The Revenger #2: Fire In The Streets, by Jon Messmann June, 1974 Signet Books A year after the events of The Revenger, mule-headed hero Ben Martin now lives as “Ben Markham” in Chicago, denying himself memories of his former life and just trying to earn a living as a manager at a meat-processing factory. Soon enough though he’s once again going up against the Mafia, in a novel that almost
The Revenger, by Jon Messmann September, 1973 Signet Books Martin, while capable of violent action, is more introspective than many of his fellow Mafia busters. -- Brad Mengel, Serial Vigilantes Of Paperback Fiction Here begins the six-volume saga of Ben Martin, surely the most boringly-named protagonist in the men’s adventure genre. Curiously, Signet Books does little to inform the reader
The Sex Surrogates, by Michael Davidson February, 1973 Signet Books The “sex surrogate” story was a trash fiction subgenere of the early ‘70s, cashing in on the recently-published Masters & Johnson sex studies. Publishers released a glut of paperbacks, most of them posing as nonfictional accounts of women hired by various sex research clinics to screw sexually-troubled men in need of help.
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.