Tuesday, February 09, 2010
9. Freaked Out Strangler by Patrick Morgan (Operation Hang Ten #10)
This is the third in the demographically precise and highly collectible Operation Hang Ten series that I've read. They star surfing freelance agent Bill Cartwright, with his sweet ride and trailer set-up (he has a "computer" in the trailer that mixes the perfect drink for him). It's number ten in the series and I was getting a bit weary of his schtick through the first through chapters. I guess it went over well for its audience in the day, but the main protagonist is really full of himself and spends a lot of time telling the reader how good he is at everything and how great his life is, thanks to being so good at everything. But he does it in that weird '60s way, using arbitrarily big vocab words and talking around things in a kind of faux beat poetry style. I called it "watered down John D. MacDonald" in a previous review. This time, it seemed almost condensed, thickened, as if it had been left on the stove too long.
This time, Cartwright is following up on a lead from a woman who wants to meet him at a pier because she has info on someone trading secrets from a sattelite manufacturing plant. When he gets to the Santa Monica pier, she is being strangled by a guy in a scuba outfit (the titular Freaked Out Strangler). Another convoluted plot ensues, but my enjoyment of it increased significantly as Morgan brings in some really depraved individuals and a few serious instances of brutality. You've got a low-rent Hugh Hefner type who lives in a penthouse, grows tulips and sleeps with a different paid high class prostitute each day of the week. There is a bitter loser with a terrible birthmark on his face, obsessed by the sexual teasings of his older sister (awesome talc on back rubbing scene) and the fruity manipulator who provides the loser with drugs and women (and his own sexual favours once he gets him high). Some good seedy stuff that makes for a quick and enjoyable read, marred a bit by the excessive masculine fairytale built up around the protagonist and a poor plot structure. Still, he's a surfing detective, for crissake's, what do you want?
Another interesting element that I am starting to glean in these later novels is that he is actually a pretty conservative character. I am getting the sense that Bill Cartwright is not meant to be a counter-culture figure for young male readers of the period at all, but rather an establishment proxy for older figures who don't really like the values of the 60s, but have grudgingly accepted them. He allows them to participate in this new topsy-turvy world, get all the fruits that men deserve in any age: the sweet car and mobile bachelor home, the adventure and above all the willing, subservient chicks who always end up making him breakfast or bringing him food (in return they get the best sex ever; Cartwright makes the hero of the Wolf's Hour seem positively flaccid in comparison). He mocks the idealistic ecological notions of an ex-flame he meets at the trailer park (with a smug, passing reference to the superior emissions standards of his custom-made german engine). He really doesn't take any political stance and almost all the bad guys are pulled from some deviant milieu (homosexuals, hippies). They are rarely the typical enemies of the left, big businessmen, politicans and so on. I'll keep an eye on how this trend continues as I get future episodes in this series.
Note to self: use the term "jive" more.