Archive for the 'Pinnacle Books'

Death Merchant #21: The Pole Star Secret

Death Merchant #21: The Pole Star Secret March, 1977  Pinnacle Books Picking up a few months after the previous volume, this installment of the Death Merchant is a direct continuation of Hell In Hindu Land, so you should probably read that one first. As we’ll recall from that novel, hero Richard Camellion discovered friggin’ aliens in India, and while there he was informed that there were

NYPD 2025

NYPD 2025, by Hal Stryker May, 1985  Pinnacle Books Betrayed by a misleading cover, NYPD 2025 is in fact a men’s adventure novel, one very much in the over-the-top vein of The Hitman and Soldier For Hire. And it’s just as right-winged, “Hal Stryker” serving up a future world in which the goddamn Liberals have taken hold of America…hell, they’ve even opened the country’s borders to immigrants

The Destroyer #14: Judgment Day

The Destroyer #14: Judgment Day, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy February, 1974  Pinnacle Books I enjoyed this volume of The Destroyer a lot more than the previous one I read. This time Sapir and Murphy make no attempt to write an actual men’s adventure novel, thus there are no unwieldy or arbitrary moments in which they must insert an action scene. Instead Judgment Day works as a

The Penetrator #19: Panama Power Play


The Penetrator #19: Panama Power Play, by Lionel Derrick
March, 1977  Pinnacle Books

Whereas his previous volume of The Penetrator was almost surreal in its focus on action, this time out Mark Roberts attempts to go for more of a plot-heavy approach. It doesn’t always succeed, though, making Panama Power Play come off as a bit padded at times, very much lacking the spark of Demented Empire.

Roberts continues to dole out the metaphysical stuff with an opening which sees Mark “Penetrator” Hardin engaging in some past-life regression with his Indian mentor, David Red Eagle. This entire sequence seems lifted from a Western novel Roberts might’ve been working on at the time, with cowboys taking out Hardin’s Indian tribe. It kind of goes on for a while, too. Finally though Hardin emerges from the trip with the understanding that he should not hate his enemies, and instead look upon his vigilante activities moreso from a “maintaining the karmic balance” sort of view. I mean, he’s still supposed to kill them, just not hate them!

From this we clunkily go into the volume’s threat – one Norbert Briscoe, a tycoon who has escaped America, where he’s wanted on various white-collar charges. Now living in Costa Rica, Briscoe plans to take over the Panama Canal, funding a group of soldiers for the job. His objective is to then extort the US and other countries to use the Canal, but unbeknownst to him the commanders of his mercenary army are in fact communists and are secretly working with Cuba. Briscoe is an unlikely villain for the series, but Hardin takes the job because he’s bullied into it by Dan Griggs, a Federal agent who has helped Hardin in the past.

Hardin flies down to Costa Rica on his personal plane, and here again we have arbitrary bits in the text where Roberts informs us how pilots handle small aircraft in rough weather and whatnot. Was the guy a pilot or something on the side? Anyway Hardin’s shaky plan is to pose as Manny Czonka, Norbert Briscoe’s childhood friend; the two haven’t seen each other in decades, and Hardin hopes that Briscoe will have forgotten what Manny looked like. Czonka has gone on to become a left-leaning labor union rep, giving Roberts many opportunities to bash liberals and commies.

Unbelievably enough, Briscoe not only buys that Hardin is his childhood pal, but he immediately tries to recruit him into his Panama Canal scheme! This develops over a very long sequence in which Hardin as Czonka hobknobs with the expatriot jetset at a party on Briscoe’s estate in Costa Rica. We get lots of scenes in which Briscoe’s financial advisors bicker with one another over the Canal plan; they are immediately distrustful of Hardin, as is “The Colonel,” Briscoe’s security chief who is secretly working with the Cubans. In fact for a “financial wizard” Norbert Briscoe comes off like an idiot in Panama Power Play, constantly being fooled by those around him.

Action is sporadic for the first half of the novel, other that is than a completely superfluous scene where, before heading down to Costa Rica, Hardin heads up to Briscoe’s old home turf in Chicago and gets in an arbitrary fight with a pair of cronies who attack him. Needless to say, this incident has no bearing on anything and is never again mentioned. But I guess this would be like complaining about a “superfluous” sex scene in a porn flick. Anyway there’s very little action for the first several chapters of the novel, again marking it from its predecessor.

When the Colonel’s goons pull a hit on Hardin, he finally decides to kick things into gear. Once again hopping into his plane he flies on down to Panama to scout out the location. Here we have another strangely arbitrary scene where, on the main street of some village in Panama, Hardin just happens to run into two old army pals from back in his Vietnam days! These guys, who immediately thereafter disappear from the novel, serve as backstory-expositors, telling Hardin, whom they suspect is now CIA, how the army has gotten word that something strange is going on in the area.

Hardin forages into the jungle and finds a battalion of Cuban soldiers have already secretly encamped. Posing as a local he gets onto the base, but is immediately discovered. There follows a sequence torn from a war novel in which Hardin commandeers a radio and calls in the Panamanian army; troops descend upon the encampment and a smallscalle war ensues. The Penetrator literally disappears throughout this sequence, as we read about random Cuban or Panamanian soldiers blowing each other apart.

When Hardin returns to the narrative he’s busy trying to escape the surviving Cubans, who are still after the imposter who snuck into their camp, despite the apocalyptic battle they just lost. Hardin gets shot in the leg and falls off a cliff, right into a river; he wakes up to see a beautiful young Indian woman looking down at him. This is Rainbow Child, and the next sequence of the novel sees Hardin staying with the natives in their village as he recovers from his wound.

Rainbow Child is of course “given” to Hardin by the chief, though we learn that the girl wanted Hardin anyway. Strangely though Roberts doesn’t make much of the eventual sex scene, with Hardin instead biding his time until he recovers, so that he can finally thwart Briscoe’s Canal plan from occurring – despite the Cubans having been rousted, Hardin knows that Briscoe’s underlings are turncoats and no doubt still have something in mind for the Canal. Only when Rainbow Child complains that Hardin hasn’t slept with her does Roberts deliver the expected scene – but he skips right over it, which is also strange. I was hoping for a Soldier For Hire-style purple-prosed sex scene.

Speaking of sex, as soon as Hardin manages to get back to Costa Rica he finds Joanna Tabler waiting for him in his hotel room. Joanna is Hardin’s girlfriend in all but name, and this is one of the few Roberts Penetrator novels she’s appeared in. Sent down here by her boss Dan Griggs to pose as the girlfriend of “Manny Czonka,” Joanna does absolutely nothing to help Hardin – that is, other than immediately get abducted by the Colonel’s men!

In a sequence that seems to come right out of a sweat mag, Roberts has the Colonel’s stooges torture Joanna in horrible fashion. She’s stripped, burned, beaten (until the point where she pukes), and even violated by the Colonel’s rough fingers. It’s all pretty unsettling and seems to come out of nowhere, but it all culminates in a nice bit where Hardin magically shows up and blows everyone away – just in the nick of time to prevent Joanna from swallowing her cyanide pill.

From here Panama Power Play stalls into the home stretch as Hardin and Joanna turn into veritable pranksters as they try to fool Norbert Briscoe into believing his life is at stake. Their goal is to get him to willingly leaving the country, taking advantage of his “old pal” Manny Czonka’s private plane. At length the ruse works, and after drugging up Briscoe Hardin turns the plane from the Briscoe-intended destination of Cuba and back to the US, where Hardin delivers Briscoe into the hands of Dan Griggs. And by novel’s end, of course, Joanna has sufficiently recovered enough to want a little play time with the, uh, Penetrator.

I guess on second thought Panama Power Play was in fact just as discombobulated as the previous Roberts installment, jumping at random from one subplot to another, but still it lacked the nutzoid spark of other Roberts offerings, not to mention the gore and sex factor. Also on a pedantic note, the nifty little submachine gun Hardin had made at the end of Demented Empire is revealed this time out as being an American 180, which doesn’t look nearly as cool as Roberts described it.

Cut


Cut, by Jerry Bronson
July, 1976  Pinnacle Books

Proving once again that the best trash is ‘70s trash, Cut pulls no punches in its sordid tale of an asthmatic private eye, a missing socialite, a hippie cult, and the sick world of snuff films. “Jerry Bronson” was actually the pseudonym of two British authors, which Justin Marriott explains below, and after reading this novel I’ll need to reassess my lazy opinion of UK pulp as “prudish!”

But then, nothing about Cut comes off as British, save for one slightly jarring bit where Frank Reagan, our Dirty Harry-esque former cop turned private eye, uses the distincly British curse “bloody.” Otherwise the novel is as lurid as one could wish a trashy ‘70s novel to be, opening with the graphically-detailed filming of a porn scene that, unbeknownst to its drugged-out starlet, is actually a snuff film…and her ensuing on-screen murder goes on for a few pages, the authors going out of their way to push buttons. And they succeed – I’ve read some sick shit, and this opening chapter of Cut is pretty damn sick!!

The opening chapter also introduces the villain of the tale, namely Priest, a muscle-bound and bald “guru” of sorts who wears denim suits and white gloves of kid leather; Priest also fancies himself a director and shoots snuff films on stolen equipment, usually murdering the people he steals it from. In this scene we witness one of his snuff films in full, as the novel opens from the perspective of Reena, the starlet who thinks she’s shooting just another porn scene.

As mentioned the explicit detail in this sequence alone places Cut outside the realm of most other ‘70s pulp, but then it gets super sick as the masked and caped mystery man who’s humping Reena pulls out a dagger at the moment of truth and stabs her in the throat…and then continues to mutilate her face in excruciating detail for a few pages. The mystery man’s identity is easily figured out as the novel progresses, but this first chapter really sets him up as one sick bastard.

After this charming opening we are introduced to the “hero” of the tale, the aforementioned Frank Reagan (his last name elicits a few Ronald Reagan jokes in the text), a former Las Vegas cop who was kicked off the force after blowing away a drug dealer who sold Reagan’s former-junkie wife some heroin, heroin which she OD’d on. Now working as a P.I. in San Francisco, Reagan is as mentioned asthmatic and as bitter and cynical as you’d expect a private eye to be.

With its jaded, ball-busting private eye protagonist, snuff film plot, over-the-top tone, and super-lurid vibe, Cut is everything LA Morse’s The Big Enchilada wanted to be. However unlike that later novel Cut is told in third person and, despite the seriously dark humor that runs throughout, it never devolves into satire or spoofery. Also, at 146 pages of big print, it’s half the length – indeed it’s shorter than the average volume of The Penetrator – which is also to its strength.

Reagan’s contacted by the wealthy and beautiful Lorraine Hamilton, who lives in opulence in Los Angeles. A veritable man-eater, Lorraine sets her sights on Reagan as soon as he enters her palatial home. After getting the details of the job out of the way – Lorraine wants Reagan to find her sister, Lee, an 18 year-old nympho who’s run off into the hills around LA to join some hippie cult – Lorraine promptly gets down to the business of having sex with Reagan.

As expected for a pulp P.I., Reagan’s method of “investigation” is basically to harrass and beat up people. He drives up to one of the communes in the hills and does precisely that, throwing around tranced-out hippies who have no idea who Lee is. Eventually he gets wind of Priest’s cult; larger and more mysterious than the others, it’s located among the same hills, the cultists having taken over abandoned studio sets from the golden days of Hollywood.

Anyone hoping for a deeper glimpse into who Priest is and an explanation for why he holds people in such thrall will be let down – I mentioned ealrier that the short length of Cut is a good thing, but that’s at least so far as its overall impact goes. One thing it lacks is much explanation for what we are witnessing, or much depth. But anyway like a muscular Charlie Manson Priest rules an obedient flock, and shortly after barging onto the cult’s property Reagan is escorted by Priest himself to Lee’s shack, Priest proving to Reagan that the girl is here of her own will.

Guess what, this leads to yet another sex scene, Lee throwing herself at Reagan. Again, the novel is very similar to The Big Enchilada, with its protagonist scoring with practically every woman he meets. Here at the commune Reagan runs afoul of a few of Priest’s stooges, thus setting the scene for the later action sequences, including one enjoyably arbitrary bit where Reagan drives back up to the commune in the middle of the night for the express purpose of murdering a few of them!

The novel rushes headlong for its conclusion as we are quickly introdued to Douglas Q. Wilde, a Boris Karloff/Vincent Price-type horror actor with delusions of grandeur who is known for portraying insane men who get off on murdering women. (Even the “subtle” material is obtuse in Cut!) Wilde happens to be at a party Lorraine is hosting, and Reagan instantly suspects something about the guy. Meanwhile Lorraine doesn’t believe that her sister is really a willing Priest devotee, and insists that Reagan bring her back, regardless of what the girl says.

The authors are also good at setting up action scenes. When Reagan finds himself being tailed by two of Priest’s goons the next day, he veers off into Disneyland, and the ensuing action sequence suspensefully plays out among the rides and attractions. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is the setting for one memorable scene, where Reagan jumps out among the model pirates and blows away one of his pursuers as he rides by in a boat.

Like Dirty Harry Reagan carries a .44 Magnum, though sometimes it’s a .45, and sometimes it’s an automatic…that is, when it isn’t a revolver. And yes, he just has the one gun! So it’s safe to say the authors forgot to compare notes when it came to Reagan’s gun. Strangely enough they don’t play up too much on the gun-battle gore, with Reagan apparently doling out clean and nonmessy kills, which must be pretty hard to do with a .44 Magnum.

Before it’s all over we get another detailed snuff film sequence, this time “starring” a character we know. And unlike Morse’s parodic character Sam Hunter, Reagan is actually fazed by what he sees, to such a point that Priest gets a drop on him while he’s watching the flick. This leads to a suitably apocalyptic finale, one that leaves Reagan further unsettled. In fact it’s strange that there was no sequel to Cut, as the authors leave a lot of potential for further lurid adventures with Reagan.

As for the authors and more background info on Cut, here’s what Justin Marriott has to say:

Jerry Bronson was Laurence James and John Harvey. The late Laurence James is my hero, ex-editor at NEL whose final days were spent on Deathlands as Jerry Axler. When the original author of the first Deathlands story faced a few personal issues which resulted in him supposedly turning in a manuscript consisting of several hundred pages of dialogue between the two lead characters crouching in an armoured tank, it was Laurence that Gold Eagle turned to. No doubt due to the connection between GE editor Mark Howell and Laurence -- they worked together at New English Library in London during the early 1970s.

John Harvey is the best-selling and politically aware crime author. I asked Harvey about the book, and his version was Laurence did the kinky bits and he did the PI bits. From what I know of Laurence, that would definitely have been the case. Apparently he always had the latest scandalous gossip and sometimes photos of various dignitaries and celebrities up to no good. His Hells Angels books as Mick Norman for New English Library are my favoutite all-time books - subversive and hugely entertaining.

Cut was written for the American market. The link here was Andy Ettinger at Pinnacle who reprinted a number of Laurence's UK books at Pinnacle, and those of his colleagues. Examples include the Edge westerns by George G Gilman (Terry Harknett was the author but Laurence was key in their development), The Killers by Klauz Netzen (Nettson in the US), The Gladiators by Andrew Quiller (the pun only works with the English series which was called The Eagles. Aquilla meaning Roman for eagle), The Vikings as Neil Langholm, and Simon Rack as Laurence James.

There's no way Cut would have been printed in the UK in the 1970s. I think the stilted and restrained approach of UK pulp authors reflected the standards of the time and our strict censorship laws. Hardcore only became legally available here in the 1990s and is still only available through licenced sex shops. In the 1980s the video distributor of The Evil Dead was given a jail sentence and the likes of The Exorcist weren't available on DVD until the late 1990s. At one point the word Chainsaw was banned, so that terrible film with Gunnar Hansen was renamed Hollywood Hookers. Nunchaka scenes were also banned in the 90s, which meant Enter the Dragon couldn't be seen uncut and the video cover was doctored to show Lee holding what appeared to be a large baguette! (At one point, an uncut version was accidentally shown on terrestial TV and was the source of bootlegs for many years.) Bizarre I know - we Brits are totally obsessed with sex and violence yet at the same time totally repressed and hung-up.

I think Cut shows what they could write with the brakes off!