Butcher's Dozen

Yep, it's been a while since I did one of these, but I'm about to make it up to ya in sheer volume.  If a baker's dozen is thirteen, then a butcher's dozen is fifteen.  And if that's too goofy for you (and if it ain't you're no son o' mine), there's a Butcher book in here to use as an excuse.  Basically, I had to call the post something, alright?  Anyway, I take on some heavyweights here.  Wanna see me swing on James Bond?  How 'bout Jack Reacher (just a lil' 'cuz I really do like the dude)?  And you can just call me the Death-Merchant-Death-Merchant!  Read on...

Swampmaster #1 - Jake Spencer  (Diamond, 1992)
First a three-book series has a Seminole Indian named Johnny Firecloud (as far as I can tell he’s no relation to the 70’s exploitation movie character of the same name) trying to survive a post-nuke future and lead a resistance against the National Front, which is occupying twenty states.  The National Front started when a bunch of right-wing hate groups (the KKK, Neo-Nazis, etc.) banded together and seceded from the union (now known as the Free States).  In the ensuing civil war nukes were exchanged, so there are lots of mutants running around, and the National Front are a bunch of crazy perverts running torture camps.  For some reason that’ll be inexplicable to anyone in the South, Georgia is a free state and Atlanta is the capital of all the Free States (Texas also didn’t go with the Neo-Nazis -- I’d’ve thought they’d be the first to secede).  Anyway, a meeting to unite all Free territories against the National Front is supposed to take place in Atlanta, so the National Front sends in spies to plant “bio-nukes” in the city.   Firecloud and his wacky crew of freedom fighters (including an Asian woman and her acrobatic twin midget sidekicks, Marcus One and Marcus Two) have to try to stop it, but Firecloud gets caught up in fighting some “White Trash” mutants who are covered in tumors and fungus; he almost ends up the sex slave of an eczema-covered White Trash woman named Itchin’ Peg.  Then, to get a pilot for a helicopter Firecloud’s captured, they have to attack a circus train full of freaks and slaves who are forced to work in a traveling carnival.  (The National Front apparently loves carnivals as much as it does Hitler -- one of their leaders, who’s known as “Clam Mouth” because he has overactive salivary glands and drools all the time, is obsessed with a carnival he’s building on his desk).  The book is too long at 232 small-print pages, and there aren’t enough fight scenes.  What are there aren’t bad, but they’re so bogged down in detail that they move too slowly.  Firecloud’s an expert with a compound bow but ends up not using it very much, and, despite the title, not much happens in the swampland, either.  He does use his bow and arrows to fight off some sharks, though, which is a little crazy.  It’s not badly-written at all but the characters aren’t all that interesting and my interest in what they were doing tended to lag, especially when things got too wacky to maintain much sense of realism.  Still, not the worst you could find or anything.

(The weapon Justin Perry uses most often is not pictured)

Justin Perry: The Assassin #1 - John D. Revere (Pinnacle, 1983)
What a weird, perverse book.  Roger Johnson, a Colonel in the USAF, signs on to be a killer for the CIA when is wife is killed because she uncovered a Communist plot.  In his new identity as Justin Perry, he’s a murderous pervert who’s so obsessed with sex that he can barely pay attention while being briefed on his missions if there’s a woman in the room.   He’s sent to kill a German who was supposedly killed in Belsen, but that was apparently faked because he’s reappeared.  While following up on this (pretty incidentally, since a woman he picked up in a bar coincidentally is in on it) he gets attacked during sex and has to kill a knifeman while ejaculating all over the poor woman’s couch.  That doesn’t matter for long, though, because the knifeman kills the girl instead, but she enjoys it because she’s a masochist and being murdered heightens her orgasm.  Justin ends up being captured by the German (who’s gay and has a slave-boy for a chauffer) and Justin and his friend Bob Dante are tied down, given bull-breeding drugs, and are going to be sexed to death by a bunch of gross old women and the gay chauffer.   Perry escapes and learns that it’s all a plot by a right-wing secret society called SADIF (Sons And Daughters In Freedom), which has infiltrated the Catholic church (Joseph Mengele is the Pope’s gardener!) and Perry’s own parents belong to it.  The SADIF agents kidnap Justin’s son as a bargaining chip (and he almost becomes the German’s catamite) to make Justin deliver a secret list.  It’s not badly written, style-wise, but it’s light on action and preoccupied with sex to a degree that it doesn’t even feel healthy anymore; it’s not even a turn-on, it’s just disturbing and has a dark, queasy sleaze to it.  Justin seems to be sleeping with women mostly to combat some latent homosexuality that comes out when he gets aroused by killing men at close quarters.  One gay guy he kills by stabbing him up the ass with a bayonet.  And almost every woman he finds is a masochist who want to be beaten up during sex.  Perry’s so preoccupied with it it’s almost pathological, and his mentality is so unbalanced that the book feels surreal (for a while I wondered if Bob Dante might be some other personality of Justin’s or something, because they’re both described as looking kind of demonic and satyr-like; Justin Perry’s the only action hero I know of with a unibrow).   It’s overlong and the action scenes are pretty scant, and just seem to be something the author wanted to dispense with so Justin could have more sex.  Kinda disturbing one-fisted action.

Death of a Citizen - Donald Hamilton  (Titan Books, originally 1960)
In the first novel of the Matt Helm series, Matt is retired from doing secret government wet work and has been a husband, father, and writer of Western novels for fifteen years (from which you could make a good case that Hamilton may have viewed him as an idealized alter-ego).  But then he runs into Tina, a girl he used to work with back in the day, at a party.  She’s apparently still an agent and wants his help to stop an assassination; a top scientist has been targeted by Commies because his death would cause a big setback in technological research.   After finding a dead woman in his bathtub, Matt’s back in the game and quickly reverts to his old ways, spotting people dogging their train and, when necessary, neutralizing them.  But Matt -- or Eric, as he’s known in secret service mode -- figures out that this web is a whole hell of a lot more tangled than it appeared.  They take his daughter hostage to try to force him to kill for them.  Oh yeah, he’ll kill all right...   Tough, gritty, but always realistic and believable.  It’s amazing that they could ever make anything as silly and stupid as those Dean Martin movies out of a character as hard-as-nails as this badass.  It’s like somebody tried to turn Dirty Harry into Maxwell Smart.  Pretend those movies don’t even exist and check out these books, there’s no way you’ll regret it.

 Wulff's so badass his point-thirty-eight can blow up entire ships!

The Lone Wolf #2:  Bay Prowler - Mike Barry (Berkley Medallion, 1973)
Second in the strange series by sci-fi author Barry Malzberg has Burt Wulff (he’s still Burt at this stage, although - oddly - he gets called “Conlan” on page 170)  is in San Francisco, carrying out his war against the international drug trade.  While attacking a drug den Wulff finds an overdosed meth-head named tamara and, after killing her drug-dealer boyfriend, he takes her along, trying to help her.  She doesn’t know who he is or what he’s doing (she’s pretty much an imbecile) but calls him “Avenger.”   They have sex, which makes Wulff feel “alive” again and gives him a new reason to try to survive.  He’s still a psycho, though, so after getting Tamara to safety (it’s a strange move in an action-series book, but this time the hero’s love-interest doesn’t die) Wulff goes after a half-million dollar drug shipment that’s coming in on a boat (originally it was a million dollar shipment but Barry apparently forgot the original figure by the time he got to writing about it).  The mob’s frustrated by Wulff so they keep sending hitters after him, but he gets them first (partially by luck, because he’s not much of a tactician) and when he has to go through their 100-man army it’s so easy for him that he literally worries more about catching bronchitis from the cold air than getting shot.  It moves fast enough but the writing is strange, a semi-poetic stream of consciousness, and it’s the opposite of gun-porn; Malzberg apparently has no knowledge of weapons at all, referring to guns as “point-thirty-eights” and “point-forty-fives” and thinking grenades are a whole lot more powerful than they are.  It’s obviously fast, sloppy, and not a labor of love, but you could do worse.

 This cover photo is an important part of two people’s resumes.

Butcher #3: Keepers of Death -- Stuart Jason  (Pinnacle, 1972)
Ex-mafioso-turned-agent-for-White-Hat Bucher is sent to Memphis for a “Cone Pone Hoedown Festival” (I am not making that up and god only knows why anybody else thought they should) to infiltrate a hippie commune and learn what they know about the disappearance of an East German scientist who defected to the U.S. with plans for a gravity-drive spaceship.  Bucher poses as a hit man (who he killed in the traditional opening chapter scene where Bucher always takes out a hit team trying for the $100,000 bounty on his head).  He’s suspicious of the hippies, though; even though they grow pot and have nonstop random sex, they don’t have long hair or weird clothes (except for one girl who wears a gunny sack).  Bucher follows the trail to Sweden, then Rome.  Along the way he brings a few more colorful hit-men’s careers to an end; they’re always weirdoes in these books, like the goon who’s constantly doing a gorilla imitation because he thinks it’s more intimidating than hilarious.  Not all of them get “kooshed” with Bucher’s silenced P-38; he also gets to showcase his brass knuckles in a fist-fight with a giant, and he uses his switchblade to knife-fight a guy covered with warts (seems like somebody in these books always has warts).    During all this killing Bucher learns that the whole thing’s a wild goose chase and the real problem is a revolution’s about to be triggered by a nuclear  strike on Washington, D.C.  It feels strangely like the writer (James Dockery in this case, using the Stuart Jason psuedo) decided his original plot lacked some oomph and decided, screw it, let’s scrap it mid-book and substitute something bigger.  Bucher’s quest to save America is made all the more difficult when the syndicate ups the “dead only” bounty on his head to a quarter million.  For an ex-Mafia thug, Bucher’s pretty puritanical about all the rampant sex going on (he seems to find it distasteful even when he engages in it) and though he kills a lot of people, he feels bad about it and is disgusted that the world has to be so violent and evil.  Good thing it is, though, or there wouldn’t be another thirty-some of these books.  Pretty average but the average for a Butcher book ain’t bad.

Coolest cover you've ever seen in your life?  Probably!  I want a van with that painted on the side of it!

Chopper Cop #2:  The Hitchhike Killer - Paul Ross  (Popular Library, 1972)
Motorcycle-riding hipster cop Terry Bunker is called in to track down a serial killer on a motorcycle who's picking up hitchhiking hippie girls, driving them out to the desert, then running them over on his bike.  The brass hate to put Terry on a case because he bends the rules a lot, rides a Harley chopper, has longish hair and sideburns instead of the regulation crew-cut, and says "Peace!" a lot, but he's the best when it comes to dealing with younger people who usually hate cops.   Terry's not crazy about other cops, either; he terrorizes them and leads them on a high-speed chase just for the hell of it as he's going in to get his assignment.  And all the kids aren't always crazy about Terry, either; a gang of them beat him up when they find out he's a "pig."  Terry has smarts, though, and he deduces from the time-frame and the distance between a couple of the killings that the psycho's making trips on a small airline.  (Did you know airlines in the early 70's handed out small packs of cigarettes along with the tiny bottles of booze?  Apparently so.)  Checking this out mixes Terry up with a couple of pretty stewardesses and a co-pilot he suspects of being the killer.  While smoking grass with them Terry makes some mistakes and another girl ends up dead while Terry sends the cops chasing a wrong lead.  There are a few other slip-ups before he closes in on the truth.  Good, fast-moving plot with only a few action scenes, but they're well-timed and punchy.  Terry's smart but not infallible, which keeps things realistic and interesting.   I could easily picture this as an old grindhouse movie... sometimes I even saw film-scratches in my head.  A quick read, well worth checking out.

Yes, the headband does appear in the book.

Traveler #1: First, You Fight - D. B. Drumm  (Dell, 1984)
A nuclear holocaust happens in 1989 (they must not have expected this to be a long-running series:  the 13th and final volume came out in 1987, just in time) during the presidency of an ex-cowboy-movie-star named Andrew Frayling (middle name probably Ronaldwilsonreagan).  Special forces soldier Kiel Paxton loses his wife and infant son to the bombs, and he's also suffering from a dose of nerve gas he picked up on a mission in Central America.  It's left him with heightened senses (and a sixth kind of "spidey sense" that helps warn him of trouble), but it makes it difficult for him to be around people because their energy keys him up.  He has a minivan called the "Meat Wagon" (with a Wankel engine that'll run on most any combustible fluid) and a bunch of weapons, so he drives around taking mercenary jobs for gas, food, and ammo.   While escaping an army of roadrats he goes into a city in Utah and finds himself in the middle of a Fistful of Dollars situation, with two competing warlords both wanting to hire him... or kill him to stop him from working for the other.   Both of them want him to capture a weapons shipment from an army of vicious "Glory Boys" - former military types gone bandit - and they send him to scout that out... but Traveler decides the townspeople would be better off if all three warring factions were laid to rest.  But while doing that he also has to battle his own seizures and freak-outs from all the stress being put on his wrecked nerves.  This Road Warrior-inspired series grew more sci-fi-ish (and silly) as it went along... if I remember correctly by the third or fourth book a guy riding a giant mutant housecat shows up. I know sci-fi (and Specialist series) author John Shirley was "D. B. Drumm" for at least a few of these books, but I don't think this was one of them; he's probably responsible for the sci-fi element being upped. But this one's pretty straightforward and the writing's good and the story keeps moving at a fast clip.

ATTENTION, TERRORISTS:  Jeff Foxworthy has had enough of your shit!

The Peacemaker #1:  The Zaharan Pursuit - Adam Hamilton (Berkley Medallion, 1974)
Barrington Hewes-Bradford (don’tcha just hate him already?) - or Barry to his friends and people who don’t have time for all that shit -- is a wealthy corporate magnate who, in addition to running oil, shipping, and airline businesses is also devoted to stamping out any evil forces that threaten world peace.  While partying on his yacht a crewman is bludgeoned with a flashlight and dumped overboard by someone who he caught sending signals.  Soon afterward a bigger boat does a hit-and-run with the yacht.  It all strikes Barry as strange so he has his helper, Lobo, investigate.  They find the boat that hit them had been smuggling military ordinance and has a connection to a supposed Latin American revolutionary named Zaharan.  One of Barry’s invesitgators ends up with a couple of bullets in the head and a Z carved in him -- a sure sign they’re tangling with Zaharan (unless it’s Zorro - I think he’s got copyright on that).  While attending frou-frou cocktail parties with his silly twit friends (people call each other “darling” a lot -- they’re that kind of assholes) , Barry learns of more cover-ups; the guy who owns the boat that hit his yacht is hiding something, and one of the jet-setters is killed with a shotgun, then his girlfriend is sniped at in her hospital bed.  Going after the shooter requires a car and boat chase, and Barry also scuba-dives for reconnaissance and has one of his men try to blow up a plane carrying an arms shipment bound for Zaharan’s revolutionaries.  There’s a twist at the end that’s pretty implausible but I cut it some slack for trying.   This is kind of like an attempt to combine Dynasty with The A Team before either was on the air, and while rather-cardboard Barry is fairly rough-and-tumble for a rich boy, it still made me want to go read a Gannon novel for an antidote.  Even the cover gets things out of whack; who thought putting a picture of our hero talking on the phone would be badass?  Look out, troublemakers, or Barry will make a few calls!  “Peacemaker” is also an odd choice of monikers for a vigilante hero series to be built around.  Not terrible, but no great shakes.  There were three more.

The Katmandu Contract - Nick Carter (Award 1975) 
Revolutionaries kidnap a senator’s kids and take them to Nepal, demanding a billion (or a million - the book flubs a little at keeping the number straight) dollars in diamonds.  Nick Carter is sent to deliver the diamonds... and ensure they don’t get to keep them after he gets the kids back, since governments could topple if the revolution is that well-funded.  Sent to stop Nick is Kunwar, a top assassin who’s filed his teeth to vampire fangs.  Kunwar first puts a bullet in Nick’s Eurasian girlfriend, which adds a vengeance-hunt dimension to the espionage.  This one’s really well-done and heavy on the action scenes, with Nick surviving being pushed in front of a train, going through a big car chase, and having numerous karate fights which get really brutal; the author (James Fritzhand in this case) seems to have knowledge of (or at least a fascination for) the martial arts, because Nick’s like Sonny Chiba in this book, destroying people with his hands.  He also makes use of all his other weapons, too (you get the infamous gas grenade twice!), and this book lets Nick truly live up to his “Killmaster” title.  There’s an unusual bit of added intrigue where Nick has to smuggle the diamonds in his stomach (tied to a tooth with fishing line!) and has a problem eating enough to hold back the nausea.   Smart, fast-paced, and not too far-fetched to stay plausible.  This is a good one.

ATTENTION TERRORISTS!  John Kerry has had enough of your shit!

Death Merchant #54: Apocalypse U.S.A.! - Joseph Rosenberger (Pinnacle, 1982)
Quadafi is plotting to have a deadly nerve gas sprayed over the east coast, which would kill around 20 million Americans.  Richard Camellion - the Death Merchant - isn’t really all that concerned about that ‘cuz he’s full of wacky beliefs that the U.S. will be destroyed by nukes within the next seventeen years and that Nostradamus is right that the Earth and moon would switch orbits and people would evolve into energy-beings, etc.  But, it’s an excuse to kill a bunch of people so he and his team (who seem as skilled as he is and just as full of horseshit conspiracy theories) stage big firefights in an ice-cream factory, a junkyard, a brick factory, and a ship... all explained in excruciating detail but none of which have much point, because there’s not really a plot so much as a premise.  The fights get very dull because every character -- including our “heroes” -- are total cardboard.  I only kept reading because Rosenberger is so obviously an insane idiot, and his prose is like a cut on your lip; it’s irritating, it’s painful, but the masochist in you can’t resist picking away at it.  Usually action-series books are short but this is 200 pages of small, dense print because highly-self-indulgent educated-idiot Rosenberger can’t oh-my-god-PLEASE-shut-the-fuck-up about all the trivia he knows and tell the freakin' story.  There’s at least a season’s worth of In Search of... episodes about conspiracy theories involving Israel, the Mafia, the Kennedy assassination, the arms race, what the government spends money on, etc., and all if it alarmingly simpleminded; Rosenberger has a tiresome trove of facts he likes to show off (hey, wanna learn how bricks are made in the middle of a gunfight?) but he puts them together like a moron.  And I don’t think I’ve ever read a writer who had NO evidence of understanding humor, at all;  Camellion is utterly witless, yet tries to make pained jokes that actually made me feel embarrassed for Rosenberger.  And the footnotes about everything reminded me of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, where the notes are a separate, unaware story of fantasies of madness.  There’s also a lot of prognostication clumsily forced into the story, every bit of which has since been proven wrong.  This is lousy as an action novel (despite the ridiculous body count and fashion-show of firearms), but it’s kind of perversely fascinating as an artifact of idiotic insanity.  Really, it’s like listening to somebody tripping on ‘shrooms try to tell you what happened in a Chuck Norris movie they saw.  You can almost feel Rosenberger gripping your sleeve and babbling this stuff at you. Awful, awful stuff, but entertaining in a way for all the wrong reasons.  And, for our sins, there were seventy-one of these goddamn things.

Jack Reacher #1: The Killing Floor - Lee Child  (Jove, 1997)
Please don't misunderstand the bulk of the criticism that will follow:  I very much liked this book and plan to buy the rest of them (already ordered the next ten)... but hooboy are there some flaws!  The story's compelling enough to make forgiving them a pretty easy thing to do, but you should start reading these with some idea of what you're getting into.  This is pretty much the written equivalent of a BDAM (Big Dumb Action Movie) and it's got all the lovable boneheadedness of any one of them.  Child is just good at throwing enough cleverness and convincing-sounding horseshit into the narrative to distract you and make this wackiness seem in some way viable. 

First off, much has been made of how original a character Jack Reacher is.  He's a former military policeman who got out of the army and now just drifts around the U.S. like a hobo.   He's bigger, stronger, smarter, tougher, and more resourceful than anyone he comes into contact with.  My main question is... does no one remember John Rambo and Mike Hammer?   Because that's essentially what Reacher is -- a blend of these two action icons.  He's got Rambo's background and lifestyle and Hammer's giant-among-dwarfs toughness/smartness/size.  Throw in a bit of Sherlock Holmes intuition, maybe a little MacGuyver resourcefulness, and a hint of The Punisher for attitude, and that's Reacher.  And this isn't a complaint -- I love Mike Hammer and Rambo and the rest so making a combo of them all gets a big hell-yeah-buddy from me -- I'm just not going to say it's original when it's clearly derivative.  But since the sources are so well-chosen, who cares, right?  More power to 'im!

Reacher's name is well-chosen because when it comes to suspension of disbelief, he's really reaching.  Okay, see if you can buy this:  while riding a bus to nowhere in particular, he makes an impulsive, unscheduled stop in an obscure small town in Georgia for no reason other than a blues guitarist he likes was killed there some sixty-odd years ago, so it seems as good a place to sight-see as any.  He's promptly arrested because he's seen walking away from the site of a murder that happened a couple of hours before he got off the bus.   So far, okay, but here's the Jesus-rose-from-the-dead part: the guy who got murdered turns out to be Reacher's brother, who he hasn't heard from in seven years!   You buyin' this?  I hope so, because your powers of accepting coincidences are going to be called on again and again and again;  you won't only have to suspend your disbelief, you're going to have to levitate it.   Seriously, this is one of the craziest plot points I've ever been asked to swallow since Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Return of Tarzan, where Tarzan is sailing around the entire coast of Africa and gets very-luckily shipwrecked a mile from his childhood cabin... and then Jane, while making a separate voyage to search for him, ends up shipwrecked a mile from that!   (Note: I also enjoyed The Return of Tarzan despite that - I'm just tellin' ya what's involved here).

Anyway, Reacher's brother was working for the Treasury Department to track down the-most-evil-counterfeiters-ever.  They have an incredibly ingenious (although utterly preposterous to anyone knowing the basics of the process described) method of faking money, and they're utterly ruthless about protecting it: anyone who gets in their way is torture-murdered along with their whole family.  Reacher and a few allies (a spunky female cop, a black police detective everybody underestimates, etc.) set out to finish what Reacher's brother started, and then some.  Along the way Reacher has to kill maybe a dozen people, and never so much as faces any charges for it -- the only killing he ever gets in any trouble for is the one he had nothing to do with.  He's extremely tough and highly skilled... maybe a little TOO highly skilled, because he makes some wild educated guesses and they ALWAYS work out.   Fer instance, the bad guys are after some info in his late brother's things, so they steal them.  Reacher bets they'd only save his brother's briefcase and throw the rest away, and he bets a guy like his brother would be tricky and have hidden the info in some less-obvious luggage.   And lo and behold, this is so, and Reacher even guesses exactly which dumpster on the interstate the luggage was thrown into!  It's a small world after all!

Or, when a deceased cop hides a key they need, Reacher deduces (A) that there is some kind of key hidden, (B) exactly where the key is (even though it was crazy well-hidden), AND (C) figures out exactly where the thing it unlocks will be hidden, too!   I want this mofo pickin' my lottery numbers for me!  This kind of thing happens over and over again.  Reacher guesses on the first try what fake name a guy will be using to hide out at motels.   A woman is torture-killed in an airport Reacher's running through like O. J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial -- how'd the killer have time to do it and hide the body when Reacher was in such hot pursuit?  Magic!   Every trick works out.

    But even though it sounds like I'm complaining, I'm not, really -- I'm just trying to give it some perspective because these books are so highly-praised;  I'm just telling you they're really the modern equivalent of the Penetrator/Executioner/Death Merchant style action-fest rather than any kind of high-brow-at-all lit;  don't let the high-end design (it really is nice) and thickness of the books fool you.  But, also, don't be fooled into thinking there's anything wrong with reading those old-school-style action-fests, either; of course there's not, which is why a good chunk of this blog is devoted to them. 

    I would say that at 524 pages this was overlong for an action novel, but since it never really got boring I can't complain about that much.  The action scenes are really well done (about as good as any I've ever read, and I've read a lot) and there's some snappy dialogue.  And Reacher (who's in first person here but that changes to third in most of the other books)  is interesting and well-suited for the conflicts he gets into.  And even though he's a super-tough guy, the bad guys are scary enough that there's still a real sense of menace in the situations he gets into.  So, like I said, even though there's a lot about the plotting of this book that's so preposterous you've got to marvel at Child's panache for thinking he can get away with it (even while you’re happily letting him do exactly that), it’s a fast-moving and engaging read and I’ll gladly go again, even if the other books turn out to be just as ridiculous.  So, I say check it out, most definitely.  Be prepared to give what’s going to be asked of you and you’ll probably enjoy it.

By the way, I haven't seen the movie yet, but Reacher's nothing like Tom Cruise.  They should've cast Dolph Lundgren.  That would've been perfect.   For some high-praise for Reacher, check out the always-excellent Spy Guys & Gals, which inspired me to check him out.

Thick-witted git doesn’t even know how to hold a gun!  Whatcha gonna do, knit us a sweater with that thing?  Nice bow-tie, Skippy!

Casino Royale - Ian Fleming  (Signet, 1953)
Here's where I make me a Big Mac out of a sacred cow.

I don’t know how the movies made a badass out of this simpering, self-pampering daffodil.  I had heard that Fleming started writing these books because he wanted Britain to have a bad mamajama like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.  I dunno, maybe that guy shows up in later books, but the James Bond here is a huge wimp who does very little and all of it badly.  Sent to Royale to out-gamble an enemy agent at baccarat and break his bank, Bond fails and is saved only when someone gives him another stake so he can try again.  While trying to stop him a bomb goes off and almost kills him -- he’s so shaken that he calls for a massage (even though he knows people are trying to kill him).   Then there’s a car chase and he promptly wrecks and is knocked out (his car is 25 horsepower!  I kept picturing him tear-assing around on a riding lawnmower) and is captured.  His defense is to try kicking a guy in the shins and run away, but they push him down and he’s helpless again.  Then the enemy hits him in the balls a bunch of times with a rug-beater until Bond is rescued by an enemy agent who only doesn’t kill him because he hasn’t been ordered to.  And that’s really about it; Bond is basically an ineffectual victim who only survives by the kindness of his enemies and gets fooled by double agents.  There’s no real action and Fleming’s writing is prim and prissy, all manners and no grit.  This was the first Bond novel and I hope the others get better, because a hero that does nothing but get his balls paddled isn’t very awe-inspiring.

That's not a perspective shot, people... after reading this book I'm pretty sure Brett Wallace's fist really is three times the size of his head!

Ninja Master#2 : Mountain of Fear - Wade Barker  (Warner Books, 1981)
Ric Meyers steps in and turns the series into hyper-violent lunacy as ninja master Brett Wallace shows up in the backwoods burg of Tylertown, where everybody’s incredibly, cartoonishly evil.  First he deals with the racist cops who gang-raped a couple of black girls who were passing through, and then he takes on the henchmen of a Nazi doing medical experiments on orphans.  There’s not much of a plot, just a set-up for action scenes which are damn near constant, and they’re great even though they’re completely impossible.  Brett’s more of a superhero than just a highly trained fighter, and he’s even able to throw playing cards through people or fling throwing stars through the crack under a door.  He’s never in a whole lot of danger because he’s Superman fighting mere mortals, but there’s tons of entertaining mayhem, with guys getting their testicles kicked through their intestines and such.  Meyers does have a disturbing tendency to like writing sick scenes where women get raped and brutalized, so you will have that to contend with before the cartoon starts.  Pretty ridiculous but you’re not gonna be bored, guaranteed.   For more info, Glorious Trash did a great review (which inspired me to take my copy out and read it)

Secret Mission: Prague - Don Smith  (Award, 1968)
Spy Phil Sherman is sent to Czechoslovakia to trace shipments of machine guns to rioting Black militants in American cities, which could erupt in a war within America.  (This loses a little bite since there are now well-armed Black gangs in most cities and what they mostly do is shoot each other, but in 1968 this must have seemed nightmarish).  Phil’s contact promptly ends up dead in his hotel room with a knife in his back, and Phil has to dispose of the body without getting the attention of the authorities.  Then, investigating the flight on which the guns were being carried, his car gets blown up and he luckily avoids going with it.  He teams up with a girl named Zanya who survived the Hungarian revolution and was left a bit skittish by it.  Phil doesn’t even carry a gun until he takes one off a dead agent, who he’s almost killed with in a car wreck.  He plants his ID on the dead man (whose face was torn off in the wreck) and tries passing himself off as dead to take the heat off of him.  There’s a lot of chasing around as Phil and Zanya try to get out of the country, but it’s more intrigue than action, so much so that it becomes a little tedious.  The writing is good but the story’s a bit dry and could stand a few more fights and shoot-outs.  Phil’s the kind of guy who tries to avoid trouble as much as he can while accomplishing his mission, and that’s wise in real life, but this is a book so it creates a bit of a drag in the pacing and makes me wish Phil were more of a troublemaker like Nick Carter.  It’s realistic, though, and even if it’s not the most slam-bang book out there, it’s far from dumb.

Raker #1 - Don Scott   (Pinnacle, 1982)
The ad copy for this series (reproduced above so you can marvel at it) had me expecting something hilarious, or possibly infuriating.  I was expecting some bonehead right-wing Archie Bunker-with-a-gun kind of deal... and that's more or less what this is, but it doesn't go far enough with it to be fun, and since the story itself is too much of a bore to make up for that, the whole thing's a fizzle.  Raker is an agent for a "company" (apparently with the government?) which sends him out to see what's up with some cop-killings in Black neighborhoods.  The same incidents are happening in city after city, always with the same m.o. -- pairs of white cops get called to check on false domestic disturbances and get ambushed with shotguns.  Raker thinks the B.L.A.  (Black Liberation Army) is trying to kick off a nationwide race war.  Most of the book is spent with Raker trying to talk to contacts and find leads to trace the thing, and there's not a lot of action.  What action there is seems incidental and briefly inserted in hopes of shutting up guys like me who'd complain that there were no fights.  Sorry that didn't work!  A few people get splattered with shotguns, but there's not much impact in the way these scenes are written, and all the characters are so cardboard that you just can't care about it much.  And that's one of the problems -- even Raker himself is very cardboard and boring.  There's only one half-hearted attempt to give him any background at all, a flashback scene where he's infiltrating a group of protesting hippies while his brother's being killed in 'Nam.  Raker tends to think every guy he meets is a "fruit," and while he's not blatantly racist he does do a stereotypical "Black accent" on the phone that Stepin Fetchit would find over the top.   A big point is made that the Black guy on Raker's team "acts white."  More of that kind of assholish stuff could have made Raker an antihero to laugh at, at least, but the dude's not really well-drawn or interesting enough to feel anything about one way or the other.  I can see why this series stopped at two volumes.

Have I mentioned lately that I'm on Twitter?  And so are all these other cool people you should follow!