Friday, November 23, 2007

Two Tough Cops

A double dose of head-crackin', six-shootin' action today. First off is DEATH ON THE DOCKS, #2 in Warner Books' Dirty Harry series, which, obviously, was based on the character played by Clint Eastwood in DIRTY HARRY, MAGNUM FORCE and THE ENFORCER (SUDDEN IMPACT was released in 1983, two years after DEATH ON THE DOCKS was published). Twelve original Dirty Harry novels were written, six of those by Ric Meyers.

Meyers did not, however, pen DEATH ON THE DOCKS, and who knows who did (all the paperbacks were credited to "Dane Hartman"). It's an okay but not great book with too many annoying out-of-character situations. For instance, Harry fancies himself a master of disguise and dons a wig, mustache and loud clothes to track a suspect in a bar. That is just something Dirty Harry would not do, and if you've seen the execrable PINK CADILLAC, you know Clint Eastwood shouldn't do it either.

DEATH never lives up to its brutal opening, as two professional hitmen invade the home of a prospective union leader the night before the election and murders his entire family, including two small children, in graphic detail. Inspector Harry Callahan gets the case, and even though he knows the killers must have been employed by the victim's opponent, Bull Ryan, or--more than likely--Ryan's string-puller, the former union boss, Matt Braxton, how can Harry prove it?

He does it by making a pain in the ass of himself, following Braxton around and earning the wrath of his superiors in the department, who may be on the crime boss' payroll. After a few shootouts, Callahan manages to arrest Braxton, but the villain jumps bail and heads to the Caribbean, where Harry follows after taking a vacation from work and gathering his disguise.

I think I may have solved a mystery of sorts through reading 1974's THE SNIPER, the first of Leisure Books' series of Ryker procedurals about a tough New York City cop named Sergeant Joe Ryker. Before I get to that, the Ryker books are notable for their author: Nelson DeMille. Before DeMille was a best-selling author of thrillers like THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER and GOLD COAST, he was churning out these paperback quickies under the name Jack Cannon. I've seen covers using the Cannon pseudonym, though my paperback appears to be an original, judging from the copyright info, so I'm confused as to when and why the Cannon name was used.

What's really interesting is that, at least twice, I noticed proofreading slipups in which the name "Blaze" was substituted for "Ryker." Is it possible that DeMille was actually "Robert Novak," and that THE SNIPER was supposed to be part of the Super Cop Joe Blaze series? Both are tough, corrupt NYPD sergeants named Joe. THE SNIPER, while not great, mainly due to its cynicism and misogyny (which continue to haunt DeMille's writing to this day), is much better written than the hacked-out THE BIG PAYOFF, though the coincidence is too close to dismiss. Maybe when I read additional Blaze and Ryker books, I'll be able to make a definitive decision.

Ryker and his partner Arthur Hayes are on the trail of a Tennessee-born sniper named Homer Cyrus, who learned to shoot in Vietnam and is now targeting young blond women from the rooftops of New York. The mystery isn't much, as it doesn't take Ryker long to learn the killer's identity. Obviously influenced by THE FRENCH CONNECTION (as I think the Super Cop Joe Blaze books are), THE SNIPER presents a "hero" who sleeps with hookers, treats everyone around him rudely, and even beats the shit out of an innocent civilian on the theory it may lure Cyrus out of hiding. Not a pleasant guy to spend time with, if he were real, though not between paperback pages either.

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