Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What I've Been Reading

Lately, I've been reading some incredibly fucked-up books. I recently purchased several lots of old paperbacks, many of them pulp novels or men's adventure novels of the '60s, '70s and '80s. They were obviously meant to be quickly read and disposed of, and while they may be of little literary merit, I can't say that they don't provide a good time.

One such example is JOYRIDE with Stephen Crye. I don't know what the title is supposed to mean--there's no joy and precious little riding--but it's clear that Crye studied '80s slasher movies very closely. Published exclusively in paperback by Pinnacle in 1983, JOYRIDE is a formulaic thriller that could easily have been adapted as a quickie motion picture. A group of teenagers drive into a dark cemetery for a night of pot-smoking, junk-food-eating and lovemaking. Unfortunately for them, the cemetery is inhabited by "Cleats," the deformed caretaker who mistakes one of the girls for his unrequited high-school crush and starts killing off all her friends. Crye creates some imaginative deaths; he sets one on fire, chops another into little pieces, hangs a girl from a tree, chops off the fat kid's head and places it in the Mary statue (seen on the cover).

It all takes place in one night, except for occasional flashbacks to Cleats' life as a senior, the teasing he suffered from his classmates, and the tragic accident that destroyed his face and mind. Crye does a fairly good job turning Cleats into a sympathetic character, though it's to his credit that we never do root for him in his pursuit of gore. JOYRIDE also has a satisfyingly abrupt finale that probably wouldn't play well in a movie, but works fine here.

An author I've been exploring lately is John Whitlatch, about whom little seems to be known. I should say that I imagine many of the authors I've been reading lately are using pseudonyms; I doubt many serious writers would want to take credit for these quickies.

The three Whitlatch novels I've read so far pretty much have the same plot and leading man, even though the characters and settings are (slightly) different. In GANNON'S VENDETTA, Gannon is a macho middle-aged man who wants revenge against the bikers who broke into his house and raped and murdered his wife. A slick lawyer gets them off, and Gannon pursues them into Mexico, where, in the central setpiece, he is kidnapped and stranded alone in the desert with no food or water. In TANNER'S LEMMING, Tanner is a macho middle-aged married man who goes to work for a senator, but is accused of assassinating him, so he--yeah--goes after the guy who really did it.

FRANK T.'S PLAN is slightly different in that Frank T. Dodge is unmarried. His daughter's killer got off scot-free, so he teams up with an Indian to, uh, yeah, pursue the young man and the bigwigs he worked for. All of these books are set in the Southwestern desert and are notable for being anti-woman, anti-black and anti-hippie (really, anti-youth, since all young people are lazy no-nothing hippies with long, greasy hair). They are also extremely thinly plotted, stretching out to well over 200 pages with lots of whiskey-drinking.

TNT, however, is perhaps the craziest book I have ever read. It's apparently the first in a series penned by Doug Masters, and I would love to see it made into a movie, though I don't think you could do it faithfully as anything less than an NC-17. TNT is Tony Nelson Twin (is Masters a Larry Hagman fan?), a journalist who is caught in a nuclear bomb blast and receives superpowers as a result (or is he a Stan Lee fan?). Despite incredible physical and psychological injuries that should have killed him, Twin recuperates with extremely heightened senses--he can see in the dark, for instance, and hear sounds from far away. He also is able to maintain an almost-permanent erection.

In exchange for the financing of a cure for his daughter's retardation, Twin takes a job from a sinister (and gay) government operative known as Arnold Benedict. I mention his homosexuality only because his sexual tastes--and those of his two "married" gay assassins--are shown to be abhorrently abnormal. Like the Whitlatch novels, gays and women are not portrayed in a flattering manner.

Twin's job is to infiltrate the underground hideout of a scientist named Michelangelo Piran who can create petroleum from water and kill him. Unfortunately, Piran is guarded by the world's most elaborate deathtrap--seven full stages far beyond anyone's most perverse nightmares. Not only is Twin forced to traverse--completely nude--across a scorpion pit, a greenhouse filled with poisonous plants, an acid bath, a red-hot burning tunnel, a ladder made of razor blades, a bath of warm rotting flesh, and a pitch-black room filled with ninjas (!), but he is ultimately forced into the most bizarre game of checkers ever created.

Six games on an giant board filled with colored lights. On the other side are forty nude women, all either violently psychotic or mentally retarded, each in a separate cage. Whenever Twin loses a game or is forced to crown Piran (who is playing electronically from a hidden location), one cage opens, and Twin has only a few minutes to bring her to orgasm or else he dies. Twin loses every game against the genius Piran, but since he manages to successfully screw all of the women into normalcy, he is allowed to live and face his opponent.

I understand that Masters' other TNT novels also revolved around wild, imaginative deathtraps, but it's hard to imagine they could be as trashy as this book. I should say that I'm pretty sure this one is supposed to be a parody, not only because of its ridiculous plot, but also because some of Benedict's flowery monologues and story expositions are absurdly long and detailed, so much so that he and Twin are able to fly halfway around the world during one of them. Looks like it's time to eBay some others.


Anonymous said...

TNT has the makings to rival Virgil's Aeneid

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the reminder...

As a kid in the mid-'80s I read nothing but "men's adventure."

Phoenix Force (I even received a letter from the author, Gar Wilson, in 1986, one I still treasure...only to discover 15 years later that Gar Wilson didn't exist!)

Anyway, I recall always seeing the TNT series on the action/mystery/thriller paperback rack at my local library. The faux-Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover drew me in, but I can't recall if I ever checked one out. In fact, I seem to recall the librarian telling me it was a bit too "adult" for me, but maybe that's just my imagination.

Anyway, your writeup's sold me and I've just ordered the first book in this series...looking forward to it. At any rate, I'm 35 now, so I guess I DO now fall within the target audience of "men's adventure" fiction!

Joe Kenney said...

sheesh, I typed "Phoenix Force" and left it hanging...I only meant to list a few of the series I read:

Phoenix Force
Able Team
Mack Bolan (of course)
Golden Phoenix (I think it was)
The Last Ranger
and on and on...

Joe Kenney said...

For those who are interested, I've posted that letter from Gar Wilson over on my blog: