Saturday, April 20, 2013


 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.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I blew it. I stopped following Roger Ebert's example. Roger started writing for his local Urbana, IL paper in his teens. After moving from to Chicago, he quickly became part of the city's legendary Chicago newspaper scene, drinking in the company of legends like Mike Royko and Studs Turkel. From there, he would be known to the rest of the country from the unmatched pairing with Gene Siskel on "Sneak Previews" and then "At the Movies". Eventually, people with only a casual interest in cinema knew who Roger Ebert was. Those who didn't even go to movies would use the term "two thumbs up" to describe a great thing. After he revealed his cancer and lost his speech to it, he became more prolific and eclectic a writer than ever before. He wrote about anything that piqued his interest; be it movies, politics, or rice cookers (the latter becoming the subject of an entire book of his!). Roger's wife Chaz, who he met in middle-age, seemed to be the perfect partner for him. They never appeared to be anything less than permanently smitten with each other. Roger's essay on his love for Chaz ( is as romantic an ode as I have ever read. His post-cancer writing life was made up of the most varied, joyous, and tender collections of essays that I can imagine. The thread that seemed to go through all of them was a profound sense of gratitude for his life.

The details of his biography are as wonderful as the ultimate arc. He was invited by the late, great big boob worshipper and generally underrated filmmaker Russ Meyer, to write a screenplay for him. Meyer hired Ebert simply because he had enjoyed reading the young critic's newspaper reviews. The bacchanal that followed Russ and Roger around as they hung out at pools with starlets while Roger dutifully typed out pages is legendary in Hollywood history.

I wanted to be Roger Ebert before I even knew any of the details of his life. His written film criticisms revealed a wealth of interest in areas far beyond just movies. His guest appearances (usually with Siskel) on talk shows showed that he was a kind man with a sharp, funny mind and an opinion of just about everything. I really identified with that last part. I became enamored with the Cannes Film Festival at an age when I didn't know where Cannes was, simply by reading his accounts of covering the films that premiered there every year. When I finally was able to travel there myself, I felt instantly familiar because of the education I had received from reading Ebert's diary entries all those years. I lately wanted to be him because of his continuously prolific and still important writing. Also, I wanted to have the kind of partner in life that he seemed to have in Chaz. To the very end, Roger Ebert was significant, fully engaged, and most importantly, loved by his beloved.

I wanted to be Roger Ebert, but I blew it. I started out okay. When I was 15, I walked into the newsroom of the Daily Columbian in Vancouver, WA and told the editor-in-chief that he should hire someone like me to be a film critic. After all, I argued, most of the movies reviewed by his paper were aimed at people closer to my age than that of his regular critic. I pointed to the soon-to-be released Stand By Me as an example. Before the movie opened, I was a published writer in a real paper that gave a kid like me way more space than I had any right to expect. Then, as fate would have it, my family moved to a town that didn't care much about my adolescent reasoning for being on the staff. I made a comeback of sorts when I was the film reviewer for my college newspaper (University of Oregon's Daily Emerald). When I finally made it to LA in my mid-20s, I just figured I was too old to get a job as a critic that would pay all my bills. I went on to write some scripts and make a little money on the side with writing, but never a living. I still write, but it's been a while since I've had such youthful ambition. The decision (or indecision) to stop writing film criticism is one of my great regrets. I forgot to do what Roger would have done. 

Maybe it's not too late to follow Ebert's example, though. Maybe in the next half of my life, I will find a love that will inspire me forever, as Roger did with Chaz well into his years. Maybe my writing output will blossom to be more prolific and varied than it ever has. Maybe the existence of my writing will inspire others. Now that his life has completed, I can say with assurance that I still want to be like Roger Ebert.