Monday, December 6, 2021

The Weapon Of Night (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #19)

The Weapon Of Night, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1967  Award Books

The final Nick Carter: Killmaster by Valerie Moolman, The Weapon Of Night taps into the Northeast blackout of November 1965, with UFOs and LSD also somehow figuring into the plot. Sounds like a bonkers installment, but Moolman doesn’t really exploit any of this stuff, and for the most part the novel features Nick Carter running around various nuclear plants. Even the novel’s villain, the series regular Mr. Judas, is given short-shrift, and comes off as pretty boring. This I’ve found is typical of Moolman’s work on the series in general, and given that she was the sole writer of Nick Carter: Killmaster for its first few years, I’m surprised the series lasted long enough for other ghostwriters to come aboard. Maybe readers were just desperate for any spy fiction at the time. 

I suspect Moolman knew this would be her final venture, as she brings back characters from her previous installments; we’re even informed which volumes they appeared in on the first-page preview. She also does something unique in that the novel opens with Nick finishing up an assignment in progress; chasing an old Nazi across the rooftop of a Chicago skyscraper. A blackout occurs during the melee and the Nazi plummets to his death. Nick hops aboard a plane and heads back to his New York penthouse, figuring that he’s wrapped up the case…not realizing of course that the blackout presages a case he’ll be working on posthaste. 

We have a lot of sequences with one-off characters experiencing weird stuff across the US: UFO sightings, blood-red water coming out of faucets, “grubby” atmospheres, and another blackout – this one hitting the airport as Nick’s plane comes in to land. There’s this strange, almost casual vibe to Moolman’s Killmaster books; Nick finds a letter waiting in his mailbox from Hakim Sadek, a “cross-eyed criminologist” in Cairo Nick worked with in Safari For Spies. Something about a plot Hakim has uncovered, in which people are having their faces changed and somesuch. Shortly thereafter another previous Moolman character returns: Nick’s boss Hawk tells Nick that his next assignment is to escort a Russian VIP on a tour of a US nuclear plant, and that Russian VIP is Valentina Sichikova, who appeared in The 13th Spy

“Now there is one dame I really love!” Nick says when informed that Valentina will be his guest. But as it turns out, she is “one of Russia’s biggest women,” and is morbidly obese and whatnot. Ostensibly here to tour a plant for vague reasons, Valentina’s real purpose is to discuss the blackouts that are also occuring in Russia; she tells Nick and Hawk that the USSR suspects some Chinese are behind the plot. Ultimately this will tie in with the letter Hakim sent. Valentina, Nick, and Hawk sit around in AXE HQ in DC and talk – there’s a lot of talking in the The Weapon Of Night – and it all has more the vibe of a mystery than an action novel. Once again Moolman gives the impression that AXE is a massive organization like U.N.C.L.E., with tons of employees going around, each of them with different numbers and security clearances. 

Another character returns: Julia Baron (sometimes referred to as “Julie,” though Moolman doesn’t here), hotstuff AXE agent with “slightly slanting, catlike eyes” and black hair. She appeared in the first volume (as did Mr. Judas) and then in several others, before being removed from the series in Time Clock Of Death. In each instance she was presented as the perfect match for Nick Carter, the love of his life and whatnot. But here the two have more of a contentious relationship, with Julia snipping at Nick and constantly questioning him. This was annoying and brought to mind the vibe of modern thrillers, in which the heroic male characters are constantly mocked and second-guessed by the lead female characters. Ironically this doesn’t prevent Nick and Julia from getting in bed – she’s his only conquest in the novel – for some vaguely-described shenanigans (ie “She accepted him again and he plunged into warmth and softness.”). 

But the problem is, Moolman clearly likes these characters she’s created, and spends too much time with them instead of on action or suspense. In particular she spends way too much narrative on Valentina and her earthy proclamations and sentiments, and Hakim too gets too much print. What makes this an issue is that it’s all written in this highfalutin style, ie “American officialdom gave [Hakim] a pain in the traditional place.” Lame stuff, and very similar to the lifeless style “Bill Rohde” brought to Nick Carter: Killmaster in his (their?) installments, a la The Judas Spy and Amsterdam. In fact, I wonder if the Rohde style was influenced by Moolman; in Rohde too AXE is a vast organization akin to U.N.C.L.E., with an army of technicians and planners and etc, and an overall “safe” approach to the proceedings where hardly anyone ever gets hurt, let alone killed. In this regard the volumes of Manning Lee Stokes, when he came onto the scene with The Eyes Of The Tiger, must’ve been like a bucket of cold water to those who had grown familiar with the vibe of the preceding Moolman novels. 

Even the action scenes are lifeless, not to mention bloodless. And Nick doesn’t come off nearly as badass as he would in later books, particularly the ones by Stokes. I mean Nick is knocked out three times by page 114. He also uses more gadgets than in the Stokes novels (just as he does in the Rohde books – another similarity), including a “pocket-sized laser gun” which he uses at one point to get himself and Julia out of danger. A curious thing is that there’s no tension in Moolman’s action scenes; there’s such a safe, casual air that you know even the supporting characters will be safe. There’s a part, for example, where Valentina is abducted, and never once is her fate in doubt. Instead, more entertainment comes from the strange bitterness between Julia and Nick in these action scenes; Julia second-guesses and mocks Nick at every turn, a la “Why aren’t you out there doing something?” It’s strange and makes me wonder if Moolman had built up this resentment in her earlier volumes. 

But as mentioned the bickering nature doesn’t prevent the bedroom action, and the novel’s climax features Nick and Julia…watching TV. I mean nothing says “action novel” like your hero sacked out in front of the television in the final pages. Judas you see has orchestrated various blackouts, but AXE – using various high-tech tracking methods – has been unable to locate him. The blackouts have gotten worse, to the point that the President addresses the nation on television, and Nick and Julia watch this from their hotel room. The President’s name is never given, but he’s clearly LBJ (not to be confused with FJB). A blackout occurs at that moment, knocking out the TV screen, and Nick deduces where Judas is. This leads to a climax where he faces off against Judas overtop Niagra falls, trying to cut the supervillain’s line so he will plummet to his doom – a nice callback to the plummeting Nazi of the beginning. 

The novel mercifully ends here, but there was a pseudo-sequel many years later: Vatican Vendetta. The climactic events of The Weapon Of Night are referred to throughout that later installment, which also happened to be the last one “produced” by Lyle Kenyon Engel. And per my review, it’s my assumption that Vatican Vendetta was written shortly after The Weapon Of Night and just went unpublished for a few years. Overall I didn’t much enjoy The Weapon Of Night, and I haven’t really enjoyed Moolman’s work on the series. Not that she’s a bad author, I just feel that she doesn’t bring much bite to her novels, which come off more like cozy mysteries.


Unknown said...

One good turn...

Grant said...

I know they're thought of as the perfect ones, but I wish that you couldn't practically COUNT ON Nazis to be the villains in these kinds of stories (and a lot of others), because it gets so predictable.
I know I harp on it, but one exception for me is Destroyer # 2, and that's because of the really wild scenes between the Remo character and the "Nazi chick" (as one reviewer calls her). Do you have any plans to review it?