Thursday, March 15, 2018

Richard Blade #7: Pearl Of Patmos

Richard Blade #7: Pearl Of Patmos, by Jeffrey Lord
July, 1973  Pinnacle Books

Manning Lee Stokes has a hard time of it with his penultimate volume of Richard Blade; you can easily see why the next one was his last. On the plus side, this was the first “new” story that Pinnacle published (“Here is our first original in the series”) – and per the copyright date they released it at the same time as their reprint of #2: The Jade Warrior. This must’ve been confusing for readers at the time, as Pinnacle spread out their reprinting of the first six volumes over a few months. Not that there’s much continuity in the Richard Blade series, but still – I can imagine some fans back in the day were a bit confused by the out-of-order publication schedule.

My guess is that Stokes had written this one the year before, but it wasn’t published due to MacFadden Books closing shop; same goes, no doubt, for volume 8. Stokes had probably already called it quits by the time producer Lyle Kenyon Engel got Pinnacle to take over the series, at which point Engel hired new series author Ronald Green. It will be interesting to see how Green tackles Richard Blade, but it can’t be as disjointed as what Stokes turns in for this particular installment. To be sure, Stokes’s writing is up to its usual caliber, but boy does he make some “interesting” authorial decisions, not to mention one of the most brazen cop-outs I’ve yet encountered in a novel.

As ever we’re not given much pickup from the previous volume; Blade is merely relaxing in his cottage in the sticks, swimming in the lake, when, as it normally happens in this genre, a hotstuff babe just happens to waltz onto his property and announces that she intends to swim. Stokes does a good job of setting up this “meet cute,” which has this gorgeous gal – whose face Blade finds somehow familiar – drafting Blade into a game in which they will call one another by fake names and might have sex, depending on how it plays out. She calls herself Diana, after the goddess of the hunt, and Blade calls himself Hercules; as ever, Stokes works some mythic references into the tale. More pointedly, Blade muses on Diana’s boobs in a paen that brings to mind the similar one Stokes delivered in the Nick Carter: Killmaster novel Spy Castle, even down to the repeating “connoisseur of breasts” line:

Her breasts were beyond description. Blade forgot words and simply gazed, his loins excited and moving. He was something of a connoisseur of breasts and he immediately recognized that hers were hybrid, half Nordic, half Mediterranean. Not tanned pears, but with a hint of conoid; not warm melons, but swelling to round fullness. Her nipples were half-awakened rosebuds.

Folks, I only wish I had enough field experience to instantly detect that a pair of freshly-bared breasts are “half Nordic, half Mediterranean,” but really this is just par for the course so far as it goes for a hero in a Stokes novel, and I for one am not complaining. And if “conoid” above had you surfing over to, be prepared for similar stuff throughout the novel; Stokes is usually a bit, uh, literary for the genre, but it’s as if in Pearl Of Patmos he wanted to set the bar even higher. On page one alone we encounter “sciomachy,” “litterol,” and “corundum.” Sometimes I think these fancy words are just Stokes entertaining himself while he bangs out the latest manuscript.

Blade starts to fall for Diana post-bang, but a game’s a game and off she goes in her fancy sportscar, never to see him again per the rules. Eventually Blade will learn that her name really is Diana; she’s the famous jet-setting young wife of some British notable, and at novel’s end (nine months later), Blade will return to Home Dimension (aka “HD”) and discover that Diana has a son. He is certain it is his, but knows he’ll never see the boy or even Diana herself again, so it’s yet another arbitrary go-nowhere development which will have no impact on Blade’s characterization. But at least we get one of Stokes’s patented graphic sex scenes early on, with Blade and Diana conjugating underwater: “Blade slid easily, deeply, into that moist undersea cavern.”

Finally it’s time for the latest trip into Dimension X (aka “DX”). There’s absolutely no reason why Blade goes over this time; previous volumes have at least gone through the motions of providing a reason for the latest trip, but this time there’s none. I guess Lord L and J are just sending Blade over to Dimension X because it’s there. Why not? Lord L greases up a nude Blade per the norm, this time casually putting a few extra wires on his “scrotum,” and then just as casually mentioning that this time he plans to send Blade over to DX “a little longer” than previous missions. What’s odd though is that Pearl Of Patmos seems to occur over less of a span of time than earlier volumes, at least so far as the DX portion goes. Stokes explains this away with vague mentions that time “runs differently” in those other dimensions, at least when compared to HD.

Blade finds himself in a temple that’s been set to fire, and fights his way out of the melee; soldiers in Romanesque sort of helmets and armor are ransacking the city Blade finds himself in. At lenth Blade will learn the city is named Thyrne, and the siegers are Samostans, barbarians who are led by the infamous Hectoris. Per Stokes’s usual template, Hectoris is much discussed but doesn’t actually appear in the text until the very final pages. Blade briefly hooks up with a roughneck criminal sort named Nob, a Thyrne local who helps Blade escape – sans Nob, who is apparently killed by the Samostans – down through a hidden sewer. Prepare for some gross-out stuff as Blade makes his way through a “horrible porridge of feces and urine and rotted flesh.”

Eventually Blade comes across the first of many statues of the living goddess Juna, in particular a 200 foot statue of gold, as depicted by Tony DeStefano on the cover. Blade meets the latest incarnation of Juna when he saves her from one of the most horrific fates I’ve ever encountered in pulp: a depraved priest named Ptol and his followers plan to put a flaming hot bronze helmet on the pretty girl’s face, burning her flesh down to the bone. Blade of course saves the nude babe, chopping of Ptol’s hand and killing one of the priests. But Ptol gets away and Blade regrets that he didn’t kill him. The reader soon regrets this as well, particularly given the copout Stokes will pull before novel’s end.

“[Blade’s] heart was not in the mission; over him there hung a strange lethargy and, name it, fear!” Folks I’ve said before that Manning Lee Stokes often used his characters as mouthpieces for his own complaints about the latest writing job Lyle Kenyon Engel had handed him; practically ever Stokes book I’ve read that was “produced” by Engels features a part where the protagonist bitches about his latest assignment and wonders what the hell he’s supposed to do. I think this time takes the cake, as it goes on throughout – page 148 features another humdinger: “This was a wasted mission and [Blade] knew it.”

Worse yet, Blade is fashioned into a chaperone here, escorting a haughty, ungrateful Juna (“a shrewd and articulate wench,” per Blade) and her entourage. Eventually Blade learns that Junia herself was plotting against Ptol; she is not from Thyrne, but from Patmos, an island empire, and via complex backstory came here posing as Juna but really working as a spy. She reports to Queen Izmia, the titular Pear of Patmos, Juna’s grandmother. That all settled, Blade overcomes Juna’s imperiousness and engages with her in the expected sex scene: “Enter the house of Juna,” she eagerly commands him. Blade for his part has taken to insultingly referring to her as a “temple whore,” and once she’s nice and randy Juna is only too eager to agree with him – “For the moment [Blade] was master and they both knew it.”

Patmos turns out to be a “land of flowers and drugs,” the populace hooked on a hash-like drug that keeps them all nice and mellow. Even the soldier who is to guard a newly-arrived Blade is a “popinjay” in Blade’s eyes, and they will all be easy prey for the advancing forces of Hectoris. Blade reunites with old pal Nob, not dead after all and also a sort-of prisoner here on Patmos: “They shook hands and in that moment Blade reasserted his strength and his authority.” Blade of course gets laid again, this time courtesy Queen Izmia, who like Juna is a hotbod young gal – a “giantess,” even, with silver hair and chameleon-like skin that seems to be reddish in its normal state. And despite being a “grandmother” she too is eternally reborn into youth; yet another of Stokes’s recurring motifs is the lustful young babe who in reality is quite old. And another of those recurring motifs is the sex scene: “[Izmia] was narrow and tight and moist and there seemed no end to her cavern.”

But here’s where that copout occurs. Blade’s woken up to find Izmia ready for some lovin’ – and folks, Blade has forgotten where he is. He’s forgotten Juna, Thyrne, Patmos, wily priest Ptol, all of it! Blade has amnesia!! It’s the most puzzling authorial copout I’ve yet encountered in pulp, as there is absolutely no reason provided why Blade experiences amnesia…we get some vagueries that it might be the computer back home messing with him, but it’s too little, too late. We must read now as Blade fumbles his way through his temporary command of Patmos’s island forces; he’s even so forgotten Ptol that when he catches the little cretin again, he doesn’t even kill him.

Stokes moves on to other stuff – like that mythic stuff he tries to imbue each volume with. And it gets real weird this time. Izmia, during that boff, captured Blade’s uh, effluvia in a cannister…and she takes this and puts it in a chalice and mixes it with wine and herbs and etc, and then has Blade drink it, after which Blade goes on this quasi-psychedelic swimming trip to the bottom of a well, where he gathers up a mystical sword. And Izmia’s gone when he returns, shriveling back up into the crone she truly is. After this wildness, the final fight with Hectoris’s warriors is anticlimactic, particularly given that Stokes page-fills with near-identical scenes of Blade first fighting Hectoris’s chief lieutenant in combat before taking on Hectoris himself in a similar match. 

As if the chalice-drinking, sword-gathering stuff wasn’t weird enough, Stokes caps off the DX portion of the tale with Blade conjugating with Juna, who again catches his seed, and this time spreads it on the mystical sword – which Blade then jams right up into a certain part of Juna’s anatomy(!). And all this psychedelic stuff happens and suddenly Juna becomes the new Izmia, with the silver hair and scarlet flesh and big build, and it’s all weird and crazy, and then Blade’s head snaps and he’s thrust back into Home Dimension, where it’s nine months later. Oh, and he sees in the paper that Diana is pregnant with a boy, which Blade is certain is his: “[Blade] had come back from hell to find a bit of immortality had been bestowed on him.”

Well, I enjoy doing these overlong reviews/rundowns of the Richard Blade series, and despite the padding and uneventfulness of this particular installment, I’ll be sorry to see Stokes’s tenure come to an end. But he only had one more volume to go, and I’m hoping he at least goes out with a bang.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Springblade #2: Machete

Springblade #2: Machete, by Greg Walker
January, 1990  Charter Books

Jeez, I pretty much plumb forgot Springblade, that 9-volume “Special Forces” series from the early ‘90s that features a protagonist a bit too fond of bladed weaponry. It’s been so long since I read the first volume that I had to go back and re-read my (typically long-winded) review to refresh myself on the gist of the series before reading this one. Not that I needed to, as it turned out; as typical for the genre there’s scant reference to the previous book.

Again, this series shows how the men’s adventure genre slowly metamorphasized into military fiction. The focus is more on how an off-the-books black ops outfit like Springblade would work in the real world, with more of a slow-burn approach than the constant action more typical of the men’s adventure genre. Like the previous volume, Machete hardly has any action at all until the very final pages. But the series lasted for a respectable 9 volumes, so clearly it resonated with many readers.

Author Greg Walker again turns in a novel that revels in the grungy world of an army lifer; hero Bo Thornton and his gang are as crude and rude as can be, “blowing farts,” endearingly referring to one another as “cum bubbles,” and engaging in banter that would melt modern snowflakes. As with the previous volume, there’s some dialog here that wouldn’t be publishable in today’s world, and if all that weren’t enough, there’s a wildly outrageous part where Thornton and his pal, DEA agent Calvin Bailey, are nearly mugged (and raped!) by transvestite gay bikers.

It’s some unspecified time after the previous volume, and when we meet up with Thornton again he’s on his land in Oregon, hacking down the marijuana plants someone’s planted there. After this it’s on to some off-page sex with his girlfriend, Linda, returning from the previous volume. Like with most other entries in the genre at this time, Springblade is not overly concerned with sex – or women in general – and this will be it for any hanky-panky on Thornton’s part. The focus is actually more on the fiery banter these two exchange; Linda is a hardcore liberal, having been raised by left-leaning parents (“God help me if Mom ever finds out you were a Green Beret”), and Thornton often pokes fun at her liberal sentiments.

Thornton is contacted by Bailey again, who brings our hero and his outfit into a mission that is pretty convoluted. But it goes mostly like this: down in the fictional banana republic of La Libertad, despotic ruler Aguillar has sicced his loyal and sadistic henchman Melendez on the freedom-loving revolutionaries. The novel opens as Melendez butchers a bunch of them, though leading revolutionary Ricardo Montalvo is able to escape the massacre along with his family. Montalvo is popular among the people and, if a free election were to be held, he would easily beat Aguillar. Montalvo makes his way to America, into the safety net of the State Dept, but his story of Aguillar’s butchery isn’t fully believed.

Speaking of the State Dept, boy is it taken through the wringer in this book. Walker clearly held some strong opinions about them. Throughout the book the Dept is mocked as being run by a bunch of bumbling fools; in particular there’s Richard Lippman, mockingly referred to by all and sundry as “Dick Lips.” Walker takes a special relish in abusing Lippman; the convoluted setup at one point has Thornton and team staging the “kidnapping” of Montalvo and his family, and Thornton’s boys beat up Lippman a bit too thoroughly. As if that weren’t enough, Walker has to constantly remind us of the agony the man endures.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Bailey, again representing the DEA, hires Thornton and his “Springblade” outfit for the job of feinging Montalvo’s kidnapping (due to a bunch of convoluted reasons) and then protecting him from any forces Aguillar might send up to America to exterminate him. Eventually Thornton will learn there is more to this, much to his chagrin: the DEA, despite Bailey’s own dislike of the idea, also wants Thornton to use Montalvo as bait. Anyway Thornton puts together his team, which is the same as the last time – total cipher Jason Silver, who is referred to as Thornton’s “alter ego,” and mother hen Frank Hartung, Korean War vet who actually sees some action this time. But David Lee is off on official military duty, so Bailey brings in a hired gun replacement named Mike Bannion.

Like last time it’s mostly page-filling until the fireworks finale, but boy do Thornton and Bailey get in a lot of fights throughout, all of them as arbitrary as can be. The action moves to San Francisco, which Walker presents as a liberal hellhole with an almost surreal proportion of crime – the comments on SanFran’s gay community in particular would raise the hackles of the sensitive readers of today. It becomes an intentional recurring joke that each time these two go out for dinner, they encounter some sort of bloodshed, from an arbitrary drive-by machine gunning to those aforementioned tranny bikers. Thornton as ever carries his knife, and Bailey, a sword fanatic (who drops lines from the Koran), has a cane that conceals a long blade.

The part with the gay bikers is the highlight of the book, and a damn mini-masterpiece of sleazy pulp. Led by Turk, with colorfully-named members like Teddy-San (who dresses like a “geisha girl”), Charley O, and Oboe, the bikers plan to rape, kill, and then mug our two heroes, who of course respond to the threat thusly:

“Fuck me to tears,” grunted Bailey. “Look at ‘em, Bo. They’re all queers!” 

“Big, mean queers, too,” whispered Thornton.

Of course, our two battle-hardened heroes make short but grisly work of the gang, slicing and dicing with their bladed weaponry in full graphic splendor:

Ignoring Teddy-San, who was spewing vomit over Oboe’s head, Bailey stepped directly behind the injured man, raising the waki high above his head, then brought the whistling blade down with all the power he could muster. With a sound like a coconut being split by a hammer, the hard cranial bone parted, offering the off-white softness of the brain to his eager cutting edge. Calvin, his muscles swollen with adrenalin, continued the stroke, pulling the blade back toward himself as it roared through the sponge-like mass of brain cells, effortlessly parting the tough cartilege of the neck and throat, and continuing into the dead man’s upper body.

Compared to this graphic insanity, the finale can only pale in comparison. Sure enough, Melendez – who by the way is the wielder of the titular “machete” – sneaks into the US with a group of enforcers, their goal the murder of Montalvo and family. Springblade of course prevents this, in what is unfortunately a rather anticlimactic fight – though Melendez at least buys it in fitting fashion, his heart impaled by Thornton’s springblade. So I guess the series’s titular weapon trumps the volume’s titular weapon. (That sentence made sense in my head, at least.)

But the book for some reason isn’t over yet, so Aguillar sends another dude after Montalvo, and this guy’s like the replacement for Melendez. His name is Azo and it turns out he once received combat training from none other than Bo Thornton. This final battle is a bit more spectacular, taking place in the San Francisco zoo, and features a nice blockbuster movie-esque send-off for one of the villains, as he falls into the zoo’s alligator pit. Meanwhile temporary replacement Mike Bannion has received minor injuries, and it’s doubtful if he will return in a future volume, who knows.

Walker injects a little in-jokery with the tidbit that Jason Silver enjoys reading men’s adventure novels, in particular a series entitled “Night Raider.” We see him finish the latest installment, grumbling to himself how unreal the events depicted in the book are – and then getting into a firefight just as outrageous as those in the series. However Walker drops the ball on this one, or at least didn’t even realize he had a ball in play, as at the end of the book when Thornton tosses the villian into the alligator pit, Walker describes Thornton as “the powerful night stalker.” Seems to me like his intention was actually to write “the powerful night raider,” thus serving up the payoff to the “Night Raider” setup earlier in the book.

Overall Machete is okay, mostly saved by all the insane, arbitrary stuff. One almost wishes that Walker had forgotten about delivering a “realistic” setup of our heroes guarding Montalvo and family, and just turned in more surreal stuff along the lines of the arbitrary fights on the streets of San Francisco. Personally I could’ve read an entire book of Springblade slicing and dicing tranny gay bikers who were trying to mug and bugger them.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Thirteen Bracelets

The Thirteen Bracelets, by Robert Lory
No month stated, 1974  Ace Books

Taking place in the far-flung future of 1989, The Thirteen Bracelets is a sci-fi yarn that shows the more humorous side of Robert Lory, who around this time was also writing installments of my all-time favorite men’s adventure series, John Eagle Expeditor. (And of course I geeked out when, late in the novel, the narrator-protagonist relays how he’d been “expedited” to the scene of a past assignment…!) Unfortunately though, the novel is a bit too funny (or at least, attempts to be) for its own good; it’s more in the vein of a Ron Goulart novel than what you might expect, given the otherwise-serious back cover copy. 

Anyway, it’s ’89, and our narrator is shape-changing mutant Hari Denver, a spy who, due to being near the nuke blast which separated “White Dixie” and “Black Dixie,” now has the ability to change his appearance, from his face to his entire body – if an arm is chopped off, for example, he can regrow it. He now works as a secret agent for Section, reporting to a crusty boss named Fowler, whose office is in Manhattan. One of the recurring “jokes” is that the US is now so messed-up that most government agencies work out of old corporate buildings in Manhattan, given the mass exodus of businesses from this area in the late ‘70s.

We get a glimpse of the slapstick vibe of the novel in the first pages, as Folwer contacts Denver on a “vidscreen,” telling Denver to “get rid of” the lovely young woman Denver happens to be getting in bed with. Denver responds by hitting the girl beneath the chin, instantly killing her. He explains to a nonplussed Folwer, watching it all on the vidscreen, that the girl was in fact a terrorist, and the subject of the assignment Denver was working on, which is now wrapped up! When Fowler grumbles over Denver’s “unorthodox methods,” Denver responds, “These are unorthodox times.”

Denver hops in his Datsun Super Electric and heads over to Fowler’s office, where he’s briefed on his latest assignment – appeasing the Mudir of Chad, a visiting dignitary whose thirteen virgins, each of whom was wearing an antique golden bracelet, were recently stolen from a boat that was touring Staten Island. It’s a locked room mystery sort of deal, as there was just a small window on the boat and the girls disappeared while the boat was out to sea. Denver’s job is to find those bracelets.

The novel is more of a private eye yarn than a spy story; Denver ventures about the country in his search, following various leads. Actually the novel is more of a satirical look at a whacked-out America that is now separated along outrageously-overdone racial lines. In fact, due to this outrageousness alone, The Thirteen Bracelets is the sort of novel that likely could not be reprinted in today’s santized world. In his picaresque journeys Denver meets every racial stereotype you could imagine, up to and including actual spear-chuckers.

Another of the novel’s recurring jokes is that Hari Denver, no matter what “disguise” he’s fashioned himself into, is always recognized. In the course of the book he changes himself into an American Indian, a Jew, an Eskimo, a black, an old Russian, and possibly some other caricatures I’ve forgotten. Yet in each case someone will immediately know they are dealing with the infamous Hari Denver, in what sort of comes off like a prefigure of the “I heard you were dead!” line everyone greeted Snake Plisskin with in Escape From New York. In fact, many elements of The Thirteen Bracelets are reminiscent of that later film.

Lory’s “predictions” of course didn’t come true – the novel is really more of an over-the-top satire than a serious work of sci-fi – but he does at times hit an eerie note of prescience. Like when Denver informs us of the GPS-type device which is embedded in his neck and called a “hotspot.” Otherwise the novel sticks to racial caricature-type stuff; after ditching the Mudir and his four identical brothers, Denver tracks clues from Chinatown to a series of interstates overseen by American Indians, until finally he ends up in the presence of Obadiah, the “chief wuggum of the New Lesotho,” a giant black guy who wears a leopardskin cape, surrounded by spear-carrying warriors.

At this point Denver has disguised himself as a black as well, bearing a three-foot afro with a gun hidden in it, but per the recurring bit Obadiah already knows it’s really Denver beneath the black skin. Our hero has tracked the missing girls here, but the chief claims not to have them. Meanwhile he’s about to go to war with New Zion (located in what was once Bridgeport); in an impromptu naval skirmish, Denver and the chief are knocked off the chief’s boat, and as he hits the water Denver changes himself to a Jew – prompting one of those pre-PC lines from a New Zionist on the attacking ship: “We scared this one white!”

Denver gives himself a four-inch nose, only to be informed by Obadiah that it’s a bit much; when Denver shrinks it down to three inches, the New Zionists think he’s an Arab. He’s taken into the presence of President Wineberg, a nutcase bearing a .357 he arbitrarily fires at people. The true ruler here is The O’Donnell, an obese fiddler who is in fact Jewish but changed his last name to an Irish one when he began publishing sleaze novels. With the chief out of the picture – once The O’Donnell has had him and his men screw a bunch of syphilis-tainted women the New Lesotho sold them – The O’Donnell becomes Denver’s new traveling companion.

Eventually they get to Washington, which is even more shattered than New York; Lory gets even more spoofy with the revelations that “the Mall” is now “the Maul,” and the Lincoln Memorial statue has been recarved so that Honest Abe is sitting on a toilet. After a too-brief run-in with a former colleague named Jolly Van Cleeve – who turns out to have been involved with the kidnapping of the thirteen virgins – Denver finds himself down in the White Cave, ie the relocated White House, now in the caverns beneath the destroyed structure. Obese president George II, self-styled monarch who goes around nude save for different hats, enters the fray and stays longer than he should, for here the book sort of loses its fun.

Here’s also a good part where I can show the goofy tone Lory maintains throughout the novel. While below-ground Denver runs afoul of various generals who are united against the president. Denver escapes them and engages them in a car chase through the zigzagging, booby trapped tunnels:

At that point, the air boomed with the commander in chief’s command: “Catch him – I’ve changed my mind!” 

At which point, my car took off like a shot. 

At which point, running feet in pursuit stopped and a second car, accommodating four Army brass including General Morg himself who rang the brass bell decorating the front, soared after mine. 

At which point the shooting started.

The novel is written in this same smug, pretty contrived style throughout. However, at 188 pages of big print, it is at least a breezy read. After more turnarounds, Denver next discovers that one of the Mudir’s “brothers” isn’t really a brother at all, but one of his sisters, Althea. Lory doesn’t describe her at all, but we do learn she is ugly, or at least Denver considers her so. Eventually it turns out that this too is just a disguise and she’s a smoking hot babe after all.

It stays down here in the White Cave area for the duration, unfortunately, including an arbitrary bit where Denver is briefly captured by some Red Chinese who force him to play “ping-pow,” which is ping-pong with a bomb instead of a ball. It turns out those missing bracelets contained blueprints for something called a Blight Bomb, sort of a virus-generating bomb, and the Mudir planned to use it on Nepal. Althea wants to stop this. Evetually Denver finds himself posing as an old Russian, and must also have sex with all thirteen of the stolen virgins, one after another, as part of a ruse on the Mudir’s part to suss out who here is really Hari Denver in disguise. But Lory isn’t exploitative at all: “I finished her off fast” being the extent of the sleaze.

The finale continues with the comedic approach; the Blight Bomb plan safely prevented, George II reveals himself to really be a computer, the human form just a puppet, and instructs Althea to go have sex with Hari so as to burn off her hostility! And here we leave our narrating hero. Overall The Thirteen Bracelets is passably entertaining, but a bit too “funny” for its own good, and I’m not just saying that because I normally dislike genre novels that are written in first-person.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 8


Agent 3S3: Massacre In The Sun (1966): Okay I’m cheating here, as I already reviewed this one, but this time I watched the cut of the film made for the Spanish market (which is possibly the same as the version that was released in the Italian market). Last time I watched the French cut, which was about 17 minutes longer, but as mentioned the copy I viewed suffered from a blurry, murky print. Not so this time, folks; this cut, which runs an hour and forty minutes, was put together by enterprising Eurospy fan David Alamaco, and apparently at one time it was posted on the Wild Eye Eurospy forum, which appears to be gone now. I was in touch with Mr. Alamaco last year, about to do a trade with him, but he ventures all over South America and the shipping costs are outrageous. Luckily the folks at Cult Action got hold of this very cut of the film, and for a mere $13 I was finally able to see it.

Alamaco sourced his cut from a Spanish cable broadcast, and the picture is pretty great – nothing hi-def, but certainly better than the previous version I viewed. Also, Alamaco has provided subtitles for most of the scenes that were never dubbed into English; as with the French cut I viewed, I of course watched the English dub (it just ain’t Eurospy if it doesn’t have bland, dubbed English voices). Unfortunately, this subtitling arbitrarily comes and goes; some scenes we get to understand what’s being said, other times we’re given no help at all. But whereas that French cut had no subs at all in the undubbed sequences, at least this time we’re given a better understanding of what’s going on. Otherwise the movie flows the same, with Giorgio Ardisson (as Agent 3S3 Walter Ross) strutting his stuff like the “Italian Sean Connery” he was hyped as; the women are approrpiately sexy, and in this more-clear copy we get better glimpses of the female flesh on display in the general’s multicultural harem, not to mention the bits jawdropping blonde bombshell Evi Marandi shows off in the swimming pool.

Here are the major differences I noted: The French cut of the film opens with Ross getting a fellow agent out of a Communist country, which turns out to be a training exercise that’s really being held in England. Then we get to the overlong title credits, after which we meet KGB agent Ivan Mikhailovic (Frank Wolff), who is on a training exercise of his own, posing as a peasant in a Spanish bar which turns out to be a training camp in the middle of snow-swept Russia. The Spanish cut reverses this, with the film opening on this scene, presumably catering to the Spanish market, before cutting to Ross in England, and then the credits. Later in the film, when Ross gets to San Felipe, he is given a room in which he discovers a bug hidden in a statuette. The Spanish cut ends there, but the French cut features a pretty blonde in the room who hops in Ross’s bed and offers herself to our hero. Most notably the finale, with Ross’s men geared out in black combat suits and infrared goggles, features more scenes of subgun-blasting fury in the French cut. In the Spanish cut the gliders land and we only see Ivan and Ross’s pal don their goggles and blast away, then we see some Molotov cockails in use. The French cut features the two female members of the resistance blasting away (with even more sequences of bad guys being blown away in infrared-vision), as well as an entire sequence of a glider landing and guys hopping out of it to mow down their enemies – and then we get to the Molotov cocktails scene. I’d love to see this additional action material in the same quality as the Alamaco dub. Perhaps someday a better version of the French cut will surface and someone will properly subtitle all of it.

The Big Blackout (1966): Here’s another Eurospy that sort of comes off like the Nick Carter: Killmaster film that never was. In fact, a Killmaster volume, The Weapon Of Night, played on the same concept, tapping into the blackout which gripped the East Coast of America in November 1965. Here though this event doesn’t happen until the end, and indeed the budget must’ve been pretty low – unlike most other Eurospy movies, The Big Blackout stays in Italy for the duration. The Italian name for the film is Perry Grant, Agente Di Ferro, so clearly the US distributors thought they’d capitalize on the “blackout” element.

Unknown actor Peter Holden stars as agent Perry Grant; according to this guy was only in one other movie, a Spaghetti Western, so the budget wasn’t extended for a “name” Eurospy actor, like George Ardisson, Roger Browne, or even Gordon Scott. But Holden isn’t bad, though to tell the truth I thought he was an Italian, posing under a fake English name, as was the style of the time. He isn’t the best-looking Eurospy stud nor is his physique all that great, which makes it all the stranger that the director (Luigi Capuano as “Lewis King”) keeps showing us Holden without a shirt on – at the beach, in a gratuitous shower scene, or just lying in bed smoking a cigarette. Hit the weights, dude! I think Roger Moore was more buff.

Grant is called away from his latest Eurobabe, a brunette knockout in a white bikini, by a coded radio message – rock has now entered the realm of Eurospy, with a twangy mod rocker playing throughout courtesy The Planets. Grant’s boss tasks him with posing as a fashion reporter, another agent posing as his photographer, and looking into a plot which will eventually entail a sci-fi contraption that blacks out entire cities – and soon the world! The film is curiously padded, with many scenes of people wandering around aimlessly or eating up the runtime doing menial chores, like tearing open envelopes or looking at maps. Action is sporadic, and poorly staged; the gunfights are particularly lame, with stuntwork that wouldn’t cut the mustard in a kindergarten play. Along the way Grant hooks up with another pretty brunette, named Sylvia (with vacant eyes, it must be stated), and there’s also a slinky Asian babe (who humorously enough is dubbed with a Southern Belle accent!). It must be noted though that agent Perry Grant fails to score!

The final fifteen minutes improve in a major way; the villain has that pulp spy-fy mainstay: an underground base filled with jumpsuited goons (each bearing a lightning bolt logo on his chest). Here oblong tv monitors provide views of the blackouts the main villain, a former Nazi, has been causing, the New York blackout of course included – and black and white footage of the event is included. This sci-fi vibe is much appreciated and makes one wonder why more of the runtime wasn’t spent down here in this underworld lair; the finale at least has some fireworks, with Grant toting a subgun and mowing down jumpsuited thugs in another poorly-choreographed action scene. The flick ends oddly enough with Grant not bedding down with Sylvia, which the penultimate scene implies is a foregone conclusion, but with some other random Eurobabe, on some other beach.

Superargo Against Diabolicus (1966): This perfect slice of Eurospy better captures the vibe of the classic Bond franchise than any other such flick, which is ironic given that its titular protagonist is a muscle-bound wrestler in a garish red costume and a black face mask. Plus he has superpowers! Catering to both the Eurospy and the Lucha Libra genres, Superargo Against Diabolicus only features wrestling stuff in the first quarter, as Superargo accidentally kills an opponent and goes into mournful seclusion. An old friend from “the war” shows up to offer him a job, and a chance at redemption: to stop Diabolicus, a criminal mastermind looking to take over the world in some convoluted fashion. The Bond ethic is in full effect. Superargo is given a bunch of fancy gadgets, in addition to a bullet-proof costume (and by the way he’s already impervious to blades, freezing temperatures, and can hold his breath for 7 minutes). He’s also given some weapons and a souped-up sportscar similar to the one featured two years later in the more-famous Diabolik.

The action kicks in midway through, as Superargo infiltrates the underworld lair of Diabolicus, a place of blooping and bleeping sci-fi gadgets, uniformed henchmen, and a riding crop-wielding henchwoman who apropos of nothing changes costumes at one point to put on something more revealing (not that I minded). Superargo is constantly tested, and when he gets a chance to fight back he kills without mercy. It’s all done very well, and to tell the truth I actually prefer this to Diabolik, as this one plays it straight throughout. The action finale is also fun, with Superargo wielding everything from a submachine gun to a flamethrower to his bare hands as he stops Diabolicus from escaping in a sort of rocket – and by the way, Diabolicus here wears the same avante garde “space suit” as seen in Operation Atlantis.

But man, this one’s a lot of fun, which makes it strange no one’s officially released it (mine’s a widescreen transfer taken from some overseas release, complete with the English dub); even the soundtrack comes off as Budget Bond, with the memorable theme song sounding very similar to John Barry’s “007” (not to be confused with the “James Bond Theme.”) Superargo returned two years later in Superargo And the Faceless Giants, which was courtesy the same director who gave us Devilman Story.

Top Secret (1967): The same year he starred in the dire Danger!! Death Ray, Gordon Scott made this Eurospy that clumsily melds espionage and humor, which was the style of the time. Luckily Top Secret isn’t a full-blown comedy, the antics relegated to random, inconsequential bits, and Scott, as CIA agent John Sutton, still gets to beat up a few people. But I would’ve enjoyed it more if it played things straight. Our Eurobabe is Polish beauty Magda Konopka (good grief is this woman beautiful), who the following year starred in Satanik. I’m pretty sure The Eurospy Guide (an overly-negative book that is not recommended; practically every “review” is along the lines of, “This movie sucks, but…”) makes the claim that Ms. Konopka gets topless in this film, but that unfortunately doesn’t happen in the copy I watched – a crystal-clear widescreen presentation off the Italian cable channel Rai, complete with the English dub.

The plot’s about…actually I don’t know what the hell the plot’s about. This is typical of the Eurospy genre. But it has something to do with an old former Nazi escaping Russia or something (though it’s implied he’s intentionally allowed to escape?), and agent John Sutton goes from Casablanca to Naples trying to get the top secret info he’s brought over. The film is more concerned with the “Spy vs. Spy” antics of Sutton vs. KGB agent Sandra Dubois (Konopka) – it’s just a repeating situation of one chasing the other, save for the occasional moments they get in bed together. The viewer quickly learns to turn off his brain and just appreciate Ms. Konopka’s ample charms. Action is periodic, but mostly of the fistfight variety; it’s not helped that the musical cue for one of the villains is a cartoonish “BOING!” sound effect.

Gadgets are relegated to bugs hidden in makeup compacts, and while Sutton occasionally totes a pistol, he doesn’t even shoot anyone. In retrospect I think Danger!! Death Ray was actually superior, as at least it played things mostly on the level. (And the MST3K version is one of my favorite episodes of the series.) Piero Umiliani’s score is the usual greatness, other than that annoying villain cue; some of it is the epitome of easy listening. The film ends with what might have been a flash of bare breasts; Dubois slips into Sutton’s bed at the end of the film, and her response to his tirade about her trying to kill him is to whip down the sheets which cover her. It’s hard to say – perhaps the Rai channel edition cut out the nudity, but otherwise I think it would’ve been a bit out of the norm for a Eurospy of this era to end on a scene of toplessnsess. Not that I’d complain or anything.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Big Brain #2: The Beelzebub Business

The Big Brain #2: The Beelzebub Business, by Gary Brandner
July, 1975  Zebra Books

I enjoyed this second volume of The Big Brain more than the first one. Gary Brandner again turns in a tale that has more in common with private eye fiction than men’s adventure, given that it’s a sort of slow-moving yarn with lots of dialog and scene-setting. But he peppers it with enough paranormal stuff and Satanic sleaze that it just comes off a lot more entertaining that The Aardvark Affair.

It’s sometime after that first adventure and Colin “The Big Brain” Garrett is back in California, hanging out with his girlfriend Fran. Not that this will prevent Garrett from hooking up with two other babes in the course of this novel; Fran is off-page for the duration, only appearing here in the opening chapters. Garrett is concerned over her safety, after she almost got killed trying to help him last time around, and demands she stay behind. Our hero is called in once again by his old Army colonel, Jefferson Judd, now head of strictly off-the-books spy outfit Agency Zero.

But even Garrett has a hard time understanding why Judd wants him. The case doesn’t really sound like something that needs the Big Brain: Darrell York, son of one of Judd’s old friends, has a job on the unofficial foreign relations committee that’s run by a guy named Alec Danneman, who got the gig because he’s been a longtime friend of the current President. Despite his lack of a political past, Danneman’s actually gotten a lot done in Washington, and thus he’s made a lot of enemies among the political hacks.

However, York claims that Danneman has been acting weird lately, and the concern is that Danneman’s about to head to Taiwan to help prevent the nuclear war that’s about to break out between that country and China. Brandner tries to pull us in with an opening chapter that lets us know something weird is going on, after all – we witness an unnamed man in a Satanic temple, where he receives orders from a guy wearing a goat mask and then has sex with two women, one a redhead and the other a black woman (both of whom first engage in a little lesbian shenanigans for his viewing pleasure!). Brandner by the way isn’t very explicit, but it’s all a bit more risque than the previous volume. After which the person, armed with a knife, heads out onto the streets of DC to kill in the name of Beelzebub…

But Brandner really page-fills with what amounts to lots of red herrings. It’s more so in the “political thriller” vein instead of the “Satanic sleaze” we might want, as Garrett, who is tasked by Judd to figure out what if anything is going on with Danneman, goes around the political circuits and hobknobs with various VIPs. Along the way Judd sets him up with a partner, a fellow Agency Zero agent, and of course it’s a sexy young babe: Trudi McKenzie, who is written in a way that would send modern feminists into paroxysms of rage. She basically throws herself at Judd, pouts when he gives her the cold shoulder (he’s determined not to mix work with pleasure, given how Fran was almost raped and killed last time), and goes out of her way to get him to notice her.

Mostly though it’s Garrett meeting this or that political bigshot, some of them on the right, some of them on the left, all of them enemies of Alec Danneman, who by the way is described as looking like Albert Einstein but somehow is very successful with the ladies. Things pick up a bit when Trudi, who works at the State Department officially (all Agency Zero agents are only part-time as a cost-saving measure!), takes Garrett to a party at socialite Bebe Schuyler’s place; all the major characters converge there, with the addition of the femme fatale of the piece: a six-foot beauty with “blue-black” hair and a body that is “beautifully and generously proportioned.” Her name is Liana Wolfe and she is a self-proclaimed witch who runs the Satanic-themed Beelzebub Club.

Garrett makes a beeline for her (much to a still-pouting Trudi’s dismay) and sets a date; his research proves that the Beelzebub Club might have something to do with things, as we already know that Danneman is a member. And also we already know Danneman is under Satanic mind-control, as we watch him murder Darrell York. But this only serves to set up more padding from Brandner, as we readers already know Danneman was the killer, yet we still must read many, many pages of Garrett and Judd trying to figure out who killed poor Darrell – Garrett of course doubting the words of a hoodlum who claims to have done it, as Garrett (correctly) detects some brainwashing at work. 

Speaking of which, “The Big Brain” is less a brainiac this time around, and more of a supernatural sort along the lines of the protagonist of The Mind Masters, at least in how he can read minds. What I mean to say is, rather than just expositing reams of data on this or that like a true smarty pants, Garrett is also capable of “probing” the minds of people, to “penetrate” thoughts like the Shadow or something. He can even instill thoughts into the brains of weak-minded people. All of this lends the book more of a paranormal bent than I recall there being in the first volume.

Club Beelzebub looks like “Hell as it might have been designed by Walt Disney;” it’s a tacky-sounding place with red carpet and black candles, with a fireplace that emits wailing sounds, as if of the sufferers in hell. But it’s a big hit with the DC circuit, and rumors have it that privileged members get to take part in Satanic orgies in the back room. Not that Garrett has any concerns on that score – after a single drink with Liana and some flirtatious banter, she invites him up to her swanky room above the club. As mentioned, The Beelzebub Business is a bit more risque than its predecessor – what I mean to say is, the Big Brain gets laid this time, folks.

“They made love wildly, exultantly, with a fierce joy in their sensuality,” is about the extent of it, but we do get lots of mentions of Liana’s “nipples,” in particular one head-scratcher of a note that, when she later wears a skimpy gown, her nips make “dollar-size” protrusions in the fabric. Boy, those must be some wide nipples! Anyway a groovy time is had by all, but Garrett still suspects Liana. After the guy who claims he killed Darrell York commits suicide (with poisoned chewing gum!), she becomes the only suspect our hero still has.

This leads to more red herring-chasing, as Garrett heads to San Francisco to look into the members of Liana’s old coven. Lots of padding here, and the shame of it is that Brandner would’ve been better-suited to just feature more stuff with Liana herself, as she’s by far the most interesting character in the novel. But she stays off-page until the very end, with Garrett again in private eye mode, going around and asking old coven members about her. Here follows the novel’s first “action scene,” as Garrett is knocked out by a pair of hoods and taken off to be killed. Here too we see the series’s new paranormal bent at play, as the Big Brain implants various thoughts into the weak minds of his captors, causing them to freak out over various things; he also manages to appropriate their guns and kill them both.

Brandner keeps things going in the paranormal direction into the climax; after giving in to Trudi’s romantic pleas, Garrett goes out to dinner with her and back to her place for a bit of casual screwin’, only to do a cursory “probing” of the girl’s mind and discover the same hidden barrier he’s detected in the other brainwashed members of the Beelzebub Club. Sure enough, she goes nuts and comes at him with a knife. Trudi safely in a sanitarium, Garrett next visits Liana again in her swank penthouse above the Club, where despite himself he’s drugged and put in the presence of Beelzebub, that goat-headed demon we saw in the first chapter.

It’s a veritable war of the brains as Garrett uses his mental powers to offset the brainwashing of the drugs and the supernatural demands of Beelzebub, who turns out to be one of the minor characters we met earlier in the book. Brandner skirts straight-up paranormal action with it seeming that Garrett kills the guy with the power of his mind, only to reveal that it was actually a knife-wielding Alec Danneman, suddenly freed of his mental yoke thanks to Beelzebub’s being distracted while fighting with Garrett. As for Liana, she’s gone and doesn’t appear again, which is a shame; we get a tepid wrap-up courtesy Garrett that Liana was “innocent” of what really went on in the Club, and that she’ll no doubt get a lawyer who will arrange an all-male jury who will promptly acquit her of all charges!

Once again I have to take a moment to discuss the cover, which like the first one misrepresents the series protagonist as a freak with his brain outside of his skull. One suspects the artist got his wires crossed; note how the Big Brain is clutching that knife in a pose that’s more “psycho killer” than “action protagonist.” Zebra Books must’ve figured out they were sending the wrong message with these covers, as the next volume, Agency Zero, completely removes any depiction of the Big Brain and goes in a different direction. However that one was to be the last in the series, so perhaps the damage had been done…

Monday, February 26, 2018

Yolanda: The Girl From Erosphere (Yolanda #1)

Yolanda: The Girl From Erosphere, by Dominique Verseau
May, 1975  Grove Press
(Original French publication, 1972)

This is one of those books I’ve wanted to read for a long time, but it was always exorbitantly priced. But, in one of those random flukes, I recently came across it at a jawdroppingly low price – pretty much the exact same thing that happened, years back, with another book I hunted for: Jackboot Girls. Anyway, enough preamble – Yolanda: The Girl From Erosphere is an English translation of a French sci-fi sleaze novel from 1972. “Dominique Verseau” was in reality prolific pulp writer Henri Rene Guieu.

A curious thing about this book is that it is packaged identically to a Dell paperback of the day, even down to the blue tippings on the pages. Was Grove Press a subline of Dell? I don’t think it was, but Yolanda looks just like a Dell book. Another curious thing is that no info is presented about the French provenance of this novel, when it was originally published, who Dominique Versea was, etc. About the only thing we get is a blurb on the very last page that another Yolanda novel, The Slaves Of Space, would be forthcoming from Grove. It came out in 1976, and that one is so astronomically priced on the used books marketplace that it’s not even worth thinking about tracking down.

Not that this is something to lose sleep over, as if it’s anything like this first volume, I can already guess what the contents will be – endless hardcore screwing, with occasional references to French poets, Classical literature, or philosophy. I was hoping for a Barbarella-esque softcore space yarn, but instead The Girl From Erosphere is pretty much all about the sex. In this regard it’s similar to another sci-fi sleaze yarn of the day, The Moonlovers. Like that novel, this one also has a humorous tone about it; not an outright parody or satire, but just a lighthearted romp about an oversexed four-person crew on the first voyage into hyperspace.

It’s the sexually-liberated future of 2107, and our heroine is Yolanda Hammerlove, a gorgeous, phenomenally-built blonde who works as a “sexologist.” In reality Yolanda mostly just sexually-bullies people throughout the novel. We only get vague setup about this future world, mostly that men and women now hardly wear anything, just “jerkins” or “minishorts.” Instead it’s really just all about sex, usually shoehorned into the narrative; like in the opening, in which Yolanda, on board a jet that’s taking her to Washington, reflects on her recent lez experience with a 16 year-old German girl, celebtrating her SF day (aka “Sexual Freedom”).

The sex scenes in this novel make those in The Baroness seem restrained in comparison. They are more along the lines of the sleaze in The llusionist, though not to the same gross-out levels, however it must be stated that some of the descriptions are so thorough that they do reach off-putting levels. At least in The Baroness Donald “Paul Kenyon” Moffitt knew when to say when. Not so with Guieu, who goes to explicit levels that are not for the squeamish. As ever with ultra-hardcore sleaze, this only serves to make sex more repugnant than arousing.

Yolanda encounters test pilot Bob Rowland on the flight, and promptly they make plans to screw. This will serve to be one of the recurring jokes in the novel, as it takes forever for them to accomplish this, even though they think they have, multiple times over. Turns out they’ve both been called to the Pentagon, now a large black “monolith.” There General Murdock of the Spece Security Committee tasks them with taking the experimental ship Torgar, the first capable of hyperspeed, and heading for the Capella sun, in the Charioteer constellation, 42 light years away. Along for the ride will be Ted Cunningham, astrophysicist and co-pilot, and Jany Jankins, psychologist.

The mission is top secret and the four can tell Murdock has something up his sleeve. But regardless they get right around to sexually-harrassing one another; Jany in particular, she of the beautiful face, awesome body, and “flaming red forest” of pubic hair, is taken through the wringer throughout. The author is not concerned with sci-fi realism, per se; despite entering hyperspeed, and thus exiting the time-space continnuum, the crew is able to keep in touch with Murdock via a viewscreen, making periodic check-in calls to Mission Control.

The focus is instead on hardcore shenanigans. Soon enough Yolanda is bullying Jany into some lesbian action, our heroine taking umbrage at the redhead’s “prudish” demeanor. Apparently being a “sexologist” (and Yolanda even has a doctorate in it) means harrassing and bullying people over any conservative thoughts they might have about sex, and then forcing them to do the deed. It goes on like this for pages, documented in ultra-thorough detail. It gets even more outrageous in an interminable sequence which has Bob and Ted banging Yolanda and Jany, respecitively.

Only it turns out it wasn’t them – thick pubic hair is a recurring motif in the novel, often mentioned, save for the thin blonde “fringe” of Yolanda’s nether regions. Yet the women Bob and Ted screw all night are bare “down there,” and the men Yolanda and Jany have sex with – and they too think it is Bob and Ted, respectively – have massive wongs. All this occurs with the lights off, hence the confusion. Anyway when everyone’s nude on the deck of the ship next day, the guys can’t help but noticing those bushes and the gals can’t help but noticing how much smaller the guys are – Yolanda even speculates that Bob and Ted might’ve screwed ‘em with dildoes.

Gradually – plot development takes a leisurely backseat to hardcore sex – we will learn that Bob and Ted actually screwed an alien woman last night, one who came to Bob’s room and then went to Ted’s. Her name is Iyrinndoa and she’s a seven foot tall bald chick with big boobs. The women actually screwed a male bald alien of the same hieght named Kaloon Ghour. They are from the very planet our heroes are headed for, and teleported aboard to “test” the crew sexually. This leads to more screwing, Jany once again getting the most of it, probed and banged by all and sundry. Oh, and Yolanda busts out a host of sex gadgets from her attache case. It’s all kind of gross.

It gets grosser in the cliffhanger finale, which has the crew and their two alien friends captured by the Rigelians, known as the “sexually insatiable ones.” As tall as the other aliens but hairy (and memorably described as smelling “gamy”), the Rigelians immediately go to town on our heroes, screwing them endlessly – we’re informed Bob and Ted are abused by Rigelian women and men. And Jany gets the worst of it again. Even Yolanda is worn out after the “two hour orgy.” The novel ends with them all in prison on the Rigelian ship, wondering how they will ever get free – and here is where we leave them. And will leave them; as mentioned the sequel is atrociously overpriced, but to tell the truth I wouldn’t want to read it anyway.

This is another of those novels that is best described via quotes, most of which I’ve chosen at random:

Now it was their companions’ turns to emit muffled screams. For the penises of both men emerged out of thick forests of dark-brown pubic hair! -- pg. 88

Before either man could respond, Yolanda reached over and gently palpated both of their sexes. “The only rational explanation I can think of,” she continued, “is that you two came to us equipped with dildoes.” -- pg. 98

[Yolanda] held up a transparent plastic box containing some green pellets. 

“These, my dears, cause the anal sphincter to expand temporarily so that one cannot run the least risk of being ripped apart inside. In fact, one-half hour after swallowing two of these, one’s rectum walls have opened wide enough to allow a man’s fist all the way in without the slightest danger. I know, darlings, for I’ve tried it. And it’s wild, kids – wild and wonderful!” 

“Do you like being sodomized?” Now it was Bob’s turn to look astounded. 

Yolanda tossed her golden mane over her shoulders. “Doesn’t every woman, from time to time? What’s more, I’ve found that most men enjoy it also.” -- pg. 120

Ever the gentleman, Ted seized the end of the artificial member which still protruded from between Jany’s creamy buttocks and withdrew it – although not completely. -- pg. 126

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Great Spy Race (Philip McAlpine #2)

The Great Spy Race, by Adam Diment
June, 1969  Bantam Books
(Original UK publication, 1968)

Seven years ago I read The Dolly, Dolly Spy spy, the first of four novels about “bird-chasing, hash-loving” young British spy Philip McAlpine. I pretty much forgot all about the series after that, given that I didn’t much enjoy the book. But then I came across this second one, which I’d picked up along with the others back then, and figured I’d give the series another go. And I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed The Great Spy Race a lot more.

First of all, a big thanks to Aaron Jeethan, who posted a comment the other year on my review of The Dolly, Dolly Spy, linking to a 2015 Esquire UK article in which reporter John Michael O’Sullivan fruitlessly tried to track down the still-reclusive Adam Diment. The article, which is highly recommended, gives what little insight exists about the guy, who appears to have dropped out of sight in the early ‘70s, at least so far as the publishing world goes. It also gives the impression that the majority of his “hip” persona was created by his manager; even this American paperback edition goes to great lengths to compare Diment to his narrating protagonist, McAlpine, so I’m sure the gimmick was even more forcibly employed in England.

I enjoyed this installment more, but be advised it still suffers from the same problems as the first one, or at least what I consider problems. Mainly, the narrator-protagonist, Philip McAlpine, who comes off like a dick. The novel is infused with his cynical bitching about this or that; he has a massive chip on his shoulder, only equaled by his massive sense of entitlement. Nothing’s good enough for him, everything sucks. This, coupled with his first-person narration, gives the novel more of a hardboiled pulp vibe than the “mod spy” angle the publishers so desperately want to imply. Indeed, there’s nothing remotely “psychedelic” about McAlpine, other than occasional mentions of his mod clothing (colored satin capes, etc) or the occasional joint he smokes.

Special sidenote – anyone who wants to read a ‘60s “psychedelic spy” novel that does tap into the acid era zeitgeist and doesn’t feature a cynical protagonist should read, as soon as possible, The Psychedelic Spy, which is everything – everything! – the Adam Diment novels are supposed to be. (It’s even written in third-person!) If only there had been four books about that character.

Anyway, it’s a year or so after the previous book, and McAlpine just has three weeks left in his contract with Rupert Quine, “gargoyle”-like man behind “6,” the secret department McAlpine was roped into working for last time around. Quine is basically the M to McAlpine’s Bond, though this is an even grumpier M, one who is given to wearing all the latest fashions (up to and including an “LSD hallucinatory tie”). After a lot of scene setting – in which McAlpine’s “flat” is broken into by a dude McAlpine punches in the throat and escapes from – we get down to business: Quine wants to send our hero out on a “simple courier job.”

Meanwhile McAlpine has hooked up with sexy but “thick” Josephine, meeting her at a hip Chelsea party; we get a lot of talk courtesy McAlpine about how big-butted, thick girls are “nice to lie down on,” and also the sex scene is a bit more risque than those in the previous book. (Speaking of which, we’re informed that McAlpine’s girlfriend from last time, Veronica, is off chasing greener pastures or somesuch.) The Chelsea party by the way seems to exist so Diment can show off his “hip” cred, with mentions of The Who and The Stones, the chapter even titlted “Let’s Spend The Night Together.” 

McAlpine’s convoluted job has him getting money from Quine, to pay a “little, gay Gaul” in a mod clothing store for some ancient stamps, which the Gaul informs McAlpine are to be sold to a dude in Mali. This is a fictional island “on the Indian ocean” which is home to Club Oceana, a luxury resort for the mega-wealthy. Supposedly there is a Quine contact there who has some info he will sell in exchange for those stamps and twenty thousand pounds. Even Mali withers beneath McAlpine’s jaded, cynical eye, though we do learn you can buy “marijuana cigarettes” from vending machines, packaged and wrapped in “psychedelic” paper.

The resident spy turns out to be the owner of Club Oceanic, an old, clearly rich former spy named Peters who is very much in the Fleming mold. He is given to florid speeches and expensive tastes, and even retains a memorable henchman: Petite, a towering, very old butler who is superhumanly fast with a gun. This talent is shown off for McAlpine’s benefit in a sequence that could’ve come straight out of the classic Bond films. But don’t be fooled – McAlpine is no Bond. He’s more along the lines of the protagonists who starred in the more spoofy spy-fy series of the ‘60s: “There’s hardly a man alive more a coward than me,” he casually informs us.

But it turns out to be a typical Quine setup; McAlpine’s real job here is to deliver the twenty thousand pounds, which is Peters’s entry fee for “the Great Spy Race,” which he explains is “a competition to exercise the oldest virtues of our art: to wit, extortion, blackmail, and seduction Especially seduction.” Agents from organizations around the world (save for Red China) will compete for the grand prize: a list of every Red Chinese spy currently operating in the Far East. Daniel Honneybun, a portly Ministry employee who was the guy who broke into McAlpine’s apartment early in the book, shows up with a bandaged throat (and a grudge against our hero) to bring word from Quine: if McAlpine doesn’t take part in (and win) the Race, Quine will either have McAlpine killed or something worse.

McAlpine mostly slobbers over the sight of Mallia, Peters’s ravishingly-hot (and topless) fifteen year-old “child concubine,” who sits obediently on her master’s lap while Peters regales McAlpine with stories, taking the occasional moment to dab expensive champagne between the girl’s bare breasts. I don’t think you could swing a scene like this in the present day, but then such are the wonders of vintage pulp. McAlpine takes a few days off to bask in the “Malikin” sun and smoke some of those “manufactured reefers” (he also bumps into an old “friendlet” I assume returning from the previous book, but I couldn’t recall her), before heading back to London to begin the Race.

Anyone hoping for a peek of Swinging London will be disappointed. As in the first book, McAlpine is more focused on just mentioning the things that annoy him, rather than bringing to life the mod fashions, the swinging “birds,” and whatnot. This is I think the main thing that annoys me about this series; I read all the industry blurbs and expect this wide-eyed look at that long-ago world, but instead I get a dude who sounds like your average gumshoe, slouching through a world that both irritates and bores him. It’s like something a burned-out old contract writer would’ve turned in, instead of a “hash-loving” twenty-four year old.

McAlpine has another run-in with the “gay Gaul,” who turns out to be named Pierre Roussin, a Commie French agent taking part in the Race and given to wearing outlandish fashions (ie knee-high purple suede boots). But our hero isn’t much for Bond-esque action; even the literary Bond, who is mostly prone to kicking guys in the shins and running away, is more gung-ho. Instead McAlpine steals a camera and takes blackmail photos of a male bank employee having sex with Roussin; McAlpine threatens to send the bank board the photos if the employee doesn’t tell him the contents of the bank deposit box both he and Roussin (and the other Race participants) were after. It’s a note from Peters, informing the reader that the next step of the Race will occur in Nice.

Here McAlpine drafts Josephine in a plan to co-seduce Mr. and Mrs. Omega, the latter of whom is Peters’s latest step in the game – a notorious slut of incredible beauty (her exotic look courtesy a mixture of “African” and “Indo-Chinese” blood). While Mr. Omega is an old French general, Mrs. Omega is “upper-strata sexy” and when McAlpine first glimpses her she’s dressed in “modish chain mail.” Here he runs into an Irish agent and a “Jap” agent (who speaks with a “Harvard accent”), but manages to mostly see his plan through. McAlpine beds Mrs. Omega shortly after Samura, the Japanese agent, fails to satisfy her; again Diment delivers a somewhat risque sequence, but nothing outrageous. McAlpine tells Mrs. Omega she is “the greatest lay” of his life.

But to tell the truth, the “Great Spy Race” is kind of underwhelming. After the briefest of stopovers in Geneva, McAlpine ends up back off the coast of Mali; he gets there by booking passage on an International Charter flight, in a nice callback to the previous book – turns out his former employers hold no grudges over McAlpine having betrayed them last time. Diment finally delivers at least a little action as McAlpine must dodge machine gun fire from a pillbox to enter the building that holds the prize – which doesn’t turn out to be a list of spies at all, but plans, stolen from NASA, for hyperspeed engines.

As if tossing the entire “spy race” idea, Peters next has McAlpine run for his escape from Mali, an old Nazi plane waiting for him; he will be chased by eight fellow secret agents. This part is just downright dumb – Peters has left a handy table filled with guns and McAlpine grabs a “Schmeisser” (another callback to the previous book) and runs for his life, shooting no one. No one, that is, save for Petite, Peters’s quick-draw servant, who shows up at the plane for “the last test.” McAlpine guns him down accidentally and then feels like “crying” as he stands over Petite’s corpse. Mind you, this is McAlpine’s first and only kill in the book. And the dumbass manages to lose the hypserpeed plans in the plane, which ends up catching on fire after getting him to safety.

The funny thing about these McAlpine novels is that Diment was hyped as the hip, countercultural Ian Fleming, but in reality, Diment’s books are almost exactly like those by Fleming himself – dry, more grounded in realism than in outlandish thrills, and very, very British. Save for a single mention of McAlpine smoking a joint, or listening to rock music (at a party – and we get the impression that, surprise surprise, McAlpine doesn’t even like it), none of the material here would’ve been out of place in a Bond novel. (And even the literary Bond wouldn’t cry after killing someone who just tried to kill him!)

In this regard I’d say the New York Times blurb quoted on the cover is accurate – Diment truly was “Fleming’s successor.” And Diment, for a 24 year-old, is even more obsessed with WWII than actual war veteran Ian Fleming was; The Great Spy Race is filled with references to the war; at least every other page mentions Nazis or war surplus or what have you.

I’m still not sold on the series – I much prefer other swinging sixties spies, in particular Nick Carter: KillmasterMark Hood, and Joaquin Hawks.