WHO KILLED YOU, CINDY CASTLE?
By Kirby Carr (Kin Platt)
(Canyon Books, 1974)
A great cover and title conceal a weird but mild grindhouse novel. The ridiculous premise features the theft of blood, mass killings of mafia members, and an evil transcendental meditation center that is implicated. Korean and Vietnam vet Mike Ross works days as a detective and nights as a vengeful, kill-happy bad guy hunter named The Hitman. And that is his name. He kind of insists on it and most of the characters oblige him. Such dopey behavior permeates this book.
Our hero, who’s really an asshole, stumbles across a murdered girl (not Cindy Castle) who seems surprisingly lightweight. This turns out to be because blood has been drained from her. This sets off The Hitman, who decides to get his anger out on some mafia types that seem to be tied to her murder. Also, he needs an excuse to kill people and this is as good as any.
This is the kind of book that equates any access to Asian countries to the white man learning all methods and variations of martial arts. It’s as if the author looked up “martial arts” in his Encyclopedia Britannica, strung a bunch of them together, asserted that The Hitman had trained in them and called it a day. Like Remo Williams in the far superior Destroyer series, Mike has an old Asian sage who teaches him in the ways of killing. This relationship is not interesting, nor is it properly explored. There is the obligatory accidental racism that always happens when an author shows no intellectual curiosity toward ethnic groups. Instead, the relationship is a caricature of the wise, old Asian and the overheated American.
The view of the opposite sex is not difficult to discern. Take, for example, this quote about a mafia Don's son and his reason for not learning the family business quickly: "Little Augusto went to bed with cunt. Woke up with cunt and played around with cunt every day of his fucking life. It was a wonder the jerk was still alive!" In fact, for some unknown reason, every reference to Augusto uses the word "cunt" to refer to a woman. Literally every one. I went back and checked, I thought it was so weird. Other derogatory and demeaning words are allowed for other characters, but Augusto only gets "cunt".
It also is one of those “out of touch with the kids” books. Mike Ross dislikes "hippie Venice" because of the drug culture. He has a similar disdain for meditation and yoga. We never know what Mike Ross enjoys except for killing. But there isn’t that much joy in it. He's not extra-sadistic or gleeful when he murders. What this series needs to do is go all the way in. Like the sadly short-lived, hyper-violent “Gannon” series by Dean Ballenger did.
The first 3/4 of the book is the tried and true man-against-the-mob plot, played out with only mild enthusiasm. The last 1/4 is a detour wherein the reader is supposed to be surprised and riveted. I found myself annoyed. Why was this fun missing in the first 150 pages? Though it is more fun than the rest of the book, the ending continues with clumsy and illogical action. Near the climax, a mafioso is hiding out in the top five floors of a hotel. All The Hitman does to gain access is to knock on the door and say, "room service". Twice! And the only thing he needs to break into another gangster's house is a credit card. That wasn't even believable when this was written! Furthermore, there are lots of characters and plot turns (not twists), but it all seems meaningless and arbitrary. The "surprise" ending is only a surprise because none of the important characters have been introduced earlier!
Will I read another one? Yes. This series has potential for being good, over-the-top, out-of-touch, casually racist fun/bad. One crucial bit of awfulness that I loved was that the title of the book is the last line of the book.