Beatles didn’t need a trombone player.

The french horn player is named Sheri, a 30-something lady who shared an apartment with Melody. It’s in her place that Shep peruses the record collection, informing us that he likes Santana; he also finds a hash pipe with a sweet smelling substance in it. Later we’ll learn it’s opium. Sheri’s in the process of showering when Shep visits her, but there isn’t one iota of exploitation throughout Find The Don’s Daughter. Shep in fact is curiously asexual, for the majority of the book, at least, with little of the customary “breasts” fixation one expects (nay, demands!) of the hardboiled pulp genre. But anyway Shep’s interests in Sheri are solely due to the case, and here we learn she plays french horn for the band and also spotlights as a session musician.

But sadly after this the rock stuff fades away. Shep heads back over to Carney’s nightclub and the novel’s only real “action scene” occurs here; after a spirited performance with the Riders, Sheri tells Shep that she’s found some letters of Melody’s that give a clue where she’s gone. But when Shep goes to find her later, he of course finds Sheri’s corpse, an icepick in her back. Then Shep is attacked from behind by a pair of “black hands.” He rushes from the crime scene and heads for Sheri’s apartment to find the letters, but instead finds a black ‘Nam vet waiting for him there. This is the guy who knocked him down in the club and presumably killed Sheri, something he denies. His name is Raymond Jefferson and he’s an old flame of Melody’s, and he’s looking for her too. Then someone blows Raymond’s head off with a shotgun and Shep is knocked out in the blast.

Here’s where some of the fat could be trimed from the novel, as Shep spends several days in a private hospital room, recuperating from his shoulder injury. He’s visited by his old police partner, as well as a shady spook type: this is Zara, a CIA agent who for some reason is conducting an assignment here on US soil (something Jacks doesn’t address in the narrative…but technically Zara should be FBI). Zara has it that Melody was involved with the Dusters, an offshoot of the Black Panthers, and that the case involves some mortars stolen in ‘Nam and smuggled here to the US to be used in radical terrorism. A heroin pipeline also factors into it. It’s kind of a big, complicated mess, and you wish it had just been a murder or kidnapping mystery set in the rock scene.

Zara now pretty much takes over the narrative; he’s a whackjob who has been working this assignment for the past year, having trailed Raymond Jefferson, the Duster who stole the mortars, from ‘Nam to New York. Zara wants Shep to work for him, prowling the kid-frequented areas Zara can’t access; to ensure Shep’s complicity he hangs a murder charge over him, as Zara saw Shep rushing from the scene of Sheri’s murder. There’s some fun, proto-Lethal Weapon dialog between the two throughout; Shep’s no shrinking violet and never refrains from telling Zara what he really thinks. But gradually the reader begins to resent Zara’s presence (as does Shep), as he takes the spotlight away from more interesting characters.

Once he’s out of the hospital Jefferson begins getting back together with Joan, a Village-based playwright whom he must’ve been friendly with in the previous book. The two also know a character named Gene Hilliard, who is now a member of the Dusters, and I assume he also appeared in the previous book, given how Shep introduces him to the reader. It just sort of goes into a stall here, with Shep and Zara searching for clues, only livened up when the latest body shows up – like poor prick Gutbucket, who is found dead in his crummy apartment, every bone in his body apparently broken. And also, the killer took a shit by the body(!). There’s more fun dialog here courtesy the female Medical Examiner on the scene; Jacks has a skill for bringing even minor, one-off characters to life. 

However this is not an action-packed novel by any means. Shep doesn’t do much of anything but walk around the city and ask questions. Even the sex is off-page; Shep and Joan get together again and the dude actually falls asleep on the night they’re about to have sex again for the first time since they broke up, or whatever. So again, neither sex nor violence is much on the mind of this particular private eye. There’s a fairly emotional romance story here as well, with the two characters embittered loners who make a stab at developing into an item, though Joan complains how ridiculous it is given that they’re both close to forty. This subplot has a bummer capoff, though – Shep’s car is blown up at the end thanks to a car bomb, but luckily neither Shep nor Joan are in the car at the time. Joan takes one look at the burning car and takes off, and that’s that.

I was also kind of bummed with how the main plot panned out. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want spoilers. But anyway, Shep’s whole job is to find Melody. And the reader wants to meet her, too. But after various subplots and red herrings have taken up the brunt of the narrative, we learn in the final pages that some random guy discovers Melody’s body one day, shortly after Christmas. She’s been dead for weeks, likely killed as soon as she left work at the bank that day, and Shep’s been chasing a ghost all along. Instead the whole “mortars” plot takes center stage, and even here it has a bogus payoff, as it turns out nutjob Zara has been behind most of the kills (even setting that bomb in Shep’s car as a lark!). Shep at least gets revenge for this, but as mentioned the vengeance is delivered by some other character.

The impression I most got from Find The Don’s Daughter was that the writing, the character, and especially the dialog were all strong, but the plotting left a little to be desired. I also think that it could’ve been a little more streamlined, and the reveal of the “main villain” was a bit hard to buy. Not that it much matters, as Find The Don’s Daughter proved to be the last the reading public saw of Shep Stone and Jeff Jacks.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Super Cop Joe Blaze #1: The Big Payoff

Super Cop Joe Blaze #1: The Big Payoff, by Robert Novak
February, 1974  Belmont Tower Books

I forgot that I even had this first volume of  Super Cop Joe Blaze. A little over three years ago I read the third one, which was by Len Levinson, and three years before that I read  the second volume, which was by some unknown author. It’s been too long since I read that one, so I can’t say if The Big Payoff is courtesy the same author. It seems to be, at least judging from what I wrote about the second volume. The same style is here, a rather bland police procedural only livened up when it comes to the exploitative description of the mauled female corpses detective Joe Blaze encounters in the line of duty.

First though a pedantic note – I think this is the novel I was confusing Trouble Is My Business with. In my review of that one I mentioned I had been under the impression it was about a “knife-wielding sex killer,” and figured that I “must’ve confused it with some other sleazy ‘70s cop novel.” As I read the lurid cover slugline of The Big Payoff (“The girl had been pretty before a sex killer worked her over with a knife”), I had the belated realization that this was the book I’d been thinking of when I read Trouble Is My Business back in 2013. How sad that I would remember something so trivial seven years later, but that’s just how my mind works. Anyway the editor of The Big Payoff (aka Peter McCurtin) liked that “sex killer” line so much it’s also repeated on the back cover.

And as with The Concrete Cage this novel is truly lurid when it comes to the copious descriptions of murdered and violated female bodies. In this regard I suspect it probably was the same author. Whoever it is has a pretty humdrum narrative style, with a lot of pages padded with incidental dialog and arbitrary plot digressions. Unlike The Concrete Cage, there are also random action scenes, just stupid stuff clearly put there to actually have something happen, like when Blaze goes into a bar to ask some questions and two guys storm in and try to knock the place over. The author was likely one of the Belmont Tower/Leisure regulars, and if I had to guess I’d say it might have been J.C. Conaway – who I still think was the mystery author of The Savage Women.

The novel opens with a feel for cop-world realism, a la William Crawford; we meet Joe Blaze while he’s on the take, picking up his illicit pay. We’re bluntly informed that some cops “just live with” being on the pad, and Blaze is one of those cops. Only later in the novel will we learn that he’s using the money for vaguely Robin Hood-esque purposes. This serves up a subplot which eventually ties into the main plot; Blaze goes to his precinct, where he’s told by his boss, Lt. Danny Coogan, that one of Blaze’s pad, a hooker named Doris, has given some guy at the U.N. the clap and needs to be brought in for questioning. Coogan advises Blaze to personally handle it, given that she pays Blaze for protection thus could get pissed off to suddenly find herself arrested…and turn Blaze in for collecting bogus “protection” pay from her.

Also appearing is Blaze’s partner, Ed Nuthall; both he and Coogan were also in The Concrete Cage, which might be another indication it’s by the same author. And unlike Nelson De Mille’s Ryker, Blaze has a friendly rapport with his colleagues, even referring to the Lt. as “Danny” in their frequent dialog exchanges. Indeed, Coogan is aware of Blaze’s pad, even though he isn’t supposed to be, given that it’s illegal and all, and goes out of his way to protect him. As for Nuthall, he doesn’t do much to gain the reader’s awareness, and thinking back on the book I can’t even recall a single thing he does. For the most part, Coogan acts more as Blaze’s partner, the one who brainstorms the case with him.

I almost thought some stuff had been cut out of the text, because Coogan tells Blaze to round up Doris at the bottom of one page, then at the top of the very next page Blaze is suddenly at an upscale apartment building on 69th Street…and finds a bunch of patrol cars outside of it…and goes in to investigate the murder scene within! And the murdered young lady is not Doris, and Doris isn’t even mentioned for several more pages, so the reader is really confused for a while…because it gradually develops that, as coincidental as can be, some other woman has been killed in Doris’s building and Blaze just takes over the case, completely forgetting that his original task here was to collect Doris. This will have repercussions later.

Here we have the first of what will be a few murdered young women, Blaze casually inspecting the mutilated and no doubt raped corpse, the killer using a knife to slash the poor young girl’s throat. Here’s where it detours from the other cheap Belmont/Leisure cop thrillers, because Blaze doesn’t go by the book and we don’t just get a dry procedural. First he tracks down a notorious pimp who works 69th Street, cornering him in a subway station on 42nd Street, and proceeds to beat the shit out of him for info. Immediately after this Blaze is almost mugged, and proceeds to beat the shit out of his would-be mugger. This is the first of the random action scenes Novak will use to spruce up the otherwise-boring narrative.

Blaze isn’t done slapping people around. From the pimp he learns of a moving van that was outside the building on 69th Street before the murder. Before Blaze can research there’s another body found, in an apartment building on East 51st between Lexington and Third. After viewing the latest mauled female corpse (in which the girl’s eye has popped out, nearly causing Coogan to barf), Blaze finds out one of the tenants discovered the body…and starts slapping the witness around for info. But it’s okay, because the guy’s a heroin addict and was in the process of preparing a fix. Getting into it, Blaze also slaps around the guy’s girlfriend and, apropos of nothing, says she might be the next victim of the mysterious killer! He gets more info from them on the possible perpetrator of the crimes.

“Talking, talking talking – half [Blaze’s] time seemed to be wasted in talking,” rants the narrative, and the reader can only respond, “No shit!” There’s too much talking in The Big Payoff. Blaze visits crime scenes, engages witnesses in interminable conversations. He goes back to the precinct, engages Coogan in interminable conversations. And things only pick up when there’s an arbitary action scene, like when Blaze – at the expense of more pages-filling dialog – gets a lead on the moving van at the scene of the kills, and finds it abandoned in the city. He goes into a nearby bar to see if anyone inside glimpsed the driver of the van…only for a black guy and a Hispanic guy to storm in with guns drawn and attempt to rob the bar. Blaze pulls his service .38 and takes them both down, shooting one in the leg and the other in the gut, getting winged in the shoulder in the process.

This serves to make Blaze a hero, with his story in the paper and the other cops at the precinct applauding him. It also serves to protect him from the shoe that’s about to drop; Doris, the whore Blaze was supposed to round up at the start of the book, got hauled in by some other cop and immediately threw Blaze under the bus – she pays him for “protection” so as to keep her out of jail for her whoring, and what good did it do her? Now Blaze is under investigation, and Coogan hopes the heroic act will play in his favor. Unfortunately it doesn’t, and Blaze is suspended for being a pig on the pad. Meanwhile we readers have learned, via another of those arbitrary scenes that seemingly exist only to fill pages, that Blaze gives his pad collections to widows of cops.

In his review, Marty McKee complained that there was no titular “big payoff” in the book, but what I think it might refer to is that Blaze “pays off” his debt to Doris. But again it’s handled as arbitrarily as can be. First Blaze captures the killer, a slim moving company guy named Jerry Laughlin, who per Blaze’s suspicion already has a mile-long record of assault and rape charges, yet has been let go due to slimy liberal lawyers. Blaze and Nuthall engage Laughlin in a massive, nigh-endless car and foot chase that spans along the East River and outside of Manhattan, with a few civilians and cops killed in the process. When Blaze finally gets Laughlin he beats him to a pulp…and that’s that, the novel’s ended. But it’s only page 129 and the book’s 173 pages!

So as to that titular payoff…right after collaring the killer Blaze is suspended due to his pad activities. And what’s worse, Laughlin’s been let off the hook, again due to liberal lawyers. So Blaze is walking along in desolation, and finds himself outside that building on 69th Street, where this whole sordid mess began – not just the kills, but also Doris, who has gotten Blaze fired. Blaze starts to get the vibe that something’s wrong in there, and bullshits his way past the door guard…and up to Doris’s floor, where he hears screaming in her room. Yes, folks, Jerry Laughlin, for no apparent reason, just happens to be in Doris’s room and is trying to kill her!

This leads to another pages-filling action scene that has zero spark despite the amount of words poured into it. Laughlin, even though he’s meek and thin, gets the better of Blaze, beating him up and almost throwing him out the window to the pavement 60-some floors below. Blaze finally remembers he’s supposed to be savage and both bites Laughlin and pokes his eye out, then throws him out the window…and a rescued Doris of course drops her charges against Blaze. Thus I propose that “The Big Payoff” refers to this climactic action scene.

Not that it much matters – The Big Payoff is fairly boring and slow-moving, and definitely lacks the lurid fun of Len’s contribution to the series. And this was just the first volume!! You’d think McCurtin and Leisure would’ve come out of the gate with something a little more entertaining. I didn’t dislike the book as much as Marty did – I always enjoy a look at sleazy ‘70s New York City – but there certainly was room for some improvement. You can see already why the series only lasted three volumes, because I don’t remember The Concrete Cage being much better.

Anyway, no idea who actually wrote it, but I’ll stick with my J.C. Conaway theory (another guess would be Ralph Hayes). The knowledge of Manhattan and its sleazier environs is one clue, as is the page-filling dialog. Not much is known about Conaway, but I did read – from an Ebay listing many years ago, where someone was selling all of Conaway’s personal author copies, shortly after Conaway died – that he never learned to type, and thus dictated all of his books. I find this image very funny…I can just see a grizzled pulp writer reclining in his Archie Bunker chair with a can of Schlitz and a cheap cigar and shouting lurid copy for some poor female typist to take down: “‘The girl had been pretty before a sex killer worked her over with a knife.’ Ya got that, toots?”

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Pleasure Principle

The Pleasure Principle, by Peter McCurtin
December, 1974  Leisure Books

Peter McCurtin tries his hand at some contemporary Harold Robbins-esque trash fiction in this obscure Leisure Books paperback original; actually, a better point of comparison would be the sleazy paperbacks Dell was publishing at the time, a la Sexual Strike Force, Michelle, My BelleMaking U-Hoo, and The Secret Sex Curse Of Bertha T. (one I never reviewed because it was so bad, despite the great title and cover!). The Pleasure Principle is similar to those Dell books, what with its risque cover photo (look closely and you’ll see some nipple action from our uncredited cover model), its salacious back cover copy…and its unfortunately-“comedic” narrative style.

Yes, folks, those Dell books were for the most part sex comedies, squandering their exploitative potential with “goofy” plots and scenarios. Most of them, judging from the ones I’ve read, also employed a pseudo-omniscient tone, to the point that I assume a certain editor at Dell was behind the line of books and had specific guidelines for the authors to follow. McCurtin so closely follows the style of these Dell sleaze paperbacks that I wonder if he actually wrote this book for that line, got rejected, and just published it through Leisure. (McCurtin was in fact publishing with Dell at this time, with the three-volume Assassin series, so it’s possible.)

The novel takes place over a few days in the summer of 1969 and is set in Chapmans Corners, a fictional beachside hamlet in Maine. McCurtin hopscotches across a diverse group of characters, and honestly he doesn’t have much of a story to tell; a plot doesn’t really start to build until near the very end of the novel’s 142 big-print pages. As with those Dell books McCurtin employs an omniscient tone, jumping wily-nily into the thoughts of his various characters, telling more than he shows. The first thirty or so pages in particular are hard going, at least for the poor reader who just wants a book with a basic plot to follow: it’s a succession of characters, all of them in the act of jerking off, with random asides on their personalities, backgrounds, and past sexual experiences.

Yes, this round-robin masturbation motif does indeed open the novel; we meet uber-wealthy Rudolph Zabriskie, who I guess is the closest we get to a “main protagonist” in the novel, in the process of jerking off…to a photo of JFK. He’s unable to rise to the occasion, thus resorts to a photo of Richard Nixon. Figuring he’s the first person in history to do such a thing, Zabriskie beats off to a photo of Nixon in a glossy magazine propped on his silk-cushioned bed. Unfortunately, “Richard M. Nixon ha[s] no come-quality,” and Zabriskie still can’t achieve orgasm. So next he goes into a pages-long fantasy about screwing a young boy in his native Poland! (“Without further ado, [Zabriskie] commenced to bugger the boy.”) Now folks I’ve read strange opening chapters in my time, but this one might take the cake – jerking off to two presidents, then into a bunch of hardcore gay fantasy action…!

McCurtin is just getting started. Meanwhile Paul McAngus, a middle-aged, middle-income dude who lives a few miles from Zabriskie’s mansion, is also masturbating…and also having a hard time of it. Mostly because his wife, Martha, is so loudly masturbating in the next room, playing with herself as she imagines the hot French actor on TV screwing her. So hard-pressed is Paul that he gives up on jerking off and instead goes into the room with his wife. McCurtin renders the ensuing oral sex from Martha’s point of view – Paul isn’t very skilled at the whole thing, but at least Martha can pretend it’s the French actor down there. Curiously though McCurtin leaves the ensuing sex mostly off page, ending the chapter with the unforgettable line, “Paul waved his white ass like a castaway signaling for help.”

Next we meet Gardner Dettrick, a portly wanna-be jetsetter who fantasizes about partying with Herman Goerring. He’s in the process of hosting a party in his house, also in Chapmans Corners, a small party only attended by Sally, Gardner’s ex-wife, and Herbert Blaney, a somewhat-successful novelist. Blaney’s latest novel has been optoined by Hollywood and Gardner gets off on parading the new celebrity around town as his “best bud.” Also at the party is Blaney’s hot girlfriend, Peggy; we learn incidentally that both men screwed her as soon as the party started, and now the action centers around Dettrick getting Sally drunk enough that she’ll lay there willingly while Peggy goes down on her. They almost succeed in this until Dettrick blows the moment, after which he gets out his whip and chases a nude and screaming Sally out into the street. Curiously McCurtin forgets all about Sally and last we see of her she’s huddled, naked and crying, beneath a car in the street in the middle of a thunderstorm.

The only real enjoyable part of the novel occurs soon after; the next day Chief Kinch, 62 and soon to retire – and in the pocket of Zabriskie – finds out that yet another pair of hippies have been found in Chapmans Corner. One of his deputies hauls them in; they were caught “fucking in the dunes.” One’s a surly young black man and the other’s a pretty young blonde who insists her name is “Beautiful One.” Eventually we’ll learn her name is Mary and the guy’s name is Bobby. This is discovered by Zabriskie, who hears that Kinch has collared a couple hippies and demands the loyal cop bring them over to his mansion, on the pretense that Zabriskie’s cat has gone missing and the hippies might have stolen it.

This is of course just a ruse, as Zabriskie wants to have more fun at the expense of the hoi-poloi. Kinch busy with the big breakfast the maid has prepared for him, Zabriskie is free to harras the two young hippies for his own amusement. Telling them that he owns the town and that they’d better please him or else, Zabriskie goes right into the hardcore sex questions, demanding to know if Bobby ever goes down on Mary. After this it’s onto the next topic, “Now, Mary, this big black cock of Bobby’s – do you ever suck it?” Once his fun is done Zabriskie has Kinch take the hippies away, telling Kinch he thinks they should be let go without charges, to which Kinch of course agrees. After this Zabriskie snorts coke and plays old tunes on his viola; the back cover incorrectly states that Zabriskie plays “pop songs” on it.

We’re now in the last third of the novel and only here does McCurtin go about the motions of fashioning a half-assed plot. While soaring on coke and playing violin, apropos of nothing Zabriskie remembers how Paul McAngus once “refused the honor” of sucking Zabriskie’s dick. This occurred at one of Zabriskie’s parties, several years ago, and now Zabriskie feels he must get revenge. He calls up his fascist friend Gardner Dettrick and insists the portly sadist have another of his parties tonight – and to be sure and invite Paul and Martha McAngus. Meanwhile Garnder himself invites the hot little number who works at the local grocery store, a teenaged girl named Mary-Ann, who gets her own chapter in which she tries to figure out what to wear for the party.

Humorously, McCurtin pretty much says to hell with it at this point and takes the novel into a wholly-unexpected dark climax. Gardner gets progressively hammered and the party takes on an increasingly deranged atmosphere, with Gardner’s “scratched records” from the ‘50s blasting on the stereo. While Blaney, who is also in attendance, gets cozy with Martha McAngus, Zabriskie gets Paul so drunk that he passes out…and then sodomizes his unconscious form. Meanwhile Dettrick takes Mary-Ann up to his room, apparently gets rejected by the young girl, freaks out, and throws her off the balcony. Then he goes into his room, gets a gun, and starts shooting everyone. This appears to be another of those scarce paperbacks – and probably for good reason – but if you don’t want the finale spoiled skip to the next paragraph. In the span of a few nonchalant sentences McCurtin kills off practically the entire cast of characters, with only Zabriskie and Blaney still alive after Dettrick’s crazed gunplay – and when Chief Kinch shows up on the scene, Zabriskie snatches his service revolver and blows Dettrick away!

And on this sour note The Pleasure Principle comes to an abrupt close, featuring one of the most jarring finales I’ve encountered in a long time. I forgot to mention, but Zabriskie also gives us the meaning behind the title; it’s a phrase of his own coin which means that “anything that gives pleasure is good.” I guess perhaps McCurtin’s intent was to play this principle out through the various characters, clearly trying to show the dark side of total pleasure indulgence, but at 142 pages of clunky narrative it just doesn’t pan out. The abrubt, “screw it” climax implies that McCurtin himself got tired with the whole thing and just threw in the towel.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Mace #7: The Year Of The Cock

Mace #7: The Year Of The Cock, by C.K. Fong
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books

It’s curious that with this seventh volume of Mace Manor came up with a new house name: C.K. Fong replacing Lee Chang. I say curious because Bruce Cassiday, the writer who took over the series with this volume, clearly strives to mimic the style of Joseph Rosenberger, who served as Lee Chang for the first five volumes, whereas Len Levinson, who also served as Lee Chang in the previous volume, did his own thing. I know from Len that he never read any of the previous Mace novels, nor even knew who Joseph Rosenberger was (his succinct answer when I asked him: “I never heard of Joseph Rosenberger”), but it seems clear that Cassiday not only read Rosenberger’s Mace installments but went out of his way to replicate his style. 

All of which is to say The Year Of The Cock is ersatz Rosenberger; Cassiday successfully captures the flavor of JR’s clunky, soul-crushing narrative style, but he misses the oddball touches Rosenberger afficionados would expect. But the bland plotting, the egregious bios of one-off villains, the interminable action scenes that don’t have a single spark of excitement – all of it’s there. If I hadn’t known going in that Cassiday was Fong, I would’ve assumed it was Rosenberger on an off day. I don’t know much about Cassiday, and so far on the blog I’ve only reviewed one of his novels, the earlier psychedelic cash-in The Happening At San Remo. I have several other paperbacks of his, ranging from historicals to sleazy crime, so I assume he must’ve been pretty prolific and capable of changing his style to match the content.

In any event, Len’s novel is basically a blip and, in case there was any doubt, has nothing to do with the series itself, best judged as a standalone novel about some other half-Chinese kung fu wizard named Victor Mace. Because Cassiday gives us the same guy that Rosenberger did, a “Kung Fu Monk-Master” who works for the CIA and is capable of superhuman feats but has the personality of a thumbtack. Cassiday might give us a slightly more “human” Mace, in that this one actually has a libido (usually a much-lacking feature in a Rosenberger protagonist); there’s a part midway through where he falls for a honey trap scenario and has some (off-page) sex with a young Chinese babe. I don’t think the Rosenberger version of Mace would’ve had this experience.

It’s straight to the action and the egregious backstories for one-off opponents as we meet Mace in Galveston, Texas, where he’s busy tying himself to a motor boat that’s speeding across a dark bay. Mace we’ll learn is on his latest CIA assignment, looking into the nefarious presence of a Red Chinese cell here in Texas, one that’s led by a dude named Major Fong (who is compared to both Hitler and Frankenstein!). Curious too that “Fong” is the name of the villain as well as the name of the (fictional) author, leading me to believe that Cassiday was unaware that the house name for the series would change. But then, this opening action scene takes place at “Bruce’s Fishing Charter,” which is likely some in-jokery from Cassiday, so who knows. Oh and there’s the possibility that Fong might’ve killed Mace’s father, who we learn in brief backstory was American – it was his Chinese stepfather who sent Mace to the Shaolin school – but Cassiday basically drops this angle.

Mace quickly learns that it’s a setup, and the thugs on the boat have known he was here all along. They corner him and it goes straight into the Rosenberger-style action, with random asides detailing the goofily-named opponents Mace is about to crush. As with Rosenberger this results in a clunky, pseudo-omniscient tone, a tone Cassiday employs throughout the book:

Nick Bartolomew was next to join the surging attack on the Kung Fu Monk-Master. Armed with a twelve inch flyssa, a Moroccan sword characterized by a single-edged blade engraved and inlaid with brass, Bartolomew slid it histily[sp] from the scabbard he wore around his waist and came at Mace with a wild glare. 

“Your last breath on earth, you chink son of a bitch!” he yelled, and slid the deadly blade upward toward Mace’s groin. But the Kung Fu Tung-chi had anticipated the black-haired ex-con’s move with the blade, and countered by whirling around with a simple Korsi Tu Minga kick to the crotch. 

Shrieking in agony, Bartolomew sagged to the deck, his sexual apparatus a mass of jelly instantly radiating pain from its ruined center to every nerve ending in his body. As he fell, the ugly flyssa impaled him in the heart as he sank down face first. He twisted and tore at the deck plates with his bleeding fingernails as he slowly lost consciousness and died in the lashing rain.

Or this example:

An ex-hood named Pinky Desnoyers was the next who reacted with dispatch. An albino, he dyed his hair red to make himself presentable to his fellow man. Desnoyers went nowhwere without a snubnosed S and W .45 caliber revolver clipped to his shoulder holster.


“Make sure he’s dead!” yelled Sam Riley, known as One-Ball Riley ever since he had been partially maimed by the disgruntled husband of a floozie he had been caught with in bed one eventful evening.

One thing Cassiday actually outdoes Rosenberger on is the racial slurs. Not since the first volume has “chink,” “slant-eyes,” and sundry other racial putdowns appeared so many times in a Mace novel. Cassiday even comes up with wholly new ones, like “noodle-nibbler.” In fact there’s a long stretch where an Asian slur appears on every single page, as if Cassiday were trying to outdo himself. And it’s not just the villains coming up with the slurs, it’s everyone – cops, fellow CIA agents, etc. This opening action scene is our intro to this, as the seemingly-endless parade of thugs come up with slur after slur before Mace’s feet or fists pummel them into bloody burger. But as with Rosenberger there’s no joy in the action, and it just comes off like an interminable barrage of description from a martial arts how-to book. Cassiday does though try to retain the occasional goofy cap-offs for his action scenes, a la “The goon woke up and found himself in hell,” sort of thing you’d find in a Rosenberger Mace. Like this, from a later action scene:

The goon in the middle stormed in to deliver a Karate chop to the back of Mace’s neck. His hand connected, and Mace rolled with the punch. Immediately he recovered, forcing his muscles and his psyche to regroup in a positive chi effort. Instantly he was clear-headed and alert, backing around, wheeling slightly, and clobbering the man called Hank Grogan with a Dragon Foot snap kick in the solar plexus. The ball of the foot and the heel slammed into Grogan’s nerve centers, paralyzing him instantly and sending him crumpling to the ground. His abdominal wall collapsed and he was bleeding internally when they finally put him in the ambulance and sent him to Houston General. He recovered seven weeks later, but he was on soft foods for the rest of his life.

So as you can see, one could easily be fooled into believing this was the work of Joseph Rosenberger, and Cassiday does an admirable job of aping his unusual style. But sadly he is so successful that The Year Of The Cock (the working title of my autobio, btw) is just as boring as a legit Rosenberger book, 222 whopping pages of spirit-deadening blocks of prose and hardly any narrative momentum. There’s plentiful kung-fu fighting, though, but as with Rosenberger’s books it just comes off like dry textbook descriptions of outrageously-named moves being employed on outrageously-named thugs – thugs who spout outrageous racial slurs moments before their faces meet Mace’s feet.

The plot gradually centers around a Red Chinese plot to destroy the offshore oil rigs off the Houston coast. Mace sits through interminable meetings with his CIA comrades, the only memorable one being Benny Jaurez, the Houston chief of station. This too has the ring of Rosenberger, with the spooks sitting around in their humdrum office over cups of lukewarm coffee and trading exposition on the spy life (why a CIA ring is called a “pod,” etc). Eventually it comes to light that one of the various intelligence agents is a traitor, and there’s also an elaborate sting operation where Mace tries to out him. This bit leads to a surprise climax in which Mace, pursued by a dogged Houston cop who himself turns out to be a villain, is “rescued” by a hot young Chinese babe who pulls up in her sportscar and offers Mace a lift.

In what is as mentioned a departure from Rosenberger’s more cipher-like version of the character, this Mace actually goes back to the broad’s place and ultimately has sex with her. Her name’s Moon Chu Lingdoo, and she claims to be a string reporter for Time, currently working for the local PBS station. She says she’s “hopelessly Americanized” and there follows a lot of dialog between the two, concluding with Moon throwing herself on Mace, as she claims to be lonely. Off-page sex ensues, and Mace wakes up to discover, of course, that it was a setup – Moon is gone but some thugs have slipped into her darkened apartment to get the drop on him. Of course he kills them all and escapes without breaking much of a sweat.

In a laughable sequence Mace, again hanging out with Juarez, employs his total recall to review every single thing he glimpsed in Moon’s apartment, in particular the photo of a man on one of her tables. Mace and Juarez already know there’s a deep undercover spy for the Chinese government here in Houston, and Mace is certain this man in the photo is that undercover agent: Tom Galey, the director of programming for the Houston PBS station. I guess in 1975 it would’ve sounded crazy – maybe even impossible – that a member of the American media could be an undercover Red China asset. In 2020 it sounds downright timely. Mace of course is correct, and meanwhile Galey, who lives in a fortified compound, is busy arguing with Major Fong over how to carry out the operation on the oilwells, and also over whether or not they should kill Moon for failing in her mission. She attempts to escape, only to be raped (off-page) by a guard who captures her.

This leads to probably the “best” action scene in the book, with Mace infiltrating Galey’s compound and taking out a few guards, as well as some guard dogs with some hypodermic needles. He also manages to rescue Moon, aka the woman who nearly got him killed. Moon claims she didn’t know Mace was going to be attacked, etc, but she does give him and Juarez the info on the oilwell attack. This leads to the finale, with Mace and the CIA agents staging an assault on the PBS station, where it turns out Galey has set up a transmitter on the broadcasting tower. A signal from it and the offshore rigs will blow up. The climax is a bit gory, too, with Mace ripping out Galey’s eyes and shredding his throat, and another character performing some heroic sacrifice to both wipe out the transmitter and kill Major Fong.

And with this, thankfully, the book concludes…it’s too long, too wordy, too bland, but as I say it’s at least a successful mimicking of Joseph Rosenberger’s patented style. Only without the quirks that make the real Rosenberger’s work occasionally so memorable. Cassiday also turned in the next volume, which would prove to be the last of Mace.

Monday, April 6, 2020

CenterForce (A Reappraisal)

CenterForce, by T.A. Waters
December, 1974  Dell Books

About ten years ago I first reviewed T.A. Waters’s CenterForce, and clearly I didn’t like it very much. But Waters is the guy who wrote The Psychedelic Spy, after all, which I consider one of the best standalone novels I’ve read in the past several years, and definitely one of my favorite books I’ve ever reviewed on here. So I’ve been meaning to go back to CenterForce and give it another shot, especially now that I’ve again become interested in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s counterculture, a milieu which Waters projects into the “near future” for this slim paperback original.

First though a note on the cover; as mentioned in my original review the “Roger Dean-esque” artwork is not representative of the novel. The art, which I like a lot, isn’t credited, but I’m guessing it’s by Peter Lloyd, an artist who was doing similar work at the time for rock albums, like Jefferson Starship’s Dragon Fly (1974) and Starcastle’s Fountains Of Light (1977). An airbrushed pseudo-Silver Surfer seems to have been Lloyd’s schtick, and that’s exactly what graces the cover of CenterForce. But again it has nothing to do with anything in the novel itself; the titular CenterForce patrol does have somewhat high-tech vehicles at its disposal, and we are informed that CenterForce soldiers wear “special helmets,” but none of it is described like what is shown on the cover. And if that’s supposed to be our hero, it’s really wrong, as main protagonist Ben Reed is a long-haired outlaw biker in his thirties who rides a 1971 BMW R60 motorcyle. In other words, something like this:

This is another of those obscure novels where you wish some enterprising producer had bought the rights to make a film version. AIP or some other drive-in purveyor could’ve easily made a cool movie out of it. It could’ve been done on the cheap, too, as most of CenterForce plays out in the desert or on hippie communes, and hell a skilled hand like Sutton Roley could’ve found some inventive methods of handling the occasional “science fiction” element on a shoestring budget. I’m not sure why I’m even bringing this up; I guess mostly because CenterForce very much has the vibe of an early ‘70s counterculture film, and I’m not just saying that because some of the chapters are written in screenplay format. It’s got the fractured, post-psychedelic vibe of many films of the era, like Vanishing Point or Peter Fonda’s Idaho Transfer, which had a similar storyline of hippies being hunted in a nightmarish future.

Waters doesn’t get exact with the timeframe, but we learn through various communiques, interrogation excerpts, and other materials that the novel is likely set in the 1980s; it’s post 1976, at least, for we learn that in that year New York City became the capitol of the US. One of the things I didn’t like about CenterForce when I first read it is that Waters refrains from using a standard narrative style, which is unfortunate because the setup has all the makings of a pulp classic. And it’s doubly unfortunate because Waters proved he could write a pulp classic in a standard narrative style – and damn well – in The Psychedelic Spy. But he clearly had grander aspirations for CenterForce; chapters are short and trade off between straight plot material concerning Ben Reed’s trip through the Utah desert and random communiques which are intended to elliptically fill us in on this future world. But all of it, no matter the format, is egregiously artsy, often to the detriment of forward momentum.

Worse yet, Waters’s fragmented narrative style prevents the reader from fully connecting with the characters and the plot developments. Ben Reed’s portions carry the brunt of the narrative, but we’re constantly cutting away from him to some excerpt from a StarChild Commune newsletter, or a report on some action elsewhere in the country, or even letters written by minor characters to their families back home. Also this is confusing because we don’t even learn who has written each of these letters, or where the excerpts are taken from, until the end of each chapter, so this causes reader confusion when you start each non-Ben chapter…you have no idea who is suddenly writing these first-person letters and communiques. It’s jarring and it’s something Waters should’ve realized in the editing stage: the names/origins of the pseudo-dispatchs should’ve been stated at the start of each chapter. 

But Waters’s biggest transgression is his failure to exploit his own material. There’s too much telling and too little showing. The opening promises much, though; Been Reed, on his bike in the middle of the desert late at night, has just killed a man with his Remington shotgun. We’re told that bounty hunters can legally hunt and kill hippies and bikers in this unstated future, but incredibly enough Waters does nothing further with this – you’d think the image of a bunch of slackjawed corncobs tearing around in a truck and hooting and hollering as they try to blow away a couple bikers would be too much for a writer to resist. But other than this opening action scene – which indeed begins after the action itself has occurred – we’re only told of these hippie-hunters.

At least we get a little more elaboration on the CenterForce patrols, which venture around the desert in armored buses. Ben gets in a fight with one of these directly after killing the bounty hunter, hiding in a ditch and blowing the thing up by shooting at its gas tank. But this isn’t elabroted much either, with more focus on the high-tech Big Brother methods of the CenterForce. There are prescient parallels to the drone technology of today, with mobile CenterForce command posts helmed by desk jockeys who activate heat-seeking missiles that are housed in an orbiting satellite. The entire midwest of the US has been blasted by various nukes and the like, all as part of the breakout of revolutions and civil strife after the ‘60s movement, and these CenterForce personnel monitor their screens for signs of any “home-soil hostiles,” much like military personnel of today monitoring the deserts of the Middle East on their screens for signs of terrorists.

But Waters doesn’t do much to bring the outlaw counterculture to life, either. We know they do drugs – Ben takes peyote immediately after this opening firefight, tripping as he continues his drive through the desert – and apparently they listen to rock, given the occasional “chapter” that’s composed of overly-wordy rock lyrics. But the lineage of the hippies and counterculture gurus of the ‘60s to this unstated future era is not elaborated on. In short, Waters just fails to bring his world and his characters to life, and it’s a shame because there’s a lot of opportunity for both. Instead he tries to go for more of a smallscale approach by focusing on minor characters and events, like Jill, a young runaway who now lives at the StarChild commune, in Arizona, writing letters to her mom back home. She’s underage, we know, and very small, almost childlike, which makes it pretty strange that Ben falls hard for her, late in the novel.

We readers must do the heavy lifting when it comes to piecing together the storylines; rather than a straight narrative, random things will be mentioned in one section, then referenced in another communique or letter, and lots of “big stuff” happens veritably off-page. Waters causes confusion with similar subplots; there’s young Jill at the commune, who is almost raped by a gang of bikers who show up at StarChild (she’s saved by the late arrival of their leader, Grogan, who kills the would-be rapist – one of those incidents which, unbelievably, occurs off-page), then later another young runaway girl at StarChild is indeed raped (off-page) by another group of bikers, ones who are never identified. This girl is the daughter of the former sheriff of Marble Fork, the small town outside of StarChild, and sets in motion the “climax” of the novel, where the guy tries to shoot down Ben, assuming he is the biker who raped his daughter.

Otherwise we have a minor plot about a senator working out of the “Government Building” in New York who plans an amnesty bill that will repair the country, and is assassinated immediately thereafter (by whom Waters doesn’t state). There’s also a fun piece about a hippie who is captured by CenterForce but so high on LSD that he thinks it’s all a trip. But this too leads to repetition – strange that there’s so much repetition in such a slim book – because later, we have a repeat of this “save a captured hippie” scenario. With the same guy taking part in the rescue! This is Big Tex, one of Ben’s comrades, a lanky dude who drives a Land Rover with a machine gun mounted in the back. When one of their pals is captured, Big Tex and Ben, along with biker boss Grogan, go to the rescue – a scene that could’ve been much more exploited. Waters even skips out on the chase scene, with a chapter ending with the CenterForce patrols coming after them in their armored vehicles!

The bigger story though is that Ben falls in love with Jill at first sight, but it’s hard to buy. He’s come here to StarChild assuming he’ll hook up with Trina, an old flame who is now Grogan’s mama. There’s subtextual evidence that Trina is an undercover Federal agent, or at least working with them. But again, nothing is elaborated upon or properly explained. In fact Ben gets shot by the ex-sheriff, and Waters doesn’t even bother to tell us he’s still alive until a few chapters later…just nonchalantly placing him in the scene with a cast on his arm. Ben and Jill decide to leave for Mexico, and meanwhile Jill’s pregnant; all as revealed, lamely, in another letter Jill writes her mom. And that’s it…other than a vague final chapter about a thermonuclear strike on San Francisco and Atlanta, two of the last counterculture hotspots or somesuch.

As mentioned in my original review, CenterForce is short, coming in at just 175 pages. It’s too short, that’s all – another hundred pages or so and Waters could’ve fully fleshed out his story. But then he might’ve wasted the additional pages on more communiques, rock lyrics, and poetry – I neglected to mention it in this review, but as stated in my original review there’s a lot of bullshit poetry padding the pages, poetry which turns out to have been written by a computer. Just as annoying are the screenplay sequences, randomly spliced in the narrative. If only Waters had stuck to a straight narrative, as he did in The Psychedelic Spy, he might’ve had another pulp masterpiece on his hands. Unfortunately, a la Captain America in Easy Rider, “He blew it.”