Sunday, April 2, 2017

Attar the Merman #2: War of Nerves (Joe Haldeman writing as Robert Graham, 1975)

This one doesn't waste no time with preliminaries. In the opening chapter's mere five pages we learn everything we need to know about the plot. If you're interested and have 15 seconds to spare you can read its (even) more condensed version from the scanned back cover below. The only really curious detail that gets left out is the name of the poison that villains plan to use. Here it goes:

The drums contained a total of twenty-two hundred gallons of Tabun III developed by army researchers in the early seventies as a more potent replacement for Tabun, called eyanodimethytlaminethoxyphsphine oxide for long.

Guess that the blurb writers didn't have patience and/or space to put "eyanodimethytlaminethoxyphsphine oxide" on the back cover...

Anyway, the second chapter is a mandatory hero introductory chapter. Not much to write about - he's a pretty ordinary men's adventure novels hero with his special feature being medically inserted gills that (obviously) enable him to breathe underwater. Not much of gadgetry is involved either with maybe a notable exception of "...incorporated into Attar's ankle sheath was a small radio transmitter, powered by an electrochemical reaction with sea water..."

What does make our hero memorable are his sidekicks which are introduced in the third chapter. This is definitely the highlight of the novel and it requires multiple readings!

Sam the dolphin is only briefly introduced and then later for some unknown reasons dropped and replaced with Attar's brother Victor. So let's not waste too much space on him and just see how this friendship was formed:

Then along came Attar and Essence with their strange ability to breathe underwater. Some dolphins decided to open up telepathic communication with these two humans, provided they would keep the ability secret to other humans. It's useless, of course, to lie to a mind reader; Attar and Essence would have been killed immediately if they hadn't been sincere. They lived and divulged the secret.

The Attar's other sidekick, the killer whale Grampus, is the real star here. The whole introductory stuff is simply hilarious and I could easily retype the entire chapter but these posts are running too long lately so let's just single out a few paragraphs. The insanity starts with:

Killer whales are normally pretty rough customers. They're intelligent as dolphins but, in the wild, not as easy to get along with. They kill and eat dolphins and other marine mammals. That none has ever been recorded as having killed a human swimmer may say more about recordkeeping than it does about killer whales.
Grampus, though, was an exception. He though he was a dolphin.

Huh? You see, dolphins thought that raising the orphaned orca would be a "grand practical joke"! True, a "pretty dangerous game", but you see "dolphins live with danger the way humans live with weather - they don't let it bother them too much". But still, this experiment leaves him a bit mixed up:

The killer whale's mind was even stranger territory than the minds of the dolphins. Dolphins are not exactly gentle - the ocean is unforgiving and a pacifist dolphin wouldn't live long enough to starve to death - but the only fish they kill for pleasure is the shark. Grampus got a little dark thrill every time he killed something, anything. In other respects, though, the killer whale's psychological make-up was very dolphinlike: playful, sarcastic, relatively unconcerned about his own death.

Like I said, I could easily go on with this but let's just wrap it up with an example of one of the Grampus' abilities:

"We've got you a wrist compass and a little sextant," Edward said, "out in the Ford. That should help."
"Sure," Attar said. Actually, he wouldn't need them. Grampus understood maps by reading them through Attar's eyes, and he had an infallible sense of direction.

Great stuff! And I honestly thought I was onto something special here. But then this silliness stops and with every page the whole thing grows more and more dull to a point when it's almost unreadable. I can see why the series ran for only two entries and I'm not really interested in finding the first one unless I come across it in some used bookstore for a couple of bucks. But I'll be prepared for that one and will probably stop reading it after the intro.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
Attar the merman and his split personality non-pacifistic sarcastic orca Grampus. No, wait a minute! It's actually the split personality non-pacifistic sarcastic orca Grampus and Attar the merman.

Bad guy(s):
Two of them and both pretty pathetic, especially Rasputin. Not menacing at all and foremost cheap. Considering he's blackmailing the USA government and it's about to destroy the entire planet, he sets the ransom ridiculously low to a mere 20 million! And the asshole is so cheap that he even haggles over the assassination fee with his henchman!

Location:
Attar is Australian and this is where the introductory chapters are staged but then he and his brother Victor leave for Florida and later finally end up in Haiti.

Body count:
6 (first one is pretty funny - "You can't sneak up on a telepathic animal!")  + 9 (some pretty gory) in the final shoot-out + a suicide in the epilogue make a grand total of 16.

And I'm happy to report that Attar's brother Victor makes it:

After a week-long telepathic powwow, the consensus among the dolphins was that Victor be allowed to live. But he would be given no further information about dolphin intelligence until he had proven his trust-worthiness. Actually, the dolphins thought it was quite a joke that Grampus had considered a human life to be worth that much. It was forgivable because Grampus was not really a dolphin - and whatever he was, it was at least partly the dolphins' fault.

Object of desire:
See back cover.

References:
The voodoo prayer in Chapter 11 taken from the book "Haiti: Black Peasants and Their Religion" by Alfred Metraux.

Dames:
None. Yes, you've read it right - there are no women mentioned in this asexual "men's adventure novel"!?!?

Blackouts:
I think he almost faints when he gets trapped underwater. But not for lack of oxygen of course; it's coldness of the ocean that gets him.

Title: 
Very accurate - it was a bloody war of nerves to finish this one.

Edition:
Pocket Book #77989, March 1975

Cover:
Partly accurate. See 'hero' and 'dames' sections.

Cool lines:
While Attar was trying to frame a sufficiently sarcastic reply, Victor snarled a suggestion to the youth that was both biologicaly improbable and illegal under Florida's sodomy statutes.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dark Angel #1: The Dream Girl Caper (James D. Lawrence, 1975)

As a devoted fan of the Glorious Trash I've been well aware of the infamous Dark Angel. One of the two reviewed books there even made it into the Joe's Hall of Fame which is the best recommendation I could possibly get. Unfortunately, these paperbacks seem to be pretty scarce and when they do appear on eBay they are ridiculously overpriced. But I have been selling some stuff on eBay myself lately and was really lucky to accumulate a decent PayPal fund at about the same time when a lot of three  Dark Angels was offered for 30 pounds. Didn't hesitate much and couldn't wait for them to arrive.

Turned out that The Dream Girl Caper was a bit of a letdown. Instead of the hard-core violent blaxploatiation stuff that I had expected, I got a pretty tame mix of mystery/action caper story with a few juicy sex bits thrown in.

The setup is okay. Some senior ad executive's trophy wife and her mafia hitman stud are scheming to hijack the grand prize of some TV treasure hunt that her clueless hubby has conceived. Their plan is hardly very elaborate one (she fucks his boss, they plant a murder on him and then blackmail the schmuck) but there are some other characters involved, the seedy P.I. and the quack psychiatrist/pimp with his secretary, that make this mystery interesting. Our Angie doesn't exactly sweat a lot on this case since every clue (and intuition) turns out to be a successful lead so she basically just goes from point A to B and so on. Not a problem really. She's cool and halfway through the plot still has many possible developments. Or so I though.

Mr. Lawrence decided to go the other route. Instead of wrapping it up, he prolonged it to 200+ pages by bringing in not one, but two organized crime families and thus eventually turning this decent crime novel into some sort of an action extravaganza with helicopters and boats rushing to the remote island where the treasure is buried and where the shootout between mobsters ends in a big ass explosion. Because you see, this island was until recently owned by the Pentagon and military guys forgot to remove some missiles that were stored there. As they usually do...

Now don't get me wrong - I have nothing whatsoever against the insane action sequences and noncoherent plots. They are usually fun but here everything becomes a bit boring. The thing is that Angie is the character that drives the story. She's genuinely cool and funny so I cannot understand author's decision to dedicate so much of the narration to Garth, especially in the second part. It kills the pace and puts out all the amusing sparks that she has been tossing around. And besides, do we really care about some advertising agency executive in his mid-life crisis!?

To make things worse, Angie and him become lovers! They start calling each other "darling", they cook dinner before having sex, they listen to Mozart after having sex... Toward the end we even have to endure crap like this:

Fuck the three million. What mattered was getting his girl out safely - his lovely Dark Angel.

And not surprisingly, she is the one who brings a bit of a humor in this far-fetched affair. Check out this transcript of her call to his office after their first night together:

"Mr. Trent..."
"Mmm?"
"You have a call on line one."
"Oh? Yeah? Who is it?"
"That, uh, person who calls herself your black panthress. Only today she pronounced it 'pantless.'"

I told you she was cool, didn't I?

Before I finish this, I - of course - need to touch on two more aspects.

Is having its protagonist say "dig" occasionally and being referred to as "mama" every now and then really enough for a book to be labeled as blaxploatiative? I'm not an expert and will let you decide about it but it did seem a bit odd that our hero was the only black character in this one. Although having said that, I must admit that there are a few hilarious bits related to our heroine being black. Just loved stuff like this:

Angie cursed fluently in Harlemese.

Even in the darkness he was conscious of the powerful pull of her sexual magic, her African juju.

Anyway, this racial angle is just an observation, it's pretty much irrelevant. Let's finally talk about sex!

And this one is really fucking weird, it seemed to me like it was written by someone who had never had sex in his life but had read about it a lot (too much?) in Spillane novels. In Angie's introduction we learn that as a teenager she was savagely beaten and gang-banged... but the experience wasn't all that traumatic because she had already been sexually abused at six and again at nine by two of her mother's boyfriends...

One would assume that such an ordeal would leave our poor Dark Angel traumatized for (at least one) life but one couldn't be more wrong. You see, only a couple of pages later there is a hilarious scene in which a guy gives her head while she interrogates him (sort of) and several chapters further she gets fingered while being hypnotized by an ornament shaped like a pair of testicles!

I do realize it sounds stupid but it is funny, trust me. Until it switches back to vulgar mode several pages later:

"You want your teeth knocked out, jig?"
"No."
His fingers fumbled at his fly. "Then blow me." He crammed his penis into her mouth.
Angie blew.
"Swallow it, baby!"
She swallowed, gagging.

So when it finally comes to a "proper" sex, it goes as cheesy as this:

[seduction part]
She was long-legged and very busty. Her breasts were even more beautiful than Garth had imagined. And she was so unself-conscious that when she handed him his glass, her nipples weren't even erect.

[foreplay part]
She rose to meet him as he walked toward her, shrugging off his coat. And then they were in each other's arms, hands exploring, tongues working passionately.

[the act]
He scooped her up in his arms and carried her over to the bed and pulled off the tiny bikini briefs and plunged into her with desperate urgency of a suffocating diver plugging his air line into a tank of oxygen. They grappled and lunged about the bed like clawing wildcats until his spurting seed momentarily slaked the thirsting heat in her loins.

I don't know, I probably put too much emphasis on this whole sex angle but still, some of that shit was hard to digest. 

Not really sure how to conclude. It's definitely a bit of a mess and too long and too crazy at times. But Angie is super cool and simply funny. And to finish this review on a more positive note, here's a poem she recites when testing her Micro 007 "sugar cube" bugs:

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow... and every dude that Mary screwed, the lamb would also blow.

Although a bit disappointed, I'm looking forward to my remaining two Dark Angels!

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero: See the back cover scan

Location:
New York, New Jersey

Body count:
2 proper ones and (roughly estimated) 10 gang members blown up on the treasure island.

Dames:
Garth's wife Vale:

Wov! Garth had himself quite a dish for a wife. A breathtakingly lovely blonde, with two truly outstanding boobs. And the most perfectly neat and classically ringleted triangle of pubic hair that Angie had ever seen.

Much more interesting is Dr. Baxt's receptionist Fogel - "two hundred pounds of solid bone, tit and muscle". She's repeatedly and to a point of a real annoyance referred to as a dyke. Won't go into political correctness bullshit but it is totally unnecessary and it comes across as simply mean. Not to mention stupid.

Object of desire:
This is the novel's major problem because the main plot vehicle is totally unrealistic. The thing is that everyone's chasing that TV treasure hunt's main prize because, for some unexplained reason, it is delivered in cash!? Yes, three million dollars in cash!?! Why the hell the producers couldn't simply hand out a check to the winner?

References:
Garth turned and raised himself up on the arm to peer at her through the moonlit gloom. It was a sight, he thought, to give even that veteran old letch, the Flemish flesh artist Peter Paul Rubens, a hard-on.

The painting portrayed a nude woman in black silk stockings and pink garters, painted in oils in the self-consciously "naughty" style of Felicien Rops, the Belgian pornographic illustrator of the Gay Nineties.
...
"But - forgive my asking - is it genuine Rops?"
"Of course, of course."

Blackouts:
Angie ducked.
The pot grazed her forehead, stunning her for a fraction of a second.

Title: 
Have no idea from where that "Dream Girl" stuff came from. Is Dark Angel Garth's dream girl?

Edition:
Pyramid, January 1975

Cover:
Pretty cool collage of some scenes with our heroine in front. It even depicts one of the two fights where she's in nude!

Cool lines:
Fogel slumped to the deck like a side of beef falling off a meat truck.

And a page later:
"Yours off, too, lard-butt," Angier told the dyke receptionist, who by now was fully conscious. Fogel got slowly to her feet. "Go on! Strip, mama, before I take an inch or two off those melons of yours with some lead-reducing pills."

Angie's brain was processing data in nanoseconds, and it printed out the answer while he was still speaking.

And let's finish with sex, what else? Here's a bit weird, very Coxman-like monologue of the creepy doctor which he uses for hypnotizing our heroine:

Sex... sex is the answer to all human problems," he intoned. "The true religion of the messiah, resolving all human conflicts... the perfect dialectical synthesis, eliminating forever the dichotomy between male and female... melding them into a single harmonious human entity...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Scorpion Reef a.k.a. Gulf Coast Girl (Charles Williams, 1955)

I read Williams' debut novel Hill Girl a while ago and really liked it. Wish now I would have blogged about that one instead of Scorpion Reef because the old maestro certainly deserves a more positive introductory post on this blog. But it is the end of the month and I need to fill a self-imposed minimal monthly posts quota of at least one entry:)

Three-part structure with a somehow formulaic beginning in which our hero gets sucked into an intrigue that involves a beautiful blonde, her husband, shitload of money, smuggled diamonds and a gang of ruthless gangsters. So nothing really original but still I liked it a lot. It's written with great skill in very realistic style and with some cool characterizations (the main bad guy is pretty fucking menacing!). A true page turner, even though it had to be said that the plot is a bit simplistic and probably takes too long to get going.

This first half serves to set a stage for the main part. Our hero and freshly widowed Shannon (btw, by now she has become a love of his life) are sailing on a small boat accompanied by a couple of mean gangsters on some sort of a treasure hunt. Confined space, the heat of the sun, handful of co-dependent individuals linked by love/hate/fear/greed/mistrust/etc, and with a clock relentlessly ticking,... should be a winning formula for a superb psychological thriller...

Unfortunately, it doesn't happen this way and it goes rapidly downhill instead. There's way too much emphasis on our damned lovers while the action is almost totally neglected. Psychological parts are naive at best and sometimes even laughable. There's a scene in which bad guy handles a loaded gun to our hero knowing that he hasn't got the guts to use it...

But as much as this middle part is a letdown after the promising opening, the worst is yet to come. I would dare guess that Mr. Williams wanted to wrap up the novel with a surprising twist so the next several chapters we need to endure some ultra corny romance that in the end serves as a basis for that surprising ending. But too little too late for my liking. After 190 pages, I was just happy to finally get over the line.

But I'm not giving up on Williams. I think my next one will be Dead Calm. Saw the movie with Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill ages ago and as far as I can remember it has a similar setup to this one. Or maybe I should go with "Talk of the Town" or "Hell Hath no Furry"? Surely books with such cool covers cannot be bad? :)

4/5 for the first eight chapters, 2.5 for the following six and 1.5 for the last three combined equal to 2.31 but I'll round it to

2.5 / 5

Facts:

Hero:
Bill Manning - ex-writer, these days freelancing diver.

Location:
First half in some fictitious coastal town called Sanport, the rest on the big blue open sea.

Body count: 4
And Bill is pretty philosophical about the demise of the hoodlums:  They lived by violence. They had died the same way. It was just an industrial accident.

Object of desire:
"What's in the plane?" I asked.
"Diamonds," Barclay answered. "You might say a considerable amount of diamonds."
"Whose?"
"Ours, obviously."

Dames:
The very first encounter between Bill and Shannon is pretty cool:

I was checking over some diving gear on the forward deck when a car rolled out of the end of the shed and stopped beside mine. It was a couple of tons of shining Cadillac, and there was a girl in it.
Or maybe a better way of putting it would be to say a girl came out of the shed, wearing a Cadillac. You'd see her first.

And I'll spare you of all the superlatives in that corny last act...

Blackouts:
When they turned me loose at last and went away my knees folded and I fell forward on my face. Wind roared in my throat, and my mouth was full of sand.

Title: 
Scorpion Reef is a place where our party of four is headed to salvage diamonds from the sunken plane. But I think it has more of a symbolic meaning of something inescapable (you know: scorpion... death...). Anyway, pretty cool title and definitely better as "Gulf Coast Girl" under which it was republished a year later by Dell.

Edition:
Pan, 1958

Cover:
Typical British cover. Instead of some nice illustration of Russian-Finish-Irish tall blonde Shannon in a swimsuit, we get a pretty generic fight scene. And look at the facial expression of the guy standing. Hillarious!

Cool lines:
"Well, I wanted to see everything before I died, and now I have. A man over thirty who still believes women.""

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Due Or Die (Frank Kane, 1961)

I like the concept of a P.I. being hired by mobsters. It isn't terribly original but it's still unusual enough to function when done decently. It does work in this one, maybe because there's a cute twist to it. A group of aging has-been tough guys hires our hero because somebody is trying to sell them protection! Yeap - some "shake artist" threatens to wipe them out one by one unless they come up with a neat little sum of a million bucks!

It's too bad that the story doesn't evolve much beyond this premise. Outside this closed group of six people, only a couple of new characters is introduced so it gets clear pretty soon that the culprit will be one old fart double-crossing his mates. Liddell's M.O. doesn't help this non-development either. Our main guy basically stirs shit up by doing not much more that simply hanging around and making bad guys nervous. You know, so they make the mistake...

But it's still cool. The pace is relentless and there are numerous scenes that either doesn't make much sense or their timing is off or some details simply don't add up logically when you stop to think about them. But the trick is that the reader doesn't stop to think about them. I'll give you a couple of amusing examples.

There's a body in the morgue that local sheriff wants to get disposed of by cremating it asap in order to destroy the evidence that proves this guy was in fact shot and hadn't committed suicide. The contrary proof is the angle of the bullet's entry point into a wound so Liddell and his side-kick Tommy Thompson at first even contemplate of stealing the fucking corpse!?! Luckily for them, Johhny does get the Eureka "Pictures!" moment (but doesn't share it with Tommy) so he spends 10 minutes setting up the shot and then another 10 minutes searching for the camera. After failing to find one (in a morgue!?!), he admits defeat and finally explains the whole setup to Tommy. And good thing he does so because it turns out that Tommy owns a Polaroid and needs just 15 minutes to fetch it from his home. So, here's a lesson for all you private investigators out there: communicate with your assistants, share your ideas!

The other example involves a bomb! Johnny is chosen to deliver the payoff money but the "shake artist" replaces the money in the bag with the bomb before handing it to our delivery boy. This bomb stuff is all completely unknown to us, but Johnny has a hunch. Even more - he's pretty sure when the thing will go off so he vehemently drives around with this bag in his trunk before burying it into ground. Lesson #2: if you will happen to have a hunch there's a ticking bomb in your car's trunk, pull the fuck over and check it out. Otherwise, you're a dumb-ass and not bad-ass!

Cool, entertaining stuff. I just wish it didn't have to end with one of those silly but almost mandatory suspects roundups...

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
Johnny Liddell, P.I. - action man, fast on the trigger and relatively (10 minutes) fast on thinking. But, to be honest, he could definitely be fed a few witty lines. Especially his verbal exchanges with women are ultra corny.  Check this:

"I hope you know what you're doing."
Liddell smiled grimly. "I hope you get your hope."

"I liked your act," Liddell told her.
She looked him over with frank interest. "You should see what I do for an encore."
"That an invitation?"
The blonde shrugged. "Why don't you try taking me up on it?"
"Maybe I will. But if I did, I couldn't just go asking for the chocolate dish with the white frosting."

Bad guy(s):
Las Palmas sheriff:
"Under him, law enforcement was satisfyingly broadminded"

...and his two henchmen:
Behind him, he could hear the sheriff expressing a highly censorable, and at best debatable, opinion of his two men, their personal habits, their legitimacy, and the possible canine element in their immediate families.

Location:
It starts briefly in Johnny's New York but then moves to the fictitious town called Las Palmas where "the only unforgivable crime was to be broke".

Body count: 5
But let's rather make it 6 because:

"What'll they do to him?"
Liddell shrugged. "Take back their money. Then they'll turn him loose and let him run." The elevator whooshed to a stop, the doors opened. "The syndicate will put a pencil mark around his name and he'll be a fair hit any place in the world. He won't live much longer this way, but it'll seem a lot longer. In the end, he couldn't be deader."

Object of desire:
Preservation of their lives (and a million bucks) for mobsters and clearing his name for Johnny.

Dames:
The voice on the other end was the husky kind that does things to the spine. "This is Lee Loomis. I don't know if you know me-"
"The Lee Loomis?"
There was a pleased sound from the other end of the phone. "A Lee Loomis. I hope it's the one you mean."
"You headlined the show at the Cuernavaca a couple of months ago? That Lee Loomis?"
"How nice of you to remember."
"How could I forget?"

There are two other gun molls but (unfortunately) they don't get much of the exposure.

Blackouts:
He briefly loses consciousness during the interrogation of the two sheriff's bulls but kicks the shit out of them when he comes back to his senses.

Title: 
Cool sounding but hasn't got much to do with the story. At least I didn't think that anything was so due that someone would have to die.

Edition:
Dell, First Edition, March 1961. It is numbered 8174 but when I google it, I get back A. Betram Chandler's "Spartan Planet". Strange... I don't own some special collector's item paperback with the printing error, do I?

Cover:
She was tall. Her red hair was piled on top of her head and a green silk gown did its best to cover her lush figure. Her lips were full, moist soft; her eyes green and slightly slanted.

And again towards the end:

She was wearing the same nile-green dressing gown she had on when he first came to the bungalow. It was still doing the same wonderful job of showcasing her figure.

Cool lines:
Liddell turned to face the man who was leaning against the back of the cage. His eyes were tired, his suit wrinkled, but the right hand sunk in the pocket of his jacket gave him authority...
"Who are you?"
"The welcoming committee," the tired-eyed man drawled. He nodded to the gun. "Take it out with your left hand. Two fingers."
...
"Heavy piece."
"Makes my coat hang hang straight."

And a couple of threats. I'm not sure that I get the first one:

"Okay, buddy. One move out of you and this is Cinderella's coach, only midnight's never coming."

The next one I do get but it's still a bit silly:

"Move one finger while I'm driving and I'll put a hole in you big enough to drive a Mack truck through."