Monday, February 14, 2011

Torture By Ecstasy

Based solely on this first novel, I proclaim Pocket Book's the Baroness series as one of my favorite paperback series of the 1970s. It's fast-moving, sexy, violent, and downright weird--just the way I like 'em!

The Baroness is Penelope St. John-Orsini, the widow of both a secret agent and a car-racing baron who was left wealthy and bored after the deaths of her husbands. As "Coin," she works for the National Security Agency as a spy, using her cover as an internationally famous model and actress to travel all over the world solving cases.

Unusually for these series, the Baroness works with a team, all of whom are either models or photographers, including ex-Green Beret Dan Wharton, sexy Fiona, tough guy Eric, bombmaker Paul, master of disguise Yvette, Cherokee Joe Skytop, and Japanese Tom Sumo. She takes her orders from John Farnsworth, whose codename is Key.

Seven of the eight Baroness novels were released by Pocket in 1974. All are credited to Paul Kenyon, obviously a pen name, because the books were "produced" by packager Lyle Kenyon Engel, who was also involved with the Chopper Cop and Blade series, to name a couple. According to Bradley Mengel's SERIAL VIGILANTES OF PAPERBACK FICTION, Engel founded Book Creations, Inc. in 1973, a company that conceived novels on spec, hired writers, then sold the books to various paperback publishers.

So. THE ECSTASY CONNECTION. Well, it's an odd duck. Basically, Penelope and her team are investigating some strange isolated incidents in which people are literally sexed to death. That is, one starves to death, because he was enjoying something so pleasurable that he wouldn't stop it to eat. A stage actress literally masturbates herself to death in front of a live audience.

It's all because of a drug created by Dr. Jolly, who works at the plush Hong Kong estate of the blubberous Petronius Sim, a gigantic and evil bastard who plans to addict the world's leaders to the drug so he can control them. In his employ are zombies with electric sockets in their heads into which Sim inserts plugs that stimulate their brains with uncontrollable pleasure or pain to keep them in line.

Kenyon's major setpiece is a real action doozy. The Baroness, investigating an orgy at a Mafia hangout in a loft, finds herself in the middle of a machine gun slaughter, because Sim has ordered the men to kill all witnesses to his drug's effects. After escaping immediate death by hiding in a pile of nude corpses, she manages to lead her pursuers through windows, over roofs, and all over the building sans weapons or even clothes, for that matter. It's an exciting action scene with an extra touch of oddball sleaze to put it over the top.

It should be said that the book's sex scenes are quite graphic--something of a "hard R" nature. Personally, I'm not turned on by sexy passages in a book and find these moments tedious. I usually skip over the 3- or 4-page sex scenes, but your mileage may vary. Just to warn you that you may be surprised by the Baroness' libido and Kenyon's lengthy descriptions of her many lovemaking marathons.

THE ECSTASY CONNECTION is a terrific adventure I can't recommend highly enough for readers interested in action of an unusual bent.

5 comments:

Temple of Schlock said...

I prefer Dark Angel but these are fun. About a half dozen years ago my brother went into a used bookstore he had been frequenting for years and asked the owner if he had any of the Baroness books. The owner, who could be a bit snobby but in a funny way, had never heard of the series. My brother said "It's kind of like a low-rent Modesty Blaise," to which the owner responded, "LOW-RENT Modesty Blaise?! I can't imagine!"

Matt Farkas said...

I LOVE this series! I'm glad to see you've found your way around to it, Marty, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did. All of the books have interesting and diverse premises and great pulpy villians with Fleming-esque names, and I, for one, have no problem with the level of sexual explicitness! The lesser books in the series sometimes devolve into more-or-less straight Bondian action tedium (Operation: Doomsday) or, at the other end of the spectrum, bored self-conscious camp (Hard-core Murder), but the best ones (I highly recommend Diamonds Are For Dying and Sonic Slave) offer up the same delicious combination of sex, violence, pulpy plotting, swingin' '70s ambiance, and preposterousness seen in the debut.

Rod Barnett said...

I picked up the first two of this series a couple of years ago and loved them both. I really need to track down the rest of the run and check them out too. I understand that Kenyon was a pseudonym for two different writers. From what I was told one favored the detailed sex and the other shied away from graphic scenes. Not sure how the Baroness would feel (he he) without the deep penetration but I’m willing to try anything once. Maybe twice.

August said...

This series is probably the best among the spy action genre, featuring a sexy female lead. As for the real writers of the series, there's some discussion by fans and researchers about this on:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TheBaroness/

The Baroness fanbase has started to clamor for a modern take on the novel, since locating the 2 unpublished titles is proving to be futile.

Ian Miller said...

Thanks to your write-up, I ordered the one really cheap ECSTASY CONNECTION copy I could find, all the way from ol' Blighty. It's a U.K. printing from Futura, and it just arrived yesterday. Two pages in and I love it!