TEN-FOUR AND KILL!
Alex Jason! You’ve just been elected to infiltrate the Patrol. They’re a vigilante group, and they claim to be on the side of law and order…
But it’s their kind of law and their kind of order that triggers the action. And innocent, concerned men are being tricked into signing their lives away to the Patrol. It’s a vigilante group—sure. Vigilantes who’d kill a cop as quick as kill a mugger. And they’ll kill you, Jason, if they find out who you are. Cell by cell they’ll destroy you just like they’re destroying the fabric of this country.
So get them first. Infiltrate and attack—a job for the Enforcer!
“Thomas,” you might be thinking. “What is this crap? I mean, the Penetrator is one thing, sure, we all know you have wonky tastes, but now you’re branching out into other man-fantasy books? What’s the deal?”
Well, the deal is mainly that I haven’t been able to find more Penetrator books in a while. My local used-book store hasn’t had any. I’m thinking of resorting to Amazon or Abe or something. In the meantime, though, I found this one, and it looked hilarious, so I thought I’d give it a go.
First off, there’s this cover. Harlan Ellison is mad at something (redundant) and the pretty lady is…reacting? Is she scared? Relieved? I don’t know. She’s not in this book. I’m pretty sure Harlan’s not in this book either. Dual-wielding pistols aren’t in this book. Exploding cars are, at one point, but they’re there because the Enforcer made them explode. That was pretty great.
That tagline about how the Enforcer needs to get to work before another cop dies? Well, in a way it might be accurate, because no cops die in this book. No cops are even put in danger. I’m pretty sure one or two cops appear, but that’s the limit of cop/Enforcer interaction. Maybe the Enforcer solved that problem behind the scenes.
So our hero is Alexander Graham Bell Jason. He usually goes by Alex. Sometimes (like…once) he goes by the Enforcer. He works for an institute called The Institute, an institute that has instituted a plan to help stop bad institutes who would like to institute schemes that would wreck other, good, institutes.
The Institute is your standard issue group with some high-tech stuff behind them. This seems standard in these kinds of books. What kinds of high-tech they have, though, is never even hinted at on the cover of this book. I was expecting something pretty standard. Maybe they have some cool guns, hyper-radar, or whatever else that might be a bit goofy but is also somewhat plausible. The Penetrator has some cool stuff thanks to the Professor, for instance, and he’s also got his magical Cheyenne powers that let him see in the dark and so forth. Again, goofy, but perhaps plausible if you consider it as some kind of really fine mental and motor control that is masked in mysticism.
Alex Jason is a psychic clone.
I’m going to let you digest that for a moment before we continue.
I was not expecting anything of the sort when I opened this book. This book is more heavily grounded in science fiction than plenty of the putative sci-fi books I’ve read. It is completely bonkers.
As to being a clone, Alex gets a new body once every three months or so and has his mind transferred into new bodies, bodies that are possibly designed for whatever mission he’s about to go on. He’s also a master of ki (not chi or qi), which he can use to dampen his pain receptors or help heal his clone body when it’s damaged. If it dies, Alex is killed for real and the body deteriorates into a mixture of proteins and amino acids. The body also deteriorates as a normal set condition, which is why Alex gets a new one every three months or so. If he doesn’t get a new body quickly enough, it’s all over.
I want to reiterate that I did not find this book in the science fiction section. This was squarely in action/adventure, which is understandable given that none of this clone stuff was in any way hinted at by the cover of this book.
I don’t know if it’s related to the ki stuff, but Alex is also pretty strong when it comes to ESP. This is actually interesting, because he’s only now learning this fact as of the third book, so when he makes use of it the results are kind of iffy. He’s still not sure if it’s something he can count on, and there’s a scene near the beginning where he’s experimenting with it. Of course, it’s what saves him in the end, so there you go.
The beginning of the book does that thing I hate, where it’s really the ending of the book placed at the beginning and then we get to see, throughout the rest of the novel, how it came to be that way. When we first meet him, Alex is in bad shape. He’s been shot several times, his arm is broken, and just for good measure he’s been shot a few more times while hiding in a pile of garbage. His spine gets broken and he’s paralyzed, mere blocks away from the Institute where he could be given a new body to continue on his mission. Even his ki powers aren’t quite enough to save him, and just before the real story begins, it looks like he’s going to die.
So then we cut back to the real beginning of the novel. Alex is attacked by muggers and gets saved by these guys calling themselves the Patrol. The thing that sets Alex’s suspicions off is that the Patrol doesn’t do much in the interaction. Alex is suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of depression, as is the remaining mugger (Alex had dealt with the other two pretty deftly). Alex clings to sanity by thinking of his girlfriend, Janet, but the mugger just up and kills himself. The Patrol guy talks to Alex for a while, inviting him to join their organization, and then Alex goes back to the Institute to think things over and have sex with Janet.
Oh boy, the sex in this book. Sex scenes of three pages are not uncommon. I think there were three or four of them, and man, they were explicit. Outright pornographic. Detailed. And sometimes hilarious. My favorite line in this whole book was on page 32:
…his own lips and tongue exploring her triangular-shaped zone of erotica.
A lot of the sex was of the “Insert tab A into slot B” variety, but other times it would make it clear that this was the kind of sex that can be described with words like “jackhammering.” There was also, quite surprisingly, a lot of tenderness. If there’s a distinction between erotica and porno (it seems obvious to me that there is), this book’s sex scenes really toed that line. I’d go so far as to say that the scenes are of two people making love, rather than just screwing.
Alex learns that another member of the Institute, a non-clone named Calvin, is also researching the Patrol. Calvin’s been doing it for some time, so he gets to fill Alex in on a lot of the details. And again, I was surprised by this book. Calvin is black, and while this book has a lot of racism in it, none of it was ever directed at Calvin. He is very competent at his job and he quickly earns Alex’s respect with never a “despite his race” line or anything like that. At the same time, Calvin’s blackness is inherent to his role in the story, as we’ll soon see.
The Patrol seems to be a large organization, seemingly devoted to Law and Order. They have groups that go out and watch the streets, never directly interfering with police work, but basically helping the police do their jobs more effectively. There’s a bit of tension there, but plenty of officers are reporting that these folks are a godsend. Notable, though, is that a lot of suspects in Patrol incidents end up taking their own lives before the police show up. This is definitely a thing.
Nobody knows who is running this show, but another notable thing is that the rank-and-file of the Patrol is racially segregated and there’s a lot of tension between the two groups. Alex decides that the best way to infiltrate this group and see what’s going on will be for him to join the white half and Calvin to join the black half, so later they can compare notes. This is what happens.
Alex does his infiltration job exceptionally well, as you might expect. Calvin also does a good job. They both rise up in the ranks quickly and it does seem that something sinister is going on. They both learn that there’s some kind of a countdown to a major event. Calvin also learns that the leaders of the black half of the group are outright criminals. Not only that, but they’re criminals that, it turns out, once kidnapped and tortured his own fiancée. We don’t learn that until fairly late in the book, though.
On the white side, Alex learns about the Suzies, devices that the Patrol uses to induce suicidal depression in people. Suzy is apparently short for “suicide stimulator.” It’s described as activating the brain’s self-destruct mechanism, which is fairly goofy but okay. Their plan, he learns, is to install very large ones in various cities, turn them on, and then “solve the chaos,” thus earning political clout as well as reshaping (in their minds) society into their image. I think the large ones only instill terror, not suicidal depression, because they’re a refined version.
So yeah, they’re bad guys.
Along the way Alex meets a senator who is helping these guys out, a guy named Garlan who isn’t so much badly-principled as opportunistic. Alex “saves his life” at one point—setting up an assassination attempt and then blocking the bullet with his clone body and ki powers—which gets him in good with this guy. We learn a lot about Alex’s politics at this point across several discussions, and they’re refreshingly common sensical. There are bits where somebody goes “Don’t you think the government needs to be blown up because it’s self-serving or whatever” and Alex will say something like “The solution to that is educating people to help them make better decisions with their vote. The government didn’t take away power from the average American, the average American gave it away for stupid reasons.”
I like this guy.
It turns out that the leader of this organization is a guy named Lochner. It also turns out that he and Alex have fought before, although they’d never met until this point. Apparently the previous books detail some of what happened, including the untimely death of Alex’s late girlfriend Brunie. Alex has to use all his ki power to stop himself from just up and killing Lochner then and there.
Alex convinces Lochner that Garlan is going to turn on him, so it would be best if he, Alex, “dealt with him.” This is his pretty clever way of getting information on where the Suzies are located before they’re set off. Lochner figures this out, though, and the tables are turned again. Alex gets his information, but there’s a series of action scenes that leave him pretty banged up, bringing us back to the beginning of the book and the alley and the trash.
As he lies dying, though, his final thoughts are of Janet, who manages to pick them up by virtue of their psychic connection, and the day is saved. Well, Alex is saved, anyway. Lochner is still on the run and while the Institute now has information on where all these Suzies are located there’s no guarantee that Lochner isn’t setting them off right now. Alex gets a new body, has explicit sex with his girlfriend, and the book ends on a cliffhanger.
Man, this book was actually decent. A lot more decent than I expected. Even when the clone psychic stuff started kicking in and I expected everything to go off the rails, I was still pleasantly surprised at every turn. Our hero is actually quite competent. He’s the one who makes the plans and enacts them, all the while setting up contacts to do their jobs and listening to what they have to say.
There were a lot of racial epithets thrown around, but only by people who were defined as racists. Alex seems to have no such racial prejudice, although at one point he mimics it in an attempt to get Calvin mad at him (as part of a test to see if he could be useful in this venture).
The sex scenes were probably the weirdest part, feeling like they should have come from a book titled The New Weather Girl Gets A-Head or something. And before you ask, yes, I would know. I have a great fondness for the old Greenleaf Classics of the 60s and 70s, which probably isn’t something I should admit in public but whatever. I’m sex-positive and they’re hilarious.
I am going to find the other books in this series. There are apparently six of them. I can’t find anything else about the author, Andrew Sugar (which is such a goofy name for a writer of man-fantasy novels). He warrants a page on the SFE, which basically says he wrote Enforcer books and that’s it. I’m 99% sure that the name is a pseudonym, but what throws things off is that the series had two publishers (Lancer at first, later Manor), which makes it seem to me that the character was actually owned by the writer and not the publisher. I could be wrong about that, since there’s a lot I don’t know about the publishing world.
I’m not sure if the Enforcer will ever take the Penetrator’s place in my heart, but there might be a battle. An awesome battle.