Radcliff #3: Double Trouble, by Roosevelt Mallory
January, 1975 Holloway House
HE’S BIG, HE’S BLACK, HE’S BAD – HE’S RADCLIFF
-- From the back cover
Holloway House cornered the market on action and crime novels featuring black protagonists, and Radcliff ran for four volumes right at the height of the Blaxploitation genre. This is a few volumes less than The Iceman, so either readers of the day didn’t take to it or the author, the wonderfully-named Roosevelt Mallory, moved on to other things. This is the only volume of the series I have, and judging from it Radcliff is a lot less “Blaxploitation-esque” than The Iceman, coming off for the most part like a series from Pinnacle or Pyramid or any other ‘70s imprint, one that just happens to have a black protagonist.
So then, jive-talk is kept to a minimum, cops are referred to as “policemen,” and the sex and violence are tame – very tame when compared to the ‘70s men’s adventure average. Actually The Iceman isn’t very explicit in the sex department either, at least judging from the two volumes I’ve read. One thing both series have in common is the capitalization of “Black,” whereas “white” is never capitalized. Actually this has also crept into modern journalism (so-called); I’ve read the justification for it, but it only makes sense if you’ve been completely brainwashed. Or if you get your news from the sort of people who capitalize the “b” but not the “w,” which pretty much amounts to the same thing as being brainwashed.
Another thing this series lacks is a strong impetus for the hero. Joe Radcliff (whose real name appears to be Jason Washington) is a ‘Nam vet who realized he was killing VC for free for Uncle Sam and decided to farm out his specialty to the highest bidder. He’s now a top “pro hit-man,” per the cover, with a talent for killing mobsters and the like. He’ll be hired by one Mafia bigwig to kill another Mafia bigwig, and Radcliff makes a fortune off it…enough to keep him in some styling threads with a few ladies at his side. So in other words, Radcliff’s only in it for the money. His customary getup includes a pair of rose-tinted glasses and he sports a stylish “Natural” (aka afro) and goattee…though he only has the Natural for the first few chapters of Double Trouble. His customary weapons are a dual pair of .38s; like most ‘70s crime fiction, revolvers are the main choice of weaponry in Radcliff.
As mentioned I’m missing the previous two volumes, but it appears that Mallory has tried to inject a bit of continuity into the series. When the novel opens Radcliff is on a cruise through the Caribbean (having picked up two women along the way, “a Black and a Mexican-American”), and in fact he stays off-page for a bit too long. Rather the focus is on a pair of cops who are trying to track down a cop-killer. This would be the “double” of the title; the novel has an unsettling opening in which a ringer for Radcliff guns down an LA cop at his breakfast table, even going to the lengths of killing the man’s seven year-old daughter. Mallory doesn’t keep the kid’s death off-page, either, which makes for an unnecessarily grim opening. At any rate, the killer leaves a witness – one who will be able to relate that someone named “Radcliff” did the killing.
A local cop named Gene Clark (not that Gene Clark) was friends with the murdered policeman and investigates the murder. The reader assumes Clark will be an important facet of the narrative, but the reader will soon be proven wrong, as Clark basically just disappears. Next we meet another cop, this one from New York, named Lt. Sam Hanson. He’s flown in from New York given his familiarity with Radcliff, having encountered him in one of the previous volumes. In the meantime the fake Radcliff has killed another couple cops. And once again made it a point for a witness to be able to peg the killer as someone named Radcliff. Of course Clark and Hanson are not aware this is an imposter, but Hanson is adamant that Radcliff is a “pro” and wouldn’t go around killing cops or innocent people…something the real Radcliff has never done.
Meanwhile the real Radcliff is blissfully going about his cruise, but when he returns to port he’s almost blown away by a cop. This sets off the narrative drive of Double Trouble, as Radcliff scurries around Los Angeles while trying to evade the cops and figure out who is behind the frame. The vibe of Blaxploitation really is not present; Radcliff seems to have almost a professional respect for “policemen” and we know he’s never killed one. There are several parts where he has the opportunity but always goes out of his way not to. In fact he doesn’t kill very many people at all in Double Trouble. Mallory tries to inject realism into the story, with Radcliff presented as a supreme bad-ass, but not a superhero like other men’s adventure protagonists.
Radcliff unwittingly predicts future fashion trends when he shaves off his afro – or “screwing up a masterpiece,” as he thinks to himself. With his “clean face and equally clean-shaven head” Radcliff sounds more like a ‘90s action protagonist than one from the ‘70s. Mallory was clearly familiar with Los Angeles as he brings the city to life, with Radcliff shuffling all over the place, including into Watts. Radcliff has various safehouses around the city, as well as contacts, some of whom turn out to be traitors. There’s a bit of a private eye vibe in the middle section of the novel, as Radcliff starts looking around for any local black hoodlums who have come into sudden money; his gambit is that such a person might be the ringer who was paid big bucks to impersonate Radcliff and kill a few cops and Feds.
Truth be told this middle half is a bit hard-going, as Radcliff chases one red herring after another. Meanwhile we have a lot of business about him getting new papers and ID and etc, Mallory again striving for a crime underworld realism as Radcliff meets with various criminal contacts. Actually this whole bit has the vibe of a “black Parker” or somesuch. That said, Mallory clearly had an unwieldy wordcount (the book’s way too long at 224 pages of small print), as there’s a fair bit of padding at times; most egregious of all would be an arbitrary game of basketball Radcliff gets into with a group of kids in Watts while he’s waiting to meet the contact with his new ID paperwork.
Mallory does inject some action into these red-herring chases, including an unexpected bit where Radcliff busts out some kung-fu to take on a guy who tries to get the drop on him. There’s also a go-nowhere bit where he finds himself talking to a stripper “with two huge breasts” named Brandy. While she disappears from the novel, Radcliff does find the time to sleep with the jilted wife of one of the suspects, but Radcliff just goes through the motions (Mallory literally writes “he went through the motions of making love to the woman”), because the lady’s clearly expecting to get lucky with him, and Mallory keeps the majority of it off-page. Speaking of which Radcliff appears to have a steady gal with whom he’s in an open relationship; a redhead beauty named Angie who only appears in the last two pages of Double Trouble. Anyway, the husband of the jilted wife Radcliff sleeps with does indeed turn out to be the fake Radcliff; while snooping through the drawers when the woman’s asleep, Radcliff finds a fake goattee and other parts of the “Radcliff” disguise.
Radcliff can be pretty badass, though. He abducts the Mafioso who hired the fake Radcliff, torturing the mobster’s henchman to make him talk. After which Radcliff doesn’t leave any witnesses, despite his promise to take them to a hospital. Throughout we are to understand that Radcliff is supremely pissed at the situation, not concerned or worried. Mallory tries as well to give Radcliff some Jim Brown-esque dialog to convey his anger; there’s a humorous part where Radcliff tells one thug, “I don’t know how you did it, but you’ve pissed off an already highly pissed off man.” But again the drive just isn’t there, or Mallory doesn’t sufficiently convey it. Radcliff’s more angry that his name has been sullied; even here there is no burning drive to get revenge on the men who have murdered innocents so as to frame him.
The action briefly moves to Mexico, where the fake Radcliff is hiding. Meanwhile Radcliff discovers that an infamous professional hit man is also tracking the guy: the Scorpion, who is much built up but almost perfunctorily dealt with. Also, Radcliff doesn’t even show much divine wrath when he gets hold of the imposter, basically just handcuffing the guy and getting him back to the US so he can exonerate Radcliff. I expected a few bitch-slaps at least, but for the most part Radcliff is all business. The finale lacks much spark as well, with Radcliff getting in a quick shootout with some Mafia goons, Radcliff using a .22 with dum-dum shells.
The finale has Radcliff’s reputation restored, and he’s back with Angie. According to this insightful essay at Crime Reads, Angie would meet her own fate in the next volume, which happened to be the last. Overall Double Trouble was fairly entertaining, but came off as too blasé compared to some of the more outrageous Blaxploitation paperbacks of the era, like Dark Angel or the awesome Coffy novelization. I do love how Radcliff and Mallory are presented as one and the same on the cover; that’s Mallory’s photo (which is reproduced on the back cover) there on the Wanted poster behind Radcliff. It’s both cool and corny how Holloway House tried to make their authors come off as bad-ass as their protagonists.