Monday, March 10, 2014
Jason Striker #4: Ninja's Revenge, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes
May, 1975 Berkley Medallion Books
The fourth installment of Jason Striker takes place “a few months” after the previous volume, but opens a few centuries in the past, with a detailed and entertaining battle between ninjas and samurai in 16th century Japan. The protagonist/villain here is Fu Antos, that immortal ninja master last seen in the final pages of #1: Kiai!; here we learn how Fu Antos eluded death, got vengeance on the shogun, and eventually achieved immortality.
In fact Ninja’s Revenge features more third-person sequences than any previous volume, so that Striker’s traditional first-person sections are greatly reduced. For example from the 16th century prologue we jump to the “modern day” (ie the mid-‘70s) as Hiroshi, kindly old akido sensei who himself was last seen back in that first volume, has journeyed to the US, where he seeks out Striker. Affronted by American rudeness, Hiroshi takes it upon himself to teach several Americans some manners, in what for the most part is a rather arbitrary sequence of Hiroshi politely beating the shit out of various jerks.
Eventually Hiroshi makes it to Striker’s judo dojo, where we see that Ilunga, black kung-fu mistress and former Kill-13 addict, is now co-running the place, an element introduced in the previous volume. But Hiroshi manages to piss off Ilunga as well, culminating in a brief fight in which Hiroshi uses his awesome mastery of ki, which entails Ilunga not only getting knocked on her ass, but also her long-broken nose being magically repaired.
Meanwhile Fu Antos, who now resides in the body of a prepubescent boy (as seen in the bizarre finale of Kiai!) comes upon a pollution-ravaged village somewhere in Japan. Putting on his ninja gi, Fu Antos storms the “dragon” which is polluting the water; in reality it’s an industrial factory with pipes that run into the local water supply, but apparently Fu Antos has been so segregated from the modern world that he’s unable to comprehend its real nature and thus thinks of it as a dragon. Here proceeds a strange scene in which a ninja boy with an immortal soul hacks apart armed thugs and puts a corporate executive under mind control, forcing the man to destroy the building.
From here we get another of those jumps – apparently all this Fu Antos stuff has occurred in the recent past – as we cut back to Hiroshi, who has connected at long last with Striker. Hiroshi works for Fu Antos (and indeed was the man who lead Striker to the immortal ninja back in Kiai!), and informs Striker that Fu Antos has now set up shop in “the wilds of the Amazon forest in South America,” where he plans to build his third Black Castle (the previous two having been in Japan, and destroyed over the centuries in various sieges). Hiroshi has been sent to draft Striker into helping out in the building of this castle, something Striker has no experience in whatsoever.
But before he can refuse, Striker is left with a bag of priceless diamonds, “payment” from Fu Antos, and Hiroshi disappears (that is, after he and Striker have laid to waste a Puerto Rican street gang called the Bastard Bones). Here the novel again goes on a bizarre and unexpected tack, with Striker now on a quest to convert the diamonds to cash. But Striker, our lovable idiot, is picked up by the trashy mother of one of his students, a brazen lady who shows up on his doorstep and asks him out – and Striker, after merely hiding the priceless diamonds beneath his clothes hamper, goes out with her.
With a chapter titled “Nympho” you know Ninja’s Revenge is a product of the ‘70s. And the lady lives up to the title, taking Striker home with her and screwing his brains out. Here the authors for once get slightly explicit in the ensuing sex scenes, rather than instantly fading to black. However none of it is erotic or even entertaining, and the woman is such an actual nympho that she wears Striker out and he escapes the next morning – only to run into the woman’s poor husband, who tells Striker he feels sorry for him, as the lady’s such a maneater.
Of course, Striker returns to find that his diamonds have been stolen. Here the novel descends into stupidity, and stays there for the duration. Hiroshi comes over, and using a friggin’ dowsing rod made out of a wire coathanger, playing it over a map of New York, he figures out where the diamonds have been taken! And he and Striker go there, to a secluded neighborhood of mansions, and infiltrate the place! And Striker gets in a fight with a bunch of thugs who happen to be in there, even though Striker’s not certain the diamonds are even there!
It turns out though that Hiroshi might’ve had the diamonds all along, and this whole encounter was engineered so he and Striker could play out Fu Antos’s enemies and show them who they’re messing with. Or something. Hiroshi disappears and now the novel sprawls fully into chaos. After another very, very long chapter about Fu Antos’s ninja past (a chapter which randomly drops in and out of Antos’s first-person perspective), Striker finds out that Luis, a Cuban gunrunning contact from the previous volume, has gone missing, possibly in Miami, and after receiving a garbled telegram about “monk’s treasure,” Striker deduces that he must go to Miami and look for a boat of that name!
This whole sequence is mind-boggingly arbitrary, beyond practically anything I’ve yet read in men’s adventure. My friends, Striker just takes off for Miami, walks around on the piers looking for a boat named Monk’s Treasure; an attractive young girl named Gloria hits on him, deduces he’s a “judoka,” and then asks him to go on a yacht cruise with her! And Striker complies! And on the yacht he starts teaching her and the skipper judo moves! And then friggin pirates attack the yacht and Striker fights them off, but the yacht is destroyed, and they all jump ship! And then sharks attack! And after the skipper dies Striker and Gloria make it to an island, where they build a makeshift hut! And then Gloria asks Striker to sleep with her, to help her get over the memory of her dead-of-a-disease fiance, who was a karate expert! And Striker takes her virginity in a somewhat explicit sequence! And then the girl tells him that “monk’s treasure” might refer to a famous temple in Miami! And then the coast guard or whatever happens by and saves them!
This entire stupid sequence goes on for a long, long time, and is so incredibly, jaw-droppingly unrelated to anything that it ranges from hilarious to rage-inducing and back to hilarious again. Seriously, Striker just goes to Miami on nothing more than a hunch, meets some random girl, goes on a yacht ride with her, gets capsized and stranded on an island, and takes her virginity! Then finally we return to the plot, with Striker now on the proper course for this mysterious “monk’s treasure.” To say the entire section is page-filler would be an understatement.
And it just gets dumber, and more coincidental. Striker happens upon some random dojo in Miami, and there he is challenged by practically the entire class, all of whom disrespect him for no reason. After trouncing them, including their muscle-bound leader, Loco, Striker is informed that these guys are all compatriots of Luis, Striker’s missing friend, and they suspected Striker of being his kidnapper! Yes, Striker just happened to walk right into a martial arts school run by companions of the man he’s seeking! Anyway he teams up now with a few of them and heads for the much-belated Monk’s Treasure, a stone castle erected at the turn of the century and now filled with various monks and kung-fu fighters.
After freeing Luis from his chains in a cellar, the group is making an easy escape…when coincidence rears its head again, and Striker spots Kan-Sen, the Demon Cult leader Striker thought he killed back in #2: Mistress Of Death! Kan-Sen as we’ll recall was the murderer of Striker’s fiance, and Striker’s still boiling at the memory. The authors skirt over Kan-Sen’s death by having Striker realize that he never confirmed his kill, that he merely assumed Kan-Sen was dead. This is easily bought due to Striker’s general stupidity, so no big deal.
Striker launches an attack, despite the fact that Kan-Sen’s surrounded by like a hundred kung-fu followers, as they’re all standing about the open grounds of the Monk’s Treasure castle. This fight goes on and on and isn’t very entertaining. It ends with Striker’s two companions perhaps dead, and Striker himself face-to-face with Kan-Sen, who reveals that they are now on the same side – Kan-Sen was freed of his Kill-13 addiction by Fu Antos, and it was Fu Antos who sent Kan-Sen here, to oversee the development of Fu Antos’s new Black Castle down in the Amazon. Also, Fu Antos apparently wanted Striker and Kan-Sen to meet, and engineered it thusly, for some unstated but no doubt nefarious purpose.
So Ninja’s Revenge ends on a cliffhanger, with Striker aghast at the thought of working with the man who killed his fiance. Unfortunately the reader doesn’t feel very compelled to instantly read the next volume, as this book was practically a joke, randomly jumping from one goofy plot to the next. All of the soap opera aspects of the previous books (Ilunga’s growing love for Striker, the various squabbles among Thera Drummond, Ilunga, Amalita, etc) have been removed, and Striker himself has been brushed to the side, so the authors can focus on arbitrary backstory about Fu Antos’s days in fuedal Japan.
But here’s hoping the next installment (which was the last to be published by Berkley) is an improvement.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Soldier For Hire #6: Commando Squad, by Mark K. Roberts
No month stated, 1982 Zebra Books
Mark Roberts's second go on the Soldier For Hire series is nearly as outrageous as the others I’ve read, once again featuring our “hero” JC Stonewall acting like a regular horse’s ass, but this particular installment goes to some dark extremes that put the novel on a scuzzy level. More damningly, Commando Squad is kind of boring. And it’s certainly padded, Roberts trying to accommodate Zebra’s overlong word count requirements.
But make no mistake, Stonewall’s still a bastard this time around, denouncing any and all who would even dare to question him and salivating over the prospect of killing more “commies.” His victims this time around are the members of a rebel faction in El Salvador, lead by Juan Escobar, El Proletario; these people have made an unwitting but huge mistake by abducting pretty young American tourist Janice Kurin, who happens to be the neice of Trojan, Stonewall’s handler.
El Proletario is the expected walking cliché, who has carved out his little kingdom in the El Salvador jungles with little resistance from the government. Spouting socialist invective while brutalizing and ruling the natives without mercy, Escobar displays zero leadership qualities, but regardless is a darling of the liberal US media (more of whom below). Even worse though is Hector Garcia, Escobar’s second in command. Garcia is the character who takes this novel into a darker realm, as he is a rapist and murderer of little girls. And Roberts doesn’t just tell us this – he shows it as well.
The titular “commando squad” is a group of soldiers Stonewall puts together after Trojan offers him the job – and Roberts gifts us with one of his awesomely purple-prosed sex scenes right before this, as Stonewall is seduced while he’s in a hot tub by his girlfriend’s “kid sister,” Karen. However this is just the first of Stonewall’s conquests in the novel; as the narrative progresses he’ll score with a few more ladies, and while it’s all appropriately goofy none of it is as preposterous as the stewardess screwing of the previous volume.
But anyway Stonewall’s 7-man team is made up of Theo Levi, the black commando of previous volumes, as well as Ed Cotter, who showed up in the unforgettle #8: Jakarta Coup. The other five men are a variety of redshirts, from an American Indian named Julio Whitebear to a Japanese dude who likes to go into combat with a samurai sword, sort of like something out of a William Fieldhouse novel – and Roberts by the way indulges in his penchant for in-jokes, namedropping Fieldhouse himself in the narrative as a guy Stonewall met in Fort Bragg who had a theory that America’s socialists should be rounded up and dropped off in Siberia!
After some training in Mexico the squad splits up and travels down to El Salvador in twos; we’re informed that due to the friggin’ liberal media, the locals are very aware of soldier-type Americans coming into their country for mercenary purposes. Stonewall’s mission is to keep the extraction of Janice Kurin nice and quiet, and then to kill El Proletario and his people, so he’s not to draw any attention to himself, even though he will have the secretive help of the El Salvador government. It’s here in El Salvador that Stonewall “reconnects” with Margaret Collenbrander, a gorgeous reporter who apparently first met Stonewall in one of the earlier, pre-Roberts books in the series.
Roberts graces us with yet another hot and heavy sex scene that leaves little to the imagination, but never reaches the stupefying “fill me with that enormous phallus before I lose my cookies” heights of Jakarta Coup. In fact the same could be said of the entirety of Commando Squad, which comes off as rushed and padded throughout, Roberts trying to hit all of his marks and get in his page count so he can move on to the next project. There’s sort of a listless feeling to this volume, and though it has all the stuff of the other Roberts Soldier For Hire offerings, it just comes off as forced.
Roberts does excel at a sort of Jack London feel when Stonewall and Theo reside for a few weeks in a village near El Proletario’s base. Here Stonewall fishes and hunts with the natives, and also of course scores with Soledad, a pretty young girl who per series tradition throws herself at him and practically demands they have sex. But Stonewall’s called away when Senator Ned Flannery (aka the Ted Kennedy analog who plagues Stonewall throught the series) shows up in El Salvador due to reports of the presence of “white American mercenaries” in the country. Stonewall leaves the village for a confrontation with the man.
This is actually Stonewall’s second battle with the liberals in Commando Squad; in an earlier, humorous scene he runs afoul of two “socialist” American actors who have come down here to spread news to the world how heroic the “freedom fighters” of El Salvador are. These two men are Bob Templeton and Brick Brewster, the latter a muscle-bound gay who friggin’ lisps when he gets upset, providing Roberts all sorts of room to lampoon gays in general. These two guys get in a bar fight with Stonewall, who beats the shit out of them…but what’s funny is, they’re so easily outclassed. I mean, Stonewall’s this battle-hardened warrior. These guys are just actors. And Brick Brewster keeps getting back up to fight him. And yet Stonewall (nor Roberts) never once acknowledges how courageous this is.
Anyway the Stonewall-Flannery match is pretty fun, mostly because it’s the first (only?) time the two meet. Posing as a UN rep(!), Stonewall attempts to convince Flannery that there are no American mercenaries in El Salvador. But soon enough Stonewall starts putting down Flannery and his idiotic liberal ideas. Here Roberts exposits on a grand scale, with Stonewall belittling Flannery as he rants and raves about current US politics. And like the two actors, Flannery actually holds his own, and indeed Stonewall comes off like the bigger ass (believe it or not). It’s funny, because throughout the series Flannery is presented as the villain.
Flannery properly put in place (and one could argue stupidly put in place, as Stonewall’s blatherings do nothing more than make Flannery aware of who Stonewall is and vow to get vengeance upon him someday), Stonewall heads on back into the jungle, only to find that El Proletario’s men have attacked the village while he was gone. While Soledad was able to escape, blowing away people with a borrowed gun alongside Theo Levi, the villagers themselves suffered mightly, in particular a little girl who was taken by El Proletario’s depraved second in command, Hector Garcia.
As mentioned, Roberts pushes some buttons in Commando Squad. Hector Garcia is a murderous pedophile, and with each raid he always takes the opportunity to rape a little girl. Roberts actually shows this happen midway through the novel, as Garcia rapes a ten year-old girl in a shockingly explicit sequence that goes on for like two pages. Strangely enough, Roberts employs pretty much the same words, phrases, and style that he’d use for a regular sex scene. Needless to say, something like this could not be published in today’s market. But also, I felt it didn’t need to be here anyway, and came off as too much.
Anyway, Stonewall’s plan is to infiltrate El Proletario’s terrorist camp, he and his squad posing as commie American soldiers who want to help out the cause. And Stonewall suceeds! Able to meet with El Proletario through rebel contacts, Stonewall successfully presents himself as a disaffected American commando who has a squad of similarly-inclined Americans at his disposal. Here Roberts again gets to indulge in some commie-baiting, having Stonewall prove himself to a mock tribunal, spouting out how much he hates America and how great Communism is. Roberts even takes digs at various veteran-run organizations, claiming that they are commies themselves.
Oh, and kidnapped Janice Kurin is still here, though she’s gang-raped practically every day. In another button-pushing sequence early on Roberts has Janice raped after she runs her mouth at Proletario, and apparently this has become a daily treat for the rebels. Stonewall is even asked to join, but he merely lays overtop the girl and tells her he’s here to free her. Not that he hurries about it; his demands not being met, Proletario starts cutting off little pieces of Janice and mailing them home. Yet Stonewall keeps biding his time.
And indeed when the battle finally begins, it’s because Hector Garcia runs into Stonewall while he’s rigging explosives around the camp. This leads to a practically endless denoument (with even “commie” actors Rob Templeton and Brick Brewster showing up) in which Stonewall and squad blast the shit out of the rebels, run into the jungle, evade their pursuers, and try to make their way for safety. Along the way a few redshirts on Stonewall’s team buy it, of course, though Stonewall himself is unscathed, blowing people away with his Sidewinder submachine gun or hacking them up with his assegai blade. Strangely, El Proletario’s death is anticlimatic, and not even depicted; Stonewall calls in a friggin’ napalm strike, and that’s that!
The novel actually ends on one of Roberts’s sex scenes, with Stonewall, who we’re informed is sore from an all-night love session with Margaret, surprised next morning when Janice Kurin comes knocking on his hotel door. Now mind you, Janice has been gang-raped throughout the novel. However, despite flying all the way back to the US for an emotional reunion with her family, she’s snuck on another plane to come back down to El Salvador, so she can “pay” Stonewall for saving her!
But just as they’re about to have sex, Soledad storms in! Janice and Stonewall try to calm her down, and Stonewall proposes that they all sleep together – and the gals are all for it. Ironically, the exact same thing once happened to me! Okay, maybe not.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Shannon #3: The Mindbenders, by Jake Quinn
January, 1975 Leisure Books
As half-assed and leisurely-paced as its predecessors, the third and final installment of the Shannon series once again sees our titular hero more concerned with downing whiskey and scoring with his hooker girlfriend. Meanwhile an Anton LaVey-styled “medium” is implanting mind-control devices in the heads of UN employees in some unspecified plot to do something. And Shannon’s gonna stop him, even if it takes him the entire novel to get around to it.
Once again Jake Quinn (more on whom below) is more content to wheel-spin, casually doling out his lackluster tale with absolutely no sense of urgency. Well, anyway, here’s the story: Alexander Garth, the LaVey-type, is a famous medium with jet-set clients all over the world, and is now famous on his own. However, he uses his hypnotic powers to lull his unsuspecting clients into a trance, during which Garth implants them with a mind-controlling device. We learn this only gradually, the novel opening with the sudden “suicides” of two of Garth’s clients, both of them UN notables: Akasaka of Japan and Haslev of Denmark.
Shannon’s brought into it when he catches his latest girlfriend, a UN translator from Norway named Aurora, snooping around in Shannon’s penthouse study one night. When Shannon sees that the girl’s taking photos of Shannon’s top-secret MORITURI files (the top secret organization Shannon “works” for), he chases after her…and the girl willingly jumps off of the high rise, killing herself. (All this just a few pages after some explicit sexual shenanigans between the two.)
Well, you know it’s Shannon when his reaction is to… break open another bottle of Jameson’s whiskey. Yes, friends, Shannon the drunk is up to his usual page-filling tricks, biding his time throughout the narrative and not really doing much of anything. Hell, he doesn’t get in a single action scene in the entirey of The Mindbenders, at least of the fist-and-guns variety. Now as for sex action, Shannon’s got that covered, with this volume getting pretty down and dirty at times; it’s much more explicit than the previous two volumes.
But anyway, just a few minutes after some hot n’ heavy screwin’ in Shannon’s bedroom (a scene in which we’re graced with the unforgettable tidbit that Shannon “watched himself in the ceiling mirror as he entered Aurora” ), the poor girl’s become a human pancake on the sidewalk far below. And after his drink, Shannon eventually gets around to doing something about it…namely, pestering his boss, the unimaginatively-named Number One, who poses as a priest in a NYC Catholic church.
Here’s the funny thing, though, despite the fact that the two dead men and Aurora all worked at the UN, and the Number One-revealed info that there’s apparently a mole leaking important secrets at the UN, no one believes Shannon that all of it might be tied together! In one of the more preposterous page-filling gambits I’ve encountered, our author instead has Shannon constantly butting heads with Number One and everyone else, who tell Shannon he’s crazy to even suspect that these “random suicides” might be the work of some nefarious foe.
Not that Shannon does much about it. No, he’s more content to call up his hooker friend Lillian, the female lead of the previous two installments whose name I could never recall. Lillian, a stacked redhead who is in love with Shannon, once again serves as more of a star in Shannon’s own novel. However Joe-Dad, Shannon’s black/Chinese cook and best pal, plays a much smaller role, and his un-PC jive talk is also greatly reduced. But then in this particular installment all of the characters talk like automatons, doling out expository info or filling pages with blather about irrelevant stuff, like even Joe-Dad bitching about how literary critics “complain about everything these days”!
Alexander Garth receives an arbitrary background section in which Quinn provides lots of useless backstory – but at least it’s all nice and lurid, especially when Garth hooks up with another Anton LaVey type who introduces Garth to the wonders of Satanism, complete with a Black Mass that features a willing “virgin” and lots of explicit sex. However Garth’s mind control ability isn’t really elaborated on; we learn that some other dude came up with the technology, and after learning how to master it Garth killed him and began using it, so as to spread his own power base. But again, why exactly he’s focused on the UN is never explored.
Shannon works (well, sort of) in private eye mode throughout, talking to those who knew the two murdered UN employees. One of them is Andrew Lee, a young actor who served as a “friend” for Akasaka, whom we learn was gay. Quinn does actually pepper the novel with goofy stuff, and the Andrew Lee subplot is the goofiest of all, for we learn that he acts in an all-nude, off-Broadway play based 100% on Hair. Quinn, clearly having fun with it, takes us through the show as Shannon watches, and the opening song is “Did You Ever See Anything Like It In Your Hole?” The humor also extends into a darker realm, when a Garth-brainwashed Andrew Lee actually guts himself live on stage. (And then later some dude in the audience complains about having paid for his ticket!)
But man it just kinda keeps on going. Shannon talks with his friends, goes to bars, screws Lillian, and then wonders when the case will wrap up. Even though it’s clear Alexander Garth is somehow connected to all this, Number One refuses to give Shannon permission to do anything. He does however approve Shannon and Lillian going to a party at Liz Manderson’s, a Southern belle who is responsible for spreading Garth’s fame. This middling sequence, which makes a big deal of Shannon dying his red hair brown, at least serves to up the ante, as Garth takes a sudden interest in Lillian, offering to give her a reading the next day.
After Lillian herself is “mindbent,” Shannon ensures the implant is successfully removed in the hospital and then finally gets Number One’s approval to friggin’ do something. This leads to a lackluster climax that plays out during the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving Day. Even here Shannon doesn’t punch or shoot anyone, merely just running after Garth, who ends up doing in himself accidentally (and gorily). Quinn, not realizing he had an entire damn novel to do so, instead plays out a veritable last-second reveal that Garth was really getting his orders from elsewhere, bringing this up and closing it over the course of a single page.
So, a middling end for a middling series. I think Leisure was even sick of it; notice how the cover design is vastly different from the previous two installments. In fact I’m betting this art was commissioned for a different book, as it has nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of The Mindbenders. And for that matter, the back cover copy (which I’m betting was written by Leisure editor Peter McCurtin, as it’s very much in his style) also has nothing to do with the actual novel, spewing out vague hyperbole about how tough Shannon is – actually it occurs to me that it’s mostly just a summarization of the events shown in the cover painting!
A couple months ago I came across some eBay listings where a seller was auctioning off author copies of the Shannon books. (I can’t remember how much they were listed for, but I think they ended without any bids!) According to the listing, “Jake Quinn” was in reality JC Conaway, aka James Curry Conaway (1936-2012), a prolific pulpster who turned out a wealth of paperbacks in his day. The listing further stated that Conaway never learned to type, and thus dictated every word; further, he apparently wrote all three Shannon novels in a single month!
At any rate The Mindbenders was it for the adventures of Patrick Shannon, but much like the similarly-boring Joe Rigg series, one could argue that Shannon’s adventures never even really started.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The Specialist #7: The Vendetta, by John Cutter
February, 1985 Signet Books
I’m betting John Shirley's original title for this volume of The Specialist was “Make ‘Em Pay,” as the phrase is repeated a few times by bloodthirsty hero Jack Sullivan, who’s in full Johnny Rock mode this time out – in fact going even further, to the point where he’s practically a psychopath. I’ve said before that Shirley can churn out a great men’s adventure novel when his heart’s in it, and The Vendetta is a case in point.
In an earlier volume we learned that Sullivan had a rocket launcher installed in his war wagon van; this time out we actually get to see him use it, when in an early action scene Sullivan fires it against a group of Mafia thugs. Yes, the Specialist once again goes up against La Cosa Nostra, in particular the family of Don Toscani of New York. Sullivan’s been hired by Janet Springer, a gorgeous (of course she is – and busty, too!!) lady whose brother and father were mudered by Toscani.
Janet wants Sullivan to “make ‘em pay,” and this is what Sullivan proceeds to do…over the course of the entire novel. It’s funny, because in novels like Wetbones Shirley proves his mastery of multiple plot strands, but in The Vendetta and the other Specialist novels he sticks to a single plot until the bitter end. But in this regard The Vendetta again comes off like a throwback to the lurid ‘70s incarnations of the genre, like the The Sharpshooter and The Marksman, with our merciless hero enacting merciless vengeance with single-minded resolve.
And speaking of merciless, Sullivan here could give lessons to those earlier “heroes.” He’s even more unhinged than normal, thanks to a bump on the noggin he suffers early in the book. As The Vendetta progresses and Sullivan fully engages in his war against Toscani, the Specialist becomes increasingly violent and insane. Like the Hulk, if he’s pushed too far he goes nuts, beating people until they’re hamburger. He’s also capable of inhuman feats, like picking up a friggin’ Harley Davidson chopper and crushing someone with it.
Shirley doesn’t waste as much time on plot or development – Janet hires Sullivan, and after he’s hurt in that opening melee she helps him recuperate for a few weeks in a shack Sullivan keeps in the woodlands north of New York. Of course graphic sex ensues, but once that’s done with (as well as a pair of yokels who have the fatal misfortune of sneaking onto the property with the intent of raping Janet), Sullivan calls up his old pal Merlin to come watch Janet while Sullivan goes into town to kill some mobsters. And that’s pretty much it.
But the demented glee with which Shirley writes the ensuing carnage is almost contagious. This is the most darkly comic Specialist yet, and they’ve all been pretty darkly comic. Shirley also proves his gift with doling out action movie one-liners, like when some hapless thugs try to mug Sullivan on the streets of NYC, and after telling them he left his wallet at home he asks, “You accept bullets instead?” We even get the in-joke stuff, like how Sullivan’s “undercover” name is Rich Stark.
Also the violence and nihilism is through the roof. Sullivan in his increasing madness goes to staggering displays of death and destruction in his intent to spread fear in Toscani and his men. This stuff too goes into the “inhuman feats” realm, like when Sullivan constructs a friggin gallows for one of his victims and times it so the noose drops just as Toscani drives by. The novel is filled with these vignettes of Sullivan going to some insane length to murder this or that Toscani flunky.
Eventually Sullivan too realizes something is wrong with him. After visiting a doctor he discovers it’s a blood clot that’s making him act so crazy, the result of that head trauma he received in the opening pages. The doc gives Sullivan some experimental laser surgery to break it up, but it still lingers a while, with Sullivan only slightly less insane when pushed too far. Meanwhile two of his old ‘Nam pals, both of them FBI agents and reappearing from earlier novels, are hunting for Sullivan, due to his latest acts of mini-genocide: Holstead and Sanson. Shirley works in a little subplot here with Sanson covertly trying to recruit Sullivan for a new Justice Department task force.
Maybe the only problem with The Vendetta is that the villain is so forgettable. We never see Toscani do anything bad; from the opening pages he’s gnashing his teeth over the fact that the Specialist is out to get him, and he spends the entire novel quaking in terror. Meanwhile we read as Sullivan puts various Toscani henchmen through the veritable wringer, and it gets to be that you start to feel sorry for these guys. But I’m assuming that’s the point, as Jack Sullivan himself is the closest thing to a “villain” in the novel.
But anyway despite once again being too long for its own good (surely it was a Signet mandate that these books were so long), to the point where it comes off as perhaps one “Sullivan kills a dude in horrific fashion” scene too many, The Vendetta is still probably my favorite volume yet of this series, mostly because it comes off like an amped-up ‘80s variation of The Sharpshooter or The Marksman, with a “hero” more insane than the “villains.”
Monday, February 24, 2014
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 for him somewhere online a few years ago, but I can’t find it now, so I’m not sure if he’s still alive or not.
But if this novel is anything to go by, all of Hegner’s work bears looking into. In fact, The Worshipped And The Damned is everything I wanted Jacqueline Susann's novels to be – trashy, intentionally campy, and filled with memorably catty female characters who specialize in put-downs and one-liners. (And that cover photo’s awesome!!) Had this novel been turned into a film, it would justly be regaled today. Split into what amounts to three novellas, Damned tells the sordid tale of a fallen actress who “inherits a fortune” when her alcoholic husband leaves behind a manuscript that Hollywood options for film treatment.
Margo Chase is that fallen actress, last famous in the very early 1960s, but in the several years since having spiralled into a booze-filled lethargy. Living in New Jersey under a lazy pseudonym with her uninhibited daughter, Vicki, Margo spends her days at the local bar, where she drinks from opening to closing. Margo is a great character, so cynical and spiteful that each line of dialog Hegner gives her is priceless in its acidity. Lana Turner circa 1975 in all but name, Margo Chase was once a superstar, but now her old films are mostly watched for their (unintentional) humor value.
Somehow Hegner’s able to get a little heart into the novel, amid all of the cynicism and acidic wit. Margo meets Frank, another boozehound, and after a few nights together they end up getting married, Margo’s sixth wedding. Plus Frank’s dying of cirhossis, and only has a few months to live. Margo urges Frank to pursue his long-suppressed desire to write, so he spends his final months of life at the typewriter. When he dies he leaves behind a mansucript titled “The Mall Walkers,” the story of a pair of lonely drunkard souls who find love in the last days of their lives.
Margo moves right on, calling up old Hollywood contacts and insisting they read the manuscript. Meanwhile her daughter gets knocked up, moves in, and Margo herself hooks up with an unknown actor named Larry who is decades younger than herself. Pretty soon the guy is sleeping with both mother and daughter, and we see that Vicki is just as catty as her mom. The melodrama culminates in a pitch-perfect scene in which Margo storms in on Larry and Vicki as they’re together in bed, holds a gun on them, and delivers a death threat which turns out to be a line from one of her old films. And Larry, scanning his brain for the response he knows from seeing that film so many times in reruns, delivers the return dialog, and Margo collapses!
So destroyed by booze that she can no longer separate fantasy from reality, Margo is sent to a rehabilitation clinic and thus, unfortunately, shuffled out of the narrative. Now the second novella begins, this one documenting yet another enjoyably-bitchy actress: Jessica Rivers, a once-famous and “handsome” actress from decades before more known for her intelligence than her beauty (so maybe Katherine Hepburn?). Like Margo, Jessica also has a precocious (and recently knocked up) daughter, Jill, who turns out to be just as quick-tongued as Vicki. But whereas Margo is a wreck, Jessica has moved on from acting (her last picture 7 years ago) and into the world of business; after the death of her third husband, a multimillionaire, Jessica has taken his place as an executive in the company.
Jessica doesn’t have the quick wit Margo is graced with, but she’s just as calculating and cruel. In fact, she’s even more cruel than Margo, as during the course of her own novella Jessica initiates the takeover of her old film studio, Storm Studios, so that she can fire its famously-outspoken head Lionel Storm; she starts ordering her male secretary, Michael, to have sex with her in the office; she shows no interest in the fact that her daughter Jill has had a child, and when she finds out the father is black she nearly disowns her; she has Michael send Jill and “Rastus” (aka Jill’s awesomely-named black boyfriend, Rod Bastion) to Chicago and further has Michael see to it that the baby is put up for adoption, even if it’s against Jill’s wishes.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Jessica also proves herself a capable trash antiheroine, doling out putdowns with aplomb. The only thing connecting her to the Margo half of the novel is the fact that Margo also worked for Storm Studios back in the day, and Jessica too is friends of sorts with Art Land, the boozing, once-famous director who has declared his desire to film “The Mall Walkers;” he intimates in the Margo section that he has Margo in mind for the lead, and in the Jessica section he intimates that he has Jessica in mind fo the lead. But reading the subtext you can see that Art Land doesn’t have anything in the works and his own star has long since faded.
Like the previous section, though, Jessica’s storyline doesn’t feature any big setpieces or action, relegated mostly to Jessica and Michael screwing in her office, in between some pretty great dialog exchanges. In fact, Hegner rarely focuses on the surroundings or the topical details of the groovy era, instead giving all the attention to either the moods of his characters or their catty dialog. But you barely notice the lack of descriptive details when it’s so darkly comedic; let alone Jessica’s reaction to Rod Bastion, but even later stuff, like another black character, this one a “religious rescuer” who Jessica hires (at Rod’s recommendation) to deprogram Jill after she’s run off to join a religious cult.
The plot developed in the Margo section, that of the “Mall Walkers” filming, is for the most part dropped throughout the Jessica Rivers section, not appearing again until the third and final novella that makes up The Worshipped And The Damned. The protagonist this time is Leigh Brackett, basically Shirley Temple-Black: a child star of the ‘40s who, after retiring from showbiz in her 20s, moved into the political realm. Now she’s running for Congress in New Jersey, but more importantly she’s trying to come to grips with her confused sexuality.
We are informed that Leigh could previously only get off via her own hand, but when she discovers that her 29 year-old daughter (the one child Leigh has had after three broken marriages) Dawn is a lesbian, Leigh is first shocked, but then intrigued. Dawn we learn is in love with her attractive and young nanny, Billie West, having carried on an affair with her for the past 14 years. This is the part that intrigues Leigh, as she herself is attracted to Billie. Things quickly become lurid with Billie, who herself is attracted to Leigh, engaging her in an affair…and then promptly arranging a three-way, with herself, Leigh, and Dawn!
Unfortunately though the majority of Leigh’s story is tepid. Like Margo and Jessica she is gifted with a barbed tongue and holds her own against anyone. But the political storyline doesn’t hold much interest for me, and is mostly composed of the fallout that ensues after Leigh lets slip in a televised interview that she’s familiar with the, uh, sexual nature of other women. Despite some 11th-hour assistance from Scatter Thompson, a political wizard, Leigh still loses the election, and meanwhile she’s kicked out Dawn, who has gone and run off with Billie West, Leigh unable to accept the fact that she’s had sex with both another woman and her own daughter.
The main storyline finally returns thanks, once again, to Lionel Storm, who calls Leigh to tell her he has her in mind for the “Mall Walkers” film. Here we finally learn the plot, that it’s about three former actresses who spend their later years in New Jersey, congregating at a local mall. And of course, the film is to star our three heroines (Margo having recuperated in the year since the opening novella), though Hegner telescopes the actual filming, instead focusing more on the internal squabbling, with Jessica taking over Storm Studios and producing the film, but soon being ousted due to plotting among her fellow execs, who succeed in having Lionel Storm returned to the fold.
In truth, this “climax” of the tale plays out very quickly, and isn’t very satisfying. But then, Hegner’s more focused on the trash, and as mentioned he excels in it. After Jessica and Leigh meet one day before filming, sparks soon begin to fly…and wouldn’t you know it, they’re soon sleeping together! A-and then Lionel Storm, who is overseeing the film and noticing how “close” the two ladies appear to be, insists that Margo Chase move in with them (Jessica and Leigh now living together, to make the filming of the production “easier”)…and after plying her with a few drinks, Jessica and Leigh succeed in involving Margo in a three-way!
The image of Lana Turner, Katherine Hepburn, and Shirley Temple-Black engaged in hot lesbian action thus instilled in his reader’s imagination, Hegner rightly suspects his goals have been achieved and brings the novel to a swift close. In short order we learn that the film is a huge critical and box office success, that none of the women reach any sort of resolution with their temperamental daughters, and that while Leigh and Jessica continue on with their romance Margo feels it’s just not for her, and in the quickest wrap-up in history she gives Lionel Storm a call and tells him to come live with her. The end.
The Worshipped And The Damned runs to 253 pages, and it’s got fairly big print. Hegner’s writing is economical, doling out the sex scenes and catty dialog with aplomb. The guy truly understood what made for great trash, and it’s a shame he’s so forgotten. But I’ve picked up several of his books, and look forward to reading more.
In the meantime, here are a few excerpts to give you a glimmer of Hegner’s trash mastery:
Her body cradled and rocked him in a gentle rhythm, evoking more nostalgia for childhood in both of them than the sensuality they sought to achieve.
“You satisfied?” she asked when the weight of him began burdening her.
“I haven’t come, if that’s what you mean.”
She fought back the temptation to question his virility. “I remember when men came at the sight of me,” she said. -- Pg. 34
“Are you mad enough to make love to me now?”
She opened her legs into a wet yawn.
“Was he there earlier?”
“What difference does it make?”
His penis was now a red bolt jutting from his body.
“Only a bitch would do it in her own mother’s bed,” he said.
“Then I’m a bitch. Fuck me.” -- Pg. 104
“Don’t go down on me,” she warned. “I want the meat this time.” -- Pg. 144
In the privacy of her inner office, she lifted her leg and released a low, whining fart.
There was something deliciously crass and nose-thumbing and antisocial about the act – almost erotic. To extend and complete the latter sensation, she buzzed for Michael to enter its aftermath.
“You’re sadistic,” he said. There was no necessity for elaboration. -- Pg. 154
Moments after that, all three of them were tangled in a writhing croissant on the thick carpeting, their hands and mouths hungrily seeking one another. For Billie West, it was the ultimate achievement – her vulva under gentle assault from the daughter, her own tongue burrowing deeply into the rich valley of the mother. The culmination of her long-nurtured ambition, so closely bordering fantasy it had often seemed beyond the realm of realization, made her entire body tremble as she neared the first of multiple climaxes. Her spasms of orgasm set off a chain reaction in her partners as well. Together, in what seemed almost an algebraic sequence, each in turn attained similar plateaus of ecstasy.
They lay together in a speechless heap for long moments, only their labored breathing audible in the candlelit quiet. It was Leigh who finally broke the silence.
“God,” she said, “if this ever gets out, I’m finished.” -- Pg. 183
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Mondo #3: A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die, by Anthony DeStefano
No month stated, 1977 Manor Books
It took me four years, but I’ve finally finished the Mondo trilogy. And I’m happy to report that this concluding installment is a big improvement over the previous volume, and is almost as good as Mondo #1. The main reason for this is that Mondo himself is once again a cold-blooded bastard, running roughshod over any who dare get in his way, man or woman.
“Some dumb bastard had the crazy idea he could kill Mondo’s friend,” goes the hyperbolic back cover, which basically sums up the entire novel. Whereas Cocaine Kill was, for me, kind of a bore, overly padded and dull, A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die removes all of the padding and just goes straight for the jugular. It’s all action, all the time, as Mondo tries to kill all of the assassins who have been hired to kill his teacher, Kisaka.
But first, Mondo’s busy screwing “a dark-haired Eurasian beauty from the bowels of hell” named Michi. Not sure about the “Eurasian” part, as Michi clearly seems to be Japanese, but she’s definitely a gorgeous gal with an ice-cold heart, and she happens to be the leader of the assassins. Not that Mondo knows this; Michi insinuates herself into Mondo’s life while he’s vacationing down in Florida (no mention made of how long ago the previous volume was, by the way). Her goal is to distract Mondo while her team kills Kisaka, up in his retreat in Vermont, and to do this she follows her favorite method, using her body.
In fact sex has a stronger focus in this volume than the previous two. DeStefano spares no details as he recounts the many times Mondo and Michi get friendly, which happens throughout the novel. He also works in a “doomed lovers” angle, as Mondo and Michi are perfect for each other, but obviously are on different sides. Michi we gradually learn was hired by Yamoto, whose father was killed by Kisaka years before in a separate revenge scheme, Kisaka’s father having committed seppuku due to the actions of Yamoto’s father. But anyway all that’s backstory, and DeStefano only barely doles it out.
Instead he’s much more concerned with the action, of which there’s aplenty. Michi’s team is one colorful group, from a guy who only uses arrows on his hits, to a former Mafia hitman, to a rogue CIA agent, and etc. Unfortunately, DeStefano does little to distinguish them from one another, and other than a quick introduction with name and speciality, he doesn’t really bring any of them to life. At any rate they have a great track record, and we’re informed that after years of working together they’ve never blown a mission and they haven’t lost a single member of the team.
But now that they’re tangling with Mondo, of course, it’s a different story. Mondo is once again pure badass, with none of the hesitation or uncertainty of the previous book. DeStefano also doesn’t waste time with informing us how Mondo bends the rules or whatever, like he did in Mondo’s overlong fight to the death with a kung-fu asassin in the previous installment; instead, this time out, he just shows Mondo brutally taking out anyone who opposes him. The only stumbling block here is Michi, as Mondo knows she’s part of the assassination scheme and thus shouldn’t be trusted, but can’t keep himself from growing close to her.
DeStefano follows this theme through in a variety of ways, with Mondo and Michi constantly struggling against one another despite their growing love. This is even mentioned in their many sex scenes, with Michi trying to assume the position of “authority” and Mondo rolling her over so the man can be on top. But truth be told, Mondo kind of comes off like an idiot, because it’s apparent Michi knows more than she lets on – and indeed Mondo is aware of this, even of the fact that she’s more than likely a member of the assassin squad sent after Kisaka. But he keeps going back to her, or hopping in bed with her when she shows up unnanounced.
Meanwhile the plot unfolds in threadbare fashion. It’s like this: Yamoto wants Kisaka to die. Yamoto hires Michi (and has sex with her when possible). Michi puts together her team and sends them after Kisaka while she “distracts” Mondo. But meanwhile Mondo keeps showing up and killing the assassins. The action scenes are nice and violent, though this time there’s more focus on Mondo using firearms than the martial arts skills of the past. He still breaks a few necks with his arms and legs, though, and there’s even a part where he reminds Spiderman, the superfly pimp of previous volumes, of how he once killed a dude by hitting him in the balls (one of the more unforgettable scenes of Mondo #1).
Speaking of Spiderman, he has a much stronger presence this time out. Always a fun character, Spiderman slouches around New York City at Mondo’s threat/request, scoping out places and gathering intel from the underworld. Spiderman himself is pretty tough, but as he sees Mondo and Kisaka in action he realizes that these two guys are in a whole different universe, and soon becomes frustrated with himself, figuring he’s gotten soft from bossing around hookers and not fighting on the streets like he used to. This leads the novel in unexpected directions, culminating with Spiderman issuing a challenge to one of Kisaka’s former students gone bad.
While the pace is better, and the dark comedy is much more pronounced (particularly a recurring “joke” about Spiderman beating his hookers, which actually is pretty funny, the way DeStefano tells it), there’s still something sort of missing from A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die. Actually, it’s moreso what’s there -- namely, too much back-and-forth about Mondo and Michi, with precious little plot development. An assassin will try to kill Kisaka (who gets injured multiple times but keeps on going, like a regular Energizer Bunny), Mondo will kill the assassin, and then Michi will show up to screw Mondo. That’s pretty much how the novel goes.
But as mentioned Mondo’s bad-assery is back in full force. He delivers many darkly comedic one-liners throughout, and his lack of basic hummanity is also pretty funny. But you can tell DeStefano was sort of grasping at straws; one of the subplots here is Mondo trying to reconnect with his feelings, mostly through Michi, but we already know that relationship is headed for a bad end. If DeStefano had not worried about making Mondo “human,” and instead just focused on the dark comedy, he would’ve had a trilogy along the lines of Gannon. But it would appear DeStefano cared too much about his character for that.
Anyway, this was it for Mondo, so it’s moot. There’s no final end for the character (that is, other than his friggin’ death in the first volume), but DeStefano does wrap up the Mondo/Michi deal on the last page. Michi has a recurring “die inside me” bit, where while she’s screwing a dude she’ll inform him how the French think of orgasms as “little deaths,” and as she implores the guy to “die inside” her Michi will reach up and jam the guy with a hypodermic needle. This bit doesn’t quite work with Mondo.
Finally, DeStefano was an artist – in fact he did the covers for the Pinnacle editions of the Richard Blade novels – but for some reason Manor didn’t retain his services for the Mondo covers. But who can complain when Bob Larkin turned in such a great one, with Mondo once again looking like a ‘70s Edward James Olmos after a few trips to the gym?
Monday, February 17, 2014
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 novel is, despite the interesting concept and awesome cover art.
Bryan Hay, an obscure author if ever there was one, apparently was a Canadian himself, as he seems very comfortable (gradually) doling out his story about small town Millwall, Ontario and how it is impacted by the announcement, late in 1969, that local farmland has been bought by a two-man business calling itself Oracle for the express purpose of hosting the biggest rock concert since Woodstock. Hay doesn’t deliver the story of the festival, though; instead, he details all of the trials and tribulations that go into the actual planning of it.
In a way the novel is like a shorter and less entertaining version of Norman Spinrad’s later Passing Through The Flame. Make that much shorter, with Festival coming in at a mere 156 pages of smallish print in comparison to the 568-page monstrosity Spinrad delivered. But, again, Spinrad’s tale was just so much better, and so better told. And whereas Spinrad focused on the unusual and memorable personalities who would headline and attend such a concert, Hay instead spends too many pages on boring small-town saps who fight against the “corruption” of rock and the hippies and etc.
And for that matter, his “freaks,” ostensibly the heroes, are just as bland. For example there’s Peter Embry, for the most part the protagonist of the tale; a veteran “rock” reporter for a Toronto paper, Embry is called in to Millwall when the announcement is made that Oracle plans to host a “festival of love” there. Embry is one of the least memorable protagonists I’ve ever met, but then none of the characters here are memorable, Hay doing little to bring them to life or to explain why they do what they do. This only further serves to sap the energy from this listless tale.
The guys behind Oracle are as expected soulless capitalists, despite being young. Their lawyer is even worse, believe it or not(!), and there follows a slightly-memorable bit where he sets up Art Clare, a Millwall notable who is violently opposed to the festival. Inviting Clare to Toronto, Oracle blitzes the poor bastard on acid, has a hooker (or the lawyer’s secretary; it’s never made clear) screw him, and photographs the shenanigans, blackmailing Clare into reversing his position! This has the ultimate outcome of Clare blowing his head off, a plot development that couldn’t come sooner, as far as I was concerned, because believe it or not Hay spends a lot of narrative time on Art Clare and his boring meetings with other Millwall reps as they rage against the festival and the dirty hippies and etc.
What I’m trying to say is, this book pretty much sucks. So much damn time is wasted on the Millwall locals bitching about the festival, and the planners of the event are either little explored or presented as such halfwits that you can’t stand them, either. As for the girl so wonderfully drawn on the cover, she doesn’t exist in the novel itself – unless that is she’s the artist’s interpretation of Susie Clare, daughter of Art, a 15 year-old who Peter Embry easily picks up while driving around Millwall on his first day there and proceeds to screw in quite explicit detail in the front seat of his truck.
I’ve never understood what the obsession is with “young meat” in pulp fiction, I mean the last time I paid attention to a 15 year-old girl, I myself was that age. And speaking as an adult, I can’t help but think what kind of a nightmare it would be to even become involved in any way with a teenaged girl – and that’s not just including the legal nightmares. Yet for whatever reason, screwing teen or even preteen girls seemed to be all the rage in late ‘60s/early ‘70s hippie trash literature, and thus Festival follows suit, as young Susie Clare is the sole female protagonist in the novel, and features in all of the explicit sex scenes.
Almost as worse is that Susie Clare herself is so boring, not to mention self-involved. Also, like all the other characters in the novel, she is shielded from us in a way, as Hay never really gets into her brain so we can see what she thinks and why she does the things she does. For example, the easy pickup she provides Peter Embry in the opening pages; there’s no buildup or resolution, they just meet and screw. But then, this is set in 1969, so that’s understandable.
What isn’t understandable is how we’re supposed to side with Susie, later in the novel, when after her dad blows himself away Susie runs away from home to Toronto, leaving her now-widowed mother in the lurch, and shows up at Peter’s doorstep, expecting to move in with him. And this wizened reporter, well into his 30s, lets her live with him. All very strange in today’s world. Especially as it continues on, with Peter hooking Susie up with his friends, also in their 30s – Bill and Joyce Henshawe, the latter of which should’ve been the main female protagonist, as with her waist-length hair and gypsy fashions she’s a full-on hippie chick. But Joyce contributes nothing to the tale…other that is than another questionable-but-explicit scene in which she introduces Susie to the delights of lesbian sex.
Things start to get slightly interesting a little over halfway through with the appearance of 3F – Free Festival Forever, a group of radical hippies who begin sending threats to Oracle that the concert should be free. Lead by an American draft-dodger named Norm Phillips, 3F spews out all of that grating stuff about “the people” and against “capitalist pigs” and etc, all of which was already dated by the time the book was published in 1973. But even Phillips is shuffled out of the book quickly, and Hay doesn’t really bring the others to life, other than one named “Pudge” who mails Oracle a letter that they should consider making the festival itself free, but bring in concession stands and whatnot to really rake in the proceeds.
As for the actual festival, Hay doesn’t even get to it until the final pages of the book. Practically all focus is placed on the rigors of booking talent and ensuring all of their demands are met. So then we learn how many high-profile groups have backed out, due to the bad vibes surrounding the event, including Dylan and the Stones. But then the Moment of Truth agrees to play, for ten thousand a set. The Grateful Dead in all but name, the Moment is known for its rampant drug use and backing of radical sentiments, so Oracle knows they’ve found the best headliner they’ll get.
Meanwhile, Susie discovers she’s pregnant. This bizarre melodrama gets more narrative focus, but never with a focus on the fact that she’s still a minor. Even when Susie’s mother visits, after Susie writes her months after running away to let her know she’s, you know, still alive and all, her mom just gnashes her teeth that she “wanted better” for Susie. But strangely enough mom doesn’t make much of a deal over the fact that her just-turned-16 daughter is about to have a child. But whatever; Susie continues to smoke hash with Peter and the Henshawes, all of whom by the way are excited over the prospect that she’s pregnant.
Everything culminates at the Festival, which sees 3F throwing a riot and “the people” storming the gates, during which Susie is kicked in the stomach by a fucking police horse and Embry has to move heaven and earth to get her out of the chaos of the place, as of course little thought was put into emergency situations by the planners. So while Henry Mendez (aka Jerry Garcia) of the Moment of Truth (aka the Grateful Dead) tells the audience that the festival’s a bust, Hay meanwhile cuts over to the hospital, where we learn that Susie lost the baby, but hey, they’re still in love, so she and Peter are going to try to make a life together, anyway. The end.
Another of the novel’s many failings is that Hay captures little of the period’s detail. For this, again, compare Norman Spinrad’s Passing Through The Flame, which was positively brimming with period detail, from the stylish clothing on the characters to the psychedelic posters on the walls. Hay rarely brings his scenes to life with any sort of topical details, and in fact he writes with such disdain about everyone that ultimately you have no idea whose side he’s actually on.
So then, an instance where an obscure book is justifiably obscure; Festival is not worth the effort it might take to track down. In fact I’m guessing the book had a scarce print run, as at the time of this writing no copies are even listed on abebooks.com, and those few copies to be found elsewhere on the web go for exorbitant prices. Save your money.