Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Coven - Carter Brown

She put her drink down, then came up onto her feet without hurrying. There was a brief hiatus while she unbuttoned the belt tied tight around her waist, then she slid the black silk robe down over her creamy shoulders and let it drop to the floor. Underneath she was only wearing bikini-sized white silk briefs that straddled the curves of her hips tighter than a second skin. I watched, fascinated, as she cupped the taut swell of her breasts in both hands and lifted them slightly, so their swollen tips pointed directly at me. 

Signet - April !971 - Cover by Robert McGinnis
The Coven sports a cover by Robert McGinnis that probably deserved a slightly better novel to go with it. I'm not saying it's a bad novel, because it isn't. It is a fast, entertaining romp about a group of "hippies" with too much money and too much time on their hands who turn to satanic rituals to get their kicks. But it leaves you with that feeling you might have after consuming a can of Pringles by yourself. Pizza flavored Pringles at that.

Rick Holman is a sort of Hollywood private dick, or fixer, or something of that nature, who is hired by an affected British actor named Hector Mulvane. Hector is married to a young and hot little twist named Brenda, who does things like answer the door in a bikini while sipping a martini. Mulvane wants Holman to find out what his two rotten offspring, Kirk and Amanda, are up to. Kirk and Amanda are the sort of Hollywood brats who like making trouble and getting attention. Hector Mulvane is worried that his two kooky kids are running around California cooking up some sort of scandal that'll sully his upcoming knighthood. Amanda has let a number of photos get around showing her in the buff while performing a pseudo-satanic-witchcraft ceremony. Hector thinks her brother Kirk is somehow behind the photos. Kirk is a headcase who has a history of drugs and violence behind him. Kirk was also Brenda's boyfriend before she dumped him to marry Hector. It's all quite sordid, don't you know...

Brenda suggests that Holman look up Amanda's pal Marie Pilgrim. Marie is one of those loopy sexpot starlet wannabes who run around Hollywood with Kirk and Amanda. Holman pays a visit to Marie and finds Kirk hanging around her pad smoking joints and playing the sullen and troubled lothario bit, which includes slapping chicks when they make with the whining. Kirk claims he has no idea where his sister Amanda could be, but he'll do Holman a favor and go find her. He splits, leaving Holman and Marie alone long enough to banter with each other (and the reader) into fits of sexual desire before agreeing to go look for Amanda together.

They all end up in a town named San Lopar, where they meet a foppish eccentric named Pete Cronin. Pete and the gang were all pals at one point. Now Pete takes to hanging out in his weird mansion painting disturbing pictures of death and violence. Pictures so dark and depraved that he refuses to show them to just anyone, but only to people he deems worthy of appreciating his perverse talent. Also in the mix is a beach-bum pothead named Ed Koncius. Ed hangs out in his beach-pad, in a slack-jawed stupor thanks to the copious amounts of pot he consumes. Ed also had a thing going with our twisted brujita, Amanda Mulvane...Remember, Amanda Mulvane and her tarty little pics that started this whole thing?

Well, before you know it, Holman is rapped on the noggin and awakes to witness a satanic ritual featuring red-robed participants and one naked Marie Pilgrim splayed out on an altar surrounded by black candles. It's all too fuzzy for Holman, because he's been drugged and then blindfolded before the ceremony ends. The next morning, a woozy Holman and Marie Pilgrim awake to find that someone has slit Ed Koncius's throat. For Marie, it's a sickening reminder of another ceremony that went bad, leaving a young chick named Shirley Rillman, naked and dead on the beach thanks to a slit throat. Who killed Ed, who killed Shirley Rillman, and where are Kirk and Amanda?

Ah, it's hippies, it's drugs, it's satanic rituals and murder! All the things that sent Ma and Pa Jones into apoplectic fits of fear and loathing back in the late 60's.

Carter Brown's novels are kind of a gas. I've only read a few but I've enjoyed them just fine. I'm sure you will be seeing more of them here in the future.

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