Apr 032014
 
The Premar Experiments, by Robert H. Rimmer February, 1976  Signet Books The victory novel of the sexual revolution! -- from the back cover Robert Rimmer gained fame in the mid-‘60s with the publication of The Harrad Experiment, a novel about an initiative at Harvard University in which male and female co-eds roomed together; there was even a film version (starring a young Don Johnson!),
Mar 202014
 
Hype!, by Leonard Jordan No month stated, 1977  Fawcett Gold Medal Hype! was my Harold Robbins novel, but as usual I could only cover the material in my own way. It contains incredible amounts of vulgarity. One of the characters is based loosely on Jacqueline Onassis. I’ll probably burn in hell for what I did to that poor woman. -- Len Levinson, in a July 2012 email to me Published not
Mar 132014
 
The Serial, by Cyra McFadden June, 1978  Signet Books First published in weekly installments in an “alternative” Marin County newspaper in 1976 and then in hardcover the following year, Cyra McFadden’s The Serial lampoons one year in the New Age mid-1970s Marin County, California. The book was a bestseller, and even scored a film adaptation in 1980, but I’d never heard of it until coming
Feb 242014
 
The Worshipped And The Damned, by William Hegner February, 1975  Pocket Books William Hegner, an unjustly obscure trash fiction master, published several novels in the 1970s, many of them paperback originals for Pocket Books. The Worshipped And The Damned is one of his later Pocket releases, after which he moved over to Playboy Books and then dropped off the map. I think I read an obituary
Feb 172014
 
Festival, by Bryan Hay June, 1973  Pocket Books This slim paperback original details the planning and development of a Woodstock-style rock festival. One thing the front and back cover don’t make clear is that Festival actually takes place in Canada; Toronto and a desolate area of western Ontario, to be exact. Another thing the front or back covers don’t make clear is how much of a bore the
Jan 302014
 
The Bar Studs, by Leonard Jordan March, 1976  Fawcett Crest Books The second novel Len Levinson published under his “Leonard Jordan” pseudonym, The Bar Studs is an awesome trip back to the shaggy pre-disco New York City of 1974. As usual with one of Len’s novels it’s more about the characters than the plot, with the tale recounting the sleazy lives of six bartenders as they variously find
Nov 112013
 

Making U-Hoo, by Irving A. Greenfield
November, 1973  Dell Books

Another of those early ‘70s sex novels Dell Books specialized in, Making U-Hoo is courtesy Irving A. Greenfield, who again delivers a fast-moving narrative that, while not being especially memorable in the plot department, definitely delivers some memorable sex scenes. In the ‘60s Greenfield served as “Vin Fields” for porn imprint Midwood, so he certainly had the experience under his belt (so to speak) to capitalize on the sex novel boom of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s.

The playful title is apt – the characters in this novel “make yoo-hoo” in both the literal and the figurative sense. Sales for a previously-low tier soft drink called U-Hoo (a citrus-lime soda clearly modelled on Sprite) have gone through the roof, basically destroying the profits of larger soft drink manufacturer SDA (read: Coca-Cola). Protagonist and sometimes narrator Bart Sherriff, a consulting ad whiz, is called in by SDA to find out what’s going on.

I say “sometimes” a narrator because most of Making U-Hoo is in third-person, but Greenfield will arbitrarily jump into Bart’s perspective for several first-person sequences. Sometimes it’s when he’s meeting with clients, other times when he’s just walking around (strangely though, none of the actual sex scenes are written in first-person), so there seems to be little rhyme or reason to the perspective changes.

Bart Sherriff is a totally ‘70s protagonist; he’s in his 30s and lives in a swinging bachelor pad in Manhattan complete with a round bed and a stereophonic system that’s hooked into a fancy lighting system, so that various colors will flicker in accordance with the mood of the music. He’s such a successful advertising man that he rents out his services, charging high dollars for his consultations. Just as importantly, so far as the narrative goes, he’s also a big success with the ladies, able to score with ease.

We see Bart handling a few accounts before he’s called in by SDA president Knowles to handle the U-Hoo situation. Knowles states that the problem threatens the national economy, and it’s so bad that people are bootlegging U-Hoo, buying it off shelves and reselling it at a massive upcharge. After accepting the job Bart realizes he’s being followed, and soon discovers that the Feds are on the case, shadowing his every move.

Not that this prevents him from sleeping with the first of three conquests in the novel, this being a gorgeous blonde SDA secretary named Sandy, who just started working at SDA, is happy to go home with Bart, and is obviously an FBI agent (though it takes Bart a while to realize this). In the ensuing sex scene Greenfield takes us completely into the shagadelic ‘70s, with the couple engaging in explicitly-rendered sex on Bart’s round bed while stroboscopic lights flash around them.

Greenfield lazily works up a mystery here, but the novel is moreso in the light humor vein, with no violence or deaths or anything of that nature. In fact when Bart is confronted by a pair of FBI goons he’s easily able to fool them into thinking he himself is a G-Man, and then gets the guys drunk and sends them on their way. This after the trio have watched a televised speech from the President (clearly Nixon, though he isn’t named – and there’s a fair amount of President-bashing throughout the novel, again firmly rooting it in its era), in which the President informs the country of the “soda conspiracy” and requests that everyone buy a can of pop the next day.

It’s his ruse to further throw off the Feds that leads Bart to his next conquest, a brunette model named Lois. The focus of the most sex scenes in the novel, I guess Lois is the closest we get to a female protagonist. Bart calls in a crazy friend to throw a costume party in Bart’s apartment, so Bart can take off in the fray and leave the Feds to wonder what happened to him. He tells his crazy friend to bring along anyone he knows; one of these people happens to be Lois, who offers her place to Bart as a safe place to stay, and thus moments after meeting each other they rush back to her place to screw. Ah, the ‘70s.

Greenfield serves up another pages-long sex scene here, miles beyond the metaphor and analogy-ridden purple prose you’d encounter in say the Baroness series, with graphic depictions baldly rendered…though not with the outrageous aspects of Harold Robbins or the boring, repetitive, and mechanical sex descriptions you’d find in a vintage sleaze novel like Flowers And Flesh. One thing I’ve noticed though about Greenfield is his tendency to always mention what his female characters taste like, if you catch my drift.

Making U-Hoo runs at 251 pages of fairly big print, and I figured most of those pages would be given over to sex scenes, but that’s really not the case. In fact Greenfield seems determined to deliver an actual story, one that’s couched in goofy humor and the occasional sex scene. Most of the novel is focused on Bart’s inner monologues and his thoughts and feelings on various things as he traipses around ‘70s New York City tracking down clues. However the U-Hoo “conspiracy” stuff is not given enough weight or focus to classify the novel as a thriller or anything of the sort. Again, it’s more of a comedy.

In fact the whole mystery angle is rendered moot in the reveal, when Bart meets Flosie, a black masseuse. While giving Bart a handjob she casually informs him that she’s behind the “conspiracy,” having spread the word that the black community should “get whitey” by buying up one brand of soda and then gouging the market with inflated resale prices. Bart thanks her by paying to have sex with her, having already broken off his days-long relationship with Lois. In fact the women just abruptly drop out of the narrative once Bart’s done with them, and Greenfield intentionally or not builds ill will against his protagonist, as it’s clear that these women develop feelings for Bart, particularly Lois, but he could care less.

I’m sort of on the fence with Making U-Hoo; I enjoy Greenfield’s writing and the dialog he gives his characters, but the plot is middling and forgettable. However the book works as a nice capsule of early ‘70s New York and the fashions of its hipper denizens, which always results in high marks from me. I guess I’d end by saying you should maybe check it out if you come across it for cheap, but it’s not worth going to great lengths to hunt it down.

Astarte

 book reviews, Dell, Trash Fiction  Comments Off
Sep 192013
 

Astarte, by Alberto Readstone
April, 1973  Dell Books

In the early to mid 1970s Dell Books cornered the market on sleazy paperback originals, usually featuring a nude photo cover and lots of explicit sex, Sexual Strike Force being one such example. Astarte is another, and storywise it’s along the same lines as Island Paradise in that it’s about a group of glamorous people going to a remote island for lots of sex and sin. And just as Island Paradise took a huge misstep into island politics, Astarte commits nearly as big a wrong by striving to be overly literary, sometimes painfully so.

I thought I was in for a nice sleazy read when the first page screamed “SEX SLAVES,” with a rundown of the characters provided beneath (the hooker, the movie star, the hippie, etc), but unfortunately Alberto Readstone (surely a pseudonym) dilutes the sleaze with some of the most pretentious writing I’ve encountered since Eric Lustbader’s The Ninja. Style-wise the novel has more in common with the post-hippie literary craze of the time, like The Stones of Summer or CenterForce, and that’s a damn shame.

Anyway, the island in question is “no place,” just the first of the author’s many annoying touches – throughout the book he strives to be as vague about time and space particulars as possible. (Another incredibly annoying habit is his constant reference to “the center” of the male characters – ie their manly parts.) The island, only a few miles large, is owned by Dana, a bisexual and debauched fop, and his stunningly beautiful daughter Philana, a self-centered narcissist of the first order.

Not that we get any detail or much background, but what Philana does is have “the Captain” fly in small groups of people on his Lear jet so that Philana can engage them all in a group orgy. (How often does she do this? Monthly? Weekly?? Who knows.) Her latest group arrives as Astarte opens, and they’re all archetypes from the Book of Trash Fiction.

There’s Moira, a brunette hooker who only retains high-society clients; Lark, a pretty but undiscovered actress who constantly worries about keeping her breasts toned and firm; Valentine, a high-fashion model of black and white descent; The Athlete (seriously, that’s his name), a good-looking stud who knows his years of being a gigolo are growing short; and finally Poet, an annoying hippie who has ended up here on the island after a failed attempt at immigrating to mainland China.

These characters have no room to live or breathe beneath the pretentious cluster of Readstone’s prose. Also he spends more time cutting away from this island to another island, where 15 year-old Kory is vacationing with his mother, Evelyn. This entire segment is pretty weird, as Kory is something of a freak, and Evelyn apparently is trying to keep him away from society, women in particular. (Not that Evelyn is doing much good for the kid; Readstone hints that she’s a bit too intimate with the boy.) At the expense of many, many words we eventually discover that Evelyn is Philana’s mother and Kory is Philana’s half-brother.

I mean, it takes about 80 pages to even get to “the good stuff,” and even then the sordid shenanigans are lost amid the high-falutin prose. Smoking some high-grade hash, the group gets nude and calls Philana in, putting her up on a mirrored surface and fondling her; eventually one of the guys (who?) screws her, but during this Moira realizes that Philana needs “more than just fucking” so begins to whip her with a custom-made glove. But the scene is so brief and so “poetically” rendered that you don’t know if you’re supposed to be turned on or nodding your head at man’s inherent inhumanity to man and the inescapable ennui that is life among the jet-set, etc.

Meanwhile, in an infuriatingly vague sequence, we learn that Evelyn dies (Readstone leaves how it happened vague, saving it as a surprise revelation for the end of the book), and Kory, after somehow ending up in New York where he checked out some dirty books in a Time Square bookstore before being kicked out, is on his way to the island. Great, just what we needed to further louse up the trash potential of this novel, a fucking kid on the island.

Just before Kory arrives, though, the majority of the party leaves, save for Athlete and Moira, and right afterwards Patrik, a clinger-on from a previous party who has been living with Dana, decides to kill himself. Before Philana’s taunting eyes Patrik cuts off his “center” (that damn annoying term again!!) and bleeds to death. Now Philana’s left a catatonic wreck, and the sleaze element is in further danger; there’s not much room for lurid hijinks when your protagonist is left a fragile shell of herself.

Young Doctor Pearson arrives on the island to care for Philana, who meanwhile is acting like a child with an intrigued Kory. Pearson instantly falls for the raven-haired goddess (I too assumed Philana was a blonde due to the cover). But Philana is instead falling for Kory, ie her half brother. Thus begins a bizarre sort of love story where these two half-siblings share pretentious conversations while sunning on the beach, while meanwhile Dana implores the good doctor to use shock treatment to zap Philana back to her old, cynical self – he’s disgusted with her childlike, naïve mentality.

Dana pulls further sordid tricks, like employing Athlete to attempt to rape Philana, but she manages to fight him off. Finally though Dana convinces Doc Pearson to use some heavy drugs and shock therapy on her, and soon enough Philana is back to her aloof, bitchy self. She claims to not remember any of her romance with Kory, who of course is upset. The novel ends with the revelation that it was Kory who killed his mother, shooting her with a spear gun while they were scuba diving; Readstone leaves us with the once-again vague hint that Kory is about to do the same thing to Dana, as the two go scuba diving together.

Anyway, Astarte had lots of promise, but squandered it all. Dammit, first Island Paradise and now this. Surely it can’t be that hard to write a trashy novel about a group of horny characters on a remote island, can it??
Jun 202013
 

Yellow Peril, by Richard Jaccoma
December, 1980  Berkley Books
(Original hardcover edition, 1978)

I’m not sure how I discovered this obscure book, but I’m glad I did. It has all the makings of a trash fiction masterwork, only it’s a bit hamstrung by the author’s agenda. Perhaps this is what undermined the book’s success. Regardless though I’m surprised Yellow Peril is so unknown, as it has practically everything one could want from trash fiction, including a great sense of humor. It also very clearly foreshadows Raiders of the Lost Ark in that it’s about a globetrotting adventurer in the pre-WWII years. Unlike Indiana Jones, though, our hero Sir John Weymouth-Smythe has tons of sex and kills a bunch of people along the way.

Smythe also serves as our narrator, and Jaccoma has a sure handle on the prissy tones expected of an Edwardian-era British adventurer. Smythe is pompous and as expected racist, though this latter element is part of the author agenda I referred to above. In a preface that amounts to character assassination, Jaccoma, speaking as himself, claims that Smythe’s manuscript was recently found and apologizes for the man’s racist diatribes. You see my friends, Jaccoma plainly states that Smythe is a bastard and that we should hate him for all of the racist ideals he stands for; even the jacket copy of the original hardcover edition intimates that Smythe is a prick and that we should root against him. But Jaccoma’s biggest failing is that he makes Smythe such a character to root for…I mean, Smythe spends the entire novel reacting to the horrors he witnesses, and he reacts much the same way as anyone else would. Jaccoma never gives the guy a chance.

To be sure, the author agenda doesn’t really show up until well into the tale. Before we get there (and even for the most part afterward) Yellow Peril is a very enjoyable read. (And it’s only this annoying agenda that has kept me from placing it in the Hall of Fame!) Anyway it’s 1932 or thereabouts and John Weymouth-Smythe is an agent of the British Empire; he currently resides in Thailand, where he’s been investigating the growing concern over “the yellow peril,” ie an Asia-wide revolt.

Meanwhile Smythe experiences love at first sight when he meets the half-Chinese daughter of his crusty British superior officer; the lady is named Beth-li, and Jaccoma lets us know what kind of gloriously trashy read we’re in for when he writes an explicit sex scene between the two shortly after they meet. This only proves to be the first of many such scenes; a recurring joke is that any time an attractive lady is introduced to the narrative, Smythe will have (elaborately detailed) sex with her. In a way then the book is like the Flashman series, only better, in that it incorporates mysticism and supernatural elements, even verging into full-on fantasy with an appearance of several Yetis, late in the tale.

Jaccoma also has a talent for sadistic scenes, something he also proves early on; Smythe stumbles upon the fact that a mysterious “Chinaman” with apparently supernatural powers is behind the Yellow Menace: Chou en Shu, who is of course Fu Manchu in all but name. As Smythe watches in horror he sees his world fall apart during a bizarre, Chou en Shu-headed ritual in which both Smythe’s superior and Beth-li are involved, the latter in a very personal way. This scene as well is a glimpse of more to come, as the rituals used by Chou throughout are heavily sex-based. Also here Jaccoma displays his James Robert Baker-esque gift for dark comedy, starting out a paragraph that has us thinking it’s going one way, only to suddenly have it go another, as Beth-li is raped by a massively-endowed Chou en Shu:

After a few moments, her cries had subsided. For Chou en Shu had inched the worst portion of his member into her. He paused in his onslaught now, and Beth-li, her grimacing face half crushed against the pillows, whined softly. Then, with a sudden sadistic twitch, he plunged the entire length of his flesh-rod deep inside her! Her entire body stiffened with shock and she let out one long and blood-curdling shriek…a shriek which went on and on, but which finally ended with the revolting, half-coherent words:

More… Give me more! Oh, GOD!!” And my beloved Beth-li collapsed, gasping and shuddering…in a climax of the most disgusting intensity!

Smythe’s life further spirals into chaos, as his superior commits suicide and then, most shocking of all, Smythe receives Beth-li’s severed head in a package sent by Chou en Shu! Of course, this means that Smythe (and we readers) now hate Chou and want to see him get his comeuppance…which makes Jaccoma’s later “revelations” about what’s “really” going on and who are the “real” villains so misguided, not to mention so stupid. When a guy sees his “true love” get raped by a demonic being who later mails the dude the girl’s severed head…well honestly, how in the hell are we supposed to root against the poor guy??

Despite this nonsense, I should repeat that Jaccoma (unintentionally?) makes us so root for Smythe that we can, for the most part, overlook the later reveals and enjoy the book as a porn-fueled tribute to ‘30s pulp. Swearing vengeance upon Chou, Smythe has further adventures in Thailand, not to mention more sex, this being another Asian gal who throws herself at him, only to later reveal she is a vassal of Chou’s. Eventually Smythe moves on to India, where Jaccoma well captures the twilight era of the British Empire. Here Smythe meets with his new superior, Sir Denis, a man who is waging his own secret war upon Chou en Shu and thus recruits Smythe for the cause.

Denis sends Smythe into the Assam region of India, an arduous river journey where, on the well-appointed crusie ship, Smythe meets his new associates: Nazis! In these pre-war years Sir Denis has ties with the National Socialist Party, whose fascist and white power views he much appreciates. (Yet Smythe very clearly does not agree with the Nazis, and in fact hates them…yet, again, we’re supposed to hate the guy??) Another feather in the book’s trash fiction cap is that one of the Nazis is an actual Nazi She-Devil! This is “blonde German goddess” Clara Schicksal, who co-leads the group of Germans alongside her brother Julius. These two are straight out of The Occult Roots of Nazism, as Smythe stumbles into their cabin while they’re indulging in one of their rituals:

In the red, guttering glow of some brass oil lamps, I saw Clara Schicksal kneeling naked on her cabin’s floor. Five greasy candles had been set at the points of a pentagram on the floor itself, illuminating her grisly work. Her Valkyrie’s body was glistening with oil and traced all along with finger-dabbed symbol…double spirals, yinyangs, sinistrogyrate swastikas, inverted cruciforms… She was pressing down with her hands at the ankles of a frail body within the pentagram…a young lad of some eleven or twelve years, and was performing upon his vainly struggling form…a particularly exuberant fellatio!

I should mention that the “young lad’s” throat has just been slit. These Nazis are here to track down the infamous Spear of Destiny, which Smythe actually held in his hands back in Thailand; an old acquaintance happened to have acquired it, as related in a long but entertaining story. However again due to supernatural chicanery, Chou en Shu has now gotten hold of the Spear. This is something Sir Denis and the Nazis want to correct – they claim that a supervillain like Chou will destroy the world with such a powerful relic. Thus, Sir Denis has chosen to work with the Nazis – “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and all that.

The occultic Nazi stuff soon fades into the woodwork, as does the Nazi She-Devil herself; after such a memorable opening Smythe hates Clara, not that this stops him from the occasional hate fuck. (I’d quote one of these sequences as well, but they might be too much, given that Smythe will only sodomize Clara, and brutally so...and yeah, she loves it…) However the supernatural stuff comes to the fore as the group engages the aid of an Indian mystic who is at war with Chou en Shu; this entails a raid on a remote Assam temple in which those aforementioned Yetis appear, they too serving the Nazi cause in the battle against Chou.

But towards the end it all begins to unravel, mostly because here Jaccoma belies his intentions. Various characters previously thought dead return, and all of them are not only willing servants of Chou en Shu, but they keep banging Smythe over the head about how “stupid” he’s been! Most belligerent of all is a rabbi in New York City who takes special delight in telling Smythe how much of an “idiot” he is. But again it all just comes off as so stupid and misguided, because throughout the novel Smythe has just been reacting to the horrible things he’s seen. And the “racist” claims are also stupid, because throughout Smythe has gone out of his way to fight against his Nazi “allies,” even killing one of them and snarling, “Here – a gift from the Jews,” as he slits the murdering bastard’s throat.

Jaccoma plunges on, though, destroying not only the entire novel but also any further enjoyment, as he relishes in trotting out various characters who tell Smythe how stupid he’s been and all the mistakes he’s made. Let me ask you, though…if you saw the love of your life ritually raped and then received her severed head in the mail, would you pause and ask yourself: “Wait a second. Am I getting the full story, here??”

Because this is exactly what is implied…that the events of the novel have mostly been Smythe’s “fault,” mainly due to his “racism” and his inability to see the “truth” behind things. In other words, Jaccoma attempts to pull the narrative carpet out from under us in what he hopes is a shocking reveal but instead comes off like, well…like one of the dumbest damn things I’ve ever read.

And it really is a shame, because for the most part Yellow Peril is one hell of an entertaining and enjoyable read.

By the way, the hardcover edition features a photo of Jaccoma; is it just me, or does this guy look like a 1970s version of Robert from Everybody Loves Raymond??

Apr 152013
 

Masked Dog, by Raymond Obstfeld
August, 1986  Gold Eagle Books

Raymond Obstfeld is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. Masked Dog isn’t as great as his Invasion U.S.A. novelization, but it’s a lot of fun, filled with vibrant dialog, strong characters, and plenty of suspense. It’s to the novel’s disservice that it was published by Gold Eagle, lending the impression that the novel’s just another SuperBolan or something. In reality it’s a melding of the suspense, spy, and horror genres.

“Masked Dog” is the code name of a CIA project that has been going on for the past decade: an agency scientist has been injecting a volunteer prisoner with a battery of experimental drugs that have removed all traces of fear from the test subject and have also granted him with superhuman strength. Gee, what could go wrong?? As you’d expect, the test subject, a pedophile pediatrist named Gifford Devane, has broken free and is now loose and looking for a little revenge.

Devane’s main target is a former rock superstar named Price Calender, who now lives a low-level life playing revival concerts and the like. Price worked for the CIA a bit in the previous decade; in a backstory that doesn’t quite ring true, we learn that Price got involved with the agency after a run-in with the law and in exchange for his freedom he agreed to act as a courier during his global tours. Price also eventually married a gorgeous lady named Liza R (no last name), a lady who turned out to be a Commie spy who insinuated herself with Price because he was a CIA goon and because she wanted to get to Devane and the Masked Dog program.

Liza R was a package deal; she came with a daughter from a brief, earlier marriage, a toddler named Rebecca who Price eventually adopted. But again, Liza’s marriage to Price was all just a ruse, and after an aborted attempt seven years ago to break out Devane, Liza carried out a running battle with the CIA, even using her own daughter as a human shield. (The end result being an errant bullet that shattered Rebecca’s knee, so that she now walks with a brace.) Price himself killed Liza…or so he thought. As Masked Dog opens, we learn that due to some commie subterfuge Liza’s death was merely staged, and now she is here with a fellow KGB operative, tracking down the loose Masked Dog.

Again, all this is backstory and it’s doled out gradually and masterfully in the narrative. Price is not your typical Gold Eagle protagonist by a longshot – he’s not a trained agent, and doesn’t even know how to handle a weapon. This is taken care of by Jo, one of Obstfeld’s typically-great female characters, a CIA agent who Baroness style was a woman of high society but grew bored of the jetset life and became a secret agent. Price and Jo have a great “meet cute” and Obstfeld really plays up on the comedy, banter, and relationship that grows between them. And when the expected sex scene comes, late in the tale, it’s unexpectedly explicit – yet another divergence from the typical Gold Eagle fare.

Obstfeld works up the tension and suspense; there isn’t much action in Masked Dog until the end, other than Devane’s brief encounters with old friends and the criminal underworld. Also graced with a quicker mind and photographic memory, Devane wants to advertise himself to the highest bidder as an assassin, so he announces that he will murder a famous East German dignitary, despite the massive amount of security which will surround the guy. Devane’s assassination too is carried out in more of a suspenseful nature than the pyrotechnics you’d expect, and Obstfeld makes it even more tense with Jo being caught in the fray.

Devane also has superstrength and can tear people apart. Obstfeld plays up the dark comedy with Devane coming off like a superpowered Hannibal Lecter, though without the serial killer aspect – his taste veers toward adolescent girls, and over the course of the narrative he catches a few of them, the ensuing grisly deaths only vaguely hinted at. But Devane gradually realizes that something is going wrong…his memory is clouding, he has lost his sense of taste, and it dawns on him that though he can’t feel pain, he can still be killed.

Obstfeld takes his time with the narrative, so that it all comes off as very character focused. All of the characters are given depth, save for maybe Liza R. I love pulpy female villains, but Liza R is just too inhuman, too much of a cipher. Obstfeld provides a backstory that attempts to explain at least a little how she could be so cold blooded (she was raised by leftist American parents who emigrated to the USSR but then abandoned her at a young age), but still she is too cold, too robotic. Obstfeld to his credit makes Liza thoroughly despicable; several times she “tests” herself to see if she might give a damn about her daughter Rebecca, finding each time that she doesn’t care if the little girl lives or dies.

Action scenes here and there liven things up…Devane’s assassination attempt of the German dignitary, or Devane’s scuffles with hoodlums. Suspense takes center stage throughout, particularly a tension-filled scene where Devane sneaks into Price’s empty home and poisons his cigarettes; throughout the ensuing scene with Price, Obstfeld keeps toying with us, mentioning the cigarettes lying there, Price picking one up and about to light it but then getting distracted. Then Jo shows up and the suspense really mounts – all told, a masterful scene. But just one of many.

The action heats up toward the end, like when Liza R and her KGB associates corner Devane, who manages to take out the redshirts and then engages in a duel to the death with a martial arts master, all while Liza coldly watches. The climax takes a page from Stephen King with Devane kidnapping Rebecca and stashing her in an empty fitness center, with Price venturing in solo and taking on Devane by himself. He’s easily outmatched, getting his arms and fingers broken by a nude Devane who swings from the shadows to torment him. All of this actually reminded me of the climax of Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford’s character was similarly tortured by his superpowered foe.

I guess the only problem I had with Masked Dog is it’s a little too long for its own good. The novel is over 300 pages and a lot of it could be cut. In particular the suspense of the climax is a little destroyed because, as Price sneaks through the darkened and creepy fitness center, Obstfeld somehow decides to inform us what the place is like during the day and what Price’s usual workout routine is like. But stuff like this is rare and for the most part the novel moves at an assured pace, really getting us to like its characters to the point where we are emotionally invested in the outcome.

Perhaps due to its publisher, Masked Dog didn’t make much of a dent, it appears…it only had this one printing, and like the other Gold Eagle titles of the time it was probably pulled off the shelves when the next bi-monthly shipment of Gold Eagle stock came in. It’s too bad, because this is a very good novel, one that should have had a larger audience.

And the cover by the way is a die cut, something I’ve never seen from Gold Eagle. Here’s the inner cover:

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