Reunion For Death, by Martin Meyers
No month stated, 1976 Popular Library
The Hardy series draws to a close with a fifth installment that sees Martin Meyers apparently trying very hard to live up to the “sensuous sleuth” tagline the publisher labellled the series with. While Patrick Hardy has gotten lucky frequently in past volumes, this one sees him scoring right and left, even engaging in a two-way with a pair of hippie girls (“fears of V.D.” be damned!). This is all the more impressive given that Hardy’s 40 pounds overweight this volume and struggling to get back in shape. One wonders why he’d even bother.
There’s no real pickup from the previous volume, though Hardy does occasionally reflect on previous jobs, particularly with the Duchess in Spy And Die; but even here the focus is on the “sensuous” aspect of the job, as the Duchess told Hardy she was the best lover she’d ever had – even better than a KGB agent trained for such stuff. However Meyers has cagily foreshadowed the events of this one; in the previous volume, Hardy got a mailing from his college alumni association, and this volume’s plot concerns a murder mystery involving Hardy’s college pals of twenty years ago. I only recall this about the alumni letter in the previous book because Meyers reminds us of it. For this is a series where pedantic, trivial little details are of key importance, because not much else really happens (other than the frequent sexual interludes, that is); as ever, “action” is mostly comprised of Hardy “flipping through the TV Guide” to see which movie he can watch while he prepares his latest meal.
Meyers gets the sex out of the way quick, with Hardy entertaining his casual girflriend Ruby, a stripper whose been around since the first volume. Ruby mentions Hardy’s gained some weight and then jumps in bed with him for some off-page fun, after which she disappears from the novel, heading out of town for an engagement. She implores Hardy to visit his doctor, yet another recurring character; Dr. Merle Foster, who puts up with Hardy’s frequent come-ons, given that she’s a hotstuff babe and all. She sets Hardy up with some “pills” to help with his blood pressure and also gives him the card of a fat-loss place called “Fat Limited.” All this is pretty similar to the setup of the previous volume, which also had Hardy going to a fitness facility.
This means that a lot of Reunion For Death is made up of Hardy’s diet, how hungry he is, how he forces himself to eat less, etc. At least this livens up the “what’s on TV” material. Otherwise as mentioned, Hardy gets laid a helluva lot for a fat guy: Ruby, the two hippie chicks, and a couple other babes all in the course of a 160-page novel. But still we must endure lots of stuff about his worries over his weight and how he restrains from eating high-caloric meals and snacks. The biggest impact on Hardy so far as the extra weight goes is the pills Dr. Merle gives him for his pressure, which cause all sorts of side effects, in particular taking away the feeling of “completeness” in climax. So as I say, Meyers has now figured out how to incorporate the “sensuous” aspect into everything in the narrative.
After getting all the diet stuff set up, Meyers moves into this volume’s case; Hardy receives a call from old college buddy named Lassiter, who says he’s been looking for another college friend of theirs, Ben Alsop. Lassiter’s in California and Alsop’s in New York, thus Lassiter asks Hardy to look him up. A curious thing about Reunion For Death is that there’s no feeling that any of these people were ever friends. I know it’s been over 20 years since they’ve seen each other, but still…if my friends from college 20+ years ago called me, I’d at least talk about old times or whatever. But Lassiter and the other college friends who pop up in the novel are along the lines of any other one-off characters in the series; there’s no conveyed sense that they were friends at one time.
This is sort of explained in a brief recap; Hardy was morbidly obese in college, thus was mainly friends with spindly geek Ben Alsop, given that the two were outcasts in school. It was through Alsop that Hardy met the other guys: Lassiter, Ricci, and Leon, all of whom were popular jocks. So then Hardy was never “buddies” with any of them except for Alsop, and Alsop’s the one he spends the entire novel looking for. But regardless, there isn’t much in the way of background setup here, nothing other than a vaguely “subtle” mention that a girl went missing one year in college…a mystery Hardy forgot about years ago because he “wasn’t interested in such things at the time.” But this minor mention is all that’s made of the mysterious incident of twenty years before, thus the big revelations at novel’s end come off as very lame.
Even more lame is when Hardy can’t get through to Ben on the number listed in the phone book; he talks to some other spaced-out guy and tries to convey a message. So later Hardy’s out walking his dog Holmes and notices a hotstuff black lady approaching his apartment. This will be Melanie, whom Hardy lusts after the entire novel. She has a letter for Hardy from Ben, but “the postman or someone got it wet.” So Hardy will have to piece together the letter upon which various words have been conveniently erased. It’s all ridiculous, but meanwhile he’s busy checking out Melanie and wondering if he should get a shot at her, even though she is, by her own admission, “Ben’s girl.”
Not that this prevents Hardy from his nookie; he goes to the sleazepit apartment under Ben’s name, to find it’s a hippie crash pad. The hippie girl there, as mentioned above, offers herself to Hardy moments after they meet. Here we get an indication that the sex material in Reunion For Death will be a little more explicit than previously in the series. But also as mentioned Hardy doesn’t feel “right” when he reaches the big moment, thus he rushes back to Dr. Merle, who tells him it’s all a side effect of the drugs, and his body will adjust. So Hardy skips the next day’s dose and heads back to the hippie crash bad, to engage the hippie girl in another tussle…and then immediately thereafter, the other hippie girl who happens to be there! Everything working properly now, Hardy happily heads home and continues fantasizing about Melanie.
Meyers actually restrains himself on this one; with it being a “will they or won’t they” thing that keeps up between Melanie and Hardy throughout the book. He also injects a bit more action into the novel; while the otherwise nice cover is as misleading as all the previous ones were (Hardy doesn’t own a gun, let alone use one), Hardy does get shot at a few times, and also gets to use his military-programmed “reflexes” to take on a few armed opponents. That being said, there is as ever a humorous lack of tension in the plot. Like for example, when Melanie and Hardy go to Ben’s other apartment, Melanie reveals that the place has clearly been searched by someone. She says this mere moments after the two have entered the apartment. For all they know, the interlopers could still be in there. But what does Hardy do? He tells Melanie to take a look around and flops on the couch to do some crossword puzzles!
The other two college “pals” come out of the woodwork, both of them looking for a package that was supposedly at Ben’s apartment: Ricci, who is now an interior decorator and seems to be gay whereas he was a lady killer back in college, and Leon, who doesn’t contribute much to the plot other than taking a few shots at Hardy. Eventually a heroin-smuggling scheme is worked in; Ben Alsop is found dead in Mexico, courtesy a few shots to the back of the head, and a Mexican cop (working with recurring series character Detective Gerald Friday) believes Alsop was smuggling drugs over the border. Hardy doesn’t even bat an eye that his old college pal is dead – instead he wonders how long he should allow Melanie to mourn before he tries to get in her pants!
Surprisingly though we never do get to see it happen, even though Melanie starts making longing looks at Hardy. Instead Hardy gets lucky courtesy some floozie he hooks up with thanks to old pal Lassiter, now in town and suddenly giving off menacing vibes. Hardy gets in a few fistfights here and there, as ever his reflexes kicking into gear when threatened; Hardy will pulverize his opponent, then go and vomit in terror (to quote Homer Simpson). The finale sees that damn crossword puzzle coming into play, the one Hardy picked up at Ben’s apartment; Ben left a clue in it, and after much pondering Hardy figures out how to solve it – and also finds the package everyone’s been looking for, which you guessed it, contains photos of that fatal night two decades ago where the poor girl went missing. Blackmail Ben was using on his three “pals.”
Meyers ends the novel – and series – on a sex joke. Melanie, feeling all better now, lets it be clear that she wants some good lovin’ with Hardy posthaste…then the phone rings and it’s Ruby, who has just arrived back in town and is on her way over: “I’m so horny for you I’m shaking.” The book ends with Hardy in a serious predicament, with one randy girl in hand and another randy girl on her way over. This was as good a way as any to end Hardy, which unfortunately didn’t pan out like I hoped it would. I recall when I discovered this series years ago…it sounded like everything I could want, a sleazy ‘70s private eye yarn with a military-programmed hero. But man, Martin Meyers instead went for a ridiculously leisurely approach, with more focus on what Hardy ate or watched on TV. So to tell the truth I’m not too bummed that there were no more volumes.