Sunday, November 23, 2008


The late Joseph Nazel wrote 60 black experience paperbacks for the Holloway House Publishing Company without achieving anything close to the legendary status of their two best-selling authors, Iceberg Slim (Pimp, Trick Baby) and Donald Goines (Never Die Alone, Dopefiend). In 1974, the same year he cranked out The Black Exorcist and six of the seven books in his popular Iceman series under his own name, Nazel penned the first of four novels about L.A. cop James Rhodes under the pseudonym "Dom Gober." The decision to assume an alias for Black Cop could’ve been Holloway House’s due to Nazel’s increased output that year (the reason Goines’ Cry Revenge! and Kenyatta series were published under the "Al C. Clark" sobriquet), but it’s possible that he didn’t want his name anywhere near Black Cop to begin with; it’s a piss-poor effort on just about every level imaginable.

Detective James Rhodes is the titular protagonist, as well as an unmitigated moron. Let’s, for the next several paragraphs, put ourselves in the shoes of this breathtakingly stupid human being and try to understand the pea-brained, round-about way he conducts an investigation. Ready? Here we go.

We are James Rhodes, angry black L.A. cop saddled with a racist white partner, Larry Turner, who hates our guts. We’re on our way to a big drug bust when all of a sudden Turner nervously asks us to pull over to a payphone because he wants to make a call to his wife. So we pull over and let him make the call, and when he gets back in the car he seems even more nervous than he was when he got out. A moment later, as we carefully approach the site of the scheduled drug transaction, we see the three guys we were planning to bust heading for the hills. Hey, ya think someone tipped them off? Before we can rub our chins, frown and go "hmmmm," a gun battle erupts and two of the perps are killed. We take the third perp alive but as we are marching him over to the squad car, that good-for-nothing honky Turner shoots him twice, killing him. "I thought he had a gun," Turner explains clumsily. "I thought he was going to draw down on you. Didn’t you see him move?"

Honestly, no, we didn’t see the perp try anything of the sort -- this unarmed perp, don’t forget, who would’ve revealed not only the name of his supplier but the mole who blew the whistle on the bust -- but it’s comforting to know that at least our racist redneck partner’s got us covered, isn’t it? A few pages later we’re at the station house and on the carpet in front of Captain Graebo (also white and a bigot, but at least he’s honest), who’s apparently seen SHAFT once or twice because he has no problem playing Charles Cioffi to our Richard Roundtree.

"It does look like these dope smugglers are tuned in on us," Graebo says, like the truly swift police captain that he is.

"Yeah," we say, trying not to choke on our own saliva. "I can’t figure it. There’s no way that they were supposed to know that we were on to them. Maybe, it was just a lucky guess on their part."

"I can’t buy that," Graebo tells us. "We’ve got a leak somewhere. A leak that we can’t seem to plug. Every time we get ready to make a raid, they know it. Every time we get ready to so much as sneeze at them, they know it. We might as well throw in the towel and let them have the whole damn city!"

OK, enough of the role-playing. At this point, Rhodes and Graebo -- if they had half a brain between them -- would start going over every single drug bust that went south to see if there are any questionable patterns (like maybe the same rotten cop’s been calling his wife five minutes before all of the raids?). But that’s too much to ask of these knuckleheads. Instead, Graebo decides to send Rhodes into the ghetto under cover to locate the main drug supplier, with the hope that (fingers crossed) he will lead them to the mole inside the department. And Rhodes goes along with this plan, because he never once suspects that Turner is the one who keeps mucking up the drug busts!

As inept as Nazel is in setting up an even halfway believable police procedural, he at least knows that his target audience understands the hardships of inner-city African-Americans. Once the dim-witted investigation relocates to the meanest L.A. streets, with Rhodes (now codenamed "Dark Alley") trying his best to play an average Joe, one or two supporting characters with real-life problems turn up to hold our interest. Rhodes immediately falls for the lovely but troubled Sue, whose brother Roger is a hopeless junkie in debt to Wilson, a flashy local dealer. Wilson is obsessed with Sue and thinks he can parlay Roger’s habit into a roll in the hay with his fine sister. Rhodes and Wilson tangle, as expected, with Rhodes coming out of it the victor; Wilson ends up hiring him as one of his henchmen. Turner, meanwhile, is in cahoots with white syndicate honcho Morrie Slater, who is planning to knock off Wilson and seize control of the ghetto drug trade. From there it’s connect-the-dots, and because the reader knows more than Rhodes every step of the way, none of it is even remotely suspenseful. Beyond the terrible plotting and often embarrassingly bad prose ("He puffed vicariously at the ever-present cigar"), I can't see where Rhodes is a character worthy of one book let alone four. And being the fool who follows the fool, I'm now determined to read the other three!

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