Thursday, November 12, 2020

Sabat #2: The Blood Merchants

Sabat #2: The Blood Merchants, by Guy N. Smith 
May, 1982  New English Library 

So I pretty much forgot all about the Sabat series; it was over a decade ago that I read the first volume. Literally all I could remember about it was the part where the titular “hero” ran over some random pedestrian and chalked it up to the whims of fate. Oh, and I also seemed to recall a lot of self-pleasuring courtesy said hero. And pipe smoking. Other than that the first one was a blur, so I had to refer to my review to familiarize myself with this series, which ran for four volumes and attempted to meld men’s adventure with horror. 

There’s no indication how long after the first volume this one occurs, but Sabat does make passing mention to its events. Also, unless I’m mistaken, we have no indication where exactly this series occurs. Just somewhere in England is all I know. We do have a recurring character in Sgt. Clive McKay, a cop who was also in SAS with Sabat back in the day and who comes to him with any sort of “supernatural” situation the police have encountered. Such is the case this time; the book opens in true horror novel fashion with a sequence of one-off characters meeting their gory fates at the hands of skinhead punks – skinhead punks who seem to be vampires! But we do get a lot of stuff from the perspectives of these characters, most of them poor young women who are attacked out of the darkness by “sallow-faced punks” with “corpse-like appearances.” 

Meanwhile Sabat’s busy playing with himself. No joke, this is exactly what he’s doing when he gets the call from Sgt. McKay. Smith injects a bunch of “subtle” foreshadowing here, with Sabat thinking about the hot babe who got him kicked out of the SAS three years ago – Catronia, wife of Sabat’s commanding officer at the time. Catronia was into whips and chains and the like, and Sabat we’re reminded really gets off on that, and when his affair with the blonde torture artist was uncovered he was drummed right out of the SAS. All this backstory was relayed in the first volume, but here it’s really brought to the fore, to the point that even a first-time novel reader can see where it’s going. 

Sabat grudgingly postpones his self-pleasuring and ventures with McKay to the morgue, where he checks out a few apparent vampire victims. They’ve got drained blood, two dots on their throats, and everything. Sabat does what any other gung-ho men’s adventure hero would do: he calls up an old acquaintance, a “brothel keeper” in her early 50s named Ilona, and asks her to pose as pseudo-vampire bait. Ilona we are told is still pretty hot, and plus she too is into whips and chains and the like (indeed she even reminds Sabat of Catronia), and she and Sabat were an item at one time – not that anything comes of it in this particular installment. Instead Ilona waltzes around in the darkness of whatever the hell city this series takes place in, and Sabat scores on his first night out – one of the pseudo vampires swoops out of the darkness for Ilona, and Sabat just barely fights him off in time. 

Here we see that these aren’t real vampires; the punks all wield “syringe-guns.” They jam the sharp end into a victim’s throat and depress a plunger and the thing sucks out a few liters of blood. Sabat takes the captured punk back to Ilona’s S&M basement and proceeds to beat the shit out of him. Sabat we’ll recall has a definite dark side and gets off on the thought of killing his enemies. He at least gets the info that the punk and his brothers are all worshippers of Lilith, which freaks Sabat right out – Lilith being one of the darker entities, one with a fondness for human sacrifice. But this is pretty much all the punk will say, so Sabat gleefully kills him, using the bastard’s own syringe-gun on him. But this will be the extent of “action” in the novel, save for a part later where three more punks attack Sabat in his home, and he uses his fancy SAS combat training to wipe them out; he particularly likes this “uppercut from a crouched position” move. 

We soon learn that Sabat wasn’t exagerrating: the Disciples of Lilith are pretty evil. This is demonstrated in a horrific sequence in which a young woman finds her newborn baby is missing – and the Disciples of Lilith, assembled around Lilith herself, drink its blood! In addition the Disciples have taken over a fascist movement, and further they are led by a “New Fuhrer” who is in league with Lilith, the demoness here on Earth. Sabat gets the scoop on all this during an astral voyage (he makes several voyages to the astral plane this time), where he’s informed by various spirits that Lilith has possessed a human woman – perhaps a woman Sabat might even know. But our self-pleasuring hero isn’t very sharp, for despite being told this he doesn’t put two and two together…not even after he’s astrally transported to a house somewhere and looks inside and sees a hot blonde in stockings in there, and it’s none other than Catronia! 

But no, Sabat wakes up and, “for some reason” feels the urge to call Catronia up for the first time in three years. He does so, and she’s eager to see him, and it’s all Sabat can do to contain himself for the rest of the day. But at no point does he think back to that message he was conveyed in the astral realm and think to himself, “hmmm, maybe those spirits were trying to tell me something about Catronia!” Instead, he heads over to her place in blissful ignorance and engages her in one of those sex scenes where something seems to be happening but the prose isn’t very clear about what. And of course Sabat ends up in one of Catronia’s torture devices, where he is “shocked” to discover that – brace yourselves for this – Catronia is really Lilith! I mean who could’ve guessed it?? 

It gets worse, though, as Catronia is able to hypnotize Sabat, same as she has all her punk followers, and now he too is a Disciple of Lilith. It makes for a strange read when the hero of a “horror-action” novel is possessed…Sabat just sort of walks through the next few chapters in a daze, fully part of the left-hand path but otherwise still normal (comparitavely speaking). It makes for a weird narrative vibe as Sabat himself doesn’t see anything wrong…he still goes home, talks to McKay, and etc, but his soul belongs to Lilith. Even here he visits the astral realm in his sleep, and there’s a creepy part where he encounters the spirit of a murdered friend. Instead of offering solace Sabat spurns this person, pretty much saying this is what you get for fighting Lilith. Speaking of which, the goddess herself appears in this sequence, saving Sabat from some spirits that attack him for being a spawn of Lilith. 

After this Sabat is doubly indebted to Lilith, and reports willfully to Catronia and the New Fuhrer (who of course turns out to be Catronia’s husband, aka Sabat’s former SAS officer). Even as the Disciples begin to raise bloody hell around the globe, our hero does nothing. True to form, he only becomes heroic when his own ass is on the line. This happens in an otherwise goofy bit where some punk tries to assassinate Sabat – a punk who was sent out earlier in the book to kill Sabat, and hasn’t gotten the memo that Sabat’s now one of Lilith’s followers. It all just seems like a Monty Python skit as this punk tries to kill Sabat, screaming that Lilith has ordered him to do so, and Sabat keeps screaming that those orders have been countermanded. Of course Sabat finally manages to save his hide, in the process coming free of Lilith’s mind control. Now finally Sabat as we know him is back. 

But really the series is more horror than’s men’s adventure; the final battle takes place almost entirely on the astral realm, or at least outside the physical realm, with Sabat launching off a series of spells that bind Catronia and her husband. Further, he summons a trio of angels who are dedicated to hunting down Lilith and disposing of her, and these three show up as police officers to round up Catronia at novel’s end. Sabat at least doles out a little physical punishment to Catronia’s husband, who we learn will ultimately spend the rest of his days in an insane asylum – crazy now that Lilith has left him. The punk Disciples all return to their former punk selves, save for the fact that they have no idea what these syringe guns are they’re holding. As for Catronia, we see her comeuppance in yet another trip to the astral realm, where Sabat sees that Lilith aka Catronia is to be chained and whipped for eternity. Indeed Sabat is asked to whip her himself as the novel concludes. 

Overall The Blood Merchants is a fairly fast-moving novel, filled with a lot of italicized narrative and one-off characters meeting their grisly fates. It also has that clinical tone you know and love from British pulp. I can’t say I enjoyed it more than the previous volume, mostly because I can’t remember the previous volume. But I’ll try to get to the next one a whole bunch sooner.

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