Friday, July 2, 2021

Quick Shots: The Inquisitor #6: Last Rites for the Vulture by Simon (Martin Cruz Smith) Quinn

Like the spy missions that happen in his Inquisitor novels Martin Cruz Smith disavows any knowledge of their existence, basically anyway. It always surprises me how established author treat their early works, I suppose they are worried about tainting their brand with (in their mind) lesser material. I enjoyed the way Randy Wayne White handled it when he got his Dusky MacMorgan books republished. He simply wrote a introduction telling folks not to expect his "better work" but have fun with them, then had them published again in their original format: the near perfect mass-market paperback.  I have heard rumors that Charles Ardai has been trying to get Smith to reprint one of them as a Hard Case Crime novel which would have been fun, especially if it was back in the early days before the imposed hardback/trade-paperback era of HCC began. But Smith wouldn't let it happen.  C'est la vie.

Frank Killy (AWESOME NAME) is an Executioner, Penetrator or Death Merchant with a difference. He works for the Catholic Church. He's a suitably paperback-tough guy with a solider/CIA past who is the Church's investigator or strong arm man, free of pesky rules like "no sex" and "no murder" that other church employees have to follow. It's certainly a fresh set-up for a Men's Adventure series that surely stood out from the crowd. Ultimately it lasted six installments which is a better than some, but a lot worse then others. The book itself is a slightly odd mix of colorful Men's Adventure and plodding detection. In some ways it prefigures Smith's later books and shows his roots as a guy who wrote some Nick Carter Killmaster books. Killy's a pretty good hero, slight smart-ass, he acts like he should and talks like he should, beds women like he should and is just generally a bad-ass, though Smith could have given him more opportunities to show himself as a ass-kicker. 

"The Last Rites of the Vulture" starts off very strong with a nice, clean professional take on two hit-men killing a Monk in Italy. It shows Smith's skill as a writer who well and thought out this hit is. He easily and quickly tells you all you need to know about the killers and their target; a Monk who is surprisingly tough to kill. After the Monk's death (made to look like a natural death) Killy's Priest boss and him go out to investigate and the ball is rolling. There's detective work on Killy's part that uncovers that the Monk was an old bootlegger and mobster who went off to WWII and changed, dedicating his life to being a Monk. Which all is tied into a real estate scheme. It really reads more like a hard-boiled international mystery, I got reminded of Stephen Marlowe's Chester Drum books a lot. Killy is an okay hero though he's fairly "generic he-man" without any extra spice to make him more memorable, save a couple witty remarks. Really the only thing that sets the books apart is the Catholic thing, which only tangentially applied here. There's some fun action set-pieces with hang-gliders, car and sharks and then with escapes and hole digging with dead turtles. It's all very well written, smooth but somehow just lacks the spark that I look for in Men's Adventure novels that set them apart from the crowd.

I've seen on more then one place on the internet where this series is wrongly thought to be a horror/adventure series. On the same lists at "Satan Sleuth," "Sabat," "Chill" and the likes. One wonders if this would have been a better use of the Catholic Church angle. A stalwart Mack Bolan-for-the-church vs. demonic forces plus a little international intrigue. May have been good, who knows? Martin Cruz-Smith really has nothing to be ashamed off with this books series. They unfortunately go for a high price because there's no reprints and Smith has got fans. If you didn't have to pay more then $5 to $10 bucks I'd say grab them but I wouldn't empty your wallet for them as you might be a little let down. I'm glad I stumbled into some cheap copies and I do read one every few years but unless I luck into the rest of the series I can live without them.

No comments:

Post a Comment