Saturday, November 30, 2013

Night Mask

Night Mask
William W Johnstone
1994 Zebra

A California radio station is sending out subliminal messages while the DJs complain about their annoying boss. Meanwhile, the admittedly unimaginatively named serial killer The Ripper is killing women, removing their faces, and storing them in jars.

Two local sheriff detectives, funded by the wealthy father of one of the victims, go cross country researching the killings, using methods of questionable legality.

They don't find much, except that there are a pair of evil twins that everybody hates.  They come back home to another killing, a high priced call girl that counted the station owner as a client.

The owner is arrested based on planted evidence and is gang raped by black prisoners his first day in lockup.  One would think to blame the sheriff for failing to have a secure jail, or for failing to prosecute the offenders.

But, no, it's the fault of the FCC and the liberal media because you can't say the N word on the radio.  At this point the douchebag station owner is written as a sympathetic character and Johnstone's mouthpiece for all kinds of irrelevant right-wing babbling about the IRS and such.

Not sure the reasoning behind this train of thought.  Maybe that liberals are too PC to arrest black people, which runs counter to reality, as well as beg the question as to how the rapists were in jail in the first place.  I'll be charitable and say Johnstone wasn't so much being racist as complaining about political correctness, which was still a new thing at the time.  You know, that horrible liberal agenda, that if you act like a bigot people will treat you like a jerk.

One would think the incident would teach the value of due process to the detectives.  That the police can make mistakes, and those mistakes can have life altering consequences.  Taking that lesson to heart, the detectives decide to just forget about evidence and just murder whatever Ripper suspect looks good.  Because the Bill of Rights is for pansies.

Johnstone awkwardly gets back on track by having a civil rights protester get raped by the Ripper, instant karma I suppose.

Meanwhile, the detectives hit the gay bars.  While some of the cops are intolerant, our leads are relatively accepting, just as long as they are properly shameful and don't expect to be treated like normal people.

The gang rape has sent the station manager around the bend, and he goes postal in a gay bar while our heroes don't particularly try to stop him.  The scene is played for laughs, because some of them dress like ladies and they touch each others butts, so their mass slaughter is hilarious.

The next development has the station manager's promiscuous daughter and gay son be the masterminds behind recruiting pretty much the whole town's teenage population into a murderous satanic cult.  The police bust them up, but liberalism rears it ugly head again and prevents the police from summarily executing everyone under the age of 18, while Johnstone jumps back on his soapbox complaining how parents don't know how evil their spawn are.

There are some threads that go nowhere regarding subliminal messages being broadcast, but our detectives main strategy is to make up random stuff which sometimes ends up being true.  Those twins that they suspect?  Maybe they were triplets, or had half-siblings, or one got a sex change.  That one DJ is a lesbian, maybe she's related to them for some reason.

While Johnstone fills pages, he presents a parable against liberalism in the form of an obnoxious reporter who shows up every few pages screaming "fascist" at everybody.  She becomes the target of our station manager, now a teen murdering vigilante, and learns the error of her ways when she needs to use a gun to protect herself.

I don't like to criticize the politics of a book, but Johnstone pretty much breaks the fourth wall in places to jump on his soapbox, so he's asking for it.  As far as I can manage to figure out, rich people deserve better access to public services than poor people, and people that complain about this natural order deserve bad things to happen to them.  One should never complain about the police, you should be able to drop N bombs on a pop radio station without social consequences, and everyone should have a gun.  Except for poor people, they're just dumb hillbillies.  And all children should be preemptively smothered in their crib.  If you think your children haven't murdered dozens of people you're living in a fools paradise.

As much of a failure as a mystery as Night Mask is, it fails even worse at preaching to the converted.  Johnstone's able to stack the deck and make anything happen he wants to in his book, yet the events make a horrible case for the private ownership of firearms, which protect exactly nobody (even the reporter misses), and several people die from overzealous neighborhood watches and vigilantes.
Our heroes, the police, are corrupt bullies and don't manage to prevent a single killing until the conclusion, and spend more time attacking their critics than getting evidence.  And by attacking, I mean tear gassing reporters and making a swing at a doctor in a hospital.  Classy.  Did I mention they brag about covering up murders, even down to the classic "drop piece"?

The mystery doesn't so much resolve as much as Johnstone reaches his page count goal and wraps things up.  The cops receive a hot tip that three people walked into a warehouse.  Yes, that's enough to call the police and enough for them to investigate.

The detectives find the evil twins who proceed to mince around and throw jars of faces and genitals at them with their mind.  Bullets don't kill them, but the cops just kind of know that they're vulnerable to steel, so they kill them with metal spikes.  But not before the twins reveal the secret: one of them is a triplet or octuplet or something, and the other has a werewolf for a grandfather.

At this point Johnstone is typing one handed, the other giving his reader a one-fingered salute.  Right back at ya, buddy.

I can deal with morally bankrupt worldviews and incomprehensible plots, but only if it's a fun ride.  Someone should have let Johnstone know what the word "explicit" means, as the book implies almost all of the violence and gore.  Most is off page, and even the aftermath pulls the whole "too horrible to describe" cop out.  By the end, when faces and privates are flopping around, it's too much, too late, too silly.

In short, probably the worst novel by America's biggest hack of the last three decades.

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