The Premar Experiments, by Robert H. Rimmer February, 1976 Signet Books The victory novel of the sexual revolution! -- from the back cover Robert Rimmer gained fame in the mid-‘60s with the publication of The Harrad Experiment, a novel about an initiative at Harvard University in which male and female co-eds roomed together; there was even a film version (starring a young Don Johnson!),
Drug Of Choice, by John Lange January, 1970 Signet Books John Lange was a pseudonym Michael Crichton used between 1966 and 1972, for a total of eight novels, most of them paperback originals. I think this is the first Crichton novel I’ve read, and I really enjoyed it – however word seems to be that the “Lange” books are more pulpy than those bearing Chrichton’s name, and also that this
The Serial, by Cyra McFadden June, 1978 Signet Books First published in weekly installments in an “alternative” Marin County newspaper in 1976 and then in hardcover the following year, Cyra McFadden’s The Serial lampoons one year in the New Age mid-1970s Marin County, California. The book was a bestseller, and even scored a film adaptation in 1980, but I’d never heard of it until coming
The Specialist #7: The Vendetta, by John Cutter February, 1985 Signet Books I’m betting John Shirley's original title for this volume of The Specialist was “Make ‘Em Pay,” as the phrase is repeated a few times by bloodthirsty hero Jack Sullivan, who’s in full Johnny Rock mode this time out – in fact going even further, to the point where he’s practically a psychopath. I’ve said before that
Narc #5 Kill The Dragon, by Robert Hawkes
December, 1974 Signet Books
The fifth installment of the Narc series doesn’t pick up from any earlier volumes; as I guessed, John Bolt’s lady love from the previous volume, Anita, doesn’t appear and isn’t even mentioned. As a matter of fact Bolt gets it on with some random lady while on his latest case, and doesn’t once even think of Anita, so I guess she’s gone for good, despite being so built up in the previous book. But anyway Kill the Dragon comes off like a standalone installment, so could easily serve as an introduction to the series.
This volume at times also comes off like Olden’s superior Black Samurai series, what with its focus on martial arts fights and whatnot. Bolt isn’t the one doing the fighting, though; it’s Peter Joe, one of the novel’s many villains, an 18 year-old Hong Kong orphan who has come to the US to climb the ladder of the New York tongs. Peter Joe works for Gabriel Ling Tsu, aka “Sweet Sue,” tong godfather of New York. Gabriel is currently working a deal with mob boss Johnny Fist; Gabriel’s Red China heroin contact The Monk is about to import a huge shipment of heroin, and Fist wants to buy it to corner the market.
Of course Bolt, as top agent for D-3, gets involved; we meet him already on the case, as he’s being dragged along a concrete floor somewhere in Washington, DC by a speeding car. One thing that can be said for Olden is he knows how to start his novels with exciting scenes, and this is yet another example. Bolt is in the process of capturing the Monk, and for his pains he’s left with an injured left arm and shoulder which plague him through the rest of the novel.
But for all of that the Monk is let go within the hour, sprung by Mercer Mannering, a new-to-the-series government VIP who is very friendly with Red China. Although Richard Nixon resigned in August of 1974, it’s obvious Kill the Dragon was written long before it, as though Nixon’s name is never specified it’s constantly driven home that “the current president” is trying very hard to sow peace with China, hence arresting a visiting notable like the Monk would sour the peace negotiations. Mercer is also very hostile toward D-3 in general and Bolt in particular, and Olden makes it clear that Bolt has made yet another enemy.
This particular volume took a while to read; although it’s only 159 pages, those pages are filled with small print and barely any white space. Once again Olden really fills up pages by jumping into the perspectives of his huge cast of characers, to the point where snatches of the book come off like streams of consciousness. I’ve complained about this tendency of Olden’s before; in a way he’s like the reverse image of Joseph Rosenberger. Whereas Rosenberger page-fills with endlessly detailed action scenes, Olden sort of does the same with lots of extended peeks into the minds of his characters, to the point where the book can become a trawl.
There are a few action setpieces, though, just not as many as previously. There’s the opening fight in DC, and a better one later on where Bolt and his two fellow narcs Kramer and Masetta (both reappearing from previous volumes) launch a raid on Peter Joe and his men in snow-filled upstate New York. Masetta takes a lot of damage here, but doesn’t die, Peter Joe tossing grenades at the narcs. The novel finishes with a similar setpiece, as Bolt again leads an assault on the tongs and the mafia; here Bolt unleashes his specially-made shotgun, though really you’d think an assault rifle would be better suited for the occasion.
It’s the plots and counterplots that again take up the brunt of the narrative. For one Bolt has to deal with Mercer, who actually sends a trio of CIA goons to rough up Bolt. This bit is a tad too much as Bolt gets free, cripples one of them, and so “scares” the three agents that the CIA backs off and promises to no longer interfere! You’d figure Bolt would be dead within a day. But at any rate Bolt hatches a plan that ends up with Mercer kicked out of office, this whole subplot brimming with the anti-Nixon administration sentiment that was so prevalent at the time, but as mentioned was already moot by the time the book saw publication.
Then there’s Peter Joe, who schemes to take a position of power in Gabriel Tsu’s tong. Peter Joe gets most of the spotlight, so far as the villains go – and you won’t be surprised to know that he gets away in the end, yet another of Olden’s many villains who escape to return another day…a day that never comes. Maybe it’s Olden’s commentary on how villains are never caught, but it’s getting to be frustrating how he develops these bad guys and never gives them their comeuppance, instead saving them for potential sequels.
Bolt is a bit more involved in the story this time, tracking down contacts (there’s a memorable scene where he meets a contact in a movie theater that’s playing a kung-fu flick), talking back to his bosses, and shooting the shit with his fellow narcs. As mentioned he picks up some nameless chick while in upstate New York, and we learn at the end of the novel that his next conquest will be a stewardess “with big tits and bad breath” whom he meets on the flight from DC to New York.
Anyway, Kill The Dragon was entertaining and offered more of what we’ve come to expect from the series, with streetwise crooks and the occasional action sequence, but my favorite volume yet is still #2: Death Of A Courier, mostly because of its pulpish nature.
Recycled Souls, by Ian Ross
September, 1976 Signet Books
It doesn’t feature a series title or volume number, but this was the fifth and final installment of the Mind Masters series. In fact, “Mind Masters” isn’t mentioned anywhere in the novel, and what’s odd is that Recycled Souls comes closer than any previous volume to being a direct sequel to The Mind Masters #1. The events of the previous volume in particular aren’t even mentioned, and author John Rossmann (aka “Ian Ross”) brings back characters and situations that haven’t been seen since that first volume.
But the series overhaul begun in #4: Amazons continues here, with Recycled Souls coming off like a reset switch. As for Rossmann himself, he’s still for whatever reason calling himself Ian Ross. Humorously, the book features an ad for The Mind Masters volumes #1-4, stating that each volume is “by John Rossmann (Ian Ross)!” And for that matter, Recycled Souls is actually copyright John Rossmann, so I wonder why he even bothered with the name change.
Inexplicable name changes aren’t just limited to the author. Kelly Dale, the American college student who entered the series back in #3: The Door, is now known as “Trish DeVele,” and we get absolutely no reason why this is! Throughout the novel Rossmann (and the characters) refers to her as “Trish,” and Rossmann never once explains why she changed her name, what the goal was, or anything. He just informs us right at the start that Kelly is now Trish, and that’s that! It’s even odder because Recycled Souls takes place just “a few weeks” after The Door.
But at any rate Trish is basically now just a female version of series hero Britt St. Vincent, anyway, spouting out the same parapsychology mumbo-jumbo in the baldest of exposition. And remember how she fought off the titular Amazons in the previous novel and took a position of power in their queendom? It’s not even mentioned here, which is just as odd given that the events of Amazons took place only a few days before Recycled Souls!
This volume brings Britt and his fellow Mero operatives to the exotic locale of Long Beach, California. As you’ll recall, they boarded a plane to California at the very end of Amazons, and on the flight Britt researched the mission – namely, that a WWII sailor, believed to be dead for decades, recently showed up in a waterfront gay bar in Long Beach and, after starting a fight, was tossed in jail, where he turned into a pile of ashes overnight. Now in a Long Beach hotel, Britt is busy pining over the years-ago death of his fiance, Gayle, whom he suspiciously hasn’t mentioned (or thought of) since The Mind Masters #1. In fact Recycled Souls opens with Britt looking over his hotel balcony, crying at Gayle’s memory, and debating if he should kill himself!
Trish/Kelly meanwhile poses as an investigative reporter; her job is to interview Dr. Laura Wharton, a beautiful blonde aquatic researcher who lives in a mansion filled with equally-gorgeous women on Catalina Island, just off of Long Beach’s shore. Wharton you see is a devoted lesbian, as are all the women at her disposal. Plus, she relates to Trish mere moments after meeting her, Wharton is also a CIA agent, and is performing underwater research for the agency – like, for example, psychically training sharks to obey her commands! (The back cover copy smacks of desperation on this point, attempting to cash in on the recent success of Jaws.)
Britt continues to pose as a race car driver, and we get a few long sequences of him barrelling through the Long Beach streets. But then Rossmann page-fills in his favorite fashion: Britt is mysteriously summoned to the famous Queen Mary; in an isolated room there he meets up with Mero head Dr. Webster (himself not seen since the first volume) and a CIA agent named Carlton who’s old acquaintances with Webster. Here Rossmann delivers about twenty or so pages of the outright exposition the series is known for, with the trio discussing psychic phenomena and the ever-constant threat of mind enslavement. The series-reset feeling is strong, with Britt even informing Carlton how he got involved with Mero and who each member of his team is and what they do.
One thing I can say is that Rossmann has finally figured out how to keep the plot moving while still dumping his metaphysical info on us. Recycled Souls moves right along as Trish is promptly kidnapped by the evil Laura Wharton; Trish is drugged and wakes to find herself nude and chained to the good doctor’s bed. (One of Wharton’s female goons later mentions that Trish “pleasured” Wharton through the night, but suspiciously enough Rossmann failed to inform us of that lurid fact…or, more importantly, to provide us with the details!) Wharton is just the latest version of the longwinded villains this series is also known for, and as a bound Trish listens the “man-hating seductress” goes on and on about how she can make clones from something as simple as a strand of hair.
The action doesn’t go down until the final quarter, with Britt being attacked by a few CIA “cyborgs,” ie those one-shot-and-die psychic kamikazes last seen way back in The Mind Masters #1. Meanwhile Trish, no longer useful to Dr. Wharton, is tortured by a pair of sadistic guards (they use her breasts as a dart board!), who plan to toss her to the sharks once they’re finished with her. But if only Trish could reach those psychic-boosting pills… (Of course she does!) There are still no guns or any other “regular” sort of men’s adventure action standards, but Rossmann doesn’t shy from the gore, with plentiful description of how heads explode and eyeballs pop out when people are hit by Britt or Trish’s psychic mind-bolts.
As for the series overhaul mentioned above, the sleaze has been thoroughly gutted. The Mind Masters started off with some of the more lurid stuff I’ve ever read, in particular #2: Shamballah, which featured some hyper-explicit and sleazy sex (and of course was the best volume of the series!). But after that installment the sleaze began to taper off, with Amazons not even featuring a single sex scene. Recycled Souls follows suit, with even less of a sleaze factor than that…other that is than a scene where Britt is momentarily knocked out and his attackers plan to rape him so as to make it look like a “sex murder” here by the gay bars of Long Beach’s wharves.
I wonder if this tamed nature was due to the whims of Rossmann or the publisher. My guess is it was the former, as the back cover and first page of Recycled Souls makes the novel sound just as lurid as the earliest volumes of the series, talking up the hot lesbian chicks in Dr. Wharton’s undersea city, as well as the intriguing development that Wharton creates a clone of Trish so as to sexually ensnare Britt. It would seem the copywriter had a better novel in mind than Rossmann himself did, for while Wharton actually does clone Trish, all she uses it for is to distract Britt’s attention and to lure him into a trap, where the Trish-clone attempts to karate-chop him to death. (After which she falls into the ocean, conveniently gobbled up by sharks.)
In fact, given the lack of sleaze and the removal of all the explicit sex, coupled with that ultra-lame bit in The Door where Britt called to God for help and God helped him (!!), my bet is that Rossmann himself was trying to move away from the cheap and dirty feel of the earliest installments and into more of a “holy” atmosphere. And I’m not just pulling that word out of nowhere; there’s a part in Recycled Souls where Britt goes into an extended jag about various “holy” things, and the novel ends with Britt ranting about how “the world is for children!” and other maudlin chestnuts you’d more expect to hear coming from the head of the PTA instead of a dude who previously attended Black Masses and orgies with his nympho German girlfriend.
Rossmann attempts to end the novel (and thus the series) on a cliffhanger; perhaps he hoped if he did so, enough readers would write to Signet Books and request another installment. If so, I would say the attempt failed. Recycled Souls ends with Dr. Webster’s dire warning that the CIA has more than likely figured out the secret location of Mero HQ, and that an assault squad is no doubt on the way. Though Laura Wharton’s faction of CIA renegades has been disposed of (Wharton and her entire lesbian army having become shark food, thanks to Britt psychicaly shattering the protective glass wall of their underwater lab), there are more CIA factions out there who want Mero.
So this is where we leave Britt St. Vincent and his pill-popping, racecar-driving, psychic comrades; eternally vigilant for a CIA attack that will never come.
The Never Contract, by David J. Gerrity
April, 1975 Signet Books
This was the first of three obscure novels David J. Gerrity wrote about infamous mob enforcer Frank Cordolini, a gray-eyed “wolf” who, now in his fifties, has been retired from the mob life for the past ten years. Living in upstate New York under a new name, with a wife and young son, Cordolini knows that it’s only a matter of time before his old life comes back for him. The Never Contract is the long-simmer tale of how this comes about.
Cordolini is almost like a guest star in his own novel. The narrative, especially at the beginning, focuses more on low-tier mobsters, in particular Eddie Rush and Peter Bergin. The latter has been contracted by representatives of Don Anthony Vicari in New York City to kidnap the son of Frank Cordolini, and Bergin wants Rush to do the job with him. But Rush, a perpetual loser, is wary of the job. We get lots of page-filling as Rush gets Bergin to go on a job with him, one that turns out to be a total bust. Meanwhile Bergin also employs some upstate radicals, a trio of revolutionaries lead by Jerry Roth, a self-styled Abbie Hoffman who has more in common with Charles Manson. Their job will be to watch Cordolini’s kid after he’s adbucted.
We also get a lot of material from Don Vicari’s perspective – Vicari is the son of the man who was Frank Cordolini’s don, but Vicari is nothing like his father. He’s psychotic, which we learn when in his opening scene he kicks a stray cat that’s just given birth on his oceanside property and, before her dying eyes, stomps her litter of kittens to death! We learn via snippets of backstory that Vicari actually killed his father, so as to take over the family empire; that was ten years ago, and was the reason behind Cordolini’s sudden departure from the hitman life. Like the other “old-timers” Cordolini despises the young Vicari and all he stands for; he knew it would only be a matter of time before Vicari junior would order his own death, so he split.
As for Frank Cordolini, he only appears sporadically for the first half of the novel. Cordolini is a ghostly figure in the underworld, nicknamed “The Wolf” and legendary for his brutality. In other words, he’s a younger, better looking Luca Brasi. I say “younger” but Cordolini is in his fifties at least (Gerrity mentions in one of the brief flashbacks that Cordolini was ten years old when the Depression set in), though Gerrity doesn’t make much of this in the narrative itself – in other words, there’s none of that “I’m too old for this” shit. Cordolini has lost his edge over the past decade, though; he suspects Don Vicari is finally going to try to have him killed, but Cordolini does nothing about it, other than gradually plan to take his family on vacation.
So really, there’s just a lot of plotting and dialog for most of The Never Contract, and Gerrity is along the lines of Dan Schmidt in how he wastes so many pages with several different characters planning to do something…and then taking forever to show them actually do it. The novel really has all the makings of being a trashy, sleazy classic – Don Vicari by the way also gets his kicks trussing up women and whipping them to death – but even this exploitative stuff is downplayed in favor of go-nowhere digressions and redundant character introspection.
When the novel finally achieves boil, however, it’s pretty good. The abduction of Cordolini’s kid doesn’t happen until toward the very end – the plan is, Bergin’s people will kidnap the boy, and when Cordolini comes out to get him Vicari’s men will kill Cordolini. But the incredibly annoying Jerry Roth, who dreams of himself as being “The Leader” of a post-revolutionary United States, takes over the job from the ineffectual Bergin and spirals the whole affair into chaos.
The old killing instincts slowly come back to Cordolini as he goes after the kidnappers. Even here though it’s a long-simmer affair, with Cordolini complying with their demands (getting ransom money, being at certain phone booths at exact times for their calls, etc) as he bides his time. This develops into a contest of wills between Cordolini and Roth, who doesn’t understand why this guy isn’t quaking in fear – none of the people Bergin hired for the kidnapping job (or Bergin himself) know who Cordolini is, or know of his past. Gerrity does a fine job here of making the reader despise these kidnappers so much that we look forward to Cordolini’s many promises that he’s going to make them suffer horribly before they die.
But man, talk about an anticlimax. Skip this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers. When Cordolini finally turns the tables, Gerrity welches on the blood-soaked finale he’s been promising throughout. There are several instances where Cordolini will think to himself how he’s going to skin Jerry Roth alive and etc, but when the big finale arrives…Cordolini walks into the kidnappers’s hideout with a shotgun and blows everyone away in the span of a sentence. That’s it! The reader has so grown to despise Roth that we want to see him carved up horrifically or something to pay for his deeds, but Gerrity fails to deliver, in a big way. Just as worse is the resolution with Don Vicari, another guy who deserves to get his just desserts; Gerrity puts on his fancy “Literary Artist” pants and ends the novel just as Cordolini has snuck up behind Cordolini, leaving what transpires next to the reader’s imagination.
As mentioned above, this wasn’t it for Cordolini; he returned the following year in The Plastic Man and then finally in 1977’s The Numbers Man, all of them paperback originals. Gerrity by the way was pals with Mickey Spillane, who endorsed this novel; Gerrity also published as “Dave J. Garrity” and also just plain “Garrity,” so I guess he must’ve really wanted to confuse his readers.
Decoy #1: The Great Pretender, by Jim Deane
November, 1974 Signet Books
This was the first of a two-volume “series” narrated by Nick Merlotti, aka The Great Pretender – surely the author’s intended title for the series. I can only assume that either Signet or some editor there came up with the Decoy title, as never once does Merlotti (or anyone else) refer to himself that way. At any rate Merlotti is a “super thief turned super cop,” a guy famous in the underworld for his heists and capers. Caught by the cops after a decade of inactivity, Merlotti is now offered a chance to work for the Man, after which his slate will be wiped clean.
Sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun, but sadly The Great Pretender is one of the more leisurely-paced books I’ve read. Author Jim Deane fills countless pages with the bluster of his arrogant narrator Merlotti, the worst instances being the endless sequences where Merlotti will brainstorm how this or that happened. Just pages and pages of immaterial and unnecessary junk. The novel is moreso a suspense or mystery sort of thing; the cops hire Merlotti to find out who stole 5 million dollars worth of heroin, but in the course of the narrative it turns out that there’s more to the case than meets the eye.
Merlotti’s brought in by Duffy, captain of police in New York and a guy Merlotti’s had run-ins with in the past, as well as Passantino, a young assistant DA. The two men hit Merlotti with the proposal to figure out what happened to the heroin; they want Merlotti to ambush another shipment coming into New York and then turn around and try to sell it to Gianfreddo, a mobster they believe is behind the heroin steal. To help Merlotti they’ve brought in Mr. Waves, a black radio/gadgets wiz (sort of like Barney on Mission:Impossible, I guess ) who himself is famous in the underworld.
That’s the setup. Merlotti meanwhile immediately dives into his favorite pasttime: checking out the ladies. Reading this book was almost like reading a Harold Robbins novel – it was a chore getting through all of the boring, repetitive stuff, but you kept going only because you knew you’d gradually be rewarded by a goofy sex scene. But unlike Robbins Deane isn’t explicit in the least – that is, except for when it comes to describing the female anatomy, breasts in particular. This guy will go on and on about the female form, to the point where it almost gets a little creepy, but the sex scene itself will be relegated to: “We fucked again.” That’s an actual quote from the book, by the way.
The Great Pretender’s first conquest is Jane, a “tit-goddess” he meets while sunning on Fire Island. The ensuing romance takes up more of the opening narrative than the actual case, with Merlotti falling in love with the gal. Meanwhile he just sort of messes around with the investigation into the heroin, and Deane bores us with incessant pages of Merlotti researching the various clerks who worked the shift when the heroin disappeared, what their lifestyles are now like, etc. Here though he does indulge in a little disguise work, something he’s constantly reminding us he’s talented in; my favorite part is when he poses as a “sex researcher” and goes to each clerk’s home and interviews their wives about how their husbands are in bed! Again, it has no bearing on anything that happens in the novel, but it’s so goofy that it’s entertaining.
Jane departs the narrative (she pleads with Merlotti to run off with her, but he’s given his word he’ll see this case through) right before Merlotti launches a raid on a boat importing the heroin. This is one of the few action scenes in the novel, as Merlotti and Waves find that the drugrunners don’t surrender as quickly as Merlotti expected. A smallscale war ensues, Merlotti blowing away goons with a machine gun. After this though the placid nature returns; Merlotti and Waves discover that the drugrunners were actually carrying sugar, not heroin, and so they begin trying to figure out what’s really going on.
Here the doldrums really set in, as Deane fills pages with tons of unimportant and uninteresting stuff. Things liven up a little when Merlotti picks up yet another gal, Faye, who we are told is even hotter than Jane (it cracks me up though that Deane came up with such similar names for his female characters, Faye and Jane…but then, they are pretty much clones of one another). The highlight of The Great Pretender is all of this pre-PC stuff, with Merlotti picking up chicks and etc; he meets Faye by basically stalking her, first catching a glimpse of her chest in the window across from his own apartment, and thus he begins staring out the window for more glimpses of her magnificent mammaries (which he describes ad naseum).
Things also liven up with a few brief action scenes, Merlotti ambushed by gunmen sent after him. Deane proves he can also dole out the graphic violence, with Merlotti blowing out one of the dude’s brains. But for the most part The Great Pretender is heavier on the brainwork (and breast-oggling) than the action – even the finale lacks much action or any violence, with Merlotti, Waves, and Faye corralling Passantino (whom Merlotti at great length has pegged as the villain) and Gianfreddo on an airplane, outing them in front of a hidden news camera, and then parachuting out over Florida. It’s intended as a big finish, but it’s kind of stupid.
Besides the Decoy series, Jim Deane only has two other books to his name: The Mistress Book, a 1972 Pinnacle release that falls right into that early ‘70s “sex book” category, and The Fine Art of Picking Up Girls, a 1974 Pinnacle book that might be a retitled republication of The Mistress Book (the front cover is the same as the back cover of The Mistress Book). All of the Deane books however are copyright “Paul Gillette Enterprises,” a corporation which is still around…I wonder if Jim Deane and Paul Gillette are one and the same. Gillette is a name I’ve seen before; he’s published several novels over the years, one of them being 1965’s Satyricon: Memoirs of a Lusty Roman, which I have on my first toga porn list.
Finally, I thought I’d share a few of the more memorable quotes from The Great Pretender. See if you can spot a recurring theme!
I lay on the beach at Fire Island looking at tits and wondering why I felt so grumpy. -- pg. 18
I tuned in on her tits before I became aware of the rest of her. Lying dune-side on the beach, looking out over the tit-sea at the real sea, I saw these gorgeous grapefruit-sized beauties roll to life as she flopped over from prone to supine and stretched her lovely long arms into the sun. -- pg. 19
I was really getting pissed off. It’s bad enough striking out with a chick you meet on the subway. But when they come to a beach and pop tits into your face and let their pubes stick out of their bathing suits and still shoot you down, even when you happen to be one of the very few males on the island, it can get a mite depressing. Only my lust for that fantastic body drove me onward. -- pg. 21
What happened to her tits during the backstroke was not to be believed. They didn’t quite bounce, owing mainly to the water pressure. They just sort of slid around. And every stroke of her long arms sent each jug in a massive elliptical slide that would’ve been enough to blow the top of my head off even if her gorgeous pubes weren’t showing through the front of her sheer minikini panties – which, as a matter of fact they were. -- pg. 22
Tits! -- pg. 80
The Specialist #6: The Big One, by John Cutter
December, 1984 Signet Books
Jack Sullivan, the “toughest action hero of them all,” returns in this sixth installment of John Shirley’s Specialist series. This is one hit or miss series, with some volumes, like #4: The Psycho Soldiers, being incredibly entertaining, while others, like #2: Manhattan Revenge, being monotonous bores. Luckily The Big One is in the former category, and it’s a lot of fun.
Speaking of Manhattan Revenge, this volume picks up some threads from that early installment, opening with a darkly humorous scene where Sullivan carries out a hit on a guy who killed one of the child sex slaves in Van Kleef’s den. Per the contract Sullivan has to carry out the hit on the guy’s birthday, and since the guy has mob connections this involves taking out a slew of thugs as well. But then one of the mobsters gets wind that The Specialist is here and tips off the cops, who promptly spot Sullivan’s warwagon as he’s making a leisurely getaway.
This implies that The Big One is going to be a “Sullivan breaks out of prison” storyline, but so much goes down in the 180 pages of this novel that his jail tenure is over in a flash. Sullivan is sprung by the Feds, who actually want to put him on a job – a megamillionaire named Hughes has it in for a neo-Nazi drug kingpin named Reichstone (nicknamed “The Big One”) who rules an island kingdom in South America, where he has the support of the corrupt local government. Reichstone has kidnapped Hughes’s daughter and made her his sex slave (notice a theme developing, here), and has also tortured, with acid, Hughes’s son.
But due to that governmental backing, the US can’t officially become involved. So Sullivan is their go-to guy, as he’s friggin’ legendary, even among the criminal filth of the world. After seeing the ruined figure that was once Hughes’s son, Sullivan is consumed with his equally-lengendary wrath and eagerly takes the job. He brings along Merlin and Rolff, the mercs who have assisted him in previous volumes.
Sullivan’s been equipped with a plethora of hardware, and Shirley takes a page out of Gold Eagle, detailing it all for us. Also on the GE tip is Sullivan’s new Atchisson automatic shotgun, so memorably featured in Able Team #8: Army Of Devils. Sullivan takes an instant liking to the Atchisson, which he uses throughout the novel to blow thugs apart in gory fashion. He gets a chance to take his new toys for a test drive as soon as he lands near Reichstone’s domain, blowing away a few cops and then taking captive their captain.
The Big One operates on all the tropes of a classic pulp melodrama, with constant reversals and unexpected turns, not to mention the old cliché of “enemies turned friends.” Sullivan shows a knack for making people see his way, and during the course of the narrative manages to turn a handful of Reichstone’s goons. And also per those classic tropes we see the return of many characters, in particular Skulleye, the “monster Muslim” terrorist who got half of his face shot off by Sullivan in the previous volume.
Another returning character from Maltese Vengeance is Ollie Tryst, who when last we saw him was planning to marry a spitfire beauty in Malta. Turns out the romance fizzled and Tryst went off looking for merc work…and guess what, he’s inadvertently ended up as a security guard on Reichstone’s island! There are two hundred mercs here, including the Elite, Reichstone’s personal guard, all of them hulking blondes who go about in sleeveless SS uniforms.
Given the “sex slave” angle of the plot, you’d figure Shirley would indulge in some lurid doings, but he doesn’t. In fact he doesn’t even deliver one of his trademark sex scenes until the novel’s almost over, having Sullivan get busy with a “big” redhead who happens to be an undercover Mossad agent. (Even she has heard of Sullivan!) The lurid quotient is relegated to several grisly action scenes, including a great moment – and another indication of Shirley’s gift for dark humor – where a character is eaten by a shark.
One thing that can be said for the Specialist series though is it isn’t as creative in the plot department. Everything goes down just as you expect it will, as in previous volumes – Sullivan shows up, scouts the area, kills some guards, plans his attack, and finally launches his attack. But Shirley at least throws some unexpected elments into the tale, obviously having fun as he mounts coincidence upon coincidence – like, for example, the team of CIA agents who just happen to be captives on Reichstone’s island, and one of them is Sullivan’s old pal! (Later these guys form their own detachment as “the White Berets,” another indication of Shirley having fun with his own story.)
Another unexpected element is when Sullivan himself gets captured, the first time I believe this has happened in the series. Skulleye and Reichstone interrogate him, and Sullivan proves his “toughest action hero” status here, certain he can take the torture. But instead they drug him, and Shirley shows off his horror chops with a very surreal and psychedelic scene where Sullivan hallucinates all kinds of nightmarish shit.
But still it all ends with the expected assault on Reichstone’s fortress, Sullivan assisted by a veritable army of mercs and Mossad agents who just so coincentally happen to be in the area. The Atchisson is again put to use in gory splendor, particularly in Sullivan’s final confrontation with Skulleye – though honestly I expected Shirley to play up this rivalry a bit more. All told Skulleye is barely in the novel. But the payoff with Reichstone’s fate more than makes up for it.
Anyway, this is a fun novel, filled with fun moments, like the scene pictured on the cover, where Sullivan avoids becoming shark-food thanks to a handy grenade. And also Shirley’s sense of humor is a nice change of pace; it’s obvious he’s having fun with the material, slyly poking fun at the characters and events, yet he still provides a quality story. When he’s in form Shirley is capable of delivering excellent examples of what men’s adventure novels can be, and this is exactly what he does here.
Narc #4: The Delgado Killings by Robert Hawkes
October, 1974 Signet Books
I’m starting to think Marc Olden could be considered the Elmore Leonard of men’s adventure authors, his Narc series being a case in point. Instead of the over-the-top, gun-blazing thrills customary of the genre, Olden continues to write a grim and gritty series that brings to life the sleazy, dangerous streets of 1970s New York City. Olden once again takes us into a sordid world of drug kingpins and street-level warriors, where only the most vicious survive.
As is customary for this series, The Delgado Killings is mostly an ensemble piece, with hero John “Narc” Bolt just one of the many characters. There’s no pickup from the previous volume, and indeed it appears that we’ve missed a lot between installments. For one, Bolt’s girlfriend of The Death List is not only gone and unmentioned, but he’s managed to find another girlfriend in the meantime. Anyway Bolt’s life has been pretty hectic since we last saw him, and Olden spends a lot of time informing us what we missed via backstory.
But as usual with Olden it’s the villains who get the most narrative time. The titular Delgado for example takes up a goodly portion of the novel; a cocaine kingpin, Delgado is in the sights of Bolt’s agency D-3 and is about to be put on trial. At great cost Delgado has gotten a list of the names of the people who will testify against him. His plan is to kill off these witnesses, and to do so he hires Victor Poland, a former cop who has become a hitman who specializes in helping those in the narcotics industry.
Mostly though Delgado wants Bolt dead. It turns out that Bolt has killed Delgado’s lover – Delgado is gay (he’s actually referred to as “The Snow Queen” on the back cover…man, you can’t get much more pre-PC than that), and this murder has sent him over the edge. Delgado’s homosexuality is often ridiculed throughout the book, and it’s another indication of how the times have changed…vast portions of this stuff would not be publishable in today’s tepid, sterilized, PG-13 neutered world.
Like previous novels, The Delgado Killings takes place over a short period of time, specifically during a very hot summer. We’re reminded, quite often and at length, of the extreme heat and the uncomfortable conditions. But then Olden mentions that it’s 85 degrees out, and I had to laugh…I mean, when it’s 85 degrees down here in the hellish heat of Dallas, that’s when we know it’s finally getting cooler and summer’s wrapping up! Anyway Olden fully brings to life the mire of a New York summer, just another indication of his writing talent.
Poland takes the job and hires his own little band of hitmen, and together they begin killing off the witnesses, making each look like accidental deaths. Bolt himself doesn’t even appear until well into the book, and we learn of his involvement in the Delgado case in backstory, including how Bolt caused the death of Delgado’s lover. Bolt’s the only one to quickly deduce that Delgado is behind these “accidental deaths,” and when a gunman tries to kill both Bolt and one of the witnesses in a staged holdup, he knows for sure that he’s had a death warrant placed on him.
I have to say though that Bolt really isn’t much fun of a character, which is perhaps why Olden spends so little time with him. He has all the standard attributes of your average men’s adventure protagonist, but no sparkle, no charm. In fact he’s pretty humorless, something Olden plays up on with the other characters, so it seems to me that it was Olden’s intent to make Bolt such a grim cipher. What’s strange though is the guy had a lot more pizazz back in Narc #1, including a nihilistic bent, all of which has disappeared – and by the way, what happened to Bolt’s martial arts guru, also unseen since that first volume?
But then, this is an ensemble piece and the minor players are more interesting than the protagonist. Poland comes off as a street-smart warrior with one hell of a mean streak; there’s a Stephen King-esque sequence late in the tale where Poland takes up an axe and hacks off the head and hands of one of his men. Olden really captures the sick horror of this, having another of Poland’s men puke at the sight – in fact there’s quite a bit of puking going on in The Delgado Killings, with even Bolt himself blowing chunks in the finale.
The new woman in Bolt’s life is Anita Rona, a gorgeous young model who worked as a courier for Delgado until she was busted by Bolt, who was working undercover on the case in Paris. Apparently Bolt and Anita became quite serious despite this unusual “meet cute,” but Bolt had to break it off when they got back to the US, much to Anita’s surprise and devastation. Again, all of this is relayed via backstory, and therefore lacks much impact, as we’re supposed to really be worried about Anita and regret the fact that she and Bolt couldn’t be together.
In fact, Anita only appears in a single sequence, a nonetheless taut one where Bolt comes to her rescue as Poland and his men attempt to kill her in a grocery store. But she disappears from the narrative after that, as if Olden only brought her into the tale so he could write a damsel in distress scene. It all would’ve been so much more powerful if Olden had used one of the female characters from a previous book.
There are a few action scenes, but again they’re played out on a very “real world” scale, with Bolt going into combat with nothing more than his .45 or his ankle-holstered Beretta. This in particular is his sole weapon during another taut sequence, where he chases after Bookbinder, the Poland assassin who attempted to kill Bolt in the staged hold-up. Olden does strive to make Bolt human, perhaps a little too much so. There are many, many scenes where we are informed that Bolt is afraid or nervous, and while it’s a welcome change from the traditional ultra-heroic protagonist of this genre, it gets to be a little much after a while.
Despite which The Delgado Killings is still another enjoyable Olden offering, leagues above what you’d expect. I guess my biggest problem with it would be the ending. Bolt’s entire mission here is to ensure the witnesses don’t die, so that Delgado can be put on trial and both his public stature and his criminal empire ruined. But all of this is rendered moot in the final action scene, when Poland, set up by Bolt to believe he’s been double crossed, goes after Delgado for revenge.
Another problem I had was with the resolution – namely that there is no resolution. For one, Poland’s fate is left in doubt and it seems obvious that Olden intends for him to return, but given that he did the same thing in Black Samurai #6 and that villain never returned, I kind of wish he’d just had Bolt put a bullet in Poland’s head. Also the storyline with Anita Rosa is given too much buildup and too little follow-through, especially when you assume that, like every other woman in Bolt’s life in this series, she’ll be gone and forgotten by the next volume.