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The Doomsday Bag

The Doomsday Bag by Michael AvalloneThe Doomsday Bag front
Signet Books, 1969
Price I paid: 25¢

THE PRESIDENT’S “SHADOW” IS MISSING!

And with him, his lethal “Doomsday Bag”—the small black satchel that contains the thermonuclear codes for total world destruction!

Private Eye ED NOON’s assignment—find him, and fast! Even if it means becoming the unwilling target in a bedroom showdown with Washington’s deadliest—and sexiest—counter-spy!

Guys, ouch. Ouch. This book hurt me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I will never be the same.

It’s hard for me to figure out exactly where to start telling you how exquisitely bad this novel was. I’ve read some really bad ones in the past year but The Doomsday Bag really takes the cake. I’ll put it this way: if I were to use some kind of rating system on the books I review, I would go back and add at least half a star to every previous book for the sole merit of not being by Michael Avallone.

It isn’t necessarily that the book was as bad as, say, Genetic Bombwhich I consider the worst book so far. As bad as The Doomsday Bag was, it does not feature the protagonist committing rape on a woman who later thanks him for it. It has that going for it, at least. But what it does have is some of the absolute worst writing I have ever seen put to paper. I’m serious. This book’s turns-of-phrase and attempted metaphors made me cringe on nearly every page. It’s bad. So bad that I simply have to share it with you.

The front cover gives away a lot of what you need to know. There’s a guy who is not James Bond, and there’s a girl who is not clothed. There are Washington, D.C. landmarks like the Washington Monument and a girl’s butt. There’s a car driving off of something and a girl’s butt. A guy with some kind of rifle and a girl’s butt. The presidential seal and a girl’s butt.

Ed Noon, our “hero,” is a private investigator. As the rest of the book demonstrates, he is a stupid man and a really bad PI. What we are told, however, is that he’s a brilliant man and that the un-named President of the United States trusts him implicitly to the point of hiring him to solve a mystery. The President of the United States, a man who has at his beck and call the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, DARPA, NASA, the IRS, and CONTROL, wants Ed Noon to solve the mystery of where a man with the launch codes for all of America’s thermonuclear arsenal has gone. We’re doomed.

I had just been handed the biggest and most important assignment of my sadly checkered career. But as well as I play checkers and manage a round of chess, I was completely in the dark about one thing.

I didn’t know what my next move was.

Leonard Kanin, the president’s bagman, has gone missing, right out from under the President’s nose. Noon has to find him. Also, it turns out that there are also government agencies on the case, but the President wanted Ed to go along too, because it couldn’t hurt to have one more man on the ground. The Prez hands him a blue card with his signature on it that lets him get into wherever he needs, and then Ed is off.

My mood, like the weather, was rotten.

One of Ed’s best friends in Washington is a senator named Charles Cornell, who I think later went on to join Soundgarden. I’m not sure, I don’t really keep up with politics. Anyway, Senator Cornell is one of the few really good guys in Washington. We know this because Ed Noon tells us this. And we know that Ed Noon is a reputable source because President Schmucktard told us. So that’s nice.

Ed talks to Senator Cornell about the situation and gets some leads. They go to a hole-in-the-wall bar where Senator Cornell introduces Ed and us to Felicia Carr, a newspaperwoman and a complete knockout. Her writing is described as

Not bad for a female.

Ed immediately falls head-over-heels in love with her, which is exactly the kind of behavior you want from a private investigator with the fate of the world in his hands.

The trio survive an assassination attempt on the Senator’s life (or so we’re supposed to believe. It could have just as well been on Ed’s life, seeing as how things go throughout the book). A waiter switches the senator’s pen with one that has a bomb in it. Ed catches the switch at exactly the right moment and manages to catch the pen and chuck it across the bar, exploding lots of beer and wine. The senator, shaken and stirred, goes home. Felicia goes home with Ed.

The only reminder that I had that she had spent the night with me, other than my lively memory, was a crumped pack of the Salem brand lying by the telephone.

Ed goes and talks to the Senator and afterward gets captured by a dude in a cab with a pump gun. There are a lot of pump guns in this book, and while I know what those are supposed to be, I just imagine a collection of bad guys running around Washington with Super Soakers. Maybe the Super Soakers are full of acid or something, but probably not. Whatever it is, the guy with it tells the cabbie to drive to an abandoned barn just outside of Washington proper, where presumably they’ll execute Ed.

The little party is interrupted by a guy named Rowles, who works for the FBI. At first Ed assumes that Rowles is on the side of the still-unidentified bad guys, but it turns out that he’s not and he saves Ed by killing the guy with the pump gun. They investigate the barn and find the titular bag, but it’s been busted into and emptied. They also don’t find the bagman. Some FBI and Secret Service guys show up and Ed helps them search the area, but they find nothing.

The Good Samaritan is a myth created by Bible-makers.

Finding nothing seems to be Ed Noon’s strongest ability. I suspect that he was put on the case so that he could flush all the evidence in the direction of the professionals. That’s a pretty good idea, assuming you’re as genre savvy as I am.

Ed goes back to his hotel room and calls the senator. The senator tells Ed that he strongly suspects that the ever-so-lovely Felicia Carr is in fact a Russian agent who is using her looks and charm to pump Ed for information while Ed pumps…never mind. Ed gets really bothered about this, never once suspecting that maybe it’s suspicious for a knockout brunette to show a sudden interest in a private investigator who is friends with a senator and is working for the president and offers, by way of explanation, that she likes his teeth.

He confronts her in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Perhaps the most shocking thing about this whole shebang is that the book casually mentions them smoking cigarettes and throwing them onto the ground, right there in front of the Great Emancipator himself. That bothered me almost as much as the awful prose in the book, and I’m a smoker.

Ed tells her that she’s a Communist agent and she gets mad at him and leaves. He tells us that he gave her a chance to get away because he was in love with her, but I just get the feeling that it comes back to him being a completely passive protagonist.

Now that I think about it I wonder how intentional that was that Ed Noon is just a man around whom things happen. He really doesn’t do much in this book, and I find that in a lot of the narratives that really bother me it’s in part because of that fact. Ed Noon, as a character, does little or nothing to ever actually advance the plot. The plot advances onto him. He goes to his hotel room and then the bad guys jump out at him, or he gets in a cab and there’s a bad guy in there that forces him to the next location.

As I thought about it I wondered why it bothered me so much. Surely it can be fine to have a character who is nothing more than a viewpoint anchor, right? I suppose that could work fine in some books. I don’t think it’s that fact, explicitly, that bothers me so much.

What bothers me is that Ed Noon is a complete Mary Sue. All through the book he’s told that he’s the best at what he does, he’s the only guy we can trust, and that the fate of the world is in his hands. If this were a satire or a comedy that’d be one thing. Get Smart was a really good show, but even old Maxwell Smart was more impressive than this guy.

Ed gets summoned to a meeting in the Pentagon, specifically in the War Room. Ed muses for a bit about the nature of a country that has a War Room. After all, it’s not like there’s a Love Room or a Peace Room, is there? What does that say about America?

In real life, the question might be, what does it say about a country where the War Room is just as real as the Love Room and the Peace Room, and not an invention of Dr. Strangelove and assumed to be real by authors who don’t do research?

On his way out of his hotel room, Ed is once again pounced by the guys who do the bad things. One of them, this time, is Felicia, who sprays him in the face with what I guess is supposed to be Mace but never actually called that. Ed goes down and wakes up in a cell with none other than the bagman, Leonard Kanin.

Kanin explains to Ed what’s going on. That’s convenient because up to this point Ed has done absodamnlutely nothing to figure it out for himself. Seriously, any country that relies on Ed Noon to save it deserves to be a radioactive scrap heap.

It turns out that, according to Kanin anyway, the mastermind behind this whole plot is none other than THE VICE PRESIDENT. See, the veep is actually and secretly a political enemy to the president, and might even be a secret agent for the other political party!

Incidentally, this book never once tells us who the president is or what party he represents. Plenty of members of the cabinet, including the Vice President, are named, so what’s the deal there? Was it supposed to add realism somehow? Were we supposed to assume that the name of the president was withheld because it was a state secret or something? To protect him from the fallout of this entire craptacular novel? What? WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THAT?

It was a thought but, like whistling in a cemetery, it was unreal.

Ed and Kanin manage to escape. This happens because, of course, somebody else does something on behalf of Ed. It turns out that Felicia is working with these guys, but obviously isn’t really working with them because she sends a guy down with Ed’s explosive chewing gum. That gum, incidentally, is the least-effective Chekov’s Gun (Chekov’s Gum! Hahahaha) EVER because instead of being mentioned once at the beginning of the book and finally playing a role near the end, it’s mentioned every fifteen pages or so in the most ridiculous ways. Like Ed goes back to his hotel room and empties his pockets on the nightstand and the narrative just happens to mention the gum. I’m serious, when it actually saved the day I was more angry than relieved. There’s a fight.

The second man with a gun dumped over like a woman. All arms and legs.

The guys escape to the White House, where it turns out that the real traitor isn’t actually the Vice President himself but a coalition of conspirators who are planning on putting the VP in the Oval Office so they can use him as a political puppet, making this book a relatively accurate depiction of the years 2001 to 2009.

The real mastermind behind the plot is none other than the totally-forgettable Commander Markham from earlier in the book, who is using this plot to leverage his own military career. When the president learned this

His mouth literally fell open.

Kanin takes the guy down, saving the president, the country, his career and the predictability of the plot. The president orders a major cleanup of the government to seek out and destroy all the conspirators, while Ed goes to a graveyard.

See, at some point earlier in the book Ed was in a cab and the bad guys tried to get him and they shot and killed the guy who drove the cab, who was just a regular guy. The book was strange in the fact that Ed kept thinking about him throughout the rest of the book. Most protagonists as bad as this one would have thought nothing of it ever again, but not Ed Noon. He’s full of surprises.

Ed’s visiting the grave. Felicia shows up and spills the beans about what her actual deal is. She’s not a commie agent, and she wasn’t working with the conspiracy directly. She was a double agent, gathering information from the inside. They reunite and start to plan their life together when suddenly

There was one more laughable, incredible gyration of logic and common sense.

Guys, did the author just call out the fact that this is an absolutely idiotic book? Does he hate it as much as I do? Was he doing it for the paycheck and silently hating himself the entire time? Man, I’m sort of conflicted now.

Anyway, Rowles, the FBI guy, shows up. It turns out that he, too, was in on the conspiracy, and he can’t let Ed live. Why, exactly? Well obviously because Ed Noon is too good at his job.

IT SAID THAT

IT SAID THAT ED NOON WAS TOO GOOD AT HIS JOB TO LIVE

Rowles decides to kill our hero and his lady with a GRENADE.

IN A CEMETERY.

CEMETERIES ARE USUALLY QUIET

IT WILL PROBABLY BE NOTICED

What does Ed do? He rushes right for the guy, saying that if he’s going to die, he’ll at least take Rowles with him. And the book ends on that note.

I can’t tell if that’s a satisfying ending or not. On one hand, Ed had just reunited with his lady and they were gonna be happy together. I can’t begrudge a guy a knockout brunette. On the other hand, he’s dead, and the country is safer.

There was very little to take away from this book other than its awfulness. The writing was just bad. It was full of sentence fragments, terrible attempts at metaphor, and paragraph breaks that just.

Didn’t make a damn bit of sense.

In a way, though, the couple of hours and twenty-five cents I spent on this book were not entirely wasted. I know how, and you can know too, that this book was published. Some publisher said “Yeah, I guess we’ll print this.”

That’s a good sign for anybody who wants to be a writer. Probably the best sign, because if you can string words together into a narrative that is in any way enjoyable to read, you have a major leg up on this book.

This book that was published.

And somebody bought it.

You can do better.

I can do better.

It really wouldn’t be all that hard.

And that realization, Michael Avallone, is your great gift to readers. Thank you.

And a girl’s butt.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Even the tag line at the top of the front cover is badly written:

    “A NEW SPY TO MR. PRESIDENT SUSPENSE THRILLER”

    Eh?

    Like

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