Thursday, August 29, 2013


Skull, by Joe Buffer
May, 1975  Pinnacle Books

This is the only novel Joe Buffer published, which is a mystery, because Skull is actually pretty good. It’s not an action pulp like most other Pinnacle offerings, but instead is more of a character portrait sort of thing – however of a character who happens to be a paid assassin. Plus it occasionally drips with a sleaze quotient that just screams 1970s, which around these parts just adds to the charm.

Joe Skull is our protagonist (I love it that Buffer also named his hero “Joe”), though if you were to thumb through this book you wouldn’t see “Skull” mentioned very often in the narrative. That’s because Skull’s real name is Mike Farrell, although we don’t learn this for the first several pages; Buffer plays a neat little literary trick for the first twenty pages or so, making us think Skull and Farrell are two different characters. But anyway Farrell is our hero; he’s a former Marine sergeant, a ‘Nam vet in his early 30s who for the past two years has lived a double life as top-dollar hitman Joe Skull.

In his day life Farrell owns a restaurant, Mick’s, in Los Angeles. He runs it with his old ‘Nam buddy Ken Ozaki, and the place does great business, bringing in Hollywood elite and tourists alike. Skull really captures the mid-‘70s, seedy feel of Los Angeles, so I’d suspect Buffer must’ve lived there or was very familiar with the place. Farrell and Ozaki have a chummy banter, Farrell calling Ozaki “Buddha Head” and the married Ozaki betting Farrell that he won’t be able to score with Terri Layne, ie the pretty young hostess who has just started at Mick’s. Terri is from England, and we eventually learn that her real name is Vicki Thompson and that she has escaped from a sadistic drug kingpin in London who kept her as his sex-slave.

All of this stuff takes quite a while to get to, however. Buffer instead focuses more on Farrell’s daily life, hobknobbing with Ken and his wife Reiko and their kids, running the restaurant, and trying to get in Terri’s pants. There isn’t much hitman stuff in the novel, so there goes any expectations that Skull will be a blood-soaked action extravaganza. We meet Farrell/Skull while he’s on a hit, blowing away some young woman in a Dallas parking lot (Skull never asks questions about his jobs), but that’s pretty much it so far as his assassin life goes.

Instead, Buffer spends vast portions of the narrative flashing back to important times in Farrell’s life. Vietnam gets a particular focus; Farrell was also in charge of prisoners, where he occasionally got in trouble for being too cruel. We also learn that Farrell and Ozaki were pretty damn sadistic in combat, Farrell in particular, and that deep down he enjoys killing. There are also extended flashbacks to Farrell’s first hit as Skull, and eventually we learn how he got the gig in the first place (he took over the “Joe Skull” mantle from an old ‘Nam buddy as the guy sat on his hospital deathbed, having been crushed in a random car crash).

The narrative comes to an eventual broil as Kadak, the British drug kingpin, sends his men after Terri (aka Vicki) who has now become involved with Farrell. Kadak’s chief assassin Werner heads up the job, flying to New York and hiring some mafia thugs; Kadak’s order is that Terri’s death must be slow and painful and that it be caught on film for future viewing! But even here it takes forever for anything to happen, as meanwhile Farrell and Terri are busy falling in love, and Farrell’s even decided to terminate his sidejob as Joe Skull, Terri not knowing about his double life.

Buffer throws the curveball I was hoping for, when Werner, following the underworld prompts, makes contact with Skull via his phone service. Here Farrell, on the phone with Werner, is informed of his next job – kill a woman named Terri Layne and her boyfriend Mike Farrell! So begins a game of cat and mouse as Farrell, alert to the fact that mobsters are in LA looking for Terri, continues to pose as just a regular restaurant owner, while playing out the hitmen so he can take them out when they least suspect it. The final confrontation with Werner is also played out on more of a suspense angle (the novel never goes full tilt into action), however it leads to the ‘70s-mandatory downbeat ending.

There’s a sex scene in the novel (the only one, in fact) that’s so un-PC Skull could likely never be reprinted. Midway through the book Farrell hooks up with Tanya, a black high fashion model, and they instantly go back to his place for a night of sex. The two play off on their race differences, getting off on calling each other racial slurs; the entire scene, particularly the stuff Tanya screams as she’s screwing Farrell, is just so over the top that you’ll either be enraged (if you’re a PC square with no sense of humor) or laughing your head off.

Buffer’s writing is pretty good, but the constant jumping to and fro sort of diverted from the feeling of suspense or tension. He definitely has a gift for dialog, with Farrell and Ozaki in particular trading off an unending series of quips and in-jokes. I read somewhere that the New York Times gave Skull a positive review, something I bet didn’t happen very often for a Pinnacle paperback original. But it would appear Buffer never followed up on this promise, and thus this was his only book.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Kiss And Kill (Hardy #1)

Kiss And Kill, by Martin Meyers
No month stated, 1975  Popular Library

This obscure series ran for five volumes; none of them were numbered, but each carried the Hardy series title. Given the sex-and-violence theme of the covers, it would appear that Popular Library was trying to attract the men’s adventure market, just as they were doing with the similarly-packaged Hardman series, by Ralph Dennis. The Hardy books are even less like men’s adventure novels than Dennis’s, though Hardy’s unusual backstory is somewhat in the pulp realm.

We learn in the opening pages of Kiss And Kill that Patrick Hardy was a rather obese young man who enjoyed nothing more than reading, watching TV, and gorging himself, and he was certain that his 325-pound weight would keep him from being drafted into the Vietnam war. But while getting his hair cut, Hardy was shot in the stomach by a masked man who was knocking over the barber shop; when Hardy came out of his post-surgery coma he was down to 200+ pounds, and further discovered that, no matter how much he ate, he could no longer put on any weight. He was called to the drafting board again, and this time they drafted him.

However Hardy had another problem – he was a coward. Shunted with a bunch of other “rejects” into an experimental division, Hardy and his fellows were trained via Pavlovian techniques to become fighting machines. Military psychologists manipulated Hardy’s brain so that, when confronted by a life or death situation, Hardy’s reflexes would spring to the attack, even if Hardy himself was still frightened. After being discharged Hardy goofed off around the world, eventually ending up in a big apartment on Riverside Drive in New York City, where one day he just decided to become a private investigator.

Hardy is loglined as “the sensuous sleuth,” one who “prefers sex to slaughter,” and this isn’t mere hyperbole. Hardy is basically a sloth, content to lay around all day watching TV – in between the calorie-heavy meals he prepares for himself. Yet due to his old gut wound (and a daily workout he hates) Hardy retains his muscular frame, and the gals just love him. A cursory glance through future volumes indicates that this element gets a bit more focus later on, but in Kiss And Kill Hardy does well enough for himself, picking up not one but two strippers, a femme fatale, and finally his own client – however it should be noted that author Marvin Meyers doesn’t go into too many details, despite the lurid thrills promised by the front and back covers.

Origin dispensed with in a few pages, we meet up with Hardy as he’s approached with a new case: a gorgeous blonde name Dorothy Robbins has been murdered, and her equally-gorgeous sister Peg has come to NYC from the midwest to find out what happened. Peg hires Hardy because she’s certain “the Organization” killed her sister, and the cops don’t believe her, given that Dorothy lived in a notoriously-dangerous tenement area in the city. Hardy, who has never handled a murder case (he claims that’s just “paperback stuff”), reluctantly agrees to take the job. His fee is $200 a day plus expenses, but man that’s a waste of cash because for the majority Hardy basically just watches TV, reads, plays with his dog Sherlock Holmes, and makes an occasional phone call.

Hardy relies on his sidekick Steve Macker to do the dirty work, scoping out sites and tracking down clues. Then Hardy will pull himself away from the TV and go talk to a witness or suspect. Along the way he runs afoul of Captain Gerald Friday of the Homicide department, and a running joke is how Friday constantly puts Hardy down for watching too many private eye movies and not learning the basics, like when Hardy calls Friday about a murder that isn’t even in Friday’s precinct. Gradually Hardy discovers that mobsters might have been involved in Dorothy’s death, in particular ones named Vanning and White.

Meanwhile Hardy scores with the above-mentioned stripper and later falls in love with Peg Robbins. There are barely any action scenes in the novel, and when they do happen they’re over in the span of a few sentences. Hardy can fight but he’s still a coward and gets scared at the thought of confronting someone. For example in one action scene he’s ambushed in a park, and as he fights off the two attackers he’s terrified the entire time, despite the fact that he beats up both of the men. He doesn’t even own a gun, so the sensationalistic cover art is totally misleading! He's quick to run afoul of people, though, given that his method of investigating is basically just harrassing people with questions, usually ending with, “Did you kill Dorothy Robbins?”

There isn’t much suspense either, and for the most part Kiss And Kill plays out like a goofy sort of comedic slice-of-sleazy-life tale, with Hardy going to parties and checking the TV listings for what movie he’s going to watch next. We also get a thorough rundown of the meals he eats and the dives he frequents. He’s also a compulsive smoker, and generally in bad health, which leads to some non-PC quips with his female (and of course beautiful) doctor. (“How does your chest feel, Hardy?” “I could ask you the same thing.”) When the surprise reveal comes at the end, it’s as lazy and indolent as Hardy himself. (Spoiler warning: It turns out that Peg was really Dorothy all along, and that Dorothy murdered her sister and pretended to be her for contrived reasons.)

The novel is written in third-person and moves at a snappy clip. Martin Meyers was an actor turned writer, but if I didn’t know any better I’d assume he was just another pseudonym of Len Levinson. Their writing styles are almost identical; like Levinson Meyers spends just as much time focusing on the mundane aspects of his protagonist’s life, listing out what Hardy watches on tv, what he reads, what he eats. Hardy also has a goofy sense of humor, much like a Levinson protagonist, and the focus on sex and sleaze is about the same – though Len would win the award on that one.

The Hardy series is pretty obscure; it isn’t even mentioned in Robert A. Baker’s otherwise-comprehensive 1985 book Private Eyes: 101 Knights. I picked up the other four volumes, and as mentioned it looks like they become a bit more lurid, so we’ll see.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Recycled Souls (The Mind Masters #5)

Recycled Souls, by Ian Ross
September, 1976  Signet Books

It doesn’t feature a series title or volume number, but this was the fifth and final installment of the Mind Masters series. In fact, “Mind Masters” isn’t mentioned anywhere in the novel, and what’s odd is that Recycled Souls comes closer than any previous volume to being a direct sequel to The Mind Masters #1. The events of the previous volume in particular aren’t even mentioned, and author John Rossmann (aka “Ian Ross”) brings back characters and situations that haven’t been seen since that first volume.

But the series overhaul begun in #4: Amazons continues here, with Recycled Souls coming off like a reset switch. As for Rossmann himself, he’s still for whatever reason calling himself Ian Ross. Humorously, the book features an ad for The Mind Masters volumes #1-4, stating that each volume is “by John Rossmann (Ian Ross)!” And for that matter, Recycled Souls is actually copyright John Rossmann, so I wonder why he even bothered with the name change.

Inexplicable name changes aren’t just limited to the author. Kelly Dale, the American college student who entered the series back in #3: The Door, is now known as “Trish DeVele,” and we get absolutely no reason why this is! Throughout the novel Rossmann (and the characters) refers to her as “Trish,” and Rossmann never once explains why she changed her name, what the goal was, or anything. He just informs us right at the start that Kelly is now Trish, and that’s that! It’s even odder because Recycled Souls takes place just “a few weeks” after The Door.

But at any rate Trish is basically now just a female version of series hero Britt St. Vincent, anyway, spouting out the same parapsychology mumbo-jumbo in the baldest of exposition. And remember how she fought off the titular Amazons in the previous novel and took a position of power in their queendom? It’s not even mentioned here, which is just as odd given that the events of Amazons took place only a few days before Recycled Souls!

This volume brings Britt and his fellow Mero operatives to the exotic locale of Long Beach, California. As you’ll recall, they boarded a plane to California at the very end of Amazons, and on the flight Britt researched the mission – namely, that a WWII sailor, believed to be dead for decades, recently showed up in a waterfront gay bar in Long Beach and, after starting a fight, was tossed in jail, where he turned into a pile of ashes overnight. Now in a Long Beach hotel, Britt is busy pining over the years-ago death of his fiance, Gayle, whom he suspiciously hasn’t mentioned (or thought of) since The Mind Masters #1. In fact Recycled Souls opens with Britt looking over his hotel balcony, crying at Gayle’s memory, and debating if he should kill himself!

Trish/Kelly meanwhile poses as an investigative reporter; her job is to interview Dr. Laura Wharton, a beautiful blonde aquatic researcher who lives in a mansion filled with equally-gorgeous women on Catalina Island, just off of Long Beach’s shore. Wharton you see is a devoted lesbian, as are all the women at her disposal. Plus, she relates to Trish mere moments after meeting her, Wharton is also a CIA agent, and is performing underwater research for the agency – like, for example, psychically training sharks to obey her commands! (The back cover copy smacks of desperation on this point, attempting to cash in on the recent success of Jaws.)

Britt continues to pose as a race car driver, and we get a few long sequences of him barrelling through the Long Beach streets. But then Rossmann page-fills in his favorite fashion: Britt is mysteriously summoned to the famous Queen Mary; in an isolated room there he meets up with Mero head Dr. Webster (himself not seen since the first volume) and a CIA agent named Carlton who’s old acquaintances with Webster. Here Rossmann delivers about twenty or so pages of the outright exposition the series is known for, with the trio discussing psychic phenomena and the ever-constant threat of mind enslavement. The series-reset feeling is strong, with Britt even informing Carlton how he got involved with Mero and who each member of his team is and what they do.

One thing I can say is that Rossmann has finally figured out how to keep the plot moving while still dumping his metaphysical info on us. Recycled Souls moves right along as Trish is promptly kidnapped by the evil Laura Wharton; Trish is drugged and wakes to find herself nude and chained to the good doctor’s bed. (One of Wharton’s female goons later mentions that Trish “pleasured” Wharton through the night, but suspiciously enough Rossmann failed to inform us of that lurid fact…or, more importantly, to provide us with the details!) Wharton is just the latest version of the longwinded villains this series is also known for, and as a bound Trish listens the “man-hating seductress” goes on and on about how she can make clones from something as simple as a strand of hair.

The action doesn’t go down until the final quarter, with Britt being attacked by a few CIA “cyborgs,” ie those one-shot-and-die psychic kamikazes last seen way back in The Mind Masters #1. Meanwhile Trish, no longer useful to Dr. Wharton, is tortured by a pair of sadistic guards (they use her breasts as a dart board!), who plan to toss her to the sharks once they’re finished with her. But if only Trish could reach those psychic-boosting pills… (Of course she does!) There are still no guns or any other “regular” sort of men’s adventure action standards, but Rossmann doesn’t shy from the gore, with plentiful description of how heads explode and eyeballs pop out when people are hit by Britt or Trish’s psychic mind-bolts.

As for the series overhaul mentioned above, the sleaze has been thoroughly gutted. The Mind Masters started off with some of the more lurid stuff I’ve ever read, in particular #2: Shamballah, which featured some hyper-explicit and sleazy sex (and of course was the best volume of the series!). But after that installment the sleaze began to taper off, with Amazons not even featuring a single sex scene. Recycled Souls follows suit, with even less of a sleaze factor than that…other that is than a scene where Britt is momentarily knocked out and his attackers plan to rape him so as to make it look like a “sex murder” here by the gay bars of Long Beach’s wharves.

I wonder if this tamed nature was due to the whims of Rossmann or the publisher. My guess is it was the former, as the back cover and first page of Recycled Souls makes the novel sound just as lurid as the earliest volumes of the series, talking up the hot lesbian chicks in Dr. Wharton’s undersea city, as well as the intriguing development that Wharton creates a clone of Trish so as to sexually ensnare Britt. It would seem the copywriter had a better novel in mind than Rossmann himself did, for while Wharton actually does clone Trish, all she uses it for is to distract Britt’s attention and to lure him into a trap, where the Trish-clone attempts to karate-chop him to death. (After which she falls into the ocean, conveniently gobbled up by sharks.)

In fact, given the lack of sleaze and the removal of all the explicit sex, coupled with that ultra-lame bit in The Door where Britt called to God for help and God helped him (!!), my bet is that Rossmann himself was trying to move away from the cheap and dirty feel of the earliest installments and into more of a “holy” atmosphere. And I’m not just pulling that word out of nowhere; there’s a part in Recycled Souls where Britt goes into an extended jag about various “holy” things, and the novel ends with Britt ranting about how “the world is for children!” and other maudlin chestnuts you’d more expect to hear coming from the head of the PTA instead of a dude who previously attended Black Masses and orgies with his nympho German girlfriend.

Rossmann attempts to end the novel (and thus the series) on a cliffhanger; perhaps he hoped if he did so, enough readers would write to Signet Books and request another installment. If so, I would say the attempt failed. Recycled Souls ends with Dr. Webster’s dire warning that the CIA has more than likely figured out the secret location of Mero HQ, and that an assault squad is no doubt on the way. Though Laura Wharton’s faction of CIA renegades has been disposed of (Wharton and her entire lesbian army having become shark food, thanks to Britt psychicaly shattering the protective glass wall of their underwater lab), there are more CIA factions out there who want Mero.

So this is where we leave Britt St. Vincent and his pill-popping, racecar-driving, psychic comrades; eternally vigilant for a CIA attack that will never come.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Hatchett, by Lee McGraw
October, 1976  Ballantine Books

This obscure paperback original features the first-person narrative of hardboiled private eye Madge Hatchett, who as you’ve no doubt guessed just happens to be a woman. A knockout of a woman at that, with other characters referring to her jawdropping good looks and her “big breasts,” even comparing her to Sophia Loren. But Hatchett’s female gender really doesn’t have much impact on Hatchett, and indeed you could read the first several pages of the novel and not even realize she is a woman.

The narrative voice is identical to that found in countless other hardboiled P.I. novels: a world-weary cynicism mixed with a bitter sense of humor. Hatchett carries herself just like Mike Hammer (and in fact it’s been wondered if this novel should be considered a sort of parody of Spillane’s Hammer novels), spouting off at the mouth and able to kick some shit when need be. Her femininity only comes up when she’s playing to the cliched image of the damsel in distress, usually to rope in some mark or to fool an overconfident opponent. Otherwise Hatchett goes through the novel knocking guys out, kicking them in the balls, or blowing them away with her Beretta (which of course she carries in her purse).

Hatchett was once a cop, but now works as a private eye in Chicago. She still makes use of her contacts on the police force, in particular Capt. Pete Connally, a guy who taught Hatchett everything she knew when she was a cop and who now feeds her information in exchange for info Hatchett has picked up in her own investigations. We don’t get much detail on past cases, but Hatchett opens with our narrator immediately on her latest case, which happens to be personal: an old friend of hers named Danny, a former convict who was trying to turn his life around, has had his throat slit in brutal fashion. Hatchett got Danny a job as a doorman in her apartment building, and she’s certain the guy had escaped his past life, so the running question throughout the novel is why he was killed.

Meanwhile McGraw serves up a host of other plots, all of which satisfactorily merge with the Danny murder as the novel progresses. For one there’s the mysterious Mr. Big, a shadowy entity who is supposedly heading up the entirety of Chicago’s ciminal underworld; the cops had a line-in on the man, with a star witness named Red Sharkey who was about to blab all he knew. But Sharkey was blown up (coincidentally, on the night Danny was killed), and the cops are trying to turn up the gorgeous blonde who was apparently behind the bombing of Sharkey’s “high security” apartment. There’s also the disappearance of Frank Flynn, a literary agent who lives in Hatchett’s apartment building; Flynn’s brother Mark is here visiting and approaches Hatchett, having read her name in the paper, to ask if she can find out what happened to him.

True to the private eye genre, Hatchett’s investigation leads her to a host of unusual characters, from a nebbish porn writer (who later turns out to be an agent from Bell’s security division!) to a Playboy Playmate of the Month. There’s even a talking parrot named Polly. The Flynn case gets the most narrative time, as it gradually develops that Flynn wasn’t just a literary agent, he was in fact a porn king, a publisher of kinky s&m paperbacks. (McGraw gives us a bit of foreshadowing on this; when Hatchett is confronted by a lecherous desk clerk early on, she sees that the guy’s reading a whips-and-chains porn book, and McGraw delivers an “excerpt” from it, displaying that his skills extend to sleaze parodies as well.)

All of the various plots (and a few more) are tossed into a blender, and it’s a lot of fun how McGraw handles them. As is mandatory for a hardboiled P.I., Hatchett barrels through the narrative with little fear or concern, threatening mobsters and dodging assassination attempts, blasting back at her attackers with her Beretta. She’s in danger throughout, and endures a lot of punishment, particularly when she is briefly captured in the finale. There’s only a bit of deus ex machina stuff, like when not once but twice Hatchett is sapped from behind, and her mysterious attackers don’t kill her, don’t even take her pistol. (This is later explained away with the old “I wasn’t considered a threat” copout.)

McGraw delivers some nice action setpieces, in particular that finale, which sees a bound and nude Hatchett locked in a room with Mr. Big (whose reveal is also nicely handled) on the top floor of a soundproofed building. This sequence ends with Hatchett escaping in a move that would make the Baroness proud, culminating with her setting the building on fire and walking out unscathed. There are also a few shootouts and chase scenes, but for the most part Hatchett uses her brains, in particular how she puts together Danny’s murder and who exactly was behind it, something McGraw saves for the very end.

An interesting note is that, even though Hatchett was published in 1976, there’s nothing in it that couldn’t have been published a few decades before. Other than a few f-bombs, Mr. Big’s high-tech (for the mid-‘70s) recording devices, and a brief moment where Hatchett smokes some dope, this whole novel comes off like a hardboiled pulp of the 1950s. You get little feel for the 1970s; in other words, the novel completely lacks the “shag rug” ambiance of other period novels, like the Killinger or Joe Rigg books.

As for the sex, it’s pretty much rated G. Hatchett sleeps with an old flame halfway through the novel, and it’s a fade to black scene, Hatchett out of it after smoking a joint. There’s also a bit later on where Hatchett tries to get it on with another male character, but this proves to be a ruse, and anyway McGraw again plays it conservative with the details. This means then that we have none of that strange stuff where a male author writes the first-person narrative of a female character as she has sex with a man, like you’ll encounter in the Cherry Delight books. So in other words, the sex here is much more tastefully described, which is to say it’s hardly described at all. However this results in huge demerits so far as the novel’s trash rating goes!

Finally there is the question of authorship. It’s been wondered if Lee McGraw is a male or female author. After some Googling I turned up a 1976 Catalog of Copyright Entries which states that “Lee McGraw” is the pseudonym of an author named Paul Zakaras. This at least puts to rest the gender of the author, however Zakaras has no other novels published to his name, and this was the only one to carry the Lee McGraw byline. I’d be curious to know why there was never a followup to Hatchett; the character is strong enough to carry another book at least, and obviously there are countless tales that can be told about a private eye, especially when the writer is as gifted as this.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Black Gold of Malaverde

The Black Gold of Malaverde, by Richard L. Graves
November, 1974  Bantam Books

I’ve recently been watching the old Mission: Impossible TV series, something I’ve wanted to do since I caught a few episodes in syndication as a kid in the late ‘80s. The show lasted for seven seasons, running from 1966 to 1973, and most fans prefer the first three seasons, when the IMF team took on spies from fictional ComBloc countries. But I much prefer the later seasons, where they took on “the Syndicate,” ie the mob in all but name, and the IMF fashions took a funky ‘70s turn.

As mentioned, the series came to an end in 1973, which coincidentally enough is when The Black Gold of Malaverde was published in hardcover. I’m willing to bet that author Richard L. Graves was a fan of Mission: Impossible, as this novel follows the same sort of caper approach, with a highly-skilled covert team running a con on foreign soil. The protagonist, Hugo Wolfram, is not only an emotionless mastermind of plotting, but he’s also described as a tall, lanky individual with a shock of white hair – sounds like Jim Phelps (aka Peter Graves) to me. (And if that isn’t enough…I mean, Richard Graves!)

Wolfram doesn’t even appear until about 80 pages in, though. The first quarter of The Black Gold of Malaverde focuses on the political turmoil in Malaverde, a fictional country in South America. Mercado, the self-proclaimed “Liberator” of Malaverde, has wrested control of the country and is kicking out the “imperialists,” ie the Americans who in fact created the country in the first place, Malaverde being nothing more than a banana republic. Mercado has the backing of DePrundis, an obese Greek pirate in all but name – a powerful but shadowy figure in the economic world. As the novel opens they take control of an oil field, imprisoning Bradford, the American head of the oil operation.

Bradford’s here in Malaverde overseeing his company’s oil interests, which both he and his father developed. DePrundis wants control of the oil, thus his backing of Mercado. The Liberator meanwhile proves to be a thoroughly despicable character, a diminutive bastard who tries to act like a big man as he screams orders at his underlings and threatens Bradford. To be honest this sequence goes on much too long, with Bradford enduring a farce of a trial. At the end though he is sentenced to death, and hung, the US government not even bothering to intercede on his behalf.

Bradford Senior meanwhile has been trying to save his son. First he approaches the Bank, a mysterious economic intelligence group, who tell Bradford he should comply with Mercado’s ransom demands. Bradford does, but Mercado just ends up taking the money and going on with his planned murder of Bradford Jr. This time the Bank puts Bradford Sr in touch with Wolfram, with whom Bradford has before worked – in a background Graves leaves mysterious, the two men were covert operatives in WWII, and in fact Bradford trained Wolfram, “removing his conscience,” but Wolfram far exceeded his teacher in plotting and ruthlessness.

Wolfram currently works as an explosives expert, helping companies destroy and dismantle properties. This dovetails with the mission Bradford desires of him; Bradford wants Wolfram to basically destroy Malaverde’s economy, blasting away the oil rigs Bradford’s company created. He also wants the country’s sole shipping line destroyed. Plus he wants it all to look like an accident. Wolfram goes to work putting together his plan, and Graves undercuts the later suspense here, with we readers learning every element of the scheme in blueprint detail.

The narrative starts to move as Wolfram next puts together his team. True to genre form it’s an unusual bunch: a Japanese actor, a black American ship captain, a Cuban scuba diver (who insists upon bringing along his former prostitute of a “sister”), and a jaded helicopter pilot. Wolfram, very cool and aloof, respects each of them because they are technical experts. He’s worked with them all before, and there’s another mysterious backstory in that a diver on his previous mission got killed, so the team is understandably concerned that history might repeat itself.

The caper itself unfolds in the final quarter of the novel. Magraw, the ship captain, manages to crash a vessel in Malaverde’s port, thus blocking it, and Wolfram and the helicopter pilot pose as representatives of the Cosmo Construction Company (another element Graves leaves mysterious; the intimation is this fictitious company is just a CIA front). Meanwhile the two scuba divers create the waterway diversion which allows Magraw’s ship to block the channel.

But here Graves doles out the laziest killing off of a character I’ve yet encountered, with Esposito, the lead scuba diver, deciding for absolutely no reason not to wear his wetsuit! After being cut up by barnacles he’s later attacked by a small shark and thus bleeds to death. It’s supposed to be a “complication” Wolfram must work around, but instead it comes off as comical, given how avoidable it was – especially when one considers how anxious Esposito had been about the mission, given that a diver died on the previous one. I mean, you’d figure the guy would be overly cautious.

One of the many things that was great about Mission: Impossible was that it followed the time-honored “show don’t tell” philosophy; other than a very brief planning scene early on, each episode unfolded with the caper playing out for the audience the same way it did for those being conned. Graves however both tells and shows; Wolfram painstakingly unveils his plan for Bradford early in the book, and when the caper finally goes down later on, it goes down exactly like Wolfram outlined it. Hence, other than the stupid death of Esposito, there are no complications, no surprises. Also there are no intricacies to the plot, none of the elaborate disguise work or role-acting of Mission: Impossible; instead they just crash a ship, blocking Malaverde’s port, and set it to blow up!

There isn’t much characterization; Wolfram is notorious for his emotionless nature, and about the most we get is a little squabbling among his team. Mercado is the only memorable character in the book, mostly because he’s so cartoonishly evil, a "midget" blowhard who stomps around blathering over his own self-importance. Also the book is basically rated G; no cursing, no sex, and minimal violence. (Once again just like Mission: Impossible!) The end is also a bit anticlimatic; we spend the entire narrative wanting to see Mercado get his comeuppance, but Graves delivers it off-camera.

Overall I found The Black Gold of Malaverde an entertaining read, but I do wish there had been a bit more tension and suspense. At any rate Hugo Wolfram returned for three more novels, which I will be reading eventually.

Monday, August 12, 2013

John Eagle Expeditor #8: The Death Devils

John Eagle Expeditor #8: The Death Devils, by Paul Edwards
October, 1974  Pyramid Books

This volume of the Expeditor is courtesy Robert Lory, who salvages the series after the bore that was the previous volume. The Death Devils is sort of like the Expeditor equivalent of a “cozy,” as it delivers everything the series is known for: an exotic setting, a pulpy threat, a foreign damsel in distress who speaks in overly-florid English, and all of John Eagle’s fancy gadgets, from his chameleon suit to his exploding arrows.

One difference is that this volume isn’t overly padded with minor characters and their subplots, as earlier installments were; Eagle comes into the tale early and carries it throughout. The titular “Death Devils” are insects created by the Red Chinese to destroy American crops, and the intimation is that further strains might be created that will go after human flesh. The bugs are the handiwork of a group of Chinese scientists who visited US soil a year ago, checking out the work of their American counterparts. The insects created by the Americans were for the purpose of eating crop-damaging insects, but of course the Commies took the project into more nefarious realms.

Merlin, Eagle’s wheelchair-bound codger of a boss, is informed by the Secretary of State that these Death Devils might soon be set loose on US soil. Word has come from Yang, head of the Chinese group of scientists who created the insects; Yang and his fellows were trying to replicate the American strain of the bugs, but the wily Colonel Chou took over the project and turned it into the crop-destroying, flesh-eating mess it currently is. Yang, knowing his end was near, wrote the president of the US, asking him that he send someone to China to rescue Yang’s daughter, Orchid, and bring her back to the States – Yang being sure that he would soon be dead, so his daughter would be able to let the Americans know everything about the Death Devil project.

Anyway it boils down to this – there’s a hot (and virginal) chick in mainland China and Eagle has to infiltrate the country and rescue her. Plus he’s got to destroy those goddam bugs. The first quarter of The Death Devils plays out on more of a suspense and espionage bent, with Eagle taking over the identity of a fobbish chemicals salesman so he can replace the man on his already-approved trip into China. Merlin’s plan has Eagle killing some guards on a train and fooling people into thinking he’s a Russian, so as to confuse the Chinese into who exactly has snuck into their country.

After that though the book settles into the pulpier territory the series is known for. Orchid Yang, grieving over the recent death (ie murder) of her father, staves off the advances of Colonel Chou (ie, the bastard who killed Pops Yang, or whatever Orchid’s dad’s name was). So then Orchid’s very happy to meet Eagle, who has snuck into this high-security compound in his invisible chameleon suit, killing a few guards in quite novel ways. For once Eagle’s brought along a spare suit – previous volumes have seen him comfy in his weatherproof and temperature-regulated suit while the women with him have had to endure the elements. Here though Orchid gets her own chameleon suit, and she proves to be a regular Sue Shiomi, taking advantage of being invisible as she wipes out Chinese soldiers with her kung-fu skills.

Eagle leaves behind a ton of corpses after setting his explosives about the compound, and he and Orchid make their escape on a sampan. This sequence is very similar to an earlier Lory entry, #3: The Laughing Death, which Lory slyly admits in the narrative, for once having Eagle reflecting back on a previous mission. And to continue with the paralells, Eagle once again gets lucky while riding on a sampan – Orchid you see is so friggin’ hot for Eagle that she demands they have sex, here and now.

The Death Devils actually has the longest and most explicit sex scene yet in this series, but again it’s the Expeditor series we’re talking about here, so the scene features descriptive phrases like “love weapon” and sentences like, “What she was feeling was the growth of that part of him which was placed at her entrance.” I mean, I’ve seen hotter stuff in Loeb Library translations of the classics. At any rate, Orchid, despite being a virgin, has read up on a lot of banned sex-book material, to the point where she’s taught herself expert control of her “inner muscles,” shall we say, really working Eagle over good and proper. But to continue with the “man’s conquest” theme of the series, Eagle doesn’t just lay there for long, soon showing her what it’s like when a man takes charge.

This escape sequence goes on for a while, and is made up of the duo sneaking rides on various water crafts and running through the jungle – not to mention taking the occasional sex break. Seriously, Lory informs us that Eagle and Orchid stop to have sex about every other paragraph. Orchid though is the best female character in the series yet, able to fight alongside Eagle, but of course she (like all other female characters in the series) is prone to making stupid mistakes. Plus her dialog is grating; like sex Orchid has learned English from books, and despite only recently beginning her studies, she’s capable of saying words like “preclude.” And yet for all that she pronounces Eagle’s first name as “Chon.” But then, this sort of thing is typical of Lory.

The Death Devils themselves barely appear in the novel – they’d already been moved from the compound when Eagle arrived to rescue Orchid. We learn that Chou, who survived Eagle’s assault, has moved them to Panama, where they are being watched by a rebel army lead by a towering sadist named Snake. Upon getting Orchid onto US soil (after a nice scene involving a sub that shows up to escort them away), Eagle is given his second mission: go to Panama and destroy the Death Devils. Of course, Orchid manages to convince Merlin and Eagle to allow her to go along.

Lory works in a bit of lurid stuff when we see that Snake keeps a shack full of poisonous lizards and snakes, which he uses to torture people; all the more reason to be worried when Orchid, due to her (female) stupidity, gets captured – this despite the fact that she was wearing an invisible, blade and bullet-proof chameleon suit! (Again, women are incapable of doing anything right in the Expeditor series.) Eagle of course comes to the rescue, culminating in a nice scene where he must fight Snake, who has appropriated Orchid’s chameleon suit. So in other words, for once Eagle himself must confront someone who has taken an item from Eagle’s own bag of tricks, compounded by the fact that Snake pulls off Eagle’s special goggles so that Eagle is unable to see Snake during the fight.

Anyway, this one really does have it all, and might just be my favorite volume yet. It doesn’t have the lurid excess of my other favorite in the series, #5: Valley of Vultures, but The Death Devils has more of the series trappings you’d expect of the Expeditor (the chameleon suit and etc barely even appeared in Valley of Vultures). The novel’s a lot of fun, and another example of why I enjoy this series so much.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Depth Force #3: Bloody Seas

Depth Force #3: Bloody Seas, by Irving A. Greenfield
April, 1985  Zebra Books

Irving Greenfield started publishing novels in the 1960s; it appears he came closest to fame in the ‘70s, with a slew of trash fiction novels that featured some pretty hot and heavy sex scenes – I have two of them, 1972’s The Sexplorer and 1973’s The Pleasure Hunters, and cursory glances through them would indicate they’re pretty damn explicit and sleazy.

But in the ‘80s through the early ‘90s Greenfield apparently spent most of his time on the longrunning but now forgotten Depth Force series, which debuted in 1984 and ran for a staggering 16 volumes, plus one Super Depth Force. The series is about a top-secret, CIA-operated submarine (the Shark) as it battles against the Soviets, and seems to be influenced by Tom Clancy, only with more of a pulp fiction bent. But since naval fiction has never been my thing, I never looked into the series.

Then one day I came across a handful of Depth Force novels at a used bookstore, and cursory glances through them indicated that they were pretty damn explicit and sleazy! The books seemed to alternate between naval jargon and super-graphic sex scenes – some of them quite arbitrary, which is just how I like them. Needless to say, I bought them all. This third volume is the earliest one I have, which is unfortunate, because it would appear that the Depth Force series is a lot like Doomsday Warrior – if you’ve missed the previous volume, you’re shit out of luck.

Bloody Seas opens immediately after the events of the second volume (apparently the Shark engaged a Russian vessel during an underwater storm for a large cache of gold). Greenfield throws us right in, never once telling us who these characters or or what they’re doing. For that matter, it isn’t until page 215 that we learn that this series takes place in the “future” year of 1997! But at any rate our hero is Captain Jack Boxer, a bearded, 35 year-old ladies man who is devoted to his ship and men, and who is propositioned by practically every woman he meets. Seriously, there are moments in the novel where a woman he’s just met will bluntly inform Boxer that she intends to have sex with him.

There are a lot of sailors on the Shark, and Greenfield introduces the majority of them into the text, but for the most part doesn’t remind us who they are or what they do. I guess this would make for a great, seamless read if you caught the previous two volumes, but for a first-timer like myself it was a little overwhelming. But here’s the thing – Greenfield has such a steady command of narrative that you keep on reading. You can tell the guy had many novels under his belt by the time he got to Bloody Seas, as Greenfield keeps the action moving with lots of dialog and soap opera-type plot developments. In fact, of all the men’s adventure novels I’ve yet read, this one comes the closest to being the literary equivalent of a soap opera – no doubt due to Greenfield’s earlier days as a trash fiction author.

The book opens immediately after the events of the previous volume; the Shark leaves the scene of battle only to engage immediately in another, as a few Russian subs come after it. I found this action sequence boring as it’s just an endless sequence of Boxer relaying orders on the Shark’s bridge, his subordinates repeating his orders, and then reporting back on the ensuing damage done to the other ships. But then, that’s naval military fiction, I guess. But I miss the more personal nature of the average men’s adventure novel action sequence. Greenfield does provide a more traditional action moment, though, when Boxer, on some yacht or something (again a pickup from the previous installment with absolutely no setup material to let us know who these people on the yacht are), is attacked by pirates who are coming after the gold he got in the previous book.

Once the Shark has returned to the US, Greenfield continues with the soap opera feel; there is no more action until the very final pages of the book. Instead the focus is upon Boxer’s harried personal life; he has a casual sex thing going with Tracy, a nymphomaniacal reporter who apparently hooked up with Boxer in the previous book and is doing a feature on the Shark, despite its top secret status. Greenfield also hops over to Russia to detail the similarly soap opera-esque life of Borodin, Boxer’s Russian counterpart. The two men are not only identical but also respect one another, and Greenfield hammers it home how alike they are to the point where it’s as if we are reading the same storyline for both men.

But suddenly it’s “months later” and Boxer, removed from command of the Shark while his superiors research the gold-recovery fiasco of the previous volume, has fallen in love with Kathy Tyson, whom he plans to marry! Then Tracy returns to the fray, informing Boxer that she’s discovered Kathy is really a CIA agent, sent here by Kincade (commander of the CIA and Boxer’s boss) to monitor Boxer. Cue even more soap opera stuff as Boxer throws a tantrum and kicks Kathy out, followed by more tantrum-throwing as Boxer confronts Kincade. Greenfield even works in an arbitrary sequence in which Boxer’s father is dying – and to continue with the soap opera feel, as his father’s dying Boxer meets a sexy black nurse (Louise) whom he starts up a fling with.

The sex scenes, as mentioned, are pretty explicit, though to be sure Greenfield doesn’t go into as much detail in this volume as he does in some of the others I’ve perused. There seems to be a determined focus on oral sex, and this is also the first novel I’ve read that contains the word “bunghole” in a sex scene. Meanwhile Boxer falls in love with Louise, despite the racial insensitivy of his fellow Navy men…again, the whole book is basically just a melodrama, frameworked around a bit of naval warfare stuff. There’s even a scene where Boxer beats up some drunk in a bar who assumes that Louise is a hooker.

What little “action” that occurs during this stretch is mostly handled off-camera. Greenfield not only shows an ease with offing major characters but he also does so quite sadistically – for example Tracy, the reporter who does the story on the Shark. After finding out that Tracy informed Boxer that Kathy was a spy, Kincade, clearly a mean son of a bitch, orders that Tracy be taken care of – and we learn, some pages later, that she’s been raped and murdered! Boxer handles the news pretty much emotionlessly, and Greenfield really digs in the knife with all these characters coming out of the woodwork and informing Boxer that Tracy loved him and even said he was the best she ever had(!), etc.

The back cover has it that the plot of Bloody Seas is about the Shark venturing into Russian waters to exfiltrate a group of spies. This plot actually doesn’t show up until the final pages of the book, as Boxer is called back onto command status and takes over the Shark. During the rescue of the spies Borodin again appears, commanding the Russian version of the Shark (named the Sea Savage), and we have another mostly-boring naval battle between the two. There’s a bit of gunplay stuff though as Redfern, apparently the commander of the ground troop squad of the Shark, disembarks the sub and takes on some Russian commandos, but for the most part Greenfield glides through the action scenes with little violence or gore.

True to form, the novel ends with this climatic action scene, leaving the implication clear that the next volume will pick up immediately afterward. Luckily, the fourth volume is one of the handful I have, so I’ll be able to at least get a grasp of the continuity-heavy basis of the Depth Force series. While I can’t say Bloody Seas was great, it did flow very well, mostly due to Greenfield’s assured command of the craft…not to mention the goofy, Harold Robbins-esque sex scenes.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Stryker #1

Stryker #1, by William Crawford
November, 1973  Pinnacle Books

I’ve mentioned William Crawford a few times before, how he got an injoke reference in The Penetrator #9 and also how The Penetrator #17 was dedicated to him. More importantly, he was also the “Jim Peterson” who wrote the infamous 16th volume of The Executioner, Sicilian Slaughter. The Stryker series however was published under Crawford’s own name; it ran for four volumes and was more of a “crime fiction” deal than the men’s adventure novels Pinnacle was better known for.

I’ll say up front though that I wanted to like this novel a lot more than I actually did. The back cover copy (which is actually just an excerpt from the book itself) makes Stryker #1 sound like a Gannon sort of affair, and I was hoping this was maybe Pinnacle’s response to that gory and grim Dean W. Ballenger series. But no; Stryker #1 has more in common with the Narc series or better yet the Headhunters series in how it’s more of a gutter-view spotlight on street level criminals and the overworked and underpaid cops who have to bend the rules in order to stop them. The focus is more on “true to life” than nutzoid violence.

Sgt. Colin Stryker is a veteran cop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s been on the force for twenty years and served in both Korea and ‘Nam (where he served two tours of duty). His partner is Chico Bellon, and we learn via prolonged backstory how the two became partners, and how they both like to bust balls and break heads. (The novel for the most part is made up of backstory, by the way; any time a character appears in the narrative, Crawford will give us several pages about them and their history.) Stryker is married and has a seven year-old daughter, but these characters are such ciphers – and so little seen – that they hardly matter in the larger scheme of things.

Meanwhile a pair of hitmen, who happen to be a romantic couple as well, are heading toward New Mexico after their latest bank heist, during which one of them blew away a young girl. This is Harmon Robey and Steve Ray; Robey is the veteran hitman who insists on bringing his lover along, but Ray is a psychotic who gets off on killing innocent passersby. They’re on their way to New Mexico because local mob boss Sam Borchia has a job for them: kill Stryker and Bellon.

It takes a long time for this to happen – seriously, the first half of the book is made up of elaborated backstories for Stryker and Bellon (in particular the cases they’ve worked on in the past) as well as meetings between various crooks. Crawford juggles a pretty big cast of characters, and he makes it confusing for us because he lacks consistency when referring to them – for example, he arbitrarily refers to Bellon as either “Chico” or “Bellon,” which is a bit bumpy when the character first appears. Even worse is a later character also hired to kill Stryker; Crawford introduces him as “Kell,” but then keeps writing “Sapper” for the next couple of pages, and you wonder who this dude is and what the hell happened to Kell! Only later do we learn that it’s “Sapper Kell.”

The first hit on Stryker and Bellon is a nice sequence, as again Harmon and Ray knock over a bank, and then attempt to kill the cops during a chase and shootout. However the hitmen lovers (rather anticlimatically) die in the skirmish, and Stryker and Bellon survive unscathed. Borschia then hires the aforementioned Sapper Kell, who makes his kills via explosives. He plants a bomb on Stryker’s house, and in the explosion Stryker’s wife is killed and his daughter is blinded and crippled. This event lacks much resonance for the reader, as these characters have been nonentities so far as the novel goes, only appearing – conveniently enough – a few pages before the bombing!

This at least serves to propel the narrative; Stryker, unhinged, goes after Borschia, beats him half to death…and then gets tossed in jail for assault! Crawford throws a definite curveball, with the final quarter of the novel concerning Stryker’s few years in prison. Meanwhile Borschia and Kell are still out there, and Bellon takes care of Stryker’s daughter, Colleen. The finale too lacks much explosive action, as instead of gunning the pair down, Stryker upon his release from prison instead concocts a plan that ends with Borschia and Kell being convicted and arrested. I would’ve preferred seeing them gunned down.

Pinnacle really promoted this series, though, heralding it as a new event in crime fiction – the back cover even features an “editor’s note,” again like Gannon, which warns readers away if they don’t like too much violence. Even the last page of the book is an ad for other Pinnacle novels by Willam Crawford. At any rate I didn’t much care for Stryker #1, but one of these days I’ll get around to the second volume, mostly because I already have it.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Never Contract

The Never Contract, by David J. Gerrity
April, 1975  Signet Books

This was the first of three obscure novels David J. Gerrity wrote about infamous mob enforcer Frank Cordolini, a gray-eyed “wolf” who, now in his fifties, has been retired from the mob life for the past ten years. Living in upstate New York under a new name, with a wife and young son, Cordolini knows that it’s only a matter of time before his old life comes back for him. The Never Contract is the long-simmer tale of how this comes about.

Cordolini is almost like a guest star in his own novel. The narrative, especially at the beginning, focuses more on low-tier mobsters, in particular Eddie Rush and Peter Bergin. The latter has been contracted by representatives of Don Anthony Vicari in New York City to kidnap the son of Frank Cordolini, and Bergin wants Rush to do the job with him. But Rush, a perpetual loser, is wary of the job. We get lots of page-filling as Rush gets Bergin to go on a job with him, one that turns out to be a total bust. Meanwhile Bergin also employs some upstate radicals, a trio of revolutionaries lead by Jerry Roth, a self-styled Abbie Hoffman who has more in common with Charles Manson. Their job will be to watch Cordolini’s kid after he’s adbucted.

We also get a lot of material from Don Vicari’s perspective – Vicari is the son of the man who was Frank Cordolini’s don, but Vicari is nothing like his father. He’s psychotic, which we learn when in his opening scene he kicks a stray cat that’s just given birth on his oceanside property and, before her dying eyes, stomps her litter of kittens to death! We learn via snippets of backstory that Vicari actually killed his father, so as to take over the family empire; that was ten years ago, and was the reason behind Cordolini’s sudden departure from the hitman life. Like the other “old-timers” Cordolini despises the young Vicari and all he stands for; he knew it would only be a matter of time before Vicari junior would order his own death, so he split.

As for Frank Cordolini, he only appears sporadically for the first half of the novel. Cordolini is a ghostly figure in the underworld, nicknamed “The Wolf” and legendary for his brutality. In other words, he’s a younger, better looking Luca Brasi. I say “younger” but Cordolini is in his fifties at least (Gerrity mentions in one of the brief flashbacks that Cordolini was ten years old when the Depression set in), though Gerrity doesn’t make much of this in the narrative itself – in other words, there’s none of that “I’m too old for this” shit. Cordolini has lost his edge over the past decade, though; he suspects Don Vicari is finally going to try to have him killed, but Cordolini does nothing about it, other than gradually plan to take his family on vacation.

So really, there’s just a lot of plotting and dialog for most of The Never Contract, and Gerrity is along the lines of Dan Schmidt in how he wastes so many pages with several different characters planning to do something…and then taking forever to show them actually do it. The novel really has all the makings of being a trashy, sleazy classic – Don Vicari by the way also gets his kicks trussing up women and whipping them to death – but even this exploitative stuff is downplayed in favor of go-nowhere digressions and redundant character introspection.

When the novel finally achieves boil, however, it’s pretty good. The abduction of Cordolini’s kid doesn’t happen until toward the very end – the plan is, Bergin’s people will kidnap the boy, and when Cordolini comes out to get him Vicari’s men will kill Cordolini. But the incredibly annoying Jerry Roth, who dreams of himself as being “The Leader” of a post-revolutionary United States, takes over the job from the ineffectual Bergin and spirals the whole affair into chaos.

The old killing instincts slowly come back to Cordolini as he goes after the kidnappers. Even here though it’s a long-simmer affair, with Cordolini complying with their demands (getting ransom money, being at certain phone booths at exact times for their calls, etc) as he bides his time. This develops into a contest of wills between Cordolini and Roth, who doesn’t understand why this guy isn’t quaking in fear – none of the people Bergin hired for the kidnapping job (or Bergin himself) know who Cordolini is, or know of his past. Gerrity does a fine job here of making the reader despise these kidnappers so much that we look forward to Cordolini’s many promises that he’s going to make them suffer horribly before they die.

But man, talk about an anticlimax. Skip this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers. When Cordolini finally turns the tables, Gerrity welches on the blood-soaked finale he’s been promising throughout. There are several instances where Cordolini will think to himself how he’s going to skin Jerry Roth alive and etc, but when the big finale arrives…Cordolini walks into the kidnappers’s hideout with a shotgun and blows everyone away in the span of a sentence. That’s it! The reader has so grown to despise Roth that we want to see him carved up horrifically or something to pay for his deeds, but Gerrity fails to deliver, in a big way. Just as worse is the resolution with Don Vicari, another guy who deserves to get his just desserts; Gerrity puts on his fancy “Literary Artist” pants and ends the novel just as Cordolini has snuck up behind Cordolini, leaving what transpires next to the reader’s imagination.

As mentioned above, this wasn’t it for Cordolini; he returned the following year in The Plastic Man and then finally in 1977’s The Numbers Man, all of them paperback originals. Gerrity by the way was pals with Mickey Spillane, who endorsed this novel; Gerrity also published as “Dave J. Garrity” and also just plain “Garrity,” so I guess he must’ve really wanted to confuse his readers.