Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Crime Minister

Crime Minister 
Crime Minister 1 
by Ian Barclay (George Ryan) 
1984 Warner Books

You know that guy in junior high that wore a child sized camo jacket that he swore was his dad's who died in Nam, the one that kept talking about his uncle in Special Forces and got in trouble for bringing ninja stars to school? Maybe not, I had like five of them in my school, but anyway, the Crime Minister is the story of that guy's life turning out the way he dreamed while abusing himself to Soldier of Fortune magazines.

Richard Woodgate aka Richard Dartley is the world's greatest assassin. But first, refrigerators. Specifically, how it's hard to order just the right one overseas. Four pages of this. Strap yourself in, because this is the roller coaster pace that we'll be travelling over the next 395 pages.

After their last assassin finally ends up in said fridge, some former Nazi war criminals, now industrialists, hire Dartley to kill a Turkish gangster responsible for one of their wives getting hooked on heroin. One of the industrialists is having an affair with his secretary, secretly a Russian spy.

Dartley has a cunning plan. The first step is to custom build a very expensive and very easily traced armored limousine. Next, Dartley needs a body double corpse dressed in a chauffeur's outfit. Only one place to go for that. Off to the gay bar


I'm not sure it's just the padded pace of the novel that gives us the lurid S&M gay bar scene, but it covers all the fetishes both academically and with an obvious fascination. We get a good four pages describing the history, biology, and social context of fisting. Dartley finds his double, gets him dressed up, and since he's a professional he doesn't mind doing a little heavy petting before poisoning him. It's not gay if you murder him afterwards.

Now that he has his dead doppelganger, Dartley saws through the guardrails of a bridge. And if you're worried that I'm zipping through this without giving proper context, don't worry. Buy the book and read the three pages of the bridge's history and constructions.

Dartley picks up the Turkish gang lord and his bodyguards after several obnoxious annoyances and manages to drive the limo, which is specially designed to hold the passengers captive and the dead rough trade in a hidden compartment, off the bridge and into the river.

But won't the police know that the chauffeur had been dead for a while before hitting the water, and question why the limo is designed as an obvious death trap? Well, Dartley figures the police won't mourn the loss of a major crime figure and won't investigate thoroughly. So why the trouble and expense and man-kissing?

Here lies the problem and fascination with the Crime Minister. The novel reads like it was passed back and forth between two authors, each thinking the other one is a jerk. One Richard Dartley is a nuanced character that plays with the expectations in the genre of the invincible, infallible, principled hero while showing the reality of an insecure, incompetent, immoral coward. Or the author was trying for a straight forward right wing fantasy piece and started his midlife crisis in the rewrites.

In some scenes Dartley is totally James Bond all up in here, moving three steps in front of his enemies and having all the angles covered. In others, he's ragingly incompetent and a nervous wreck. Dartley got into the assassination game as a matter of high principle, only accepting targets that are either criminals or communists. Or gay or black, as it turns out. One of his early contracts was targeted because he wrote a tell-all biography of Joseph McCarthy. His conscience almost bothered him until he found out the author was also gay, at which point he could fire away.

And the racism. In another flashback, his first target was an African politician who was targeted for the crime of daring to be African while at an American university. To get close to his target, Dartley goes undercover, and by undercover I mean in black face. It's even written as a ridiculous scheme, but it works anyway.

There's another weird scene where some black teenagers are breaking into cars in a lot, only to trigger one of Dartley's anti-theft devices. The narrator shifts into various perspectives, including a security guard that naively assumes that the thieves are clean cut citizens and to be suspicious of them would be nothing less than racist. Yes, the infamously liberal security guards of the 1980s. Anyway, a kid gets his fingers cut off, and they're described as looking like dog turds hitting the ground. On account of them both being brown, I suppose. One could write that off as the narrator following the racist perspective of Dartley, only Dartley wasn't around at the time.

A thin, rambling plot, almost no action, and way too long. The only thing going for it is the weird gay panic issues Dartley and/or Barclay were going through. Dartley dresses up as a preacher briefly, but otherwise there is no Crime Minister.