Knowing that I’m a big Walter Hill fan, my buddy Matt Kiernan gave me a battered copy of A.W. Miller’s The Destroyers (Leisure Books, 1980) a few years ago, along with the solid thumbs-up endorsement that it was “like a Walter Hill movie that never got made!” I was skeptical -- the cover art made it look more like a Joe Gage porn flick -- but I smiled and very nicely accepted the generous gift. I was deep into the Ed McBain 87th Precinct books at the time, so The Destroyers was mentally stamped “someday” and then promptly lost in a sea of about three million other paperbacks waiting to be read. Well, “someday” arrived last week, and although I’m not sure I agree with the Walter Hill pitch (“It’s LAST MAN STANDING with Michael Ironside’s mercenaries from EXTREME PREJUDICE!” was the best I could come up with myself), I will say that The Destroyers is never boring.
For veteran San Francisco vice detective Buddy Wells, it started as a missing person case: find the college-age daughter of millionaire land developer Michael Conover, but for God’s sake, keep it as low-profile as possible. Wells tracks her to the Mission District, where he finds the girl strung out on smack and turning tricks. Her outraged father, impressed with Wells’ understanding of the illegal drug influx from Mexico, offers the jaded cop the once-in-a-lifetime chance to take the war against drugs to its source. With unlimited funds at his disposal and no irritants like the U.S. justice system, the U.N. or basic human rights tying his hands, Wells assembles a six-man team of frustrated law enforcement types (ranging from a brilliant FBI surveillance expert and a former Green Beret-turned “Officer Friendly” classroom lecturer to a crazy mountain man of a border agent) to cross into Mexico, infiltrate the drug capital of Culiacán, identify the crime families that have been flooding the U.S. with heroin, destroy their operations and kill as many bad guys as possible.
If there were any copy editors employed by Leisure Books in 1980, it’s safe to say none of them showed up for work the week The Destroyers passed through; I don't think I've seen so many transposed letters, misspellings and other typos together in one mass market paperback in my life. Miller’s a competent hack who never strays from cliché (the sexy senorita who falls in love with one of the Destroyers is named Consuela -- imagine that) or wastes too much brain power on storytelling, to the point where one incredibly lazy bit of plotting produces a very obvious threat to the entire mission that wouldn’t go unnoticed by one halfway intelligent cop, let alone six. There’s no shortage of gunfire, explosions or bullet-riddled bodies, but the rest of The Destroyers is surprisingly PG-rated, confirming my belief that 12-year-old boys were the target audience. The typical Pinnacle action series reader wouldn’t get past the cover anyway.