I'm surprised it has taken me this long to get around to reviewing a Destroyer novel. The first one that I read awhile back (#17, LAST WAR DANCE) didn't do anything for me, and I wasn't looking forward to tackling another. However, the Destroyer is obviously among the genre's most important and successful figures, so there was no way I could ignore him. And since I already own a handful of his adventures, it would have been even sillier for me to do so.
The Destroyer is Remo Williams, a former New Jersey cop and Vietnam vet who was framed for murder, convicted and executed. Except he didn't really die. He just went to work secretly for CURE, a government agency answerable only to the U.S. President, to undertake dangerous missions no regular law enforcement organization could touch. Trained extensively in martial arts, Remo is the world's deadliest assassin and travels the world with Chiun, his 80-year-old Sinanju master.
After a couple of false starts, Murphy and Sapir really started cooking with CHINESE PUZZLE, the third Destroyer book. Presumably, #6, DEATH THERAPY, finds the co-authors (both former newspaper journalists) at the peak of their abilities. The Destroyer series is known for its outlandish plots, and this 1972 book finds the United States government up for auction by a sinister organization that is somehow able to brainwash top officials into treasonous activities, such as dropping a nuclear bomb on St. Louis (it didn't explode) or plow a Naval destroyer into the Statue of Liberty. With the bidding starting at $1 billion in gold and every major country eager to get in on it, Remo and Chiun have little time to ferret out the ringleader and stop him or her for literally selling out the U.S.
The Destroyer series stands out from its men's adventure brethren by its decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach to what is essentially silly material. Whereas the authors behind the adventures of the Death Merchant, Penetrator, Executioner, et al take their stories seriously, Murphy and Sapir use their plots as a clothesline on which to hang satirical barbs about politics and pop culture. Later books even took aim at other Pinnacle paperback heroes. Personally, I prefer the more straightforward series, as my enjoyment of them is partially derived from the idea of "how in the world could anyone take such crazy shit so seriously?" I did, however, have great fun with DEATH THERAPY, particularly Murphy and Sapir's cheeky attitude toward conventional action clichés and the banter between Remo and Chiun, who sometimes act more like an old married couple than a student and his teacher.
By the way, if the name "Remo Williams" sounds familiar, Orion produced a film titled REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, which saw a financially unsuccessful theatrical release in 1985. Fred Ward and Joel Grey as Remo and Chiun, respectively, were good casting choices, but the producers foolishly ignored virtually everything about the books that made millions of readers fall in love with them. I don't even recall if the word "Destroyer" is even used. I didn't think much of it when I saw it in '85 (I don't even know if I knew then that it was based on a series of novels), and later viewings on home video haven't improved it any. Later, Jeffrey Meek (RAVEN) and Roddy McDowall starred in a Destroyer TV pilot, but the series was never made.