The Hitman #1: Chicago Deathwinds - Norman Winski (Pinnacle 1984)
This one's pretty hard to believe, and while it's more than badassed enough, I had to laugh at it a lot. Basically a Batman/The Spider type of guy, Dirk Spencer is a millionaire playboy who was a hero in Vietnam and is pretty bored with civilian life. So, when a couple of corrupt security officers murder some of his friends he goes for revenge and -- just for the hell of it and on a whim -- decides that when that vengeance quest is over he'll become a vigilante assassin called The Hitman and take on all the world's bad guys. It's just that simple!
Origin dispensed with in a short paragraph on page eleven and then, boom, The Hitman is in action. After settling his score he decides that a candidate for governor of Illinois is too right-wing and needs assassinating. Basically this candidate just spouts the exact same garbage that Rush Limbaugh spews on a daily basis, so the decidedly-left-leaning Dirk decides he's a fascist threat to America and needs his head blown off! Now, it's no big secret that I think people like Rush are dirtbags of major magnitude and aren't doing the country a bit of good, but killing people off just because they spew idiotic politics is more than a bit fucking CRAZY, no? Turns out the candidate also has a bunch of armed guards called The Death Squad, a venomous female sidekick ala Ann Coulter ('cept pretty), uses threats and intimidation, and kidnaps and tortures a lady reporter who was going to expose him (and who, in one of those convenient action-novel plot twists, also happens to be the only woman Dirk ever truly loved!)... but Dirk learns all of that only after he's decided to assassinate the guy.
Anyway, Dirk tries to keep his identity as The Hitman a big secret, but he uses his personal Lamborghini (we're told there are only seven of that model in the world) on his missions, plus the helicopter that stays parked on the roof of his building! He's apparently better at planning hits than he is at understanding what "low profile" means.
The action scenes are good but far-fetched (a drive-by from an airplane, using an Uzi as a sniper rifle?) and the descriptions of Dirk's chiseled manliness and skill with women are laid on a bit thick (I could easily picture Dolph Lundgren as Dirk), and it becomes comical. Some of the dialogue is hilarious. Here, read this and fall in love:
"Who the hell are you?" Sax barked, trying to fake bravery but doing a poor job of it.
"I'm the bearer of death, punk. Retribution in the flesh. What the law can't do -- I can. And I pronounce you guilty of murder and sentence you to die -- tonight, here!"
Then he forces the two bad guys to beat the hell out each other at gunpoint ("'Kick! Punch! Club!' the Hitman commanded, his blood coursing through his veins with the fulfillment of revenge"), shoots them both, plants drugs on them, blows their car up with a rocket launcher, apparently out of spite and because when you brought along a rocket launcher, you want to use it. Then the newspaper reports that they killed each other in a fight over drugs. Guess the authorities just shrugged off the matter of the rocket-blasted car. Spontaneous annihilation, I reckon.
Also priceless is the moment when The Hitman cuts an evil woman he's previously slept with in half with a burst of Uzi fire and as she's dying, she uses her final breath to say, "You were the best I ever had!" And Dirk's girlfriend (who the evil woman was whipping and trying to force to give her cunnilingus just seconds before) turns to him and says, tearfully, "She loved you, Dirk." To which he heroically replies, "Too bad. There's no room in my life for love." And then the rescued girlfriend, who's been raped and sodomized for about a week, can't wait to escape so she can have sex with our hero.
It's goofy as hell but it's well-paced and involving, with plentiful and solid action scenes, making it one of the most entertaining books I've read lately... probably because of the goofiness rather than in spite of it. I ended up reading the whole thing in an afternoon when I'd just planned on a chapter or two.
Now, about the cover... I'm sorry, but that's freakin' hilarious. Look at those actors striking poses! That's the calmest-looking just-punched-in-the-face guy I've ever seen, and the woman behind them looks irritated that they're blocking our view of her. I've added a scan of the second volume just to see if ya'll agree with me that they probably intended to have that bad-idea, less-than-macho beret on him as a series thing, but had second thoughts and trimmed it off the cover of the first book. Doesn't his head look a little oblong... like a beret's been scissored off? I think so.
There's a preoccupation with sex in the book, and the author also wrote several sociological studies on sex. One of them is titled The Homosexual Revolt, and I had to check to make sure that wasn't a fourth Hitman novel. I think it would've been cool if they kept the beret and made The Hitman be the first gay vigilante-series hero. There oughtta be at least one, right? Oh well... we can always speculate about The Death Merchant...
John Eagle, Expeditor #1: Needles of Death - Paul Edwards (Pyramid Books, 1973)
First in a 14 book run, this introduces John Eagle, a white man raised as an Apache, whose fighting skills and top physical condition put him almost in Captain America class. He's so badassed that a billionaire, Mr. Merlin (who lives on a volcano) hires him as a troubleshooter for worldwide crises. After extensive training, Eagle is given nifty spy gadgets such as a gas pistol that shoots darts, a bulletproof suit that takes on the color of whatever's behind him and makes him almost invisible, a miniature motorcycle with poison gas in the tires, explosive-packed shoes, and pills that fix it so he doesn't have to eat or drink for long periods of time. Then he's air-dropped into the mountains of Mongolia to rescue a tortured prisoner who can lead him to a secret Chinese laser weapon that can disintegrate fighter planes. Eagle gets help from the prisoner's beautiful sister (who he has sex with, of course -- there's always time for a little nookie even when you're expeditin') and efficiently kills loads of bad guys with the dart gun and a bow-and-arrow, before trying to blow up the laser bases. Good, old-school adventure fiction that keeps up a steady pace and is well-written enough to get you to cut it some slack on the implausibilities.
For more on this book, check out the always-essential Glorious Trash blog.
Fancy Hatch #2: The Case Deuce - Zachary Hawkes. Pinnacle, 1984.
When my uncle died last year he left me a giant collection of paperback Westerns, and a couple of these were in the boxes. I’ve always had a thing for badass women, so a female gunslinger was pretty intriguing. And since it was published by Pinnacle, I knew I had to give it a shot. Fancy Hatch is a Hannie Caulder type who’s hunting down the dirtbag who killed her fiancé and shot her on her wedding day. At the opening of the book she’s almost out of money and no one will hire her to punch cows because she’s a woman (she could do the work, but they worry that having a pretty lady around would distract all the guys and cause problems), so she finds work as a bodyguard for a judge. After escaping a rape attempt and a kidnapping, Fancy catches up to her quarry in Abilene, but instead of getting him he frames her for murder. The second half of the book bogs down badly in this uninteresting trial, and some of the previous action is tame and almost quaint and dime-novel-esque (other than a beating Fancy dishes out with a gun butt, which gets pretty gory). There are some nice touches (such as some steel-reinforced gloves Fancy uses as a brass-knuckle equalizer when fist-fighting with men) and even though this is listed as an “adult Western” there’s very little sex and all of it is timid. But, it’s refreshing to see a female Western protagonist who’s not just a sex object. Not bad, not great. There were three more. I like the cover art, but the guy behind fancy sure does look a hell of a lot like George W. Bush. I included the back cover in the scan so you can see the cheezily-grinning cowboy who the more-amused-than-frightened-looking Fancy is 'bout to beat the living snot outta.
Hawker #5: Houston Attack - Carl Ramm (aka Randy James White) Dell, 1985
Tough cop turned vigilante James Hawker infiltrates a ranch that’s been using kidnapped Mexicans for slave labor. In the process of trying to stop the slavery ring Hawker discovers an even more sinister plot to enslave the entire country by putting cocaine into fast-food burgers! Kinda outlandish, but the action’s kept on a relatively-believable level as Hawker assaults the compound and gets pretty banged up in the process. Solid entry in a good series that somehow doesn’t seem to be getting read much these days, even though the author is now a pretty big deal as Randy James White.
The Deadliest Profession: The Bounty Hunter #1 - - Tiny Boyles & Hank Newer (Playboy, 1981)
Yee-haw goddamn! Ridiculous redneck action novel as 389-pound bounty hunter Tiny Ryder and his team of a silent giant named Hammer, country singer Jerry, and mascot journalist Foster go after an evil renegade Mormon cultist and his army of killers. Tiny and his team kill hundreds of people with no repercussions, survive lots of attacks with no real damage, have lots of sex because women throw themselves at them for no discernible reason, and make a lot of jokes and play pranks on each other. There’s a lot of action but it has no impact because it’s all tossed-off and never seems important or the least bit realistic. It’s like The A-Team or something. Yeah, I always hated the A-Team... Supposedly somewhat based on the adventures of real-life bounty hunter Tiny Boyles, but the truth seems stretched from here to Jupiter, given the amount of sex and violence. Far-fetchedness and a general air of slapstick comedy keeps this from being too gripping, and by the second half reading it felt like a chore. Despite the trashy allure of the covers, I’m in no hurry to read the other three in the series.
Crockett on the Loose - Brad Lang (Leisure Books, 1975)
First in a trio of books about a “young hip long-haired” private detective is surprisingly good, a hard-boiled and realistic narrative of young P.I. Fred Crockett finding more than he bargained for when he agrees to track down a father’s missing daughter. He knows a lot of lowlifes -- drug-dealers and junkies -- who know he’s not too sympathetic to the cops... and he has a good reason not to be, since some of those cops are corrupt and making drug deals of their own. When they’re found out, people around Crockett start dying and he’s beaten, framed, and in danger of getting murdered himself. The writing and plotting is strong and confident and the book stays reality-based even if it means passing up a few chances for action scenes or foregoes making Crockett look like a super-badass. It’s definitely pulp stuff, but it’s a nice surprise to find that the quality is higher than usual. It made me glad I’d picked up the other two Crockett books The original idea was for the character to be called Keller (which would have made the title Keller on the Loose, which is clever-er), but there was already a cop series called Keller, so they made Lang change it. Worth tracking down. I included a scan of the back cover because the copy there always struck me as funny.
More about these books and an interview with Brad Lang can be found here. That's a good read... I'm glad somebody noticed this guy.
Floating Death : The Penetrator #25 - Lionel Derrick (Pinnacle, 1978)
An evil scientist tries to take over the country using germ warfare agents dispersed by weather balloons, first infecting herds of cattle with cow plagues to take control of the beef industry, then working up to releasing flue and bubonic plague germs to kill humans. Already infected, the Penetrator has to shrug off fever to blitz the headquarters and put a stop to the evil plot. Our hero takes a lot of damage in this one. There’s plenty of action but also intrigue and an intelligent plot. You can hardly go wrong with a Penetrator book.
Assignment: Carlotta Cortez - Edward S. Aarons (Fawcett-Cold Medal, 1959)
Sam Durell espionage thriller in which the Cajun special agent has to track down and recover twenty-some loose tactical nukes, stolen by an old friend of his who’s turned traitor. The nukes are going to be used as bargaining chips to return an ousted South American dictator to power and one of the dictator’s fanatics plans to trigger one in NYC regardless of the outcome of the plan. The climax of this one is pretty intense and makes up for a bit of sluggishness on the way as Sam has to babysit a hayseed country girl. Realistic, credible, and well-written action novel, with the hero put through the wringer while saving the world.