Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fun City

Fun City, by Hugh Barron
August, 1968  Pyramid Books

Burt Hirschfeld poses as “Hugh Barron” in another of his paperback originals for Pyramid Books; this one, while not perfect, might be my favorite Barron yet. I was in the mood for a piece of trash fiction set in the swinging psychedelic ‘60s, and for the most part Fun City fit the bill perfectly. Unfortunately though just as much of it is inconsequential “city politics” boredom that seems lifted from the earlier Tilt!.

In fact, parts of Fun City are almost identical to Tilt!, though I enjoyed this book a lot more. While Tilt! started off promisingly in the acid rock clubs of California before becoming mired in a belabored “evils of politics” storyline, Fun City at least still remembers to give us the good stuff, with many scenes featuring the ‘60s jetset in all its vapid glory. Hirschfeld well captures the over-the-top pretensions of the era, from arrogantly serious “artists” to would-be fashion kingpins. And I love how the back cover informs us that this “caustic novel” is “as vivid as an LSD trip”!

Our hero is Eddie Watson, a very traditional Hirschfeld protagonist. He’s a bitter, 38-year-old alchoholic who was once a trailblazing journalist. But then his paper folded and Eddie spiralled into a period of drunkeness. He’s got an on-again, off-again girlfriend named Molly Purdy who is of course pretty and well-endowed (practically every single woman in Fun City is stated as having big boobs, by the way). But Molly, who works as a reporter herself, has finally gotten sick of Eddie’s uselessness. She loves him and pines for him, but he refuses to see his potential and wallows instead in self-pity. That being said, she doesn’t mind throwing him a free lay every once in a while. 

Speaking of sex, there’s a bit of it in Fun City, from orgies to romantic couplings to even gay sex, but Hirschfeld is in his lyrical mode this time. The sex scenes are written almost identically to the Hirschfeld-esque sex material Dean Koontz capably spoofed in Writing Popular Fiction. For example, here’s what passes for a sex scene later in the book, as Eddie engages with another lovely young lady who pines for him:

All the swelling desire. The pendulous need from out of some foreign and mysterious place, a call that drew them together in a tidal wave natural and harmonious, all rhythms easy, swinging. Time ceased and there was only the twilight of loving, the stroke of flesh against flesh, of membranes softer than soft, the wetness deep and sensuous, drawing endlessly on reservoirs so long untapped…

All right! I’m not sure what exactly is going on, but it sure sounds hot!!

Through Molly Eddie is brought into the world of New York politics. Eddie is fascinated by Charles Harrison, an altruistic millionaire known for his charities and acts of good will around the world. Harrison’s having a party in his deluxe Manhattan penthouse and Molly’s invited. There Eddie meets the man himself, a graying-haired paragon of manly virtue who likes Eddie’s cynicism and indeed is familiar with Eddie’s work for the paper. Harrison tells Eddie that he loves New York and plans to run for Mayor. He offers Eddie the job of becoming his campaign manager.

Meanwhile Hirschfeld takes us into the swinging jetset via Lilly Harrison, hot-to-trot young wife of Charles. She has a body to kill for and enjoys showing it off with the latest mod fashions. She’s vivacious and obsessed with being famous and comes off way too much like a vapid, modern-day Reality TV star. Eddie wonders why Charles is even with her, but gradually we’ll see there’s a strange bond which unites the couple. For Charles Harrison, you won’t be surprised at all to learn, has several skeletons in his own closet, from switch-hitting to group sex, not to mention ties to various underworld figures. This is revealed rather early on, but our hero Eddie doesn’t discover it until near novel’s end.

Lilly, apparently Hirschfeld’s attempt at writing a Jacqueline Susann-type antiheroine, is ultimately too listlessly self-involved to be very memorable; not to use the word yet again, but “vapid” is the perfect description for her. She yearns to be world-famous, but she’s such a cipher that you neither care for her nor despise her. She lacks the catty cruelty you’d expect from a character like this. Rather, the character who more closely captures this antiheroine nature would be Hester Quinn, basically the Eddie to Lilly’s Charles, a “birdlike” celebrity hanger-on who knows all the hip people in Manhattan and serves as Lilly’s adviser on how to become a mover and shaker in the jetset world. This includes wearing revealing clothes and having sex with random famous men.

Center stage in these jetset portions is Marcello, Hester’s Italian “discovery” who plans to take the fashion world by storm. Flamingly gay, Marcello storms and struts through the novel, stealing every scene despite being a walking cliché. (He’s also, we eventually learn, really just a dude named Victor Mellulo, from Wheeling, West Virginia!) Hirschfeld provides several scenes in which the jetset cavort at the latest Marcello happening, from an art exhibit to a fashion show to a Warhol-esque porn film he’s directed – one which leads to an orgy among the audience. Molly, bringing to mind the heroine of a later Hirschfeld novel, literally runs away from this orgy.

And that again is the problem with Fun City. Hirschfeld seeks to capture the “psychedelic salons and beauty-bugged bedrooms” of the “swinging, go-go world of New York City” (per the back cover copy), but he sabotages it with his cynical characters. Eddie hates this world of artifice, Molly distrusts it. And those who do live in it, like Lilly, Marcello, and Hester, are so cipher-like in their narcissim that the reader is unable to vicariously enjoy it through them. The “acid-rock” nightclubs and mod fashion happenings are capably brought to life, as are the mostly-nude, sexually-voracious gals who flock to this underworld in their “psychedelic blue” lipstick, but it’s all undermined by protagonists who yearn for the straight-laced world of yesteryear.

This was the same thing that bogged down Tilt!, by the way, as well as the “politics” material. In Fun City as well we read seemingly-endless sequences in which Charles Harrison will filibuster this or that New York bigwig. Not only is it rendered moot given that these are one-off characters he meets with, but his speechifying about how to make New York great again comes off as so much padding. Clearly this is Hirschfeld’s attempt at eventually pulling the rug out from under us, as Charles is later revealed to be just as “sick” as his wife Lilly; in the course of the novel he cruises a gay area and picks up some dude (later beating him in his shame), then later on he picks up a pair of young girls and takes them back to their place for some nondescript lovin’.

But Hirschfeld does bring to life psychedelic New York City. There’s an enjoyable part where Eddie sees Lilly go off with some new stud and rushes after her, drafting Hester to lead him to her, Marcello tagging along. They go to the Lower East Side, first stopping in the headshop of The Czar, then head on over to a hippie “crash pad” where legions of teenagers have sex on the scuzzy, garbage-strewn floors. Hirschfeld really goes for it in this scene, which culminates with Eddie finding Lilly in an LSD daze, meditating in the lotus position while her latest stud, a playboy named Tolan, whips some other girl who has displeased him.

We also get a lot of Hirschfeld’s typical soap opera-style melodrama: Molly as mentioned constantly spurns Eddie, only to later welcome him back to her apartment with open legs. And Eddie promises to quit the booze and devote himself to both her and Harrison’s campaign. Instead he blows off dates with Molly and gets drunk a bunch of times. After the latest Molly breakup Eddie happens to meet a young social worker named Sarah Jane Parker (yep, she’s busty too!). In a complete disregard for character depth, Hirschfeld has this gal openly throwing herself at Eddie soon after meeting him, offering to make him a meal in her apartment.

Eddie I forgot to mention is an annoying asshole. He eats the meal, has a drink, and tells the girl she’s practically a slut! She’s only in her twenties and he feels she should straighten up and stop bringing strange men back to her place. He leaves without even taking her up on her open offer for sex…then “coincidentally” meets her again during a too-long scene where Harrison filibusts at a school in Harlem. In the ensuing riot (started by Black Panthers), Eddie runs into Sarah again. The two eventually become an item (the “sex scene” above is between Eddie and Sarah), but Molly is still on the sidelines. She’s found out how corrupt Harrison is – he’s almost penniless and indebted to the mob, who funds his campaign – and Molly intends to tap into wealth via Eddie.

The finale of Fun City plays out on an unexpected sequence of turnarounds; Eddie, hearing the truth of Harrison’s underworld activities, hunts the man down in a gay bar. For his troubles Eddie is almost beaten to death by a gang of gay stooges at Harrison’s command(!). Eddie manages to escape them, stealing the gun of one and shooting him before escaping. But he finds no salvation in Molly; when Eddie refuses to play ball and go back to Harrison – Molly wants Eddie to keep working for the man so they can strike it rich when he wins the election – she grabs Eddie’s gun, puts it on him, and calls Harrison to come get him!

After yet another escape Eddie finds true salvation with Sarah, still treating her like shit as he eats breakfast with her, his pistol at hand. The final face-to-face with Harrison isn’t exciting at all, playing more on a suspense angle than the Sharpshooter capoff I wanted. Eddie has gotten hold of some photos of Lilly in compromising positions, and uses these as blackmail to get Harrison to call of his dogs and to drop out of the race. After which it’s back to Sarah, who tells Eddie they should leave the city together. And Eddie has finally gotten an idea for a novel; he’s going to write about these very events, which will make for a surefire bestseller(!?).

Hirschfeld’s writing has the same positives and negatives as ever. He keeps the story moving, brings us into this world, and makes us care for the characters. But at the same time the plot is a bit plodding and the politicking becomes grating. Also Hirschfeld’s affected style is firmly in place – you know, how he takes a sentence, expands upon it greatly, going on and on with it, getting to the heart of it, the core, working it up into a theme, a construction of depth and meaning. Polishing it. Elaborating it. Hammering it out, over and over again, endlessly, infinitely. Until the reader. Cannot take it. Anymore. (You get the drift….)

The core of later Hirschfeld novels can be found here; the entire “psychedelic hippie hell” section in the Lower East Side for example would return in Father Pig, where Hirschfeld made it seem even more hellish. And as mentioned there are many paralells with Cindy On Fire. One thing missing this time is the Hollywood starlet character ususally typical of the “Hugh Barron” books.

Anyway, despite the affected style and the sometimes-plodding pace, Fun City is really vintage Burt Hirschfeld, and did the job of providing the piece of go-go ‘60s pulp fiction I was hoping for.

Here’s the cover of the NEL edition:

And here’s the cover of the Dell edition from 1984, published under Hirschfeld’s name (interestingly, the back cover copy of this one spins it as a hardboiled yarn):

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Nichovev Plot (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #110)

The Nichovev Plot, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1976  Award Books

Published in the days when the Killmaster series had taken its unfortunate detour into first-person narration, The Nichovev Plot is nonetheless a very entertaining installment, with our hero going up against a cult that gets off on murder. It was purportedly written by Craig Nova, yet whether this was the Craig Nova or just another author of the same name is unknown. 

Delivering all of the lurid, satanic thrills that The Satan Trap denied us, The Nichovev Plot opens with Nick Carter called out of the bed of Chu-Chu, busty employee of a Lake Tahoe casino. Hawk, Nick’s boss at AXE, wants Nick to head to Reno and meet up with Gilly Pontchartrain, a New Orleans-based con artist/hooker who helped Nick take down a Syndicate forger named Vaccacio in an earlier, apparently undocumented adventure. Gilly has called AXE HQ claiming to have info about a plot against Boris Nichovev, the Soviet Premier. 

Nichovev is currently on his way for a visit to the US, so Hawk takes this seriously. True to the lurid vibe of this era of men’s adventure fiction, Gilly now works at the top cathouse in Reno. Here Nick, posing as a country bumpkin of a salesman, is shown around the garrish place, the busty madam introducing him to an assemblage of girls and pointing out their various specialties. But Gilly, with her “soft, enormous breasts,” is the sexiest of them all; she recognizes Nick on sight, though she doesn’t know his name.

In her room, while she and Nick pretend to have sex(!), Gilly reveals a sordid story about a group of “weird guys” who have been visiting the cathouse recently. These guys reek of hash and have a faraway look in their eyes and talk of “The Great Mother, who is Death,” and also The Old Man of the Mountain. These guys have screwed seven of the gals at the cathouse, and five of them are now dead, their heads nearly severed by a garrotte. Gilly, who says the dudes also spoke of having been behind the deaths of JFK and MLK, was one of those seven girls – and she’s afraid she’ll be next of them to die. 

But enough of that; their simulated screwing has gotten both Nick and Gilly all fired up, and Nova writes a sex scene that’s both lyrical, per the earlier standards of the genre, and graphic, per the mid-‘70s standards of the genre. But when two cops barge in after the mutual whopping orgasms, claiming they’re making a “quiet” bust of the cathouse, Nick soon supsects they are the assassins Gilly feared. The action scene which follows is the first of several in the novel, with Nick using his hidden weapons to take out several cultists, each of whom seem excited to die. Meanwhile poor Gilly is strangled to death by a garrotte, but of course she did just tell Nick all she knew and had sex with him, so what did you think would happen to her?

Things get real when Hawk, meeting with Nick, informs him that Nichovev’s plane just disappeared over the Atlantic. The ransom notice sent to both the White House and to Moscow says that Nichovev will be killed by the death-worshiping cult of assassins on the autumnal equinox (the cover blurb mistakenly has it that Nichovev steps out of his limo in front of the White House and disappears). Nick has just a few days to find out who this cult is and where they are, but there’s nothing to go on. All Hawk can offer is the name of a professor in London who specializes in cults; perhaps this guy, Huff, whose name was “spat out by the AXE computers,” could shed some light on who these people might be.

Meanwhile Moscow has sent their own agent to work with Nick: Anna (who has a much longer name, per Russian standards), a six-foot blonde beatuy with “a figure that would have put Anita Ekberg to shame.” Her big boobs are often mentioned, and she’s hot stuff indeed, but it’s to Nova’s credit that he makes Anna so much more. Speaking in a goofy, nonsensical patchwork of the “American slang” she excelled in back during KGB training, Anna’s other speciality is popping eyeballs out of skulls with her bare hands. She regrets though that she’s had less experience in the latter, as you can only pop someone’s eyeballs out once!  Nova gets a lot of dark-comedy mileage out of this.

When their flight to London is hijacked (the hijacking as arbitrary as could be, as no one of importance is on the flight, and Nick and Anna are undercover), the two work together to take down the hash-smoking hijackers. Nova has a good grasp on action, though sometimes it takes a while for anything to happen. But then, Anna, with her funny dialog, is such an enjoyable character that you don’t mind. And also she does get to pop out several eyeballs during the course of the novel. That being said, Nova at one point mistakenly refers to Nick’s stiletto as “Pierre,” which we all know is the name of the poison gas bomb he tapes beside his gonads (the stiletto is called “Hugo”).

In charge of the hijackers is a sadist named Rubinian, a dude with a horrifying face which was burned by Nick on another earlier, undocumented adventure. Rubinian bails out of the plane while Nick takes out the assassins who have commandeered the cockpit. Reading this sequence in the post-9/11 world was quite eerie. As a “present” for saving her life, Anna rewards Nick “in the Russian way” that night in their hotel room, which apparently entails some oral ministrations before screwing him good and proper in another somewhat lyrical/somewhat graphic sex scene. Here we know the ‘70s are in full force, as Anna’s pubic hair is described as a “blonde forest.”

Sadly The Nichovev Plot falls into a rut after this. Nick and Anna meet Huff, a stuffy professor-type who works in a forgotten section of the British Museum. Huff is one of those annoyingly-convenient characters who knows everything. Nick, the hero of the series, relies on him too much. (And lets not forget that Nick has only found Huff because the AXE computers brought him up as a good source of info – it’s not like Huff has any other relation to the events of the novel.) At any rate Huff says that this cult sounds like a modern take on the old Thugee cult of India, mixed with a little of the Magna Mater cult of Ancient Rome. There’s also some Satanism in there, as we are treated to two Black Masses later in the book.

But the London stuff goes on too long, despite being leavened with some action, including a puzzler of a part where Rubinian shows up…and Nick runs away from him. Why the “Killmaster” runs away from the guy is not really explained. This all eventually leads to a cult ritual Nick witnesses in an old castle in Cornwall; as Nick watches from the shadows, two cultists have ritual sex with a gal before draping her over the sacrificial altar. A priestess comes out with a knife. Before Nick can do anything to save them, he’s knocked out – and Anna rushes in to the fray to kill a “fat Syrian” who she recognizes on the stage, one who has been stealing Soviet arms shipments.

When Nick comes to Anna is gone, which cements his hunch that she’s working for a right-wing faction in the USSR that wants to oust the détente-minded Nichovev. Nick and Huff thus travel secretly to Rome, enduring a harrowing trip across the English Channel during a terrible storm. Anna’s absence from the novel harms it greatly. Luckily though, more sleazy ‘70s sex ensues when Nick and Huff bum rides from a pair of young and insatiable American girls who, convenience be damned, just happen to have a Mercedes. We’re informed they’re so concerned with banging Nick and Huff that they barely even pay attention to the road while they’re driving.

After ditching the girls, Nick and Huff proceed on to Rome, where Huff again proves himself so knowledgeable that the reader has long ago begun to suspect him as well – this time he knows how to access a hidden part of the catacombs beneath Rome, claiming to have visited the site many years before. Nova brings to life the eerie ancient underworld of collapsed temples and lost passageways. The cult meets in a statue-lined cavern where they will murder Nichovev, bound before the altar.

The finale sees a reunited Nick and Anna – who of course wasn’t a traitor after all – taking on legions of black-robed cultists. Some expected reveals occur here, though we do get the memorable image of Nick blowing away the priestess with his Luger. Unfortunately though the finale is given over to a lot of exposition courtesy Huff, as he explains how this or that happened – that is, before Nick escorts Anna to the nearby Colisseum so they can screw under the moonlight.

The Nichovev Plot is a bit frustrating because it starts off so strong – I mean, I was loving it despite my hatred of first-person narration in the men’s adventure genre – but then it just sort of tapers off for a too-long stretch. Also, removing Anna from the story was a big mistake; Nova made her too entertaining and memorable to just forget about her for fifty or so pages. But at any rate the good stuff here is really good, and I look forward to reading the other installment credited to “Craig Nova:” Dr. Death, which was published as the hundredth volume of the series.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Butcher #1: Kill Quick Or Die

The Butcher #1: Kill Quick Or Die, by Stuart Jason
October, 1970  Pinnacle Books

The first installment of The Butcher serves as a perfect introduction to our terse bad-ass of a hero, a man who literally makes his enemies soil themselves in fear. James Dockery serves as “Stuart Jason,” his unique style and disjointed plotting firmly in place as he takes Bucher The Butcher from Atlanta to Cairo and then back again. Interestingly, this first volume is copyright Pinnacle; the rest of the series was copyright Script Associates.

Having read now an installment of Sand, I can see how The Butcher is so firmly indebted to it. It’s so similar that you could probably figure that Evan Sand actually is Bucher; maybe “Sand” was just a name the Butcher used for a while. Actually that’s a stupid idea. What really happened is that Dockery stuck so close to the vibe of the Sand books that Ennis Willie could’ve almost been co-credited as the author of the book.

That being said, Dockery’s style is a lot different than Willie’s; whereas everything in Willie’s books is terse, particularly the narrative style, in The Butcher only Bucher himself is terse. Dockery is a talented word-spinner and he doles out a brace of memorable and unusual phrases throughout Kill Quick Or Die. He also proves himself capable of developing and expanding upon themes, which gives the book, despite its grimy nature, a relatively “literary” sort of feel.

But it’s the grimy nature that wins; in Dockery’s hands, The Butcher comes off like a more polished Gannon. And actually Bucher is himself similar to Gannon, enjoying beating his opponents to gory pulp with his “brass knucks” (just like Gannon and his “spiked knucks”), but given that this series was published first, perhaps Dean Ballenger gained some inspiration from it. Indeed I think Bucher, as Dockery depicts him, could even make Gannon himself piss his pants. The dude is more machine than man, almost inhuman in his perfection. The Destroyer was loglined by Pinnacle as “the Superman of the ‘70s,” but Bucher could just as easily lay stake to that claim.

I’ve only read two volumes so far, but already I see what appears to be a formula at work for The Butcher: Bucher, already on assignment, will inadvertently stumble across a pair of goons who are chasing a young woman. Bucher will recognize one or both of the goons from his Syndicate days, and will dispatch one or both of them with his infamous quick-draw technique. The girl may also accidentally die. Bucher will continue to puzzle over this caper as he flies around the world; at some point he’ll end up in a bar or somesuch, where he will be confronted by a muscle-bound stooge. Bucher will beat the guy to a pulp. Bucher will also hook up with some woman, usually one from his past, and she’ll tag along with him, perhaps dying by novel’s end. At some point Bucher will discover there’s another, more important job he needs to take care of, at the expense of the original assignment. After much globe-gallivanting he will return to the city in which the novel started, stage an assault with a submachine gun, and turn away from the scene of carnage, “the bitter taste of defeat thick under his tongue.”

All as in Kill Quick Or Die, which has a great first half (and the title, we learn, is Bucher’s method for deailing with his old Syndicate pals). Bucher’s in Atlanta, tracking down leads on missing scientist Dr. Fong, a Chinese national who has invented a “microtransformer” which is the size of a pinhead and can provide the same energy as something a few thousand times its size. Whoever gets hold of this thing can own the world, and Fong has escaped China, which has apparently turned to the American Syndicate to track him down(?!). Bucher has it that Atlanta mob boss Big Sid Lujac is somehow involved with all of this, and thus has come here to investigate.

Bucher’s origin by the way is capably dispensed in a few paragraphs. He’s 37 and was Syndicate boss of the east coast, one of his bases of operations being Atlanta. He also served a tenure in Cairo, of all places, which serves to be quite convenient for this novel – especially the fact that he’s also fluent in Arabic! But due to a sudden onset of morals and principles Bucher quit the Syndicate, which isn’t too surprising when you see what kind of people congregate to it in Dockery’s fevered imagination: they’re all sickos, pedophiles, rapists, torture freaks, drug addicts, etc. Now Bucher works for ultra-secret White Hat, his code name Iceman (which Bucher mocks as something out of a “Grade B movie”), and he’s worked for them for several months as Kill Quick Or Die opens.

Just like in a Sand novel, Bucher immediately runs into some old friends – two Syndicate hoods chasing a pretty young woman. “The Butcher!” they scream, same as all the others will scream in ensuing books. “Koosh! Koosh!” goes Bucher’s silenced P-38, and brains and gore go flying. Bucher’s superhuman speed with the fast-draw technique is especially hammered home in this first installment. He leaves one of the stooges alive, and the dude literally shits himself in his terror. But this is one of Bucher’s few mistakes, as the dude comes back with an accomplice who blows off the back of the poor girl’s head.

Bucher puzzles over the caper as he heads on to Cairo. Dockery I’m assuming must’ve had some experience with the place as he well brings “the cesspool of the Middle East” to life, particularly with a recurring joke about how the natives fear Americans due to paranoid invective they hear on Radio Cairo. Bucher finds himself tailed by a pert little belly dancer named Tzsenya, an old fling of his from several years before, when he helmed the Syndicate heroin operation from here in Egypt – we learn later that when the two were an item, Tzsenya was a mere sixteen years old, but now feels herself an “old crone” at twenty-three.

The dark comedy is really strong in the initial Cairo action, which sees Bucher strapping on his brass knuckles and giving a hulking Egyptian stooge a thorough working over. The dude is beaten to bloody ribbons and Dockery goes into chortling overkill as he describes the gruesome scene. This whole bit is capped off by a laugh-out-loud bit where another Syndicate stooge thinks he’s gotten the drop on the otherwise-busy Bucher, only to get his brains blown out by that superhuman fast-draw technique.

Tzsenya is all over her man and misses him and etc, praying that he’ll give her some good lovin’, but Bucher’s stone cold this first volume, refusing to “mix women with work.” He comes close to giving Tzsenya what she wants once or twice, but the fact remains that there isn’t a single sex scene in the entirety of Kill Quick Or Die; Bucher fails to score in this one, but it’s due to his own stubborness. Meanwhile he has no problems with taking Tzsenya with him over to Israel, to research more leads; Bucher you see has discovered that there’s a lot more to this caper than just some microtransformer thing.

A Syndicate sadist named Lobertini, known for only being able to get off as he tortures and mutilates victims, has apparently started up a “pipeline” here in the Middle East where he secretly ships wealthy Arab men into the US. Bucher fears what could happen were this pipleine to get into enemy hands: what if some foreign power could slip agents into the US without anyone knowing? (Just to show how the times have changed, these days it’s the President who’s trying to create a pipleline for Middle Eastern terrorists to enter the US!!)

The pipleline isn’t Lobertini’s only venture; he also kidnaps prominent Israelis and ransoms them, but usually just throws the poor souls into his torture den, where he puts them in an Iron Maiden and other medieval torture devices before dipping them in vitriol, burning the flesh right off their bones. Dockery has a knack for horror-esque scenarios and well brings to creepy-crawly life one of Lobertini’s torture dungeons, which Bucher discovers in some nowhere stop near the Israeli border. 

Action is frequent, mostly just quick gunfights and brutal fistfights, but for the most part Kill Quick Or Die is more about the dark comedy and the sadism. Dockery’s Syndicate is populated by mutant freaks who get off on bloodshed and rape and torture; both pyhsically and mentally superdeformed, they’re all like something out of a depraved lunatic’s worst nightmare. Even minor, one-off characters are insanely overdone, like one who is a notorious pedophile rapist-murderer; Dockery writes a jolter of a flashback to when Bucher, then Syndicate head in Atlanta, confronts the fiend while he stands over the freshly-sodomized corpse of a young boy. No detail is spared here, and it’s unsettling for sure.

True though to this era of men’s adventure fiction, while Bucher himself remains unscathed, the same can’t be said for those close to him. Dockery is at pains to display Tzsenya’s love for Bucher, preening and stripping for him, begging him to screw her. Each time Bucher spurns her, worrying for her safety, and you can easily guess what fate is in store for her. When the inevitable happens Dockery presents a scene that could easily give one of Don Pendleton’s “turkey doctor” sequences a run for the money. The outcome of this is that Bucher is red-hot with vengeance and becomes, believe it or not, even more merciless and inhuman.

Just when you think the plot has become hopelessly jumbled – Dr. Fong and the microtransformer are completely forgotten as Bucher focuses on Lobertini’s pipeline – it all comes together somewhat satisfactorily. Dockery provides not one but two memorably-loathsome Syndicate sadists in the finale, which has Bucher back in Atlanta. First he takes on Big Sid Lujac, a bodybuilder ladies’ man who has a shotgun trap waiting for Bucher, set up for him by the awesomely-named “Green Jesus.” To get to Sid, Bucher doses some torpedos with amonia and then goes in, wearing a gas mask, and blasts them away with a submachine gun. Big Sid paves the way for Lobertini himself, and Dockery makes the reader want this bastard to get his just rewards.

Taking on the Syndicate bigwig in one of his torture dungeons, Bucher decides to put aside his gun and knucks and beat the son of a bitch to a pulp with his bare hands. Suprisingly, Bucher has gotten sick of killing (more of which below), and wants to see Lobertini either rot in prison or go mad in an insane asylum, denied the torture and mutilation he needs to survive. This proceeds into a bloody spectacle as Bucher beats the man to burger…but when Lobertini has a vitriol vat in his dungeon, only one outcome can be expected. Dockery goes to wonderfully insane lengths here, complete with the final image of a skeleton with eyeballs sort of croaking in rage at Bucher.

As for Bucher’s growing “bitterness” with killing in Kill Quick Or Die, one of the noted things about this series is how each volume ends on a variation of “the bitter taste of defeat” being thick on Bucher’s tongue. This first volume actually gives the origin of the theme, as Bucher tastes defeat after blowing away a “pus-eyed hippy” Syndicate stooge who tried to rape Tzsenya:

Briefly [Bucher] relived the killing of Rach Wilson and the bitter-sour taste of defeat came under his tongue. Not because he regretted burning Wilson – some people never earned the right to live – but because he had been forced to kill another of his own kind. Therein lay the well-spring of the bitter-sourness.

Dockery’s style is like an unholy combination of Russell Smith and Joseph Rosenberger; the former due to the outrageous dark comedy and the latter mostly in how he’ll randomly jump into the perspectives of the sadistic simps who populate the Syndicate; some of this stuff in particular is laugh out loud funny. But Dockery I’d say is a stronger writer than both, particularly Rosenberger; Dockery clearly is having fun with his story and characters, but unlike say The Destroyer it never descends into parody, due to the important reason that the events, no matter how crazy and outlandish, are as serious as death to the characters themselves.

And here’s the last line of the novel:

He retrieved his coat and weapons from the floor and started slowly down through the darkness toward the distant door of the warehouse, the bitter-sour taste of defeat strong under his tongue.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Spider #10: The Corpse Cargo

The Spider #10: The Corpse Cargo, by Grant Stockbridge
July, 1934  Popular Publications

One of the best volumes of The Spider I’ve yet read, The Corpse Cargo sees our unhinged hero Richard “The Spider” Wentworth dealing with a gang of modern pirates led by a gorgeous villainess who gets off on murder, the almost supernatural menace of “Green Fire,” and of course the usual resilience from the public and the cops he’s sworn to protect.

It’s a scorching July afternoon and Richard Wentworth is on his way to see his best friend/worst enemy, Police Commissioner Kirkpatrick. “You and I both know you are the Spider,” Kirkpatrick says, thus clearing up any confusion readers might’ve had from previous volumes; yes, Kirkpatrick does know, and claims he always has. However he needs proof before he can arrest his “best friend.” In the meantime there will be an “armed truce” between them.

Kirkpatrick’s called him Wentworth here because the top cop has a Spider ring, which he claims was given to him by a young boy. Wentworth immediately knows who it was: young Jim Walsh, the lad who helped his hero the Spider in #6: Citadel Of Hell. Laughably, as soon as he sees the ring Wentworth turns around and runs out of Kirkpatrick’s house, rushing for the inner-city tenement in which Jim lives, despite Kirkpatrick’s pleading for him to stay. I mean, Kirkpatrick hasn’t even finished his sentence before Wentworth takes off; such headfirst rushing is not only typical of our hero but the Spider novels in general.

The Corpse Cargo breaks one of the main rules of pulp fiction, or at least of mainstream pulp fiction: kids get killed in it. (But then, kids are always getting killed in the world of The Spider.) Wentworth finds the clubhouse in which young Jim and his pals in the “Spider fan club” meet, only to hear the sounds of a struggle within. He breaks down the door, and Norvell “Grant Stockbridge” Page well captures the eerie, spectral image of a man holding a “green-glittering knife” over a bound boy in the dark cabin. Wentworth promptly blows the knife-wielder away, but the boy, who turns out to be the grandson of an inventor named James Curley, is dead. His flesh has been burned by the knife.

Wentworth, wearing his customary “skirt”-type mask (meaning this isn’t an installment in which he dons the “Tito Caliepi” old man disguise), tells Jim Walsh that he’d “never again be able to sleep” were he to know the Spider fan club still existed after this day’s horrifying events. He tells the kid if he wants to help out, go help the local police. But despite this Wentworth apparently decides that little Jimmy can serve as his ostensible sidekick, but don’t expect any pandering to younger readers; indeed, the boy comes and goes in the narrative. As ever, it’s Wentworth’s show, and he’s as driven and merciless as ever. And as can be told by the above, The Corpse Cargo pulls no punches. 

Through Jim, Wentworth learns of old Curley’s inventions; one of them is a sort of harnessed chain lightning, and he figures this is none other than the “Green Fire” these pirates have been using lately. In a crazed chapter titled “Modern Piracy,” Page shows us this invention in nightmarish effect as so-called “pirates,” under the command of Captain Kidd (a woman), waylay a passenger train. The Green Fire electrocutes everyone on board, and Page again goes to his customary gruesome lengths in describing the deaths of the unfortunate passengers.

As bad as this is, the aftermath is even worse, as the pirates show zero regard for human emotion, looting the stilled train and pulling jewelry and valuables from the fresh corpses, even hacking off bejeweled limbs. And from afar their depraved leader, Captain Kidd, watches with relish. Page skirts the 1934 pulp line with overt intimations that the lady gets off royally on killing; at one point he practically writes that she orgasms as she watches the Green Fire destroying the train’s passengers. A busty brunette with short hair, Kidd shows up a bit more frequently than the typical Spider villain, which is to the good – I love depraved female villainesses, and Kidd’s one of the best yet.

In fact, Wentworth’s first meeting with Kidd is one of the book’s many highlights. Tracking the pirates down after many battles to a remote cabin outside of New York, Wentworth is promptly captured. Kidd, whose minions serve her with total fear (“Hurry, darlings, or mama might get angry,” she memorably warns them at one point), shoots down a henchman who failed her and then has Wentworth stripped, tied up with copper wire, and kerosene dumped on him. And on Jim Walsh! She leaves them there to be destroyed by the Green Fire. Wentworth’s gradual, nick-of-time escape has him even more driven than ever to take down these sadistic villains; during his struggle to escape the pirates have already fried and looted another train filled with innocent people.

The middle portion of the book loses its way a bit, as is typical with most Spider installments; Page, uh, page-fills with the go-nowhere digression of Wentworth chasing various false leads, among them the “dapper gunman” Dutch Brogard. What’s humorous is that in most cases, after hearing about these red-herring characters and searching everywhere for them, Wentworth usually locates them after they’re already dead. Old inventor Curley also turns up, though he’s more shaken by the abduction of his granddaughter Nellie, who we learn in unexplored background is actually his niece or something. What Wentworth doesn’t tell Curley is that Nellie is already dead, killed of course by the pirates.

But where are Wentworth’s customary assistants? Loyal Ram Singh is there to drive him around as usual, but doesn’t contribute as much this time around. Even more inconsequential is poor Nita, whose part in the saga would be greatly expanded in later volumes (like #75: Satans Murder Machines). In these early books she’s mostly bait for Wentworth, perfunctorily captured by the villains, all of whom know without question that Richard Wentworth is the Spider. We do get a nice little moment when Wentworth, finally meeting up with Nita, gets choked up as he watches her playing with Jim Walsh, realizing all he keeps from her by denying her marriage and a family. It’s an unexpectedly moving moment, and indicative of the quality writing you get from Norvell Page, who clearly and obviously cared about these characters.

Page also delivers on the airplane fiction apparently demanded by 1930s pulp readers; there’s a long, almost arbitrary bit where Wentworth flies along on a postal plane. Kidd’s pirates we learn have also been crashing and looting cargo planes, and Wentworth figures out that it’s by fake radio beams which get the planes to go off course, bringing them into range of Green Fire cannons or something. Wentworth flies back in his own plane for a solo assault, and this is another highlight, where Wentworth goes to Marksman-level sadism, at one point hanging a pirate corpse from a noose in front of a door as a gruesome greetings to the other pirates within! In another darkly humorous part he uses his “Spider Web” to drag a corpse across a field as a decoy.

Of course, poor Nita is perfunctorily captured by Captain Kidd, but it’s not as simple as Wentworth just rescuing her: Kidd has film footage of Richard Wentworth, standing over a pile of gunned-down pirates, and removing his Spider mask. In other words, Kidd has the very evidence that “best buddy” Kirkpatrick needs to haul Wentworth’s ass to prison! So Wentworth, after sliding down a bannister while blasting a machine gun (a la Roger Moore in Octopussy), must swallow the bitter defeat of giving himself over to the pirates, despite having just saved Nita from them.

Page toys with the idea that Kidd, dressed in “venemous yellow silk” which shows off her bodacious bod, might have some fun with Wentworth, but she’s more into straight-up killing than any sexual hijinks. Indeed Page again skirts the lines of his era by writing another orgasm for Kidd, one which she experiences as she uses her electric knife to carve up the flesh of a traitor. The orgasm even leaves her so visibly weakened that Wentworth mocks her. “Panting breasts” and “heavy-lidded eyes” are all the tools Norvell Page has at his 1934 disposal, but he does a phenomenal job of getting his lurid message across; this is one disturbed lady.

The finale is an extended sequence in which Wentworth is intended to be fried on a passenger train with another group of innocents, but he of course manages to turn the tables…and then gets on the train anyway, despite knowing it’s doomed to be zapped by Green Fire. Page, apparently realizing he’s gone most of the novel without much featuring the supporting characters, says to hell with coincidence and has most of them just happen to also be on board…even Apollo, Nita’s Great Dane! Wentworth, biding his time too long, realizes he only has moments to spare to evacuate the train; he recruits Nita to assist. This part is gripping and all, and Wentworth et al are definitely up against a ticking clock, but it goes on too long.

Wentworth displays more of his lovable sadism as he gets back in his insulated coffin while the pirates, not knowing the train has been evacuated, come aboard to loot – just as Wentworth has triggered the train to go backwards, back over the wires across the tracks which activate the Green Fire. Unfortunately this means there’s no gun-blazing finale for The Corpse Cargo; when Wentworth comes out of the coffin, the bastards are all already dead, fried to a crisp. This continues to the climax, which sees Captain Kidd fighting to the death against her henchman, Bolo, while Wentworth stands by, Bolo pissed at Kidd for betraying him. Oh, and turns out Kidd was old Curley’s daughter – yet another bullshit Spider “surprise” villain identity reveal.

Anyway, this one was up there with #15: The Red Death Rain, consistently entertaining despite a few narrative bumps here and there. It also didn’t achieve the lurid heights of that later volume (what with its “the orangutan had mated” finale and all), but it was fun to see the Spider going up against one of my favorite stock pulp characters: the warped villainess. But then I haven’t been disappointed with a Spider novel yet.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Len Levinson Back In Print

I meant to post this back in September, but better late than never, I guess. Thanks to Devin Murphy of Destroyer Books, six novels by Len Levinson are back in print, in both paperback and eBook editions. 

The six books are:

The Bar Studs 
Doom Platoon
Inside Job
The Goering Treasure 
Without Mercy 
Operation: Perfidia (with a new, never-before-published ending)

The print editions all look great and are trade paperback size. These six are the first in “The Len Levinson Collection,” but to quote those ads in the back of old Pinnacle paperbacks, there will hopefully be “more to come…”

Here’s a direct link to the Len Levinson Collection on Amazon.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Richard Blade #4: Slave Of Sarma

Richard Blade #4: Slave Of Sarma, by Jeffrey Lord
September, 1973  Pinnacle Books
(Original publication 1970)

Manning Lee Stokes plays with the formula he’s stuck to for the past three volumes of Richard Blade; this fourth volume breaks the mold with a 40-some page opening sequence which, finally, sheds a little light on Blade’s day job as the top spy for MI6A (ie the subdivision of MI6 which is responsible for Blade’s top-secret trips to Dimension X).

The KGB, we learn, has a section called TWIN which specializes in finding (or creating) exact duplicates of all known enemy agents. J, Blade’s commander (not to be confused with M, of course), has just learned that the “Russian Blade” has left Moscow. He comes up with a ruse to call out the lookalike foreign agent and nab him. Luckily, so far as J is concerned, Blade’s ex-fiance Zoe is about to be married (as we’ll recall, she’s the gal who broke up with Blade last volume). What better instance for a drunken Blade to show up and cause a scene?

The real Blade watches from the shadows as the former love of his life comes out of the church with her new husband and hundreds of wedding attendees. Then a man J has dressed to look like Blade shows up, pretending to be drunk, and causes a scene. The idea is this will out the Russian Blade, or something. Meanwhile someone sneaks up on the real Blade and knocks him out. He wakes up tied to a bed in a cottage, naked, guarded by three thugs. A man in a mask informs Blade that he intends him no harm; he’ll “only” question him via drugs. We get a nicely psychedelic sequence as Blade, unable to lie, skirts around the truth while soaring on sodium pentathol.

Now comes some of Stokes’s patented weird shit – literally. Blade you see has an explosive “buried in his guts.” All he has to do is shit it out – or, as Blade thinks of it, “shit a bomb.” Why or when this was placed there, who knows. I mean, does Blade have to worry about blowing himself up every time he craps? It doesn’t matter, I guess. Instead, Blade begs to be taken to the bathroom, which is a scuzzy toilet outside his cell. He does his business and then reaches down “into his own excreta” and removes the small capsule. (Could you imagine James Bond doing this??)

This capsule, the size of three aspirin, hides an explosive that is almost equal to an atomic blast. It just needs air and two minutes to go off. Blade drops it in the sink, escapes, and the place blows to hell. He gets back in touch with J, who is at wit’s end; J and Lord Leighton, the polio-ravaged, hunchbacked genius behind Project X, have just sent the Russian Blade off into Dimension X under threat of mass destruction. J wants Blade to hurry after him and kill him. Whereas Blade and Leighton think it’s no big deal – the Russian Blade very well may be stuck in some medieval hell for the rest of his life – J is afraid the guy will somehow find his way back to Moscow.

So near page 50 Slave Of Sarma finally takes on the vibe of previous Richard Blade installments; Blade is sent, nude and unarmed, to some new world. Lord Leighton has worked out that annoying setback from The Bronze Axe; now Blade has full memory of his life back on “Home Dimension,” ie Earth. Promptly upon arrival he’s attacked by large, intelligent crabs who are hungry for his flesh. Here Blade also encounters one of the customary series tropes: the cowardly native who will become subservient to him. This is Pelops, a weakly schoolteacher who when we meet him is buried to his neck in the sand, about to become crab food.

Blade saves him, thus being granted Pelops’s subservience. Also per series formula Pelops will info-dump scads of detail on Blade. Pelops was once a teacher in the court of Sarma, the nearest kingdom, a matriarchal society ruled with an iron fist by Queen Pphira, a supposedly-immortal beauty who has had many daughters over the years but who is still young and gorgeous. Not to mention – again per the series formula – insatiable. Pelops is small and spindly, as are most Sarmian men; as is customary, studly Blade towers over the native men. (Yet the native women, again per series formula, are all built like Victoria’s Secret models…)

Pelops was made a slave by his wife – the only way out of marriage – as women rule in Sarma. Now the slave patrols are looking for him, with the beautiful blonde Princess Zeena in tow. One of Pphira’s many daughters, Blade figures Zeena might be able to provide him safe purchase into the kingdom, where he hopes to find news of his “twin brother,” aka the Russian Blade lookalike. Zeena doesn’t take so kindly to being abducted, even if she’s quickly becoming enamored with the superhumanly-endowed Blade. And when Blade “lightly cuffs” her for her insolence, she’s even more head over heels for him. (I wouldn’t recommend trying this in the real world, though.)

Indeed, Zeena is so hot for Blade that she gives him, that very night, the gift of “shedding her virgin blood” on him. You see, Zeena is a virgin, and has already decided Blade’s the man to take care of the problem. But what Blade discovers, after this brief and not very graphic sequence, is that sex equals marriage in Sarma, and now Zeena is his wife! After this the blonde beauty hies off for Sarma, hoping to pave the way for Blade’s glorious entry into the city, while for some unspecified reason Blade roughs it in a nearby gladiatorial training camp…not that anything is made of this development.

But Zeena turns out to be gone for good. Blade is eventually dragged to Sarma, Pelops in tow, as a slave rather than as the conquering husband of Princess Zeena. He finds the girl has been sent off on a “punishment ship,” and also that Queen Pphira, very curious to see what this godlike Blade is like after hearing so many of Zeena’s stories, wants him as her latest bedmate – but only if Blade can defeat her latest champion in mortal combat. So begins a long, tautly-written sequence in which Blade, unarmed, battles Pphira’s top warrior in pitch darkness. The warrior is blind, and Stokes well captures the tension of Blade’s plight.

Victorious, Blade is bathed and ushered into the private chambers of the Queen, where she waits for him naked on her bed. The winner of the bout was promised immediate sex with Pphira, and we learn she’s ready and waiting; she even becomes sexually excited by Blade’s rundown of the bloody battle he just endured. “Sinuous as a cat,” Pphira is a raven-haired beauty with “small breasts” and the looks of a young woman, not to mention being possessed with an insatiable sex drive, despite being very, very old. (Another recurring character-type in Stokes’s work; see also Queen Beatta, Madame Hee, and Gerda von Rothe.)

The Richard Blade series is strong with the “man conquers” theme, with Blade often relying on his massive muscles and massive manhood to subdue feisty women. Slave Of Sarma takes this subtext to overt levels, with Blade telling himself he will “need his sex” to win this one. And have no fear, he succeeds, sexually subduing Queen Pphira in the most explicit sex scene in the book – that is, after he’s “boxed her lightly, with quasi-affection, on each cheek with his huge hand.” (Pphira kind of likes it, but I still wouldn’t recommend this in the real world.)

By this time he was again ready. Tremendously ready. Blade was big by any standards and by Sarmaian measurement he was huge. Nearly grotesque. He ripped off his leathern kilt and flung it away. Queen Pphira took one look and screamed, but not for her guards. She backed away from him, inching up the bed, her hand pressed to her mouth. 

“I cannot, Blade. I cannot! You are too big. You will kill me.” 

Blade pulled her back. “I recall,” he said with mock lewdness, “that it is said to be a pleasant death. And you make too much of it, Pphira.” Cruelly, with deliberate malice, he added, “Zeena made me no complaints.” And he thrust his fingers into her again. Not too gently. He did not like this ageless beauty, nor trust her, but he wanted her at the moment More important - he must dominate her. It was now or never. A sword of flesh, he thought wryly, is sometimes better than a sword of steel. 

She did not cry out for her guards. Blade had gambled that she wouldn't. He seized her, ankle by ankle, and pulled her apart in a slim white tender V. He raised her legs high and over his broad shoulders and he battered at her with no mercy. 

Pphira was small and compact, very tight and moist, and she did scream softly as he ravaged her, filling her near to bursting. Again came the soft scream, this time muted and blurred. She locked her legs around his neck and pulled at his buttocks. She began to claw and scratch. His wound throbbed and Blade ignored it. 

It was not the first time that he had made love for his life, for his plans, to gain his objectives, and he supposed it would not be the last time. A man must do what he must and take it as it came. One thing he knew – he had never enjoyed it more.

It goes on for a while, Pphira enjoying “an endless series of orgasms” before Blade finally allows himself to “spew.” Good grief! But as is typical with the previous Richard Blade books, and Stokes in general, it tapers off after this lurid blast; Pphira will grant Blade whatever he wants, and he wants his own ship. He claims it’s to compete in the games held for the arrival of the sort of emperor of the land, Otto the Black, who is arriving in Sarma soon. But really Blade wants to sail across the Purple Sea to the Burning Lands, where he’s heard his “twin” was last spotted.

Pelops serving on his crew of slaves, Blade competes in a naval battle so arbitrary that you think you’re reading a different book. Meanwhile the obese Otto the Black watches from afar, Pphira at his side; we learn that Otto is a notorious sodomite and enjoys forcibly raping men…in fact, if Blade loses the battle (and survives), he will be dragged to Otto’s quarters, where he’ll be promptly raped! But of course Blade wins, escaping on the sea and taking us into the super-weird Chapter 16, which is even more arbitrary than the naval battle.

Purporting to be “From the writings of Aknir, Palace Philosopher of Greater Sarma, in the year 10536 AB – After Blade,” this chapter, printed in all italics, is the first-person narration of Richard Blade himself, supposedly translated from letters found in a bottle in the ocean centuries ago(?!). As we know, Stokes introduced first-person narration to the Nick Carter: Killmaster series, and I wonder if Chapter 16 of Slave Of Sarma was his attempt at doing the same thing for the Richard Blade series. If so, he was doomed to failure, as series producer Lyle Kenyon Engel held the reigns on this one and was a self-proclaimed disliker of first-person narrative.

Unsurprisingly, Blade comes off as a fussy blowhard in his narration, which is just how Stokes made Nick Carter sound in those first-person novels. The “year of 10536 AB” is not explored nor explained (other than Aknir’s wonderfully-offhand comment that his era is “somewhat effete”), but it’s interesting how Aknir’s opening commentary comes off like the “historical Jesus” scholarship so prevalent around the time Stokes was writing the novel. Could this have been his spoof of it? Aknir even doubts a “Richard Blade” ever existed. Otherwise, about the only notable outcome of Chapter 16 is that Blade’s ship comes across another ship, one filled with women.

It’s a pirate ship, the women being the loot, but the pirates are long gone, killed in a storm or somesuch. Zeena is among the women, though she’s insane; Blade learns she was “passed around among the pirates forty times a day”(!) and eventually lost her mind, no longer even capable of speech.  Also there is another princess aboard, this one just as young and hot (again, per tradition), though mysteriously untouched by the pirates: her name is Canda, and she claims to be the daughter of El Kal, ruler of some Arabian Nights-style kingdom in the Burning Lands. This is why the pirates didn’t rape her; their fear of El Kal.

Blade splits off with a few people, Pelops, Canda, and Zeena among them, and they endure a grueling (and page-consuming) trip across the desert wastes. Of course, Canda gives herself to Blade one night, even though she constantly mocks him. Stokes delivers another somewhat-explicit sequence, one that starts off with the goofy image of Blade’s leather pants, rotten and brittle from the desert elements, ripping open beneath the “massive protuberance” of his hard-on!

Finally we come to the city of El Kal, named after its ruler, where Blade’s “twin” serves as Grand Vizier. But the man, whose name is Gregor Petroshansky, claims to mean Blade no harm. In fact he wants Blade to explain what’s happened to him; all Gregor knows is that he was strapped to a table by J and Lord Leighton, and the next thing he knew he was here. Speaking with a goofy, over-the-top English accent (“old bean” and the like), Gregor’s been living the high life in El Kal – not to mention banging Princess Canda. In fact, Canda is having difficulty deciding which Blade is better in bed.

This actually serves as the climax of the novel – El Kal (speaking his daughter’s wishes) deems that both men will have two days each to serve Canda, and whichever she chooses as the better lay will be made prince of the city. The other will be killed; El Kal women are “notoriously promiscuous,” so it’s the only accepted way to ensure they won’t go back to banging their exes. Stokes piles it on, with Blade engaging the young woman in a few more somewhat-explicit sequences, capped off by Gregor showing up in Canda’s cell while Blade is in, uh, mid-thrust, holding a lance at Blade’s back. 

Canda’s been doped on the native ganja, it turns out, and Gregor’s been using it to cloud his mind from Lord Leighton’s computer; he doesn’t want to return to Home Dimension. The finale sees Blade continuing to hump Canda under Gregor’s watchful eyes(!) before the two men engage in desperate combat, all while the computer finally locks in on them and begins beaming them back to Home Dimension. It’s a memorable finale for sure, one that sees Blade of course the lone survivor but so injured that he’s immediately taken to surgery. We learn, though, that he’ll make a full recovery. Who doubted it?

Anyway, Slave Of Sarma was a lot of fun, though as typical with Stokes a little too bloated and padded at times (just like my reviews!). Stokes was very prolific, which occasionally had negative repercussions on his work; Slave Of Sarma fortunately is a Stokes novel that keeps moving, for the most part, and also ties up most of its subplots. I also found myself enjoying it more than previous installments, though I think my favorite so far was the previous volume, Jewel Of Tharn.

And that cover painting isn’t homoerotic at all!!

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Psychedelic Spy

The Psychedelic Spy, by T.A. Waters
No month stated, 1967  Lancer Books

I came across this book a while back, and even though it looked like everything I could want in a spy pulp paperback, I put off reading it because it was written by T.A. Waters, whose Centerforce I found so disappointing. But I figured everyone deserves a second chance, and so finally got around to reading The Psychedelic Spy. And boy, was I glad I did – this book was great!

The pretension of Centerforce is nowhere to be found as Waters turns out a snappily-paced action story, laced with psychedelic vibes, about a Timothy Leary sort of alpha male who helps the US government stop a Chicom brainwashing plot, one that is operating in California. The book hurtles along its 160 pages with plentiful action, sex, gadgetry, and violence, with a great and memorable hero and a pair of equally-memorable villains, one of them even a sexy villainess who of course offers herself to our hero before ordering him killed. Waters I think was trying to both spoof and stay true to the pulp concept, and he nailed the balance perfectly. 

The hero of the tale is Dr. Lowell Simon Dee, the aforementioned Leary-type. That is, Leary with the kung-fu skills of Bruce Lee and the mystical mastery of Dr. Strange. His name is obviously a clue to the in-jokery of it all, but to be fair Waters only refers to him as “Dee” or “Dr. Dee” in the narrative; it’s the cover copywriter who had to go and refer to him as “Dr. L.S. Dee.” Dee is just my type of ‘60s psychedelic dude: he’s no dirty, unwashed hippie, but an aesthethic socialite who lives in a plush loft in Manhattan. He doesn’t spurn technology but embraces it, particularly when it comes to mind expansion.

In his early 30s, with brownish-blonde hair going gray at the temples, Dee has the “wiry” build of a swimmer. He has various degrees, most of them in psychopharmacology, and is known for his groundbreaking work on LSD and other psychedelic drugs; his books are big sellers. Long ago he snuck into China, staying there for three years and learning various forms of kung-fu (which he has to explain to others; the book was published before the art was commonly known) in addition to the karate and aikido he already excelled at. Now Dee resides in his spacious loft, geared up with various custom-made strobelights, mixing up drugs for himself (or just getting them out of his “drug refrigerator”), and entertaining scores of beautiful women.

What I really love is how Dee comes off like a psychedelicized Nick Carter. Like the Killmaster, Dee enjoys using spy-fy gadgets, but unlike the Killmaster they’re mostly all of Dee’s own design. In The Psychedelic Spy he uses a “jiggle pen” that can unlock most anything, a stroboscopic penlight which he uses to descramble brainwashed minds, a pair of triple-layered black gloves that secrete poison, and even a megawatt pair of stroboscopic lights which he attaches to the back of a car and uses to blow the minds of a group of pursuing bikers. Even his drugs are custom-made, like “Cyclert,” a substance Dee has made which enables “deeper memory traces.”

But Dee’s most memorable gadget is his weapon of choice, the Mercox Special. This strange-sounding gun we’re informed looks similar to a revolver, and indeed is built on a Smith & Wesson frame, but has been augmented into a sort of gas pistol along the lines of the one in John Eagle Expeditor. Dee’s though fires not only darts, but even magnesium flares and heat-seeking missiles. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that the Mercox Special actually exists: created by Smith & Wesson in 1965, it apparently never got past the prototype stage, with only 25 or so of the guns created. You can read more about it here, and here’s an image of the gun, taken from this site:

Mind you, when we meet him Dee isn’t a turned-on superspy, yet apparently he already has all of this material on hand. It doesn’t matter though; this is just part of the book’s charm. When Dee is approached by Sanders, a high-ranking spook, and Tobey, Sanders’s right-hand man, Dee ponders over the mission offered him: someone has been brainwashing college kids for some unknown reason, though one side-effect is that psychedelic drugs are going to be seen in a bad light. Dee’s concern over preventing this from happening is laughable in today’s world, but The Psychedelic Spy was published in more innocent times. At any rate, Dee’s real motive for taking the job is his hatred of control; that someone is going to such loathsome extremes to control human beings sickens Dee to his soul.

One more difference between Dr. Dee and Nick Carter is Dee’s tendency to pause and reflect, though be assured this is never at the expense of the action. He will occasionally ponder man’s inhumanity, the bloody business of spycraft, regret it, and then get on with it. Let’s also not forget his occasional drug detours, each of them also with the intent of focusing Dee’s mind on the task at hand, like when he drops 300 micrograms of LSD (his standard dose) and meditates on a mandala in his loft for several hours, ruminating on if he truly wants to accept Sanders’s job.

Right on cue with the drugs, Cathy, Dee’s nominal girlfriend, shows up for some LSD-fueled sex. Waters doesn’t get down to the nitty-gritty but lets us know it’s happening, and also uses the word “fuck” a few times, which I found surprising in a 1967 pulp paperback – usually such books from this era steer clear of the F-bomb. Cathy is insatiable, and though she’s been intimate with Dee for about a decade now she’s nowhere near to being his only bedmate, nor he hers. Indeed, after a twelve-hour or so sexual bout, Cathy practically rapes Tobey when he shows up the next day to tell Dee that Sanders wants to meet Dee at the Cloisters.

Here we get to see some of Dr. Dee’s almost superhuman skills – we already saw him easily and quickly take out two thugs as part of Sanders’s testing – as he dodges an assassination attempt. Hearing an arrow being launched, Dee knocks it out of the air just as it is about to hit Sanders’s chest, and then he actually catches the next arrow. The would-be killer, a Mongolian type, kills himself in shame, and Dee reflects sadly on this – he’s just accepted the job, and already there is death. This doesn’t stop him from some more somewhat-graphic shenanigans with Cathy.

Sanders and Tobey hand over all the intel they have on the job. Some mysterious figure named Wu Ming (a Chinese phrase meaning “no name,” Dee informs them) is behind a plot, apparently centered around a posh psychedelic club in San Francisco called the Palace of Changes, which is attempting to brainwash American youth into CommieSymps (flashforward to the college youth of today…I think the Commie brainwashers succeeded!!). Dee does his own research, coincidentally finding a young girl who visited the Palace and who tells him of the sex-and-psychedelics nature of the place; you get lots of drugs and have sex in a mattress-floored cell while colored lights play around you. But you have to sign up on a list to get access to the Palace. 

Off Dr. Dee goes to San Francisco (after a three-way with Cathy and the young girl who escaped the Palace), where Sanders has set him up with his top California agent, a black-haired beauty named Mimi Blaine, “by far the most beautiful girl Dee had ever seen.” Mimi is an interesting character, years ahead of her time, a kick-ass field agent who, unlike the manly female action heroes of today, still has a soft feminine side. She’s grown up in the spy biz, and she doesn’t appreciate Dee’s concern for her – she can handle herself. She lives in an apartment in the Haight-Ashbury (still a psychedelic paradise here, and not yet descended into the heroin-ravaged hell it became), and since space is so limited she takes Dee straight there.

Yep, time for more sex – this time almost cosmic, as Dee and Mimi are so attuned that it’s almost love at first boink. Later Dee will get a bit of a jolt when Mimi reveals she’s only sixteen years old. “I’m perfectly legal sex in most states,” she assures him. This strange element of Mimi’s youth isn’t much further explored, and she acts like your typical adult heroine, so likely Waters added this to cater to yet another pulp mainstay: the jailbait lay. Oh, and Mimi has her own personal weapon – a razored boomerang which she uses to dice people up real good. In other words, she’s basically The Baroness about a decade early.

In between more sex these two get in a few fights and also investigate the Palace of Changes. Sounding like the forgotten New York psychedelic nightclub The Cerebrum, the place has meditation rooms and private areas where you can drop acid and get busy with someone else. Waters brings the Palace to life wonderfully. Dr. Dee however knows brainwashing techniques when he sees them, especially when many of them are based on his own research. He and Mimi split up, and Dr. Dee knocks out a Chinese guy guarding a locked door. Inside Dee finds a bunch of brainwashing machinery and a beautiful – and totally naked – Chinese woman.

This is Feya Dinh, the villainess of the piece. A kung-fu master (in the opening we saw her rip off the ear of one of Sanders’s men before killing him with her bare hands), she’s also the chief brainwasher. She shows no surprise at Dee’s presence, and in fact has been expecting him. Now she wants some of that famous Dr. Dee good lovin’, and Dee, despite banging Mimi for the past several hours straight, is only too eager to comply. But afterwards Feya wants Dr. Dee himself “destroyed,” so he whips out the ol’ Mercox Special and escapes, after rescuing Mimi (who herself has been consorting with a random dude in her own mattress-lined cell). In their escape Dee employs those strobes he placed on the back of Mimi’s Triumph TR-4.

Next Dr. Dee is sent off to Mexico City, where Sanders’s intel has it that many of the brainwashed youth have been headed. There Dee will locate one of them and learn that they’ve come down here “to train,” but for what the kid doesn’t know. In his research of the mysterious villa where it all goes down, Dee is captured by Feya Dinh, who reveals that Mimi herself has been captured and will die if Dee doesn’t comply. She doses him with 900 micrograms of LSD – a “heroic dose” if ever there was one – but Dee, due to his mental mastery and drug skills, is able to keep his sanity and only feign catatonia.

The climax sees Dr. Dee staging a one-man assault on Wu Ming’s headquarters, located in a mineshaft outside of San Francisco. Here Dee will defend himself against the broadsword-weilding Churgah, Wu Ming’s massive henchman, while also saving Mimi from the clutches of death. Wu Ming is finally revealed – a “muffled” figure who speaks with a metallic voice. Turns out it’s just a “manikin,” and Mimi follows the cables that control it into the bowels of the place, where the real Wu Ming is revealed to be an old Chinese man a la Fu Man Chu.

Waters again shows his prescience with Wu Ming’s weapon: a “hydraulic biosystem” which is basically powered armor and is described almost exactly like the one worn by Ridley in Aliens. Mimi’s boomerang comes in handy against the suit’s power box, however. Meanwhile Dee chases after Feya Dinh, who has escaped in a station wagon(!!). This sequence is anticlimactic after Mimi’s fight to the death with Wu Ming, with Dee merely shooting a heat-seeking missile at Feya Dinh’s car…and reflecting sadly on the whole deal while he watches it explode.

The only unfortunate thing about The Psychedelic Spy is that there were no more adventures to follow. This puzzles me, as Dr. Dee is presented as such a fully-realized character that you’d love to read more about him. Waters leaves the ending open, with Dee and Mimi happily together and both of them telling Sanders they’re quitting, but Mimi is certain that the spook will appear again someday with a new mission. So I don’t think the reason there were no more books was because Waters didn’t want to write them. If anything, I think the concept of a psychedelic superspy might’ve been too far-out for spy paperback readers of the day, many of whom I imagine were likely blue collar types who didn’t cotton to a pill-popping hero.

It’s our loss that this wasn’t the start of a series. The Psychedelic Spy offers everything you could want in a pulp spy paperback, especially if like me you are fascinated by the ultramod, turned-on world of the jet-set ‘60s. Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius (or even Grant Morrison’s Gideon Stargrave) might be another character of the time similar to Dr. Dee, but again it must be stated that Waters plays it straight throughout, which is much to the novel’s benefit. There are no pretentious parts or intentionally “weird” parts; it’s just a straight-up spy yarn about a gadget-loving hero who enjoys his LSD. I loved the hell out of it and I highly recommend it.

BONUS NOTE: In 1990 BBC radio produced a five-part audio drama titled The Psychedelic Spy, which has no relation to this novel, despite having the same title and being set in the same year. It was written by Andrew Rissik and I finally got to hear it; occasionally the BBC will make it available to listen to via their app. While the production and performances were great, it must be said that The Psychedelic Spy isn’t very…well, psychedelic, and in fact is more hardboiled than anything, narrated by a hard-bitten British assassin who is in fact the most laughably-inept spy ever. The dude wears his heart on his sleeve and is constantly being captured or fooled, and I don’t think he even assassinates anyone in the entire thing. But at least it kept me entertained during my work commute…and those British accents made me feel super-smart!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cage #1: The Lady Killers

Cage #1: The Lady Killers, by Alan Riefe
No month stated, 1975  Popular Library

Brought to you by the same imprint that published Hardy, Cage ran for six volumes and was more of a men’s adventure deal than the aforementioned bore of a private eye series. Alan Riefe, a real person and not a house name, turned out the action-packed tale of “twin supersleuths” Huntington and Hadley Cage, as represented by the studly ‘70s dudes on the photo cover with their groovy ‘70s chicks.

The Lady Killers is a good opening to the series, as it features my favorite pulpy concept: good-looking female villains. As part of his P.I. work, Manhattan-based Huntington Cage comes across the Chain of Silk, an five-woman hit squad that works for the mob. However there’s no part where Cage or his brother get busy with any of the sexy ladies, and indeed Riefe seldom even describes the women. He instead plays more with the Chain of Silk being like a “women’s lib” movement in the mob. As a minor character complains, “Women are getting into everything these days.”

“Hunt” Cage, who I suppose is the main protagonist of the series, doesn’t fare very well in this first volume. Within a few pages he’s gunned down on the street, shot by a hitman posing as a motorcycle cop. The hit was ordered by Angie Visconti, obese Mafia cretin. But Hunt survives and is in the hospital; Visconti sends the same hitman to kill him there. But Hunt has a mysterious savior, an unseen figure summoned by a special transistor switch on Hunt’s wristwatch; the savior blows away the hitman and fades into the shadows. Six weeks pass and Hunt has sufficiently recovered…and meanwhile, Angie Visconti himself has been blown away, by that same mysterious figure. 

Meanwhile, we already know who the mystery figure is – of course, it’s Hunt’s twin brother, Hadley “Lee” Cage. An artist based out of New Jersey, Lee helps Hunt in his investigations for reasons that are never disclosed. Honestly, there’s no reason why Lee, a successful artist and ladies man, would keep meeting Hunt on the waters beneath the George Washington Bridge (the two brothers never venture to each other’s stomping grounds, so that no one will ever figure out that either of them has a twin brother) and agreeing to fill in for him on certain jobs. But Lee’s even Hunt’s gun supplier, hooking him up this time with a .357 magnum he insists Hunt try out.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter, as that’s the novelty factor of this series: the world doesn’t know that there are actually two Cages, identical twins. Actually this gives the series a bit of a ’30s pulp vibe; the idea of Hunt Cage having a special gizmo watch which will alert his twin brother is so weird that you could see it being a big hit with Depression-era readers. But Riefe wisely sleazes it up a bit, mandatory for ‘70s pulp, in particular with digressions on “the art of making love on a waterbed,” as Hunt reconnects with his redheaded girlfriend, Rosemary O’Boyle, a beat cop. Riefe doesn’t go for full-bore sleaze but we do get a lot of info on how to properly screw on a waterbed.

Meanwhile the brothers try to figure out who is apparently continuing Angie Visconti’s assassination work. Lee cases the man’s family in Jersey while Hunt tracks down Visconti’s sole Manhattan-based family member: a twenty-something daughter named Marie, a gorgeous blonde with big breastesses who is so perky and upbeat when she meets Hunt Cage that he figures there’s no way possible this chick could be a hitwoman. Plus she’s a schoolteacher and has no knowledge of her dad’s wrongdoings. So who’ll be surprised when Hunt and Rosemary come back to Hunt’s apartment one night and there’s Marie Visconti, in a skintight black jumpsuit, leaping out of his apartment window and running acrobatically across the rooftops?

She’s left behind a vial of nitro glycerine, intended to blow up an unsuspecting Hunt when he opened his medicine cabinet. After checking the rest of the place, instead of calling the bomb squad for a thorough search, Hunt and Rosemary head on over to the waterbed for more of that good stuff. Who’ll be surprised when the next morning the living room explodes – turns out there was another bomb, hidden in the television set – and Rosemary is killed in the blast? Hunt’s so consumed with vengeance that he’s not thinking properly, so Lee bashes him on the head and takes him back to his place in Jersey so Lee can pose as Hunt in Manhattan and draw out Marie Visconti.

Lee Cage turns out to be the better protagonist; within moments of posing as his brother he already draws out one of the members of the Chain of Silk and blows her away as she’s planting explosives on Hunt’s boat. Despite the women’s lib angle of the Chain of Silk, these girls are all bunglers, constantly goofing up. I’d like to think this is “subtle” commentary on Riefe’s part, but again, he really doesn’t exploit the fact that these particular assassins are all women. It’s such a head-scratcher of a miss that you really don’t know what to think. But anyway, they’re now down one more thanks again to Lee, and soon thereafter he takes out yet another in a firefight.

Meanwhile, Hunt, the “star” of the book, spends his time running away from Lee’s hot-to-trot girlfriend, Mina(!). Seriously, Hunt’s in the dumps due to his girlfriend’s death, but long portions are given over to Hunt trying to throw off the busty gal, who’s burnin’ for some good lovin’. And Lee continues to act more like the protagonist of an action series, tracking Marie and another of her assassins up to Vermont, where he eventually deduces that they are planning to assassinate a crusading old journalist named Atherton.

Hunt finally gets in on the action in a long sequence in the Hotel Gatewood, in Harlem, a posh all-black luxury palace in which a bigwig loan shark named Breadman resides. Hunt has learned Breadman too is on the hit list, though the man disbelieves Hunt’s story. But when one of Breadman’s goons tries to kill Breadman, everyone realizes that Hunt was on the level; Marie Visconti, back from Vermont, is in a hotel across the way, holding the goon’s family hostage. The goon is to kill Breadman, or the family gets it.

Devising an elaborate scheme, Hunt swindles the lady with a fake corpse, so that when she pops out of her hotel window with a rifle he shoots her, hanging from an old stone gargoyle on the Hotel Gatewood’s edifice. Yes, Marie is summarily killed off, with little buildup or payoff – Hunt just shoots her, and that’s that. More focus is given to the stuff up in Vermont, where Lee poses as Atherton in a parade, dodging yet another unsuccessful Chain of Silk assassination attempt. Shortly thereafter the brothers switch places, Lee back to Jersey to boff Mina, and Hunt engaging the final two Chain of Silk gals and two Mafia hitmen in a protracted action scene in the forest.

Hunt doesn’t even kill the Chain of Silk girls, just capturing them after blowing away the rifle-toting men in their party. He calls the law and that’s that; there’s no resolution to the Chain of Silk or explanation of how or when Marie Visconti put them together, even why they were still operating after Marie’s death. It’s all very anticlimactic, but that’s unfortunately par for the course for many of these cheapjack ‘70s action series. Otherwise Riefe’s writing isn’t bad, with a bit more word-spinning than typical of the genre and a good touch with the dialog exchanges. Actually the writing is for the most part so good that it actually makes you expect more from the plot, which is why I’m coming off a little too hard on it.

At 172 pages of fairly big print, The Lady Killers moves pretty fast. Riefe has a firm handle on the requirements for ‘70s men’s adventure fiction, from the action to the sleaze to the generally lurid feeling, and I wonder if the series would’ve lasted longer if it had found a home at a more appropriate imprint, particularly Pinnacle Books.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Operation Starvation (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #17)

Operation Starvation, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1966  Award Books

Nicholas Browne’s first volume of Nick Carter: Killmaster is even more entertaining than his last one, The Bright Blue Death. Of course, that one had an unfrozen viking warrior, but I felt it got a little bogged down by trivialities. Operation Starvation on the other hand moves at a steady clip, even if it doesn’t have some of the far-out characters or incidents of The Bright Blue Death.

Actually Nick’s assignment is sort of far-out: a Chinese scientist named Dr. Lin has created this spore that could either fuel crops or destroy them. If these spores were to get into the wrong hands they could wipe out an entire civilization.  Dr. Lin has apparently realized that his Chicom masters would use his creation for evil and thus he’s attempted to defect to the US. Unfortunately he has been captured, and is now detained in the Red Chinese nuclear testing grounds in the wasteland desert of Takla Makan, in the hinterlands of China.

Dr. Lin has a daughter, Kathy, who is in Paris; Dr. Lin refuses to do any work for the Reds unless she is returned safely to him. Hawk, Nick’s boss at AXE, figures that Dr. Lin would attempt to escape again were it proven to him that Kathy was safely in the hands of American agents, so he puts the Killmaster on the job. We meet Nick as he’s already in Paris, and the action begins posthaste as a car full of Red Chinese agents come blasting at him. Nick takes them out with Wilhelmina, his Luger, and some of his fancy martial arts moves.

Nick we learn has recently gone through a rigorous training session which took place in the desert. This has resulted in him being in peak physical condition, which must be saying something. To be sure there’s a fair bit of hero-worship going on in Operation Starvation. We’re constantly being reminded of Nick’s rugged good looks, his superb muscles, his mastery of all forms of combat, his almost superhuman expertise in all fields. This almost brings to mind the romance novel flavor of the first Killmaster installment, Run, Spy, Run, though it doesn’t go to such extremes.

The Americans have no idea what Kathy Lin looks like, but they do know that she had contact with a Paris-based reporter named Dominique St. Martin, who was recently nominated as “Go-Go Girl of the Year.” Nick’s task is to find Kathy, and he’s teamed up with a CIA contact named Rusty Donovan, who couldn’t be more based on Felix Leiter. Ol’ Rusty is practically useless, constantly being knocked out or fooled; there’s a part where he’s even thrown off a third-floor balcony by Chicom agents (he survives, though). So even though Nick has a partner, he really works alone in the novel.

Dominique is a hotstuff blond with a jaw-dropping bod; the daughter of a billionaire, she moves with ease through the jetset and apparently is close with Johnny Wu, the top Red Chinese agent in Paris (we’re informed he looks like Anthony Quin.) Nick tracks them all down to a club where Johnny shows off his sharpshooting skills by shooting a cigar out of Dominique’s mouth. This bizarre incident is not explored. Instead Nick gets in a shootout with some of Wu’s agents, followed by a long carchase with Dominique, which ends with her crashing into a lake and a nude Nick diving in to rescue her.

Dominique, now nude herself, tells Nick that she thought he was an agent of Johnny’s. She’s dedicated herself to helping Nick stop the Chinese sadist, and will help locate Kathy. Meanwhile, it’s time for some good lovin’. Off they go to Dominique’s palatial riverboat, where Browne delivers a three-page sex scene that manages to be both somewhat-explicit and metaphorical/lyrical, with such lines as, “Then her long supple body fell back, pulling him with her, and the magnificent thighs formed a great V, urging him into the hot cave of her desire.” Browne also develops this goofy horse-riding analogy, with Nick “roweling her with the hard spur of his masculinity,” and “On his milk white steed Nick mounted toward the stars.”

So in other words, these two get along great. This is another of those Killmaster novels where Nick practically falls in love; Dominique is so pretty, has such a great body, and is so vivacious that Nick is smitten. Gee, wonder what will happen to her? Dominique reveals that Kathy Lin has a special signet ring, something Nick is certain Johnny Wu doesn’t know. He figures if he can get that ring, he can prove to Dr. Lin that Kathy is safe. Dominique has a meeting coming up with the girl and Nick spies the location out, as well as Johnny Wu’s guarded villa. We also get a brief visit to a nightclub, where Nick listens in annoyance to some moptopped mod band while Dominique dances.

Browne again doesn’t exploit the violence factor, but there’s a good bit of action in the novel. There’s a particularly long sequence in the docks area of Paris where Nick takes on more of Wu’s goons and a bunch of French dockside workers who believe Nick is a wanted felon. It culminates with Nick appropriating a forklift and bashing in the wall of a butcher shop, where up in the loft he finds a young Chinese girl dressed like a Parisian streetwalker. It’s none other than Kathy Lin, who has been hiding up here as well as in a bordello. This latter part hasn’t worked out, she reveals, as Wu’s men heard there was a new Chinese girl in the place and kept coming over to see her.

Nick hands Kathy over to Rusty, but he’s out of luck because Kathy gave her ring to Dominique. And now Dominique’s been captured. Nick goes to rescue her at Wu’s villa, only for the mandatory incident of Nick himself being captured. Strapped to an operating table, Nick has various electrodes applied to his nude body by Arthur, Wu’s sadistic, pudgy henchman, who gets off on torture and cackles like a madman, speaking in pidgin English all the while (“I’m vely solly,” and the like.) Wu reveals that they’ve already had their fun with Dominique, and boy is it the most grisly ending for a female character yet in the Killmaster saga:

“Arthur, in his enthusiasm, took her to the stables and smeared her with the vaginal excretion of one of the riding mares, then tied her to the belly of my new stallion. The results were…” Wu spread his pams and shrugged.

When Dominique’s battered and bloody body is trundled into the room, Nick is barely able to look at her, seeing in his mind “the frightened goaded horse plunging” into her. And she’s still alive, but just barely. Wu leaves Arthur to have his fun, and Nick’s jolted a bit. But in another of those laughably deus ex machina instances, Nick’s able to pry a few electrodes loose and free himself. But rather than hook Arthur up to his own torture device, Nick merely strangles him. Just in time for Dominique to die in his hands, giving him a happy smile and handing over Kathy Lin’s signet ring.

Nick heads to the Takla Makan desert in the homestretch; now Kathy too has been captured by Wu (yep, Rusty has failed again; he was supposed to protect her), and Nick’s job is to free Dr. Lin before Wu can get to the desert testing grounds with her. Assisted by a band of Khuf tribesmen, Nick humps it through the desert to a special air drop courtesy Hawk: a small helicopter with two seats. After much buildup, Nick only flies the craft for a few pages, rather easily swooping into the Chinese nuclear test base, finding Dr. Lin, and swooping out while dodging ground fire.

Dr. Lin safe, Nick now determines to save Kathy, who is prisoner of Johnny Wu and held in another of his guarded villas, this one in Biarritz, on France’s Bay of Biscay. Rusty Donovan shows up to “help” out as uselessly as before – and is of course summarily gunned down in the climactic assault on Wu’s fortress. Browne’s merchant seaman background comes into play in the final bit, where Wu escapes with Kathy on a small boat and Nick sneaks aboard and wreaks destruction, casting the boat adrift on a stormy sea.

The final fight with Wu is good, with both men using their martial arts skills; Wu, despite being a tough guy, can’t swim, and Nick watches him drown. And of course there’s Kathy, back on the boat, offering herself to the Killmaster – she might look young, but she’s all woman, something which she wants to prove to Nick posthaste. Nick reflects on poor Dominique for all of two seconds before hopping into bed with Kathy. Browne treats us to another somewhat explicit/somewhat lyrical sex scene, and that’s that for Operation Starvation.