Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Undertaker #2: Black Lives Murder

The Undertaker #2: Black Lives Murder, by John Doe
“January, 1968”  Pernicious Books

John Doe wasn’t joking when he told me that this second volume of The Undertaker was “more fun” than the first volume. Don’t get me wrong, Death Transition was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. But Black Lives Murder is hilarious from start to finish; the Destroyer similarities are even stronger this time, at least so far as the spoofy nature goes. With the important caveat that one again things are important to the characters, and not just a joke like things are in The Destroyer

As with Death Transition, this second volume retains the “vintage replica” gimmick, with the paperback being the exact measurement of one from the 1970s and sporting the same pulpy paper. It even has the same bogus publication date as Death Transition. But I’d say the title is also reminiscent of those old paperbacks. Something that has occurred to me is how fearless the paperback imprints were in the ’70s. They’d routinely publish stuff like The Savage Women, or have their action-series protagonists darken their skin to go undercover among black criminals. There were no concerns about offending anyone; if there was a societal trend, they’d exploit it. If the “summer of love” had occurred in 1974 instead of 2020, you can be sure Pinnacle or Leisure or Manor would’ve done a book that showed the ”peaceful protesters” as villains to be mopped up by some hero. Since no book publisher today has the guts to do so, it’s up to John Doe and his Pernicious Books.  (Actually it’s now Tocsin Press, but more on that later.)

And boy does he deliver. If Warren Murphy had been around during those BLM and antifa riots in the summer of 2020, I want to believe he would’ve written a Destroyer novel with a plot similar to Black Lives Murder. If you too boiled with rage as “peaceful protesters” burned, looted, and murdered across the US during that summer, then you’ll definitely enjoy this novel – I mean, even if there was no retribution in the real world, at least we can experience it vicariously as Victor Underhill, The Undertaker, dispenses some much-needed justice on the “woke horde.” While series co-protagonist Deputy Ivan Gore’s hands are tied by city officials who are bizarrely enough on the side of the rioters, The Undertaker as ever is free to mete out the proper punishment to those who defile society. Plus this time we learn that he has a hotstuff assistant, a buxom brunette named Alyssa who is aware of Underhill’s secret role as The Undertaker. 

Whereas Death Transition was more of a suspenseful police procedural with darkly comic overtones, John Doe opens up the narrative for this second volume, giving us a broader look at the progressivised hellhole that is the city of Pandemont. The character relationships are also expanded upon; we learn that Deputy Harris, Gore’s bumbling redheaded colleague, is in love with a Vietnamese gal who works in a massage parlor. There’s also pretty Deputy Jackson, a black lady who teaches “diversity class” for the department but rails against BLM and the rioters who are ripping up the city – and quits the force when she learns the city is more concerned with protecting them than stopping them. Most importantly, Gore and Underhill have more of a relationship here; while they only met once in the previous volume, we learn that now Gore will purposely give business cards for Underhill’s funeral home to the families of victims…victims who have been killed be perpetrators outside the law. This is Gore’s signal to Underhill that vengeance needs to be sown by The Undertaker. It’s now four months after Death Transition, and Gore is at war with himself over how, due to this, he’s no longer a “good cop.” Rather than arrest Underhill, Gore keeps going back to him, “like a dog returning to its vomit.” 

Underhill himself is more of a character in Black Lives Murder. In the first book he was a shadowy figure, usually appearing as “the man in black” or in some other disguise as he went about sowing bloody vengeance. It was only toward the end of the novel that we learned how Underhill, an elderly funeral home director, grew incensed enough at the social ravages of wokeism that he decided to become The Undertaker and mete out savage justice. This time he’s fully unleashed; with his trench coat, serrated blades, and tendency to quote Paradise Lot he reminds me more of Hannibal Lecter than a men’s adventure hero. And yet that’s precisely the point, as this volume Gore realizes that Underhill is “insane.” Throughout Black Lives Murder Underhill almost casually – and gorily – dispatches several antifa and BLM thugs. 

If you spent the summer of 2020 wondering how all those blue cities could keep burning, with no one doing anything to stop the rioting and looting, Doe presents a very compelling explanation. We learn through the corrupt commissioner of Pandemont, Nancy Palisades, that an “organization” approached various city leaders a few months before the summer, selling “packages” based off an “inciting incident” that would soon sweep across the country. With scripts to follow, promised air time with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, and various levels of services (based on how much you pay, of course), this organization promised to use the “incident” to catapult the various city leaders into lucrative political careers. The “directors” of the affair would chose some race-based incident and “make it big,” after which teams of organizers would oversee rioting in the various cities – ensuring a proper racial mix of rioters so there’d be enough blacks there chanting for social justice – with even guidelines for the police to follow to give protection to the rioters. Despite her own corruption, even Palisades is taken aback by the organization’s goal to encourage looting: 

In other words, the entire “peaceful protest” movement is a callous marketing initiative, complete with scene-setters straight out of Hollywood who converge upon participating cities and orchestrate the chaos for the best TV coverage. At no point is the “plight” of black Americans ever a concern; it’s all about money, political power, and TV ratings. The riots have already started in Pandemont when the novel begins, but they haven’t reached the levels of New York or Chicago or Los Angeles – because, we’ll soon learn, Commissioner Palisades didn’t pay as much as those cities. It isn’t even the rioting that makes Gore decide to call in Underhill this time; in an eerie opening scene that recalls the horror vibe of Death Transition, Deputies Gore and Harris discover the corpse of a pretty young black girl in a desolate church…and Gore is sickened to discover that she has been branded with a demonic face and a pentagram. When the woke “fish-lipped lump” of a coroner refuses to denigrate a “minority religious group” in his report (ie Satanism), Gore sends the grieving mother to the Milton Funeral Home, which ultimately brings The Undertaker onto the scene. 

There are hilarious setpieces throughout Black Lives Murder. One in particular occurs early on, when Gore and the rest of the deputies are assembled for a briefing, and their assumption is they’ll be given the go-ahead to take down the rioters. Instead, the city managers and the FBI tell them that the real threat they need to be on the lookout for is white supremacists (complete with the FBI agent showing a photo of a KKK member in the 1800s). They also play a video recording of some rioting in the city…and what they’re upset about is the “All Lives Matter” sign that is visible in the footage. The leaders are shocked that this “hate speech” got by the Pandemont police; unfortunately the building it was spraypainted on was burned down by the rioters, so they won’t be able to find out who spraypainted it. All this is properly hilarious, but with a bitter aftertaste, as one can’t help but suspect that it’s a reflection of the real briefings that took place in precincts across the US in the summer of 2020. I also loved how the city officials kept referring to black Deputy Jackson as “the deputy of color.” 

Gore sees a lot more action this time. Boisterous Sherrif Bullard resents the order from Commissioner Palisades that his deputies stand down and not impede the rioters, and thus Bullard sends Gore on an “unofficial” surveillance of the MAZ. Yes, Doe even works in a parody of the “Temporary Autonomous Zone” that existed in Seattle during that fateful summer…and I recall wondering at the time if I was one of the few “normal” people who knew that the entire concept was lifted from Hakim Bey’s book of the same name. (I was always drawn to the wacky ideas of Bey, aka Peter Lamborn Wilson, in particular his writings on “pirate utopias,” but that didn’t mean I thought those wacky ideas would ever work in the real world.) This is another highly entertaining sequence, as Gore gets a glimpse of the “peaceful protesters” in the MAZ…in particular the girls: 

While the antifa crew is mostly comprised of pasty-skinned white guys with too much estrogen in their diet, Gore sees that out in the periphery lurks the real muscle: a contingent of hulking black guys. All this is very Warren Murphy-esque as these thugs literally come out of the darkness to grab the white girls away from their antifa boyfriends and take them off to be gang-banged. Indeed, to “fuck the white privilege” out of them. And when the girls complain about being sore, the hulking black guy in charge goes into racial grievances, about how his people still had to work, even after they were whipped and beaten by their white owners: “I can feels it in my bones!” The absurd modern notion of people who were never slaves demanding “repartations” from those who never owned slaves is well and fully mocked in this novel. Gore, despite being undercover, can’t sit by while a girl is gang-raped against her will, and follows after. He finds that a mattress store has been transitioned into a rape den, and watches in shock: 

Overall there is a more risque vibe to this second volume, which I always appreciate. In particular there is Rachel Palisades, mentioned in the excerpt above, beautiful blonde daughter of Commissioner Nancy Palisades. She’s a depraved wanton who is obsessed with black men, and she somewhat reminded me of the similarly-depraved twin girls in The Destroyer #5. Given to wearing “Black Size Matters” shirts and starring in porn videos titled “Built For BBC,” Rachel has created a veritable cottage industry in Pandemont, filming herself having sex with an endless tide of black men. The MAZ exists due to her demanding one from the organizers of the protests, even though the “package” Rachel’s mother bought for Pandemont didn’t include one. 

Probably the most humorous – and craziest – sequence in the novel is an actual, would-you-believe-it parody of an infamous incident in recent U.S. history. I won’t get into the full details, as it’s my hope this novel will soon be available for others to purchase and enjoy for themselves, but Doe so skillfully plays this out that it only slowly dawned on me that it was a parody. I’ll just say that it features the ever-bumbling Deputy Harris desperately trying to give a mortally-wounded black thug a massage, using a special Vietnamese massage style Harris learned from his girlfriend…all while dumbfounded rioters get the act on livestream. This scene seriously had me laughing. Yet another hilarious Warren Murphy-esque sendup of reality that wouldn’t have been out of place in a vintage Destroyer novel. 

The livestream of Harris makes Pandemont the “epicenter” of the cross-country protests, with more rioters converging on the city and every major news outlet promptly sending down crews. (“CNN had flown in both their homosexual news anchors.”) Doe really pulls out all the stops in the final quarter, with Gore’s wife Amanda nearly being raped by “peaceful protesters” and Underhill showing up on the scene to raise further hell. Turns out my hunch in Death Transition was correct, as Underhill really is a sort of modern-day pulp hero, a la The Spider, with a seemingly-limitless supply of gadgets and accessories, including even a “souped-up hearse retrofitted with flamethrowers.” This vehicle features in another humorously dark bit where Underhill runs into (so to speak) a gaggle of BLM and antifa who are blocking an intersection. The finale is even more wild, and I can’t give any of it away, as Doe skillfully ties up all his threads in fitting fashion…complete with Underhill himself posing as a BLM activist and pushing the rioting throng in a very unexpected direction. 

I’ll be honest, folks, I’ve been pretty bummed these past several months over the sad and pathetic state of our country, in which the moronic virus that is wokeism has infiltrated almost every area of life (even kindergarten classrooms!). Not to mention the shutdown of any voices that speak out against the insanity. It makes me very, very happy that there are talented, smart, and hilarious people like John Doe out there who are on the side of rationality and who are capable of writing books like this. It honestly gives me hope for the future. I mean the entirety of Black Lives Murder is genius-level satire. And the writing is strong to boot. There are memorable prhases throughout, with evocative imagery. Like in the climax, when the spirit of the rioters has been gutted and “[Their] chanting became discordant and confused, like the bleating of sheep whose shepherd has wandered away.” 

The “more to come” faux advertisement page at the back of the book states that the third Undertaker will be titled The Thin Black Line. This is a phrase mentioned at the denoument of Black Lives Murder; Gore considers himself a representative of “the thin blue line,” being in law enforcement. Allysa, Underhill’s sexy assistant with the “hypnotic smile,” tells Gore that she and Underhill – and soon, she suspects, Gore himself – are actually on the “black” line. So my assumption is this third installment will further demonstrate Gore’s moving over to Underhill’s philosopy of just killing people “who are already dead,” ie the mindless woke horde that is destroying Pandemont (and Western civilization itself). I also know from John Doe that the third volume might touch on the capricious Covid mandates, and boy that leaves all kinds of room for Doe’s biting satire – I’d love to see what Underhill has to say about “following the science,” which of course seems to change based on the latest polling results. 

It was a definite pleasure to read these two volumes of The Undertaker. I can only thank John Doe for sending them to me.  And he is currently working on a way to get the books out to a wider audience.  As mentioned above, Pernicious Books has become Tocsin Press (Pernicious Books was already taken, it turns out).  I think this is just as fitting a name, as tocsin is an archaic word meaning “an alarm bell or signal,” per the Oxford Dictionary.  Indeed, “a tocsin to warn of the danger of dictatorship.” John Doe has just set up a website: Tocsin Press.  There you will find listings for the two volumes of The well as another book by a different author.  Hopefully more titles will be listed soon, and John Doe is working out the mechanisms of ordering and payment.  His excellent copy on the site well sums up the aim of Tocsin Press, and gives one an idea of the similarly-gifted narrative style that graces the two volumes of The Undertaker.  Here's hoping there will be many more volumes to come!

Finally, here’s the back cover of Black Lives Murder:

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Mafia’s Virgin Daughter

The Mafia’s Virgin Daughter, by David Morgan
January, 1973  Dell Books

I picked up this paperback several years ago, under the impression it was a crime novel. However it turns out to be yet another of those sex-comedies Dell published in the early ‘70s, a la Black MagicMaking U-Hoo, and Sexual Strike Force. I should’ve figured this out earlier, given that it was a Dell PBO with the typical photo cover of those sleaze paperbacks. Also the title should’ve been a giveaway. And as it turns out The Mafia’s Virgin Daughter is of a piece (so to speak) with those other Dell sleaze paperbacks – it’s a mostly unfunny comedy with an adult overlay. It’s also a bit more explicit than some of those other Dell PBOs, many of which were pretty tame. It’s not, however, as explicit (or as good) as Send Photos/State Preferences

Author David Morgan dedicates The Mafia’s Virgin Daughter to George Wolk…an author who, under the pseudonym “Barney Parris,” wrote another of these Dell sleaze PBOs: Michelle, My Belle (as well as a followup, which I have but haven’t read). The book is copyright David Morgan, so I’m going to assume he is or was a real person. But then you can’t always rely on the copyright giving you the author’s real name. Anyway, Morgan’s novel is similar to Wolk’s in that it’s a light comedy with occasional hardcore sex. It’s also squarely set in the early ‘70s, with lots of groovy topical details. This extends to the sexual material as well; we learn that one of the women here proudly sports a ”thick bush.” Can’t get much more “1970s” than that! 

One thing this one has in common with Send Photos/State Preferences is that it’s told in first-person. Narrator Norman Robinson is apparently “young,” but we never get a good idea how young. He doesn’t seem to be a teenager like Michelle in Michelle, My Belle, as he has his own apartment in Manhattan. So I’m going to assume he must be in his early 20s. His age is often referenced in that the neighbor he’s screwing, sexy Malinda, is “much older” than him…yet later Norman tells us he assumes Malinda must be in her mid-30s. Otherwise all we learn of Norman is that he’s tall, dark, and handsome (by his own admission), and also must have a big dick. The latter Malinda particularly takes to. As with the other novels in this unofficial line, everything revolves around sex, and we meet Norman while he’s in bed with Malinda. But then someone starts banging on her door, even though it’s three in the morning. Norman imagines a bear out there, given the noise. Malinda shoos off the man – casually informing Norman that it’s just Ralph, her boyfriend – and then she and Norman get into some screwin’. 

I assume there must’ve been some editorial mandate that sex needed to happen frequently in these books. For throughout the novel, Norman will imagine having sex, in full page-filling explicit detail, when he isn’t engaging in the real thing. There’s also flashback boinkery, as we’re told of how Norman and Malinda first got down to it; they’d see each other periodically on the elevator, and Norman would conspire to be there at the same time every day to catch the lift with the sexy older chick. This ultimately led to Malinda inviting him into her pad for a drink, which as expected led to the two of them taking a shower to “cool off,” complete with thorough detail of Norman soaping up that “thick bush.” From there the two took up a totally ‘70s casual sex thing, but now trouble is in paradise because Norman has learned that Malinda actually has a boyfriend…and also as the novel progresses Norman will become convinced that the boyfriend, Ralph, is in the Mafia. 

The goofy farce nature dominates, as soon enough Malinda’s calling Norman over for dinner at her place…which Ralph will also be attending. She wants to introduce the two, and she also wants to set Norman up with Ralph’s 18 year-old daughter Lily. The titular “Mafia’s virgin daughter,” Lily turns out to be a frosty-natured beauty with “pointy breasts” (as opposed to Malinda’s, which are apparently gobsmacking huge). There’s a lot of bumbling “comedy” here, as the dinner turns into a farce, with Norman terrified of Ralph due to Norman’s suspicion the Italian man is in the Mafia. Of course all takes place in the days before one would be made to feel ashamed of racial profiling; when Norman goes to his cop cousin with his suspicions, he’s given microphones to stash around Ralph’s office to monitor his calls! 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After dinner Norman is encouraged to take Lily out. She continues to be frosty, treating him imperiously; it’s her certainty that Norman is an “escort” hired by her father. More goofy comedy ensues when they go to a movie that happens to be a Mafia picture. But Norman’s had enough, and at the end of the date basically tells Lily to go to hell. This of course serves to make her all hot and horny for our narrator; she gives him a kiss and tells him she loves him. Surprisingly there’s no boinkery, but we do get an XXX fantasy in which Norman does Malinda…who appears to be the real object of his desire throughout the novel. Due to his daughter’s sudden fondness for Norman, Ralph hooks him up with a job…more banality ensues as Norman keeps going into the office and wondering what to do, given that Ralph’s in Chicago “on business.” So Norman occupies himself by staring at the massive boobs of Ralph’s secretary; one must assume they’re even bigger than Malinda’s. 

At 222 pages, The Mafia’s Virgin Daughter is much too long, as Morgan has to resort to page-filling throughout. Most egregious is a sequence in which Norman sneaks into Ralph’s office one night to plant microphones, but ends up getting caught by the cops. He’s arrested and taken downtown to be booked. I did get a chuckle out of him telling the cops his name was “John Doe,” but other than that the entire sequence was a time waster. It’s really just a bunch of bumbling escapades that make up the plot, such as it is, with Norman making one fumble after another while trying to get evidence that Ralph’s in the Mafia. But at least things pick up, so to speak, when he goes back to his place for some long-delayed shenanigans with Malinda: 

Oh yeah, I should mention here that Malinda has this quirk in which she ensures that she, uh, gets every last drop. I mean: 

Malinda does the same thing in their initial sex scene. Either David Morgan thinks this is hot, or our narrator Norman is just na├»ve – because you’ve gotta suspect when a woman is trying to get “every last drop” she might have some ulterior motives (ie, Norman Junior). But anyway, as these excerpts demonstrate, The Mafia’s Virgin Daughter is indeed pretty explicit, more so than the average novel in this unofficial Dell line. And speaking of the titular virgin, Lily, she doesn’t stay one for long. Actually, she isn’t even a virgin at all, she just pretends to be a virginal princess for her overbearing father. Norman ends up giving it to her when the entire group absconds to Ralph’s upstate cabin for a vacation:

Even the finale follows through with the lame comedy setup. Norman never does find out whether Ralph’s really Mafia…and the novel ends on a joke, but really it could’ve been the sleaziest sequence yet, as both Malinda and Lily separately call Norman and tell him they’re heading up to his apartment for some good lovin’. But Robinson ends the novel here on the joke, with Norman again afraid he’s about to get in serious troube if Ralph finds out. I know I reviewed a novel on here some years ago that had a similar ending, but I can’t recall the title. 

All of which is to say The Mafia’s Virgin Daughter was pretty lame, only saved by the occasional super-explict (and super-‘70s) sex scenes.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Dragon Rising (The Year Of The Ninja Master #1)

Dragon Rising, by Wade Barker
January, 1985  Warner Books

It’s not noted on the cover or in the book, but this is actually the first volume of The Year Of The Ninja Master. The first page does state that this is “The Year Of The Ninja Master: Spring,” so I guess Warner was using seasons instead of numbers to differentiate the volumes of the series. At any rate this is the followup series to Ninja Master, with Ric Meyers serving as “Wade Barker” for the entire four-volume series (as well as the four-volume series that followed this one, War Of The Ninja Master). 

Dragon Rising takes place “two years, almost to the day” after the final installment of Ninja MasterOnly The Good Die. Meyers refers to that volume, as well as many other volumes of Ninja Master, throughout this novel, so it would certainly help to have read that earlier series before reading this book. Curiously though Warner Books makes no mention of Ninja Master on the cover or back cover, etc. The title on the back cover states that “Brett Wallace is the Ninja Master,” but otherwise there’s no mention that hey, this is a sequel to an eight-volume series we published a few years ago. Also the publisher has clearly packaged this sequel series differently; gone are the action-focused cover paintings of Ninja Master, replaced with a fairly generic “ninja silhouette” cover theme by Gene Light. Also this novel is a good hundred pages longer than those earlier books; each volume of The Year Of The Ninja Master and War Of The Ninja Master comes in around 280 pages. The print’s pretty big, though, so we aren’t exactly talking a Russian epic here. My take from this is that Warner was trying to cater more so to readers of Eric Lustbader’s The Ninja than to readers of, say, The Executioner

However Dragon Rising makes for a pretty frustrating read for anyone who enjoyed Ninja Master, as the “heroes” of that previous series spend the entire friggin’ novel trying to kill each other. The close-knit group who took on scumbag psycho killers in the earlier books are now mortal enemies; Brett “Ninja Master” Wallace has become a psychopath, his student Jeff Archer has been cast adrift, Brett’s gal Rhea is now a spurned woman who cries all the time, and cook Hama is revealed to be a “judge” whose job is to monitor Brett for the ninja family that trained him…and to kill Brett for dishonoring the family. I don’t remember anything about Hama from the other volumes, but he did feature prominently in Only The Good Die, so my assumption is Meyers used that final volume as his springboard for The Year Of The Ninja Master. Because as it turns out, the events of that final volume – which featured Brett and team taking on a trio of vigilantes who were killing innocents in addition to criminals – really messed up hero Brett Wallace. 

Now he is plagued with nightmares, in which he sees himself shooting the lawyer who was the boss of those vigilantes. There’s a definite horror vibe to this novel, with lots of visions and nightmares, and even a metaphysical bent that becomes more prominent. There’s even a veritable cockroach attack in the final pages, not to mention the appearance of the Aztec lord of the dead. But then a very dark vibe permeates the book. This is not a fun read by any means. Our heroes from that earlier series are truly messed up now; fighting their own demons in between fighting each other. Jeff Archer takes the brunt of it, riddled with a disease called “Huter’s chorea” which causes him to go into frequent seizures in which he is reduced to rolling around on the floor while he spouts gibberish and pisses and shits himself. Oh and there’s no cure…he’ll just get worse and worse and then lose his mind. So it’s like Meyers was just really in a bad mood when he wrote this one and decided to take it out on the characters. 

And they really do try to kill each other throughout the novel. Hama and Rhea will try to kill Archer (as Meyers refers to Jeff, so I’ll start doing the same) even when he’s in the hospital…there’s a part where Hama’s about to chop Archer’s head off even when Archer is convulsing on the floor (once again shitting himself…there’s even more of a “shit your pants” fetish here than the average William Crawford novel). And meanwhile Brett Wallace has become a terse cipher who realizes he enjoys killing and getting away with it. It’s like the characters have nothing in common with their earlier incarnations. Hama here is a stubborn defender of the clan, and also it’s revealed that he and Archer basically hate each other…this before the developments of the plot cause them to start trying to kill each other. Rhea meanwhile is also affected; established as a ninja babe in the earlier books, here she basically does nothing but cry over Brett…or help Hama try to kill Archer. But then, Meyers has never seemed to know what to do with Rhea. He seems to prefer female characters who are tied up and subjugated (as Rhea herself was in the final volume of the earlier series), and it’s kind of hard to do that when the female character in question is supposed to be a “born ninja.” So Meyers basically just keeps Rhea off-page so he doesn’t have to deal with a strong female character. For this volume, at least. 

I mentioned in my review of Only The Good Die that the finale was a bit off-putting, as it featured Brett Wallace torturing one of his enemies to death. Again Meyers has used this as a springboard, as we learn that Brett was very affected by his encounter with the Gun Club (ie the trio of vigilantes), given that he realized their modus operandi wasn’t much different from his own. We’re to understand that Brett’s increasing sense of loss over this has led to a rift in the “Wallace school,” with the four characters now opposed. Ultimately we’ll learn that the breakdown is this: Brett himself has embraced his dark side, uncaring how his former friends feel about it; Archer has been cast aside, loyal to his sensei Brett, but shut out by him; Rhea too has been shut out by Brett (we learn that Brett told Rhea to stop sleeping with him months ago!); and Hama has resolved to “judge” Brett for dishonoring the clan and thus execute him. Rhea will go along with this, given that she was born into this clan and represents it just as Hama does. 

The only part in the novel that seems reminiscent of Ninja Master is a fun early sequence where Brett, dressed up like a gas station attendant, pulls off a daring dayling hit on a mobster. As ever Meyers excels in featuring unexpected weapons; Brett makes his kill with a sharpened credit card, which he hurls like a throwing star. But even here the darkness descends; Brett makes his escape in a sewer tunnel, chased by a pair of Mafia goons, and kills them sadistically. But when one of them starts crying in fear as he dies, Brett realizes what he has become. There is a surreal texture to the entire novel; this sequence climaxes with Brett wandering around a desolate part of San Francisco, where he randomly comes across a pedophile about to rape a little girl. Brett almost casually kills the guy…and then wonders if he imagined the whole thing. After this he realizes that he has become a “magnet;” it was a million to one chance that he would come across a pedophile in action, so Brett reflects that now sick people find him so as to be killed. 

After this though the novel becomes a steady beating in which Archer becomes the main protagonist and goes through various levels of hell. This starts in another off-putting sequence where Rhea, Hama, and Archer finally put aside their hatred of one another to confront Brett in his dojo. There they find the Ninja Master waiting for them in full ninja gi, complete with black goggles hiding his eyes – and he immediately goes on the attack. Like literally trying to kill them. Rhea in particular he seems to relish in beating unmerciful, and trying to kill her even when he’s in the middle of combat with Hama or Archer. Curiously though, he keeps using Chinese styles, which is odd for a man trained in Japanese ninjutsu. Just when the reader can’t take anymore of this, the real Brett Wallace magically appears – turns out it wasn’t him in that ninja gi – and fights to defend his former friends. It all ends with everyone practically dead, Brett and the fake Brett taking off, and the dojo burning down. 

The narrative picks up eight months later and Archer’s in a special hospital or somesuch, and we learn that it’s been a hard road to recovery for him. Plus he finds out he’s contracted the apparently-fictitious Hunter’s chorea. The cop who appeared in Ninja Master #6 interrogates Archer, trying to pin the dojo fire and “deaths” of Hama and Rhea on him…and then meanwhile the real Hama and Rhea show up in Archer’s room that night and try to kill Archer. Man, it’s a real beating to read as these former friends try to kill each other. As mentioned, Hama even prepares to chop off Archer’s head when Archer goes into one of his pissing-and-shitting-his-pants seizures. But Archer manages to convince the two to let him go, as he claims to know where Brett Wallace is. 

Here Archer becomes the main protagonist of the novel. And here too I picked up some bad flashbacks to the latter volumes of Jason Striker; a South American setting, ninjas, amnesia, mysticism (complete with visions of Aztec gods), and more shit-yourself escapades. (Shitscapades?) Archer goes through Mexico and on down into South America, at this point the novel becoming a travelogue. The chorea attacks him in waves, and there’s lots of stuff of him abruptly drooling on the floor as he, you guessed it, pisses and shits his pants. Curiously Meyers never notes that Archer washes his pants afterwards, but whatever. At length Archer finally reaches his destination: El Salvador, where Archer has figured out that Brett Wallace might be located. 

At this point the “ninja” stuff has been lost and it’s as if we’re reading the average ‘80s action novel; it’s all about Contras and Sandanistas and guys with M16s wearing camo. Archer runs afoul of various rebel groups and whatnot, at one point nearly dying (while suffering yet another shit-himself “spaz out,” naturally), and he comes to amid a pile of corpses. Eventually he stumbles upon another group of rebels – and among them is a white man with sandy hair and dead eyes who is none other than Brett Wallace. Yet we readers know that Brett Wallace is no more; something Ric Meyers dwells on, which I’d forgotten, is that Ninja Master #1 (which wasn’t even written by Meyers) established that “Brett Wallace” was originally named Brian Williams. This was his birth name, and he only became Brett Wallace after returning to the US as a ninja to gain vengeance. As such, Brett Wallace was just another disguise, and it’s now been dropped. 

The former Brett Wallace now refers to himself as “Daremo” (and presumably will for the rest of this series and the next). This is Japanese for “Nobody.” Archer learns this when the American commando working with the rebels informs him that “the new guy,” ie Brett, is named “Dare Moe.” However there’s a problem with this. I studied Japanese in high school and spent a semester of college in Japan, and while I’ve forgotten a lot of the language I still know Japanese pronunciation. Daremo is pronounced “daahrey mo.” There’s absolutely no way an English speaker could mishear “daahrey” as the English word “dare.” And yet this American commando, Frank Bender, states that the new guy’s first name is Dare. Anyway this is a minor quibble – I mean we’re talking about a surreal ninja yarn – but it still bugged me. 

Even here though there is no emotional reunion between student and sensei. Daremo is a cipher, and doesn’t even seen touched that Archer has traveled all the way to El Salvador to find him. Hell, Daremo doesn’t even seem much bothered by the whole Hunter’s chorea thing. There’s even more ‘80s-style action combat here, as Daremo, Archer, and Bender get in various firefights. Also the mysticism becomes more pronounced, with Archer stating that he and Daremo “share the same nightmare.” In fact Archer suspects that the Hunter’s chorea was intended for Daremo, but Archer got it instead. The two will occasionally go into seizures, victims of metaphysical psychic attacks. And also Daremo is determined to find an ancient Aztec temple called Milarepa, where he thinks he will find the answers to what is going on. 

There is a horror element to Dragon Rising, particularly in the last quarter. After surviving several hellish battles, Daremo and Archer arrive in the remote Milarepa location. Meyers delivers memorable horror-esque moments here, like terrorists in hoods and infrared goggles hiding beneath cockroaches, and coming out from under them with AK-47s blasting. There’s also a creepy bit where the two ninja heroes must wade through a tunnel of cockroaches. Milarepa is this hellish place where terrorists, led by a white man and woman, use sound wave technology to brainwash and train recruits. Lots of splatterhouse-type stuff here, with people being ripped apart and tortured and whatnot, and meanwhile Archer gets laid by the lady in charge of the operation. But it’s more repugnant than sleazy (plus Meyers doesn’t elaborate on it at all), with the girl smiling afterwards, “I’ll think of you during the abortion.” 

The horror vibe gets stronger as Daremo and Archer, inspired by yet more Aztec god visions, hack and slash their way to freedom. Despite all the violence, though, this isn’t a very gory novel, as Meyers usually doesn’t get into the grisly details. Instead he peppers the action narrative with a lot of martial arts terminology. Given that we’re at the end of the novel, Rhea and Hama magically appear, having tracked Archer here…and so too appears the mysterious “fake Brett” ninja from earlier in the novel. After another battle between him and Daremo, the ninja escapes – the representative of a Chinese clan that has vowed to destroy the “Brett Wallace family.” Apparently the gist here is that all the festering bad blood among Daremo, Archer, Rhea, and Hama has been due to the psychic attacks from these Chinese ninja, or something. 

At novel’s end Daremo feels reborn, though there is absolutely nothing redemptive for him in the climax, at least nothing the reader experiences vicariously through the narrative. All of his former friends are out cold: Rhea and Hama knocked out during the melee, and Archer again suffering from his various medical misfortunes. The chief priest of Milarepa however claims that he can cure Archer, though Archer will need to stay at the temple for quite some time. Presumably Archer, Hama, and Rhea will return to the series at some point, but so far as Daremo’s concerned it’s so long to the old crew, and he rushes off to his new destiny alone. We’re informed that the season of “Summer” has now begun, which wouldn’t you know it is the subtitle of the following volume. 

I continue to struggle with Ric Meyers’s narrative style. He creates effective imagery, but at the same time doesn’t properly exploit it. At times the novel almost comes off like a screenplay, with little insight into the motivations or reactions of the various characters. It’s basically a lot of flat declarative sentences with little emotional content. And also Meyers still POV-hops like crazy, going in and out of various character perspectives with zero warning. What I mean to say is, no line breaks or anything to let the reader know that we’re suddenly in someone else’s thoughts. Actually as I read Dragon Rising it occurred to me that what I dislike about Meyers’s style is that he seems to write with the assumption that the reader knows what he is thinking; there isn’t much attempt at bringing anything to life or explaining anything, so that we readers feel we are missing out on a portion of the story. 

Overall this one was cool if you like ‘80s ninja action mixed with splatterpunk horror, but the outline-esque writing style kind of ruined it for me, and the storyline of these former friends trying to kill each other left the bitter-sour taste of defeat in my mouth.

Monday, April 18, 2022

SOBs #5: Gulag War

SOBs #5: Gulag War, by Jack Hild
March, 1985  Gold Eagle

Alan Philipson turns in a fast-moving installment of SOBs that’s basically the setup for the next volume. It would probably be best to read these two novels back to back, but I read that fifth installment years ago so my memories of it are few. I do remember feeling like I was missing out on a large part of the story, but at the time it was the only volume of the series I had. (I later got the entire series for a pittance…like ten bucks or something.) And no wonder I felt like I was missing out on a large part of the story, because this fifth volume has all the material I was missing out on. In reality the two volumes really just tell one long story. 

What I found even more interesting is that Philipson is at pains to spoof the genre this time. There are a few mockings of The Executioner throughout the book. First, redheaded Liam O’Toole, the warrior poet of the group, has a meeting with a publisher in New York. O’Toole thinks it’s because they want to print some of his poetry, but in reality it’s so the publisher can introduce him to the author of the “adventure for men” series The Obliterator. In his designer military boots and with his artificial tough guy appearance, author Malcolm Strangways is intended as a spoof, but surely not of Don Pendleton. I got more the impression of someone like Mark Roberts. O’Toole makes fun of one of the novels – pointing out an incorrect firearm detail on the cover and also mocking some of the narrative. He ridicules the entire action-adventure genre – and the people who write it – and leaves, turning the publisher down cold. And later in the novel, another character jokes that he learned about something “from a paperback.” Anyway, I found this genre-spoofing kind of interesting, as it’s very out of line with the average Gold Eagle publication. 

But then, SOBs itself is unusual so far as Gold Eagle goes. As I mentioned before, it’s too bad I didn’t read the series as a kid, even though I dutifully collected it (which was easy, as I’d get a copy every other month as part of the Gold Eagle Reader Service). I’m not sure I would have appreciated it, as the series is more carefully constructed than most, with more of a focus on characterization and world-building. And as mentioned there’s also a subtle underlay of satire. But then, none of the characters here have the memorable spark of the guys in Able Team or Phoenix Force; indeed, it’s kind of hard to tell the SOBs apart, and also there seems to be a new guy every volume. This obviously gives the series a bit more suspense than those other Gold Eagle series, as it means the characters are more expendable than the recurring heroes of those other Gold Eagle series. 

Another thing I get about SOBs is that each novel mostly seems to be setup. While there is occasional action, for the most part these books are more about establishing the situation, assembling the team for this particular mission, and then carrying out the mission in the final quarter. So there’s a bit more plotting than the genre average. I also get a bit of a ‘70s vibe from the books, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just because there seems to be a general rebellious vibe to the series, and it’s likely the subtle genre spoofing that’s making me get the impression. Or perhaps I’m just imagining things. There’s also a bit more continuity than the typical Gold Eagle books of the era; there’s this senator who has a grudge against the SOBs, particularly after being paralyzed below the waist after the climactic events of the previous volume. Indeed it is he who tasks SOBs handler Wakler Jessup with this latest mission, which is practically suicidal. 

And speaking of plotting, Gulag War is so complexly plotted that I couldn’t really fathom what the setup was. Basically it’s a two-pronged mission in which the SOBs are supposed to venture into Siberia and spring an imprisoned Russian scientist, Leonov, from a gulag. But at the same time another group of SOBs will sell a bogus tank mainframe to GRU representatives, trying to use the GRU-KGB rivalry to get themselves into Russia. If I understand it all correctly, the SOBs plan to fool the GRU into thinking they are getting this newfangled tank mainframe gadget, and in exchange the GRU will give the SOBs safe passage to Siberia. Or something! But the gist of it is that head SOB Nile Barrabas plans to swindle the GRU and escape them in Siberia, free Leonov from the gulag, and escape to safety. 

Central to this plan is a “bush pilot” with the memorable name Chank Dayo; he is the newest SOB, and has gotten the gig from Billy Two, the American Indian SOB who stars in the next volume. Dayo is an Eskimo, and also has a pet bear. I can’t even remember much about him from the next volume, but Philipson again doles out some subtle genre spoofery with Dayo telling Billy Two that he, Dayo, is certain he’s going to die on this mission. This to me seems like Philipson perhaps making fun of how all the new guys die. Otherwise Dayo doesn’t contribute much to the tale, and indeed the entire premise of his intro is rendered moot when the SOBs do get to Siberia…and the one plane available is of a type Dayo has no familiarity with. So they have to kidnap a Soviet pilot and have him give Dayo some on-the-job training. 

As with previous volumes, a good portion of the opening half is devoted to setting up the various characters and getting us into their everyday lives. There’s also time-wasting stuff about Leonov’s miserable lot in the Siberian gulag. As ever the book is too long; it seems that a gimmick with SOBs is that the books were around 220 pages long, which is a bit longer than the average and again is a measure of how they were more devoted to plot than action. We also get stuff on the peripheral figures in the world of the SOBs, ie the guys who don’t even go on the missions, like obese Walker Jessup and the Dutch siblings who are part of Barrabas’s life – the Dutch guy who runs the rock club in Amsterdam and the Dutch guy’s sister who is in love with Barrabas. (Obviously I failed to note their names.) I recall both playing a part in the ensuing volume. 

The first real action scene is tied in with the belabored plot; in Rio, SOBs Claude and Nanos set up the trade with the GRU, and then get in a running gunfight with State Department agents. Nanos has to reconcile with the fact that he’ll be killing American agents, but this is settled for him when they start shooting at him. One hallmark SOBs shares with the overall Gold Eagle line is a healthy disrespect for the American intelligence agencies, in particular the CIA, which is consistently portrayed as a nefarious shadow agency in most all Gold Eagle novels. But I found this negative portrayal of the State Department interesting from a modern-day perspective. Otherwise this is it for Claude and Nanos in the novel; they hand over the mainframe and get in a long fight with State Dept. agents, and meanwhile a separate faction of SOBs take on the second half of the mission. 

This portion takes up the majority of the narrative. The team who handles this greater-risk assignment is Barrabas himself, super-hot brunette Dr. Lee Hatton, Liam O’Toole, Billy Two, Chank Dayo, and Nate Beck (the computer guy). Again it’s more on the suspense tip as they fly to Moscow, and then with a GRU escort they head on to Siberia. Here we meet Baladin, the sadistic GRU boss who factors prominently in the next volume, given that he’s out for revenge for what happens to him here. Actually the reader would have no idea Baladin even survives this volume; last we see of him, Lee Hatton has literally ripped Baladin’s balls off (even stuffing them in his pocket!) and has left him for dead. This leads to yet another Executioner piss-take, when Lee sneers to Baladin, “Stay hard, guy.” I seem to recall “Stay hard” was a Bolan maxim (despite the juvenile way I’ve always interpreted the phrase), and in fact it might have even been on a bumper sticker Gold Eagle included as part of the Reader Service. (Or maybe it was “Live large?”) 

At any rate, the SOBs are pretty ruthless here. Lee deals with Baladin so cruelly because he not only gave her a thorough (and off-page) body cavity search, but also because he tried to force himself on her – something he boasts of doing to many other women. Lee’s emasculation is not only revenge for herself but for the other women Baladin hurt. However her attack sets off a veritable massacre of the other GRU; the SOBs kill several of them in their sleep, slitting throats and shooting them dead. “Killing commies with commie bullets,” as Billy Two puts it. The GRU murdered, our heroes commandeer the sole plane here and take it to the gulag, where they intend to save Leonov. We get a bit of a Rambo II prefigure when they end up rescuring even more emaciated, half-dead prisoners. 

As readers of the series know, Billy Two is pretty much the star of the next volume, which details his escape from the Soviets. Interestingly the SOBs think Billy is dead; he’s separated in the action to free Leonov, and the group sees him hit the ground while being shot at. Dr. Lee even gives her expert opinion that Billy’s dead – though she can only see his “corpse” off in the distance. Readers learn though at novel’s end that Billy has survived, the prisoner of Russians who intend to drug him. Also, Barrabas realizes the entire mission was a waste, as Leonov has been rendered a nutcase, spouting nothing but gibberish on TV. 

Another new gimmick added to the series is a running gag on how much of an “s.o.b.” author Jack Hild is himself. Gulag War closes with two facetious “letters from readers” on the fictitious Hild…fake letters from fake readers about the fake author, which is about as postmodern as this imprint ever got:

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Hitler's Legacy

Hitler's Legacy, by David Alexander
June, 1989  Leisure Books

While he was writing Phoenix and Z-CommDavid Alexander also published this one-shot paperback original, which is one of the most deceptively thick books I’ve ever seen. Even though it’s 281 pages long, the print is super large and the novel’s really about the length of the average men’s adventure novel. I guess Leisure just wanted to push it as a “real novel” for the crowd who likes those extra-long suspense thrillers. Maybe they were going for the Tom Clancy audience, who knows. But Hitler’s Legacy instead comes off like the first volume of an action series that never was. 

At first I was hoping this would be David Alexander’s take on Dirty Harry, as the protagonist is a cop “with a chip on his shoulder.” But the cop setup is barely explored, and in reality protagonist Matthew Kells is a highly-experienced commando who was in various special forces, worked for the CIA, and only recently became a cop in New York so as to “give back to the community.” He has little in common with Dirty Harry or even Joe Ryker; this is not a police procedural, and in fact Kells acts more like your standard action-series hero, even wielding the same machine gun as Magnus Trench in Phoenix (a Minimi). The Alexander novel Hitler’s Legacy most reminds me of is Nomad #1, with the same pseudo-James Bond setup, lots of globetrotting, and an endless supply of international terrorists for our hero to kill. 

Actually, there’s less of an action onslaught in Hitler’s Legacy than in that first Nomad installment. It seems that David Alexander was trying to rein it in a bit; even the gore isn’t nearly as spectacular as Phoenix, and all the sex is off-page. So maybe this really was an attempt at a suspense-thriller type of mainstream novel, one that features a reborn Nazi menace as the threat. And Alexander spends more time scene-setting than he does in one of his series novels. The situation begins with a series of murders across the globe; the victims are all old German men. The mystery moves to America when a group of terrorists open fire at the Times Square subway station, mowing down a horde of innocents – and apparently using the massacre to mask the fact that their real target is yet another old German man. 

Meanwhile hero cop Matthew Kells isn’t even active on the force; he’s been put on unpaid suspension due to blowing away a rapist. Even though the rapist had just murdered someone and was coming after Kells, it doesn’t matter – the usual goddamn liberal lawyers got him off and the Internal Affairs guys managed to get Kells suspended. When we meet him he’s working on some stockyard or somesuch, and gets in a fight with some thug. Alexander uses a crude tone throughout the novel, with Kells delivering R-rated retorts. In fact it’s pretty easy to see someone like Bruce Willis in the role, and what with the globe-spanning action and frequent one-liners you get the feeling that Alexander is writing the novelization of a movie that never was. 

Due to his convoluted backstory Kells has some serious anti-terrorism experience, and thus he’s called in by his chief to look into the Times Square Massacre. The NYPD Anti-Terrorism squad is mostly staffed with guys who have only studied terrorism, and have no first-hand experience with it. Kells is needed due to his expertise, even if he’s been suspended. Within a few hours of studying the crime scene photos, Kells deduces that the “terrorists” pulled off the massacre as a cover for an assassination, and the old man was their real target. He breaks into the dead man’s apartment and finds an old photo of Nazis, with a cryptic message written on it. Gradually Kells will learn that the old man was part of a special Nazi squad that was active in the last days of the war. 

At this point the cop setup is dropped. Kells is sent over to Europe as a “representative” of the NYPD, not even carrying a gun. But of course he has no problem arming himself, giving his familiarity with the territory and the various gun-runners who operate there. He also suddenly gets a partner: Sidney, a smokin’ hot blonde who has intelligence-world connections and will serve as Kells’s partner (and occasional bedmate) for the rest of the novel. This further lends Hitler’s Legacy a proto-Nomad vibe, as I recall the hero of that novel jet-setting around Europe with his own beautiful babe in tow. However as mentioned Alexander keeps all the sex off-page; even an earlier scene, where Kells manages to score with a bar floozy, is an immediate fade to black. Again it gives the impression that he was writing the book with more of a mainstream market in mind. 

There’s no sleaze, but Alexander does use the term “fellatrix” to describe that bar floozy. This made me chuckle, as the only other time I’ve seen that word was in Richard Blade #1, by one of my favorite writers, Manning Lee Stokes. It’s a rather highfalutin word that describes a woman who has superior oral skills. Alexander’s usage of the term really threw me for a loop, as it’s not in his usual style. It’s a fun word, and one I think we should see a whole lot more often. Otherwise Alexander keeps the exploitative stuff to a minimum, barely even describing Sidney’s apparently-incredible bod. Instead, the crudity is in the tone of the narrative itself; Alexander peppers his word-painting with coarse, off-hand comments, a la “…the hands of the French were as dirty as a well-digger’s asshole.” That doesn’t even make any sense, but it certainly paints a picture. 

Kells and Sidney venture around Europe, tracking down leads. The story eventually unfolds that these old men being assassinated were part of a last-ditch Nazi gambit, and “Bloodstar” is the name of the mission they were on. Kells will soon learn that the mission never ended; Bloodstar was planned as an endless series of terrorist attacks and assassinations to keep the Nazi flame burning. He’ll even learn that “the murder of the Kennedy brothers” was a Bloodstar initiative. Kells will also learn that the CIA has well been aware of this Nazi menace, and indeed has been working right alongside it. Kells has a few run-ins with the Agency, and at one point even gets captured by them…a bit that’s very men’s adventure-esque, as despite being chained and beaten Kells is still able to get the drop on his tormentors, appropriating a gun. 

Even Kells’s arsenal is straight out of men’s adventure. Through his underworld contacts in Zurich he gets himself a Mini-Uzi, a Beretta 93R (favored by Mack Bolan around this time), and a SPAS-15 auto shotgun. He engages in frequent firefights, and his main nemesis in the novel is a blond giant with the codename Polaris. Giving the book even more of a “novelization of a film that never was” vibe, Polaris clearly seems to be inspired by Dolph Lundgren. Alexander’s Phoenix novels were filled with outlandish gore, but the gunfights here are mostly bloodless. Speaking of Mack Bolan, I just realized that the entire plot of Hitler’s Legacy, which concerns an old Nazi menace that still has repercussions today (complete with an entire neo-Nazi army), is very similar to Gerald Montgomery’s COMCON trilogy…only that later Executioner series was more in the vein of men’s adventure pulp, with superpowered soldiers and demons(!). 

But as mentioned Alexander gets closer to the vibe of men’s adventure himself as the novel gets into the final quarter. Here in the climax Kells finds himself in a Bavarian castle; it’s the headquarters of this neo-Nazi movement, and Kells gets hold of that Minimi machine gun and raises hell. There are also various revelations around who is really on Kells’s side and who is his enemy. The (uncredited) cover depicts the White House with Hitler’s crazy eyes overtop it; Kells discovers by novel’s end that the upper levels of the US government might be aligned with this Nazi menace. In the climax Kells pulls a disappearing trick – even disappearing from the narrative itself, a la Tyrone Slothrop in Gravity’s Rainbow – to hide from the US government. (Maybe Kells should go to Switzerland!) 

The following year Alexander published another thick paperback original with Leisure: Angel Of Death. It too has a “Nazis in the modern day” plot, but I’m too lazy to check my copy to see if it’s a sequel to Hitler’s Legacy. I guess I’ll find out someday.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Undertaker: Death Transition (The Undertaker #1)

The Undertaker: Death Transition, by John Doe
“January, 1968”  Pernicious Books

Over the years I’ve gotten frequent emails from people asking me if I’d be interested in reviewing their book; in most cases the novel in question is a modern thriller and usually it’s an ebook. That’s cool, and I would never want to dash the dreams of a writer, but I’ve got my own ebooks I never mention on the blog. This first volume of The Undertaker however is a completely different thing. Not only is it inspired by vintage men’s adventure novels, but it is an exact replica of them, from the physical dimensions of the book, to the length (187 big-print pages), to the feel of the pulpy paper it’s printed on. There’s even a pseudo-“More to come” advertisement page at the back of the book! Indeed, the vibe I got when I received this book was that someone had invented a time machine, gone back to 1974 or thereabouts, and grabbed a paperback off the rack in a bus station. I’ve put together quite a collection of vintage paperbacks, but this is the first time I’ve ever gotten the impression of what one of them looked like when they were brand new. 

So, just to clarify from the outset, this review will be unusual in that Death Transition is not a novel you can find on Amazon or Abebooks or etc. (Yet?) Only a few copies of Death Transition exist, and my copy was a gift to me from the auhtor, John Doe, who in fact wasn’t even certain he wanted me to review the novel on the blog. But I just had to; this is a necessary book, and series protagonist The Undertaker is the hero we need in today’s crazy world. My only hope is that this review generates enough interest that Pernicious Books becomes a real thing, with a website where you can order this initial novel and the ensuing volumes… 

So far there is only one other volume, and author John Doe kindly sent me a copy of it, too. In an email he mentioned to me that the books are “supposed to be satirical. But, in today’s climate…well, there’s no such thing as satire.” Mr. Doe also told me that his inspiration for the series was The Destroyer, and this is quite evident throughout Death Transition. Thankfully not in the spoofy, overly-satirical vibe of that series, but in the madcap, almost surreal nature of the events. But the big difference here is that no matter how satirical things get in Death Transition, the events are still serious to the characters themselves. My main problem with The Destroyer has always been that everything in those books seems like a joke, with neither the authors nor the characters taking anything seriously. Things are deadly serious in Death Transition, but the situations and supporting characters are so over-the-top that it all feels like a natural successor to something like Last War Dance

There’s no number in the title, but this is the first volume of The Undertaker. You will not find an origin story here, however. Indeed the titular Undertaker does not make his actual appearance until late in the novel. And also I’m bummed to inform you that the cover is more symbolic than literal; at least in this first volume, The Undertaker does not wear a skull mask, a la some newfangled pulp hero. He is a master of disguise, though, and John Doe capably builds the character up so that he is very believable. But then, Doe proves himself to be a fine writer throughout the book; even the pseudonym he’s given himself for this series is apropos, in that “John Doe” is the generic name for an unidentified male corpse. This lends the entire affair a metatextual vibe, as the titular Undertaker is literally…an undertaker. One who is more comfortable around corpses than he is in the world of the living. 

Another thing that gives this series a unique spin on classic men’s adventure novels is that The Undertaker isn’t devoted to taking on the Mafia or terrorists or the like: instead, he is devoted to destroying the woke mob. Whereas vintage mob-busters like Mack Bolan or Ben Martin got their start due to some personal loss, The Undertaker has become enraged at the maddened state of the world and the woke ideology that has gotten us here. I’ve frequently mentioned a site I enjoy: Ace Of Spades HQ. While the site might be given the dreaded “alt-right” tag, in reality it’s a sort of commentary on the insanity of today, using actual news stories as evidence. If the Ace of Spades website was a novel, it would be Death Transition. Even the mordant sense of humor is the same. I mean if you can’t laugh at the collapse of Western civilization, what can you laugh at?  But if you only read one post at that site, make it this one, as it is very related to the plot of Death Transition

The copyright page facetiously states “January 1968” as the publication date, but this is just part of the “vintage” schtick that extends to the entire paperback; in reality, Death Transition takes place in October of 2021. The majority of it takes place on the specific date of October 30th; Doe plays interesting tricks with time, jumping around to various times on this particular day. We are in the height of the Covid era, with masks being virtuously worn by the woke and “social distancing” practiced even at funerals. Which is how the novel opens, and in fact is how I knew I was going to love this book. Because folks never in my life did I think I’d ever read an opening chapter that takes place at a child’s funeral…and find myself laughing. Within a few pages I already knew that John Doe had written the book I needed to read in these shitty times, with a poor little girl dead and the mourning “parents” at her funeral more concerned about people keeping their masks on. It became even more darkly humorous when the information was gradually revealed that the dead child had committed suicide…and also that “she” had been born a boy. And her mourning parents were really a pair of lesbians. 

In his email John Doe told me that Death Transition was “horribly homophobic…that’s the entire theme, in fact.” And boy does he carry this theme through to hilarious extent. This is almost the equivalent of Boy Wonder in how a gifted author displays his savage humor, without any apology. No doubt Death Transition would offend many…and yet at the same time, the virtues our hero The Undertaker espouses were considered common decency at one time. But we live in clown world now, where down is up and right is wrong…where everything once considered indecent is championed. And thanks to the cancel culture that is part and parcel of this woke revolution, a person can’t even voice his opinon unless it is completely aligned with the approved messaging. 

The plot of the novel seems to be inspired by the real-world case of a man here in Texas who has been fighting against his ex over possession of his son. And again it’s a matter of where you get your news from that will determine how you understand the story. The mainstream outlets will tell you that the father constantly “misgenders” his son…who is being transitioned into a girl, which is what the father is fighting against. What makes the story even crazier is that it’s not even the child’s biological mother who is pushing for the transition. There’s more to the story, and I admit I haven’t fully researched it (you can read about it here...and, uh, get a glimpse of the opposing party), but I know enough to guess that Death Transition is inspired by it. With one small change: the poor child is dead at novel’s opening. But when the corpse is taken to the Milton Funeral Home, the killings begin…the killings of anyone who played a part in the child’s transition. 

This is the setup, but Death Transition is more of a police procedural, in that we are brought into the madness via a new recruit on the Milton County Sheriff’s Department: Deputy Ivan Gore. Recently moved from his native Georgia to the never-named state in which the novel is set, Gore is a 27 year-old married man who starts the novel as a concerned cop but ends it as a guy who wonders what has happened to the world…and whether The Undertaker is a murderer or a hero. If the Destroyer parallel plays out in future volumes, then Gore will certainly be the Remo to The Undertaker’s Chiun; author John Doe craftily weaves his theme into the backround, with Gore’s family having run a funeral home in Georgia. This all is masterfully played out in a dialog exchange toward the end of the novel; Gore only has one face-to-face meeting with The Undertaker, at novel’s end, but it definitely creates anticipation for their next meeting. 

Gore is called to the scene of the first killing, in which the lesbian parents have been murdered…and mutilated. Gore and his colleague, a redhead named Harris, inspect the scene with mounting revulsion; the two female corpses have been posthumously “transitioned” themselves, with hacked-off bodyparts being used as sexual appendages. It’s so horrific that Harris pukes – a recurring joke, as he pukes again at the next gory crime scene. John Doe definitely has a knack for memorable characters; there’s also Gore’s boss, boisterous Sheriff Bullard, who spends the entire novel worrying about early voting. There’s also a hilarious part where the Sheriff orders Gore to attend diversity training, and then obliviously goes on about how “black girls wear their hair in Georgia.” This is the sort of thing I mean with the Destroyer similarities; the characters in this novel are caricatures, but they’re fun caricatures, and very believable to boot. Particularly the woke ideologues who are behind the depravity that has befallen the city. 

Doe’s critical eye extends to the legal realm, with another hilarious bit involving a social justice judge who has literally replaced the US flags in her coutroom with rainbow flags. She and her effete assistant will be the next victims of The Undertaker; the link here is that the judge’s virtue-signalling directives are what caused the little boy to be transitioned, despite the father’s protests that the boy displayed no evidence of wanting to be a girl. Doe plays this sequence out skilfully, with The Undertaker posing as a photographer from a woke website and having the two stage his photo…while also staging themselves for the kill. Another violent scene that causes Deputy Harris to puke, and where Gore will be the only cop who suspects something mysterious about these murder scenes. In fact, Gore is the only cop who even manages to deduce what’s really going on…more evidence that he will ultimately become the Remo figure of the series. 

The most darkly humorous sequence in Death Transition follows soon thereafter. John Doe spoofs that inexplicable fad of today: drag queen story hour, in which transvestites read books to children. The Undertaker attends such a reading, his revulsion mounting – as does the transvestite’s tumescence as he has the little kids touch him while he reads. This leads to another grisly climax, as The Undertaker makes short and bloody work of Twinkle the drag queen. Before that happens, though, there’s a hilarious running dialog among some of the mothers that’s so Warren Murphy-esque I had to share it:

The capital city of Milton County is Pandemont, a metropolis that’s much different than the small town Gore was previously a cop in. But Pandemont also acts as an amalgamation of every “blue city” in the US, so devoted to wokeism that society itself has been transformed. During the investigation of these murders, Gore finds himself more taken aback at the situation that led to the murders than the murders themselves. He cannot believe the depravity that is out in the open; in particular he is revolted when he learns of the commonplace practice among teenaged Pandemont girls of getting pregnant so their breasts will get larger, and then having an abortion. Gore’s growing confusion of what is really wrong is nicely summarized when he calls up his wife and realizes he doesn’t want to keep the gory crimes from her so much as he does the nature of Pandemont itself: 

The novel climaxes with a tense sequence in which, as mentioned, Gore and The Undertaker finally meet. The buildup to this is masterfully done; I was really caught up in this novel, and found myself putting off other things to keep reading it. There’s also a great reveal, which I won’t spoil, in which the reader spends the majority of the novel thinking that a particular character is someone else entirely. While there isn’t any Executioner-type gun-blazing action in Death Transition, it still has the vibe of a vintage men’s adventure publication, only brought into our modern miserable age. And man did it make me excited to read the next volume, which per John Doe is “more fun.” And hey, with an inflammatory title like Black Lives Murder (!), how could it not be? 

Finally, here’s one last look at Death Transition: the back cover, which is an exact replica of something Pinnacle might have published. Of course it goes without saying that no publisher would have the guts to release something like this today: