Dark Angel #3: The Gilded Snatch Caper, by James D. Lawrence
May, 1975 Pyramid Books
The third volume of Dark Angel is pretty patience-testing; sad when you consider how fun the previous two volumes were. But it would appear that James D. Lawrence has lost his mojo. While heroine Angie “The Dark Angel” Harpe is as vivacious as ever, with a smart-ass, Foxy Brown-esque line for every occasion, the plot itself is a muddled, listless affair, and it is accurately summed up by the proprietor of Blaxploitation Paperbacks (from whom I lifted this cover scan – thanks!): “…this one comes across as if the author just cranked it out because he was under pressure from the publisher.”
Even though this one is shorter than the first two, it seems a lot longer, mostly because hardly anything happens. Hell, even the sleazy sex has been whittled down. Angie spends the majority of the novel driving around New York City and its rural surroundings, chasing one red herring lead after another; action is just as scant as the sex. It doesn’t help matters that Angie’s case is outside her normal purview: this time she’s hired to find a kidnapped heiress, and as Angie constantly informs everyone, she doesn’t normally do missing person cases. But Lawrence must’ve been reading a lot about the Patty Hearst fiasco at the time and figured it was as good material as any to use for his third Dark Angel novel.
Lawrence at least retains his gift for memorable openings: Angie’s on a crowded elevator when a dude with a potted plant covering his face sticks a gun in her back. As nonchalant as can be, Angie reaches back, unzips his fly, and grabs hold of his dick! If he doesn’t hand over the gun he’ll be one sorry sonofabitch, so the guy hands it over. But here the longwinded nature of the tale first manifests itself; the guy’s over-complicated story has it that he was hired by a one night stand hippie chick who gave him the plant, which contains an address on it, as well as an envelope with the same address, and told to kidnap the Dark Angel.
The address turns out to be an abandoned flophouse with a store mannequin in it, one that’s got a machete through the head. There’s also an expensive necklace on it; through this and her various contacts Angie figures out that the owner is young Byrony Cargill (not to be confused with Patty Hearst, of course), college-age daughter of newspaper baron Royce Cargill. But when Angie goes to deliver them the necklace, she’s harrassed at the front gate and made to strip to panties and boots. As unfazed as ever by her own nudity, Angie beats up the men who have surrounded her, tosses one of them on the hood of her Jaguar, and drives up to the front gate.
She carries out her meeting with the Cargills while still nude – Lawrence still maintains an outrageously sleazy vibe throughout, though nothing to the caliber of his previous outings. Anyway here Angie learns that Byrony Cargill has been kidnapped. It would appear a recurring motif of the Dark Angel series is that Angie is hired by an older white male who treats her with disdain; Royce Cargill serves this function this time. Another motif is that, during the course of her investigation, Angie will be paired with a young white man, who indeed will soon become her partner in bed as well – as ever, Angie only has sex with white men.
The young man in question is Derek Morgan, wealthy ‘Nam vet who is in his mid 20s and is studying art at Rockford University with Byrony, his fiance. Cargill, who doesn’t believe Angie’s weird story and suspects she has something to do with Byrony’s kidnapping, orders her to find his daughter and insists that Derek accompany and monitor her throughout. He’ll even put them up at a company penthouse suite in Manhattan. It takes a good long while for Angie to get him in the sack, though she gives him all kinds of saucy lines in the meantime; indeed, Lawrence waits till page 102 to even get to his first sex scene, which admittedly is more explicit and longer than any others yet in the series, complete even with the TMI tidbit that Angie’s already “oozing” before they do the deed, Derek has her so worked up.
Angie and Derek spend a goodly portion of The Gilded Snatch Caper either sitting around the penthouse or driving to or from it. They chase after one lead after another, usually coming up with nothing – Angie is alternately stupid and brilliant this time out, missing obvious clues several times, then flashing on what she missed much later and having a brainiac flash that explains everything. As for the curious title of the book, it comes from the gold-colored, short curly hair which is included with the ransom note for Byrony; Derek reveals that, a few days ago, Byrony dyed her pubic hair gold as a lark. Angie chortles that she’ll file this case under the name “The Gilded Snatch.”
But it’s all pretty tedious. The sleazy ‘70s vibe at least is still in effect, with Angie’s slutty wardrobe often described, complete with the mandatory mentions of the salivating men she leaves in her wake. And Lawrence as ever busts out the racial slurs, with Angie good-naturedly joking on race with her contacts, most of whom are of various ethinicities. Particular pre-PC fun is provided by one in Chinatown by the name of Wun Good Fook. While Angie’s friends (and enemies) will often mention her race, I noticed this time around what appeared to be a careful attempt on Lawrence’s part of downplaying Angie’s ethnicity. Multiple times she is just described as “golden skinned,” as if Lawrence were trying to make us forget the character is black. (I immediately put down the book and phoned the ACLU.)
From the dyed pubic hair (there’s a sentence I don’t get to write every day) Angie has already figured out that Byrony played a part in her own abduction. It develops that she’s in with a group of hippie terrorists called The Rainmakers (not to be confused with the Weathermen, of course), and she plotted the kidnapping as a ruse to get money from her old man “to raise public consciousness.” Angie gets here after contacting a variety of leads, including a fashion mag photographer who has Angie pose mostly-nude for him like old times (even sucking on her “tits” so her nipples will be erect for the shot!). But eventually Angie and Derek learn that there is more to the kidnapping story, and that Byrony might be in real danger.
There’s precious little action. When visiting the Rockford campus Angie and Derek are attacked by a “biker freak” and a big black dude (whom Lawrence memorably describes as a “jig” – like I said, the sleazy vibe is still here), but Angie again bests her opponents with her weighted purse and judo skills. A later, even briefer fight has her taking out some Mafia thugs she meets in one of the book’s more arbitrary scenes. Lawrence mixes the sex and violence later on when Angie’s kidnapped by three Nazi-types who announce their intent to rape her. Angie tells them she wants to enjoy it, strips down, arranges which guy gets which part of her, and when two of them “slide into her” she “rakes her teeth” along the “shaft” of one and beats them all senseless.
But what makes it worse is that Lawrence keeps teasing us with the promise of action. Like when Royce Cargill gets notice of where to drop off the payment, and sends off his lawyer to do the job. Angie and Derek wait in the shadows, armed with Uzis…and all the action happens off-page, as it were, with people shooting at each other while Angie and Derek sit there. Then they just get in Angie’s Jaguar and drive back to New York!! So it’s back to the penthouse for more sex, after which they learn one of Angie’s contacts, that photographer, has been murdered. This leads to more diversions, Lawrence clearly just spinning his wheels to fill up the book.
To cut to the chase – it turns out that a sleazy hippie chick named Flower Power, who is a Rainmaker, has also been sleeping around with the “ghetto militants” of the Che Berets, a Harlem-based black terrorist army. She is the one who slept with the dude with the potted plant at the beginning of the novel; a convoluted story the goal of which was to get Angie involved with the caper in the first place. But the Che Berets, led by a big black dude with a strange speaking style, ended up stealing Byrony from the Rainmakers – and then, in the final pages, a third group has come along, stealling Byrony away from these guys, killing them all in the process.
It gets more convoluted. If you recall the dude Angie tossed on the hood of her car like a deer carcass – it was a man named Warner Upshur, editor of the National Indicator, a tabloid owned by Royce Cargill. Toward the end of the book Upshur keeps calling Angie. When she finally goes to his place, which is decorated in “Boris Karloff Byzantine,” Angie discovers that Upshur is into the bondage scene. He has a dungeon in his place with whips and chains, and Angie, despite the fact that she just pulled the exact same stunt a few pages ago, fools the guy into thinking she’s all game for it – and then ends up locking him up and escaping.
But now in the final pages…it turns out Upshur is the main villain, after all! Yep, Angie and Derek, again with those Uzis, head back to Upshur’s place and Angie exposits for a few pages about how Upshur is really a German and was a Nazi to boot. In fact those three would-be rapists are his soldiers. Angie you see has figured all this out without informing us readers. The fact that Angie was just in Upshur’s place a few hours ago, with him at her mercy, is unmentioned – nor is the fact that Upshur could’ve killed Angie at the time. As I say, the entire novel just reeks of something Lawrence quickly banged out without much thought.
Even in the finale Angie doesn’t do much – those three Nazis gun down Upshur, then Angie and Derek blast them away. This is literally on the last page, like four paragraphs before the end of the book – Lawrence has so padded the pages that he merely leaves it at “Angie shot one of them down,” or something to that effect. Sprinting for the finale now, he finally introduces Byrony, who is captive here in Upshur’s place; she doesn’t even have any dialog. In fact Lawrence is so out of sorts that he goofs and mentions Angie’s “bare breasts,” when in fact it was in her earlier visit to Upshur’s that she was topless, not here in the finale.
So yeah, this one was subpar. One can see why there was only one more volume to go; here’s hoping The Godmother Caper is much better than this dud.