Thursday, June 27, 2013

Killinger #1: The Turquoise/Yellow Case (aka Killinger)

Killinger #1: The Turquoise/Yellow Case, by P.K. Palmer
January, 1974  Pinnacle Books

I’ve wanted to read this book for a few years, but I’ve just been too lazy to order a copy online. But then I was lucky enough to come across a copy at Beckham’s Bookshop in the French Quarter during a recent trip to New Orleans. I should’ve gotten the book sooner, though, as The Turquoise/Yellow Case is a lot of fun, pretty much brimming with that “super ‘70s” style I so enjoy.

James Bond, Mike Hammer, and Travis McGee are all referenced on the cover, but the first two are decoys: this series is clearly “inspired” by the latter, with hero Jedediah Killinger the Third basically Pinnacle’s response to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. And I suspect that Pinnacle must’ve been on to something, as The Turquoise/Yellow Case was actually reprinted in 1980 (titled just Killinger), so it must’ve sold pretty well. Unfortunately though there were only two books in the series, no doubt due to author P.K. Palmer’s death – the book is copyright “The Estate of P.K. Palmer.”

At 262 pages of small print, the book is meatier than the average Pinnacle offering. Reading it, a few things become clear about P.K. Palmer. For one, he’s enamored with his characters, every single one of them. For another, he tends to repeat himself. Many, many times. Third, he is in absolutely no hurry to tell his tale. And finally, he is also enamored with his own writing style. And yet for all of that – despite the listless plot, the rampant scenes of redundancy, even the fact that the book has barely any sex, violence, or thrills – I still found The Turquoise/Yellow Case to be pretty compelling. At the very least, it kept me reading, and prompted me to track down the second volume.

Part of my enjoyment no doubt comes from that aforementioned ‘70s style. Killinger, actually described as “ruggedly virile” on the cover, encapsulates the 1970s male ethic: Though 41 he’s got the physique of a “28 year-old athlete,” he runs two miles every day (followed by weight training and a few hours of karate practice), he lives on a Chinese junk that has all the comforts of a swank bachelor pad, he is devoted to the finer things in life, and as you’d expect he’s very popular with the ladies. However we see right out of the gate that we’re in for a different sort of trip here: Killinger isn’t a revenge-seeking ‘Nam vet, a mob-buster, or even just a weekend adventurer or any other sort of thing you’d expect in a men’s adventure novel. The dude’s a “marine insurance adjustor.” Seriously, that’s all he is!

Killinger makes his (apparently good) living covering maritime insurance cases. Presently he’s living off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, where the entirety of The Turquoise/Yellow Case takes place. His current case involves Ejnar Mylius, a mega-wealthy Danish entrepreneur who crashes his yacht outside Santa Barbara during a storm. Mylius is knocked into a coma as a result of the crash, but the only other passenger on the ship, his beautiful granddaughter Katja, is unharmed. Killinger is called in by his firm to handle the case.

Meanwhile, two characters who seem to have walked out of James Clavell’s Noble House converge upon the scene like vultures: Count Risponyi, a simian-like scoundrel of evaporating wealth, and Kuan Yang Smith, aka K.Y. Smith, an Australian-Chinese of massive wealth, wealth which he’s gained through piracy. Both men want the contents of a heavy crate on Mylius’s ship, and they spend the majority of the novel plotting against one another to acquire it. Killinger is caught in the middle, and it takes him practically forever to work against these guys.

Of the two villains Palmer spends the most time with K.Y. Smith, who actually provides the title…which proves to be pretty un-PC: Palmer often mentions Smith’s “turquoise” eyes and “yellow” skin. Indeed Palmer describes his characters over and over again, and is also fond of repeating the same sequence from multiple viewpoints, no matter how minor the events transpiring. Palmer also drills into us how inhuman Smith is, constantly referring to his brain as a “computer” as it spits out facts and figures and blueprints for his latest plans and tactics. But more importantly, K.Y. Smith has a jawdropping daughter named Talya whom Smith has raised to basically be an extension of himself; he sends her out to “distract” men Smith wants distracted, and thus he sets Talya upon Killinger.

I expected that Katja was going to be the female star of the book, but for the most part she doesn’t even appear in the narrative, instead by her grandfather’s side in the hospital. Talya takes center stage, and Palmer goes to town reminding us, often and in detail, how gorgeous she is and how great of a body she has. And yet for all that it’s with shock that I report that there isn’t a single sex scene in this novel until around page 170, and even when it happens it’s one of those “fade to black” deals. The same holds true for the three other sex scenes here; Palmer is all build-up, but prudishly cuts away when the wah-wah guitar kicks in.

The majority of The Turquoise/Yellow Case goes down like this: K.Y. Smith or Count Risponyi will hatch some scheme to acquire Mylius’s mysterious cargo, and they will send in their people or hire some locals to carry it out. Smith’s favored gambit is to send Talya to ensnare Killinger, which is something she’s happy to do. This entails many scenes of her appearing on the beach during Killinger’s morning run wearing a “shocking bikini,” racing him after some innuendo and then “frolicking” in the water with him. Yet despite all the buildup it still takes forever for the couple to act upon their mutual attraction.

Risponyi also distracts Killinger with a woman – in this case Elena, a “Peruvian pepper” of an actress who ends up serving as Killinger’s first conquest in the book. I have to say though that Killinger basically comes off like a dolt; anytime Talya or Elena come over, Killinger instantly deduces that they are there to distract him, but he basically just shrugs and decides to go along with it, even leaving his ship when he knows that Smith and Risponyi are out there waiting for a chance to sneak on board and steal the precious cargo. But then, given how Palmer describes the two women as so incredibly gorgeous and magnificently built, you can hardly blame the guy.

There are quite a few characters here, and Palmer does a good job juggling them all. Killinger’s (barely seen) sidekick is Kimo, a 20 year-old Japanese-American from the midwest who helps around on the junk and is learning karate from Killinger; there’s also Kimo’s girlfriend, Samantha. Then there’s Marjorie, a black lawyer who joins Killinger’s team in this initial volume, sent here to assist in his cases; Palmer develops a long-simmer relationship between the two, with an unfunny recurring joke where Killinger will ask the constantly-pouting Marjorie to say “prunes,” so that when her lips pucker he’ll slip in and give her a kiss. Oh yeah, and Killinger has a bunch of dogs and cats. There’s also Jao O’Reilly, Katja’s ex-husband, who arrives in Santa Barbara to capitalize on his wife’s sudden misfortune and ends up working for both K.Y. Smith and Risponyi.

It all goes on and on and on, Palmer elaborating every scene in his affected style. It isn’t until the very end that anything really comes to a broil; humorously enough, Killinger after going celibate throughout the novel has sex with both Elena and Talya on the same day, just a few hours apart from one another, and shortly thereafter both Smith and Risponyi initiate their individual plans for acquiring the cargo. This leads to the one action scene in the book, with Smith blasting everyone with a knock-out spray and Killinger breaking out some of his “karate-quick” moves. But again, despite the lack of forward momentum, I enjoyed the characters and Palmer’s leisurely style, so the book was a nice change of pace from the men’s adventure norm.

Anyway I think this series was an interesting idea – tapping into the success of the Travis McGee books, combining their “beach read” sensibilities with a men’s adventure novel flair. It’s too bad Palmer only got to write the two books. I wonder though if the Killinger series did well enough that other publishers took note; notice the similarities between the covers of the two Killinger novels and Leisure’s Shannon series. The cover designs and artwork are almost identical, and it even looks like the same artist was employed. And though the Shannon books are a bit more goofy, and more packed with sex and violence (but worse writing), they’re definitely along the same lines as Killinger.

A little research on P.K. Palmer shows that someone of the same name served as a writer and director for several TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s, among them Dick Tracy and Peter Gunn, so I suspect it was the same guy. It also appears that another Palmer book was published after his death: Dementia, which though credited to “Keith Parnell” is also copyright “The Estate of P.K. Parnell.” (I’ve had a copy of Dementia for a few years, and now I definitely want to read it.) It looks like Palmer only published these three books, and I can find no other info on the guy, though I’d suspect he must’ve died in 1973 or so, given the January 1974 publication date of The Turquoise/Yellow Case.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Operation Nazi - USA

Operation Nazi - USA, by James Gilman
No month stated, 1976  Major Books

This paperback obscurity was published by Major Books, a low-tier house that eventually took over Kin Platt’s Hitman series. Bill Pronzini rhapsodizes about the stupid greatness (or great stupidity) of a few Major releases in his Gun In Cheek and Son of Gun In Cheek, but ultimately Operation Nazi – USA doesn’t come off like a “so bad it’s good” sort of thing; instead, it’s much like the Hitman books in that it obviously doesn’t take itself seriously.

The book also comes off very much like the first volume of a men’s adventure series that never was. Our narrator hero is Rain Allison, aka “The Indian,” aka “Scorpion,” a member of a secret government strike force called The Peacemakers. Like the Expeditor, Rain was raised by American Indians and often refers back to his ancestry and the wizened secrets he has been imparted. His signature weapon is a Colt .45 Peacemaker but he carries an M-16 for heavy fire, he wears a belt that has a knife sewn inside of it, and he drives a combat van that’s tricked out with four levels of security: a loud alarm, a jet of “simulated skunk spray," a burst of high-voltage electricity, and finally a stream of concentrated napalm.

How Rain became a Peacemaker is just another indication of the goofy nature of the book: His father was a famous soldier who fought in WWII, Korea, and ‘Nam, where he was killed. Then a few years later the commander of Rain’s father, General Wheeler, approached Rain and told him it was his “duty” to help the nation, and ordered him to become a Peacemaker! General Wheeler is only hinted at throughout the novel, until making an appearance in the finale; Rain has a habit of reflecting back on the various teachers of his life, and more importantly the lessons they taught him. Truth be told, this gets annoying after a while, especially the way Gilman works these lessons into the framework of the narrative.

We meet Rain as he’s already on his latest mission, deep under cover within the American Nazi Party, where he is known as “The Indian.” He serves as security for Steffan Lincoln, the leader of the ANP, and his mission is to assassinate the man. First though Rain must thwart Lincoln’s plan to poison the Harlem water supply. As Operation Nazi – USA opens Rain is about to make his move when it turns out that Lincoln has vanished; Rain figures the man must’ve figured him out and thus escaped.

The novel approaches a hardboiled feel as Rain makes his way through the ANP elite, killing most of them, as he attempts to locate Lincoln. There are a few action scenes here, but they all lack much spark, Gilman too stuck in his character’s thoughts to keep it exciting. One of the leads is Eleanor Schneider, a German national who has come to the US to aid the ANP cause; a lady endowed with “enormous breasts,” a fact that is mentioned every time her name comes up – this being an intentional joke. I should mention that there isn’t a single sex scene in the novel, though Rain states that he (and most other members of the ANP) have slept with Eleanor; Rain himself is still hung up on his college sweetheart, who married a guy named Lenny Wood, Rain’s former business colleague who himself has gone missing.

You might think, as I did, that all this “Lenny Wood/old college flame” stuff is extranneous detail, but it turns out to be (clumsy) foreshadowing: Lenny Wood becomes the novel’s villain. In a complete bit of deus ex machina, Lenny Wood appears out of nowhere, kills Steffan Lincoln just as Rain has tracked the ANP leader down to the Harlem water supply installation, and escapes in Rain’s van! The novel loses all grip on reality, at least what little it had, as Rain now has no idea what’s going on. So ensues an interminable stretch, which turns out to be the rest of the book, where Rain deals with the fact that Lenny Wood is somehow not only a master villain but has also taken over the American Nazi Party.

There are chase scenes, gun battles, and even a brief kung-fu fight, but it’s all just…I don’t know, boring and half-baked. Rain’s narrative voice is so casual that the fights have little thrill. There isn’t even much of a lurid quotient, or any of the outrageous sort of stuff one who expect from a mid-‘70s novel published by a low-rent house – you would expect that a novel with a Nazi lady with “enormous breasts” would have more pizzaz, but Eleanor’s barely in the narrative and when she is, she mostly just pines for her lover, Lincoln Steffan. There’s also an unbelieveable tenor to the novel, and not “unbelieveable” in a good way; the way coincidence is piled atop coincidence just comes off as lazy and a failed attempt at being funny.

There’s no way of knowing if this series was in fact intended as a first installment. At any rate Rain as expected is ready for more adventures by novel’s end (and the novel by the way includes yet more coincidence, with General Wheeler’s appearance amounting to a lame “surprise” reveal), but no more ever came out.

One mystery I can solve is who James Gilman was – a Google search yields a 1976 Catalog of Copyright Entries which states that Gilman was the pseudonym of Joseph L. Gilmore, an author who churned out a handful of books under his own name as well as several volumes of the Nick Carter series in the ‘80s; he passed away in 2005.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Yellow Peril

Yellow Peril, by Richard Jaccoma
December, 1980  Berkley Books
(Original hardcover edition, 1978)

I’m not sure how I discovered this obscure book, but I’m glad I did. It has all the makings of a trash fiction masterwork, only it’s a bit hamstrung by the author’s agenda. Perhaps this is what undermined the book’s success. Regardless though I’m surprised Yellow Peril is so unknown, as it has practically everything one could want from trash fiction, including a great sense of humor. It also very clearly foreshadows Raiders of the Lost Ark in that it’s about a globetrotting adventurer in the pre-WWII years. Unlike Indiana Jones, though, our hero Sir John Weymouth-Smythe has tons of sex and kills a bunch of people along the way.

Smythe also serves as our narrator, and Jaccoma has a sure handle on the prissy tones expected of an Edwardian-era British adventurer. Smythe is pompous and as expected racist, though this latter element is part of the author agenda I referred to above. In a preface that amounts to character assassination, Jaccoma, speaking as himself, claims that Smythe’s manuscript was recently found and apologizes for the man’s racist diatribes. You see my friends, Jaccoma plainly states that Smythe is a bastard and that we should hate him for all of the racist ideals he stands for; even the jacket copy of the original hardcover edition intimates that Smythe is a prick and that we should root against him. But Jaccoma’s biggest failing is that he makes Smythe such a character to root for…I mean, Smythe spends the entire novel reacting to the horrors he witnesses, and he reacts much the same way as anyone else would. Jaccoma never gives the guy a chance.

To be sure, the author agenda doesn’t really show up until well into the tale. Before we get there (and even for the most part afterward) Yellow Peril is a very enjoyable read. (And it’s only this annoying agenda that has kept me from placing it in the Hall of Fame!) Anyway it’s 1932 or thereabouts and John Weymouth-Smythe is an agent of the British Empire; he currently resides in Thailand, where he’s been investigating the growing concern over “the yellow peril,” ie an Asia-wide revolt.

Meanwhile Smythe experiences love at first sight when he meets the half-Chinese daughter of his crusty British superior officer; the lady is named Beth-li, and Jaccoma lets us know what kind of gloriously trashy read we’re in for when he writes an explicit sex scene between the two shortly after they meet. This only proves to be the first of many such scenes; a recurring joke is that any time an attractive lady is introduced to the narrative, Smythe will have (elaborately detailed) sex with her. In a way then the book is like the Flashman series, only better, in that it incorporates mysticism and supernatural elements, even verging into full-on fantasy with an appearance of several Yetis, late in the tale.

Jaccoma also has a talent for sadistic scenes, something he also proves early on; Smythe stumbles upon the fact that a mysterious “Chinaman” with apparently supernatural powers is behind the Yellow Menace: Chou en Shu, who is of course Fu Manchu in all but name. As Smythe watches in horror he sees his world fall apart during a bizarre, Chou en Shu-headed ritual in which both Smythe’s superior and Beth-li are involved, the latter in a very personal way. This scene as well is a glimpse of more to come, as the rituals used by Chou throughout are heavily sex-based. Also here Jaccoma displays his James Robert Baker-esque gift for dark comedy, starting out a paragraph that has us thinking it’s going one way, only to suddenly have it go another, as Beth-li is raped by a massively-endowed Chou en Shu:

After a few moments, her cries had subsided. For Chou en Shu had inched the worst portion of his member into her. He paused in his onslaught now, and Beth-li, her grimacing face half crushed against the pillows, whined softly. Then, with a sudden sadistic twitch, he plunged the entire length of his flesh-rod deep inside her! Her entire body stiffened with shock and she let out one long and blood-curdling shriek…a shriek which went on and on, but which finally ended with the revolting, half-coherent words:

More… Give me more! Oh, GOD!!” And my beloved Beth-li collapsed, gasping and shuddering…in a climax of the most disgusting intensity!

Smythe’s life further spirals into chaos, as his superior commits suicide and then, most shocking of all, Smythe receives Beth-li’s severed head in a package sent by Chou en Shu! Of course, this means that Smythe (and we readers) now hate Chou and want to see him get his comeuppance…which makes Jaccoma’s later “revelations” about what’s “really” going on and who are the “real” villains so misguided, not to mention so stupid. When a guy sees his “true love” get raped by a demonic being who later mails the dude the girl’s severed head…well honestly, how in the hell are we supposed to root against the poor guy??

Despite this nonsense, I should repeat that Jaccoma (unintentionally?) makes us so root for Smythe that we can, for the most part, overlook the later reveals and enjoy the book as a porn-fueled tribute to ‘30s pulp. Swearing vengeance upon Chou, Smythe has further adventures in Thailand, not to mention more sex, this being another Asian gal who throws herself at him, only to later reveal she is a vassal of Chou’s. Eventually Smythe moves on to India, where Jaccoma well captures the twilight era of the British Empire. Here Smythe meets with his new superior, Sir Denis, a man who is waging his own secret war upon Chou en Shu and thus recruits Smythe for the cause.

Denis sends Smythe into the Assam region of India, an arduous river journey where, on the well-appointed crusie ship, Smythe meets his new associates: Nazis! In these pre-war years Sir Denis has ties with the National Socialist Party, whose fascist and white power views he much appreciates. (Yet Smythe very clearly does not agree with the Nazis, and in fact hates them…yet, again, we’re supposed to hate the guy??) Another feather in the book’s trash fiction cap is that one of the Nazis is an actual Nazi She-Devil! This is “blonde German goddess” Clara Schicksal, who co-leads the group of Germans alongside her brother Julius. These two are straight out of The Occult Roots of Nazism, as Smythe stumbles into their cabin while they’re indulging in one of their rituals:

In the red, guttering glow of some brass oil lamps, I saw Clara Schicksal kneeling naked on her cabin’s floor. Five greasy candles had been set at the points of a pentagram on the floor itself, illuminating her grisly work. Her Valkyrie’s body was glistening with oil and traced all along with finger-dabbed symbol…double spirals, yinyangs, sinistrogyrate swastikas, inverted cruciforms… She was pressing down with her hands at the ankles of a frail body within the pentagram…a young lad of some eleven or twelve years, and was performing upon his vainly struggling form…a particularly exuberant fellatio!

I should mention that the “young lad’s” throat has just been slit. These Nazis are here to track down the infamous Spear of Destiny, which Smythe actually held in his hands back in Thailand; an old acquaintance happened to have acquired it, as related in a long but entertaining story. However again due to supernatural chicanery, Chou en Shu has now gotten hold of the Spear. This is something Sir Denis and the Nazis want to correct – they claim that a supervillain like Chou will destroy the world with such a powerful relic. Thus, Sir Denis has chosen to work with the Nazis – “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and all that.

The occultic Nazi stuff soon fades into the woodwork, as does the Nazi She-Devil herself; after such a memorable opening Smythe hates Clara, not that this stops him from the occasional hate fuck. (I’d quote one of these sequences as well, but they might be too much, given that Smythe will only sodomize Clara, and brutally so...and yeah, she loves it…) However the supernatural stuff comes to the fore as the group engages the aid of an Indian mystic who is at war with Chou en Shu; this entails a raid on a remote Assam temple in which those aforementioned Yetis appear, they too serving the Nazi cause in the battle against Chou.

But towards the end it all begins to unravel, mostly because here Jaccoma belies his intentions. Various characters previously thought dead return, and all of them are not only willing servants of Chou en Shu, but they keep banging Smythe over the head about how “stupid” he’s been! Most belligerent of all is a rabbi in New York City who takes special delight in telling Smythe how much of an “idiot” he is. But again it all just comes off as so stupid and misguided, because throughout the novel Smythe has just been reacting to the horrible things he’s seen. And the “racist” claims are also stupid, because throughout Smythe has gone out of his way to fight against his Nazi “allies,” even killing one of them and snarling, “Here – a gift from the Jews,” as he slits the murdering bastard’s throat.

Jaccoma plunges on, though, destroying not only the entire novel but also any further enjoyment, as he relishes in trotting out various characters who tell Smythe how stupid he’s been and all the mistakes he’s made. Let me ask you, though…if you saw the love of your life ritually raped and then received her severed head in the mail, would you pause and ask yourself: “Wait a second. Am I getting the full story, here??”

Because this is exactly what is implied…that the events of the novel have mostly been Smythe’s “fault,” mainly due to his “racism” and his inability to see the “truth” behind things. In other words, Jaccoma attempts to pull the narrative carpet out from under us in what he hopes is a shocking reveal but instead comes off like, well…like one of the dumbest damn things I’ve ever read.

And it really is a shame, because for the most part Yellow Peril is one hell of an entertaining and enjoyable read.

By the way, the hardcover edition features a photo of Jaccoma; is it just me, or does this guy look like a 1970s version of Robert from Everybody Loves Raymond??

Monday, June 17, 2013

Joseph Rosenberger: The Man, The Myth

Here, thanks to a very kind contributor who would like to go uncredited, is an actual letter from the man, the myth himself: Joseph Rosenberger. (And also a huge thanks to that same contributor for sending me this photo of Rosenberger and his wife, Virginia, taken in 1984!)

The original plan was to run an essay on Rosenberger, but as it turns out, this letter tells us more about the man than any other piece could. Perhaps a little too much. It’s my duty to inform you that portions of this letter are incredibly racist, and will perhaps shed light on an aspect of Rosenberger’s image that might’ve been better left untouched. But then, given the paucity of any kind of info on the guy, I thought I should upload the letter anyway, with the racist terms expunged. Also, it’s my bet that those who are familiar with Rosenberger will not be surprised to read some of the sentiments he expresses herein.

But then, as the contributor told me (and as Rosenberger himself admits in the letter), JR was a heavy drinker, and “it’s readily apparent how he gets drunker as the letter goes on.” Note too how in his "rules for life" at the end of the letter Rosenberger states that he judges people as individuals, not by race, as if the previous pages of vile vitriol had been written by someone else. In fact, reading this letter I don’t feel so much anger over the ugly sentiments expressed – instead, I start to feel sorry for the bitter old bastard.

And finally, one more piece of data on Rosenberger: He passed away in Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 68, on December 2, 1993.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Men's Mag Roundup: U-Boat Hit Men, Cycle Breakouts, and Yank Saboteurs

Amid all of the sex articles and advertisements there’s actually a pretty good pulp WWII tale in the June 1975 issue of Male: “The US Navy’s U-Boat Hit Men,” by Charles Kennon, a True Book Bonus that, while not as long as earlier such features, is still long enough to provide an enjoyable tale. It’s late summer 1942 and Navy Intelligence officer Tom Sapinksy’s mission is personal; earlier in the year his younger brother was killed when his ship was attacked by a merciless U-Boat that even gunned down the American sailors as they clung to lifeboats. Now Sapinsky is putting together a team of killers to even the score.

In pure Dirty Dozen style Sapinsky deliberately chooses the nastiest dudes he can find. Chief among them is Rick Jackman, a Chicago button man who Sapinsky had many dealings with back when Sapinsky was a cop in the pre-War years. He also gets a demolitions guy, a marskman, and finally rounds out the six-person team with Gretta Wulff, a Czech lady who has lived in Germany and will use her beauty per men’s mag tradition to ensnare horny Nazis. Unfortunately the brevity of the piece hampers Kennon from filling out the majority of these characters; it would be nice if there really was a true “U-Boat Hit Men” book.

Sapinksy considers the team to be “hit men,” and they really live up to the mantle; sneaking into Hamburg they go about murdering several U-Boat commanders who are all stationed here. The hits are carried out Mafia style, with captains getting gunned down as they leave whorehouses or being blown up by car bombs. There’s even a Godfather riff where Jackman walks right up to a captain as the guy’s having dinner in a restaurant and blows the dude’s head off, then calmly turns around and walks out.

Earl Norem’s cover painting actually illustrates a scene in the story, as the team converges on their last mission, ambushing a ribald party that goes down inside of a docked U-Boat. Kennon vaguely describes the lurid activities as drunk sailors cavort with whores while three of Sapinksy’s men get in frogmen gear and plant explosives on the U-Boat. This leads to a brief action scene with the team blowing away the emerging Nazis. Even the finale of The Dirty Dozen is followed, with the team suffering major losses – even moreso than in EM Nathanson’s novel.

The rest of the material is the expected “sex research” stuff, but there’s also “The Texan who Terrorizes the Sicilian Mafia,” a Joe Dennis tale about Vincent D’allesandro, a Texan on honeymoon in Sicily where his wife is gunned down when the couple stumbles upon a mob war. D’allesandro trains himself in the use of the lupara, aka the mini-shotguns favored in this part of the world, and hooking up with a pretty local gal he wages war on the Sicilian mob responsible for his wife’s death – in between bouts of sex, of course, D’allesandro quickly learning to move on after the loss of his wife.

The extra-length story in the April 1971 Male is even better: “Cycle Breakout Across Nazi Germany,” by Charles Warner, a fast-paced tale in which an OSS agent named Arnold Wassserman ventures into Germany to find a woman that has valuable intel and then deliver her into Allied hands. However the woman, Utta Wulf, happens to be a Nazi officer, and Wasserman is uncertain if he can trust her. The “cycle” is a BMW motorcycle with side car that will serve as their sole means of escape to Switzerland.

Warner opens the story with Wasserman and Utta already sleeping together – again, per men’s mag tradition, the gal freely gives herself to the guy mere moments after they meet – and Wasserman still wondering if he can trust her. She’s a high-ranking member of the SS and has the double lightning bolt sigil tattooed beneath her right arm, “marking her now and forever as a member of the Nazi party.” Wasserman’s uncertainty is compounded when a savage pounding comes at the door of Utta’s apartment, and she cracks it open, sticks out her Luger, and blows away whoever’s standing out there, sight unseen!

Of course it turns out they were Nazis – “Only the SS knocks on doors like that,” explains Utta. Wasserman is here because Utta’s uncle was a Nazi scientist who worked with the jelly needed to create bombs; sickened by the war he turned on the Nazis, contacting the Allies and offering to let them know where the secret jelly-producing plants in Germany were in exchange for exfiltration from Nazi Germany. He was killed before this could happen, but Utta has the info, which she has memorized and won’t give away until she’s safely out of Germany – she too claims to now be against the Nazi party.

The titular cycle plays only a small part, Wasserman driving as Utta sits in the side car. There’s only one action scene in it, as they break through a Nazi gatepost, Utta mowing down the young soldiers with her “special SS” submachine gun. Wasserman himself doesn’t do much, and Warner plays up more on the characterization, with Wasserman given more depth than the average men’s adventure protagonist. Haunted by past missions, ravaged both physically and mentally, he just wants to get this final mission done so he can escape to a desk job. Given this, he makes numerous mistakes throughout the story and is fraught with self-doubt.

Utta handles the brunt of the action, and also provides convenient shelter for when they head into a massive snowstorm; Utta’s conman cousin, who lives near the German/Switzerland border. But the dude tries to turn in Utta for the reward, and in the quick fight Wasserman’s forearm is mostly blown off and Utta wastes her cousin. Wasserman wakes up to find himself safely in Switzerland, where Utta has brought him; after giving the Allies the intel she stays there, and we learn in a postscript that she was actually a deep-cover Russian spy.

On an adventure fiction tip there’s “We Survived Africa’s Island of Killer Baboons” by Ken Dawson, a first-person narrative about an adventurer who is hired to fly an anthropologist and his sexy daughter onto infamous “Ape island” in Mozambique. This is a fairly long story and of course plays up to the expected tropes, with our hero and the daughter, Ilse, getting cudly as they make their way to the island, culminating in lots of violence as the legendary man-sized baboons attack them.

There’s also “The Nude Pays Off,” a “special fiction” piece by Pat Dowell; another first-person narrative, this one about a bartender who is approached by one of his many female patrons/conquests to help her in a robbery. Otherwise we have the usual assortment of sex research pieces, including yet another one that’s given over to (fake) transcripts as a reporter checks out the porno shops in Denmark.

It isn’t just a “True Book Bonus” in the September 1970 For Men Only; no, it’s also “soon to be a major motion picture!” But this is a double lie, as there was never a book or a movie made out of Grant Freeling’s “They Cripped Hitler’s D-Day Defenses.” A shame too, because while it isn’t as good as the “Sex Circus Stalag” story I recently read by Freeling, it’s still a lot of fun, if perhaps focusing more on intrigue and suspense than lurid thrills.

It’s May 1944 and Captain Jack Maitland, a “yank saboteur” with the OSS, once again ventures into Occupied France to work with a branch of the French Resistance he’s fought beside many times before; the OSS believes that one of the three leaders of this branch is actually a Nazi informant. Maitland stays on a farm, put there by Coutard, one of the Resistance leaders and thus one of the suspects. Also staying in this farm is Angelique Dubois, a Resistance member who is hiding out after an attack on her own branch – and you wouldn’t be surprised to know that she has the mandatory brick shithouse bod and the looks of a supermodel.

Coutard however has a definite interest in Angelique, so Maitland plays it cool, focusing instead on his mission. He sets it up so that each man must go on a perilous assassination mission, Maitland going along, the idea being that, if one of them is a traitor, he will take advantage of it being just Maitland and himself and thus do away with Maitland if the opportunity arises. However none of the men prove to be traitors as they kill the Germans. The hits are a bit novel, for example one of the Germans being taken out by an elaborate bombing scheme as he rides along in his staff car.

Angelique eventually demands that Maitland have sex with her (one thing I’ve learned from these men’s mags is that curvy and busty European women just friggin’ loved American men in WWII). But Coutard finds out and goes into a rage, so that Maitland figures he must be the traitor. But it’s an obvious red herring, and while Coutard drops out of sight Maitland plans a Force 10 From Navarone style blowing of a bridge. But then Coutard appears, proving who the real traitor is (one of the other leaders, who faked the car bombing murder of one of the Germans), and we learn in postscript that Coutard eventually got Angelique to marry him, once Maitland was back home.

“How Call Girls Work as Airline Stewardesses” seems tailor-made for Curt Purcell over at The Groovy Age of Horror. It’s by Linda Ann Sanders “as told to” Barry Jamieson and is the first-person narrative of a hooker who inadvertently became a groovy stewardess, taking advantage of the fact that the job put her in touch with wealthy men, men she eventually turned into her johns. Eventually she puts together a group of stewardesses who all do the same thing, but for the most part Jamieson’s story is more of a background piece on how Linda Ann got started on her “cathouse on wings” scheme.

“Infiltrate, Destroy, Saigon’s Black Market Money Changers” by Don Honig immediately shows its fiction roots: it’s credited to Honig but it’s in first person, and the narrator says his name is “Doug” and that he’s a spy in Saigon! The story though is tepid, our hero going undercover to find out where all the disappearing war funds are going in Saigon; this leads him to a group of black marketers, culminating in a shootout. More faux-“true” stuff is found in “Held Hostage in the Grand Canyon by Three Sex-Starved Convicts,” a survival epic by Larry Wilson “as told to” Sean Sterling, in which the narrator and his wife are kidnapped by the titular convicts, who rape the narrator’s wife before the narrator is able to turn the tables on them.

The “special fiction” tale is “Doctor In The Nude” by Alex Austin, a hilariously pre-PC story about a ladies man who is in the hospital for minor surgery and is shocked to not only discover his doctor is a woman, but also that she’s smokin’ hot. He fantasizes about screwing her, and eventually finds himself having vivid dreams of her coming to his bed each night. Turns out these aren’t dreams – no, the good doctor is merely drugging the guy and then slipping into his bed after the meds kick in, screwing his brains out!

Finally there’s “I Smashed a Killer Baboon Pack,” another faux-“true” deal, this one by Pat Hollister “as told to” Tom Christopher; similar to the baboons story above, this one’s about an American engineer building a hospital in Africa where roving baboon packs are sowing hell, so he heads a party into the bush to blow the little bastards away. Man, the guys at Diamond magazines must've really had something against baboons.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Sharpshooter #8: No Quarter Given

The Sharpshooter #8: No Quarter Given, by Bruno Rossi
July, 1974  Leisure Books

No Quarter Given plunges the Sharpshooter series right back to its grimy, nasty roots. Once again we have what might've been intended as an installment of the Marksman series, with “hero” Johnny Rock acting more like Philip Magellan as he kidnaps mafioso, tortures and mutilates them, and then murders them in cold blood – that is, when he’s not indulging in his penchant for disguises or taking some new weapon or knockout drug from his “artillery case.”

Lots of online searching has yielded zero information about who wrote this volume, but the style is close enough that it might be Russell Smith. Maybe without the nutzoid spark of Smith’s books, but with that same deadpan, grisly sense of humor, where things are plainly laid out in the narrative before jumping wildly to exclamatory sentences of death and destruction. There’s also a huge focus on maritime stuff, with portions of the book coming off like “US Navy 101,” and this is something else I’ve often noticed in Smith’s novels.

As expected, the book opens with absolutely no reference to the previous volume, which was courtesty Len Levinson. Rock is now in Norfolk, Virginia, on his way to DC to clear up the mob corruption there. (Also Rock is for the most part referred to as “Rock” throughout, with only one “Magellan” goof – but then, it’s actually a double goof, as the author writes “Magella.”) But as we open Rock is in a Norfolk bar watching a stripper named Mimi; the place serves as a cathouse, the women forced into prostitution, and Mimi pounces on Rock because she instantly figures out that he’s a good guy and can save her from this hell.

The place is overseen by mob boss Joey “Niente” Barbagallo, a prick who runs a veritable empire but poses as a bartender at a local watering hole. Niente was in the Navy for twenty years (cue lots of Navy material here) and has used his connections to set up a black market ring across this part of Virginia. He also sets up Navy VIPs and then exploits their families when the Navy dude’s life is wrecked, usually indenturing the daughters into forced prostitution, which happens to be Mimi’s sad story.

Rock immediately decides that Niente and his goons will all die. He breaks Mimi out of there, and for the rest of the novel she acts as his sidekick – a pretty horny sidekick, of course. It’s only after Rock has, uh, “rocked” Mimi all night that the girl informs him she’s a mere 16 years old! Rock just sort of brushes this off, marveling more over the fact that she could easily pass for an older woman. Otherwise Mimi is a fun character, easily adapting to Rock’s crazy lifestyle and helping him out on his recon missions.

There’s barely any action for the most part, instead these rushed descriptions of Rock and Mimi shuttling from one place to another as they get a lockdown on Niente’s empire; this includes a bit where they pose as a Navy officer and his mistress, but they’re abducted by a trio of mobsters who themselves are posing, as reps for a swinger’s club. After blowing away the three gunmen, Rock and Mimi head on to the club anyway, and we’re vaguely informed of the debauchery within, of the live sex shows performed on stage, mostly by juveniles (the author must really have something for pushing this particular boundary), while the audience is given beds of their own to watch the stage shows, Rock and Mimi going at it on their matress.

The author really fills pages with long sequences from Barbagallo’s point of view, down to the most mundane aspects of his life, from how his apartment is furnished to his conversations with his stooges. Rock doesn’t get in much action and only takes out a handful of mobsters, often saving Mimi from danger. (There is though a sadistic part where a trio of gunmen momentarily capture the pair and one of the guys jams the friggin barrel of his pistol up Mimi’s behind!) Also there are many scenes where for whatever reason Rock will appropriate a disguise, like a long bit where he and Mimi go to great lengths to look like street bums.

For once this particular author does bother to wrap up the tale, with Rock somehow bullshitting his way into a prison and arranging for the release of Mimi’s father; there follows a protracted scene where the man divulges how he was set up to the media. Rock ensures the guy doesn’t implicate Barbagallo, as Rock wants to deal with the bastard personally; after blowing up the mobster’s two bars he kidnaps a few of his stooges, jamming their half-dead bodies in the trunk of his car for no explained reason. Finally the whole group is dealt with in a perfunctory exploding of another Barbagallo club. It’s an anticlimatic end, but at least it’s an end.

Rayo Casablanca, over at his Sick Hipster blog, wonderfully (and accurately) summed up the Sharpshooter series: “These books feel like they were written by off-duty mall security guards.” Maybe he was thinking of this installment in particular. Here are a few excerpts from No Quarter Given that really made me chuckle:

Barbagallo opened the door to this room. He closed it immediately. He turned. He went to the left, to the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator. It needed defrosting so badly it was literally screaming. Except for a six-pack of beer it was empty. Down on his knees he performed a nightly ritual of trying to figure out why the light bulb behind the freezing unit didn’t work. As usual he gave it up, slamming the door. -- pg. 80

With lightening[sp] speed, Rock’s left fist slammed into the second man’s bewildered face. Blood spurted from his nose instantly. Then Rock chopped him savagely on the neck until his knees buckled and he slipped down to the floor. Rock swung the Beretta with the brute force of an express train. He realized in a flashing second that the blow had killed the man! -- pg. 130

After double-checking everything, planting three hi-blast grenades in Mimi’s ratty looking purse and arming himself with the Llama and the Beretta, Rock gripped two sad, worn shopping bags heavy with all the junk he could find in the apartment.

“Let’s go, slut!” he grinned. -- pg. 109

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Men's Mag Roundup: More Nazi She-Devils

Since the last batch of Nazi She-Devil stories I read were mostly subpar, I thought I’d take a look at similar stories published by the Diamond line of men’s adventure magazines. Unfortunately it appears there wasn’t too many of them – while the Diamond line offered very pulpy tales, it looks like they never really exploited the Nazi She-Devil subgenre. A shame, really, as the stories in these mags are all better than those I reviewed in the previous batch.

However the first story, from the November 1960 Male, is misadvertising of the worst sort. The “true book bonus” is the promisingly-titled “Prisoner in Fraulein Anna’s Private Compound,” by Eugene Heimler, and the title has you expecting one lurid read. And check out the splashpage art by Charles Copeland, which makes the story come off like the ultimate piece of Nazi She-Devil pulp:

And yet…there is no such scene in this story. There’s no “private compound.” There’s no “man-hungry Nazi prison mistress.” There isn’t even a “Fraulein Anna!!” In short, nothing in this illustration or its captions takes place in the actual story – which in fact is an excerpt from Heimler’s book The Night of Mist (later reprinted as Concentration Camp), a nonfiction book about Heimer’s life in a concentration camp. It’s actually pretty despicable that editor Bruce J. Friedman would put such a sensational, lurid splash illustration on what is a true account of the unimaginable horrors of a Nazi camp…not to mention that the rest of the story is graced with grisly photos of corpses in the camps.

Anyway Heimler’s account is as expected harrowing and depressing and comes off very strange placed here in a pulp magazine filled with pulp fiction. “Fraulein Anna” in reality turns out to be a young gypsy girl named Anna who is the daughter of one of Heimler’s fellow prisoners in the camp, and the story details the horrors of the camp and how ordinary people were faced with the ultimate evil. It’s hard to realize the magnitude of what the Nazis did, and I feel that publishing this excerpt in a pulp mag with misleading captions and art cheapens it. I wonder how editor Friedman could stoop to such a thing.

Luckily the other stories are the more-expected pulpy and fun tales. “The G.I. Who Holed Up with a Cossack Brigade” by Peter Lee takes place in 1918 during the Russian civil war and is about an American, Corporal Leon Vonsky, who is sent to help a battalion of Cossacks fight the Reds. It turns out this is an all-female battalion, the balshiye svitski, aka the “big-bosom brigade,” made up of sturdy Cossack women. The story follows the expected path with the chief of the women, Dayra, making advances on Vonsky as soon as he arrives, with other women following suit as he stays with them for a protracted time. It builds up to a climactic assault on Communist forces, but overall the story was a bit underwhelming.

“There’s A Psycho at the Controls of the Lazy Lil” by Glenn Infield is an unintentionally funny piece about a bomber pilot who goes nuts after a crash landing during heavy fighting in WWII; he breaks out of his asylum and steals a B-17, heading for Germany. His brother, also a bomber pilot, goes after him, trying to call him back. Goofy stuff, with the sane brother calling to the insane one over the radio, and the insane one has no idea where he is or what’s going on as he takes on German planes.

Another long story is “TheYank Who Flew 20 Partygirls Out Of Red-Held Soochow,” by Martin Fass – this one is about Joe Haskell, a pilot who after the Korean War stuck around in Asia to fly his own plane service. His old airplane is a waste, though, and he’s offered a job by Shanghai crook Pei, who tells Haskell that if he can get into China and take back Pei’s old plane, returning with it and Pei’s brother to Shanghai, then the plane will be Haskell’s. But it turns out that the “brother” is really infamous Red Chinese VIP General Soo, and in addition there are twenty convent girls: pretty young things who, in exchange for being smuggled out of China, will work for a year in one of Pei’s brothels.

The story instead becomes a survival epic, as the plane crashes due to enemy fire and Haskell takes it in on an idyllic, deserted island – one complete with streams and beaches and basically anything a person could want. They build huts to live in and in between warding off the increasingly-insane Soo, Haskell develops a thing for one of the girls, Dora. But eventually the other girls get sick of Dora hogging all of the lovin’, so Dora asks if Haskell wouldn’t mind spending time with a different girl every night? Finally Haskell’s able to get the plane off the island, but the girls want to stay, and we’re told that now each year Haskell finds the time to “leave civilization” and spend a few months with them on their island!

“The Day Big Murphy Became God of Tiera Del Fuego” by Martin Sol is another goofy piece, this one about a redheaded Bostonian in the 1920s who shipwrecks off an island where his red hair makes the natives think he is a representative of their god. The expected stuff, with Murphy getting in some quality time with the native beauties who worship him, while meanwhile the old chief begins to hate Murphy and plots to feed him to “the fire god,” aka the island’s live volcano.

The December 1960 Male is much better. And the Nazi She-Devil story here is the best one I’ve yet read: “Baron Klugge’s Strange Fraulein Cult,” by Gregory Patrick. Whoever Patrick is, he has a great sense of humor and delivers a long story that doesn’t take itself seriously in the least. It’s 1945, four months after the German surrender, and Corporal Peter Decker is picked up by an attractive fraulein in Stuttgart. The lady, Helga, tells Decker she’s taking him to a wild party, but instead takes him to Castle Doomsday, the domain of insane Otto von Klugge, a former Gestapo sadist who has sworn to continue the war against the Allies despite Hitler’s death.

Decker becomes the prisoner of Klugge and his five “daughters;” in addition to Helga (a former actress in Nazi Germany), there’s Therese and Bertha (a pair of twins), Erna (a “busty” dancer) and Lisa (a former concentration camp guard). All five of them are of course gorgeous and devoted Nazis – save for Erna, who is only in it because Klugge has given her the opportunity to dance for a paycheck again, whereas in the previous months of German hardship she’s had to sell herself just for a Hershey bar. Also each of the girls wear revealing outfits emblazoned with swastikas, like Nazi superheroines or something.

Klugge’s method of guerrilla warfare however is pretty nutty. His castle doubles as a bar and once a week he hosts a live theater for secret Nazi loyalists where he puts up a straw dummy “prisoner,” hands out whips, and allows the patrons to whack on them as if they are back in the concentration camps! Then later he’ll go out with his five girls and one of them will get the interest of a horny American G.I.; another girl will sneak up and knock the guy out cold, and then Klugge will paint a Hitler moustache on the guy! Meanwhile Decker is trussed up throughout, made to watch and still unsure why he’s here.

Klugge’s attempts at “breaking” Decker are also goofy, making him drink endless pitchers of “good German beer.” (This is when Lisa isn’t rolling cannonballs at a bound Decker or the other girls aren’t making him play horsey and carry them across streams!) Along the way Erna develops a thing for Decker, as he’s the first man to be nice to her in forever, so of course she eventually starts coming to him at night. Finally Decker learns that he’s been kidnapped because he has access to a prison where a former SS officer is being held, and Klugge wants the man freed. Instead with Erna’s help Decker gets loose, blows off Klugge’s head with a Luger, and we learn that the “daughters” were eventually tracked down and served a few years in jail.

The “true booklength” piece is “Buried Alive: A Jap Lieutenant, Three Pleasure Girls, An American G.I.” by Richard Gallagher, who is one of my favorite men’s mag authors. And this story really lives up to its “booklength” tag…I mean, this story goes and on and on. But unfortunately it’s for the most part a snoozer. Sgt George Trumbull is a prisoner in Hiroshima on the morning of August 6th, 1945 when the atom bomb hits; Trumbull, the Japanese overseer of the POW camp, and three members of the Iwasaki Women’s Labor Battalion manage to find shelter in a massive underground bunker.

Due to the massive amounts of rubble the quintet are stranded below, in what is otherwise a great shelter, complete with a few years’ worth of food. Gallagher chooses to play it all on the level, though, delivering a mostly-serious tale of survival, with Trumbull and the “Jap,” Lt. Hirata, in an endless battle of wills, while meanwhile the three women (Toshiko, Helen, and Mary – and yes they are Japanese despite their names) give their support to whichever of the two men they think is the strongest.

The problem here is Trumbull himself, who is basically a square and who takes too much of Hirata’s shit. Also you would figure that Gallagher would really play up on the “three pleasure girls” angle of the title, but Trumbull continuously spurns Toshiko’s advances, to the point where you start to go hmmm. (Another curious tenor arises when we learn that Helen and Mary develop a lesbian bond when neither Trumbull or Hirata will give it to them!) Finally though Trumbull “violently takes” Toshiko…but it’s a quick scene and not a fun one because by this point Gallagher has constantly reminded us how filthy everyone is, as Trumbull has banned anyone from “wasting” their precious water on baths.

It all just keeps grinding on, with only the occasional fun bit, like when Hirata and the gals go temporarily goofball, chasing each other around like idiots while Trumbull watches on in confusion. There’s also a fairly epic sewer rat attack. But for the most part it’s a tepid tale, monstrously blown out of proportion; it would’ve been so much better if “Baron Klugge’s Strange Fraulein Cult” had been the true booklength and this story had just been a regular extra-length tale. But anyway it all of course ends with Trumbull finally killing Hirata after yet another of the Lt’s insane attacks, and finally he and the gals reach freedom, two months after being stranded below.

“The Yank Who Escaped From Mussolini’s Secret Stockade” by Walter Kaylin is a little better; there’s an interview with Mario Puzo in the book It’s A Man’s World where Puzo states that Kaylin was his favorite of all the men’s mag writers. But this piece here treads the line a bit too much into fact-based or at least potted history, about a guy named Tony Frank who runs afoul of the fascists in Italy in 1925 and is thrown in the infamous Lipari stockade. It comes off as too much of an article and isn’t as pulpy as I would’ve preferred.

“Sgt Ivarson’s Harem of Fighting Aleut Girls” by Martin Fass is more like it. Another long story, one that actually lives up to its title. I wonder why it wasn’t included in the Noah Sarlat-edited anthology Women With Guns, as it also lives up to that anthology’s title and theme moreso than any of the actual stories in the collection. Anyway it’s August 1942 and native Alaskan Sgt. Ivarson has spent the past two months training an indiginous group of guerrillas in the Aleutian islands, stemming the Japanese invasion.

However Ivarson’s guerrilla force is actually just five teenaged girls, all that was left on Amchitka island after the initial “Jap” assault. Ivarson, along with old Eskimo guide Cumjak, trains the girls into a fierce team, and pretty soon they are pulling raids on Japanese encampments and blowing them away. And the “harem” stuff really comes into play when the lead girl, Mae, tells Ivarson that the girls have planned a celebration before their initial assault…a celebration which includes copious sake intake, dancing, disrobing, and a mass orgy, Ivarson handling all five of the gals by himself!

The pulp thrills continue with a climatic assault by the Japanese and Ivarson and the girls hiding in a mummy-filled cave; Ivarson begins hurling the mummies down at the “superstitious” Japanese, who promptly run away in fright! This was a very fun, very pulpy tale. But Martin Luray’s “The Daring Daylight Raid on Germany’s Mile-High Fortress” takes us back to the potted history route, a factual piece on a December 1943 special forces raid on La Difensa, an impregnable Nazi fortress in the Italian mountains. This campaign was also the basis for the 1968 film The Devil’s Brigade, which I’ve never seen.

The Nazi She-Devil tale in the May 1961 Male is another one that just barely qualifies – the Nazi She-Devils in Richard Gallagher’s True Book Bonus “G.I. On the Ship of Lost Frauleins” are in actuality members of the German Navy’s female auxiliary battalion. Anyway it’s September 1944 and Lt. Jesse Marcher is one of twenty Allied POWs who have been put on the SS Brunhilde, a German ship under the drunken command of Captain Voightlander. All of the POWs are airmen, but due to incorrect info on their records the Germans believe they are marine repairmen, and thus Voightlander claims that the men must be so, because German records could never be wrong.

Also on the ship are fourteen attractive German women – never expressly referred to as Nazi gals, but again the story falls into the subgenre by default. They helm various things on the ship, like the radio; the most attractive of them, Lena Schaatz, tells Marcher that she “greases Captain Voightlander’s driveshaft,” after which Marcher nicknames her “Fraulein Driveshaft.” The POWs are put to work shoveling coal in the bowels of the ship, punishment for not “admitting” they are really repairmen. This takes up a goodly portion of the narrative, Marcher coming off like a union rep as he bickers with Voightlander, who truth be told doesn’t come off as evil at all, just a guy who enjoys running a tight ship.

However this does lead to more inerraction with the gals; Voightlander keeps Lena as his personal mistress and, during one of their bicker sessions, Voightlander passes out from overdrinking and Lena takes March into the captain’s bedroom where they have sex just a few feet from Voightlander’s slumbering form. Eventually March sets it up so that the POWs sneak over to the women’s quarters each night, taking turns with the randy women. As for Lena she is up for anything, gamely sleeping with Voightlander, Marcher, and any other guy on the ship – “Germany is going to lose, and I’m just wild, wild, wild about men.”

As with the Gallagher story above it just grinds on and on with little pizzaz. Again rather than taking advantage of the salacious nature of the story’s concept and title, Gallagher instead focues on the squabblings among the men as Marcher continues to piss off Voightlander and the Germans. It all culminates with Marcher and a pal strapped as punishment to a boom mast during a heavy storm, but they survive the night, and the next day the POWs launch an assault, which itself goes on and on, the ship finally running into a Russian vessel that saves the day – and meanwhile Lena has already latched on to the Russians.

Speaking of Russians, there’s also “The Russian Spy Wore Black Lace Panties,” by Arnold Alexander. This long story is about Irma Schmidt and takes place in 1958, detailing how she got into the espionage game, sleeping with a variety of VIPs and getting information from them. “The Doomed 500 in Rommel’s Prison without Guards” is by Owen Truex and is fiction posing as a true story; Truex narrates how he was a captured POW and was sent to Stalag 353 near Tubruk in Africa, a hellish place where the commandant played games with the prisoners, letting them think they were able to escape but then cutting them down.

“The Angry Vets who Massacred a Crooked City Hall Gang” is by none other than Peter McCurtin, and it’s a very long but unfortunately tepid story about how a few hundred WWII vets banded together in Athens, TN in 1946 to wage war on a corrupt city hall regime that was ruling the populace with an iron fist. Finally “The Extraordinary Survival of James Kipness in Red China” by Martin Fass is another long tale about a Korean War vet in Tungchow province and his escape from the Reds, holing up with native Alice Kwok and waging a guerrilla war as he makes his way to safety. Okay but nothing spectacular, which pretty much sums up the majority of the tales in this review roundup.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Slaves Of The Empire #2: Haesel The Slave

Slaves Of The Empire #2: Haesel The Slave, by Dael Forest
August, 1978  Ballantine Books

This second volume of the Slaves Of The Empire series seems to bear out my theory that the five volumes were planned as (or at least written as) one long book. The story picks up immediately after the preceding installment, with no attempt at filling in readers who might’ve missed the previous volume. Author Dael Forest (aka Stephen Frances) whittles down his sprawling cast this time out, allowing the reader to better appreicate the story. And also he slightly increases the lurid quotient, something apparent from the first pages, which open on an orgy our main protagonist Hadrian attends.

As we’ll recall Hadrian has been hired to build a new town, which he does with the assistance of his co-planner, the slave Haesel, who has a long-simmering sort of thing for Hadrian, and vice versa. But now at this orgy Hadrian also is asked to head up a new Games, so he must figure out how to get animals and prisoners and gladiators for the event; he tasks his chief slave Cornutus with this, so there’s yet another new character to contend with. Meanwhile Haesel’s brothers and sisters still are slaves, except for studly Saelig, who remember had a fling with Hadrian’s wife Areta.

Saelig was whipped very harshly at Areta’s command in the climax of the previous volume, and we discover that Areta is bereft and has gone down to Baiae to mope. Saelig meanwhile has made a full recovery and has forgiven her. So moved by the slave’s obvious love for his wife, Hadrian gives Saelig his freedom. He offers to do so for Haesel as well, but she’s vehemently opposed to the idea; for reasons unexplained, she is determined to remain Hadrian’s slave until he feels that she has rightfully won her freedom. She doesn’t want a free handout, and this rightfully puzzles Hadrian, given how outspoken the girl has been about the unjustness of her slavery.

Meanwhile Haesel’s sister Mertice still pines away for Alexander, despite that he’s given her to the lusty object of his affections, Melanos. As sick as we readers are of seeing Mertice moping around, Melanos orders her chief of slaves to fondle the girl on a daily basis! Melanos herself has some fun; while at the Baths in a nicely-elaborated scene, she runs into Plautus, a young soldier of high family who has just returned to Rome after years away. Frances here really brings to life the decadent atmosphere of the Roman Baths, and the new couple rush back to Melanos’s place to have sex.

Frances does a better job sensationalizing his otherwise tepid soap opera: the long-simmer relationship between Hadrian and Haesel catches a little fire when Haesel gets bitten by a snake on her thigh and Hadrian does the ol’ “suck out the poison” routine. He also has Saelig, now a free man, making obvious moves on Areta. The most lurid sequence though would have to be the very long scene at the Ampitheater (which Frances confusingly refers to as “the Forum”), all of it pretty much taken straight out of Daniel Manix’s Those About To Die, with virgins being raped, prisoners being gutted, and charioteers crashing spectacularly.

I’m still having trouble putting together when this all takes place. The Emperor briefly appears during the Games sequence, but he is not named and we are just informed that he’s old and that there are factions of highborn and soldiers aligning against him. At first I thought a clue might be found in the name of the town Hadrian is building, Trebula, but a cursory Googling reveals that there were three such towns in Italy during the Roman era, and all of them predate the Empire. At any rate the Slaves Of The Empire series definitely takes place after the days of Nero, mentioned here as “long dead.”

The lurid quotient continues apace as Frances dives straight into a chapter-long recounting of a Bona Dea ceremony, as Melanos and her fellow female worshippers strip down, anoit themselves with oil, and get themselves nice and randy so they can set themselves loose on some lucky men of their choosing. In Melanos’s case it is Platus, Frances having built up the anticipation between the two, Melanos abstaining from sex until the night of Bona Dea, and Platus grinning and bearing it.

Platus meanwhile serves to bring more action to the tale, at least indirectly; plotting against the Emperor with others, he maneuvers an assassination attempt which is quickly uncovered, and we learn in passing that Platus has been tortured to death! Oh well, so long Platus. Melanos however finds herself knocked up after that night of Bona Dea passion, so she politely informs Hadrian that she’ll no longer be having casual sex with him. So too does another high-born Roman gal Hadrian has a relationship with, so that within a short span of time Hadrian finds himself without any friends-with-benefits.

This leads to the culmination of the Hadrian-Haesel situation, at least. Growing increasingly short-tempered due to his lack of sex, Hadrian finds himself snapping at others and even checking out the female slaves. Plus Haesel has become more and more distant ever since he sucked the poison out of her thigh, and it gets to the point where Hadrian can’t take it anymore and orders Haesel to remove her tunic in his presence. He’s going to make her his sex-slave whether she likes it or not, even giving her a place of her own and calling on her every once in a while – there will no longer be any need for her to actually work.

But Haesel again turns the tables, going into “slave mode” and telling Hadrian she will do whatever he orders, when Hadrian can easily see that she is against the whole thing. But it all finally leads up to the two having sex, at long last – the trick being that Hadrian breaks down and tells Haesel he can’t order her to love him, he can’t make her do what it is against her nature to do, she can only do what she wants to do, and this it turns out is all Haesel has been waiting to hear.

And with this long-simmer relationship coming at long last to boil, the book abruptly ends. It would probably be smart to go immediately into the third volume, but the placid nature of this series sort of dulls the reader’s senses, so it’s best to take some time between installments. But overall Haesel The Slave was at least more entertaining and sordid than its predecessor, which makes me hope that future volumes will continue the trend.