Mostly my musings on things vintage hardboiled and noir, literary and filmic and other things that take my fancy. Down these mean streets this man must go...

Saturday 27 October 2012

The Cult Of Killers by Donald MacIvers (Leisure Books 364DK) (1976)

Donald MacIvers (or 'Mac', as he is known to his friends) is scared. A Harvard drop-out hooked on drugs, booze and sex, Mac has been indoctrinated into a murderous cult influenced by Charles Manson. This cult of killers murder  at will and at random in 'a war to the death, a fight to the finish' fuelled by the deranged belief that this will initiate an anarchic free for all from which they will emerge triumphant and omnipotent. Led by the diminutive Crazy Mary and assisted by her her murderously adept sidekick Esmerelda, the cult have pushed Mac to the end of his tether and a point at which he will no longer participate in their murderous plans. So, seizing on the chance to flee, Mac makes a run for it. However, he soon finds that the cult's tentacles stretch far and wide, and that not even help from such unlikely sources as a wealthy gay pick-up, an amenable young prostitute or even organised crime can seem to shake his former associates from their vengeful path...

An exploitative, sleazy 70s urban chase thriller scribbled in the shadow of symbol of the 60s meltdown. This dubious effort is a grimy, melodramatic and fast-paced 'X'-rated race through a nightmarish night-world that occasionally releases a seemingly authentic 42nd Street Grindhouse odour reminiscent of the celluloid revenge epic The Exterminator (1980). Ludicrously pitched to an almost hysterical - and often hysterically reactionary - level of heightened realism, this evocation of society's squalid underbelly is undoubtedly effective and the novel is undeniably a page-turner. However, it is also ludicrously implausible with the pursuing cult members inexplicably able to repeatedly reach their tentacles into Mac's most obscure hiding places without any plausible explanation, beyond the fact that Manson himself may be supernaturally divining Mac's whereabouts and telepathically communicating them to his deranged acolytes from his San Quentin prison cell.

The sexual politics of the book are hardwired to the times it was written, and the grisly fate of a knife-wielding female cult member who is shot by Mac several inches lower than her knife hand tells the reader all one needs to know about the ideologically soundness of the narrative set-up in which its female characters are at worst psychotic nymphomaniacs and at best helpful hookers. However, this determinedly downbeat tale actually plays out like a more graphically violent, sexually explicit and overtly misogynist update on a 50s Gold Medal original template spliced with The Fugitive.

So, for those who wish to be transported back to the world of seamy 70s paperback originals, this undoubtedly provides a couple of hours of rough hair-chested macho thrills; and is certainly the type of generic throwback which wouldn't stand a chance of getting published in these more politically correct times.

AFTERWORD: This is a curious package insofar as the cover blurb ('The horrifying revelations of a fiendish, sadistic murderer') and artwork featuring a well-drawn and convincing likeness of Charles Manson lording it over a poorly rendered sacrificial rite that may have been produced by a different artist suggests that this may be another non-fiction cash-in on the notorious real-life crimes associated with Charles Manson and his 'Family'.

The back cover also suggests that the novel may be derived from real events ('The author, formerly a member of the group, now in hiding, has revealed that the worst fears of the police were true. This is the whole sordid story'), although it also refers to the cult 'killing the female actress in a S&M flick'; an incident which does not even feature in the book.

Given this misdirection and the fact that I have been unable to ascertain anything about author Donald MacIvers beyond the fact that he is accredited with an introduction to a 1973 Leisure Books title Kothar - Barbarian Swordsman by Gardner F. Fox, this curious tangential addition to post-Manson literature is best enjoyed less for its tenuous links to that subgenre and more for its grubby generic thrills.