Aug 272012

Now that I’ve finished the Baroness series, I wish there were more volumes to read. While I’ve never loved the books, they’ve all been entertaining, and the series definitely has an appeal. A long-lasting appeal, at that, with the Baroness Yahoo Group still going strong. Through the efforts of one particular member of that group, ppsantos, we’ve learned that Donald Moffitt was in fact the only author of the eight volumes in the series, but also that he wrote two more books, both which went unpublished (at least in English, but more on that later). We’ve also learned that Robert Vardeman was contracted to write an installment.

Reading through the various messages on the Baroness Yahoo Group, I’ve pieced together the below list of what these missing three novels would have been about, and also what order I think they would have been published.

#9: Death Is A Copycat — This one was written by Donald Moffitt. According to some letters Moffitt wrote ppsantos over the past few years (and found in the Photos section of the Baroness Group), Moffitt became ill after turning in #8: Black Gold, and was unable to write for a while. In the meantime series honcho Lyle Kenyon Engel contracted Robert Vardeman to write an installment. In fact, Vardeman’s installment might have been slated as #9 in the series, but what makes me suspect otherwise is that Death Is A Copycat was actually published, whereas Vardeman’s novel never was. Anyway, this particular volume would have featured Triskelion, a three-legged villain (!) who threatened “to cause chaos by duplicating the world’s currency.”

As stated, this volume was published, but only in France, where the Baroness series was titled Penny. This installment appeared as the ninth and final volume of the Penny series, with the title Photo-Phobi. A poster on the Baroness Group named Hans Henrik actually read the book, and was kind enough to post a summary of it:

In Death is a Copy Cat Penelope battles a French tycoon, who has made his fortune by inventing the perfect photocopier. The tycoon intends to use his machines for counterfeiting the leading currencies of the world and create financial chaos, which would give him world domination.

This adventure certanly depicts the Baroness as we know her. She is taking care of the bad guys by breaking necks, crushing throats, smashing in heads, or strangling them. Many more are shot or killed with greandes.

Her sex-life is as usual quite imaginitive. She has sex in a barrel of vintage wine with the french duke she met at the end of the book Black Gold. But in this story she confines herself to just one lover.

The manuscript of Moffitt’s original still exists, wedged away somewhere in his attic. Whether it will ever see light of day is anyone’s guess.

#10: Quicktime Death — This volume was the only one in the series not written by Donald Moffitt. It was written by Robert Vardeman, a writer I’ve not yet read, but I know he had his hand in many different series, including Nick Carter. All that’s known about Quicktime Death is that it has something to do with “a drug that enhances reaction time.” I can only suspect then that at some point in the novel the Baroness engages in high-speed sex. Again, this might have been slated to be the ninth volume of the series; no one is certain. One thing that is known is that it would have preceded the volume below, as on the Baroness Group Vardeman himself commented that, when he turned in Quicktime Death, Engel told him that “the next volume” would be about a black hole. Like Moffitt, Vardeman still has his copy of the manuscript.

#11: A Black Hole To Die In — Of all the unpublished volumes, this one interests me the most. In this installment “the Baroness goes into space to save Earth from a mini-black hole that both the Chinese and the Russians are trying to capture.” Given Moffitt’s later focus on science fiction, this volume has a lot of potential, and I hope it might someday be published, whether as an ebook or as a real book. It’s currently sitting up in Moffitt’s attic, alongside the manuscript for Death Is A Copycat.

So will these missing three volumes ever be released? I’m not holding my breath. The series was the property of Book Creations, owned by Lyle Kenyon Engel, who passed away in 1986. His wife passed away in 1994. That left only Engel’s son, George, who was stated to be 47 in a 1982 interview with the family. Book Creations was once an immense fiction factory, employing 40-60 staff writers and cranking out paperback bestsellers. It seems that all publications ceased around 1999, and now George Engel is the last member of the company. By all accounts, he is unresponsive to emails and letters, especially those asking that he consider epublishing the Baroness novels.

A part of me says the authors should just damn the torpedoes and self-publish their manuscripts, given Engel’s unresponsiveness, but I’m betting that as soon as that happened, Engel would get real interested, real fast, and call in the lawyers. As another poster on the Baroness Group suggested, the smart thing to do would be to approach the guy with a business proposal, buying the rights to all of the Book Creations action series (The Baroness, John Eagle Expeditor, The Butcher, Nick Carter, etc) and releasing them as ebooks. I bet some serious money could be made from that, but I’m a lazy man, and I do enough business proposals at work.

The picture up top by the way is by series cover artist Hector Garrido; this one’s labelled as the sketch for an an untitled/unpublished manuscript, so many suspect it might’ve been the cover for one of these unpublished novels. It moreso looks to me like it’s an early draft of the cover for #1: The Ecstasy Connection. I say this because it features the obese villain Petronius Sim as well as the electronic brain the Baroness was hooked into in that intial volume, which was my favorite in the series.

Aug 022012

The Baroness #8: Black Gold, by Paul Kenyon
February, 1975 Pocket Books

Here endeth the sex-filled saga of the Baroness, in what by far is the rarest and most overpriced volume of the series. I wish I could say that Black Gold ends the series with a bang, but this turned out to be the worst entry of all: underwhelming, tepid, and boring, even worse than #2: Diamonds Are For Dying. In other words, it’s not worth the inflated price online booksellers list it for.

The biggest problem with Black Gold is the lack of action, or even interest; hardly anything happens throughout the novel. Instead the reader must endure endless pages which describe oil carriers and oil rigs, not to mention pages and pages and pages of “Scottish” dialog (“I dinna hae the key!” and so forth), as if some faux-Irvine Welsh has taken over the series. It’s really an uphill battle getting through all of this, and I suspect Paul Kenyon (aka Donald Moffitt) was losing his interest in the series.

As usual though the threat is a good one: a terrorist group calling itself SPOILER has unleashed an experimental chemical which destroys oil. Each of these books always opens with a scene in which we witness the devastation wrought by the latest threat, and in these parts Moffitt always shines (though not a single one of them has topped the opening of #1: The Ecstasy Connection, which featured people around the world dying of orgasms). Here we see parts of Europe collapsing as oil-powered vehicles just stop working, thus rendering entire armies impotent. SPOILER threatens more attacks if their demands aren’t met: they want half of various oil company profits.

Enter the Baroness, who is in England, where she’s doing a series of cosmetic ads for the AngelFace line. As coincidence would have it, the Baroness’s latest flame is a rakish Englishman named Tony Cavendish who runs an oil business. Tony’s about to head over to Scotland where he will stay in the castle of Lord Angus Bane, who happens to have won the Nobel Prize for his research into chemicals and oil and etc. The reader can already see where this is going, and indeed after a lot of page-filler where the Baroness and her vast team tracks various suspects, the Baroness settles on Bane as being a likely culprit behind SPOILER.

Here the rot sets in. Moffit brings the novel to a standstill with endless scenes of characters who speak in “Scottish” dialog, while nothing else of much importance takes place. The Baroness meanwhile researches, keeping in touch via the usual spy-fy means with her team, most of whom are themselves in Scotland. She also learns more about the mysterious Lord Bane, who is rarely seen on his estate and who allows a group of equally-mysterious Germans to stay there, ostensibly because they go hunting on his grounds. There’s also reports of a local sea monster, the “Crombie beastie,” as well as a Japanese team of scientists who are trying to capture it.

But honestly, nothing happens. It’s just wheel-spinning of the worst sort. The Baroness even suspects her boyfriend Tony, due to his affiliation with those mysterious Germans, not that it stops her from the occasional uber-graphic sex scene with him. Things don’t even pick up after an attempt is made on the Baroness’s life while she’s out driving Tony’s car for a look at the “beastie;” surviving a major crash after her car is squirted with that oil-eating chemical, she tapes up her bruises and just continues to snoop around.

Gradually Moffitt brings the series back to the form we expect from previous volumes, but even then it’s too little, too late. There’s a nice part where the Baroness thinks she’s found the castle’s legendary ghost, only to discover it’s one of Bane’s men, who slinks around in between the chambers to snoop; the Baroness breaks his neck and sends the corpse off into the sea via a bra that turns into a balloon(!). Another good sequence has the Baroness and her teammate Fiona watch as the “Crombie beastie,” which turns out to be an experimental sub, attacks that Japanese crew; a team of frogmen emerge from the sub, gleefully killing the scientists one by one.

At length the Baroness catches up with the reader and knows that Bane is behind SPOILER. But before that we have to endure more boring stuff, like an overlong sequence where the ever-arrogant Baroness challenges Bane in the annual Highland Games, calling in big Joe Skytop to out-toss some Bane employee in the treetrunk toss, and Tom Sumo to outfight Bane’s top swordsman in a sword fight. It’s so boring, mostly because you know the Baroness’s team is going to be victorious, yet Moffitt blithely writes on for pages and pages, documenting each tree-toss and sword stroke, until the matches finally end…just as you knew they would, with the Baroness’s team victorious.

This leads into a mini-“Most Dangerous Game” sequence where the Baroness is hunted by those Germans; there’s some dark comedy at work, here, as the Germans keep trying to “accidentally” kill the Baroness before finally dropping all pretense and coming after her. Of course, the Baroness makes short work of them and escapes. This in itself is one of the highlights of the novel, with the Baroness inflating a life-size balloon replica of herself as a decoy! Nevertheless she’s captured as is expected, only to awaken and find herself nude to the waist, hanging upside down over a pot of boiling oil.

Part of the Bane clan’s ancient notoriety was the boiling of their enemies, and since she’s pissed them off so righteously they’re going to boil the Baroness the slow way. Thanks though to her nifty plastic spy-fy belt, which turns into a sword when heated, she’s able to cut her way out and then hack up the torturer. Here follows another of those series trademarks where the Baroness, nude and covered in oil, waltzes through the castle and hacks people apart.

One scene that had me scratching my head was her swordfight with that aforementioned swordsmaster; somehow the Baroness is able to cut him in half, from groin to breastbone, and it just doesn’t seem possible the way Moffitt describes it (he has her slicing up with the sword “like a golf club” into her opponent, who is sitting down at the time). But then, after we just saw our heroine escape a boiling cauldron with her belt-cum-sword, I guess reality has little import.

Meanwhile the Baroness’s team is raising hell in Bane’s castle, and here we have actual action series stuff, with gunfights and explosions. But the finale itself is rushed, which makes you wonder about all of that page-filling banality that came before; Bane escapes in his sub, and the Baroness and Tony fly out in a helicopter to Tony’s oil rig to intercept it. It all leads to the Baroness, in a wetsuit, swimming down to some impossible depth so she can plant a bomb on the sub, thus destroying it and the last of Bane’s oil-eating virus.

It’s all over in about three pages, and just leaves the reader unsatisfied. If more time had been spent on the finale (or at least the action), and less on the wheel-spinning, then Black Gold would have made for a much better read. But then, even the villains this time are a step down; Bane is downright boring, not nearly as colorful or bizarre as some of the previous villains. Again, it all reeks of an author either bored with his series or just rushing to meet a deadline.

Honestly, the cult fame of this series baffles me. Having read every volume, I wouldn’t even place the Baroness in my top ten of favorite men’s adventure series, let alone top five. There are so many other series more deserving of a cult following, like John Eagle Expeditor, TNT, Phoenix, and especially Doomsday Warrior. But then, I get the feeling that a lot of the fans of this series haven’t actually read any of the novels; they just like the idea of it.

From the Baroness Yahoo Group we know that Donald Moffitt became ill shortly after turning in Black Gold, and so was unable to write for a while. By the time he came back, with two written manuscripts ready to go, series owner Lyle Kenyon Engel told him that publisher Pocket Books was no longer interested. I think Black Gold offers a little indication why; it’s no surprise that sales weren’t good enough to continue publishing the series. What’s sad though is that the Baroness started off so great with The Ecstasy Connection; such a shame, then, that it ended so ignobly.

As mentioned there were a few more novels written for this series, but never published; I’ll focus on them in my next Baroness post.

Apr 052012

The Baroness #7: Flicker of Doom, by Paul Kenyon
December, 1974 Pocket Books

This penultimate volume of the Baroness series finds our heroine battling a threat very similar to the one in her previous adventure. Only whereas the doomsday device in #6: Sonic Slave was based on sound, the evil-genius-created device in Flicker of Doom is based on sight. This adventure even takes place in Morocco, again quite similar to the Middle Eastern locale of Sonic Slave.

But then, this series has been based on repetition from the start. Each novel has followed basically the same template, as if Donald Moffitt (aka “Paul Kenyon”) was following some chart. Despite all of this, the series is still fun, always delivering pulpy plots with a good heaping of violence. And let’s not forget the pages and pages of graphic sex scenes, though how could we? Actually the Baroness is a bit more frisky this time out, bedding three men during the course of the novel. She even finds time to smoke a little dope, something I don’t think she’s done since way back in #1: The Ecstasy Connection.

Flicker of Doom continues on the series-improvement begun in Sonic Slave; I’m almost sad that the next volume is the last. It seems to me that Moffitt was becoming more adjusted to writing action series fiction; with each volume he has better worked the Baroness’s large team into the plots. Here he does his best job yet, with each of her teammates actually doing something useful instead of just standing around until the gun-blazing finale.

Also Moffitt here slightly tones down the too-perfect qualities of the Baroness, making her a bit more human and likable. He even appears to have been inspired by Hector Garrido’s cover paintings for the previous books; at the finale of Flicker of Doom, the Baroness actually wears a skin-tight black costume which appears to be identical to the one Garrido has drawn for her since the first volume.

The main villain in this novel isn’t as colorful as previous ones, but still entertaining: Don Alejandro, descendant of Inquisitors, who wishes to reclaim his family’s control of Morocco. In order to do this he has, with the help of his simian assistant Dr. Funke, created a device which induces epilletic fits. The fits are induced by lights which flicker so subtly that the eye can’t see them, but once directed upon the subject a messy and painful death quickly ensues. Already the duo has killed off high-ranking officials and Iranian soldiers (this was back when Iran was still “friends” with the US).

Dr. Funke is actually the more entertaining villain, a German brute who looks just like an ape. However I kept laughing, because every time I read “Dr. Funke” I flashed back to the character Dr. Tobias Funke on Arrested Development, a show I miss to this day. Funke, we’re told, is a sexual deviant, and enjoys using his own seizure-studies to take advantage of women. Of course he sets his perverted sights on the Baroness as soon as she arrives on the scene in Morocco, where Funke and Alejandro have set up headquarters in Alejandro’s palatial estate.

After the usual set-up, the Baroness ventures to Morocco with the cover story that there she will pose for a new line of “Angelface” cosmetics, for which she’s being paid half a million dollars. Again we are constantly reminded how beautiful and gorgeous she is. While she attempts to figure out the culprit behind these latest attacks, her team handles their own assignments. Ironically, each teammate is at one point in their mission discovered and confronted by several attackers. In each case, the Baroness’s teammates are able to fight their way out and avoid being captured. However when the Baroness is discovered and attacked, she is captured.

I know, this is so Moffitt can deliver the required scene of a bound and nude Baroness who must free herself. But once again I say that the Baroness comes off as the weakest member of her own team. Whereas her subordinates are able to overcome odds and escape, the Baroness is always outfought and captured. It’s happened in every volume yet.

But even so, her capture again leads to the best scene in the book. Taken prisoner by a group of Islamic terrorists in a shadowy section of a Moroccan bazaar, the Baroness — again, despite her struggling — is bound to a chair and about to be tortured. What with the sadistic, lecherous torturer and his host of bladed equipment, it all comes off like something out of a sweat mag.

Freeing herself in a pretty cool fashion (one I don’t think would work in reality, but so what), the Baroness lays waste to a horde of men, once again fighting in the nude. This series always excels when it features the Baroness alone (and usually naked) against several attackers…though I always wonder if she fights so well after being captured, why can’t she fight just as well before being captured? As a matter of fact she’s captured twice in Flicker of Doom, first in the bazaar and later in Alejandro’s villa, where Moffitt can deliver another required scene: the Baroness strapped into some insane torture device.

The epilepsy-inducing gizmo is more than a match for the Baroness, and she’s quickly overcome. Dr. Funke attempts to take advantage of her, but the Baroness is saved by a brazen act of deus ex machina — a character previously thought dead turns out to still be alive, long enough that is to save the Baroness before croaking for real. Pretty lame. The finale isn’t as gun-blazing as previous installments; rather, the Baroness suits up in the skin-tight black costume and sneaks into Alejandro’s villa, bypassing the hidden epilepsy-inducing lights via a diving-style helmet.

This was another good volume, but once again I must question who this series was written for. I still say The Baroness was an attempt at a “women’s adventure” series. The majority of the book is written from her perspective, so all of the sex scenes are rendered from a woman’s point of view. More proof is offered up in the advertisements within the books themselves; previous volumes have featured ads for women-themed publications, in particular one about weight-loss tips for women. Flicker of Doom features an ad for a book titled Give Your Child A Superior Mind, complete with a photo of a lady playing with her toddler!

I don’t think you’d see an ad like that in the back of a Marksman book, that’s for sure…

Feb 062012

The Baroness #6: Sonic Slave, by Paul Kenyon
November, 1974 Pocket Books

The previous volume of the Baroness series left me cold; I found the Baroness herself pretty annoying, getting herself and her teammates in mortal danger due to nothing more than her ego and recklessness. Also the spy-fy aspect of the series was beginning to wear thin, with fancy gadgets described ad naseum — not to mention the pages-filling explicit sex scenes, which by this point were too much of a good thing. So what a relief it is that Sonic Slave (now there’s a name for an ’80s metal band) is an improvement in every way over Operation Doomsday.

The focus this time out is moreso on plot and scene-setting. In fact there’s hardly any action until the final third, and I was shocked to discover that the Baroness only has sex twice in the novel, first in the opening pages with a millionaire horse-breeder, and toward the end with the leader of the rebel faction of a fictional Middle Eastern country. I’ve noticed this is yet another pattern of the series; the Baroness will have sex early on in her “regular” life as Penelope St. John-Orsini, and again later on, while on a mission, in her guise as the Baroness. And I’m also happy to note that for once the Baroness doesn’t pull any stupid moves while on this mission — in the past she’s always gone off on her own for some arrogant reason, only to be caught. She of course works solo at times in Sonic Slave, but it’s for necessary reasons.

After outbidding a group of wealthy Japanese (at an exorbitant price) for a horse, the Baroness frolicks in the hay with the aformentioned millionaire. This is the first of two scenes in which the Baroness has sex while horses are around, her sexual prowess serving to shall we say “titillate” the beasts in both instances. Honestly, I’m not sure what Paul Kenyon (aka Donald Moffitt) was going for with this. But, as has happened in every previous volume of the series, as soon as she’s finished having sex the Baroness gets a call from her handler, Coin, and races off for her next mission. I’ve said it before, the Baroness series is more repetitive than most men’s adventure series, and I wonder how a different “Paul Kenyon” might’ve shaken things up.

The threat this time is the power-crazed Emir of a small patch of sand in the Middle East. The Emir likes to torture his subjects, hacking off their bodyparts and feeding them to his birds. The bigger threat however is Octave Le Sourd, a French alchemist of sound who has developed a sort of sonic attack method which renders flesh into jelly. The Emir has been using the sound cannons on surrounding villages, decimating people in horrendous ways. Posing as her usual glamorous, world-traveling self, the Baroness “visits” the Emir with the cover story of looking to breed with some of his fine horse stock — the opening bit of the Baroness outbidding the Japanese (which has made world news) being used to good purpose here.

Kenyon brings to life the exotic world of the Emir’s palace, with the Baroness and only two of her teammates living in luxuriously-appointed suites while the rest of her team pose as archeologists, digging in the desert across the border. For once the team actually comes off like a team. The Baroness finds herself drawn to the strange Le Sourd, who provides her with a variety of tours. She also successfully fends off the Emir, who has set his depraved sights on her.

There are some brutal sequences in Sonic Slave. In particular a scene midway through where the Baroness goes on a hunting trip with the Emir and his Arab colleagues; the game they hunt is the downtrodden prisoners from the Emir’s jails. Kenyon shows the Baroness’s noble spirit when, able to get away from her Emir-appointed watchdogs during the hunt, she saves one of the prisoners (who of course turns out to be a good looking guy — indeed the rebel leader mentioned above), killing a group of Arabs with her bare hands.

As expected the Baroness is uncovered, but this time out it goes down in a novel way. Finding out that her cover’s been blown, she escapes into the palace wearing a wisp of a nightgown made of spy-fy fiber technology. Long story short, it culminates in the Baroness hanging nude from the palace ceiling and sneaking into the Emir’s harem of equally-nude women. But despite it all she’s still caught, ending up in a contraption straight out of Goldfinger where she’s strapped onto a torture device outfitted with a sonic beam that threatens her womanhood.

Kenyon’s writing is a step or two above the men’s adventure norm, with great scene-setting and description. He also excels in the action scenes; the finale, where all hell breaks loose as the Baroness and her team take on the Emir’s men in the desert, is very well done. But again it’s in the more intimate, close-quarter sections where Kenyon shines, with the Baroness taking on attackers by herself, usually bare-handed.

Hector Garrido’s covers are usually excellent, but I find this one a bit chaotic. It’s interesting though that he always has the Baroness wearing the same skintight black costume, when she wears no such costume in the series itself. In fact, she’s usually wearing nothing at all — no wonder Harold Robbins wanted to buy the film rights to the series.