Monday, May 20, 2024

Adrano For Hire #4: The Blood Bargain

Adrano For Hire #4: The Blood Bargain, by Michael Bradley
April, 1974  Warner Books

The fourth and final volume of Adrano For Hire picks up three weeks after the previous volume, Gary “Michael Bradley” Blumberg again turning in a slow-moving ensemble piece that could only be considered “men’s adventure” due to the uncredited cover art. There isn’t much mystery why this series didn’t continue, as doubtless readers in 1974 felt swindled by the misleadingly-packaged series. 

Last we saw Adrano, he was relaxing with mega-rich drug buddy Jean Paoli in his fancy retreat in Marseilles, looking forward to reading some literature and whatnot. But when we (eventually) meet up with Adrano this time, he’s chomping at the bit to get back into action. This is set in motion by a long opening sequence in which a wealthy banker is assassinated in Beirut, and ultimately we’ll learn that the banker was connected to Paoli’s business affairs in the drug world. Paoli will activate Adrano as his enforcer to stave off future assassinations – and find out who is behind the plot to take down Paoli. 

But as mentioned this is an ensemble piece, so we also have busy subplots about a girl who witnesses the assassination in Beirut, and becomes another target of the killers. We also have a contract hitman, the one who is doing the assassinations, who happens to be gay (indeed, we learn in background material that he was “gang-raped” in prison)…and wants money so he can have a sex-change operation. I love finding modern-day topicality in old books, and boy, The Blood Bargain is in a league of its own, with subblots involving transsexuals and Palestinian radicals! 

But even at 170-some pages, The Blood Bargain is still sluggish. That cynical vibe of previous books is still here…though “sardonic” might be the more accurate term, as Adrano himself is referred to by Marie, the female character who witnessed the assassination in Beirut…and who happened to sleep with Adrano back in the first volume, when he was posing as “Joseph Abel” and wearing a disguise. Once again she will become involved with Adrano, and author Blumberg develops a subplot at the very end of The Blood Bargain that Adrano and Maria might become a more serious thing, given that Adrano apparently tells Marie he loves her in his sleep after their off-page bedroom shenanigans. 

In fact, Blumberg sets up another subplot at the end of the novel, which presumably would’ve had repercussions in a fifth volume of Adrano For Hire. Namely, Adrano’s benefactor Jean Paoli vows to get revenge of Tony La Rocca, a Mafioso in the US who ultimately turns out to be behind the attack on Paoli in this volume. Both Adrano and Marie are pulled into it, with Adrano not wanting to get involved but knowing he’ll have to if only to protect Marie. I can’t say I’m sad there was not Adrano For Hire #5, as I can already imagine what it would’ve been like: a long-simmer yarn with a “sardonic” protagonist and lots of time-wasting stuff about one-off characters. Such is the case with The Blood Bargain, and such was the case with the previous three volumes. 

To wit, so much of The Blood Bargain concerns new-to-the-series characters like Mickie, the homosexual hitman who wants to “go to Sweden to be a real woman,” La Rocca’s enforcer Tex, and a former Muslim terrorist who through the fortunes of fate has become a smuggler. There’s also a lot of stuff about Rashi Nuhr, a banker in Beirut who was the apprentice of the assassinated banker who managed Paoli’s affairs; it is this banker who is murdered by Mickie in the first pages of the book, the assassination witnessed by Maria, and Nuhr knows he is next on the list. So this entails a drawn-out affair of Nuhr hiding, Tex and Mickie trying to find Nuhr, and Paoli and Adrano trying to find everyone. 

As usual, Adrano is lost in the shuffle. We’re often told he’s bored and ready to get back in action – both of the fighting and the sex varieties – but once the action does begin to happen, he spends the novel sweating in fear. Literally. Blumberg makes a big deal out of Adrano and Marie smelling like “goats” in the climax, stinking of “fear sweat” and “exertion sweat.” Also I thought it was funny that Adrano spent a large chunk of the narrative stuck in a dark apartment. Action is smallscale for sure, with the main villains being Mickie and his boss Tex, who has been called here to Beirut to fix Mickie’s various screwups. Action is also infrequent, and not in the least dwelt upon: “Adrano put a bullet in his head” is literally the extent of it. But then, Blumberg isn’t much of an action writer to begin with, particularly given that he arms Adrano with a .38 revolver that somehow has a safety on it. 

Rather, the author’s focus is on long-brew tension, with lots and lots of stuff about Nuhr hiding in Beirut in various states of panic as Tex and Mickie try to get a lead on his whereabouts. And meanwhile Paoli and Adrano come into town to figure out who is behind the plot. This is how Adrano meets Marie once again, literally bumping into her in a darkened apartment in Beirut, where he’s been taken by a pair of stooges who have captured him. As ever, Adrano is quite prone to getting abducted. And Blumberg further demonstrates how he isn’t much of an action writer when Paoli, in Beirut, provides several guns for Adrano to use, from rifles to submachine guns, and Adrano just takes a .38 police special! At least Adrano eventually uses it here in this “darkened apartment” sequence, but the action scenes are perfunctory and Blumberg is more focused on people running, hiding, sweating, and stinking. 

There’s also a moronic part where Adrano could kill a couple thugs and save himself some future trouble, but doesn’t kill them on account of Marie’s feelings, concerned it would be “too much for her” after she’s been taken captive and all! But Marie does serve as the main female character in The Blood Bargain, at Adrano’s side in the long running sequence that comrpises the final quarter of the book. As mentioned though the sex is all off-page (taking place during a much-needed shower at novel’s end), and here Marie learns that “Joseph Abel” is really a guy named Adrano…though I have to admit it rankled me that Adrano says here that “Joseph” is a “crummy” name. Sure, there’s a crummy President by that name, but the name “Joseph” itself isn’t crummy at all!! The bigger question at the end of the book is if Adrano will tell Marie that he’s really an ex-Mafioso with a price on his head, etc. 

Again, all this no doubt would’ve factored into the fifth Adrano For Hire that never was, as would Paoli’s war against Tony La Rocca. But I’m not upset that this book never came to be; overall I wasn’t much impressed with Adrano For Hire and found each volume a struggle to get through. Regardless, Gary Blumberg at least seemed to be invested in it, as there’s definitely a connecting thread to each volume.  He must have been a fast writer, too, as the entire series was published in two months!  But ultimately I wasn’t much of a fan of this four-volume series.  

1 comment:

russell1200 said...

Beirut in 1974 was probably a pretty chill place to hang out. The Civil War started in 75.