The Enforcer #4: Kill Deadline (Manor Books edition)

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Dec 312012

The Enforcer #4: Kill Deadline (Manor Books edition)
No month stated, 1979  Manor Books

As I mentioned in my review of Kill Deadline, the 4th volume of the Enforcer series, Manor Books failed to reprint this particular installment when it took over the series in 1975. The original edition of Kill Deadline was published by Lancer Books in 1973, and was the last volume of the series that Lancer released.

When Manor Books began re-releasing the novels in 1975, they issued each of the Lancer originals with new covers (and in the case of Enforcer #1, a new title – “Caribbean Kill”). My guess is it must’ve been an oversight which prevented Kill Deadline from being reprinted with the rest of the Lancer originals. Anyway, Manor finally got around to it in 1979, four years after the others had been reprinted, and six years after the original Lancer Books edition.

But boy did they screw up with this printing. For one, take a look at that title. They have Kill Deadline as “#6” in the series, when in reality it was #4. I assume Manor was trying to fool people into thinking this was a “new” installment…and also, if you count the Lancer originals that Manor reprinted (Enforcer #1Calling Doctor Kill, and Kill City), plus the two “new” Manor originals (Bio Blitz and Steel Trap), then this would actually be the sixth volume, at least in order of publication.

I once read somewhere that this Manor edition of Kill Deadline was supposedly a wholly new book, just with the same title. Sadly, that’s not true. The Manor edition of Kill Deadline is the exact same novel that Lancer Books published in 1973. Even the cover is the same – Manor couldn’t even be bothered to commision a new cover for it, as they had for the others.

Again looking at the cover, you’ll notice something is missing – namely, a byline for series author Andrew Sugar. Manor only put Sugar’s name on the spine, and even here they goofed: see if you can spot what’s wrong in the picture below:

My favorite thing about this Manor edition though is the back cover. Clearly written as an overview of the Enforcer series but written by someone who’d obviously never read a single volume of it, this back cover synopsis makes the series sound like some sort of pulp-horror hybrid:

The blurb on the first page is also enjoyable, offering more vague (and misleading) hyperbole instead of the customary excerpt from the novel itself:

This Manor edition of Kill Deadline is easily the rarest volume of the entire Enforcer series. It took me a long time to find a reasonably-priced copy; what few copies are out there generally start at around a whopping $50 or more. But I had to find a copy…mostly because I really hoped this was some heretofore-“lost” installment of the series, but also because I’m just such a geek about The Enforcer. It’s like my Star Wars, I guess.

Dec 132012

The Enforcer #6: Steel Trap, by Andrew Sugar
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books

It’s not numbered, but this was the sixth volume of the Enforcer series, taking place a few months after the preceding volume, Bio Blitz. Ironically enough, just as Bio Blitz harkened back in some ways to Enforcer #1, Steel Trap harkens back to #2: Calling Doctor Kill. It follows the same template, with our cloned hero Alex Jason once again venturing into a high-security location, pretending to be someone he’s not. And like that second volume, Steel Trap starts off strong but gets lost toward the end, delivering an anticlimatic finale that seems dashed off.

Overall the novel is much better than Calling Doctor Kill, though, and Andrew Sugar’s writing is up to its usual level. I still say this guy was one of the unsung masters of the men’s adventure genre, and one of these days I intend to re-read the Enforcer series in full – I like it that much. Also, after the stagebound affairs of the middle books in the series, Sugar has better figured out how to meld action scenes with introspection-heavy sequences; it’s not up to par with Bio Blitz, but Steel Trap does offer some nice and violent set pieces amid the philosophizing and ruminating.

As seen in the previous volume, Lochner, Jason’s arch rival and nemesis of the John Anryn Institute, has been killed (by Jason’s “fat” boss, Flack, no less). You’d think Sugar would open it up and introduce some other villain, but no; Jason and his fellows are still dealing with the remnants of Lochner’s syndicate. It seems that many of them are unaware that Lochner’s dead, and so the Institute is keeping it a secret so as to lure some of the syndicate bosses out into the open.

One of them turns out to be a guy named Spevic, who was in an experimental prison in California, a place nicknamed San Angie. Spevic was tossed out of a top floor before he could deliver evidence on who among Lochner’s successors was next in line to run the syndicate. He’s contacted the Institute and, in exchange for a healthy clone body, the now-paralyzed Spevic will tell “Big John” (as the Institute is called) everything he knows.

This develops into the first of a few gory action scenes, this volume being the most violent I believe since Enforcer #1. Jason and a few redshirt clones sit in a van and wait to ambush Spevic’s police caravan as he’s driven through the desert, on his way to a hospital – Flack’s nephew Hamilton, a fellow Institute employee who works as the doctor in San Angie, is on board and the key to Jason’s plan. But Jason and his crew are themselves ambushed, by a helicopter filled with mercenaries bearing M-16s. (Sugar never really explains who these guys are, or who sent them.) But here we have heads exploding and Jason blowing off arms and legs with his handy laser pistol.

When Spevic ends up a casualty of the ambush, Jason goes back to square one. Back at the Institute HQ in New York, he continues to brainstorm with Flack, Hamilton, and Institute head scientest Rosegold – that is, when he isn’t having a drink or a smoke or sex with his girlfriend Samantha. Sam as you’ll recall was introduced in the previous volume, and again she doesn’t bring much to the tale, quickly shunted off to New Mexico for some project for Rosegold.

Sam though is similar to Brunnie, Jason’s girlfriend from way back in the first volume – like Brunnie, Sam is a clone, and also a decade or so older than Jason himself, even though they both live in eternally-young clone bodies. Steel Trap in fact opens with a good scene between these two, with Sam taking Jason to “Club Nostalgia,” a 1940s-themed bar which brings back memories for Sam; after which they go park in Jason’s car for some 1950s-style backseat shenanigans. (Sugar also sets a precedent for the number of times an author can mention a female character’s breasts; he nearly runs out of adjectives describing Sam’s, which apparently must be friggin’ stupendous on her current body.)

Sugar plays up a new development here, one that I assume would have had repercussions in ensuing volumes; Flack keeps hassling Jason that he’s an “executive,” not an enforcer, and that Jason should not be going out on anymore field assignments. (I guess Flack doesn’t realize the series is entitled The Enforcer.) Apparently this was something Flack specified back when he offered Jason his new lease on life in the first volume, but I missed it, or have forgotten about it. But anyway, Flack keeps bullying Jason that Jason needs to find other enforcers to go out on the field and handle action items, such as this new plan of Jason’s to send an enforcer into San Angie to root out the Lochner-successor Spevic claimed was there with his dying breath.

Jason has to prove himself the only clone fit for the job, passing an ESP test devised by Rosegold. This placates Flack, but the threat is left that Jason will have to come up with reasons to be an enforcer in future volumes. Sam too is suffering the same problem, and she and Jason make a pact to help each other out, as Sam herself is an action junkie and doesn’t want to be desk-bound. Whether Sugar intended to follow this through in future volumes is a mystery, as sadly Steel Trap was the final installment of the series.

Given a muscle-bound new body which is almost identical to a prisoner who is about to be transferred to San Angie, Jason studies the convict he is supposed to be impersonating and dreams up another scenario to sneak into the prison. This turns out to be almost identical to the previous job; once again Jason and some redshirt enforcers hide out in the desert and ambush a police caravan! This time there’s no helicopter ambush, and Jason is able to switch out the man he’s impersonating.

I’m not a fan of prison fiction, so I wasn’t really thrilled about Steel Trap’s plot. Luckily Sugar doesn’t get to the prison stuff until over halfway through the novel, and it only takes up maybe a quarter of the narrative. Only problem is, the book kind of stops dead once Jason is in the prison. As in the middle volumes of the series, the novel becomes a stagebound mystery-thriller with Jason deducing and brainstorming, and forward momentum is lost. Also, once again like in Calling Doctor Kill, there’s lots of incidental subplots that have no bearing on the story and just come off like padding.

Spevic’s dying words were “Big Al,” so Jason ponders this while trying to navigate the brutal world of prison. Not that he has much trouble; by the end of his first day he’s already “the boss of the whites.” Racial disharmony is of course prevalent at San Angie, and Sugar as expected immediately has Jason stirring things up. (Another flashback to Calling Doctor Kill, where Jason again had no problem with baiting a black character.) Meanwhile he will go off to the medical ward, where he has meetings with Hamilton. It was all sort of like a weird prefigure of that show PrisonBreak.

After a lot of red herrings and page-fillers, Jason finally deduces who “Big Al” is in a move that strikes of the utter bullshit we saw back in #4: Kill Deadline. Big Al’s identity is a total cop-out on Sugar’s part; turns out the man himself is a schizophrenic, so that Jason, while using his ESP powers, was unable to pick up Big Al’s thoughts, because the man himself didn’t even know he was Big Al at the time! Like I said, utter bullshit. But still, the way Sugar unveils it, trying to make his goofy plotting seem realistic, is a wonder to behold.

The finale is rushed and anticlimatic, again like the second volume, with Jason deducing Big Al’s identity and fostering a prison riot – one Sugar doesn’t even bother describing. In fact Jason breaks out of San Angie immediately thereafter, thanks to a helicopter of his own, and next thing you know he’s chasing Big Al across the pitch-black desert outside, Jason tracking Big Al via infrared pellets he’s eaten – another Big John invention, but one which will render Jason permanently blind if he sees any bright lights. (True to form for the series, Steel Trap begins at the end, with a blind and gunshot Jason lying in a ditch and wondering if Big Al is about to finish him off, before flashing back to the preceding events.)

It’s interesting to note that the novel is set in 1973, something mentioned both in the narrative and the dialog. My assumption is that Sugar must’ve written these six volumes all in that year, but Bio Blitz and Steel Trap just went unpublished until 1975. In other words, these two were not just “new” installments written for Manor Books. I’m curious though why Sugar did not write new volumes. Maybe by then he’d moved on to the Israeli Commandos series, which was a Manor original…maybe he’d just lost interest in the Enforcer.

So while it isn’t the strongest finale for the series, Steel Trap still has its moments. The gore factor is a little stronger, as mentioned; though there aren’t many action scenes, Sugar really plays up the carnage when they occur. However the “art of being a guy” stuff is toned down, with the rampant smoking and drinking of previous books a bit in the background – well, maybe not the smoking. Jason still smokes like a chimney here. But despite the anticlimatic end and the cop-out reveal of who Big Al is, the book is still enjoyable, even if it does lack the weird flourishes of Enforcer #1 and Bio Blitz.

Well, as another long review will attest, I really love the Enforcer series. It’s one of my very favorites, maybe even my top favorite. I’ll miss it. I like to imagine though that maybe Alex Jason is still out there, hanging out in Big John HQ and smoking and drinking his brandy, philosophizing with Flack and Rosegold and Sam, a-and maybe even new Institute clone members Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna…now that would be a series!

Jun 252012

The Enforcer #5: Bio Blitz, by Andrew Sugar
No month stated, 1975 Manor Books

After Lancer Books stopped publishing the Enforcer, Andrew Sugar’s series was in limbo for two years before Manor Books picked it up in 1975. Reprinting the Lancer originals with new covers (athough for some curious reason, #4: Kill Deadline wasn’t reprinted until 1979 — and with Sugar’s name misspelled as “Angrew” Sugar on the spine!), Manor also published two new installments, Bio Blitz and Steel Trap. Neither installment featured a number or a publication month, which must’ve caused reader confusion. Given that each prior Enforcer novel had been heavily based in continuity, which of these two new books was supposed to be read first?

Anyway, I can confirm that Bio Blitz takes place shortly after Kill Deadline, and precedes Steel Trap; hence, it’s the fifth volume of the series, even though Manor (for whatever reason) neglected to title it as such. I can also happily report that Bio Blitz is a return of sorts to the lurid, scifi-esque pulp of Enforcer #1 — still one of the best men’s adventure novels I’ve ever read. Though Bio Blitz doesn’t quite achieve the twisted glory of that first installment, it comes close at times.

For one, Sugar here has figured out how to meld his Objectivist/Libertarian views with violent pulp. Whereas the first volume started off strong with great characterization, plotting, writing, and action, the succeeding three volumes became increasingly static. Gone were the jungle locales and weird menaces of the first book, replaced by long scenes of our clone hero Alex Jason sitting around, smoking and drinking endlessly, while he would talk his way through some conundrum. The series, I’m saying, was becoming more of a psuedo-mystery thing, with a veritable intellectual/philosophical thrust. I am not saying however that I didn’t enjoy it. Hell, I rank the Enforcer way up in the ranks of the men’s adventure series I’ve read. I most like it precisely because it’s something different than the genre norm.

But still, the series was becoming a bit too padded and, at times, dull. Kill Deadline in particular, while promising a great plot about a killer stalking new members of the John Anryn Institute (ie the shadowy private organization for which Jason enforces), was given over to patience-trying scenes of Jason drinking and smoking and talking and talking. So Bio Blitz comes as a jolt of fresh air, given that it features a lot more action and thrills, the narrative very rarely getting stuck in the mire of the longwinded digressions/discussions of those three previous volumes.

Sugar here capitalizes on two popular topics of the mid-’70s: the bug menace craze (as seen in innumerable films of the time, most spectacularly in the almighty Swarm, with Michael Caine) and women’s lib. Both topics are combined in the latest threat facing the Anryn Institute; Lockner, archenemy from the previous volumes and seen briefly in Kill Deadline, has concocted an incredibly complex scheme to infiltrate the Institute, involving strains of specifically-mutated insects as well as an army of gun-toting women’s libbers.

In Kill Deadline Jason’s longtime flame Janet was murdered by Lockner’s vassal; at the end of the novel, Jason discovered that Janet had also been pregnant with his child. As we’ll recall, Jason swore vengeance, and pledged that the Institute would go on the offense. Bio Blitz opens up three months later (we also learn it’s been “over four years” since the events of the first volume), and the Institute hasn’t gotten much closer to finding Lockner, let alone capturing him…but Jason has found himself a new flame!

This new character, Samantha, is one of the failings of Bio Blitz. She is a carbon copy of Janet (a veritable clone, you might say): a gorgeous doctor who enjoys the thrill of danger and who falls in love with Jason. The only difference being that Samantha (nicknamed “Sam” — just like in Bewitched!!) is also a clone. But really she is so similar to Janet that it made me wonder why Sugar even bothered killing Janet off…especially given that Janet is mentioned but a few times in the novel, Jason already getting hot and heavy with Sam in one of Sugar’s trademark explicit scenes (though, sadly, the sex scenes have become less and less explicit with each volume).

However Bio Blitz features many inventive scenes, such as when Jason goes out to the countryside with Institute honcho/best friend Flack to see the man’s restored Colonial mansion, which falls apart beneath their feet, courtesy some Lockner-designed termites. This scene features the first of a handful of actual action sequences, with Jason using his 3-shot laser pistol to blow off the heads of a few of Lockner’s goons. Another enjoyable scene, Sugar playing up the dark comedy and lurid aspects throughout, is when three of the female militants try to break into the Institute, and Jason makes them strip before they are interrogated. The highlight though is the climax of the novel, with Jason and Samantha, nude from the waist down, trying to get across an approaching army of ants so they can rescue Flack from Lockner’s clutches.

This is not to say that Bio Blitz doesn’t occasionally revert to the stagebound, dialog-driven nature of preceding volumes. Sugar must’ve done a lot of research on insects and he displays his knowledge, in outright bald terms, through the conduit of a newly-introduced scientist on the Institute’s payroll. Also, Lockner’s schemes are way too complex, and there are several scenes where Jason will talk his way through them for pages and pages. Again Jason is presented as the know-it-all, able to figure things out long before anyone else. That being said, though Jason is smart about some things he’s a complete idiot when it’s narratively convenient, like when he fails to spot the obvious identity of a frail man who’s trying to gain admittance to the Institute.

The “lost art of being a guy” ethic I’ve written about in previous Enforcer reviews is here in full force, possibly moreso than any other volume yet. Sugar must’ve been a hell of a smoker, or perhaps he was trying to quit and was getting a vicarious nicotine fix through his characters, because these people friggin’ smoke. Each and every scene features a mention of someone pulling out a pack of smokes, offering it around, holding aloft a zippo, taking pleasurable drags. It about made me want to go out and buy a pack! In fact, it occurred to me that Manor lost a great opportunity for some product-placement revenue; Bio Blitz features one of those cardboard ads for Kent Cigarettes, bound into the book, as was custom for a lot of these 1970s men’s adventure novels. All Sugar had to do was specify that Jason and his pals smoked Kents, and Manor probably could’ve raked in some extra cash.

But anyway we again have many scenes where Jason and his Institute comrades sit around and smoke cigarettes and drink brandy — and they drink brandy just about as much as they smoke cigarettes. Jason in previous books has been a bit more “advanced” than the average men’s adventure protagonist, more open-minded about women and the world. So here Sugar lets the other Institute guys mouth all of the misogynist stuff, in particular Abernathy, the Institute’s non-clone head of security. This guy gets a lot of lines in about the female militants, who of course are played up as complete idiots; every time he brings them into the narrative, Sugar goes to pains to tell us how stupid these militant women are. I also got a kick out of the official Institute name for female enforcers — “enforcerettes!”

Bio Blitz is layed out the same as previous volumes, opening up with a scene before the climax, with Jason reflecting back on how it all started before we make our way back to the end. So we have various bug attacks, convoluted schemes, a sex scene or two, lots of drinking and smoking (at one point someone even jams a cig into Jason’s mouth immediately as he regains consciousness after being knocked out!), Jason blowing off heads and searing off limbs with his laser pistol, and the final comeuppance of Lockner — something worked toward since Enforcer #1.

One more volume remains, the aforementioned Steel Trap, which apparently sees Jason going undercover in a prison. Bio Blitz by the way doesn’t play up much on the clone aspect; indeed Jason’s body in this volume, a red-haired and burly Irish model, is arbitrary to the plot itself. Anyway, as the length of this review will attest, I quite enjoy this series, despite its faults, and will be sad to see it go — sometimes I get the feeling we could learn something from The Enforcer, but god knows what it might be.

Mar 052012

The Enforcer #4: Kill Deadline, by Andrew Sugar
July, 1973 Lancer Books

The Enforcer series continues to become more of a dialog-driven mystery thriller, which is unfortunate given the pulpy action-filled charm of the first volume. I agree with Marty McKee on this one, as Kill Deadline is for the most part a rather tepid and slow-moving affair. It isn’t as bad as Calling Doctor Kill, but it’s nowhere as good as Enforcer #1.

Sugar continues to extol what I called in my review of Enforcer #3: Kill City “the lost art of being a guy.” Kill Deadline is filled with scenes of guys sitting around as they smoke, drink brandy, and discuss serious issues. There’s more drinking in Kill Deadline than the average episode of Bewitched. I lost track of the number of times hero Alex Jason would pour brandy over ice and gulp it down. Jason, a clone, has little concern over his health, and indeed relishes the fact that he can indulge in any vice he wishes, given that he only lives in each new clone body for 90 days.

However the clone aspect begins to wear thin with this volume. It also robs the series of a sense of danger. While on his latest mission, Jason even keeps a spare clone body handy in case he gets “killed!” In other words, no worries about mortal danger; all our hero has to do is have his brain mapped into a new body, and he can go right on enforcing.

One novel aspect this time is that Jason plans the mission himself, given that he’s apparently the only person in the world who can connect the deaths of various millionaires. All of these men, dead of what appear to be natural causes, were each being considered for membership in the John Anryn Institute, ie the shadowy “looking out for the little guy” corporation for which Jason enforces.

Jason deduces that these men were killed by an individual who wishes to get inside the Institute. That individual could only be Alfred Lochner, Jason’s nemesis since the first volume. The clues come together after a wealthy corporate bigshot is found dead hours after playing a looong game of poker with Jason and his other Institute buddies. (As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more boring to read about than poker.) The man’s now dead and his young associate, certain to one day take ownership of the company, is at death’s door. Both men were poisoned by mushrooms, but even the old lady who gave them the mushrooms is dead.

Figuring that someone is shadowing people looking to get into the Institute, Jason decides to pose as Richards, the associate who survived the poisoning. Going around in a wheelchair (due to the fact that the convalescing Richards can no longer walk), Jason is assisted by his gorgeous girlfriend Janet, who poses as “Richards’s” nurse. This entails many more scenes of Jason talking to various cronies as he bides his time until someone tries to kill him.

There’s lots and lots of talking in Kill Deadline. Jason comes off like quite the blowhard, especially given that he’s the only person to ever figure out anything. As per his custom, Sugar spices things up every so often with sex scenes between Jason and Janet. But anyone who read Enforcer #1 knows that Jason suffers from the Death Wish curse — anyone he loves is certain to meet an unfortunate end, and soon. Also as per custom, Sugar opens the novel with a scene that takes place toward the very end, with a beaten Jason meeting Lochner face-to-face, shortly before Lochner is to have Jason tossed into the Hudson. Then Sugar backtracks so that the majority of the novel comes off like Jason’s reflections upon recent events.

A few lurid moments liven things up. For one, the cover depicts actual events in the book; in one of his schemes, Jason, posing as Richards, has Institute clones pretend to be goons who storm into a party and take “Richards” captive. Prying a shotgun from a clone in a rehearsed scene, Jason then blows the head off of a handy brainless clone body. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out the point of this scene, as it had nothing to do with anything and didn’t help Jason solve the mystery.

Even better is a scene late in the game where a gorgeous socialite comes into Jason’s apartment while he’s still posing as Richards. She kisses him and Jason is instantly smitten with her — some sort of drug on her lipstick. She then takes off her top and has Jason go to town on her breasts. Endless detail here, the moral of which is that the lady’s breasts are implanted with a poison that she squirts into men’s mouths as they are sucking on her. You read that right. As Jason later refers to her, “The lady with the killer-tits.” Now that would’ve made for the title of a book.

Kill Deadline only picks up in these final pages. As mentioned Jason suffers a personal loss but snaps out of it after a bit of mourning, using those handy mental powers of his. He goes after the killer, Darkhurst, whom Jason of course is able to unmask via goofy means. Darkhurst works for Lochner, and so Jason ends up facing his nemesis at the end of the novel. The villain again escapes, and Kill Deadline ends with Jason vowing that this time the Institute will go on the offensive; they’re going to find Lochner and put him out of business.

Lancer Books was apparently uninterested in joining the fight. This was the last volume of the Enforcer they published, and it’s certain they dropped the title, given the cliffhanger ending Sugar delivered. The series returned however in 1975, this time through Manor Books, who reprinted the four Lancer originals. I’m unable to find a jpeg of the Manor cover for Kill Deadline. Along with the reprints, Sugar also published two new volumes of the series with Manor: Bio Blitz and Steel Trap.