The Hunter #1: The Ripper, by Mike Newton
No month stated, 1978 Publisher’s Consultants
The first of the two-volume The Hunter series, (not to be confused with the other Hunter series) The Ripper features hero Detective Jon Steel, a Los Angeles cop who is very much a clone of Dirty Harry, only as mentioned he’s in LA instead of San Francisco, and also he carries a .357 instead of a .44. Author Mike Newton turned out the series for low-rent Publisher’s Consultants, but in content and presentation (ie the visual look of the book, with its big print, short page count, and frequent typos) it comes off exactly like something from Belmont Tower or Leisure Books.
What’s interesting about The Ripper is that it proves Newton was capable of writing a lurid cash-in himself; I only mention this because, years later in How To Write Action-Adventure Novels, Newton sneered at such books, in particular the “Rambosploitation” cover of Firefight. And also let’s not forget how he raked Soldier For Hire #8 and Behind The Door over the coals for their unbridled sleaziness. Well folks, Newton here is sleazier than either of those books, and “Jon Steel” is pure “Dirty Harrysploitation.” Mind you, none of this is a complaint. I love sleazy and lurid and violent cash-ins. In fact, I’d rather read them than the books they’re ripping off. And what’s crazy is, Newton here turns out a book that’s better than any of the official Dirty Harry tie-ins Warner Books was to begin publishing in a few years. At least, better than any of the ones I’ve read.
Newton also turns in a book that’s of a piece with the Ryker and Keller books; again, The Ripper could’ve easily been a product of either BT or Leisure. It has the same brutal, misogynist, sleazy, and nihilistic tone as any of the “tough cops” books those imprints put out in the ‘70s. Which is to say it was a whole helluva lot of fun to read. In fact I never suspected Michael Newton had a book like this in him! It barrels along over the short course of 158 big-print pages, Newton doling out frequent scenes of excess sleaze, murder, and mayhem, with a “hero” who comes off like such a bastard that even Joe Ryker (or his alter ego Joe Keller) would be taken aback. Again all of which is to say, The Ripper was more fun than I thought it would be.
Plot-wise the book is also identical to the Ryker or Keller novels: there’s a killer loose, one who preys on hookers, and it’s up to pure bastard cop Jon Steel to arrest him. Or kill him – Steel, we’ll learn, isn’t much bothered with rules and regulations, and would just as soon waste his prey. And speaking of “prey,” presumably “The Hunter” of the series title is Steel himself, but he never really thinks of himself as such. There is a slight connotation that he’s hunting the killer, but it’s not really exploited much and perhaps was just Newton trying to cater in some way to the series title. And speaking of which, per an interview with Newton that Justin Marriott conducted several years ago (but which I don’t believe was ever published?), Newton wrote a scad of novels for this publisher, which ended up publishing them under various titles and pseudonyms. So I’m not sure how much input he even had into the series title.
Also the Ripper of the title is really two guys…at least at novel’s start. We see them in action as they pull up in their blue van with custom paint job (dueling “vikings” on the side – and I wanna say Newton was inspired by Frank Frazetta’s legedary cover for Conan Of Cimmeria), pick up a hooker on the Sunset Strip, negotiate price, and then take her out to the countryside so they can rape and kill her. Yes folks, it’s one of those books, just grimy and depraved to the core. And Newton doesn’t pull away from any of it, either, with a squirm-inducing opening that’s along the lines of Corporate Hooker, Inc. in the misery the poor hooker goes through. Or “whore,” as Newton constantly refers to her and her fellow streetwalkers throughout. But anyway she’s “opened like a fish from pubis to sternum in a single disembowling stroke,” per our hero’s estimation of the carnage when he views the girl’s corpse the next day.
This is actually the second such kill; Steel’s already on the case when we meet him and the papers have dubbed the mysterious “whore”-killer “The Ripper.” Steel is only vaguely described, but again you can’t help but see Clint Eastwood: he’s tall and thin and carries a massive revolver. But in his case it’s a .357 Colt Python…which again goes against Newton’s later How-To book, which ridiculed cop thrillers that had its protagonists toting whatever gun they’d like. Again, this isn’t a complaint. I don’t want realism in a violent cop thriller. Newton has done his research on crime scene investigation and police procedure though, or at least seems to have, with Steel investigating this latest corpse and knowing immediately it’s not the work of a copycat.
This brings us to one of my favorite elements of the tough cop genre: the arbitrary action scene. Steel picks up a call on the radio of an officer down, and heads on over to an all-night grocery store that’s being knocked over. Two radical-types are barricaded within, shooting down the cops with a carbine. Steel, familiar with the place from previous robberies, descends into the place and takes on the two radicals in gory fashion: “The magnum roared again, a solitary word of disgust. The heavy slug passed between Arty’s silently moving lips, clipped his spine with surgical precision at the base of his skull, and then erupted from the back of his head in a frothy shower of blood, brain, and splintered bone.” This mind you occurs right after Steel has blown off the punk’s arm. The other radical is wasted in similar fashion.
The third would-be Ripper victim happens to be packing a .25 derringer and manages to get the drop on the two killers. She shoots one of them but is knifed savagely in return, leading to corpse three, but she also manages to take out one of the two Rippers. This proves to be the biggest break in the case for Steel, and he soon discovers that the dead punk was the son of a prominent doctor. After grilling the guy and his wife in their mansion, Steel figures out that Ripper number two is also a child of wealth – the twenty-something son of “a professional liberal” city councilman who hates the cops and likes to side with poor minorities in causes, despite being a wealthy white guy and etc.
But for being a tough cop with 15 years of experience on the force, Steel is kind of dumb, in a plot-convenient sort of way of course. He finds out where the punk lives and breaks into his apartment, where he finds all kinds of incriminating evidence. The killer shows up and Steel gives chase, ultimately beating the shit out of the punk and calling in the arrest. And then hours later Steel is called downtown, where he’s informed, of course, that the kid’s been let go, given that Steel broke into his place and thus destroyed his entire case. But after this we have a humorous sequence in which the city councilman’s hotstuff socialite wife shows up at Steel’s place to offer herself in exchange for her son’s freedom, oblivious to the fact that he’s already been let go, and Steel takes her up on the offer:
What makes it humorous is that here we are reminded again what a bastard Steel is. When the lady’s all done she asks when she can expect her son to be back on the streets, and Steel only chooses this moment to let her know the kid’s already back on the streets, let go due to a technicality. The lady is of course shocked at the revelation that she just gave herself to Steel for nothing, but our hero counsels her, “Try to think of it as occupational training.” After this we jump forward two months and once again see the Ripper back in action. This is one of the more lurid scenes in the novel, with the freak picking up yet another “whore” and getting her naked, then whipping out the switchblade and beginning to skin her alive. When Steel shows up on the scene it’s nothing more than a skinless lump of meat left behind.
The finale also takes a page from Dirty Harry and ratchets it up a couple notches. Steel doesn’t just chase down the killer and shoot him…he mauls him, ties him up to a merry-go-round, and guts him. Again there is no concern over realism; it would be clear to any and all that Steel killed the kid, but this is not a concern of the novel. At any rate Steel only featured in one more novel: The Satan Ring, which has the promising setup of Steel versus Satanism. I think I’ll have to check that one out sometime. Both it and The Ripper have been released as eBooks; I have the original paperback of The Ripper but not The Satan Ring, and given that it’s priced too high on the used books market I’ll probably just resort to the digital edition.
Newton got his start working with Don Pendleton, and there are several Pendletonisms throughout The Ripper, from random “yeah” affirmations in the narrative to describing bullets as “hollow-point minimag slugs.” But as mentioned The Ripper is sleazier than any Executioner novel, and I’d be curious if Newton ran this one by Pendleton for his constructive feedback!