Nick Carter, Agent N3 for AXE is at it again in The Kali Death Cult. Sometimes when writing a blog of this sort, you come across a character who makes you believe you have bitten off more than you can chew. Nick Carter, from the Killmaster series of books is such a character.
With some 250+ books in the series, it is hard to know where to begin, and to know where Nick Carter began. Well Nick Carter didn’t start his life as the suave sophisticated killer, Agent N3. In fact he began his career as a sleuth in nickel and dime periodicals. Carter first appeared in 1886 (that’s not a misprint) as a protege to Seth Carter, a venerable sleuth in a series of adventures written by John Russell Coryell.
But Nick Carter really took off hen Frederick Marmaduke van Rensselaer Dey took over writing duties, and for seventeen years pumped out Nick Carter detective stories.
In The Classic Era of Crime Fiction (Prion Books 2002- page 60), Peter Haining had this to say:
Nick Carter appeared in stories in various formats and as a result was the only important dime novel hero to have survived the collapse of the form in the early twentieth century. Later he would return in his own pulp magazine to fight organised crime and more recently in paperback where he became a suave secret agent with a knack for seducing beautiful women.
That’s the Nick Carter I am interested in – the dashing secret agent. The Nick Carter novels were written by many novelists – some of them quite famous – but all of them hid under the name Nick Carter; almost as if the stories were autobiographical. It helped that the bulk of the stories were written in ‘first person’, although there was a brief period where they were written in ‘third person’.
Each story starts with a dedication:
Dedicated to the men of the Secret Services of the United States of America.
That spiel alone, has had Carter described as the American equivalent to James Bond. I always find those sort of comparisons, where a series attempts to ride on the coat tails of James Bond to be interesting. Carter, in another form, existed fifty years before Bond, so it is strange to suggest he is a Bond knockoff. But certainly, like a few pulp heroes, once the popularity of Bond was established, Carter was modified to tap into the new burgeoning spy market. Another to receive an update was Sexton Blake, and while Blake didn’t become a secret agent, and remained a detective, his adventures in the Sexton Blake library in the 1960s certainly became more Bondian.
But that is enough waffling on. The Kali Death Cult starts with Carter tracking down a politician, Clayton Ducharme who has been selling secrets to the Russians. When Nick finds Ducharme, he is in hospital for a minor procedure – and also about to pass on a valuable piece of microfilm to his Russian contact. Carter kills the contact and then confronts Ducharme, retrieving the film.
After completing the mission, Carter is debriefed by his superior, David Hawk who upon analysis of the microfilm, is worried that the Soviets are planning an incursion into Pakistan, via the Khyber Pass. Once the Soviets have conquered Pakistan, they intend to press on through India – the point being that the Soviets are keen to get a warm-water ocean port.
Carter’s mission is to go to Pakistan and gather evidence that the Soviets are building in strength along the border and planning an incursion. With that information, the Pakistani Government can be convinced that the threat is real and take measures to stop it. Currently they are sceptical.
So Carter heads to Pakistan, and guess what? The Soviets are already sending advance troops through the Khyber Pass. Now it is up to Nick Carter to stop them. But he can’t do it alone. He needs help, and finds it in the form of some villagers on the Pakistani side of the pass. However, men able to stand against the might of the Soviet war machine are few and far between in this part of the world, and when a guerrilla force wipes out the village, Carter finds himself having to look elsewhere.
Next, Carter attempts to enlist some rather unusual help. With the aid of Hindu girl, Ananda, and her brother, Dusai, he is led up high into the Hindu Kush to meet with The Old Man of the Mountain. The Old Man is considered a conduit to the Goddess Kali – and he is in charge of an enormous clan of Thuggees – a quarter of a million – who live in a city, hidden from the outside world inside a mountain.
Convincing the Old Man and the Thuggee cult to take up arms against the Soviets is no easy task, however, and Carter finds that he first has to prove himself worthy of their assistance. The first challenge is by combat, and Carter and Dusai find themselves fighting off a dozen Thuggs. The second challenge, and this will come as no surprise to regular Carter readers, is a trial by sex. Yes, sex! Yes, our hero, Nick Carter, has to make it with Ananda as a crowd of Thuggs watch on cheering and chanting Kali’s name. The question is, after the physically demanding rigours of the trial by combat – and at altitude – is Nick Carter up to the challenge?
As I have mentioned, the Carter novels are written by a multitude of different authors, and as such they have different tones. Randall Masteller at Spy Guys & Gals, on his informative Nick Carter page suggests that The Kali Death Cultis the 176th book in the series and was written by Robert E. Vardeman, who wrote eight books in the series. When reading Vardeman’s Carter, I hear (or picture) Carter as an older man – his dialogue almost reminds me of Powers Boothe as Phillip Marlowe in the 1980’s television series. Which I don’t actually mind, but I am guessing that is not how most people see the suave killing machine that is Nick Carter. At one point, as Carter escapes through a small crawl space, he even has to ‘suck in his gut’. So this incarnation of Killmaster Carter seems at bit older – and a bit wiser.
Picking on a Nick Carter novel because of its lack of imagination or artistic integrity is a waste of time. The Carter novels are what they are, and anyone who expects more is just mean spirited. And truth be told, I thoroughly enjoyed The Kali Death Cult. It’s a solid entry in the series, presenting all the requirements for a Carter adventure; violence and sex told at a brisk pace. Really, I don’t think you can ask for more than that.