Monday, May 30, 2011
The Penetrator #6: Tokyo Purple, by Lionel Derrick
October, 1974 Pinnacle Books
You know Chet Cunningham's back in the author's saddle when one of the first lines of the book is: Now he wanted a short vacation far from the smarting smell of cordite; away from the blazing guns and sudden death; far from the surrealistic display of a skull exploding three feet in front of him with brains, blood, and bone fragments splattering the nearest wall. Now that's how you start a novel!
Published the month and year I was born, Tokyo Purple finds our pal Mark Hardin, the Penetrator, taking a much-deserved vacation. As the title indicates, he settles upon Tokyo; he last visited the city during some r-n-r back in "the 'Nam." On his way there Hardin makes a brief stop in Hong Kong, sightseeing with his new girlfriend: Akemi, a genuine Groovy Stewardess. Hardin the superstud actually picked the lady up during the JAL flight; unfortunately Cunningham robs us of this scene. I would've given anything to see Hardin the pick-up artist at work.
Hardin figures he can rest a bit easy in Asia as he isn't a wanted man over here, and the mob tentacles likely don't reach this far. But this being an action novel, he's nevertheless attacked posthaste. With only his dart gun, nicknamed Ava, Hardin kills the pursuers. They appear to be Japanese and each of them carries a purple cord. A horrified Akemi informs Hardin that these men are members of the Sendai Purple, basically the Japanese mafia (Though he sprinkles the narrative with some basic Japanese, Cunningham never uses the term yakuza.)
Once he and Akemi move on to Tokyo, Hardin discovers that he's for sure being hunted. The Sendai Purple is after him, and at length he discovers why: back in the fourth volume, Hijacking Manhattan, Hardin ratted out on his Japanese arms supplier in exchange for some needed intel. It turns out the supplier has now sicked the Japanese mob on Hardin in retaliation. This is enough plot for a men's adventure novel, but Cunningham muddles it with a subplot: Hardin's benefactor, Professor Haskins, calls Hardin to tell him that an American girl named Melissa Broadhurst has gone missing in Sendai, and wants Hardin to try to find her. And guess who kidnapped the girl? Yep, the Sendai Purple. It's a bit too pat, but what can you do.
Melissa, despite being a brick-shithouse blonde, is a nuclear scientist, and the boss of the Sendai Purple wants her to build some triggers for atomic bombs he plans to sell to the highest bidder. This boss is named Kamisori, aka the Razor, and he runs his show from a fortress in Sendai, surrounded by armed guards. The novel's more lurid stuff occurs early on: Melissa refuses to work for Kamisori, who then strips the girl nude and locks her in a room, telling her he will come back to rape her in three days if she doesn't change her mind. And he carries through on the threat, even going so far as to torture her a bit.
Meanwhile Hardin, who has left Akemi back in Tokyo, drives across rural Japan searching out clues in Melissa's disappearance. Vast stretches of Tokyo Purple come off like a travelogue, which makes sense...Hardin is on vacation, after all. And after the action onslaught of the previous volume, it's good for the guy and the reader to get a little breather. Cunningham also takes the opportunity to butcher the language as the native Japanese speak in overdone pidgin English.
But to be sure Cunningham does provide the occasional action sequence, including a nice one early on where Hardin is trapped in a pulping plant, hurtling down a tube to be pulped with old newspapers and junked books: a fitting end for a pulp hero. There's also a funny scene where Hardin visits a steam bath, but can't handle the lava-heated water. I spent a semester of college in Japan and fell in love with these things (onsens), but then, when I was in one armed thugs weren't coming after me.
After hooking up with a group of anti-nuke students who have aligned themselves with a high-tiered member of Sendai Purple -- who is against Kamisori's plans to use atomic weapons -- Hardin infiltrates the fortress headquarters and goes into action. This is another action-packed sequence with Hardin again taking a massive beating, not to mention ruptured eardrums after one guy fires a howitzer within an enclosed space. During the battle Hardin finds Melissa, who helps the injured Penetrator get out of the burning building; Cunningham builds up some romantic tension between the two but then quickly drops it.
One thing I enjoy about this series is that authors Roberts and Cunningham always provide a novelty death for the main villain. A lot of these books usually suffer from anticlimatic endings, with the boss bad guy either just getting shot or blown up or done away with in an offhand manner. The Penetrator series however delivers climatic final fights that are more satisfying for the reader. In the case of Tokyo Purple it's Hardin going up against Kamisori in the bowels of the Sendai Purple headquarters, fighting each other with an array of vintage handheld weaponry.
And by the way this volume features my favorite cover art yet in the series, with its groovy psychedelic pattern and foxy nude lady (who appears to lack nipples, but you can't win 'em all).
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
The Enforcer #3: Kill City, by Andrew Sugar
June, 1973 Lancer Books
First off, I want to say thanks to Ralph Blanchette for posting a comment on my review of Enforcer #1. Ralph, an artist, was friends with Andrew Sugar in the '70s and collaborated on some work for Argosy Magazine with him. (He's also confirmed that Sugar was indeed a man!) Unfortunately Ralph doesn't know what happened to Sugar, or even if he's still alive.
Kill City features the return of everyone's favorite clone, Alex Jason, who once again has been given a new body which will last for 90 days. But at this point Jason is used to the constant changing of bodies. Given that his mind stays the same with each new body, he's now focused upon honing his ESP skills. He's also focused upon his relationship with Janet, the attractive doctor he met in the previous volume. Janet is a non-clone but also works for the Institute, and now lives with Jason in their HQ in downtown New York City.
Out for a beer, taking a break from his writing (the world at large doesn't know that famous author Alex Jason was dying of cancer a year ago), Jason is mugged on his way back to the Institue. Like a true man of action, he takes the opportunity to test his martial arts skills. He nearly gets his ass kicked. He's saved by two guys in tan uniforms who show up in an Impala(!) and shine a light on both the hood and Jason. Suddenly Jason wants to kill himself. Using his sharp mental skills he defeats the raging impulse. The hood meanwhile takes his revolver and shoots himself.
The rescuers identify themselves as members of "The Patrol," a sort of unofficial citizen's police force. They admired Jason's fighting skills and ask him to consider joining. Jason however can't shake his suspicions and investigates. As in the previous volume, Jason goes undercover. And once again he discovers a plot to undermine the country, with the Patrol really a sort of strike force commanded by Lochner, Jason's arch-enemy. Lochner's method of destruction is "The Suzy," that beam which "saved" Jason in the opening pages; it zaps the mind and triggers the brain's self-destruct mechanisms. Only 1 in 10 people can withstand it, Jason of course being one of them.
Whereas the previous volume was a padded-out bore, Kill City is much more entertaining. Sure, there's lots of stuff that could've been cut, but Sugar keeps the action at a nice pace with occasional shootouts, fights, and sex scenes between Jason and Janet. The thing is though that the Enforcer series is just so much better-written than the average men's adventure novel. Sugar remains locked in Jason's POV through the entire book, really fleshing out the character. The most incredible thing is that there's actual character development here: Jason is a much different character than he was a mere two volumes ago. This in itself is a novelty in the genre.
Regardless, one must be ready to slog through many scenes of Jason and his comrades sitting around and talking. There are many, many scenes of one character unloading theories or beliefs upon another character. Kill City is much more plot and dialog heavy than the average men's adventure book. But then, I realized something with this installment: Sugar really isn't writing a men's adventure sort of series at all.
It's my contention that instead Sugar used this series as a forum from which he could advance his political and philosophical beliefs. This is the same thing Ayn Rand did with Atlas Shrugged, only Sugar has done it in the wild and wooly world of men's adventure novels. The characters Jason meets -- politicians, self-styled police, scientists -- rail against the government, the sheeplike mentality of the common man, the growing corruption and how it could all easily be avoided. And Jason acts as the bellwether, agreeing with certain things but arguing against those that fall outside the rubric of Libertarianism. Not that the Party is ever mentioned; it's all more of a subtext sort of thing. To be sure, it makes for some slow reading at spots, but at the very least I can respect it as it's something different than the genre norm.
Another thing I like about this series is how Sugar encapsulates the lost art of being a guy: Jason and his pals sit around and discuss big issues while drinking brandy and smoking cigarettes. And unlike the usual men's adventure protagonist, Jason's a more sensitive sort (Sugar insinuates that this is because Jason is a writer, and so more open-minded), and he's careful to shelter Janet from "male chauvinism." And Jason truly does love her, which again is different from the genre standard: Janet is the only woman Jason's with in the course of the novel...but that doesn't stop Sugar from again delivering graphic sex scenes between the two.
In 1975 Sugar took the series over to Manor Books, who reprinted Kill City along with the other three Lancer originals. Here's the cover:
Monday, May 23, 2011
Tracker #1, by Ron Stillman
September, 1990 Charter/Diamond Books
This must've been one of the last gasps of the men's adventure genre, and what an ignoble death it was. Even the cover belies its true roots, making Tracker look like some sort of military sci-fi deal. But the misleading cover is the least of the book's problems. Simply put, Tracker #1 suffers from some of the most juvenile prose, plotting, and dialog I've yet encountered -- men's adventure or not. This is the sort of book that actually contains sentences like: The following morning, Natty hopped in his F-15E and headed for Colorado Springs. It's as if the novel was written for kids, by kids.
What's especially strange is that amid the childish mentality there are acts of total savagery. Women are raped in graphic detail and killed. Then we'll have scenes with our hero hobknobbing with Navy SEALs and joking around. Yes, this is one strange book. I'd hoped for something along the lines of TNT -- also published by Charter Books, and also sort of a spoof of the genre, going to insane extremes. But at least TNT was written (make that "translated") well. Snatches of Tracker #1 are well-done, but on the whole it falls flat. And hard.
The major problem is our hero, Nathaniel "Natty" Tracker. The man is too idealized, even given the genre. Tracker can do no wrong, and always comes out on top. He's more invincible than Superman. Even when he suffers he's still in charge; there's a scene where he's captured and his finger is cut off, and Tracker still makes jokes about it...while it's happening. He's so cocksure and arrogant that he annoys the reader.
Tall, muscular, handsome, and a genius to boot -- whereas other men's adventure protagonists at least have a sort of "Q" who develops their gadgets, Tracker does it all himself. Hell, he's even a self-made millionaire! Tracker's gimmick is that, in the beginning of the novel, he's rendered blind in a car crash. The reader knows what he's in for when, in the very next scene, Tracker awakens in the hospital, discovers he is blind...and proceeds to hit on and then sleep with his attendant nurse.
Nothing fazes Tracker; soon enough he has devised high-tech sunglasses which allow him to see again. (They apparently look nothing like the goggles on the cover, though.) A former Air Force hotshot pilot, Tracker uses his government connections to become a sort of undercover commando; he will go on dangerous missions the government wants kept secret. His first assignment is to infiltrate into Libya and rescue a downed pilot, a guy named "Rabbit" who happens to be Tracker's best bud.
Rabbit's kidnapper is The Ratel, a South American revolutionary who works as a mercenary. He's been hired by Qadafi and now holds the downed pilot in a fortress in the Libyan desert. Tracker flies in on a contraption of his own devise, straps on his Mac-11s, and kills a bunch of Libyans. The action scenes come fast and furious and aren't grounded in the least by reality. Setpieces go down that would look unbelieveable even in the fantasy world of a summer blockbuster. And again it's all rendered bland because Tracker can do no wrong and it's never in question that he will defeat the foe and save his pal.
But in true fashion it's Tracker's companions who suffer most. Tracker's ostensible girlfriend, Fancy Bird (!), also gets captured by Ratel, who proceeds to rape her. This sequence is very much at odds with the tone of the novel. Tracker vows revenge and goes about attaining it. Another head-scratcher is the anticlimatic end, which goes on and on and on, detailing Tracker's (eventual) escape from Libya.
Tracker #1 also shows the complete neutering of the men's adventure genre. Published in late 1990, the novel suffers from the burgeoning "politically correct" movement. For example, in an early sex scene it's inferred that Tracker wears condoms. It's difficult to imagine say John Eagle Expeditor pausing to slip on a Trojan before getting busy. And similar to the Expeditor, Tracker was raised by the Apache -- only Stillman is careful to refer to them as "Native American," and speaks of them with total deference; a far cry from the talk of "Indian savagery" one encounters in the Expeditor books! And finally, later in the novel Tracker is awarded a million dollars by the US government for achieving one of his missions. Tracker donates half of it to AIDs research. There are a hundred things I could see Johnny Rock doing with half a million dollars, but that isn't one of them.
Such things show how much the genre (and the times!) had changed within two decades. But then, men's adventure novels were known for going over the top. The lurid nature was part of the charm, and I'm betting most readers never took these books seriously, anyway. Trying to tone the genre down into a "softer, gentler," more socially-conscious sort of thing can only lead to failure. If anyone wondered why men's adventure novels dropped by the wayside, then Tracker #1 offers many clues.
I want to say the novel's a spoof, but slogging through it you have to wonder. It would be one thing if Tracker was a parody of the superheroic men's adventure sort of protagonist, but the parody isn't fully carried through...leaving the novel a muddled mess. But there are things that make you wonder -- like when Tracker meets some Libyans who beg him to convince the President to have the US military invade Libya!
Anyway, the series lasted 8 volumes, and I have them all. Later installments appear to be more pulpish, so here's hoping. "Ron Stillman" by the way is Don Bendell, a writer and poet. Bendell wrote the first 6 novels, then was replaced by someone else who finished up the series with the final 2. Whoever it was, he couldn't have done much worse.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Penetrator #5: Mardi Gras Massacre, by Lionel Derrick
June, 1974 Pinnacle Books
Given the plot I figured this entry of the The Penetrator would be a wash-out: a Bayou fisherman contacts Mark Hardin and asks for his help, as the fisherman is certain he's being paid in counterfeit bills. However this bare plot is just an excuse for author Mark Roberts to have Hardin kick all kinds of ass. This is without a doubt the most action-packed installment yet in the series.
In my review of the previous volume I claimed that even-numbered volume author Chet Cunningham presented a crueler version of the Penetrator, but I might have to retract that. Mark Roberts proves that his version of Hardin can be just as merciless, though with the caveat that at least Roberts's version only goes after the "wicked;" ie, unlike Cunningham's version he doesn't torture and maim the innocent. But if you happen to be a "bad guy," then god help you...
Hardin arrives in New Orleans in the opening pages, only to discover that the fisherman who wrote him has been murdered. Instead Hardin's contact is Angelique, the fisherman's beautiful (of course she is) daughter. Hardin notes her resemblance to his dead girlfriend Donna Morgan and so instantly has feelings for the girl. A consortium of businessmen have taken over the fisherman's union here in New Orleans, with grander plans to dominate business around the country; Angelique's father accidentally discovered that they were paying their employees with counterfeit bills, fake money with which they plan to cripple the US economy. Angelique's father apperently left evidence somewhere, but he didn't leave behind any clues. Regardless, the consortium is certain Angelique must know about it (she is the man's only living relative and was with him when he was murdered) and so send wave after wave of hitmen after her. But when Hardin enters the fray, things of course change.
It all goes down during Mardi Gras, and Roberts weaves the festival into the action, with a long sequence with Hardin wearing a mask to blend in with others on the street that ends with Angelique and Hardin escaping on a float. Finding one fisherman family empathetic to Angelique and her father's cause, Hardin leaves the girl with them and launches a one-man war on the consortium. This is where the novel really picks up; Hardin gets pissed that since he's arrived in New Orleans he's been attacked again and again. Now he will go on the offensive. And boy does he.
There follows many scenes of laugh-out-loud barbarity in which Hardin shows how merciless he can be. He sneaks into consortium-owned buildings, kidnaps upper management, tortures them, kills them. In a prefigure of Arnold's infamous line from Commando, Hardin promises one poor sap that he won't kill him if the sap gives him the info he wants. The sap gives the info, and as Hardin begins to string up a noose he squeals that Hardin promised he wouldn't kill him. "Sometimes I lie a lot," says Hardin, who then hangs the sap -- later boasting to Angelique that he strung the man up and watched him die. During the funeral for Angelique's dad, Hardin spots three gunmen hiding in the cemetery. He surprises them at gunpoint and ushers them into a windowless masoleum, handing the last guy in an unpinned frag grenade. Hardin bars the door and walks away, then laughs aloud when he hears the grenade go off.
But once again Hardin himself takes a lot of damage. This seems to be a "thing" with this series; whereas the typical men's adventure protagonist gets through each novel without a scratch, like some comic book superhero, Hardin usually finds himself at death's door. This time out it happens early on, with Hardin sliced up badly in an endless fight scene with a friggin night watchman, of all things. Limping back to his hotel Hardin shoots himself up with penicilin, but the antibiotic is expired and Hardin double-doses.
He spirals into delusion, during which he finds himself having sex again with Donna Morgan, calling out her name. When he comes to he finds Angelique there with him; it turns out that Hardin phoned her in the midst of his delirium and the girl came to nurse him, during which one thing lead to another and the two had sex -- that sexual fever dream was real. Angelique further informs Hardin that the whole time he kept calling her "Donna," but Angelique claims she was so happy to be with him that she didn't mind being called by the wrong name. I can't think of a single woman who would actually say that.
It culminates in another well-done setpiece in which Hardin and a new friend wage war on the consortium in the sea, also going up against a detachment of Cuban soldiers -- the suppliers of that counterfeit money. In a way, Mardi Gras Massacre is like an '80s action movie, with one extended action sequence after another. There is also the mystery of where Angelique's father left his evidence, and Hardin goes into detective mode to solve it. However doing so necessitates that Hardin eradicate the girl's feelings for him; during a crying jag about her father's death, Hardin yells at her to snap out of it, a desperate gambit to jolt her senses from grief to fury. It works, with the after-effect that Angelique now looks at Hardin with hatred. It's basically just a drawn-out way for Roberts to get the girl out of the picture so Hardin can go on to meet more willing gals in future installments.
Roberts again serves up some in-jokes: that night watchman who nearly kills Hardin chastises himself for "reading too many of those Executioner books," and later, as Hardin watches the news, the anchorman's name is Chet Cunningham -- aka the other author of the series. There are also some funny parts where a kid spouts lines from Sanford and Son in Red Foxx's voice; all the more funny when Hardin has no idea what the kid's doing and it has to be explained to him that he's only quoting a popular TV show. But then who has time for TV when you're launching a one-man war against crime and having delusional sex with a nubile fisherman's daughter?
Monday, May 16, 2011
John Eagle Expeditor #3: The Laughing Death, by Paul Edwards
July, 1973 Pyramid Books
This was Robert Lory's first go as "Paul Edwards," and his entrance provides a definite boost to the Expeditor series. I enjoyed the previous volumes, which were penned by Manning Lee Stokes, but I found them a bit too padded out, with an uninvolving protagonist and anticlimatic finales. To be sure, The Laughing Death is still a bit too padded -- unnecessary padding seems to be a staple of this series -- but Lory does a much better job of weaving the extranneous bits of sociological and cultural information into his narrative.
The threat this time out is "The Final Laughter of the Celestial Bliss," aka a lethal laughing gas which works much like the stuff the Joker used in the '89 Batman film. It leaves a twisted leer on the corpse's face and everything. The gas has been devised by Father Tan, an aged Triad ruler who was believed dead. Instead Tan has been operating behind the scenes for the past few decades, and now attempts to unite the various tongs into one organization. The weapon to unite them in their goal of global domination will be this gas, which Tan has created in a secret fortress in the jungle wilds of Sumatra.
All of this is relayed in the first half of the book, which hopscotches back and forth from the perspectives of various minor characters. Once again, John "Expeditor" Eagle himself plays a supporting role in the first half of his own book; we meet him in the opening pages when he challenges a former trainer to mortal combat, crippling him. Then Eagle disappears while Lory builds up the suspense via several Chinese and Sumatran characters.
This is the same thing Stokes did in his volumes, but Lory does it better, though the overwhelming cultural detail gets to be grating. The main character here is Mary, a chemist who happens to be an undercover Communist agent; she is captured by Father Tan and used to work in the gas-making facility in Sumatra. There are also a few Sumatran natives who buy it in drawn-out sequences, as well as Hsui, Father Tan's right-hand woman, a former prostitute whom Tan has remodeled into a haughty destroyer-of-men.
Following the template of previous volumes, Eagle is finally called into action in the middle half. His boss, Mr. Merlin, locates the Sumatran fortress and sends in his one and only Expeditor. The following sequence is very Rambo: First Blood Part II, with Eagle slipping into the fetid jungle in the middle of the night and hooking up with his native guides. Eagle expected only one guide, but the man has brought along his sister; she immediately makes herself available to Eagle in the curtained-off area of their boat as they make their way downriver. Lory writes the ensuing sex scene in exceedingly purple prose, which makes it all the more entertaining.
Once they're on foot in the jungle the action gets underway. As in previous volumes, Eagle must fight local forces unrelated to the major plot as he makes his way to his objective. But as usual Eagle has all of his high-tech equipment. If any men's adventure protagonist could've been turned into a Mego toy, then it would've been John Eagle: he has his fancy bow and dart gun of instant death, as well as an assortment of vials which blow stuff up real good. But most importantly there is his "plastic suit" which can't be punctured and which keeps Eagle's body temperature at the perfect level. There's also a "chameleon device" which when activated blends the suit into the background, meaning that Eagle is basically The Predator several years before that film. Lory introduces a few changes to the suit: now Eagle also has an "opposite setting" for the chameleon device, which makes the suit glare against its surroundings. This function is to allow Eagle to stand out when he's being picked up by air transport, but here he uses it to scare the bejeesus out of some superstitious locals. And finally Lory changes the headgear: rather than the visored helmet of Stokes, Lory gives Eagle a hood and face mask with infrared goggles. If you check out the bottom right of the cover, you can see the artist's interpretation of Eagle's suit.
The final assault on Tan's compound is well-staged, if a bit anticlimatic. Not as bad as in the Stokes volumes, but close enough. The reason is because Eagle's missions always go off without a hitch. Sure, he has unexpected setbacks with armed locals attacking him on his way to his objective, but Eagle always kills them with little fuss. And when he infiltrates the enemy base, he again accomplishes his missions with no major problems. I guess this is why Merlin hired the guy, but still, it makes for few thrills for the reader.
However the same can't be said for Eagle's accomplices. In true men's adventure fashion, the protagonist's friends suffer whereas the protagonist himself does not. Both Sumatran guides buy it in gory fashion, the girl especially. Lory piles on the lurid stuff in the very end, with the girl caught in an elaborate Chinese torture device, sort of like an Iron Maiden, with each "level" filled with different deadly things: a pack of starved rats on one level, poisonous snakes on the next, etc. It's a definite creepy crawly moment; the worst bit is the section devoted to the genitals.
I guess this is another staple of the Expeditor series, as each novel gets more and more lurid as it goes on. When Eagle first infiltrates the base, he runs into Hsui, Tan's concubine. He shoots her up with a hypodermic to interrogate her, but doesn't realize the experimental serum has an unexpected aphrodisiacal side-effect. This serves to make the already-horny Hsui demand that Eagle take her...right there and then. So Eagle does as ordered, screwing Hsui on the floor, right here in the middle of his "penetration" (sorry, couldn't help it) into an enemy base.
As I wrote before, the Expeditor series is almost like a blast of testosterone. The "male mystique" is prevalent here; Eagle is the alpha male of alpha males, and sex is always presented as a nigh-on battle, with Eagle conquering women with his manhood. The women who aren't throwing themselves at Eagle instead try to destroy him...only to find themselves falling into his arms regardless. And Eagle himself cares little for them; in early sections we again hear about Eagle's "girlfriend" (whom we've yet to meet), an American Indian girl he plans to marry someday, but who lives a few hundred miles from Eagle's forest retreat. Despite his (tepid) love for this girl, Eagle early in the novel still plans to go into the city to find a woman for some quick and casual sex. As if he needs to go to the trouble; he gets enough tail on his missions.
The action scenes here are well done, but this series doesn't delve much into the gore. Eagle goes for quick and clean kills, either using his trusty dart gun or blowing people up with his explosive vials. And with his chameleon suit, which as stated is bullet and blade-proof, he's pretty much indestructable, and cuts an easy swath through the ill-equipped enemy forces. In a way it's like the old TV show Airwolf, where the high-tech 'copter was always going up against outdated Hueys or whatever. It's like zero competition.
I sound like I didn't like it but I really enjoyed The Laughing Death. Hell, I'd even go so far as to say the Expeditor series is one of my favorites. I like how it combines international intrigue, pulpish plots, commando action, spy-fy gadgets, purple-prosed sex, and a lurid vibe. It's also fun to read such a non-PC book. Once again we get all sorts of introspection from Eagle about his "savage nature" -- ie, his Apache Indian upbringing (though Eagle is of 100% Scottish heritage, he was raised by the Apache). So there are long snatches where Eagle belabors over the difficult meshing of his "white man civility" with his "Indian savagery."
Speaking of Eagle, Lory does a good job of making him (somewhat) human. In the Stokes books all Eagle cared about were his missions, and we got little feel for his thoughts or emotions. Lory still has Eagle as a primo shit-kicker, a guy who will get the job done no matter the cost, but he plays up his warring internal nature and also has Eagle afraid that he may someday become a "thrill-killer." This is why Eagle challenges his old trainer to mortal combat in the opening pages; Eagle is so action-starved that he needs to feel some bones crush beneath his fists. He prays for a new mission, so he can get out into foreign terrain and test himself against enemy forces. This leads to an intriguing idea: what if someday Eagle himself went haywire, and Merlin was forced to send someone after him? Hell, it happened in the Lone Wolf series.
Lory served up the next volume as well, trading off with Stokes and Paul Eiden (who doesn't enter the picture until #7: The Ice Goddess) through the rest of the 14-volume series. I look forward to reading more of his books.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Dreams Die First, by Harold Robbins
September, 1978 Pocket Books
Here's another latter-era Harold Robbins book which is basically forgotten today. And it's easy to see why, as the majority of Dreams Die First reads as if it came from the typewriter of a bored writer, banging out his first (and only) draft in a delirium of cocaine and caffeine...which, according to the bio Harold Robbins: The Man Who Invented Sex, is exactly how Dreams Die First was written.
As usual, the novel is more like three separate stories jammed into one. Our narrator/protagonist is Gareth Brendan, a down-on-his-luck Vietnam vet eking out his existence on an unemployment check. This doesn't stop him from banging the lovely receptionist at the unemployment office, a Hispanic lady named Verita who is an accountant at heart. Deus ex machina plays a larger role than normal in Dreams Die First; most Robbins books suffer from it but here it is very prevalent. Verita is just the first instance of it, as her accounting skills play a big part in Gareth's business successes.
Another instance is Gareth's uncle, Lonergan, who just happens to be some sort of underworld powerhouse, like the top ruler of all shady deals on the West Coast. It makes one wonder why, if Lonergan is such a powerful figure, Gareth leads such a miserable existence -- especially when you consider how Lonergan sends his men to pick Gareth up and basically forces him to take control of a failing news circular. It all appears to be Lonergan's plan to funnel illicitly-gained money, but Gareth goes along with it as he doesn't have anything else to do. His idea though is to turn the circular into a porn mag, a glossy full-color with a new covergirl each week. And, unlike the repeatedly-bashed Playboy, Gareth promises that his rag won't airbrush the lower regions of the models.
So now we have the makings of a plot. But Robbins, having snorted another line of coke, changes his mind. Instead, he now decides that Dreams Die First will be an action-adventure about transsexuals, s&m torture parties, mobsters, and New Age sex cults. Seriously. It's like we're suddenly reading The Sharpshooter, with Gareth's gay pal getting strung up on a torture rack in the middle of a tranny party, and Gareth going in with a .357 to save him. And Gareth, I realized, is basically a men's adventure novel sort of protagonist: a fomer Green Beret in 'Nam who goes around smashing faces with his fancy savate kicks. The funny thing is, there's not much difference between the rough-hewn writing styles of Harold Robbins and "Bruno Rossi." One could even make a valid argument that Rossi (whichever version) was a more innovative stylist (to say the least). However Robbins was paid millions and the various "Rossis" were paid squat. It's no wonder so many writers hated Robbins.
I forgot to mention: Gareth happens to be bisexual, something Robbins skirts over until an out-of-left-field sequence toward the very end of the novel. This is how he met his gay friend, a young rich kid whose dad is Father Sam, leader of that aforementioned sex cult. Ostensibly Christian, these people live in communes and smoke dope and practice free love. After rescuing the kid from the torture room -- and Robbins here goes into extreme lurid detail about the manner of torture the poor kid suffered -- Gareth learns that the rich trannies have hired a bunch of goons to kill him. Now Gareth is on the run, plus there's an added threat in that the mafia is also out for his blood; they want his now-lucrative porno circular, which sold out with the first issue.
So the plot changes yet again as Gareth hides on one of the sex-cult communes. Here one of the girls falls in love with him, so much so that in another sequence, again which seems to have come from another novel, she admits her insatiable sex drive to the brotherhood and undergoes "treatment" via an electric rod which supposedly orgasms the lust out of her. Weird stuff for sure. Did I mention that at this point Gareth has orange hair due to a rushed dye job?
This whole first section just gets weirder and weirder; again, the Sharpshooter connotations, as Gareth decides to take the war directly to his attackers. First he blows away a few of the hired goons, then he goes to Verita's cousin, who happened to serve under Gareth in 'Nam. Deus ex Machina again, especially when we discover that Verita's cousin happens to be a Latino warlord, commanding a minor army of thugs. Gareth takes a few of them for a midnight raid on the mansion of the thug-hiring trannies as well as an attack on a garage of mob-owned trucks.
Unfortunately the second half of the novel isn't as fun. Picking up a few years later, Gareth is suddenly mega-wealthy. Now the plot is all about his purchasing a resort in Mexico! The crazed momentum of the first half is lost and indeed the mob-attacking events go unmentioned. How Gareth got so wealthy is glossed over in half-assed flashbacks, but long story short he started up another magazine, Macho, which comes off like a dirtier version of Hustler, which is really saying something. The two main gimmicks with Macho are its blue-collar mindset -- Gareth realizes the hoity-toity tone of Playboy turns off many of its readers -- and, brace yourself, "The Supercunt of the Month," which is a centerfold blowup of the the genitalia of each month's cover model. To this I say "hmmm," but in the world of Robbins it equals instant millions for Gareth.
And make no mistake, we learn the entirety of Gareth's revenue and expenditures. In an obvious gambit to fill pages, Robbins actually shows the breakdowns in handy columns of how much printing and distribution costs Gareth, how much revenue will be earned, etc. Robbins was a bookkeeper before making it big as a novelist, and here he serves up "Accounting 101." He doesn't do this once, but several times throughout the novel.
I never did figure out how the resort-buying stuff fit into the larger plot, but it doesn't appear that Robbins did either. Needless to say, it's just an excuse for Gareth to soak up the rays while smoking dope and having sex with a few women in between business discussions. But in a late development we discover that a branch of Father Sam's cult is down here. It appears that a local drug runner is using the kids as field hands, keeping them doped to their gills; one of them escapes -- the same girl who fell in love with Gareth way back when he was hiding with them -- and it starts to look like we'll have another slam-bang action sequence, with Gareth serving up some blood-soaked payback. Instead, Gareth takes the girl home...and Robbins picks up two years later, with the girl now adapting back to a normal life and Gareth even more wealthy from a new magazine line.
But it doesn't matter, as Robbins is now in the home stretch. In quick succession all hell breaks loose in the Mexican resort, a few major characters get killed "off camera," and Gareth tells one of the surviving women that he loves her. The end.
It was all like a fever dream, really. But still it was kind of enjoyable, especially the first half. It's hard to believe this was a bestseller, not only due to the lurid content but also because it's just so damn choppy. But then that's the power of a famous name; at this point people would buy anything that had "Harold Robbins" stamped on the cover. I hope Robbins enjoyed it while it lasted, as within a few years he would lose both his bestseller status and the majority of his readers, who slowly realized he was turning out lazy first drafts.
Monday, May 9, 2011
The Specialist #3: Sullivan's Revenge, by John Cutter
June, 1984 Signet Books
I'm happy to report that with this third volume The Specialist series improves in a big way. I complained in my reviews of the previous two installments about the needless padding, the overblown and unnecessary descriptive detail, the lack of novelty in the action sequences. But "John Cutter" (aka cyberpunk/horror novelist John Shirley) pulls a 180 here and delivers by far the best volume yet.
Jack "Specialist" Sullivan is a top mercenary who takes jobs for those who have been injured or damaged in some way; in other words, he works for the little guy. Sullivan does so because he himself has been injured; his wife was killed years ago in a bombing which was intended to kill Sullivan himself. He has spent these years trying to find out who was behind the bombing; in the first volume of the series he killed the man who actually planted the bomb. In the second volume Sullivan picked up leads on the man who hired that bomber -- a mythical terrorist leader called the Blue Man (who appears to be unaffiliated with the group that bears his name). Sullivan has finally tracked down the Blue Man, discovering that he runs a terrorist-training compound hidden in the wilds of Utah, right here in the US.
This time, then, Sullivan himself is the client, and so hires his handler Malta to gather together a strike force to help in a raid on the compound. Malta brings in Merlin, a wiry explosives expert, and Horst, a shit-kicking German. On their first night in Utah, enjoying a beer at the local redneck bar, Sullivan and Malta are attacked by a few racist locals. This leads to an endless and grating subplot in which two of the hicks plot their revenge -- but, surprisingly, this subplot leads to disastrous and series-changing consequences.
The novel doesn't really pick up until halfway through, when Sullivan goes undercover into the Blue Man's compound; Sullivan's cover name is a definite in-joke, "Richard Stark." Here Sullivan finally meets his enemy face-to-face...or maybe that should be "face-to-skull." The Blue Man gets his moniker from a blue skull which was tattooed on his face years ago when he was captured by enemy forces. There are all sorts of horror connotations in Sullivan's Revenge: one of the terrorists has a mutilated face, his nose blown off, and Shelley delights in describing this detail. Then there's Tora, the Blue Man's daughter, a nubile half-West Indies girl in her mid-20s whom Shelley refers to as a "witch," and not in the figurative sense.
The Blue Man doesn't recognize Sullivan, and Sullivan gambled he wouldn't, anyway; the Blue Man just took a job and sent someone out to do the actual bombing, he had no grudge or even awareness of Sullivan himself. Hence, though Sullivan has killed the actual bomber and now intends to kill his hirer, he still doesn't know who actually hired the Blue Man himself. This is Sullivan's second objective: to find any files the Blue Man has kept and discover, finally, who ordered his death all those years ago. However the Blue Man isn't the man he used to be, his brain addled by heroin spiked with cocaine. He stumbles about the compound in fogs of delusion like some absinthe-chugging 19th century poet.
Tora, the Blue Man's daughter, appears to be the true power here. Basically the only thing the Blue Man does is order Sullivan to undergo a "test" to ensure he's fit to be a trainer in the camp. This is an overlong but entertaining sequence in which Sullivan disregards his orders not to kill his opponents and goes into a red fury, smashing them apart with a makeshift spiked mace. But after this the Blue Man fades into the background and Sullivan becomes more concerned with Tora, whom he gradually develops feelings for. Tora has slept with all 50-some men in the compound (terrorists from around the world, the lot of them), but has only slept with each of them once. Sullivan however, as can be expected, is something "special." Tora can't get enough of him and Shelley provides a few graphic sex scenes.
Meanwhile Sullivan plans his attack. The terrorists in the compound are a mixture of IRA, PLO, the works. The rule is that politics are not to be discussed here; the men are here solely to learn how to kill. Sullivan gathers together the PLO fanatics and starts spreading gossip -- he tells them half of the camp is part of "the Zionist Conspiracy" and is against them. Shelley delivers a lot of dark comedy here, as Sullivan works the PLO terrorists into a froth.
It all ends with a big battle scene, one which thankfully isn't as tepid as those in the previous two volumes. And, as mentioned, we learn later that more damaging things have occurred in Sullivan's life, things he doesn't become aware of until the final pages. Also, thanks to the Blue Man's files, Sullivan finally learns who exactly ordered his death years ago. This leads to a last-second denouement in which Sullivan gains his vengeance; we literally learn who the culprit is just a handful of pages before Sullivan kills him.
This leads me to wonder, because already by the third volume Sullivan has gained the vengeance he's sought. I had assumed this would be a long-simmer sort of thing, with Sullivan perhaps not even gaining vengeance until the final volume. Also, those "series-changing consequences" mentioned above come into play in the last pages. All told, Sullivan's Revenge could just as easily have been the finale of the series itself, which makes me wonder if Shirley (or Signet Books) was unsure if the series would last beyond three volumes and so wanted to wrap it all up in case it didn't.
Who knows. At any rate the series chugged on for another 8 volumes, and I look forward to continuing on with it, now that it appears Shirley has found his bearings in the world of men's adventure fiction.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Belladonna, by Karen Moline
March, 1999 Warner Books
I only just discovered this novel, which happened to be a bestseller when first published in hardcover in 1998. I was doing random Google searches around Harold Robbins (yes, I had time to kill) and came upon a contemporary review which referred to this novel as "Harold Robbins meets The Story Of O." This piqued my interest, and I immediately looked the novel up. I thought I'd stumbled upon trash fiction gold when I read the plotline, as aptly summarized on the back cover of the mass market paperback edition:
Who is Belladonna? The year is 1935 and she is Isabella Ariel Nickerson, an innocent Midwestern girl visiting London for the first time. But she is soon to be torn from the world she knows. Abducted by a cabal of wealthy aristocrats, she will become the sacrificial lamb in a ritual of domination and submission that will rob her of her freedom, her dignity, and her identity. Slowly, the girl known as Isabella disappears and in her place a new woman is born. Masked and bejeweled, the mysterious toast of New York high society, she now calls herself Belladonna. And she lives for one purpose only...revenge.
Yes, this had all the makings of a trash fiction classic. And it's a whopper of a novel, 564 pages of small print and dense blocks of narrative on each and every page. The promise was there: the ruination angle, the revenge angle, the whole scenario with the masked Belladonna, who runs a nightclub in '50s NYC in which every employee is also masked (and also secret agents to boot), a nightclub equipped with hidden cameras and microphones...all of it, as I say, trash fiction gold. But unfortunately Belladonna is guilty of the worst crime a trashy novel can commit: it's boring.
The first and major problem is the voice and tone of the novel. Our narrator is Tomasino Cennini, a Brooklynite Italian who does not come off as fabulous as Moline intends him to be. Rather, Tomasino blusters through the novel in a tone Moline wants to be delicious but ends up being aggravating. Constant asides, constant winks to the reader, constant moments where he actually stops to congratulate himself on his storytelling skills and his way with words. The voice Moline creates for Tomasino is reminiscent of a 19th century man of letters, when in reality he'd probably sound more like Tony "Da War Of Da Woilds" Danza. Unfortunately Tomasino is our guide through the dense text, jumping to and fro in the tale, forever getting in the way. His constant eruptions of "Oh ho" over the occasional (grating) witticism are especially annoying.
The second problem is that the novel is not nearly as trashy as it wants to be. This goes beyond the completely unexpected and unwanted finale -- which I'll get to later -- but the entire abduction and submission storyline itself. The sections in which we witness Isabella's kidnapping and drafting into the world of submission are related via diary excerpts (all in ugly italics) which read like watered-down imitations of The Story Of O. Unfortunately these excerpts come later in the novel, long after Tomasino has done his damage.
The idea of a masked, vengeance-minded lady running a hot nightclub in '50s New York is also underplayed. The novel jumps about from the '30s to the '50s and even a bit beyond, but really there are no topical details for each decade; it's as if the entire tale occurs in one bland tunnel of time. You get no feeling for life in the New York of the 1950s, or in Italy in the aftermath of World War II, mostly because our protagonists have separated themselves from the outside world, but also because our narrator Tomasino is too busy wasting our time with incidental details.
Another big failing with this novel: in most every instance, Moline tells rather than shows. How many times must Tomasino tell us Belladonna is beautiful? How many times can he tell us how consumed with vengeance she is? How many times can he infer what horrors she underwent while in captivity? Again, the impression of a 19th century novel; Moline has the makings here of a true trash classic but writes it as if she's in the Victorian era.
But again...the potential was there. Young midwestern girl kidnapped while visiting London in the mid-1930s, kept in s&m captivity for over a decade by an evil British lord -- who, in time, she becomes pregnant by. She escapes with the help of Tomasino and his brother Matteo, Italian Americans who were castrated by Mussolini-supporters due to their lack of support for Il Duce. She takes along her child, a daughter named Bryony, but she is certain she also had a son, Byrony's twin -- a son who is still in captivity. After meeting a wealthy old Italian nobleman who acts as this novel's version of Abbe Faria (the Count of Monte Cristo's teacher), our heroine finds herself a wealthy young widow who is still consumed with vengeance. She decides to lure the members of "The Club" to her; she only need create a place they will all flock to. So, using her massive resources, she builds the "Club Belladonna" in NYC, which of course is instantly the talk of the town; here she awaits her enemy.
This entire Club Belladonna sequence is unintentionally hilarious. For one, the cost of running the place would be astronomical. Let alone the army of masked staffers, each of whom have a separate job in addition to their official one; the majority of them are leftover spies from WW2 who, Tomasino repeatedly tells us, are just thrilled to have an espionage sort of job after the war. Anyway, they monitor guests and listen to secretly-stashed microphones and watch from hidden TV monitors. The entire club is a sort of two-way mirror, with every guest watched from multiple hidden outlets. Even the table adornments are secretly wired for sound.
It's all ridiculous -- especially when Tomasino again goes into endless detail about how hard it is to actually get inside the club: Matteo and another masked guard stand outside with a costumed dog (even the dogs wear costumes here); if the dog barks at you, you don't get in. Moline also spends endless pages going over intended "delicious" scenes where Belladonna metes out some "punishment" to guests who cause scenes. And Belladonna herself, you see, is almost like a ghost in her own club; sometimes she's there, sometimes she's not, and she never touches anyone and rarely talks to them. Yet people flock to the club in hopes of seeing her, and impromptu fashions break out across NYC of women trying to wear masks and costumes just like the instantly-famous Belladonna. In reality the place would go under in a month.
But the potential of the storyline keeps you reading...Belladonna must have her vengeance. So I'm going to politely skip the unwarranted finale in which she's suddenly living down south as a happy housewife. Just take a gander at some of the online reviews and you will see how furious about 99% of the readership is with this lackluster climax. Again, it's as if Moline has pussyfooted with the material she herself has created. She knows it's trash -- how could she not? Yet she's afraid to go all the way with it. She wants Belladonna to be a creature of vengeance and fury, yet she also wants her to be a good-natured and loving human being. It's as if Moline herself can't make up her mind what she wants the novel to be, and so it suffers.
Yes, Belladonna suffers from the same thing the majority of fiction suffers from in this miserable modern age: it aspires to be Literary, capital "L." Even when it's trash the modern novel must be written as if it's the most precious thing. That industry review which compared this novel to Harold Robbins is disingenuous, both to Moline and Robbins. No one in their right mind could ever accuse Harold Robbins of aspiring to Literature...but then, the guy knew what he was writing: trash. And his trashy novels all have a primal drive, something Belladonna could've benefited from.
In the old days of trash fiction, there would generally be an "in the tradition of" type of novel which would follow on the heels of the latest bestseller. I just wish someone had written an "in the tradition of" type of novel for Belladonna, one which delivered on the trashy and lurid promise which Moline squandered in her own.
Monday, May 2, 2011
The Sharpshooter #3: Blood Bath, by Bruno Rossi
November, 1973 Leisure Books
Good lord! If I had known this volume of The Sharpshooter was so lurid, so exploitative, so friggin' twisted, I would've read it a whole lot sooner. The only men's adventure novel I can think of that comes close to this level of graphic sleaze would be Gannon #1, but I'd say Blood Bath is even more twisted; at least Gannon had some semblance of humanity about him, and he was fighting for a cause. Johnny "Sharpshooter" Rock however murders, tortures, and maims throughout Blood Bath, usually for no reason at all.
It's obvious from the start that this "Bruno Rossi" is different from the others who penned the previous two volumes. The prose is rough and run-on sentences prevail. The occasional sentence I had to re-read as it was such a confused mess. But on the positive side, this "Rossi" doesn't shrink from describing graphic brutality -- in fact, Blood Bath is more of a horror novel than action. There are only one or two shootouts, with the majority of the "action" given over to Rock murdering unarmed opponents or knocking them out with chloroform and taking them back to his hideout so he can torture them for info. And then murder them. Rock is once again more depraved, cruel, and "evil" than the mobsters he wars against.
The "horror" connection shows itself in the opening pages, when Jessie Armstrong, a black guy who works for the FBI but is secretly an informant for the mafia, hides in a mob "safe house" while on the run from Rock, who has discovered him. (I mention that Armstrong is black because Rossi reminds us about a zillion times, so it's now stuck in my brain.) In this dank, rotting house in the Jersey wildlands, Armstrong awakens in the dead of night, disturbed by a constant dripping sound. Turns out there's a mutilated corpse hanging in the basement, half-eaten by huge rats. Alley cats lap up the pools of blood while Armstrong watches in shock. Rossi delights in graphically describing the bloody mess, the feasting rats. Rats are all through Blood Bath; these particular rats in fact are basically co-stars in the lurid tale, so all those who have a rat-phobia should steer clear of this particular installment of the Sharpshooter series.
Rock, due to his omniscient powers, has of course tracked Armstrong here and so captures the guy and takes him to his own safe house, off the Jersey shoreline. Here Rock ties up Armstrong and his mistress, shackling them in a boathouse and placing a cage full of those rats right beside them. Eventually he spreads food through the area and then opens the cage so the rats can run loose. This is only the tip of Rock's psychological torture; later on, when he murders a few of his captives, he tosses bodyparts or entire bodies to the rats, so they can eat them right in front of the other captives.
Rock's mission this time out is to crush a Jersey mafia family. I had a hell of a time keeping track of the various members, but it seemed Rossi did, too. Also it didn't help that not once in Blood Bath do we see the "bad gus" do anything bad. Late in the game we learn that one of the bosses is known for a sadistic streak (he's got nothing on Rock, though), and also toward the very end the mobsters apparently kill a beloved cop so they can lay the blame on Rock and therefore set him up, but we never see them do it. Instead, the mobsters come off more like the innocent here, with Rock a murdering automaton who blitzes his way through their ranks.
Really, this is torture porn more than anything else. It has a definite dark humor, though. Armstrong strikes up a friendship of sorts with Rock -- while chained in the boat house, remember -- and often comments on Rock's sadism. In particular there's a laugh out loud scene where Rock, moments after capturing a high-ranking mafia lawyer, blows the guy's head off in front of everyone. "That does it for him, huh?" says Armstrong. More twisted and goofy fun is had with Luci Sordi, a mobster's wife whom Rock also captures; she goes out of her way to turn him on, trying to come on to him and sway his mind. But Rock is single-minded and ignores her, as human as an actual rock.
Once again Rock comes off as the perfect killing machine, his plans going off without a hitch, and never once coming into any danger. He blows up mobster-owned mansions and trucks, kills various stooges. Then he goes back to his boathouse with its growing collection of captives and tortures them for more information. Another incredible and insane sequence has Rock handcuff Luci to another mobster stooge and then orders them to walk across a fetid marsh. The two are panicking as they're sure Rock is about to shoot them in the back. Instead Rock takes an Uzi and blasts the guy's arm off and then stitches him up and down each side, blasting his body into shreds. Luci of course freaks out, covered in blood and with a severed arm hanging from her wrist no less.
It was at this point that I realized that, despite being the titular character and protagonist, Johnny Rock is not the hero of this series. I'd already noticed that "Rossi" spent more time getting into the heads of the "villains;" one of them, an elderly mobster named Da Vinci, is the most colorful character in the book, more alive than Rock is. However Rossi doesn't much get into Rock's head, instead describing his various murderous and torturous actions. I often wonder about novels like Blood Bath. The majority of its readers were probably blue-collar guys who despaired over how the US was going to hell and sought an outlet for their repressed rage; they certainly found it in The Sharpshooter. But I wonder how seriously the authors took their own work. My guess is that the majority of lurid stuff like Blood Bath is just the work of an author seeing how far he can go to please the twisted whims of his readers.
Anyway, that's my theory -- and it seems further justified in that there is no resolution to the main plot. I mean, what happens to Da Vinci? Throughout Blood Bath he sits on his expensive yacht and tries to figure out Rock's strategy. We never find out if Rock kills him during his final assault. Also, the entire bit with Luci Sordi is bizarre beyond belief; despite being psychologically tortured throughout Blood Bath, she still throws herself at Rock and is even there for him at the end. And then there's Jessie Armstrong...he just disappears at the end of the book, apparently saved by someone (Da Vinci?), but Rock never finds out who, or even where he went. So it's as if the whole "war against the Jersey mafia" is just a convenient frame upon which Rossi can hang various scenes of graphic torture and murder.
But I'm not complaining. Part of the fun of The Sharpshooter is just how damn mean and nasty it can be. I like to think it's a parody of Don Pendleton's Executioner series, but who knows. If you're looking for a twisted dose of mobster-killing fun (and you're not squeamish about rats), give Blood Bath a shot. It's also got probably the best cover I've ever seen on a men's adventure novel, courtesy Ken Barr -- unfortunately the scene depicted doesn't actually happen in the book.
3/1/12 UPDATE: As stated in my review of The Marksman #3: Kill Them All, I'm now certain that Blood Bath was written as a Marksman novel, only changed at the last moment to become an entry in the Sharpshooter series. As I detail in my review, Kill Them All is actually a sequel to Blood Bath, and definitely written by the same twisted author.
3/9/12 UPDATE: After a lot of research, I've determined that this novel was actually written by Russell Smith!