Monday, July 29, 2013
Hellfire, by Thomas Tyger
November, 1987 Pocket Books
For some reason, this is one obscure book – I never would’ve discovered it if I hadn’t spotted it on the “Mystery/Suspense” paperback shelf in the Librairie Book Shop during a recent trip to the French Quarter of New Orleans. Thomas Tyger’s 1987 novel Hellfire is so unknown that Amazon doesn’t even have it listed under the correct author name, let alone a scan of the cover. I love the internet because I’ve discovered tons of books through searching on it, but here is a case where you would never just stumble upon the book after some online browsing; further proof that the occasional visit to a used bookstore will still yield rewards.
And this novel is totally trash! Hellfire is about a psycho who is bombing sex clubs in New York City during one very hot summer, but this plot is just a framework for Thomas Tyger (whoever he was) to serve up a host of fringe-society characters, each of whom regale us with endless stories about their sordid, twisted, and kinky sex lives. The “hero” of the tale is Detective Nick O’Shay, a movie star-looking NYC cop who is actually referred to as “the real-life Dirty Harry” by the press, but O’Shay is such a cipher (not to mention such an ineffectual protagonist, more of which later) that the villain of the novel, Daniel Glass, actually comes off as more memorable.
Glass was a POW in ‘Nam after his fighter jet was shot down. Tortured and abused, he returned to America a shattered man, his wife having left him. Now a drunk living on his pension, he has taken it upon himself to clean up the filth that has swept over America. Living in upstate New York he makes raids upon Manhattan and environs, wearing a Lone Ranger costume and sending the newspapers daunting letters signed “The Masked Man.” The novel opens with Glass’s firebombing of a sex club in Manhattan; our “hero” O’Shay is called in to helm up a team to bring in the Masked Man.
My friends, you will seldom meet as ineffectual a protagonist as Nick O’Shay. He does nothing in the course of this long novel, other than put together a big team, get occasional updates from them, and sit around and drink his Glenfiddich whiskey. Oh, and boff his bimbo girlfriend Maggie, who we learn late in the tale was once busted for hooking. (The gal by the way also snorts coke and smokes dope, all while O’Shay sits beside her, sipping his whiskey!) O’Shay is so famous that women hit on him in bars and the newspapers are always hounding him for a story, but the guy does so little you figure he has to be a spoof on the author’s part, a mocking satire of the “tough cop” of pulp fiction.
But in the course of his half-assed “investigation” O’Shay meets a variety of freaks and sadists, many of whom he knows from his past life in Vice. Here Thomas Tyger comes to life; each and every one of these minor characters spins endless stories about the sexual underworld. I’m telling you, there is some sick and twisted and kinky stuff in this book – though, strangely, not a single sex scene! We get a lot of talk about it, a lot of detail about bizarre sexual practices, but never once do we get a passage where any of the characters will do the actual deed…other, that is, than a scene where Glass visits a high-class brothel in Manhattan and briefly falls in love with one of the whores after she blows him. (He of course later bombs the place when he returns and finds out the girl is with “another client.”)
These fringe characters sparkle with life, but they are presented as so twisted and so focused on sex and sex alone that it seems obvious that Tyger sides moreso with Glass, the “villain” of the tale. Confronted with such rampant sleaze and sin, such overwhelming inhummanity, it’s no wonder he lashes out; though to be sure he lashes out in monstrous ways. Bombing, shooting (with silver-tipped bullets), even strangling the various members of the sexual underworld, Glass is the only character in the novel who makes the narrative move, the only one who doesn’t sit around and spin endless stories. Meanwhile O’Shay sips more Glenfiddich and shows up to look over the ensuing crime scenes.
One interesting aspect of Hellfire is how markedly different our current world is. O’Shay drops the fact that, as of 1987, tattoo parlors were still illegal in NYC – surely not the case today, when friggin’ everyone and their goddamn dog has a tattoo (I'm not the only guy who's sick of seeing tattoos all over women, am I??). In this novel, porn shops, massage parlors, S&M clubs, and etc are all shadowy underworld places that are far removed from mainstream America. Compare to today, where porn stars get their own reality TV shows. Glass obviously believes that all of this sin and corruption is destroying his beloved US…though exactly how he became such a moral crusader is something Tyger leaves vague.
There are only a few “action” scenes per se, the majority of them from Glass’s viewpoint as he guns down defenseless whores or bystanders. We see him carry out a few of his objectives, planting bombs, murdering a Larry Flynt-type, putting on his Lone Ranger costume and driving into the drug-dealing area of Times Square and blowing away people in a bar. One issue though is that the people harmed are presented as so thoroughly despicable that you feel little sympathy.
For example there’s Natalia Stein, a heavyset and lesbian reporter who inadvertently brought down Glass’s wrath with her sex club expose that was printed in the New York Times. Stein, a thankfully minor character, is presented as such a loathsome individual that when, toward the very end of the novel, she is partly disfigured by a package bomb Glass mails her, you still can’t stand her, as she’s right back into talking about how much money she’ll make from her upcoming “Masked Man” book while she bitches at her female assistant/lover, Jan. (That being said, Stein does here have one of the best lines of the novel: “Who do you think you are, Jan? I’m Natalie Stein! You’re nobody! You’re a glamorized go-fer and a mediocre cunt-lapper – and that’s all you’ll ever be!”)
O’Shay finally does something, at the very end of the novel…that is, after Maggie has been kidnapped by Glass. And even here O’Shay only acts due to someone else’s help – namely Hotdog, an overeager member of Glass’s squad (Hotdog was kicked off the force due to his arresting of countless people due to minor infractions, only reinstated thanks to O’Shay), who follows up a lead on a mutilated whore, discovering that the she-male was attacked by a man matching Glass’s description in upstate New York. Within moments they have Glass’s name and address, and O’Shay busts ass up there alone, to save Maggie and to cancel Glass’s ticket.
The finale is pure Hollywood action movie as Glass, busy torturing a nude and bound Maggie, catches sight of O’Shay just as he is sneaking on Glass’s property to launch his ambush. This leads to a shootout and a chase scene that goes all the way back to Times Square, ending with a climatic self-immolation. While it’s a great sequence, it comes off as strange given the disparity with what came before – honestly, there is barely any action in the novel, it’s all just a sequence of one-off characters relating explicit details about their sordid sex lives, plus O’Shay is such a loser that you have a hard time buying his last-second superhero makeover.
My guess is that Thomas Tyger was a pseudonym, but I have no idea. There’s zero info on the author or the book online; Hellfire appears to have made less than a ripple in the publishing world. Tyger, despite his despicable characters and boring protagonist, is actually a good writer, doling out funny dialog. He also has a definite gift for storytelling, of the tall tale variety; every character has at least two or three stories to tell, and each story is so packed with detail that you figure Tyger must’ve been a cop himself, or at least did a hell of a lot of research. The members of O’Shay’s force also sparkle with more interest and life than Shay himself, and Tyger ably captures the locker room chatter of veteran cops as they take delight in ribbing one another.
It wasn’t the greatest novel I’ve read, but Hellfire was for sure an awesome discovery (one of the few bright points of that New Orleans “vacation,” during which my wife contracted food poisoning from the awful, awful Mother’s Restaurant). But anyway the novel is very lurid and sleazy and exploitative; within the first handful of pages Tyger has already doled out a barrage of sensationalistic stuff, letting you know exactly the kind of ride you’re in for.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
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
Monday, July 22, 2013
Adrano For Hire #1: The Corsican Cross, by Michael Bradley
February, 1974 Warner Paperback Library
This is the first of four volumes about Johnny Adrano, a 29 year-old mobster with a Harvard education who wants to carve out his own piece of the criminal underworld. It would appear that author Gary Blumberg (aka “Michael Bradley”) was trying to go for a Richard Stark/Parker sort of thing here, serving up a protagonist who is in no way a hero. Indeed, Adrano’s gambit in The Corsican Cross is to kidnap a heroin manufacturer, play one don against another, “and come out of the action in control of a juicy one-third of the heroin trade!”
Adrano is in fact a pretty unlikable protagonist. One problem I had with this book is that Adrano’s impetus is based solely upon arrogance. There’s no revenge story here, or anything else which would engender reader sympathy; Adrano merely believes that, due to his good looks and heavy education, he deserves to be at the top of the New York mafia chain, and so he decides to break out on his own and screw everyone. But the biggest miss here is that Adrano’s Harvard education was funded by those very same NYC mobsters he now looks to con! (In a barely-described backstory, we learn that Adrano, an orphan, was raised by a mobster who put him through college, but the mobster later died, so that now Adrano has no one in “the Family” who looks out for him.)
However Adrano himself takes forever to appear in this slim, 174-page novel. Like Marc Olden’s Narc books, The Corsican Cross is more of an ensemble piece, author Blumberg juggling a huge cast of underworld figures, with our protagonist sometimes lost in the fray. Also I should mention here that Blumberg is an irredeemable POV-hopper; I mean, we switch perspectives from one paragraph to the next, and this makes for a bumpy read when you consider how many characters are on display. Seriously, just give us a line break or something! Instead we go from say a mobster’s perspective straight into Adrano’s, and then into someone else’s, all in the space of three paragraphs, and all this does is confuse the reader and pull him out of the reading experience.
Anyway, at first we have to get through a lot of backstory about the dog-eat-dog world of New York-area mobsters in 1971 (the specific date in which The Corsican Cross occurs). Long story short, a don named Sam Benucci in the “redneck” woodlands of New Jersey has enjoyed the full US distribution control of the 90% pure heroin imported from Jean Paoli, a Corsican who lives in Marseilles, France. Now the dons in New York have combined to take this way from Benucci; leading them is Don Tirizzi, the most powerful mafioso in NYC.
Johnny Adranno is a low-tier “button man” in Tirizzi’s family; we learn that Adrano “made his bones” when he was still a teen, and due to his Ivy League education, his lawyer status, and his general ego, he believes that he should serve as Tirizzi’s consigliere, not Mike Sicardo…aka the brother of the guy who raised Adrano and put him through school. Adrano hatches a scheme; he approaches Benucci and tells him that, in exchange for funding the caper and cutting him in on the eventual profits, Adrano will go to France, kidnap Leon Di Bianci (the Corsican who manufactures that pure heroin and is also the best of friends with Paoli), and bring him back to the States before Tirizzi’s goons can go over there and work a deal with Paoli. The Corsican’s monopoly depends wholly upon Di Bianci’s manufactured heroin.
So begins a caper that reminded me a little of the Mission: Impossible TV series (which is actually referred to in passing in the narrative: Adrano scoffs at a “stupid spy show on TV” where the heroes easily infiltrate a gang and con them). Adrano makes use of disguises and cunning to pull a caper on Paoli, Di Bianci, and Tirizzi, posing as “Joseph Abel,” a French-speaking American seller of antiquarian books. To this end The Corsican Cross is heavier on suspense than action, though it does have an appropriately action-filled climax.
Blumberg, like Olden, seems to get the most enjoyment in writing about his villains (a meaningless term here, given that every character is a criminal). Paoli takes center stage, coming off like a heroic man among men; he fought in the Resistance and now lives in splendor with his young mistress Suzanne, chronically worrying over the failing health of his best friend Di Bianci, who despite not being a heroin user is gradually dying due to breathing the vapors as he creates the drug. That these men are selling the heroin to mobsters who then disperse it to junkies across the States, thus ruining lives and society, is something that Paoli never once considers – indeed, he envies Tirizzi and his fellow visiting mobsters over the fact that he has such avid customers in America.
The novel is more in the “trash fiction” category than men’s adventure. Again I’d say the closest comparison would be the Parker novels, only with a Godfather overlay. Blumberg ably captures the posh life of Paoli, who like Di Bianci is a compulsive collector of antiquarian books (hence Adrano’s scheme). Whereas Di Bianci is at death’s door, Paoli has the health of a younger man, and thus we get a few scenes of him dallying with Suzanne (nothing too explicit). Meanwhile Blumberg takes his time building up the characters and narrative, with Adrano posing as Joseph Abel on the flight to Paris (where he manages to pick up a French stewardess and score with her that very night; has anything like this happened to anyone outside of characters in trash fiction??). He slowly infiltrates Di Bianci’s world, claiming to have 16th century copies of Dante for sale.
Paoli and Di Bianci take an instant liking to Joseph Abel, and Paoli invites him to stay at his villa; Blumberg increases the suspense factor here by having Tirizzi and Mike Sicardo visiting at the same time. Now Adrano is afraid that his ruse might be uncovered by both parties. Blumberg also increases the sleaze angle with an arbitrary sequence in which Suzanne is raped by Marcel, a Frenchman in charge of Paoli’s heroin distribution; the way Paoli deals with Marcel is suitably gruesome (though not described), but the whole incident does nothing to forward the plot. When everything does comes to a broil, it’s all through a fluke, as Di Bianci gets sick at dinner and Adrano/Abel offers to drive him home!
Blumberg delivers a taut action scene as Adrano, exposed thanks to a dropped contact lens, escapes on a yacht with both Di Bianci and Suzanne as hostages, Sicardo and other Tirizzi goons in pursuit. Adrano proves handy with pistol and rifle, even taking on a helicopter. The action is nothing too over the top, even on the emotional front; when Adrano has the inevitable confrontation with Sicardo, it’s over in a flash and Adrano has no compunction over blowing away the brother of the man who raised him. But then, Adrano is pretty despicable throughout, arrogant to a fault, disrespectful to everyone, concerned only with himself and making money. Thus when he gets back to New York and it turns out Benucci planned to double cross him all along, the reader fills little of the concern Blumberg intends.
I figure it will be hard going dealing with this same self-centered protagonist for another three volumes, but Blumberg’s writing is compelling enough to keep the reader engaged. It looks like ensuing installments all follow this caper angle, with Adrano using his gift for disguise and foreign languages to further swindle the mob. Blumberg also ends The Coriscan Cross on an interesting, unexpected note, with Jean Paoli so impressed with Adrano’s con that he offers him a job! Whether or not Adrano accepts is something Blumberg leaves a mystery, but I’m assuming we’ll find out next time.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Sam Durell #38: Assignment Sumatra, by Edward S. Aarons
October, 1974 Fawcett Gold Medal
I’ve never given the Sam Durell series much consideration, though I’ve heard good things about it. The series started in 1955 and ran until the early 1980s; the creator and sole writer until his death in 1975 was Edward S. Aarons (after he died the books continued on for a few volumes, published under the pseudonym Will B. Aarons). Recently at a bookstore I came across several of these books at half off the cover price, with an additional 20% on top of that, so I couldn’t say no – especially when the cover price on some of them was 90 cents!
I mostly picked up ones from the early to mid ‘70s, given the bias (which even I myself don’t fully understand) that I have for that era. I chose this 38th volume in particular as the one to start with, what with the back cover copy stating that on this assignment Durell works with a “lethal lady” who basically gets off on murder. To my pleasure, Assignment Sumatra turned out to be a great read. These books are only marginally part of the men’s adventure genre, in that there’s a series title and volume numbers, but the writing is several steps above the genre norm and the feel of the books is more in the espionage arena. But it still packs in enough sex and violence; there’s just a bit more mystery and suspense than you’d get in, say, The Executioner.
Durell is known as “The Cajun” given his Louisiana heritage, but we really don’t get much background information on him in Assignment Sumatra. No wonder, given that this is the 38th volume in the series! At any rate he works for K Section of the CIA, and is your basic James Bond type. Durell comes off as pretty taciturn and more concerned with seeing the job through as cleanly as possible – in other words, he doesn’t go out of his way to get into scrapes or to kill as many enemy agents as possible.
This last fact in particular forms most of the conflict in the novel – Durell has been assigned to work his current mission with the beautiful Lydia Morgan, aka the “lethal lady” of the back cover. Lydia is a 27 year-old assassin with Q Clearance, apparently the operatives of the CIA who have clearance to kill. She really enjoys her job, and Aarons does a great job making her character so fascinating – her complicated backstory goes that she was a hippie girl who had a bad “back to nature” scene in which the two guys she was with ended up dead.
After more mental breakdowns Lydia was contacted by the creepy Eli Plowman, head of the CIA’s “sanitation squad” and one of the people Durell most hates (it’s obvious Plowman has been in previous volumes); Plowman took Lydia under his wing and turned her into a master assassin, one who can use any weapon or her hands and feet to kill. However as mentioned Lydia enjoys it, something Durell suspects at first but gradually learns to be the truth. (He witnesses it, in fact, during a later scene where Lydia demands to have sex with Durell right on the battlefield, and turns to look at one of their slain foes as she orgasms.) Durell himself is disgusted by Lydia, and not just because of her affiliation with Plowman; despite her beauty Durell instantly distrusts the woman, and resents the command that he work with her.
Their mission is to cart around a decoy who resembles moderate Indonesian leader Hueng, Premier of Salangap (another person Durell has dealt with in a previous book). The decoy, Tu Fu, is a Hakka country bumpkin who bears enough of a resemblance to Premier Hueng that Plowman and Lydia hope he will make for a suitable target while the real Hueng makes his way in secrecy to the SEACROP conference, a meeting of South Asian leaders in which Hueng is expected to make an America-friendly speech. However out to stop him is K’ang Wu Chien, Hueng’s co-ruler who is attempting to take over the country and oust Hueng; K’ang wants Hueng dead so that he can make the SEACROP speech and unite the South Asian rulers against the US.
So begins the suspense and treachery, as Durell and Lydia try to escort Tu Fu across Sumatra in the hopes that K’ang’s assassins will spring forth and kill the guy. Durell begins to feel sorry for the Hakka decoy, and instantly grates against Eli Plowman’s exploitative scheme. The novel starts off heavy on the action as the trio are attacked shortly after Durell arrives on the scene, Lydia killing off the attackers with ease. Her trademark weapons are a two-shot, heavy caliber derringer she carries between her “ample breasts” (we learn that the handle has been specially formed to fit there) and a thin, needle-like blade she straps to an inner thigh. She is also competent with her hands and feet and butchers their attackers with relish.
Durell and Lydia take an immediate dislike to one another, though Aarons as expected builds up a gradual chemistry between them, leading to the mandatory sex scenes. However Durell never stops distrusting the woman, or treating her roughly. Aarons capably walks an unusual ground because he makes Lydia such a monstrous person, capable of cold-blooded murder and deceit, yet at the same time he makes us feel compassion for her, as she’s obviously mentally unstable due to her rough background, plus she herself is aware that she is “sick.” As the two get in more danger Lydia begins to cling to Durell, sometimes begging him for sex, saying that only Durell can make her human again. Durell tries his hardest not to fall completely for her, so this makes for an added layer of suspense.
Aarons has a definite command of his craft, and his writing is masterful in how he doles out topical details about his exotic settings yet still keeps the action moving. He also has a gift for characterization and dialog. The action scenes are all compelling, and very well staged, though Aarons doesn’t dwell on the graphic aspect. True, we get several mentions of exploding blood and brains, but for the most part Durell only kills when he absolutely must. The sex scenes as well are described enough that we know something happened, but again Aarons doesn’t dwell on the details. So again, the book has more in common with a more “respectable” series like say Fleming’s James Bond novels than it does with the average men’s adventure novel.
I guess my only problem with Assignment Sumatra is that Aarons doesn’t really tie up everything, so far as the main characters go, and he tends to build up characters and then drop them. K’ang for example has a grand entrance, complete with the genre-mandatory bit where he tortures Durell, but after that he disappears, and his comeuppance at the end is perfunctory. Tu Fu also disappears from the narrative, and Aarons leaves Lydia’s fate a mystery – Durell sends her off with the brother of a man Lydia killed earlier in the book, though Lydia doesn’t realize this. Personally I found it hard to believe that the guy would be a match for her, so I suspect Lydia probably reappeared in a later, Will B. Aarons-penned installment (or at least perhaps Aarons himself planned to bring her back).
Anyway I really enjoyed the novel, and I’m happy I picked up so many volumes of the series. These books are deserving of a rediscovery, and luckily enough it looks like they can still be gotten for cheap in most second-hand bookstores.
Monday, July 15, 2013
The Penetrator #18: Countdown To Terror, by Lionel Derrick
January, 1977 Pinnacle Books
This volume of the Penetrator finds Chet Cunningham once again revamping his version of Mark “Penetrator” Hardin. Gone for the most part is the sadistic bastard of earlier Cunningham installments; though Hardin starts off the book by shooting one guy in the throat and “accidentally” breaking a woman’s neck, as the novel progresses he not only morphs into a sort of mother hen but also goes out of his way to not kill the young members of the latest terrorist group he’s up against.
The villains this time out are the FALN, an assemblage of Puerto Ricans who are united in the cause of freedom for their country. Currently they’re carrying out terrorist attacks on New York City, thus bringing Hardin into the fold, returning to his old stomping grounds from back in #4: Hijacking Manhattan. Also returning is Joana Tabler, Hardin’s occasional girlfriend who first appeared back in that earlier book; she still continues to appear in the Cunningham-penned volumes, and he really builds up the relationship between the two, with Joanna in love with Hardin and wanting him to “retire” so they can get married and have kids.
The FALN is a sadistic bunch of bastards, bombing various parts of NYC and leaving mass casualties in their wake. These guys do more damage than any other Penetrator villain yet; by novel’s end they’ve initiated the titular “countdown to terror,” in which they give authorities less than twenty four hours to meet their demands, carrying out one bombing per hour. Their leader is El Chico, who leads his terrorists into battle but also enjoys the cushier aspects of running a terrorist organization, sleeping with all of the women and taking what he wants.
Hardin arrives on the scene and promptly murders the aforementioned FALN man and woman; the latter as he’s trying to kick away her pistol. This “accidental” killing is just the first indication of the changes Hardin’s going through. Cunningham makes it part of the narrative, with Hardin, once he reconnects with Joanna, telling her that he’s attempting to create a new, “softer” image for himself! I still wonder if all this stuff was at Pinnacle’s urging or if Cunningham himself chose to make his version of the Penetrator less bloodthirsty.
Sadly though, it’s this character overhaul that’s most memorable about Countdown To Terror. It’s not that the book is bad, it’s just forgettable. Not much happens, and certainly nothing outrageous like in other volumes in the series. It’s more of a procedural affair as Hardin attempts to track down El Chico and stop his homegrown terrorists while the FALN continue to bomb public buildings and structures.
The majority of the book is given over to the sort of partnership Hardin forms with Delgado, a young Puerto Rican who is the only person Hardin encounters while scoping out the PR-frequented dives and bars in NYC who offers to help Hardin track down El Chico. Eventually Hardin discovers that Delgado is actually part of FALN and meets regularly with El Chico. Instead of butchering Delgado as he once would have done, Hardin instead plays along with the guy, driving around empty streets with him into what Hardin is certain will be an ambush.
Hardin in fact has a plan together – he figures the FALN will consider Delgado expendable in their planned ambush, and he’s right. When gunmen spring from the shadows, they blast away at Delgado, too. Once Hardin has blown away the attackers and gotten a legshot Delgado to safety, Hardin successfully turns the kid to his side, so that Delgado sees how vile and despicable El Chico really is. But they’ve actually gone beyond that, taking Delgado’s kid sister prisoner, where we later learn that she’s been raped and beaten.
But there is unusual stuff (considering past installments) where Hardin worries over Delgado, ensuring he’s getting well and etc. Beyond that there’s even more unusual stuff throughout the novel, like several times where during a skirmish Hardin will come across some kid or woman, both of them part of FALN, and tries not to hurt or kill them. There’s even a scene where Hardin knocks out a FALN guard and promises the dude that he won’t be harmed in the bomb Hardin plants in the building, and they aren’t just empty words; Hardin really does ensure the guard doesn’t die or get harmed. I mean, this is a dude that previously would blow away people for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Things begin to heat up as Hardin gets a lock on El Chico’s master plan, Operation Luz, a mysterious affair which promises to be catastrophic. This leads to a taut climax where Hardin, in a rented helicopter, follows after a few boats of FALN and discovers that Operation Luz entails the bombing of the Statue of Liberty. Hardin stages another of his one man raids on the terrorist army, taking a lot of damage during the firefight. Joana meanwhile is still back at the pier, awaiting Hardin’s call (turns out the FALN initiated Luz earlier than expected, which Hardin only discovered by accident); needless to say, the two have a chance to get reconnected at the end of the tale.
I have to say I miss Cunningham’s earlier version of Mark Hardin. Without the bizarre brutality Cunningham’s installments are coming off as pretty rote and forgettable. And that sucks, because we’ve got a long way to go until the final volume.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Trouble Is My Business, by Jay Flynn
No month stated, 1976 (incorrectly states "1967") Leisure Books
This was the second of two novels Jay Flynn wrote about tough San Francisco street cop Sgt. Joe Rigg; the first one was Blood On Frisco Bay. And like that previous book Trouble Is My Business is for the most part a listless affair churned out by a drunk and disinterested author, a book that ranges from endless digressions on inconsequentialities to super hardcore sex scenes straight out of Penthouse Letters.
Flynn constantly refers back to the events in Blood On Frisco Bay, so one would do well to read that first before reading this book. At any rate Rigg’s life is mostly the same, he still works the docks in San Fran and still only wants to be a street cop, despite having been “technically” promoted to a lieutenant after what went down in the previous book. We also learn that Rigg is best buds with “The Cowboy,” aka the new President of the US, clearly implied here as being Ronald Reagan (he’s a stern Conservative Republican who used to star in Westerns), which I found interesting given that in reality Reagan wasn’t elected for another four years.
Really though the book is almost a complete retread of Blood On Frisco Bay, but if anything even more listless and unconcerned with forward momentum. At least that previous book livened things up every once in a while with violent action scenes that had no relation to the main plot. Trouble Is My Business doesn’t even have that, instead focusing more on Rigg’s mundane daily life. But yet again like that first book, this one starts off with a bang, as Rigg witnesses a cold-blooded murder in broad daylight, on a busy street, as a dude with a Bowie knife hops out of a car and chops off a lawyer-type’s hand, snatching the guy’s attache case and squealing off in his car before anyone can react.
After discovering that the murdered man, Blackton, was a CPA who handled hush-hush deals for wealthy clients, Rigg just sort of moves on with his life…instead of delivering a taut, blood-soaked thriller, Flynn instead thinks that we want to hear all about the new litter of puppies just delivered back on Rigg’s Trumpy houseboat! Along with that he gives us more scenes with Annie Dale, Rigg’s now live-in girlfriend, who actually has much less narrative time in this one. The puppies are courtesy a dog the Cowboy gave to Rigg, knocked up by Croc, Rigg’s massive Irish Wolfhound “partner.”
Eventually the book takes on the tone of a police procedural, just a really boring one. Rigg goes around tracking clues and meets up with various of Blackton’s clientele. Flynn here works up a massive land-buying conspiracy scheme that almost makes the plot of Chinatown seem easy to follow, but it all fizzles out into a basic scheme – namely, Cuba-funded counterfeit US dollars. It takes forever for Rigg to discover this, though, but in the meantime he’s too busy getting orally pleasured by the daughter of one of Blackton’s clients and a super-hot and super-horny female Treasury agent who is working undercover as the man’s maid.
I should mention here that all the women in this novel are super-hot and super-horny. Flynn has what appears to be an obsession with three-ways time out, with Rigg constantly being propositioned by two girls at once. And if he’s too tired or spent to handle them, they’re more than happy to go at it with each other! I would imagine though that all this is just a recurring joke…serioulsy, there are numerous scenes where the girls will want to do Rigg, who sends them away because he’s exhausted or needs to work, and Flynn will go into great graphic detail on how the girls will just flop on top of each other and go at it.
But if it’s an in-joke, it gets old quick. It got boring fast to see how one-dimensional the women were. I understand and even appreciate the fact that these old pulp novels trade on the conceit that women are mostly there just to look sexy and screw the protagonist…and in fact I want to bang my head against the wall when I read all the lame, whiny-assed complaints about ‘70s novels you will encounter in reviews on the internet, where modern-day losers will bitch about the “misogyny” and “racism” of 1970s novels. You get the idea that these people would be better served watching shit like Dancing with the Stars or How I Met Your Mother instead of venturing into the choppy waters of ‘70s pulp, but I digress. Long story short, even I got a little annoyed with how the women in Trouble Is My Business were only there to proposition Rigg or to go down on one another.
Meanwhile the main plot drags on with little (non-sexual) action. Other than one hilariously arbitrary scene early on where Rigg stops a convenience store robbery, the only action sequence Flynn delivers is one right after Rigg’s been blown by the undercover maid and the client’s daughter, as someone pulls off a driveby shooting at the client’s house. Rigg, naked, chases after and fires at the car with a heavy-caliber pistol. But that’s it, that’s all we get on the action front, until the climax of the book.
And again like the previous book, Flynn kills more time with the unwelcome presence of the Cowboy, who despite being the President just heads on over to SanFran to hang out with Rigg on his Trumpy! And returning with him is Tina Holmes, Rigg’s callgirl friend who is now the Cowboy’s main squeeze (she informs Rigg with delight that she’s finally gotten the Cowboy to give it to her via rear entry, by the way). And guess what, Annie and Tina are immediately propositioning Rigg, only to go down on one another when he tells them he needs his rest.
Even the (anti)climax is a recursor to Blood On Frisco Bay; not only does the main villain turn out to be a gorgeous foreign lady, but Rigg is again called in at the last second so as to stage a half-assed raid on the villain’s just-discovered lair. In this case the lady is Catarina, a beautiful Cuban woman who is the ex-wife of Blackton’s land-developing client; the entire attache case mystery turns out to be a MacGuffin, as the counterfeit US currency was the true evil here…apparently Blackton had photos of the printing plates in his attache case, and Catarina wanted those photos back. Instead her goons killed Blackton, thus getting Rigg on the case.
Flynn does deliver a fairly good fight between Rigg and the Bowie-wielding maniac, who actually appears in maybe five pages of the book. (I was under the impression that Trouble Is My Business was about a knife-wielding “sex killer,” so I guess I must’ve confused it with some other sleazy ‘70s cop novel.) But the finale is over and done with posthaste – and Catarina, the mastermind behind it all, gets maybe three pages narrative time and is only introduced into the text toward the very end. She has none of the memorable (or sadistic) qualities of the female villain in the previous book.
This was it for Joe Rigg, whose adventures ended with this second volume. Though honestly one could argue that his adventures never even really started – these two books were snoozefests for the most part, not even saved by the XXX-rated stuff. However it must be said that Flynn actually can write, especially when it comes to dialog, as he has a particular gift for funny lines. But man if he’d only combined that writing skill with a good, forward-moving plot, he really would’ve had something.
Monday, July 8, 2013
The Marksman #6: Death To The Mafia, by Frank Scarpetta
November, 1973 Belmont-Tower Books
This volume of The Marksman was clearly written by series creator and editor Peter McCurtin, and amid all the sleaze and violence we have, believe it or not, some actual characterization for “hero” Philip Magellan, complete with background information, something we’ve never rececived in any preceding Marksman novel. Unfortunately, the background information is for an entirely different character! But more on that later…
First we get a one-page “prologue” that informs us that Terri White, of the previous volume, is now hiding out in Florida, Magellan having gotten rid of her because she was becoming a nuissance due to her “loving him and all that.” Terri White was of course a creation of series co-writer Russell Smith, and McCurtin has no intention of making the Marksman into a continuity-heavy series. His intent is to provide one thrill after another as Magellan “kills in cold hate.”
In fact McCurtin isn’t even concerned with continuity in his own tale; Death To The Mafia opens with Magellan driving away from Dallas, where he apparently killed a few mobsters but was then ratted out by a girl he picked up in a nightclub. Now in the desert Magellan is ambushed by an army of mafia “soldiers,” tipped off by the mobsters back in Dallas. Little concern, though, as Magellan hastily dispatches them with his handy grenade launcher – though McCurtin provides plenty of battles in this novel, none of them have much spark because Magellan’s so superhuman.
Even though he’s in the middle of the desert, in a shootout no less, Magellan still meets a pretty girl – a redhead who has just left her husband. She happens to drive by during the shootout, and after her car is destroyed Magellan feels obligated to carry her along to her destination of Lubbock. But the mobsters are chasing them, and McCurtin delivers a nice scene where Magellan and the girl go into Carlsbad Caverns and Magellan takes the thugs out in the pitch-black caves, using his night vision goggles. (Magellan also causes the death of several tourists when he shoots out the lights in the caves, and people get trampled in the mass panic, but McCurtin just brushes this off!)
The novel proceeds in episodic fashion. Honestly, I had a hard time retaining half of what I read, as this book was the very definition of disposable literature. After dropping off the redhead Magellan heads for LA, where he discovers that Anselmo, the brother of the man who ordered Magellan’s family killed, is now residing. Another quick and unsatisfactory battle ensues (though one packed with gore), after which Magellan blithely continues on his way into Los Angeles, where for reasons apparently important (to him alone) he simply must create a cover story for himself as a black man!
Yes, in a move reminiscent of Mark Hardin, Magellan sprays his skin black. And we’re reminded that, having grown up in New Orleans, Magellan knows how to “talk black.” This entire sequence has no bearing on anything, but then McCurtin fills pages throughout. For example, several times in the narrative Magellan will flip through his mental notebook of the mobsters he’s currently after, and we’ll get several pages of inconsequential background data on each; how they got into crime, how they made their fortunes, etc.
McCurtin also doles out plentiful amounts of sleaze. I figured he would be more restrained than Russell Smith, but he’s about on the same level! Like for example a very long but of course unnecessary scene where Magellan scopes out his first LA target, Anselmo, at a dive where women put on erotic shows for the delight of the crowd, after which they are bid on for a night’s service. McCurtin packs on some sleazy stuff here, breaking out words and phrases I’ve never once encountered in thirty-plus years of reading, like “V-tuft” to describe the women’s pubic hair, and, brace yourself, “cuntal juices.” Good grief! (It would make for a great band name, though -- V-Tuft & the CJs!)
But our series editor is about the same as Smith when it comes to action scenes, all of which lack any tension despite being generous on the graphic violence. Even the Anselmo hit is par for the course, despite the dude being related to the man who had Magellan’s family killed. Magellan will just mow thugs down with his guns in gory splendor, or he’ll blow them up, and there’s little retaliation on the part of the goons. After dealing with Anselmo the novel hurtles on, abruptly changing plots: Now Magellan is after “The Bump,” an elderly mafioso who lives in Howard Hughes-style seclusion. Magellan sets himself up as a visiting mob torpedo, and somehow manages to pick up another girl, one named Mignon.
Throughout McCurtin will drop occasional flashbacks to Magellan’s previous life. This is a rarity in the series. We learn that Magellan has basically done everything ever known to man. From demolition stunt driving to climbing sheer walls with nothing but his hands and feet, Magellan has mastered it. This stuff is so egregious and shoehorned into the narrative to accommodate the plot that it becomes comical after a while. More importantly McCurtin writes a lot of material about Magellan’s family, how they were killed when Magellan refused to sell guns to a powerful mobster, and how Magellan “got revenge” on them in New Orleans.
The only problem is, this New Orleans vengeance tale has never been told in the Marksman. Nor have we ever heard the story behind the deaths of Magellan’s family. You see, all of the stuff McCurtin writes here is actually background material for another McCurtin series and creation: The Assassin, a three-volume Dell series from 1973 relating the first-person adventures of a New Orleans native named Robert Briganti whose family was murdered when he refused to supply a mobster with guns.
Len Levinson once told me that The Sharpshooter was “based on the Marksman series, which was based on the Assassin series.” So I guess The Assassin is the ur-text so far as the Marksman and Sharpshooter series go. Either McCurtin just confused his own characters or figured to hell with it, and guessed no one would notice. Or maybe there’s another reason…
Maybe McCurtin was just a postmodern genius, and had grander intentions. Maybe these three characters are all the same character, one who suffers from multiple personalities…let’s say when Robert Briganti goes to sleep he becomes Philip Magellan, and when Magellan goes to sleep he becomes Johnny Rock…and when Rock goes to sleep he becomes Robert Briganti, and thus the cycle continues. Hey, it works for me!
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Ninja Master #3: Borderland Of Hell, by Wade Barker
February, 1982 Warner Books
This third volume of the Ninja Master series comes off more like a sequel to the first volume than the previous one did, with hero Brett Wallace still getting his start as a mob-busting ninja, whereas in the previous novel he was already a one-man army. But then, that superior volume was courtesy Ric Meyers, and this one was written by some unknown author; it certainly doesn’t appear to be the same person who wrote #1: Vengeance Is His, as this writer is sure to keep the acton moving and definitely has a knack for delivering some full-bore sleaze and sadism.
In fact the author displays this posthaste, introducing us to Meiko, a pretty young Japanese-American stewardess who has been kidnapped by the depraved General Estrada and is now imprisoned in his barracks-style villa in Mexico. The opening chapter is particularly unsettling as Meiko is summarily humiliated in front of Estrada’s guests (including having her pubic hair shaved off), forced to go around to each man so he can feel her up, after which they take turns raping her!
Brett Wallace comes into it because Meiko is a friend of a friend…Rhea, the lady who runs the restaurant Brett owns, is friends with one of Meiko’s co-stewardesses. When the stewardess claims that Meiko has been missing for a month, she goes to Rhea for help, having heard about her American Ninja friend. (The airline meanwhile chalks it all off, figuring Meiko just ran off with one of the stewards!) Brett here is not the inhuman cipher of Meyers’s previous volume; he still enjoys the finer things in life, including a bit of goodbye casual sex with Rhea before heading out on the job. (The author by the way leaves the actual sex scenes vague for the most part, but he’s all over the buildup and lurid quotient.)
Borderland Of Hell is also more slow-going than the previous book (though not the tepid crawl that was volume #1). For the first half of the book Brett is in investigator mode, going around and talking to Meiko’s friends before heading to Mexico…where he proceeds to continue poking his nose around. He brings along Jeff, Brett’s young student who came into the fold in the first volume (before being pretty much ignored in the second one). The two have a bit of banter going on, with Jeff serving up the laughs as he hits on various women and Brett playing the straight man.
Occasionally the pair get in scuffles, and the author, like the nameless writer of the first volume, treats ninjutsu basically like karate; Brett will pull off fancy moves to take down his opponents, and seems very excited about using common everyday objects as weapons, such as a pair of shoelaces. But there are no ninja weapons or ninja costumes as in the previous book.
The author also fills up more pages with arbitrary flashbacks to Brett’s training back in Japan, where his sensei doles out the expected “wise man” philosophy. In between the investigation pieces and quick action scenes, the author will flash over to Meiko, serving up more lurid stuff as she’s further raped and degraded -- including an XXX-rated bit where she's forced into a lesbian act with a fellow kidnapee as Estrada and his men watch.
But as usual with these books that are overly padded, Borderland Of Hell delivers an anticlimatic finale. It all seems to be building up to something; Brett and Jeff discover that Estrada has an army of fifty goons, and that others have tried to break in and save his imprisoned women but all have failed. In fact Brett is overly concerned and fears he and Jeff might die – another big difference from the previous volume, where Brett had no fear (or hardly any other emotions). And meanwhile Meiko proves to be a stronger character than you’d think, planning her own escape, even if it means certain death if she’s captured again.
However when it all goes down, the author handles the climax in just a few unsatisfying pages. The goons, so built up as heavy oppostion, are perfunctorily dealt with by Brett and Jeff – the former once again using his damn shoelace! Forget about the weapons-and-ninja-armor kickass finale of the previous book. And on that same note, Brett here clearly needs assistance from Jeff, though the younger man isn’t anywhere near the fighter Brett is. Yet for all that, the way the author handles this finale you get the idea Brett didn’t need much help, after all. Even Estrada’s comeuppance is a let-down, Brett merely kicking him into a spear.
The author isn’t that bad, all told, and actually reminds me very much of Len Levinson. This person has the same handle on character, and also provides the same sort of goofy humor as well as some blood, guts, and sleaze. It appears that this person also wrote two more volumes of the Ninja Master series (volumes #5 and #7), trading off with Ric Meyers (who wrote volumes #2, 4, 6, and 8).
Monday, July 1, 2013
The Ultimate Solution, by Eric Norden
May, 1973 Warner Paperback Library
This slim paperback original imagines an alternate 1973 in which the Germans won WWII and now the entire Western world is under the control of the Nazis (the “Empire of Japan” rules the East). And yet for all of that The Ultimate Solution is really just a police procedural, narrated by New York cop Lt. Bill Hadler as he is tasked to hunt down an actual Jew – the only one left if the world.
Norden throws us right into this bizarre world and doles out background detail at his leisure; it isn’t until the very end that we even find out how exactly the Germans won. (Basically, the US stayed out of the confrontation until it was “too late,” by which point the Germans had the atom bomb, which they used on Europe and then a few US cities…including Pittsburgh! Why would anyone want to bomb Pittsburgh??) Instead Norden places us square in this alternate 1973, with Hadler’s narrative cynically detailing the strange Nazi-run world as if there’s nothing unusual about it…which obviously there isn’t, so far as he’s concerned.
What most impressed me is how economically Norden tells his tale, not to mention bringing to life a whole alternate world – the novel runs a brisk 142 pages. Despite the short length we get a fast-moving plot, good characterization and dialog, and some well-rendered action scenes. The novel’s actually a great teacher on how to keep a story moving while still doling out a modicum of background and information; never once does Norden resort to exposition or info-dumping. As I say, he treats the tale as if it’s just a regular cop story; while Hadler might have a few issues with the society in which he lives, never once does he question anything about it. He’s just a cop doing a dirty job.
The job’s actually more than dirty – Hadler gradually realizes that it’s a no-win situation. Called in by the Gestapo (aka the “Feds” – the FBI of Hadler’s world), Hadler reconnects with a Gestapo colleague he worked with in the past. A German VIP is on his way to New York, and he’s contacted the Gestapo to find a good New York cop to handle a highly secretive and important case. The VIP is Von Kleef, an old man who started with Hitler in the earliest days, and thus is now at the very pinnacle of the Nazi world; Norden presents a very interesting picture of how Hitler’s henchmen would’ve profited had the Nazis won the war.
Von Kleef personally oversaw the extermination of all the Jews, and takes it very personally that one of them might still be alive. It turns out that a few weeks ago someone robbed an antiques store in New York, the culprit being an old man who freaked out at the display of Jewish skulls on display – “nothing pieces,” we’re told, so ubiquitous as to have no value, usually used as ash trays. The man left behind a telltale piece that Von Kleef is certain could only belong to a Jew – a mezzuzah. Von Kleef wants this old man tracked down, and he wants to keep it secret; Germany is closing in on war with the Japanese Empire, and the “ContraAxists” who are pro-war don’t want it leaked out that a Jew might’ve escaped the Nazi “final solution,” as it could be used as propaganda against them.
Hadler isn’t thrilled to take the case, but he has no choice. He works it with Ed Kohler, the aforementioned Gestapo agent Hadler worked with in the past. Together they scour this bizarre and sadistic NYC as they track down clues. Here Norden doles out more of his background detail, and we see that this alternate world is incredibly grim. Blacks have their tongues excised at birth and are raised to become “bucks” that fight like ancient gladiators, millions of people watching and betting as they fight to the death. Slavs too have their tongues removed and are now imported as either sex-slaves or as the chained victims of torture clubs. There are even whorehouses staffed solely by children.
Norden gives more background on this “ultimate solution” as Hadler and Kohler visit a concentration camp outside New York, where the thorough destruction of all American Jews was carried out years before. The pointedly-ironic element here is the camp commandant, who comes off like your average all-American, square-jawed and buzzcutted military type, who happily regales Hadler and Kohler with tales of the major Jewish purge he helmed a few decades ago. We also learn that this concentration camp is now an amusement park, and also that “these kids today” are disinterested in the history of the camp and could care less.
The book works mostly as a police procedural/mystery, but Norden provides a few action scenes. In one of them we learn that Hadler packs a Schmeisser, which apparently is police standard in this alternate world; he uses it on a homeless man who attacks him with karate. But the bum is wearing a Mission: Impossible-style mask, beneath which Hadler discovers the face of a Japanese man. Here Norden works in some conspiracy angles as it turns out the Japanese also know about “the Jew” and thus are trying to not only capture him for their own propaganda purposes, but are also trying to take out anyone else who is searching for him.
There’s very little about the novel that is sci-fi, until toward the very end, when Norden introduces the idea that the Jew is actually from a different world: ours. This element isn’t fully elaborated, but when we finally meet the Jew he claims that he “died” on our world and woke up to find himself in this alternate reality. One of the characters, who happens to be sheltering the Jew, believes that the man has been sent here as a harbinger of a better world, that the universe sometimes makes “mistakes” and attempts to rectify them, this Nazi-ruled world being one of those mistakes. (Sometimes I feel the same way about our own world, though.) This sci-fi stuff appears to be leading to a sci-fi ending, but Norden retain his tone and delivers a climax more grounded in the grim world he has created.
My main problem with The Ultimate Solution is that this alternate world is just too evil, almost comic bookishly so. I had a hard time believing that the entirety of the world could so easily give over to such brutal and sadistic leanings, especially within just one generation. (But then, a generation ago who would guess that within 30 or so years people would avidly take photos of their meals and other mundane aspects of their life and then upload them to the internet for others to comment on and “like?”) Still though, live torture acts on tongueless Slavs? Whorehouses comprised solely of children? Even pet hamsters which are specifically sold so as to be tortured and crucified? It’s just all too much.
And some of the stuff doesn’t even fit into what I know about Nazism…for example, Hadler states that homosexuality is preferred and heterosex is “frowned upon” by the elite, with male/female relationships only condoned for breeding purposes. But weren’t the SA drummed out of the Nazi party over allegations that they were made up of gays? Sure it was just slander, but the very fact that it was used as slander would indicate that homosexuality was not openly viewed as acceptable…and that is the issue here. All “evil” things are openly acknowledged by the ruling Nazis in Norden’s world, whereas to me it would seem more realistic that they would retain their “clean cut” image and do all the dirty stuff behind the scenes.
I read somewhere that Eric Norden was the pseudonym of Eric Pelletier, and that he was born in 1899 and died in 1979. I'm not sure if this is accurate. I have the June 1969 issue of Playboy, which features an article by Norden ("The Paramilitary Right"); the issue has a photo of him on the contributors page, and Norden looks like a young man in it, not a 70 year-old. (The brief author bio states that Norden is a "free-lance writer who is currently in London researching a novel.") After a handful of short stories in the early ‘70s he published The Ultimate Solution in 1973; it was his only novel. In 1978 he published Starsongs and Unicorns: Journeys Through Time and Space, a Manor paperback original which collected his sci-fi short story work. I've read a few of the stories and they're all good, if not as memorable as this novel. After this it appears Norden dropped off the map, though of course it's possible he passed away in 1979.
Also I need to mention that this novel is exceedingly rare, not to mention overpriced. But guess what, I got my copy via InterLibrary Loan. And the unknown librarian at the lending library (The University of Texas) is to be commended – the person actually bound a hardcover overtop the original book, thus perfectly preserving the front and back covers of the old paperback.