Book Review: Stud Service by John D. Revere

In 1985, Justin Perry’s fifth and final adventure was published.  In Stud Service, the CIA’s most deadly and sex-obsessed assassin discovers that his whole life has been manipulated to lead to one moment, the moment when he will be sacrificed to Halley’s Comet.  Before the sacrifice, of course, his sperm will be preserved by a secret cult that will use it to create hundreds of genetically perfect warriors who will conquer the Earth and rule it for the next 50,000 years….

Okay, I’m sensing that some of you think I’m making this up.  I’m not.  That is the plot of the final Assassin novel.  Justin Perry discovers that SADIF is a front for a cult that worships Halley’s Comet and that his sperm is the key to their plan to rule the world.  Actually, there’s several cults.  It turns out that there’s many different divisions within the Halley Society and one of them is run the Old Man, who was Justin’s mysterious handler at the CIA.  As the Old Man explains it, he just wanted to serve his country and make the world a better place.  But he also has a brain tumor that is driving him mad.

It’s actually kind of an interesting wrap-up for the series.  If nothing else, it actually explains why, over the course of the previous four books, people from Justin’s past kept randomly popping up and turning out to be SADIF agents.  Since birth, Justin has been cultivated and developed to be a potential sacrifice to the comet.  Even the Old Man and his sister were involved in it.  Everything over the past four books has been about developing Justin into a heartless killing machine and, significantly, this book features Justin realizing that he no longer “enjoys” killing as much as he once did.  He’s rediscovered his humanity and that humanity allows him to survive, even when he has hundreds of Halley cultists trying to masturbate him to death.

That said, even though the book nicely wraps up the weirdness of the series, it’s still a bit of mess.  Trying to keep straight who works for each faction of the Halley Society requires taking notes, which is more activity than Justin Perry really deserves and this is one of those action novels where there’s considerably more exposition than action.  It’s safe to skim over the final fourth of the book because nothing really happens until the final page or so.  Somehow, the book manages to be extremely sordid and rather dull at the same time.

This was the final Justin Perry story.  He saved the world a lot.  Interestingly, it does appear that the author meant for this to be the final novel.  This wasn’t a case of the publisher saying, “We’re not wasting any more money on this series.”  Instead, all four of the previous book lead to this fifth one and it ends on a definite note of conclusion.  One gets the feeling that the author felt that he had said everything that he needed to say.  Of course, it’s impossible to guess what exactly it was that he was trying to say.  I personally suspect the whole thing was meant to be an elaborate joke on the people who regularly read novels about violent spies and never once considered that their literary heroes were actually deeply damaged sociopaths.  If so, bravo.

Book Review: Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris

Mike Nichols.

That’s a name that should be familiar to anyone who claims to be a student of film or a lover of Broadway.  Originally born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, Germany, the rise of the Hitler led to Nichols and his family immigrating to the United States in 1939.  By that time, the seven year-old Nichols had already been completely bald for three years, the result of a bout of whooping cough.  Like many who have had first-hand experience with trauma, Nichols developed an appreciation for the absurdity of life and a rather dark sense of humor.  After studying to be an actor, Nichols found fame as a satirist and a comedian, performing with Elaine May.  He would later go on to become not only an important theatrical director but also an important film director.  With his directorial debut, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, he helped to destroy what was left of the production code.  With The Graduate, he helped to define the generation gap.  With Carnal Knowledge, he explored sexual frustration and ennui.  With Catch-22, he proved that even a great director can struggle to adapt an unfilmable book.

Mike Nicholas was an important director but, because his work was never quite as flashy as some of his contemporaries and because he spent as much time directing for the stage as for the movies, it always seems as if he runs the risk of being overlooked by film lovers.  Luckily, Mark Harris’s biography, Mike Nichols: A Life, not only presents the details of his life and career but it also makes a convincing case that Nichols is a director who, despite all of his awards and the admiration of those who worked with him, has been a bit underrated.  Harris convincingly argues that, while Nichols’s films dealt with timeless issues, they also often defined the era in which they were made.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate are both definitive films of the 60s.  Carnal Knowledge is a film that captures the disillusionment of the early 70s, with Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel playing men destined to never escape their self-imposed mental prisons.  Working Girl captured the greedy atmosphere of the 80s while Primary Colors epitomized America in the 90s and Closer captured the confused morality of the aughts.

To his credit, Harris doesn’t make the mistake of idealizing Nichols.  Harris is just honest about the Nichols films that don’t work as he is about the ones that do.  The failure of Catch-22 was as due to Nichols’s new-found cockiness as a director as it was to the unwieldy source material.  On What Planet Are You From?, Nichols develops an almost instant and somewhat irrational dislike of comedian Garry Shandling, which is a bit unfortunate as Shandling was not only the star of the film but also in need of a director who would work with him to conquer his insecurities.  This biography is honest about both Nichols’s strengths and his weaknesses and, as such, it becomes a fascinating look at one artist’s creative process.

It also become a look at how American culture changed from the 1960s to the first decade of the 21st Century.  Nichols made his directorial debut in 1965 and directed his final film in 2007.  For 42 years, Nichols recorded the cultural transformation of America, from scandalizing America by having Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton curse at each other to making a film about the policy decisions that would eventually contribute to 9-11 and the new America that was formed as a result of that tragedy.  Mike Nichols: A Life isn’t just about Mike Nichols.  It’s about how American culture, for better and worse, has developed and changed over the last century.

If you’re looking for a good and in-depth biography about a director who deserves to be rediscovered, Mike Nichols: A Life is the one to go with.

Book Review: Death’s Running Mate by John D. Revere

Having previously taken on mutant chickens and barnyard sex, the fourth Justin Perry novel takes on the American political system!

First published in 1985, Death’s Running Mate is all over the place.  Author John D. Revere plays with time in Death’s Running Mate, which means that the book opens minutes before the climax of oversexed super assassin Justin Perry’s latest mission and then flashes back to how Perry and the readers arrived at that moment but the flashbacks themselves contain their own flashbacks and even the occasional flash forward.  It leaves the plot so jumbled that it would probably require keeping extensive notes to really understand everything that happens and jotting down notes is a bit more effort than a Justin Perry novel deserves.  The previous three Justin Perry novels were surreal but the fourth one plays out like an extended fever dream.  And yet, because it’s so strange, it’s also probably the most compelling of all of the Perry novels.  You keep turning page after page, just to see how much stranger it can get.

The book deals with politics.  A 36 year-old woman named Andrea McKay has come out of nowhere and is running for President as the candidate of the Federalist-Liberal Party.  She’s running on a platform to “throw the rats out” and she proves her sincerity by eating rat meat at her campaign events.  Those who have read the previous volumes of the Justin Perry series will not be a surprised to learn that Andrea McKay is actually being backed by SADIF, an evil conspiracy that previously infiltrated the Vatican and developed mutant chickens.  And since a major theme of these books is that Justin Perry is somehow at the center of everything that happens on the planet, most readers will not be surprised to learn that Andrea’s political platform was developed by SADIF abducting Justin during an orgy, holding him captive in a mental hospital for several months, and then interviewing him about his thoughts on politics.  Justin is not only an expert killer who literally can’t leave the house with getting laid.  He’s also so in touch with the American people that his vague political opinions can serve as the basis of a successful third party presidential campaign.  Interestingly enough, it turns out that Andrea McKay is being as manipulated by SADIF as Justin is by The Old Man, his boss at the CIA.  The suggestion, of course, is that Andrea, Justin, and the voters are all in the same situation.  They’re all being manipulated and used like pawns on a chessboard.

As strange as the Andrea McKay presidential campaign is, it’s not the strangest part of the book.  This is a novel that starts with Justin bragging about how he’s going to kill the population of an entire town in Illinois and then flashes back to Justin disguising himself as a psychologist so that he can prevent SADIF from breaking into a mental hospital and releasing all of the patients.  (It turns out that the mental hospital uses sex therapy and, of course, Justin has to be carefully examined before he’s allowed to work there.)  Among other events, Justin gets attacked by a woman driving a pumpkin truck and then later, he discovers the truth of his parentage.  And I’m not even getting into the scenes of teenage Justin learning how to make love with a girl named Thelma who later turns out to be a spy herself.  Did Justin Perry ever know anyone who didn’t turn out to be a spy?

To be honest, I’m probably not communicating just how weird this book is.  I haven’t even gotten to the stuff about Illinois or the author’s apparent belief that a presidential vacancy is filled by a special election.  (I laugh out loud at that part of the book, if just because it reminded me of Sally Kohn’s theory that impeaching Trump and Pence would lead to a special election between Paul Ryan and Hillary Clinton.  “Straight forward from here,” as Sally put it.)  Earlier, I described the book as being a fever dream but it’s really like several hundred fever dreams, all crammed together to form one big epic.  Not a bit of it makes sense but the total lack of coherence is undeniably fascinating.  Justin’s as much of a sex-crazed misogynist as he was in the previous books but, at least in this case, it nearly leads to collapse of the United States (which, I might add, leads me to suspect that these books were meant to be satirical).  Will Justin learn a lesson from this?  I’ve read the final book in the series and no.  He does not.

Speaking of that fifth book, I’ll be reviewing that one on Saturday!  And then, we’ll be done with Justin Perry.

Two Looks at the Office: The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History by Andy Greene and Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office by Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman

The American version of The Office was so good that it has led to not one but two oral histories!  And I’m such a fan that I’ve got both of them.

The first oral history that I read was Andy Greene’s The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s.  First published in 2020, Greene’s book was full of interesting facts and anecdotes, though a careful reading revealed that a lot of the “oral” part of the oral history was lifted from old interviews, DVD commentaries, and an article that Greene had previously written.  The book was notable for 1) establishing that Steve Carell is one of the nicest guys in show business, 2) putting the blame squarely on Jeff Zuker for Carell not returning after Season 7, and 3) getting some of the behind-the-scenes people to talk about why seasons 8 and, to a lesser extent, season 9 were so uneven.

The other oral history, which was published earlier this year, was Welcome to Dunder Mifflin.  It was written by Brian Baumgartner (who played Kevin Malone on the show) and Ben Silverman, one of the show’s producers.  Probably because Baumgartner and Silverman were both involved in the show, they apparently were able to get a lot more people to talk to them personally.  Unlike Greene’s book, which relied heavily on previously published interviews, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin features recent interviews with people like Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, Angela Kinsey, Craig Robinson, Ed Helms, Amy Ryan and many others.  In fact, nearly the entire cast seems to have been interviewed for Welcome to Dunder Mifflin.  Presumably because their schedules wouldn’t allow it, neither BJ Novak or Mindy Kaling are interviewed and their absence is definitely felt.  Also not interviewed is James Spader but that’s not really a surprise.  (Spader played Robert California during the season of The Office that everyone seems to agree was the worst, Season 8.)  While everyone in both of the oral histories is quick to compliment Spader as an actor and a person, there’s a general agreement that the show never figured out what to do with the Robert California character and that Spader’s vibe didn’t quite meld with the show.  One gets the feeling that his time on The Office is something that Spader is more than happy to put behind him.

(Personally, of all the celebrities who were brought in to “interview” for the management position after Steve Carell left the show, I thought Ray Romano was the one who seemed like he would best fit in with the show’s ensemble.  Then again, I always felt that the best solution would have been to cast some total unknown for as Michael’s replacement and then keep him off-screen as much as possible.  But I’m getting distracted.  Someday, I’ll post my big ‘What the Office Should Have Done’ screed.  Of course, it’ll be like 20 years too late but whatever….)

The books are both full of love for The Office but they each take a somewhat different approach.  The Untold Story takes a very structured and very chronological look at the show and focuses a lot on what went on behind the scenes, both on set and with the network.  (If you didn’t already dislike Jeff Zucker, you will after reading Greene’s book.)  Welcome to Dunder Mifflin takes a far looser approach to the material and focuses more on what it was like to be a part of television’s funniest ensemble.  Welcome to Dunder Mifflin is full of interviews of people gushing about how much they loved working together and how proud they were to work on The Office and what’s interesting is that, even though you’re just reading their words on the printed page, you never doubt that they’re totally telling the truth.  Perhaps because it was Baumgartner who was doing the interview, the cast seems to let down their guard in a way that you really don’t see very often when it comes to performers talking about their time on a classic show.

Welcome to Dunder Mifflin focuses on the positive aspects of being on the show.  Whereas The Untold Story spends a lot of times on Seasons 8 and 9 and on the difficulty of integrating James Spader and Catherine Tate into the main cast, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin devotes only a few pages to those seasons and instead focuses on the Carell years.  One thing that both of these oral histories have in common is that Steve Carell comes across as being the nicest guy who ever lived.  How nice is Steve Carell?  I’d rather live next door to him than Tom Hanks.  Actually, I take that back.  I would want Carell next door and Tom Hanks living across the street.  It’s a big neighborhood.

Both of these oral histories nicely compliment each other.  If you want a chronological history of the show, Greene’s book is for you.  If you want a book that focuses on what it felt like to be a member of The Office crew, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin has you covered.  I would recommend buying both and getting the full Office experience.

And remember, there’s no party like a Scranton party.

Book Review: Born to Kill by John D. Revere

Published in 1984, Born to Kill is the third volume in the Justin Perry saga.

This time, the CIA’s most sex-obsessed assassin is on assignment in Jamaica.  There have been a series of mysterious chicken attacks in both Jamaica and Florida and Justin’s boss, the Old Man, is sure that it is somehow connected to the upcoming launching of a space shuttle in Cape Canaveral.  However, it’s not only chickens that have been making trouble.  Someone has been beheading government officials across Europe.  Justin’s assignment is to solve the mystery behind the chicken attacks and make sure that SADIF doesn’t interfere with the shuttle launch.  The Old Man has decide that he doesn’t want any SADIF operatives taken alive so, naturally, Justin Perry is the man to send.

Of course, Justin is more concerned with his latest girlfriend but she’s apparently blown up while driving to the airport.  Now, Justin not only has to solve the mystery of the killer chickens but he also has to get vengeance for his latest murdered lover.  But, before he does that, he has to spend a few days at the local brothel with another CIA agent because he’s Justin Perry.

Anyway, Born to Kill moves along at a decent enough pace, up until we get a flashback to the time that an 8 year-old Justin Perry had sex with a chicken and was then traumatized when his grandparents possibly served him the same chicken for dinner and then …. wait, what?  Justin Perry did what?  Yes, you read that correctly.  The action in the book stops so that Justin Perry can remember the time that he had sex with a chicken.  First off, ew.  Secondly, does this guy even have any good childhood memories?  Third, why is this even in the book?  It certainly doesn’t make Justin Perry into a sympathetic character.  Later on, when Perry was attacked by several mutant chickens, I was rooting for the chickens.

When I read the first two books, I assumed that they were meant to be a satiric and that Justin Perry was meant to be a parody of the heroes who appeared in other pulp paperbacks.  But I have to say that the book treats the chicken incident very seriously and, just as Perry spent Vatican Kill debating the existence of God, he spends a good deal of this book thinking about the decline of morality in society.  (He blames the sexual magnetism of John F. Kennedy.)  What I’m saying is that I’m getting the feeling that the author may have meant these books to be taken seriously.  If so, agck!

Anyway, to be honest with you, the whole chicken thing was really gross and I nearly stopped reading at that point.  Because I’m a completist, I did continue with the book but I have to admit that it was more skimming than in-depth reading as I was kind of worried to find out what other barnyard animals Justin Perry may have had sexual relations with.  And really, I think that might be the best way to read these books.  Skim over it all as quickly as possible and don’t make the mistake of thinking about what any of it means.  Justin Perry saves the day and kills a lot of people and, at one point, watches as a woman he’s just had sex with gets eaten by a shark.  He’s fascinated by the fact that the shark is eating a bit of him along with her.  The main theme of the series seems to be that Justin Perry really needed to get help.  Let’s just put it like that.

Book Review: “My Ox is Broken!” Roadblocks, Detours, Fast Forwards and Other Great Moments from Tv’s ‘the Amazing Race’ by Adam-Troy Castro

I will be the first to admit that I probably watch too much reality television.

Of course, I will also defend myself by saying that I don’t watch as much as I used to.  I limit myself now.  The Bachelor, the Bachelorette, and Bachelor In Paradise are the only dating shows that I still watch and I have to admit that I find them less and less interesting with each passing season.  (Some of that, to be honest, is because I cringe whenever I see people talking about the “Bachelor Nation.”  Just because I watch the same show as you doesn’t mean that I want to come over to your house and watch you get drunk on box wine.)  I still watch Survivor but I have yet to watch any episodes of the Hulu Kardashian show.  The only reason that I recently watched Selling Sunset was because I was checking out the shows that had been submitted to the Emmys.  I haven’t really been emotionally involved with Big Brother for a while now, though I do still write about it because I love my readers.

That said, I still absolutely love The Amazing Race and I make no apologies for that.

The premise behind The Amazing Race has always been a simple one.  Teams of two are sent on a race around the world.  During each leg of the race, they have to complete tasks before they can continue on their journey.  At the end of each leg is a pit stop.  Finish first and you’ll get a prize.  Finish last and you’ll probably be eliminated from the race.  Each season has featured little tweaks to the formula but the basics have always remained the same, which is one reason why The Amazing Race‘s fans have remained loyal to it for over 22 years.

What is the appeal of The Amazing Race?  It’s more than just seeing who wins and who loses.  It’s seeing how the teams, who always start out very confident, handle being outside of their comfort zone.  I’ve lost track of how many athletic, cocky teams were eliminated from the race because they failed to properly communicate with their taxi driver.  How many teams have gone from being in first place to being dead last just because their flight was delayed?  The most recent season of the Amazing Race was actually put on hold due to COVID quarantines.  Filming stopped in 2020 and then resumed over a year later, with the remaining teams returning to their last pit stop.  The Amazing Race is unpredictable and it takes exactly the right mix of athleticism, intelligence, confidence, and luck to survive it.  The Amazing Race is about skill and communicating and seeing the world and I absolutely love it.  A good deal of the Race’s popularity is also due to host Phil Keoghan, who actually seems to be sincerely invested in the racers and their journey.  That’s quiet a contrast to most reality competition hosts.  Just as snarky Jeff Probst was the perfect host for Survivor (or, at least, he was before he decided to get all weepy and sincere these past few seasons), Phil Keoghan is the perfect host for The Amazing Race.

My Ox is Broken! is a perfect companion to The Amazing Race.  Admittedly, the book was published in 2006 and, as a result, it only covers the first 9 seasons of the Race.  But those were some truly great seasons and reading the book today is a wonderful way to relive the excitement of Rob and Amber going from dominating Survivor to nearly winning The Amazing Race, Colin and Christie narrowly losing the fifth season, and the dysfunctional couples who made up the sixth season.  Author Adam-Troy Castro takes a look at everything that made those first 9 seasons so much fun and he’s also honest about the show’s occasional missteps.  Full of recaps, interviews, and lists (you know how much I love lists!), this book is an essential for anyone who loves the Race.

Book Review: Vatican Kill by John D. Revere

Justin Perry, the assassin, is back!

And he’s just as screwed up as usual.

Continuing the theme of the first Justin Perry novel, 1983’s Vatican Kill finds the CIA still battling the evil plans of SADIF.  A Nazi sympathizer named Carl Werner is working as a gardener at the Vatican and masterminding SADIF’s European operations.  Justin Perry’s boss, the enigmatic Old Man, not only wants Werner to die, he wants it to be such a cruel and sadistic death that it will send a message to all of America’s enemies.  Among Werner’s many crimes is developing a nuclear warhead that SADIF is planning to fire at Venus in an attempt to wow the world.  Unfortunately, as a scientist helpfully explains at the start of the book, blowing up Venus will also destroy the universe so the stakes are pretty high!

The reader might assume that, with the future of the universe at stake, Justin Perry might actually focus on his job for once.  The reader would be wrong.  The world’s greatest assassin is just as easily distracted in this book as he was in the second.  When I reviewed the first book, I mentioned my theory that the series was meant to be a satiric.  Justin Perry was just too weird and sex-obsessed to be viewed as anything other than a parody of the traditional, hypermasculine pulp hero.  There are definitely elements of satire in Vatican Kill but, oddly enough, there are also several passages in which Perry sincerely contemplates why he cannot accept the idea of a benevolent God, passages that suggest that the author was trying to make some sort of larger point about the mysteries of existence.  Of course, there are also several overheated flashbacks to a childhood trip to India, during which Perry both lost his virginity and he witnessed a train crash rather than run over a cow.  Just as in the first book, it turns out that everything that happened in his past is connected to what’s happening in the present….

It’s a weird book.  To be honest, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of some of the weird things that happen in Vatican Kill.  Justin Perry is as obsessed with sex and violence as ever while the villains of SADIF continue to come up with with elaborate tortures.  (This book didn’t do much to help me with my fear of dogs.)  I haven’t even gotten into Werner’s demand that Justin Perry assassinate the King and Queen of Spain for …. reasons, I guess.  Just as with the first book, describing the plot of Vatican Kill probably makes it sound more interesting than it actually is.  As over the top as all of the action and the scheming is, the prose describing it is fairly mundane and the author continually gets lost in Perry’s ruminations about God and the past.  I have to admit that I read the book very quickly, first because it was called Vatican Kill and I can only imagine what my Spanish and Italian grandmothers would have thought about that and secondly, because Justin Perry was such a creepy character that I really didn’t want to spend too much time with him.  The book ended on a note so grotesque that I washed my hands afterwards.  Seriously, Justin Perry was one messed up dude!

Book Review: Mafia: The Government’s Secret File On Organized Crime

If you are a writer and you’re currently working on a novel or a script about the Mafia in the late 50 or early 60s, you simply must include a character based on Usche Gelb.  Gelb was born in Austria in 1897 and apparently came to New York City when he was just a teenager.  Between 1913 and the 60s, he was arrested multiple times and charged with everything from disorderly conduct to felonious assault to perjury to federal narcotics conspiracy.  According to the FBI, despite not being Italian, he was a powerful figure in the Mafia and served as a liaison with various international drug cartels.  He also worked as a machinery salesman and as a florist.  He and his wife Ethel lived on West End Avenue and spent their summers at Tenaha Lake.  His nickname was King Gelb.

You might also want to include a character based on Joey Caesar (real name: Joseph Divarco), who owned a glassware distribution but who was secretly one of the top men in the Chicago Outfit.  Or maybe Sam Giacana, who took over Capone’s organization and eventually ended up getting murdered in his own kitchen.  Don’t forget Luigi Fratto, the crime boss of Des Moines, Iowa who was so confident in his position that he flashed a big grin for his mugshot.  And certainly, be sure to remember Joe Civello, who ran the Dallas mob and who had the look of a weary accountant whose only client was being audited.

All of these people (and more) are profiled in Mafia, a fascinating book that contains the over 800 organized crime dossiers that the Treasury Department put together in the late 50s and 60s.  Some of the gangsters profiled have familiar names.  Meyer Lansky, Mickey Cohen, Lucky Luciano, Johnny Rosselli, Carlos Marcello, Vito Genovese, and Joseph Valachi are all included.  Even more interesting to me, though, are the less well-known gangsters.  All of them were prominent within their organization but most of them managed to hide in the shadows of history.

For history nerds and true crime buffs, it makes for interesting reading.  Almost all of the men profiled in the book came from blue collar backgrounds.  Many of them were immigrants.  The great majority were from Italy but Germany, France, Austria, and the United Kingdom are all represented as well.  When they weren’t committing crimes, many of them worked as salesmen.  Some were truck drivers.  Many of them were union reps.  A large number either worked at or owned small taverns.  Many of them had been arrested for violent crimes but most of them also had families and vacation homes and everything else that was held up as being a part of the American dream in the 50s and 60s.  Most people probably wouldn’t give these men a second look but, secretly, they were among the most powerful people in their city and state.

It’s hard not to become fascinated with the people in this book.  Enough details are provided in the government’s sparse reports that you get a clue for who they were but enough is left vague to reward those of us with an active imagination.  Why, for instance, was John Daneillo nicknamed “Baldy” when his mugshot shows that he had a full of head of hair?  Who nicknamed him Baldy and did it have anything to do with his day job as a construction worker?  And why did Lucky Luciano give Patsey Matranga, an olive oil salesman who was a known narcotics smuggler despite having never been arrested once in his life, an old Oldsmobile?  Was it a sign of friendship or something else?  Maybe Luciano was just sick of looking at the car.  These are the type of questions that are raised by reading the dossiers within Mafia.  They’re just waiting for creative reader to answer them.

Book Review: Justin Perry: The Assassin by John D. Revere

About a month ago, as I continued to make my way through the paperbacks that I inherited from my aunt, I read five short paperbacks about a character known as Justin Perry, the assassin.

Who is Justin Perry?  As was explained in the first book in the series, 1982’s Justin Perry: The Assassin, Justin’s name used to be Roger Johnson.  He was raised in a world of wealth and privilege, the son of a general and a socialite.  Like his father, Roger enlisted in the army.  He ended up in Vietnam and, when he saw a friend of his get blown up the Viet Cong, Roger discovered that he had it in him to be a very savage and efficient killer.  Back in the States, Roger was hailed as a hero.  He married the beautiful Bambi and they had a son named Roger, Jr.  But then, Bambi was murdered by a commie spy and Roger went mad.  A mysterious figure known as the Old Man recruited Roger to work as an assassin as the CIA.  Now known as Justin Perry, the assassin lives to kill the nation’s enemies and to have sex with every woman he meets.  Seriously, that’s all he does.

The book not only gives us Justin’s origin story but also presents us with a rather sordid adventure in which Justin Perry tracks down a Nazi collaborator in Europe.  It’s while on that assignment that Justin discovers the existence of SADIF, a secret organization that we know is evil because its acronym sounds a lot like SADIST.  His pursuit of SADIF leads to several over-the-top torture sequences and also the discovery of a huge conspiracy, one that involves almost everyone that Justin has ever known.  We also discover that SADIF has infiltrated the Church and that Josef Mengele is now working as a gardener at the Vatican.  (As an Irish-Italian-Spanish Catholic, I would be offended it wasn’t all so stupid.)  None of it makes much sense but, to be honest, I’m not totally convinced that the Justin Perry books weren’t meant to a parody of sex-obsessed pulp fiction.

When I say that Justin Perry is sex-obsessed, that is literally all that he seems to think about.  He gets an erection when he kills a man.  Every woman that he wants automatically wants him (and, apparently, they’re all into S&M to boot).  One sexual encounter is ruined by an attack by an assassin, which leads to not only Justin’s masochistic lover killing herself with a knife (and getting off on the process) but also Justin obsessing over the fact that some of his sperm ended up on a hotel room floor.  Justin, in fact, is so hypersexual and so obsessed with proving himself sexually that it’s hard not to wonder if maybe he’s killing people because he’s trying to kill something about himself that he doesn’t want to accept.  I haven’t even gotten into the weird torture sequence where Justin and his friend, Bob Dante, are threatened with being sexed to death by a group of SADIF nymphomaniacs and a feet-licking chauffeur.

Actually, I have a feeling (or maybe it’s a fear) that I’m making this book sound more interesting than it is.  Despite all of the insane things that happen, the prose itself is actually fairly dull.  If one takes the book seriously, it’s a celebration of a sociopath.  If one takes the book as being satirical, it’s still just one joke repeated over and over again.  What is interesting is that the next four books in the series were even stranger and I’ll be reviewing those over the days to come.  For now, let’s just be happy that Justin Perry: The Assassin never made it to the big screen.

Book Review: Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers

First published in 2009, Hellraisers is a fast-paced look at the life and times of four men, Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed, and an examination of what they all had in common.

First off, they were all talented actors who were at the height of their careers in the 60s and the 70s.

They all first came to prominence in the UK.  Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed were English.  Richard Burton was Welsh.  Richard Harris was born in Ireland.

With the exception of Oliver Reed, all of them were multiple Oscar nominees but none of them actually won the award.

All four of them could boast filmographies that included some of the best and some of the worst films of all time.

And, of course, all four of them were infamous for their drinking.  They were all, if I may borrow the book’s title, famous for raising Hell.

Hellraisers is a frequently entertaining look at their careers and their legendary off-screen exploits.  All four of them come across as being very different drinkers.  Richard Burton was a depressing drunk, one who drank because he was aware that he was wasting his talents in mediocre films.  O’Toole was a drunk who alternated between being charming and being dangerous, someone who was capable of coming across as being a bon vivant even at his lowest moments.  Richard Harris was the angry drunk but he was also the one who seemed to have the both the best understanding of why he drank and why, at a certain age, it was necessary for him to cut back.  And, finally, Oliver Reed was the showman, the one who viewed drinking a beer the way that others viewed having a cup of tea and who would rather damage his career than allow anyone else to tell him how to live.  He knew that he had a reputation and he was determined to live up to it, even at the risk of his own health.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s Oliver Reed who dominates the book.  There was very little that Reed wouldn’t do while drunk and he was drunk quite a lot of the time.  He was also perhaps the most unpredictable of all of the actors profiled in the book, a raw mountain of energy who kept audiences off-balance.  Personally, I would not have wanted to have been along in a room with a drunk Oliver Reed.  The book has too many stories of Reed dropping his trousers and asking everyone to look at what he called his “mighty mallet,” for the reader to feel totally safe with Reed.  At the same time, anyone who has seen a good Oliver Reed performance knows that he deserved better roles than he was often given.  (Then again, the book is also honest about the fact that a lot of filmmakers would not work with Reed because they had justifiable reasons to be terrified of him and his erratic nature.)  Over the course of the book, Reed comes across as hyperactive, easily bored, and also far more intelligent than most gave him credit for.  In many ways, he was a prisoner of his own reputation.  He was outrageous because he knew that was what was expected of him.  As shocking as some of his behavior seems today, he felt that he was giving the people what they wanted and Hellraisers suggests that he may have been right.

Personally, I don’t drink and I find most heavy drinkers to be tedious company at best.  That said, Hellraisers is an interesting book.  Burton, Harris, O’Toole, and Reed are all fascinating talents and the book takes a look at how their hellraising reputations both hurt and, in some cases, helped their careers.  However, the book is more than just a biography of four actors who drank a lot.  It’s also an examination of a different era, of a time when performers were expected to raise Hell and when one could get away with being a contrarian just for the fun of it.  One can only imagine what the moral scolds of social media would have to say if Oliver Reed were around today!  As a result, this is a book that can be enjoyed by both film lovers and history nerds, like you and me.