Monday, May 3, 2021

The Peacemaker #3: The Xander Pursuit

The Peacemaker #3: The Xander Pursuit, by Adam Hamilton
October, 1974  Berkley Medallion Books

The lackluster Peacemaker series continues with a third volume that once again is courtesy an author who does not understand the genre nor what is expected of it. If the previous two volumes were tepid non-events, The Xander Pursuit is even worse…192 small-print pages of tedium, only livened up by the incident depicted on the cover (once again courtesy Mel Crair); an incident that doesn’t even occur until the final few pages! 

It occurred to me as I read The Xander Pursuit that it provided an answer to that whole “name one thing a man can do that a woman can’t do” argument feminists love to dole out. Well I’ll tell you folks, here’s one thing women can’t do: write men’s adventure novels. The fact that there were so few female authors in the field should be clue enough; Marilyn Granbeck, who wrote The Peacemaker as “Adam Hamilton” and Blood as “Allan Morgan,” was one of those very few. And judging from her work on the two series, she was incapable of delivering on the lurid and violent demands of the genre. To be sure, her writing is fine, she’s just the wrong author for the genre, her style more suited to cozy mysteries…which is the genre she eventually worked in. 

The series premise itself doesn’t work. I mean for one it’s titled “The Peacemaker.” But even that wouldn’t be too much of a kiss of death. The major issue is that the hero, Barrington “Barry” Hewes-Bradford, is so wealthy that he employs legions of employees who do all the “action stuff” for him. As I’ve mentioned several times in the previous reviews, all he really does is just use the phone for the most part, putting in calls to various underlings or contacts to go out and do the work for him. This is so far removed from the action-centric nature of the men’s adventure genre as to be laughable. I mean there’s a part in the end where Barry’s latest girlfriend is taken captive, and even here all the guy does is make a call…and then goes to bed!! 

Over and over again Granbeck makes it clear that she has no understanding of what this genre needs. She piles on one-off characters, elaborately introduced, most of them doing all the heavy lifting, while her main character sits around in various opulent hotel rooms, smokes cigarettes, and goes “Hmmm.” This has the cumulative effect that The Xander Pursuit is a slog of a read. It’s much more of a mystery than a men’s adventure novel; for example, a minor character is killed in the opening pages, and a hundred pages later the reasons behind his murder are still being investigated! There’s absolutely no action, particularly for Barry; he gets in a car chase midway through, but other than the finale he sees no other action or danger. And he kills no one in the course of the novel. 

So here’s the plot: Barry is about to head off to Tarrago, an island kingdom in the Caribbean. He visited it as a boy, we’re told, and so loved the place that he’s been investing in it over the past few years, trying to help bring it into the modern era. In this regard President Aquino of Tarrago has erected several casinos, hoping to attract the luxury vacation market – something that much displeases Gabriel Lavorel, despotic ruler of San Sebastien, rival country which is on the same island as Tarrago. This brings to mind a trashy beach read of the era with the same sort of setup, Island Paradise, and initially Granbeck seems to be going in this direction, with description of Tarrago’s verdant countryside and mention of its various luxury hotels, but this is dropped. 

On the eve of leaving Barry receives a mysterious call with hot info about something happening in Tarrago. For once Barry handles this himself, going off to meet the caller at midnight. Even here though Barry is accompanied by a bodyguard: series regular Lobo, a former pro footballer who again comes off more like the hero of an action series than Barry himself does. Throughout the course of the book Lobo will be Barry’s yes-man, though, always with him and helping him suss out various mysteries. There’s also recurring character Trask, another of Barry’s crutches; Trask heads up security for Barry’s enterprise and once again serves him up with info, sending out various agents into the field to do the sort of thing an action series hero should be doing himself. 

Well the mysterious caller’s murdered before Barry and Lobo get to the meet, as are a few other people Barry was supposed to meet in Tarrago. The mystery behind their murders – indeed, whether they were even murdered, given that some of the kills were staged as natural occurrences – will play out through the seemingly-endless narrative. All Barry knows is something about “Xander” is involved, but he suspects Xander is a thing and not a person. He flies off to Tarrago and meets up with various people, making incessant calls to Trask and others to have agents sent out into the field to investigate for him. Our hero instead broods in his hotel (he’s got an entire floor to himself), smokes a lot, fields Lobo with endless questions, and doesn’t do much else. 

Granbeck does at least cater to one genre mainstay: a stunning female for our hero. But even here she doesn’t fully invest in it. This is how the female character is introduced: 

Barry was barely conscious of the continued introductions as he stared at the woman. For a moment his breath caught in his chest like a hot spark. The resemblance of the girl to Stephanie Haig was startling, at least at first. The soft, golden mist of hair around the small oval face, the green eyes that reflected light as though from some deep pool. 

And this comrades will be it for the description of the girl, whose name turns out to be Karel; even later, when the expected hanky-panky occurs, there is zero exploitation and zero mention of any anatomical details. The scant references to Karel all have to do with her similarity to Barry’s former love Stephanie, who “disappeared in the Amazon eight years ago.” Even someone completely new to the lurid world of men’s adventure would suspect there was something amiss about “Adam Hamilton.” 

Just for fun, let’s take a look at how a typically-horny male pulp writer might’ve handled the above:

Barry was barely conscious of the continued introductions as he stared at the blonde. For a moment his breath caught in his chest like a hot spark. Her breasts were so full and widely separated that their outer curves hid part of her upper arms. The nipples, plainly visible beneath the gauzy fabric of her revealing top, jutted forward proudly, almost defiantly, as if demanding attention. The girl smiled invitingly at Barry as she fixed him with her slut-green eyes. 

You won’t find anything like that in The Xander Pursuit. Even when Barry and Karel get down to it, many pages later, it’s basically rated G: 

[Barry] watched her undress as he removed his own clothes. She was incredibly beautiful, her tanned skin showing patches of white where a bikini had covered it when she sunbathed. 

Then they were on the bed, coming together in heat and need, searching each other and finding the hidden promises. The cool exterior Barry had glimpsed in the clinic was gone and a warm loving woman emerged. The passion that had begun with that first kiss on the beach came to a full flame, and their bodies met, gently at first then abandoning all hesitancy. They met and climbed the peaks together. In some deep part of his mind, Barry knew that Karel was finding the same kind of wonderful pleasure and relief as he. It was a long time before they were still. 

Hot stuff, huh!! Notice there’s still no exploitation. It’s about as chaste as a supposed “sex scene” can be. 

I’d quote some action scenes, but there aren’t any! Trask sends in two field agents, Radley and Underhill, who trek around Tarrago and do all the “action hero stuff” as they try to find out what’s going on with this whole “Xander” thing. Meanwhile Barry “swims a quick twenty laps” in the hotel pool and has some off-page sex with Karel. He also flies around on his private Lear jet, meeting with President Aquino and even Lavorel in San Sebastien; in all these scenes Granbeck piles on hordes of minor characters, ensuring that the reader will grow increasingly confused and bored. What’s worse is that so much of it is needless padding; Barry’s trip to San Sebastien is heavily built up, but over and done with in a few pages, Lavorel refusing to meet him. It’s like that again and again; any opportunity for action or excitement is quickly cast aside. 

Humorously the back cover ruins the mystery Granbeck spends the entire novel building; we’re told that “organized crime” threatens the economy of Tarrago. Well, this isn’t even revealed until near the very end. But Barry does meet an American here on business named Diego deLucca. Gee, I wonder if he’ll turn out to be Mafia? But it just goes on and on, with another “action highlight” a part where they’re having dinner on deLucca’s yacht and San Sebastien cannons open fire on the ship. But again Barry doesn’t see any action himself, everything handled by the crew. Ultimately he learns that “Xander” is a complicated plot to rob Tarrago’s gold coffers, a plot involving organized crime, and this takes us into the finale. 

As mentioned, Karel happens to get abducted here, though it’s so coincidental as to be ridiculous; some stooges heist a casino and grab her as collateral on the way out. She’s smuggled onto a boat and taken out to sea with the loot. When Barry learns of this he makes a few calls, figures he knows where the ship is headed, calls someone else to have a .50 caliber installed on his jet…and then goes to bed! Even Lobo is shocked at this, but Barry says “there’s nothing else” he can do at the moment. Yes, all this really happens. They wait till next morning, and Barry flies the plane over the ship (which is where he figured it would be) while some other guy handles the .50. Barry doesn’t even kill anyone, having the guy blast the ship to pieces after ensuring the occupants have escaped via lifeboat. 

And mercifully here The Xander Pursuit comes to a close. Granbeck tries to build this image that Barry might be more cruel than expected; when informed that Karel is onboard the ship he’s about to blast out of the water, Barry says he’s going to blast away regardless. At novel’s end he is questioned on this, and says he was only “bluffing.” But we’re to understand that his audience is unsure whether Barry is telling the truth. Honestly though at this point I couldn’t have cared less. This one was really dispirited and padded to the extreme, and speaking of mysteries, there’s no mystery why there was only one more volume of The Peacemaker.


Johny Malone said...

The correct title for the series should be "The Readers' Peacemaker."

Zwolf said...

Yeah, this series was pretty much a stillbirth, I think. A bad concept, executed badly.

As to if women can write men's adventure stuff, I can't think of many examples of them trying... although pick up an early biker novel called The Black Leather Barbarians by Pat Stadley and get back to me. That's one of the most hard-boiled things I've read in a while, and "Pat" is a "Patricia."

Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

Thanks for IDing Mel Crair as the cover artist. He was one busy -- and great -- illustration artist!