Monday, June 14, 2021

Stryker #4: Deadly Alliance

Stryker #4: Deadly Alliance, by William Crawford
July, 1975  Pinnacle Books

The cover of this final volume of Stryker promises a Blaxploitation spin on the series, but as it turns out Deadly Alliance is of a piece with the other volumes, and William Crawford’s work in general: an unlikable prick protagonist blitzes his way through a string of low-life underworld types, mercilessly beating unarmed men and women and occasionally shooting a few of them while thinking to himself how cops “need to be respected,” before ultimately being captured and tortured himself. And by novel’s end someone will shit their pants. 

While the previous volume was a streamlined affair, so far as Crawford’s work goes – following a linear plot from beginning to end with no digressive rundowns of various one-off characters – this one returns to the Crawford norm, wasting pages with egregious backstory and digressions. It’s little wonder Deadly Alliance was the last volume of Stryker. I would imagine readers of the day just couldn’t connect with it, as Crawford’s style makes for a hard read. And Stryker is particularly unlikable this time. I mean a protagonist can be lovably unlikable, like Ryker, or even lovably unhinged, like Magellan, but Stryker’s just a prick here, with no redeeming qualities to make the reader root for him. 

Stryker’s driven nature is due to the murder of Paul Stalking Deer, a guy who was “more than a brother” to Stryker and served with him in the war, worked on the Stryker family ranch, and whatnot. This murder occurs toward the beginning of Deadly Alliance; the actual opening of the novel has Stryker shaving off his moustache (which he grew as a disguise in the first volume) and “hating himself” due to the crazed violence of his life. After this Stryker meets with Boyd Frazier, a journalist who claims he can get Stryker exonerated and all the charges on him dropped. Meanwhile Stryker is content to live on his ranch here in New Mexico; one wonders if he’s in a pinochle club with fellow New Mexico ranch owner Dakota

Oh and believe it or not, but for once we actually have a few lines of dialog from Stryker’s daughter, who as we’ll recall was blinded in the first volume. She’s basically being raised by Stryker’s mother, who has taught the little girl to speak in Gaelic. However this will be it for that subplot; once Stryker hears of Paul Stalking Deer’s murder, in “the largest city in New Mexico,” Stryker heads off on the vengeance trail. Thankfully the “flying fiction” is nonexistent this time, and for the most part Deadly Alliance is a violent revenge thriller that moves in a linear line. It’s just that I personally couldn’t have cared less about the guy seeking the revenge. 

But then that linear plot line only follows Stryker’s material. We also have too-long cutaways to Boyd Frazier and other supporting characters, complete with time-wasting backgrounds on their lives. A hallmark of Crawford’s – let’s recall how the first volume even told us how Stryker’s friggin’ grandparents met – and a sad return to form after the previous volume. At any rate Stryker heads into that New Mexico city and tracks the leads on who murdered his friend. While the cover calls out the “black Mafia,” ultimately the villains of Deadly Alliance are a group of young left-wing radicals, a la SDS and the Weathermen, a group that happens to be made up of various races. However early on Stryker gets word that a black Mafia might’ve been involved, only to hear from another character that the whole thing is a shuck, a cover story for the real group. 

There are a lot of tiebacks to the first volume, with Stryker hitting some of the same informants and visiting the same places in his quest for info. We get our first indication of the type of novel we’ll be reading when Stryker gets an informant in his car and proceeds to beat him unmerciful, even slapping his ear to rupture his eardrum. It’s definitely hardcore and all, but it lacks the similar “revenge at all costs” vibe of superior revenge yarns like Bronson: Blind Rage. This again comes down to Stryker. There’s just something irritating about him; I know the intention is to convey he’s a supreme badass, but at the same time he just comes off like a creep and you root for the bad guys. His occasional sermons are also off-putting. 

And your last name wouldn’t have to be “Freud” to detect just a wee little bit of homoeroticsm in Crawford’s prose. Stryker constantly insults his male prey with putdowns involving the derriere – everyone’s “buttface” or “assface” or “asshole” or even “dumbutt.” Also factor in how Stryker’s threats also usually refer to butts: “burn your ass” and etc. And Crawford still does that mega-strange thing of his where “hard” curse words appear in the narrative but are bowdlerized in the dialog; ie “Motherf– ” and “C–,” whereas both words are clearly stated in the narrative. Coupled with the curious obsession with male asses – and the fact that Stryker goes ladyless this time – this makes everything rather strange to say the least. The fact that Crawford clearly wasn’t even aware of how all this comes off makes it even more humorous. But then, maybe he was; in Deadly Alliance Crawford shows a sudden familiarity with pop culture, referring to movies and TV shows quite often. At one point Stryker watches “the great television series Star Trek,” and later on Crawford even mentions Dennis Hopper. 

Well anyway, Stryker goes around town and beats up various men and women. A lot of it is repetitious from every other Crawford novel I’ve reviewed here. Stryker just bashes heads for info, usually not using his own head. There’s a part where he goes into a bar run by a black guy he beat up in prison, and Styrker realizes too late he’s unarmed and outnumbered. Then someone puts a gun to Stryker’s back, but our hero delivers a merciless beatdown despite the odds. He’ll learn this guy, a young black man, was hired to kill him. Cue another brutal torture sequence as Stryker drives the guy out into the countryside and beats him to pulp to find out who hired him. But Stryker has a soft side, folks; he feels bad for the kid and gives him some money and tells him to get the hell out of New Mexico! 

Given the nature of the villains this time, the novel is filled with sermons against the left, particularly the radical movement – “It wasn’t what the world was coming to, but the kind of people now living in the world.” The left-wing terrorists Stryker faces are a hate-filled lot of drug-using freaks, led by a black man who is stoned out of his gourd most of the time (ie, “He blasted hash for breakfast,” and etc) and who just fumbles through the usual speeches to his mindless but dangerous lackeys. There are of course many parallels to today throughout this sequence, with the caveat that Crawford was writing in a more rational world: the Federal agencies, we know from Stryker’s various asides, are staffed with lawmen just itching to get their hands on these left-wing radicals. 

In addition to the radical movement, the terrorists are also heavily into heroin. Stryker gets wind of this soon enough, following the drug pipeline until it takes him to a pair of girls, one white and one black, who are users. Stryker beats the living shit out of both of them in a sequence that was probably unsettling in ’74, let alone today. The white girl is fat and we get lots of stuff about her being so unattractive to begin with, let alone her heroin addiction and how it makes her willing to do anything. But she has info on the radicals and she’s the one Stryker really sets in on – she’s also the character who shits herself this time, right in Stryker’s car. Luckily this happens off-page, but we’re to understand that, due to her cold turkey heroin withdrawal, the girl barfs and shits all over the interior of Stryker’s car…and just as he’s hosing it down he’s taken captive himself by the very radicals he seeks. 

They call themselves the National Alliance of Liberationists and ostensibly they’re led by Lynlee McGuire, the so-called “Fied Marshall,” but really it’s an American Indian girl named Carolina who runs the show. A “Reservation cousin” of Paul Stalking Deer, she was sent to college thanks to money Stryker’s mom raised for her, but she pays this back with hatred and resentment, having been fed endless propaganda about America’s racism and whatnot. Honestly the whole thing is dispiritedly tiresome in our current era, but at least Crawford pokes holes in their propaganda – Stryker’s comments in particular starting on page 156 are basically an indictment of what is now referred to as “systemic racism,” Stryker arguing that blanket accusations against an entire society make for an easy copout for one’s own individual shortcomings. 

Carolina is especially loathsome and there’s none of the “sexy villainess” stuff I generally demand in my pulp. She’s just a stone cold whackjob and so committed to her radicalism that she’s chomping at the bit to kill Stryker. Oh and it develops that they’ve targeted him because they want Stryker’s mom to sell her ranch so they can use the money for the movement or somesuch. The plan is to abduct Stryker and get his mom to pay for his ransom via selling the ranch. Stryker goes along with it, tied up and slapped around, as usually happens to every Crawford protagonist is in the final pages. But he himself is determined to kill Carolina – and gets his opportunity when he’s condemned to death after a kangaroo trial with the Field Marshall presiding. 

But the crazy thing is, Crawford jumps to the epilogue just as Stryker has his chance to fight back. The struggle with Carolina is tense and brutal, and after which Stryker realizes he’s surrounded by several armed radicals. Crawford for whatever reason blows through all this, serving up an anticlimactic finale of Stryker blasting away with an AR-15 and showing these punks what terror’s all about. That said, there’s a great bit where the Field Marshall trots in, using a nude girl as a human shield, and Stryker shoots her in the thigh to get her out of the way! But after this it’s a quick flash-forward to after the melee, and Stryker’s safe at home back at the ranch. 

While Deadly Alliance was the last volume, Crawford clearly had another installment in mind: the novel ends with Frazier convincing Styrker to head into New York City and bust up some dirty cops. Stryker is definitely interested, but obviously readers weren’t, as there were no further volumes. It seems at this point Crawford’s tenure with Pinnacle came to an end, even though at one point he was so prolific for the publisher that they ran full-page ads for his novels. After this he was back to penning pseudonymous novels for book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel. Moral of the story: If you want a long-running action series, at least make your protagonist somewhat likable.


Marty McKee said...

I'm surprised to discover you have reviewed only one (1) STAR TREK novel, Joe! Though I can understand your reticence to continue after enduring the horror of a Marshak/Culbreth book. Now I'm curious what other TREK books were in that stack you bought.

Joe Kenney said...

Hey Marty! You're right, I still haven't gotten back to any of those Star Trek novels, likely just put off by this one. The ones I got are: Fate of the Phoenix (the sequel to this one, and I recall I at least started to read it years ago...), Black Fire, Yesterday's Son, Spock Must Die, and also a Shatner bio by Marshak/Culbreth titled "Where No Man." That one sounds the most promising because it seems to be "very '70s." Per an Amazon reviewer, it's an "overly shallow attempt at Californian sexual pseudo-psychobabble." Sounds like a ringing endorsement to me! Thanks for the comment, good as always to hear from you!

Marty McKee said...

Oh man, you really should read that Shatner "bio." You will hate it/love it (I'm sure you understand what I mean). It's perfect for this blog.