Wednesday, May 30, 2018
The Destroyer: Dr. Quake
His name is Remo, and he was a former cop sent to Death Row for a crime he did not commit. Instead of execution, Remo Williams was given the chance to serve his country in a new manner. Under the tutelage of Chuin, master of the sun source of all martial arts known as Sinanju, Remo has become America's greatest assassin: The Destroyer.
For more than 45 years and 150 novels, Remo Williams and Chuin have irreverently faced the nation's foes, foreign and domestic, in the men's adventure series The Destroyer. Along the way, the Master of Sinanju and his apprentice have faced power mad business tycoons, Russian agents, gangs of street thugs, Mafia hitmen, African slavers, neo-Nazis and Black Panthers, Mayan gods, and even the odd alien or two, reaping a terrible harvest along the way. If a group has shouted "Death to America" or smashed a window in protest, Remo has been set upon a thinly veiled version in the books. But in Dr. Quake, Remo is sent to investigate that old standard of pulp and men's adventure, the mad scientist. Someone in California has demonstrated the ability to control earthquakes, and is blackmailing a small town. When this master of science's ambitions for extortion grow more audacious ("Hello, Mr. President"), Remo and Chuin must race the Mafia to find and destroy the earthquake machine.
The fifth book is admittedly an odd place for an introduction to a series. But it took time for Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir to develop the key relationship in The Destroyer. The first book, Created, the Destroyer, was originally written in the early 1960s, with Remo studying the then exotic art of karate. But as martial arts grew more widespread in America, Remo's martial arts needed to grow more exotic. Thus Chuin and the House and martial art of Sinanju was created, intended to be one of many instructors that would hone Remo's killing skills. It wasn't until the third book, The Chinese Puzzle, that the cantankerous scenery-chewing old coot from Best Korea took his place as Remo's only instructor and assistant on his missions. Over time, Remo's grudging respect for his little father grows, and Chuin is forced to admit that Remo isn't that bad for a white devil. By Slave Safari (book 12), Chuin is kvetching like the Jewish grandmothers he watches soap operas with, both to Remo and to anyone around who would listen to a wizened old master. In Dr. Quake, Murphy and Sapir are still putting the polish on Remo and Chuin's relationship. The begrudging respect on both parties is present, but the bickering that the two are known for has yet to fully appear. The satirical elements, however, are more developed.
Like many men's adventure series, The Destroyer takes inspiration from the headlines of its day. Murphy and Sapir mix the mad scientist's plot with the growing fears surrounding California's San Andreas Fault, with a dash of the mob and a swipe at women's liberation protesters. Police corruption and the concerns of migrant workers (back in the days before illegal immigration concerns) round out the evils afflicting the California town that Remo conducts his investigation. With a mix like this, it is impossible to avoid a political slant. While Murphy and Sapir take on all parties, there is a distinct rightward tilt to Remo's adventures. This series was politically incorrect before the term existed, and it is no surprise that The Destroyer is published independently these days. Chuin's raging case of Korean chauvinism is reason enough to keep it from an established publisher, and a lot of sacred cows get gored when the logical conclusions of the beliefs of certain groups are revealed to be ridiculous. (The most recent novel tackles Black Lives Matter and gun control.) And there is enough criminal stupidity taken from headlines and video clip shows to contrast with the masterminds.
With all the mayhem in action, satire, and wordplay, The Destroyer never loses its moral compass. The innocent victims of the various criminal schemes are always treated with compassion by the story, evil is always an action instead of a vague impersonal force of history or identity, criminals who have yet to kill are shown mercy, greed and evil are always shown to be corrosive to the wrongdoer, and evil is always avenged. Finally, Murphy and Sapir decided not to glamorize the violence in fighting. Remo and Chuin often kill with a single blow. Depictions of violence are unavoidable in a martial-arts based story. But The Destroyer refuses to revel in the inevitable gore. Descriptions of killing are quick and to the point, with more care to the description of how Remo approached the criminal instead of the effects of the blow. Little effort is spent on depicting technique either. This decision forced the authors to focus instead on satire, characterization, and wordplay, which created hooks that allowed readers to continue to enjoy the adventures of Remo and Chuin long after the duo proved to be unstoppable.
Dr. Quake is a decent but average adventure, overshadowed by The Chinese Puzzle and the excellent run of the second dozen novels. However, it is a brisk and enjoyable read, filling the vacuum of adventures caused by the decline of the pulps. It's escapist adventure done right, a perfect beach or airplane read. And Dr. Quake has one of the most memorable opening lines I've read since Monster Hunter International:
"Every man owes God a life. California owes Him a disaster, payable about twice a century."
For that alone, Dr. Quake earns a reread.