Monday, February 28, 2022

The Sex Broker

The Sex Broker, by Ginger Craig
September, 1974  Pinnacle Books

This Pinnacle PBO is of a piece with the sleazy paperbacks Dell Books was publishing at the time: a sex-themed comedy with a photo cover, a la Black MagicMichelle, My Belle, and Making U-Hoo. And, sadly, The Sex Broker is just as lame as those similar Dell books…an unfunny “comedy” that quickly grates on the reader’s nerves. It’s also an episodic affair that reminded me so much of the massage parlor novels of “Jennifer Sills,” at least in its episodic structure, that I wondered if the same author was responsible: Stephen Lewis, a very prolific author of sleazy PBOs at the time and who used a variety of pseudonyms. 

The Pinnacle offering The Sex Broker most resembles is The True Confessions & Wild Adventures Of Two Rent-A-Girls, which too was an episodic affair that traded more on laughs than sleazy action. And it follows the same conceit: that the author, Ginger Craig, is a real person. She’s credited in the Catalog Of Copyright Entries, at least. But is/was Ginger Craig a real person, or just a pseudonymous author…perhaps another pseudonym of Stephen Lewis? We’ll probably never know. What makes it annoying though is that “Ginger” tells us absolutely nothing about herself, and the reader must do some heavy lifting to finally deduce that she makes her living as a model. Hell, we don’t even learn until page 145 (of a 180-some page book) that she’s a brunette. The hair color isn’t really a big deal; what is a big deal is that we spend so much of The Sex Broker wondering who the heck our author even is, so a little setup would’ve been beneficial. 

But Ginger isn’t really our protagonist: that would be Uncle Ben, the titular “sex broker,” a nebbish guy with a big nose, awkward social manners, outdated clothes, and unsafe-for-today sexual interests (we learn almost casually that he likes underaged girls – yep, it’s a ‘70s book, folks). The “novel” is made up of Ginger’s stories about various moments in Uncle Ben’s career; moments in which “the sex broker” interfered with and ultimately jacked-up Ginger’s life. Again, the fact that we have zero setup on who Ginger is ultimately detracts from the story, and also despite being marketed as a true story it’s all clearly fiction, as Uncle Ben’s shenanigans nearly spark a world war. 

Now what differentiates a sex broker from a pimp, Ginger tells us, is that Uncle Ben doesn’t have a “stable” of girls that he rules. What he does is find out of work models or actresses or bored housewives and hook them up with his clientele of horny businessmen. This means that Uncle Ben has schmoozing skills, able to talk random women into basically becoming whores, though he doesn’t pay them – we learn the grateful men will often give them presents or whatnot. Uncle Ben also likes to find girls who are eager for adventure, ones who might have a job and even be a happy housewife, but who are looking for some action on the side. This, Ginger vaguely informs us, is the category she fits in: she’s got a job she loves, she travels around the world and sleeps with a variety of men, she’s “pretty” (the absolute maximum description we get of her), and thus Uncle Ben is crazed to make her one of his girls. Actually, here is Ginger’s explanation of Uncle Ben’s services:

Whoever staged the cover photo must’ve gotten specific directions from the publisher, as Uncle Ben looks and dresses much as pictured when Ginger meets him. This is at a party in Los Angeles, where Ginger first spots Uncle Ben, dressed in a safari suit and up to what will prove to be his usual antics of acquiring women for his clientele. But as Ginger soon learns, Uncle Ben has a fondness for giving voice to outrageous propositions; in truth, Ben’s dialog is more filthy than the actual sex scenes in the novel. Shortly after this, Ginger sees Ben again – in London. How or why Ginger’s even in London is something we are not told. We are told though that her affair with a married man is broken off here, and she flies back to New York a crying, drunken wreck. 

What follows is one of the very few scenes where Ginger herself takes part in the action, and is also the most explicit sequence in the novel. Uncle Ben, who again magically appears, barges into Ginger’s hotel room and asks her if she’s “ever hate-fucked anyone.” Ben is planning a little orgy for some clients and needs a third girl for it, and Ginger would be perfect – she could bang out her anger over being dumped. Ginger ends up going to the orgy just to spite Ben, leading to a funny sequence where she keeps taunting the men and Ben. But regardless she gets into the act (“I had never hate-fucked anyone before, but it wasn’t difficult to get the hang of it.”), mostly because one of the two men looks a little like the married guy who just dumped her. The author doesn’t get super explicit here, but we do get enough kinky detail on how Ginger and the other girls take turns with the guys…and then Ginger bites the dick of one of the guys(!). This, we learn, has been her goal all along – to really mess up Uncle Ben’s orgy, so that he’ll never bother her again. 

From here the novel takes on its episodic approach, Ginger relating the various times she would encounter Uncle Ben again. In most all cases Ginger herself has nothing to do with the sexual festivities, but Ben uses her as either a sounding board for his weird ideas or, in one notable sequence, he uses her apartment as a waystation for a couple girls he’s brought in from Texas. But really it’s just a bunch of random stories concerning Uncle Ben up to this or that kinky nefariousness, with Ginger acting as his perennially-aggrieved straight (wo)man. The conceit quickly gets old, as Ginger at this point has nothing to do with Uncle Ben, yet he keeps calling her up with his plans for other people, or involving her in some fashion. I soon wondered why the author didn’t just make Uncle Ben himself the protagonist and dispense with the “Ginger Craig” conceit. 

Ginger meanwhile has her own torrid love life, which she occasionally informs us of…just as vaguely as she informs us about most everything else in her life. There will be parts where she’s out with her latest stud in some city, and of course Uncle Ben will show up to sour the festivities. Sometimes this leads to comedic results, like for example Ginger’s latest guy becoming certain that Ginger herself is just a hooker. But there’s no connecting thread to the various chapters, no overall storyline. It’s just a seemingly random snapshot of various Uncle Ben shenanigans, like a touring exotic play he puts together, or various orgies he throws for clients. And the humor is very “risque ‘70s,” like the related tale of the orgy Ben throws together for a businessman, one who likes real young gals…and right before the gal starts giving him a bj the guy flips on the lights and sees that it’s none other than his own teenaged daughter. 

But clearly it’s all fiction, and the “true story” stuff is just typical of the era’s sex-themed publications. The finale in particular highlights this, with Uncle Ben running afoul of Chinese spies, Russian spies, and the FBI. And appropriately it all takes place at Ginger’s place, complete with her mother walking into the spectacle (certain afterwards that her daughter is some sort of international whore) and Ginger ultimately arrested by the FBI for spying. But this we’re to understand is the final straw, as Ginger relates that after she got her name cleared the first thing she did was buy a trained attack dog, one that will go for Uncle Ben’s throat if he ever comes near her again. 

Well anyway, this was yet another ‘70s sex comedy that wasn’t sexy or funny. The sexual material is pretty scant, not nearly as explicit as you’d expect, and the comedy gets old very quickly. The only interesting thing was the mystery over whether Ginger Craig was a real person or not, and even that wasn’t so interesting.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Executioner #17: Jersey Guns

The Executioner #17: Jersey Guns, by Don Pendleton
January, 1974  Pinnacle Books

Don Pendleton returns to The Executioner with a volume that is clearly a sequel to #15: Panic In Philly. It’s as if the previous volume never happened; it’s only mentioned occasionally in the first few pages, and we know from Pendleton’s interview with William H. Young in A Study of Action-Adventure Fiction that the references to Sicilian Slaughter in Jersey Guns were actually written by series editor Andy Ettinger. Pendleton himself never read that “Jim Peterson” installment (actually William Crawford), and thus, per the interview, Ettinger is the one who tied the events of the sixteenth volume into the opening of this seventeeth volume. But really you could take all those references out and not even notice they were missing; Pendleton certainly wrote Jersey Guns shortly after Panic In Philly (not to be confused with David Bowie’s “Panic In Detroit”), but the behind-the-scenes legal wrangling delayed publication. 

Young’s book gives a lot of info on this legal wrangling, so I suggest seeking it out for the full story. (Just get the book via Interlibrary Loan, like I did; it’s really overpriced.) But basically Pendleton and Pinnacle went to court over the rights of the series, and Pendleton won, but part of the settlement was that he allowed Sicilian Slaughter to be published, because Pinnacle had already printed up the book and they would’ve been hit too hard financially to just cancel it. Pinnacle clearly wanted to curry favor with Pendleton at this point, though, as the back cover – for the first time ever in the series, don’tcha know – features a glowing write-up on our author:

In many ways Jersey Guns is a prefigure of Michael Newtons later Prairie Fire, with an injured Mack “The Executioner” Bolan stuck on a farm with some innocent people as the bad guys set in. Newton exploited the concept more than Pendleton does, but my assumption is Newton might’ve been inspired by this very volume. Bolan gets on the farm after shaking a Mafia tail, a brutal sequence in which he tricks them into running into his abandoned car on a darkened road. After which he passes out, weakened from his wounds – wounds which he actually got in the climax of Panic In Philly, but which Ettinger edits to be the wounds Bolan got at the climax of Sicilian Slaughter. Bolan wakes up on a farm a few miles from where he crashed up the Mafia cars. 

He isn’t among strangers, though: the farm is owned by a guy named Bruno, who briefly encountered Bolan back in ‘Nam. Bolan was there as a soldier, and Bruno was there as a medic. Bruno came back from ‘Nam with his head truly messed up, and now runs this farm away from the world. With him is his sister, a brunette beauty named Sara who is one of the prettiest women Bolan has ever seen, apparently, even though initially he’s under the impression she’s under age. But she is in her early 20s and she too has suffered from ‘Nam, as her husband was killed over there. And as noted her brother Bruno has come back a shadow of what he once was; a battered mental wreck. Pendleton develops a sort of family dynamic here, with these three damaged characters finding redemption in one another. 

It’s a powerful theme for sure, but maybe the seventeeth installment of a mob-busting action series isn’t the best place for it. This is something that needs an entire novel’s worth of development, but Pendleton sort of harries through it in the opening quarter. It’s more emotionally meaty than the standard genre offering, that’s for sure, but at least we aren’t beaten over the head with a bunch of maudlin sap. This was still a masculine era, after all, without the cheap showy sentimentality you would encounter in a similar storyline today. And plus Bolan gets laid. Pendleton was very stingy with sex in The Executioner; he stated in his interview with William H. Young that Bolan wouldn’t have “time” for it, given his focus on mob-busting. So it’s notable that Bolan does get busy with Sara, even though he’s injured, mostly unarmed, and sure to be the prey of mobsters who are no doubt congregating on the farm. 

As with the sex scenes in previous installments, it’s not sleazy or very explicit at all…and, as with those previous sexual scenes, the most notable element is the weird, metaphysical dialog that ensues between Bolan and Sara. First of all, Bolan gives her a post-sex pep talk about how women are the “mothers of the cosmos” or whatnot, and it’s all straight out of the mind who also gave us The Godmakers. Bolan sure as hell doesn’t come off like too many of his men’s adventure brethren, that’s for sure, giving voice to a truly singular philosophy that sounds more like that of an acid-dropping college student than it does a mob-busting vigilante. And it does get to be a little much, like for example later in the novel when Sara is hiding somewhere and Bolan picks her up, calling out, “Let’s go, little mother! Time to build a universe!” What makes it even crazier is that you know Pendleton’s tongue is nowhere in the vicinity of his cheek. 

But, Bolan and Sara’s conjugation happens mostly off-page, and is treated more on an emotional spectrum than a sleazy one, in that finding one another they help heal one another. Regardless, it leads to one of the cooler bits in the series yet. Bolan wakes up from the shenaigans to hear Sara yelling for help. He looks out the window and two mobster thug-types are in the act of pushing her into a car. Bolan quickly grabs his Automag and blows ‘em both away – their brains and whatnot exploding mere inches from Sara’s screaming face. From here Bolan’s in war mode, and accordingly Sara has sewn a new blacksuit for him, complete with hidden pockets to carry his ammo and equipment. (Again with his tongue nowhere near his cheek, Pendleton refers to Bolan as a “black-clad doomsday guy.”) Also unlike Prairie Fire, Bolan quickly re-arms himself, having sent Bruno into the city to pick up a veritable arsenal from a dealer Bolan’s done business with before – another ‘Nam vet who has returned to the world a broken man, in what is a theme that runs throughout Jersey Guns

More indication that Pendleton did not write the previous volume comes in the few scenes where Bolan makes his inevitable calls to Leo Turin, his inside man with the mob. Whereas Turin resented Bolan in the Crawford-penned installment, here he has the Pendleton-typical hero worship of “the black-clad doomsday guy.” But then Pendleton’s hero-worshipping is really brought to the fore in Jersey Guns, more so than in any previous volume. As we’ll recall, most every installment of The Executioner follows the same template, with Bolan doing stuff and then ensuing paragraphs where one-off characters recap what we readers just saw Bolan do. Then of course there will be periodic chapters in which Bolan reaffirms his resolve to destroy the mob. This time Pendleton dispenses with the “one-off characters recapping the plot” stuff, but doubles way down on the “mission resolve” stuff. 

In this regard I agree with Marty McKee, who in his review of Jersey Guns noted that “Pendleton often goes off-subject with ramblings about war and humanity.” I see that Stephen Mertz posted a comment to Mary’s review, stating that “those ‘ramblings’ are what the books are about.” Stephen is certainly correct, but I feel that Marty is, too, as in this particular volume the sermonizing is pretty egregious. Damn egregious at that, for it commits the ultimate pulp sin of interfering with the action. It also serves to balloon what is a simple, almost outline-esque installment, to the point that there’s less action here than typical. In the final third especially the narrative often stops so that Pendleton can once again examine what makes Bolan tick. This has been done before, but never so frequently, or to such extent. To the point that I actually missed those arbitrary plot recaps from one-off characters. As an example, this is the sort of thing that constantly bogs down the forward momentum in Jersey Guns:

What makes it frustrating is that otherwise Pendleton has here a lean and mean thriller that shows his Mafia villains at their most depraved. Bolan discovers that the Taliferi brothers, those recurring villains from previous volumes, have gathered together a host of guns and are descending on Jersey to finally get the Executioner. And they’ve brought along a couple “Turkey Doctors,” ie those mob sadists who perform sadistic torture to get their prey to talk. This time, seventeen volumes in(!), we finally get a thorough description of who the turkey doctors are and what they do. Because, of course, one of Bolan’s new friends is captured and put through the turkey-doctoring treatment, leading to a sequence more gruesome and horror-esque than in any previous volume. But at the same time Pendleton undermines the tension he creates, for the mob here is evil enough to hire such sadists…but still dumb enough that Bolan can, once again, bluff his way onto a Mafia “hardsite” and literally escort his captured friend. 

After this, though, Bolan goes on the warpath, breaking out his new weaponry to hit the Taliferi hardsite, and hit it hard. But the helluva it is, Pendleton has spent so much time with the frequent hero-sermonizing that the climax of Jersey Guns isn’t nearly as spectacular as it was shaping up to be. And once again Bolan so outmatches his opponents – even though they greatly outnumber him – that there’s no tension to any of it. The main issue though is that it’s a relatively smallscale sequence, with Bolan hitting the area with explosives and then “mopping up” a few injured thugs. Even the confrontation with the Taliferi brother himself is anticlimactic, though at least believable in that Bolan, a soldier, wouldn’t dwell on revenge. That said, by novel’s end he declares he has a score to settle with the turkey doctor who so maimed Bolan’s new friend, so hopefully this subplot will eventually pan out. 

All of which is to say that Jersey Guns is on the level with the previous Pendleton volumes. The action is a bit too muddied up with the positive reinforcement detours, but again Pendleton’s outlook is so unusual – particularly when compared to other novels in the genre – that it sort of makes you chuckle. Despite what Pendleton claimed in William Young’s book (or actually maybe it was in the interview Pendleton did with Marvel comics for Marvel Preview Presents: The Punisher, in 1975), Mack Bolan is a superhero, and his easy vanquishing of his foes only undermines what could be a more thrilling tale. The “what a man” stuff only makes his superheroism more grating. 

But then, I still agree with Zwolf that “Pendleton’s still a Cadillac in the parking lot of action-series writers,” and this sort of thing is part of Pendleton’s template. I just personally felt it got in the way this time. But, it’s the series schtick, same as Bolan’s easy infiltration of various mob hardsites…he makes the whole “Executioner” business look ridiculously easy. On that same note, Jersey Guns ends with Bolan easily taking control of a Mafia airplane and having the pilot head south; we’ll learn his destination next volume, it appears, as he uses the flight time to take a well-deserved nap(!).

Monday, February 21, 2022


Biofeedback, by Marvin Karlins and Lewis M. Andrews
September, 1974  Warner Paperback Library

It doesn’t get much more “early ‘70s” than biofeedback; I mean just look at that girl’s frazzled hair on the cover. It practically epitomizes the post-Altamont comedown that followed the Aquarian Age. I’ve been interested in this subject for a long time but have never read much about it. I got this Warner paperback – which followed the original 1972 hardcover edition – some years ago, but have only now got around to reading it. The book definitely made an impact at the time; my edition, shown here, is the fourth paperback printing. So that’s a total of five printings in two years, counting the hardcover. 

The first I ever heard of biofeedback was in an old book, probably sometime in the late ‘90s. I bring this up because Biofeedback states in the opening: “To our children, biofeedback training will be as commonplace as television has become to us.” I guess I could be considered the “children” referenced here, given that I was born the month after this fourth paperback edition was published. And so I can confirm – no, biofeedback training did not become as commonplace as television. At least I’d never heard of it until coming across references in old books. But who knows, maybe others out there grew up listening to their own breathing on bizarre gadgetry and employing other high-tech gadgets to control various parts of their bodies, minds, or whatnot. 

Accordingly the book opens with a vaguely sci-fi intro in which we take a peek into a “voluntarium,” a biofeedback-equipped hospital of the future in which patients use machinery to conquer their own ailments. Biofeedback, we’ll learn, is the process of using “feedback from different parts of our body,” in other words listening to our body to figure out what is wrong with it. There’s quite a bit of Future Shock here, ie Alvin Toffler’s epochal study (which is even referenced in the text). That very ‘70s mentality of an oncoming future in which minds and bodies are united with technology. Again, the cover photo tells you pretty much all you need to know. 

Biofeedback runs to 190 pages, but only 138 pages are composed of narrative; the remaining pages are comrpised of notes and further reading suggestions. Much of the book is given over to the history of biofeedback research, and the training in action. The authors are specialists in this field, and occasionally deliver a personal insight, but for the most part they stick to a formal tone. That said, Biofeedback still manages to capture the groovy vibe of the era, particularly when the authors provide imaginary scenarios of how biofeedback training can be used. However it isn’t until near the end of the book that they give probably the best example of biofeedback training that is commonplace: when athletes or sports teams watch videos of themselves, using this “vision feedback” to improve their game. This is indeed so commonplace that I never realized the practice started as a sort of biofeedback exercise. 

The authors focus on biofeedback as a way around traditional medicine, which is how they envision the practice will ultimately evolve. Instead of a regimen of drugs or surgery for an ailment, a person would hook himself up into b.f. machines to figure out what’s wrong with his body and how to fix it. We get a lot of success stories on test trials of various training, to reduce hypertension or other maladies. There’s also material on how biofeedback training can be used for less severe things, like subvocalizing when reading; a case study shows us how a machine was able to make a noise when hooked up to a test subject who was subvocalizing while reading without any awareness of it. Some of the experiments capture that post-psychelic Spaced Out vibe of the era:

It gets even groovier in the speculative sections, where the authors give a glimpse of their “voluntarium.” The below could be a scene in Rollerball

This sort of material is the highlight of Biofeedback, but for the most part the authors rein in their speculative impulses and just give us somewhat dry rundowns of biofeedback history. But sometimes they are able to incorporate the groovy speculative scenes with history, as with this account of the biofeedback study one of the authors particpated in while a college student in the late ‘60s:

True to the era, there’s a fair bit of America-bashing in the book. Not to the level one would encounter today, but the authors take a few swipes at American culture…how it is business centered, with a focus on quick rewards. This in particular comes under fire when the authors look at how biofeedback could be a shortcut to nirvana. Whereas some people devote lifetimes to meditation to achieve a sort of cosmic awareness, the authors claim that b.f. gadgets could just as easily lead to the same destination. And Americans, we’re informed, love their gadgets, thus this reliance on biofeedback gadgetry to achieve the wisdom of gurus is a very American thing. This gets into the speculative arena again, and I almost wished the authors had just written a near-future novel imbued with this whole biofeedback-fueled Future Shock vibe. It looks like Lawrence Sanders sort of did, though, with his 1975 novel The Tomorrow File (which I’m currently reading and will review eventually…it’s one long book!). 

Speaking of other authors, the final section of Biofeedback could almost come from the mind of Joseph Rosenberger. Here we learn of “underground science,” how biofeedback has been used – especially behind the Iron Curtain – to study ESP and telekinesis. I’m pretty certain Rosenberger dealt with this very topic in at least one Death Merchant installment. But coming away from Biofeedback I wanted to see more of these concepts put into action, even if it was just speculative fiction. Another intriguing speculation the authors put forth is that biofeedback centers would be everywhere in the near future, but obviously that too never happened – unless I’m just completely clueless about them. Which is possible. 
Actually, I came away from the book interested in the biofeedback phenomena, and I wondered why it never caught on like the authors predicted it would. If anyone out there could share some history on the topic, I’d appreciate it.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Invaders

The Invaders, by Keith Laumer
August, 1967  Pyramid Books

The Invaders was before my time, but I became aware of it at some point. I don’t recall the series ever being run in syndication, but it came out on DVD some years ago, and also the digital antenna channel MeTV was playing it at one point. So far the only episodes I’ve seen were the two directed by Sutton Roley (“the Orson Welles of television”), and while I enjoyed them, I mostly just watched them due to Roley. 

Running for two seasons, The Invaders starred Roy Thinnes (star of one of my favorite ultramod “future ‘60s” sci-fi movies, 1969’s Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun) as a man who had stumbled upon the fact that aliens were here on Earth, posing as humans and up to nefarious ends. It was sort of a Fugitive schtick with Thinnes’s character, David Vincent, constantly on the run and going from place to place to stop the aliens. This novelization, by veteran sci-fi author Keith Laumer, serves as the origin story that never was. In fact, the novel is all original, which surprised me; you’d figure David Vincent’s first encounter with the aliens would’ve been the subject of the pilot episode. But apparently it wasn’t. 

TV tie-ins were known for sometimes combining several episodes into one novel, a la the Six Million Dollar Man tie-in International Incidents, which I have but haven’t yet read. Laumer follows the same vibe here, with the caveat that none of these stories were actually produced as episodes. So while the first section of The Invaders details how David Vincent becomes aware of the alien threat, the ensuing plotlines have him operating in more of the “lone wolf in a new town” capacity of the series. It’s all very episodic, but Laumer does tie things together with a recurring villain. So I guess people who enjoy the show would want to seek this tie-in out, as it delivers the origin story that the show itself apparently never did. However Laumer does detour from the show in some regards; the aliens do not have the extra finger that their TV counterparts did, and also they don’t turn into smoke when killed. However their faces have a masklike sort of appearance. In many ways the aliens here reminded me of the ones that appeared years later in another TV series, War Of The Worlds

When we meet him David Vincent is just a roving engineer who goes around the country providing consultation services for various companies. We don’t get too much detail about him, just that he’s tall and rangy, and that girls often smile at him. It doesn’t hurt that he drives a Jaguar XKE. But the passing mentions of young women smiling at David Vincent…these seem to be Laumer’s attempt to put at least some women in the novel, because folks there aren’t any others. In all three “books” of The Invaders, David (as Laumer refers to him) only deals with other men; there are only a few female characters in the novel, usually secretaries, or in one bit a college co-ed. In each case we’re to understand these women respond to the raw animal magnetism of our stud hero, but none of their burning yearning is ever requited. David spends such an unintentionally humorous amount of time telling himself he doesn’t “have time” for these women that one could easily come to a whole different sort of conclusion. 

Well anyway, we meet David while he’s consulting at a factory, where he happens to notice a strange object, one recently created by the factory for a client. David, we’ll eventually learn, has come across several of these strange objects on his nation-wide trips to various factories. They are made of a strange plastic he has never mentioned before and, when he inquires of the various factories, he learns that the objects are always ordered by a mysterious company in California. His interest runs him afoul of Dorn, the bulky security chief of the factory. When Dorn pulls the mysterious object out of David’s grasp, David marvels over how Dorn’s arm is “hard as oak” and also hot to the touch. Not that David Vincent is a pushover; in later backstory-via-dialog we’ll learn he kicked some shit over in the ‘Nam, though he doesn’t like to talk much about it. 

But then David isn’t much for talking, and comes off as cipher-like, particularly once he sets upon his one-man mission. He has a friend at least: Lieberman, an old college pal who works as a scientist. David, fueled by his curiosity, sneaks into the factory, grabs the pieces of mysterious plastic, and takes them to Lieberman. The scientist gradually figures out that the parts fit together into what appears to be a disintigrator ray gun – what we’ll learn is called an “Eruptor.” David and Lieberman decide that only the authorities can help, thus call the local FBI office. Laumer develops nice tension here with the agents being rather terse and, like Dorn, having faces that seem like rubber masks. David instantly distrusts them. 

One thing I can certainly say about this tie-in as compared to the actual show is that the tie-in is much more violent. David makes several kills here, and they’re all pretty bloody. He learns that Dorn and several other similar men are indeed aliens, their human forms elaborate disguises, and this leads to a violent battle. David kills a few of the aliens in the fight, dropping a crate on one of them (and ripping him in half) and impaling another with the tines of a forklift. He also gets in some shots with the Eruptor, but in true Maguffin fashion it grows so hot when fired that it can’t be held any longer, so David drops it, no longer able to rely on it. 

A vague detail Laumer doesn’t elaborate on is that David works for “the General,” a character who is ultimately unseen. After this big battle David rushes back to home base, hoping to get the General’s feedback…only to learn the General is dead. Here the novel gets very clunky, as we flash forward three months and David’s become a proto-Bruce Banner, traveling alone around the country, totally off the grid. A one-man army in the war against the invaders. Why? It’s never properly explained why he must stay underground, why he can’t go for help – in fact, the FBI agents were willing to help him in the earlier sequence. But that’s the setup of the show, of course, and Laumer’s constrained by it. He does what any contract writer would do and just barrells on, hoping we’ll overlook the illogic. I didn’t, because I take notes. 

David in his travels has come to a small town, where he happens to see flyers for ISIS, a “UFO cult” that has spread due to the numerous UFO sightings of the day. David goes to that night’s meeting, where he meets Henry Thrall, a man who claims to be like David – just here to gawk at the crazies. There’s some interesting insight here on how UFO sightings of the era were seen; David feels that it couldn’t all be a hoax, or a conspiracy…but personally I think Gian Quasar is on to something. David feels that these “saucerites” might be a sort of front for the invaders, and though he plays his cards close to his chest he suspects he might’ve encountered a kindred soul with Thrall. In fact, Thrall claims that he’s aware of the truth behind it all – and asks David to leave the meeting and come back to his house. (Again, the “hmmm” connotations are pretty strong here.) 

But this “book” is titled “The Maniac,” so we know something bad’s about to happen. And, sure enough, Thrall’s “house” turns out to be an abandoned wreckage in which he keeps all kinds of weird stuff…including an “autopsied alien” which is clearly just some poor guy the psycho captured and accused of being an alien. Again, all of it a lot more twisted than anything that could get on TV in 1967. This leads to a crazed game of cat and mouse between Thrall and David, the former chasing our hero through the darkened ruins of the house. The sequence builds in intensity, complete with the surprise return of our recurring villain. Here Laumer (or whoever wrote the unproduced script he was possibly adapting – perhaps series creator Larry Cohen, who is credited in the book) opens the story with Dorn offering David a chance at immortality – if David were to help the aliens, in return they would give him superstrength and other superhuman attributes, like being able to run forty miles an hour. 

All these things the aliens of the “Great Race,” as Dorn refers to his people, are capable of doing. They also have weird regrowth powers; Dorn’s hand was burned off by the Eruptor, and he displays a new babylike appendage that is growing on the stalk of his arm. Soon he will have regrown a completely new hand to replace the lost one. I don’t believe any of this stuff made it into the actual TV show; I don’t recall the aliens having any of these powers, but then again I’ve only seen two episodes. There is very much a hive mentality to the aliens in this novelization; Dorn also refers to the “Survival Master” as being the leader of the invaders; but then, Dorn later states that the aliens aren’t here to invade so much as they just want to cohabitate with the humans. They’ve spent millennia searching for a suitable planet, and have finally found it with Earth. I’m not sure if any of this backstory made it into the show. 

The final “book” is titled “Counterattack,” and has David hooking up with another one-off character, a sergeant near an Air Force base who relays his own story of having encountered aliens. It’s once again “three months later,” meaning The Invaders takes place over the course of six months. David Vincent is still traveling around on his own; Dorn mentioned that “something” would be happening within three months, and David is determined to figure out what it could be. A chance reading about an upcoming “meteor shower” in the paper is all the clue David needs; soon enough he’s meeting with various scientists to get more info on what the scientists claim will just be a harmless meteor shower in the desert. David suspects – and of course will be proven correct – that the shower will be camouflage for an alien invasion. 

Again we get more action than a TV show could handle, with David and his new military pal blasting away in the desert with heavy weaponry as the “meteors” turn out to be clusters of alien pods which are floating down onto the desert floor. We also get a final dealing with Dorn, who as mentioned is the novel’s main villain; another difference, as I don’t believe the TV show had any recurring villainous aliens. Like most ‘60s shows it was no doubt episodic, as is Laumer’s tie-in, but he does a good job of tying the three separate “books” of the novel into one story. By novel’s end David Vincent is once again on the road, one man alone against the Invaders, and you still don’t understand why he can’t go to anyone for help. 

Laumer is very much in a “pulp” mode for The Invaders, going for fast action and description. There are accordingly a lot of clunky sentences and typos, but then the latter could be the result of poor copyediting by the publisher. (Ie “Forty wall bulb” instead of “Forty watt bulb,” etc.) Laumer wrote another volume…and also there was an Invaders series published in the UK, some of the volumes of which were brought over to the US under different titles. It all seems rather confusing and I haven’t much researched it, mostly because I was fine with just reading this one book. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

The Liquidator #2: Contract For A Killing

The Liquidator #2: Contract For A Killing, by R.L. Brent
No month stated, 1974  Award Books

So with this second volume of The Liquidator I’m prepared to claim that this series is the Parker of the ‘70s. I know, the Parker series itself was being published in the ‘70s, but you know what I mean. Maybe we could say it’s the men’s adventure equivalent of Parker: more action-driven, with more sex and violence, but retaining that tough, crime-pulp vibe, with quality writing and a host of memorable one-off characters. I’m sorry I let these books sit around so long and didn’t start reading the series sooner. 

I still question the authorship: I mean Larry Powell, supposedly “R.L. Brent,” is also supposedly the guy who wrote Donovans Devils, and the first volume of that series was so boring I still haven’t moved on to the second one. The Liquidator comes from an entirely different universe; it’s certainly one of the better-written men’s adventure series of the day, but not in a “literary” sense a la Jon Messmann or Marc Olden. Whereas those authors could get a litle too bogged down in interior dialog or philosophical musings, “Brent” keeps things moving with a lean and mean prose style that still manages to convey depth of characterization. The series really has the vibe of a ‘70s action film, one of those gritty urban action deals that would’ve had a wah-wah guitar and Afro-Cuban percussion-heavy score by Lalo Schifrin. 

These series books were pretty much under the radar, not getting the industry coverage of hardcovers or even standalone paperback originals. But reviewers of the day noticed that The Liquidator was better than the standard offering; just like the first volume, this time we are presented with a few industry reviews touting the book. Indeed, no less than Publisher’s Weekly praised The Liquidator, according to the blurb on the first page: “It’s refreshing to find a hero as interested in sex as bloodletting.” Now there’s a reviewer after my own heart! And that’s certainly true in Contract For A Killing; hero Jake Brand is no prude and, like too many of his “business first” men’s adventure brethren, doesn’t turn down the willing women who come his way. 

Speaking of which, this volume opens with Jake (as the author refers to him) indulging in some of those perks, courtesy Gwen, the babe he picked up at the end of the first volume. They’re in Virginia, laying low, and Jake’s recuperating from his wounds – while also engaging Gwen in some good lovin.’ Jake’s vengeance on the mob still hasn’t been sated, and also there’s still the dangling subplot about the guy who framed him and got him sent to prison for five years. This guy, a professional assassin who goes by many names, looks enough like Jake that he was able to get Jake framed for some murders Jake himself didn’t commit. One of the names the assassin goes by is Richard Stuart, which is the name Brent uses for him in the first half of Contract For A Killing

Brent actually has a lot of subplots in play, and unlike a lot of series it doesn’t come off like page-filling even when we cut over to one-off characters. The series has also clearly been written as a series, if you catch my drift, and not just a bunch of standalones. There are still dangling subplots even at the end of this volume, which leads me to conclude that reading the entirety of The Liquidator could be an enjoyable experience. I certainly enjoyed this volume. The author definitely has his pulp skills intact, for as expected Jake is uncovered, leading to a nice chase sequence. Once he’s sent Gwen off to safety, our hero gets back on the path to revenge, armed only with a .45 and a .38. Unlike other mob-busters of the ‘70s, Jake doesn’t tote around an arsenal, or at least he doesn’t in these earliest books. But this does not detract from the action; the author does a great job of juggling plot development with frequent action sequences. 

Another cool gimmick of the series is that Jake Brand doesn’t have access to limitless funds, like Mack Bolan or Philip Magellan do. He has to stretch his few remaining dollars, and isn’t above snatching up a hundred dollar bill someone insultingly drops in front of him. This gives these novels a bit more of a realistic vibe. Nothing too realistic, but still…it’s not like Bolan, who will routinely loot the Mafia of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to the point that he can just give the “blood money” away. Jake’s mind is often on his wallet and how little money he has to fund his vengeance quest. This lack of funds also has unintentional consequences, in that it puts the mob on his tail. One interesting development in this regard is that Jake hawks the sportscar Gwen lifted at the end of the first volume, buying a less-obvious car, and of course the shady car dealer has mob ties and starts to suspect who Jake might be. 

The Parker vibe for me comes with how Jake works his way through the underworld in search of his prey, meeting a host of oddball characters. First is a guy named Grail, who acts as the agent for Richard Stuart. Grail’s a muscle-bound man of wealth who lives in opulence; blind, he relies on a hotstuff Chinese babe named Anita as his assistant…and bodyguard. This Jake learns the hard way when he tries to lean too strongly on Grail: “The lady knew Kung-Fu, and she knew it very well.” This is a tense scene that takes place in the pitch-dark room, Jake constantly scrabbling around for his dropped gun while the lady and Grail take turns kicking his ass. Another cool thing about The Liquidator is that Jake Brand, despite being all kinds of tough, is not a superhuman a la Mack Bolan. He often makes mistakes, like his penchant for barging into places with little in the way of an exit strategy. 

There’s also a good deal of ‘70s-mandatory lurid stuff; in some sequences dealing with Richard Stuart, the professional assassin, we learn he’s a sadist who enjoys beating around hookers before screwing them. (“It was like raping a woman who had finally given in.”) There’s also a part where another female character is tortured and raped (mostly off-page) for info by a group of Mafia thugs. What’s curious is that another minor character – an independent contractor who tries to cash in on the bounty on Jake Brand’s head – comes acrosss this woman after her torture-rape and offers to help her, but nothing more is mentioned of it this volume. Given that our author has a knack for continuity, I’m wondering if this female character will return in a later volume. 

But the naughty stuff isn’t all grimy; as stated Jake Brand gets his share of tail. This is demonstrated by another memorable one-off character: The Countess, a “full-breasted, narrow-waisted, and long legged” platinum blonde beauty Jake encounters soon after arriving in New Orleans. Jake’s come here due to a lead from Grail; Richard Stuart, per Grail, has been contracted to murder an up-and-coming singer named Angela who lives in New Orleans. This subplot ultimately detracts from Jake’s own story of revenge; Brent clearly is trying to develop an ongoing series here, and apparently doesn’t feel he can do so by focusing solely on Jake’s quest. So to compensate he turns Jake into the traditional role of hero, and thus he serves in this capacity to Angela, a woman he doesn’t even know – trying to find her, trying to protect her from being killed by Stuart. While this does make Jake seem more heroic, it also takes away from his own story. But then his goal, as Brent often reminds us, is to kill two birds with one stone: keep an innocent woman from being killed, and catch the man who plans to kill her – the same man who jacked-up Jake’s own life. 

Well anyway, the Countess is a former madam (despite only being in her early 30s) who now lives in a mini-fortress, a pair of muscle-bound black men serving as her henchmen. Jake’s gotten word that Angela, who has gone to ground, might once have been one of the Countess’s girls. Per men’s adventure tradition, not only does he get the required info from the beautiful lady, but he also gets laid. Another fairly explicit scene unfolds; nothing too risque, but at least it doesn’t fade to black. We do learn that even an experienced former madam can be impressed by our hero. Through the Countess Jake learns that Angela is shacked up with a wealthy oil man named Lassiter, and in fact is hiding out on Lassiter’s yacht. A recurring mystery though is why anyone wants her dead; Angela once sang at a nightclub run by the mob, and was given her start by a mobster, but the Mafia is more interested in getting her back because she brought in customers. 

Angela, who turns out to be a stacked brunette beauty, has her share of secrets, and also she doesn’t seem very willing to accept Jake’s assistance. But his word is soon proven accurate when Richard Stuart makes his move to take Angela’s life. This is another cool scene in which Jake and the assassin initially pass by one another on a dock, Jake belatedly realizing that he just walked by the man he’s been hunting. Jake is hurt in the ensuing scene, but he recuperates thanks to some more good lovin,’ this courtesy his third “conquest” in the novel: Elena, the hot daughter of Martinez, a Cuban expat who moved to New Orleans after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. This conjugation, per Elena, was “inevitable” from the moment they met, and next thing you know Jake’s “[sliding] into the pulsing warmth between her thighs.” The Liquidator, baby! 

The finale has Jake taking on the local mob forces of Don Valante and also figuring out who was really behind the hit on Angela. He gets a boost in the armament department thanks to Martinez, who like any anti-Castroist living in the US has a full stock of weapons at his disposal. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that, while Contract For A Killing is certainly violent, Brent doesn’t dwell on the gore. Again, the book is very much in line with the era’s mainstream crime fiction, only with a bit more of a pulp bent. And as mentioned there are sufficient plot threads dangling at novel’s end, with Jake’s vengeance still unsated, so I certainly look forward to reading the next volume.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Men’s Adventure Quarterly #4

Mens Adventure Quarterly #4, edited by Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham
January, 2022  Subtropic Productions

This fourth volume of Men’s Adventure Quarterly is different from the previous three, not only due to its focus on female characters, but also because it features a few stories that were actually written by a female author. As Bob Deis notes in his intro, Jane Dolinger was definitely unique in the world of men’s magazines: a female writer who turned out escapist adventure yarns and who also happened to be a stacked beauty who posed nude for the very magazines she wrote for! The whole thing just comes off as so incredibly wrong in our modern era, which is to say incredibly right. There are similar female authors who come to mind, like for example Xaviera “The Happy Hooker” Hollander, who often posed nude in the men’s mags she wrote for in the mid-1970s. But Xaviera Hollander was no Jane Dolinger, that’s for sure. And also, Dolinger’s stories stood on their own as fast-moving yarns; the nudie stuff was just the icing on the cake. 

This issue also features one of the best intros yet, an interview between Bob Deis and Lawrence Abbott, who wrote a book about Dolinger, Jane Dolinger: The Adventurous Life Of An American Travel Writer.* And her life certainly sounds fascinating: basically, she answered an ad in the paper to be the “girl Friday” of a globe-trotting adventure writer (and ended up marrying the lucky s.o.b.) and thus went around the world, venturing into uncharted realms and writing about the experiences for various books, magazines, and tabloids. She also took it a step further by actually posing nude for some of the men’s mags; we learn via the insightful intro that this was just another avenue to make an extra buck or two, given that there were different rights involved. Suprisingly, most of her books were not even published here in the US, but perhaps this edition of Men’s Adventure Quarterly will drum up enough interest in Jane Dolinger’s “body of work” (sorry, couldn’t resist) to change that. 

The stories here are all assembled around a “White goddess” or “jungle girl” theme, with the “yank” protagonists typical of men’s mags venturing deep into the jungle and finding beautiful women who are just waiting there for them. The other year I reviewed a similar vintage publication, Adventure In Paradise, but that one didn’t feature stories as fantastical as the ones here. Honestly it’s a shame the men’s mag and/or publishers of the day didn’t have more vision, as they could’ve done a plethora of themed paperback anthologies. But luckily Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham are doing it today, and thus we have another highly-recommended issue of Men’s Adventure Quarterly

This issue deviates from past ones in that there’s no editorial intro from Bob for each of the Jane Dolinger stories that follow; instead we get a sort of section overview that tells us which story came from which men’s mag. As ever the original full-color covers are reprinted, and visually as always the issue looks great, thanks to Bill Cunningham’s art direction. First up is one of the more ghoulish stories in the issue: “I Helped Shrink A Human Head,” from the September, 1959 issue of Champion For Men. In this one Jane Dolinger finds herself in Ecuador, among the Jivaro Indians – “I was a White girl in the land of the savages.” Here she witnesses the “thoroughly nauseating” ceremony of head-shrinking, “the most gruesome and yet strangely fascinating sight I had ever witnessed.” The Jivaros bring in the severed head of a fifteen year-old girl, presumably from an enemy tribe, and the witch doctor takes a couple days to shrink it down, with all the ghoulish details on sewing the lips shut and whatnot. Crazy for sure, and meanwhile I kept wondering who this poor unfortunate teen girl was, though no one – not even Dolinger – seemed to much care. Not that she would’ve asked, for as our author puts it, “religion is a man’s business.” 

Next up is what appears to be a straight-up piece of jungle pulp, “I Found The Jaguar Princess,” from the April, 1965 issue of Adventure. Per the intro, this piece was adapted from one of Dolinger’s books, one which was never published in the US. This one’s more pulpy than the previous yarn and very much in line with the jungle tales typical of men’s adventure mags, in that the titular Jaguar Princess is a veritable White Goddess. Her name is Pamela Hawkins and she’s a 24 year-old “alluring jungle woman” who has carved out an “empire on the outer edges of Ecuador,” 1,500 Indians under her rule. The tale also veers from the previous one in that Jane Dolinger provides the intro, telling how she tracked down Pamela, and then the rest of the tale is told by Pamela Hawkins herself. So we go from first-person to first-person, but likely all of it is fiction. 

This one as mentioned was taken from a longer book devoted to the subject; here is a 2017 article on Pamela Hawkins and Jane Dolinger, Google-translated into English. No idea whether there really was a Pamela Hawkins or if the whole story, including the book, comes from Dolinger’s imagination. Certainly Abbott’s bio of Dolinger gets more into the story. Anyway “Pamela” tells us how she came to this life, raised here in the jungle by her anthropologist father, who reared his daughter in the manner of two worlds – hunting with the Indians and reading novels in the original French. She now straddles both worlds, with a closet of “French fashions” and a jungle pad complete with a private swimming pool. There seems to be a lot more to the tale than we are told, though, so it makes sense this was taken from a book. But Dolinger truly knew her audience, as the book ends with “Pamela” saying she’s lonely and wants a man – the type of man who might be reading a men’s mag, in fact! She’s not concerned about looks, or wealth, or anything like that (basically just so long as he isn’t an Indian, it’s implied), and she’s just waiting for him to walk down that jungle trail to her place! One can only imagine the horny readers of Adventure booking immediate passage to the Amazon. 

Our last Jane Dolinger story is “The Jungle Killers Who Fight For Women,” from the May, 1963 issue of All Man. Once again Dolinger finds herself the only “white woman” in a tribe of “savages,” these ones warring over the theft of women. As Bob notes in his intro, an interesting thing about Dolinger’s stories is that she never mentions she’s with her husband. In fact he’s never mentioned; the impression is that “Jungle Jane” Dolinger has travelled all by her lonesome into these green hells. And it surely is hellish, another lurid tale in which an enemy of the Chama Indians Dolinger is staying with is captured and put through various tortures, all for stealing a Chama woman. Even when she escapes the orgy that ensues at the end, Dolinger does not mention her husband. 

This issue of Men’s Adventure Quarterly does come off like a vintage men’s mag publication (only a lot slicker and without that weird smell), as there follows an actual pin-up section, one devoted to Jane Dolinger. I can only say one thing about this section: Good friggin’ grief! This lady was actually prettier (and, uh, more endowed) than most of the professional pin-up models who appeared in these magazines. Plus she could write! Also we get the note that her husband, Ken Krippene (the aforementioned travel writer), took all of the nude photos of her…I mean this dude must’ve gone to his grave feeling like the luckiest jerk ever. He puts an ad in the paper looking for a travel-writing assistant and this is what he gets: 

Note to self: Start putting ads in the paper. 

After this section the issue gets back to the format of the previous three, with Bob providing intros before each story. First up is “The She-Wolf Of Halmahera,” by Leonard Kelcey and from the September, 1959 Spur. Bob is correct that this one is a cool piece of jungle-pulp. The narrator, a brawny butterfly hunter(!), tells us of how he made his way to Halmahera island in Indonesia to track down a mythical she-wolf. Instead, per men’s mag tradition, he meets a super-hot and built brunette who is bathing nude when he comes upon her. She takes him back to her tribe, where he is of course tied up. She comes to him that night, drinks his blood, and then has her way with him (off-page, of course). Apparently the lady didn’t get the memo that she’s supposed to be a she-wolf, not a vampire, or maybe the Spur editor just stuck the wrong title on here. The hotstuff vampire-chick has her way with our hero a few nights a week for a month, but he gets sick of it and looks for his chance to escape – leading to one of the most violent finales I’ve read in a men’s magazine, as he literally tears the chick apart. And keeps her fanged teeth as a memento! 

Next up is the first third-person piece in the issue: “Yank Explorer Who Ruled Guatemala’s Taboo Tribe,” by Donald Honig and from the August, 1959 For Men Only. This one concerns the titular female tribe, “powerful, muscular women of surpassing beauty.” True to the template it opens on a memorable scene, with two of these hotstuff jungle babes fighting for a man – a “rugged ex-GI from Chicago” named Nick O’Hanlon. Honig has had a story in each issue of Men’s Adventure Quarterly, and once again he doles out a fast-moving piece of pulp which turned out to be my favorite story here. O’Hanlon’s been hired by a wealthy lady with “spungold hair” to venture into Guatemala to find her missing husband; I love it that part of O’Hanlon’s payment is that he demands the lady spend the night with him! And though she protests, we learn that she’s in tears when he leaves two days later, having basically fallen in love with him. 

As these things go, O’Hanlon comes upon Ixla, a sort of holdover from the Malayan empire, one run by hot Amazon women. Here O’Hanlon is kept as a “stud” by the beautiful women of the tribe; while the other male captives work as slaves, O’Hanlon just sits around all day and then a different woman comes to him each night. Somehow after only four months he grows tired of this, and manages to escape – but it’s one of the least suspenseful escapes I’ve ever read. O’Hanlon basically just knocks out one girl and walks away into the jungle. I thought the finale was a little goofy, though, as O’Hanlon’s desperate to escape, finally does so…and we learn in a postscript that he might’ve changed his mind and decided to go back to Ixla. 

“Borneo’s Topless Army” by the wonderfully-named J. Archibald Collinson comes next, from the October, 1966 True Adventures. Another memorable opening, in which the narrator is firing his rifle at attacking jungle women, “trying not to be distracted by the sea of bobbing breasts.” We do get the buzzkilling note, though, that “their figures [aren’t] among the world’s most beautiful.” Never to fear, as during his escape our hero knocks out an Indian babe who is lurking behind the others, this one with “high, erect breasts” and who is “much too beautiful and clear-featured to belong to this Asiatic race.” Sure enough she turns out to be the daughter of a white explorer, her name Ruth, and there follows a strange story of jungle love (cue the song) between the two. A very interesting aspect of this yarn is that the narrator ends up leaving the jungle with Ruth and marrying her. This is such a rarity in the world of men’s mag stories; generally the Yank protagonists have no problem banging these exotic foreign gals, but then go back home to marry a white girl…something I mentioned way back in my Women With Guns review. But, perhaps this story isn’t so unique, given that Ruth is actually white…it’s clear that these mags come from an era in which miscegenation was still a thing. 

We’re back to the longer (and generally higher-quality) “Diamond Line” of men’s mag stories with “Forbidden Amazon Female Compound,” by A.V. Loring and from the April 1968 Stag. We’re also back to third-person narrative, for another fun adventure story that’s slightly undone by a little too much anthropological detail. Jerry Knox is our hero, a ‘Nam vet who is in the Amazon to scope out a fabled Shangri-La with a colleague. But when the colleague goes missing Knox hunts the Amazon for him, only to be captured by – you guessed it – a tribe of hotstuff jungle women. But these are of a more violent sort than the ones in previous stories this issue; while they immediately take Knox captive, they’re much less receptive to a group of Indian males who trespass on the women’s territory, massacring them with relish. 

The story follows the same gist as “The She-Wolf Of Halmahera;” Knox like the protagonist of the earlier yarn is captured, but it’s by an entire tribe of bloodthirsty babes. They kill whoever ventures into their territory, save for one month a year in which the borders are open and they turn into rapacious jungle sluts, taking as many male lovers as they want. So of course hunk Knox with his unusual blonde hair is a hot item worth fighting over. Given the publication date, though, the sleazy details are few; Knox only gets it on with one jungle babe (the one who wins the fight for him), and she also starts to fall in love with him over the month he stays there. (Knox also spends a suspicious amount of time turning down other jungle beauties who try to have their way with him.) The ending’s weird, though, as she tells Knox he must leave once the month is over; even though she cares for him, she’ll still kill him if he’s “trespassing” on her territory when the holy month of whoredom comes to an end. 

The issue wraps up with another pictorial, this one devoted to “Liane the Jungle Girl,” whose real name was Marion Michael and who appeared in films and men’s mags of the time, with another intro on her as well as period pieces that were published about her in the men’s mags. There’s no letters page this time, but we do get an advertisement for the next issue of Men’s Adventure Quarterly, which looks right up my alley: devoted to “Dirty Missions,” those crazy “gonzo war” yarns (as Bob Deis memorably described them to me in a recent email) that appeared so often in men’s adventure magazines. The splash art is from “The Wild Raid Of Gibbon’s Lace Panty Commandos,” a fun Jim McDonald story from 1963 that I reviewed several years ago in my Girls With Guns men’s mag post. I’ll definitely be looking forward to it, but in the meantime I heartily recommend Mens Adventure Quarterly #4.

*Several years ago Abbott maintained a site devoted to Jane Dolinger, but it appears to have gone offline around 2011.  But thanks to the magic of The Wayback Machine it can still be accessed; there you will find a lot more information about Dolinger.  Also this section on the Jaguar Princess indicates that the story was both truth and fiction; Pamela Hawkins, the so-called Jaguar Princess, did exist, but she was “an older woman and not very photogenic,” so Jane and her husband hired a young model to act the part for their photos!  Also the biography states that Ken Krippene was 55 and Jane Dolinger was only 21 when they got married...I mean I’ve really gotta start looking into posting some newspaper ads.  Blog-writing assistant needed!

Monday, February 7, 2022

Stark #6: Corpse On Ice (aka The Revenger #6)

Stark #6: Corpse On Ice, by Joseph Hedges
June, 1975  Pyramid Books
(Original UK publication 1975)

Coming in to this sixth volume of Stark I knew what to expect: the narrative would be pointlessly nihilistic, every female character would suffer a gruesome fate, the “hero” would be an asshole with no redeeming features, most chapters would end with goofy puns, and Terry “Joseph Hedges” Harknett would overwrite to the point of tedium. Thusly prepared I waded into Corpse On Ice; I’d been meaning to get back to the series for a good while now, and decided what the hell, now was the time. As it turned out, while all the above things held true, I didn’t detest this one as much as the other two I read. 

Ironically Corpse On Ice was the last volume to be published in the US; Pyramid Books must’ve also disliked the series, or more likely it just wasn’t selling so they cancelled it. But still the lazy bastards couldn’t correct the footnotes; while the quotation marks for dialog have been changed to American-standard double quotations as opposed to the original British single quotations, previous volumes are still referred to as “The Revenger.” This of course was the title of the original British series, before it was changed to “Stark” in the US so as not to conflict with Jon Messmanns The Revenger. But apparently no one at Pyramid Books realized they should change the footnotes, and surely this had to confuse at least some of the original readers. But hell, maybe they were too busy smoking their Kent cigarettes and enjoying the ‘70s to be bothered by such trivial details. 

True to series form this one picks up soon after the previous volume, with John Stark still in Sweden. It’s like a few days or weeks later, and now he’s in Stockholm, hiding out in a hotel from the company and the cops. And of course he’s managed to pick up some babe: Inga, the 19 year-old manager of the Ritz Stark is staying in. In fact he’s here with free room and board, courtesy Inga. The girl is becoming attached to Stark, even though she’s figured out he’s the criminal everyone is searching for, and she begs him to stay with her. This of course is Stark’s cue to get the hell out. But when Inga’s gone for the night, Stark meets another sexy chick: Belinda, a young Canadian girl who comes to his hotel room and within moments of introducing herself has stripped down, displaying her “sex beard.” (Certainly the most unpleasant description of pubic hair I’ve ever encountered.) 

But Stark is all business, and despite playing along with Belinda, who claims to be a friend of Inga’s, and that Inga’s sent her over to keep Stark sexually satisfied, he suspects her of being a company decoy. (As a reminder, Harknett never capitalizes the name of Stark’s archenemies, the global crime network that is “the company.”) Stark says his childhood fantasy was to bang his sexy teacher on top of her desk, so he has Belinda act it out for him…but instead he whips out his gun and jams the barrel into her “gaping orifice!” This believe it or not was a recurring image in the wild and wooly world of ‘70s men’s adventure novels, a la The Sharpshooter #16. But Harknett goes in a different direction, with a sequence so crazed I just had to share it: 

Yes, Belinda gets off royally, climaxing on the barrel of the gun. Which of course eventually leads to one of Stark’s lame puns: “I had you over a barrel.” It’s hard to believe that a series that includes a sexy chick climaxing on a gun barrel could be so lame. I mean this is a series I want to like. But again Harknett does himself no favors, overwritting with no editorial control: positively everything is described ad naseum, from the clothing to the cars to the weather. Any time a new character is introduced we get like a freeze frame as practically every single detail of their face, appearance, and clothing is described. As with previous books this only serves to halt the forward momentum. There’s a lot of action in Corpse On Ice, and Harknett doesn’t shirk on the exploitative detail, but man it still comes off as pretty slow-moving. He also again fills up way too much space focusing on a one-off character, this time the Canadian head of the company. While these sequences have their fair share of sleaze and lurid stuff (including a memorable bit where the guy kills someone by sticking his head in a microwave!), they ultimately only serve to make a long book seem even longer. 

Well anyway, once she’s had her fill of Stark’s pistol, it turns out that Belinda is the secretary of a Canadian businessman named Groves. After he’s made it clear he is not a threat to Stark, Groves reveals that he’s been tracing our “hero” around Europe since Stark’s war on the company began, and thus is here in Sweden given that it’s where Stark raised the most recent hell. Ultimately he offers Stark $10,000 plus expenses to kill a man in Canada. Stark, after a bit of deliberating, agrees – and then tells Groves to send Belinda back in so he can properly bang her on a desk! Harknett as ever does not fade to black; the helluva it is, Stark should be one of the best ‘70s men’s adventure series, what with its ultra gore, explicit sex, and cool setup. But there’s still something just so unpleasant and unlikable about it. Well I mean “sex beard” should give you at least some idea of what I am talking about. 

And another thing that annoys is that the action scenes seem to merely exist so as to set up the latest pun. For example, we have this egregious bit where Stark is attacked by company thugs at the Stockholm airport. This series is like The Lone Wolf in that Stark’s enemies are always surrounding him, no matter what lengths he goes to hide himself. So Stark goes into the restroom and waits for the company thugs to come in after him. Then he gets a “gas cylinder” from the janitorial room(?) and uses it to spark a torch, which he then uses on the thugs, frying them up. After which he quips, “It was quite a gas.” I guess Harknett must’ve had fun coming up with scenarios to challenge his gift for puns, but at the same time it would’ve been just as cool for Stark to blow their heads off with a .38 and call it a day. But heck, even this weird factor should be enough to give Stark an edge, but regardless the series still sort of bugs me. 

And there really is a Lone Wolf-esque dark, surreal vibe to Stark, especially how Stark is constantly being hounded. No matter where he goes, company men are waiting for him. Even in Canada, a place he’s never been before, he’s nearly captured by company men as soon as he arrives in Toronoto. This entails a long journey out into the Canadian wilderness, at the end of which Stark and Belinda find themselves the targets of a company sniper and a company demolitions expert. Again the overwriting slows down the proceedings, but this part does show a more savage side to Stark, as he wields a rake in a nicely violent sequence. It also features the grimy denouement of Stark talking to the blasted-out eyeball of a particular character. It’s at this point that Harknett “opens up” the narrative with a lot of stuff focused on Essex, the Canadian honcho of the company and the man who sent these two to kill Stark. 

Once Stark hooks back up with Groves he learns what all this is about: the company runs a male prostitution ring here in Canada, and Groves’s twenty-five year-old son has gotten involved with it, likely as a way to stick it back to his notoriously-whoring father. “A man does not live by perverted screwing alone,” Groves the elder puts it. As a reminder of how twisted this series is, it’s actually Groves’s own son that Groves has hired Stark to kill. The reasoning behind this is vague at best, and Harknett doesn’t do the best job of explaining the setup. However the titular “corpse on ice,” which turns out to be literal, throws a monkeywrench into these plans, and as it develops Stark’s “assignment” is no longer about assassinating one person but wiping out as many of the Canadian company thugs as he can. Groves even presents Stark with a souped-up car and a veritable arsenal of machine guns, pistols, explosives, and the like to wage his war. 

Stark heads into Calgary, getting in the occasional firefight along the road with the company thugs who are perennially on his tail. There’s a crazy part where he gets the drop on one of the company’s male whores just as the guy’s about to pleasure his elderly female client. Stark’s assholery is firmly on display here, as he mocks the woman’s appearance. So too is the nihilistic tone of the series, as Stark is so devoted to eradicating the company that even the lowest of peons must suffer and die. This leads Stark to a resort lounge in the snowswept mountains in which the male hookers are trained in the art of screwing by sexy young women(!). Harknett caters to the pulp vibe by opening this sequence with Stark, newly arrived on the location, immediately being propositioned by a sexy young snowbunny who doffs her clothes and lies down in the snow, waiting to have some sex asap. One likable thing about this series is that Stark is not as single-minded as some of his men’s adventure brethren, and thus gives the girl the goods in another explicit sequence – after which she says there’s nothing she could teach the phenomenally-gifted Stark! 

But the finale of Corpse On Ice dispenses with the “fun” pulp and gets right back to the series mainstay of “unpleasantly nihilistic” pulp. Stark goes into the main lodge and discovers a young woman delivering some bondage sex to a bound company freak, and this boils Stark right up – that a woman so young and innocent could be so corrupted by the company. So he whips out his pistol and blows her brains out! Then he gets out a rifle, heads onto the slopes to wait for his prey, Essex, to come out to ski…takes a nap(?!)…and then wakes up in time to see everyone leaving for the lunch call, so he starts firing willy-nilly onto the slopes. Company men and innocent young women fall beneath Stark’s bullets (he wonders if the snowbunny he screwed might be among his victims), and then he rushes for his car to escape the scene of his latest carnage.  

As mentioned this was the last volume of Stark to be published by Pyramid Books, but The Revenger continued on for six more volumes in merry old England. This is also the last volume of the series I currently have…by Harknett, at least. (And I’m in no hurry to fill the gaps in this particular collection.) The only other volume of The Revenger I have is the last one, 1977’s Angel Of Destruction, which is by Angus Wells, who wrote the final two volumes of the series. I’m only familiar with his work from the Raven series. We’ll see how his take on John Stark measures up to Terry Harknett’s.