Amsterdam, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1968 Award Books
The mysterious author officially credited as “William Rohde” returns with a third contribution to Nick Carter: Killmaster…one just as boring and listless as the previous two “Rohde” novels: The Judas Spy and Hood Of Death. Amsterdam truly lives up to its title; like the earlier Rohde novels it’s basically just a ponderous travelogue, set in the titular city, just as The Judas Spy was a listless travelogue about Jakarta – and by the way, an asterisked footnote in Amsterdam indicates that the original title of The Judas Spy was “Jakarta.” Clearly the editor at Award didn’t catch that Rohde’s footnote was referring to what was presumably his original title for the novel before it was changed; perhaps the editor had fallen asleep, because folks this is by far the worst volume of Nick Carter I’ve yet read. Granted, I haven’t read the one by Joseph Rosenberger yet, but still…
Literally the only interesting thing about the “Rohde” novels is the mystery of the author’s identity. As I recounted in uber-pedantic detail in my review of The Judas Spy, “William Rohde” might have really been a writer named Al Hine, who turned in two volumes of the series later in the ‘70s, after the switch to first-person and after series producer Lyle Kenyon Engel had left. Or it might have been the actual William Rohde, a ‘50s hardboiled writer. Or, as I’m starting to suspect, it might’ve been a collaboration between the two authors. For once again “Bill Rohde” is referenced in the text; at one point we’re told that “[Nick] had told it to Bill Rohde…a younger AXEman…Practical fellow, Rohde…Bill was handling the New York end and the Bard Galleries.” The mysterious “Bard Galleries” was also referenced in The Judas Spy, likely a “clever” allusion to Rohde being the writer, or “bard” behind the tale.
But folks that isn’t enough to save a novel, not by a long shot. Amsterdam is so lame that Nick “Killmaster” Carter kills no one in the seemingly-endless course of the novel. Unless I too fell asleep like the Award editor and missed it! But no, I went back and checked…the entire novel is mostly composed of Nick, who spends the entirety of the tale in Amsterdam, driving around the city and checking out the sights. Even the harried ending is bloodless. What makes it funny is that at novel’s end a Dutch cop tells Nick he “plays rough,” and meanwhile Nick’s gone out of his way to not kill the novel’s villains.
The only other thing that makes the Rohde books fairly interesting is the focus on continuity, with returning characters – but the continuity is only with the other Rohde novels. So this time we have, late in the game, a return of Mata, the Indonesian beauty who featured in The Judas Spy; as it turns out Mata has been relocated to Amsterdam, where she works as a stringer for AXE. There’s also a weird attempt at filling in background details on Nick Carter; we’re told, for example, that Nick’s grandfather, “the original Nick Carter,” was a famous detective known for creating gadgets – in other words, the Nick Carter of the original pulps.
Well anyway, Amsterdam features Nick posing as a diamond seller, traveling for work into the Netherlands, but in reality tailing the lovely Amlie de Boer. Amlie works for famous diamond company Mansons, but AXE has determined that the company is housing a spy ring. Amlie works as a courier, and Nick’s trailing her to figure out if she’s delivering more than just diamonds. So this sets us up for what the rest of the novel will entail; Nick gets a seat beside Amlie on the plane into Amsterdam and just starts talking away. So much of the novel is just dialog and travelogue, and it’s overly prissy, too, with sentences like, “A quiet aquasport of captivating sweetness, mixing greedy draughts with the daintiest bonne bouche.” You’d never guess it, but that’s from what passes for a sex scene! Honestly, Amsterdam is one of those books where I wish I could give the author a friendly punch in the face.
Rohde makes some attempts toward excitement in these opening pages; when they land in Amsterdam and walk through the “ultra modern” airport, Nick feels something whiz by and realizes they’ve been shot at. He rushes around the place but finds no one. Later, in his hotel room, he’s accosted by three toughs. Here’s where I suspect Rohde was really a collaboration between Hine and the real Rohde, because the action scenes in the Rohde Killmaster novels – at least, what passes for action scenes – are more out of hardboiled fiction, with Nick doling out and receiving beatings a la Spillane. What I mean to say is, there’s rarely any gunplay or other “secret agent”-esque action. That said, it’s fairly brutal (but deathless), as Nick ultimately gets the better of the three tough guys.
Another annoying penchant of Rohde is the constant teasing of gadgets; as with the previous two books, we’re told of weird gadgets Nick has on him…but he never uses any of them!! This time we’re told of these bottles in his traveling kit which look like typical grooming items and whatnot, but are really explosives or whatever…and they’re never employed. We’re also constantly reminded of Pierre, the gas bomb which “hangs like a third testicle” beneath Nick’s boxer shorts, and it’s never used, either. It’s all so puzzling, not to mention maddening, as Nick has all this stuff but it’s never actually used, and instead we’re just put through interminable locale-jumping across the Netherlands. And folks, I spent a semester of college in in the Netherlands (in Maastricht), and I couldn’t care less about this stuff – I wanted Cold War pulp action, not boring travelogue!
The sexual material is also non-explicit, even more so than the other Killmaster novels of the era. When Nick and Amlie finally “do the deed,” as we used to say back in the ‘80s, it’s rendered in pseudo-poetics like, “[Nick] swam deeper into saturated depths.” Man, swimming in saturated depths and quiet aquasports (ie the “sex scene” quoted above – that one’s with Mata, by the way); one would figure Rohde had a bit of a metaphor going here. There’s absolutely no bite to any of it, either the action or the sex. Have I mentioned yet that “Killmaster” doesn’t kill anyone in the entire book? It’s just so lame, compounded by all the long Dutch names; there’s a plethora of suspects, and Nick slowly works his way through them as he figures out the spy plot.
The mysterious Rohde returned for two more volumes, which I’ll get to someday. Oh and since starting this review (it took me over two weeks to write it, due to some vacation time), I’ve actually read Joseph Rosenberger’s Killmaster (review coming next week), and while it ain’t great it’s a helluva lot better than this one. So for now I’m sticking with my assessment of Amsterdam: worst installment of Nick Carter: Killmaster ever. (Said in my best Comic Book Guy voice.)