Friday, January 9, 2015

Macao Mayhem (Terry Harknett, 1974)

Was a bit disappointed at the beginning. Just another formulaic thriller, placed in somewhat exotic surroundings and fueled by over the top violence. Story is about some sinister mastermind criminal orchestrating a plot in which few small time Hong Kong gangsters would kidnap high ranking US official and sell him for 5 million bucks to Chinese (I think). It gets even more ridiculous when it turns out that this genius (mysteriously referred to as "Man from Macao") is only slightly less small-time than his crew. Story just doesn't add up (why the hell would killers bring a massacred body to a whorehouse?) and to make matters worse, police investigation is pretty pathetic too and based on some hard to swallow coincidences (victim was a cop's friend, his partner's informer knew her house maid etc).

Mediocre stuff, especially considering it was written by the author of the solid Squeeze Play. But just when I expected it to fall apart completely and explode into a total chaos (true to its title), it got better. Much better. Relentless pace settles down a bit and marginal characters (Jenny, her boyfriend/pimp Kai) become more involved. It basically turns into a 'proper' mystery that is actually quite smart, makes sense and builds up some decent tension as it nears the conclusion.

Unfortunately neither suspense nor narration are sustained and at the end the whole thing pretty much disintegrates. Too bad, it would deserve a better ending.

It's far from perfect and could be probably improved by rewriting some dialogues and shortening action sequences descriptions but I quite liked it anyways. Characters are real, made of flesh. Especially both killers are memorable - contrary to the cliches they repeatedly (three attempts in 24 hours!) fuck up their contract and Jo is just a scared alcoholic. Our two cop heroes also get fair treatment but let's leave them for the next time. Will most probably check out other books in this series.

3/5
 
Facts:

Hero
Senior Superintendent John Crown of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force and his partner Chang Po. Their senior calls them "The Lone Ranger and Tonto".

Location:
Hong Kong (where "Spies were, of course, part and parcel of the scene.") and briefly Macao.

Body count
9, most of them meet their maker in a pretty gory fashion. Check this:
  • First victim - when already dead! - is slashed with aikuchi from throat down to her abdomen and then stabbed at least thirty times!
  • Then the door cut him in half against the frame and the weight of the descending car pulped his upper body into the ground. The Challenger began its roll, trailing a spray of blood.
  • Skin burst and bones crunched. Blood sprayed and crimson tissue oozed. Before so many of his vital organs were pulped into the street surface, Willie had time to reflect that he had been right to regard thirteen kills as unlucky.
  • Ju's body was hurled high into the air. For an instant it was whole. Then it disintegrated like a clay pigeon hit with both barrels. Pieces of torn flesh, charred by heat and dripping blood, rained down over vehicles and horrified watchers.
  • First shot took him in the stomach... The second entered the mouth, smashing the bridge-work...and lodge in the brain. The third and fourth went into his right and left eye... Blood poured out fast in vast quantities...
  • Guy is shot dead (with mandatory "spray of bright crimson") and then ran over by the car!
Dames
Unfortunate Mu Li (one of the highest paid call girls on the island), a bit less unfortunate prostitute Jenny (for some reason, she's referred to as "whore" all the time which was really annoying) and let's not forget the sexy maid Rosita.

Blackouts
Chung gets knocked out and it's pretty forgettable ("It was unsubtle but effective. With no chance of retaliation."). But there's another occurrence which definitely deserves mentioning even though is not related to any of our main heroes. Drunken sailor Hans de Jong is hit on the head when entering a brothel room where (surprise, surprise) "his" prostitute is and poor guy is so horny that he ejaculates when he sinks into unconsciousness!?!  I mean wtf - is this even possible??

Title: 
Pretty unoriginal. I think something like "The Man from Macao" would be better (I admit it's a bit 007-ish). It's also not very accurate because only 22% of killings take place in Macao. So "Hong Kong Mayhem" would be at least a bit more appropriate (but still unoriginal of course).

Cover
Illustration (not credited) of Crown and Chang causing mayhem on the streets of Macao. Crown's face expression is really cool, he looks pretty pissed off.

First time on this blog: 
Crime in Asia.

Cool lines
"No ifs!" Crown snapped. "You tried to sell yourself into this mess. I may let you buy yourself out of it. The currency is words."

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