Thursday, June 23, 2022

Butler #5: Love Me To Death


Butler #5: Love Me To Death, by Philip Kirk
No month stated, 1980  Leisure Books

This fifth volume of Butler was a lot of fun and definitely my favorite one yet. Len Levinson specifically mentioned Love Me To Death when I met with him the other year, and we talked about it again just the other week when I gave him a call. So clearly this one was important to Len himself, which makes it odd that it turned out to be his penultimate volume of the series. 

As I mentioned in my review of Butler #1, Len only wrote the first six volumes of the series, the last being 1980’s Killer Satellites, after which Butler went on hiatus, returning in 1982 for six more volumes. Len was unaware that Butler continued without him until I informed him of the fact in 2010; he always saw Butler as his own series. It looks like who served as “Philip Kirk” for the post-Len volumes is still unknown, but honestly I have to wonder what the point of reading those volumes would be, as Butler is so ingrained with Len Levinson’s personality that I don’t see how the series could exist without him. I mean, this is a zany series, with a zany mindset, and again the action-centric cover art is quite misleading. It would be one thing if this was just any other action paperback series, but Butler is more Marx Brothers than The Executioner, and it would be disappointing if Belmont just turned it into just your average action series after Len’s departure. 

Speaking of which, I asked Len when I recently spoke to him why he left Butler after this volume. Len seemed to recall it might have had to do with new writing possibilities he’d gotten from another publisher – which would lead him to The Sergeant and ultimately The Rat Bastards. Butler then is the line of demarcation between Len’s ‘70s work for Belmont-Tower and Leisure – crime thrillers with a modern setting – and the WWII-themed material he would be focused on throughout the ‘80s for other publishers. It was an interesting conversation, because I was over halfway through Love Me To Death and thus closer to the world of Butler than the author himself – but then, Len wrote the book 43 years ago. Interestingly, the main thing he recalled about Love Me To Death was an otherwise incidental sequence featuring an otherwise incidental character: Pierre, an old French Foreign Legion solder Butler meets in Morocco. 

This one picks up immediately after the previous volume, with Butler when we meet him flying back into California from Hong Kong, but Len doesn’t much refer to the previous book other than vague mentions that Butler had a mission there. In other words, you don’t need to have read that one to read this one. And indeed, Love Me To Death almost sees a series reset for Butler; at the airport, Butler is approached by a former CIA colleague named Frank Sullivan, who tells Butler that the “right-wing maniacs” who have controlled the Agency are now being opposed by Sullivan’s own left-wing group. Sullivan, who knows Butler hated the right-wingers and the CIA in general, wants our hero to rejoin the Agency and help take on the right-wingers – we’re told even the President is in favor of this idea. 

So after talking over the idea with the mysterious Mr. Sheffield, who runs the Bancroft Institute for which Butler works, Butler decides to rejoin the CIA. And he’ll work in this capacity for the entirey of Love Me To Death. Indeed by novel’s end he’s still a CIA agent, and even requests a vacation from his new boss Frank Sullivan. So what I’m trying to say is that with this volume Len seems to drop the “Bancroft Institute” angle of the preceding four volumes, and now Butler’s back to being a CIA agent. Why Len decided to go this route is a mystery, and I look forward to seeing if Butler returns to Bancroft in this next volume (which is advertised in the back of the book, by the way, with the note that it will be published in March of 1980). 

That said, Len has fun with a discombobulated CIA that is so fractious the agents have to walk and talk in the countryside outside the headquarters in Virginia because their offices have been bugged by “the other side,” ie the right-wingers vs the left-wingers. Curiously FJ Shankam, that other old CIA colleague of Butler’s who has appeared – and plagued – Butler in the previous four volumes, is given short shrift in Love Me To Death. He appears in but a sentence, serving as Sullivan’s “assistant,” and Shankham doesn’t even exchange any dialog with Butler. In fact not much is made of Shankham at all, and other than his name being specifically mentioned you could assume he was just some random agent…not someone who has appeared in the previous volumes. Again, the impression is that this volume sees a sort of series reset, as if Len had grown bored with the overall setup of the series. If that is the case, then there’s little mystery why he jumped ship after the next volume for new writing pastures. 

I haven’t even gotten to the main plot of the novel, and it’s the best one yet in the series – essentially, pretty women are literally “fucking to death” various industrialists, politicians, and other VIPs. This phrase, “fucking to death,” is used repeatedly in the novel, and indeed this is the most sleazy and explicit volume yet. Which is of course to say it’s my favorite yet. The opening is an indication of this sleazy nature, as a beautiful blonde picks up a fat millionaire in New York, goes back to his place, and proceeds to ride him in explicit fashion. But the incredible thing here – and I still recall Len talking about this in the hotel foyer that day I met with him – is that the girl has a “special technique” which causes the fat millionaire to have a fatal heart attack. 

Butler is informed by Sullivan that a ring of beautiful women is possibly killing all of these men, and given that all the victims are American men of influence the CIA suspects some foreign power must be behind the plot. Sullivan wants Bulter to handle the situation because, in Sullivan’s opinion, Butler is an “utter sex degenerate” and thus would be perfect for the assignment. Butler’s idea is to bring in none other than Wilma B. Wiloughby, his archenemy/true love, last seen in the third volume. Auburn-haired Wilma is “a slender young woman with nice boobs” and “one of the most beautiful rear ends in history,” and when I spoke to Len on the phone the other week he described Wilma as his “dream girl.” Here we learn the interesting note that Wilma is sort of in love with Butler, and he gave her such an incredible orgasm in their sex scene in the second volume that she’s afraid to be around him because she knows she will become his sex slave. And Wilma has too much self-respect to debase herself for any man. Thus Wilma treats Butler like shit, hence their constant spatting. 

Despite the hostility she accepts Butler’s offer to join the CIA; she is just as much a left-winger as Butler is, though again be aware that what passes for “Leftism” in Butler would mostly be considered “Conservatism” today, something which Len also agreed with when I spoke to him recently. Wilma is sent off to New York to infiltrate the Women’s Lib movements. Again, this series is zany to the core, so Wilma promptly finds success when she hooks up with a women’s lib gang calling itself The Society To Utterly Destroy Men, and of course one of the members is familiar with the “Killer Fuck Squad” (as Butler refers to the mysterious group of women who are killing American VIPs). But as part of her undercover role, Wilma not only has to pretend to fervently hate men…but she also engages in some hot lesbian action with one of the women. Per the series template, this entails a few pages of extra-explicit material as the two women go down on each other…and after which Wilma decides that she just might be a lesbian! 

As stated in every one of my Butler reviews, while this series might have been conceived as “socialist” by Len, or even perceived as overly “Leftist” by readers of the day, it could not be seen that way today. Yet more indication is given when Wilma meets up again with Butler, Sullivan, and a fellow CIA agent named “Len Vinson” (our author again appearing in his own book – Vinson being 44 years old with a “bald head” and a black beard), and she declares herself to be a lesbian…and is promptly hassled and ridiculed by the men. Take that, identity politics! Another thing I enjoyed here is that Len Vinson claims that he’s always felt that Butler was “a stand-up guy;” this after Wilma and Sullivan have gone one about how Butler is a degenerate. In other words Butler’s creator himself appears in the novel to defend Butler! 

The book goes exactly where you were hoping it would when Butler tangles with one of the Killer Fuck Squad – the same gorgeous blonde who “fucked to death” the millionaire in the opening scene. This part is interesting because Mr. Sheffield returns to the narrative long enough to agree to pose as bait for the killers…but the real Sheffield goes into hiding while Butler disguises himself as the older man and goes to DC amid much media hoopla. In other words, if the killer women are looking for rich notables to off, then Mr. Sheffield should be prime bait for them. Of course the plan quickly succeeds – but first Butler is propositioned by a young “celebrity fucker,” who engages Butler in several pages of explicit shenanigans. Since Butler is unsure if she’s one of the squad, there follows some humor in how he’s hidden his gun in his pants…and keeps bringing the pants to bed with him, much to the confusion of the girl. 

There’s actually a lot of humor amid the sleaze, in particular how the women are shocked that the “old man” is actually so muscular and well-hung. This latter element really throws the blonde killer for a loop; she has her turn with Butler soon enough, and can’t believe how big this guy is compared to the other old men she’s killed in bed. Another recurrring element in Love Me To Death is that Butler’s “big dong” is enough to make these avowed “lesbians” question their entire sexual identity; again, a far cry from anything that could possibly pass as “Leftism” today. Here Butler gets a first-hand view (actually it’s not his hand, but still) of the “occult sexual techniques” these women use on men – basically, they work their inner muscles to access the pineal gland, via the nerves of the man’s penis, and force the men to “fuck faster” than their heart can keep up with. Hence, the old men are compelled to keep thrusting away, even if they want to stop due to chest pains, until it’s too late. However the technique is no match for young stud Butler: 


The action moves to Morocco, where Wilma has learned the woman behind all this is currently located: Kyra Deeb, an Iranian who runs a whorehouse and, given her hatred of men, trains a select group of beautiful women in the “ancient occult sexual techniques.” This part is like a sleazy sci-fi yarn as Kyra has Wilma screw a male dummy that’s hooked up to a scoreboard: 


Meanwhile Butler is engaged in a 23-page sequence that doesn’t have much at all to do with the rest of the novel, and seems to be there to help meet the excessive word count Belmont apparently demanded (the book, like the others in the series, comes in at 224 pages). Basically Butler grills an Arabic guy about the “barbarous” ways of the Middle East (again, impossible to see a Leftist attempting anything like this today) and finds himself challenged to a duel. Meanwhile Butler’s befriended an old Legionaire named Pierre, the character Len mentioned when I recently spoke to him. Despite having not much to do with the plot per se, this sequence is still pretty fun and has a nice recurring joke of how no one thinks Butler will survive the duel – the taxi driver even asks for the return fare ahead of time. 

Len does find a nice way to tie the unrelated plot into the main plot; a victorious Butler is pressured into going to the best whorehouse in town to celebrate, and of course it’s the one Kyra Deeb runs. An undercover Wilma is under suspicion due to all her questions, and to prove herself she’s forced to pose as a prostitute in Kyra’s whorehouse and screw the first man she sees. The reader can see exactly where this is going – and of course it’s none other than Butler himself. Their ensuing boff runs nearly as long as the one in the second volume, and is just as explicit:


You’ll note I haven’t mentioned much action; again, the cover art for Butler is very misleading. Len does deliver an action-packed finale, though, with Butler and Pierre leading the charge into Kyra’s headquarters and Wilma zapping people with her special CIA pen-laser. There isn’t much gore at all, and humorously the book is pretty tame in the violence department…humorous when compared to the explicit sexual material, I mean. Curiously no mention is made that Wilma has been trained in those occult sexual techniques – one would think Butler would be chomping at the bit to try them out. However by novel’s end Wilma has returned to her frosty exterior, and she and Butler are again enemies…with the vow from Frank Sullivan that the two of them will never be teamed up again. 

And that’s correct, both Butler and Wilma are still CIA agents by the end of Love Me To Death, with the implication that they will be reporting to Frank Sullivan – and not Mr. Sheffield of Bancroft – in the next volume, Killer Satellites. I’m curious why Len made this change to the series setup. But as mentioned he only wrote one more volume, so maybe he really was getting a little bored with Butler and just wanted to try something different. If so, that’s not apparent in the novel itself; Love Me To Death is a lot of fun, and Len is fully invested in the tale. And once again he channels his own personality through Butler, making for an always-entertaining read, with Len’s usual gift for entertaining dialog on full display throughout.

4 comments:

LEN LEVINSON said...

I wrote this novel a long time ago and don't remember it very well. However I do remember that I wanted to write a totally crazy novel but don't recall many of the details. The "reset" mentioned by Joe probably was my attempt to do something different with Butler, because I don't like to repeat myself. Whenever I felt myself getting bored with a novel, I steered it into an entirely new direction. Joe's insights into this novel are amazing. I've said it before and I'll say it again now: I think he understands my novels better than I do.

Unknown said...

I haven't read any of the Butlers, but this sounds very James Bond-esque. The idea of the hero being able to turn a lesbian sounds like Bond's relationship with Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, while the whole plot of women 'fucking men to death' sounds a lot like Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye....

TrueAim said...

LEN - You're an absolute genius, a true legend in the pantheon of men's paperback writers. I've read so many of your books and love them all. BUTLER is a particular favorite of mine as I love how you took the typical virile, handsome, macho spy and also made him a funny self-absorbed, sex-crazed goofball.

For those who are unfamiliar with how HILARIOUS Butler is, below is the pool scene from Slayboys (courtesy of Spy Guys and Gals):

EXAMPLE: From Slayboys, a bit of dialogue between a woman sitting beside a pool at a resort and Butler, who had never met the woman before, seeing if he might sit next to her:

Butler: 'Mind if I sit down?'

Woman: ...'The chairs here are for all the guests. If you want to sit down, sit down.'

'Thanks for the invitation,' Butler replied.

'Invitation?' she asked. 'It was no invitation.'

'Oh, I thought it was. Should I go away?'

'I don't give a damn where you go.'

'What if I got on top of you right now?'

'What was that?... Are you crazy or something?'

'No, I'm only trying to establish that you do give a damn where I go.'

MY KIND OF HUMOR FOR SURE! If it's your style of humor, too, the Butler books are pure gold.

JOE - Surprisingly, some of the non-Len Butler books (#7-12) do maintain the very goofy, fun charm of Len's first six books. Though, yes, it's shocking that they were written without Len's involvement or even knowledge. Crazy.

John Doe said...

Wish these novels were available at eBooks!