Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Hippie Cult Of Sex And Death

The Chopper Cop is back on the case in this Popular Library paperback from 1972. Well, I should say the Chopper Cop is here, because I previously reviewed the second title in the series, THE HITCHHIKE KILLER. Counterculture cop Terry Bunker debuted in VALLEY OF DEATH and is structured very much like the other. It opens with three beautiful young females, one in San Francisco, one in Los Angeles, and one in San Clemente, committing suicide in front of witnesses. However, a couple of weeks later, all three begin appearing to their families in the form of telephone calls and notes left at the parents' homes. One, Annette Caldwell, even seems to be continuing her painting in the family studio. None of the Caldwells—her parents and her younger sister Penny—have laid eyes on her, but…

Called to investigate is Lieutenant Bunker, an investigator for California's State Department of Criminal Investigation. Bunker reports to gruff Ted Haggard, who strongly disapproves of Bunker's long hair, choice of transportation and antiestablishment attitude. However, he really reports only to the governor, who also shakes his head at Bunker's individualism, but likes the 27-year-old and respects the way he gets the job done.

The idea of a left-wing action hero is fairly rare in crime drama. Frank Serpico, played by Al Pacino in the movies and David Birney on television, is about the closest I can think of offhand. Of course, Serpico was a real person. Not much is made of Bunker's politics in VALLEY OF DEATH. He despises authority, but, then, so did Dirty Harry. Paul Ross (a pseudonym for someone) could have had a background in TV writing, as nothing here is overly sexy or violent, and the novel shows hints of a classic three-act structure. Certainly nothing in VALLEY OF DEATH lives up to its cover blurb promising "a hippie cult of sex and death."

No comments: