Monday, June 14, 2010

Heaven Help Those Who Cross

The Inquisitor series, published by Dell in the mid-1970s, is mostly interesting because of its author, Martin Cruz Smith, who wrote the paperbacks as "Simon Quinn."

The Pennsylvania-born Smith began his career in fiction penning men's adventure novels, including two Nick Carter books, but later gained well-deserved fame as the author of GORKY PARK, a thriller about a Moscow detective, Arkady Renko, solving the mystery of three faceless corpses found buried in a snowy park. Smith continues to write Renko mysteries to this day.

The Inquisitor was certainly one of the more unusual action heroes of the era. According to one Web site, he is described as "an Irish American lay brother of the Militia Christi, a tertiary branch of the Dominicans, working for the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Rome. Unmarried, and unbound by vows of celibacy, he is tough, aggressive, and violent..."

Yes, the Inquisitor, or Francis Xavier Killy (his real name), is basically an enforcer for the Catholic Church. In 1974's THE DEVIL IN KANSAS, Killy is first revealed serving two weeks of penance in a cold Vatican dungeon for the killings he performed during his previous mission for the Monsignor. His new assignment is to infiltrate a military college in Kansas where four foreign officers have recently gone missing. Posing as a Polish officer, Killy is eventually captured and brainwashed MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE-style by a Soviet mad scientist and his seductive wife.

The major setpiece, by far, comes near the middle of the book. Killy is ambushed during war games by a helicopter and four badass tanks playing for real. The Inquisitor's escape from this trap isn't exactly plausible, but it's fun, as is the rest of this 188-page thriller that doesn't let a few absurdities get in the way of enjoying it.

As Simon Quinn, Smith wrote five more Inquisitor novels in less than two years before finding mainstream success with NIGHTWING, a horror novel about killer bats that was filmed by Columbia in 1979. The film, which was directed by Arthur Hiller (THE IN-LAWS) and co-written by Smith, received dire reviews and unenthusiastic box office response.


Unknown said...

I read the whole series and got a kick from every book.

Mark Morgan said...

I've never even heard of this guy. An Enforcer for the Vatican you say? Sounds interesting; kind of like a modern day Crusader or something. I'll have to give it a look.

Christopher Mills said...

I very much enjoyed this series.