Saturday, December 13, 2008


The title and the Robert McGinnis artwork hooked me, but what made the sale final was the fact that Harry -- as pictured on the cover -- bears more than a passing resemblance to tough guy actor William Smith. Indeed if this had been produced as a movie in the early 1970s, Smith would’ve been perfectly cast as the macho, carefree and conniving Harry Bullmore, a.k.a. Captain Harry Hook, who makes the national press when he sets sail from New York with an all-girl crew in an old bucket called the Jezebel, destination the Bahamas. The news reaches all the way to Peckinpaugh, Nebraska and the eyes of his 17-year-old nephew Clayton Bullmore III. Hungry for action of any kind -- but preferably the female kind -- Clayton leaves home against his father’s wishes and meets up with the Jezebel in Miami, only to find that the five-girl crew has been whittled down to one: his Uncle Harry’s foxy Chinese bedmate, Miss Wong. Luckily, the broken-down Jezebel is such a conversation piece (and aging beach bum Harry a natural chick magnet) that Clayton is soon playing footsy with Charity Smeeton, a blonde British beauty they find adrift in a rubber life raft, and sepia stunner Elvira McGee, the kept woman of a U.S. senator. Meanwhile, Harry is cuckolding the millionaire owner of a hugely popular hamburger franchise, who trails behind the Jezebel in his fully-equipped yacht Charisma.

Author Basil Heatter settles into a relaxed, humorous R-rated groove for the first act, but switches gears around page 60 when Harry’s shady, diminutive business partner Grogan arrives in Nassau and Clayton finds out the two are planning to rip off the new Paradise Island Casino by replacing the freon tanks in the building’s air conditioning unit with nitrous oxide! Heatter is a decent writer but I suspect his real strength was in the pitch; fully cognizant of what was selling books for publisher Fawcett Gold Medal in 1970, he gleefully crammed everything he could into Harry and the Bikini Bandits. Building upon the marina milieu of John D. MacDonald’s popular Travis McGee mysteries, the story is told first-person by a horny 17-year-old, exactly what Lawrence Block had done successfully the same year with his first two pseudonymous Chip Harrison books. The heist is straight out of a Richard Stark novel -- Parker and Grofield had ripped off an island casino a few years earlier in The Handle -- and all the other bells and whistles (beatniks/hippies/dropouts, pot smoking, exotic beauties, interracial sex) had been staples of trash fiction for years. The result is the paperback equivalent of a late ‘60s drive-in movie from American International Pictures, which is pretty much all I wanted from a book titled Harry and the Bikini Bandits in the first place.

1 comment:

Marty McKee said...

Holy crap, William Smith must have been the artist's reference.