Friday, March 2, 2018

Book Review: Captain Blood

Book Review: 'Captain Blood' by Michael Blodgett

4 / 5 Stars

There's no better way to kick off 'California Crazies' month here at the PorPor Books Blog than to review what likely is the most deranged such novel in the genre: Michael Blodgett's Captain Blood.

This book has a complicated publishing history. Blodgett finished his manuscript in 1977, but its pornographic and splatterpunk content deterred many publishers from accepting the manuscript. Not until 1979 did Blodgett find a small press publisher, Stone Hill Publishing Co., willing to release a hardcover edition. 

A glowing blurb from Mario Puzo gave the novel enough attention to persuade Harmony Books to release a trade paperback version in 1982.

In March, 1986 Bantam Books released this mass market paperback version (358 pp). Blodgett made minor changes to this mass market edition (such as substituting a song that the lead character overhears from Queen’s ‘We Are the Champions’, to Madonna's song ‘Like A Virgin’).

While used copies of the trade paperback (below) remain affordably priced, both the hardbound and Bantam versions are long out of print and fetch steeper prices.

Michael Blodgett (1939 - 2007) was an interesting individual. Born in Minneapolis, in the 60s he moved to California to pursue an acting career, which led to a breakout role as the gigolo Lance Rocke in the 1970 film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Blodgett regularly appeared in supporting roles in TV throughout the 70s, during which time he also took up writing novels and screenplays. Along with Captain Blood, his other two novels are Hero and the Terror (1982) and The White Raven (1986). 

In the 80s, his screenplays formed the basis for the films Rent A Cop (1987) and Turner and Hooch (1989). 

Blodgett died at age 68 of an apparent heart attack.

'Captain Blood' is set in Southern California in the mid-80s. The titular hero (or antihero, if you prefer) is a clean-cut young man who manages an apartment complex. Named by his brilliant, eccentric physician father for the lead character from the novel by Rafael Sabatini, Captain Blood’s outward normality conceals the fact that he mentally ill. Paranoid schizophrenia, mania, obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcoholism, psychopathic tendencies....... you name it, Captain Blood suffers from it.

The opening chapters of the novel are plodding, as Captain decides to take one of his tenants, a middle-aged Jewish lady, out to his favorite fern bars where they commingle with the oddball Southern California personalities haunting said fern bars. There is a lot of dialogue, as well as inner monologue segments designed to apprise the reader of Captain Blood's erratic personality. 

Blodgett does insert a flashback sequence that touches on racial violence, and gives the narrative enough of a push to keep the reader moderately engaged.

At its midpoint, ‘Captain Blood’ transitions locales to a beachfront condo and introduces Captain’s lubricious sister Iris, and (in keeping with the idea that you can't have too many crazies in Southern California) Iris's psychotic lesbian lover Datchel. The pornographic and splatterpunk content kick into much higher gear. 

The plot then transitions into its ‘revenge’ component, as Captain is informed of a rebellious teen-aged girl who is in the grip of drug addiction, and prostituted by group of down and dirty Inland residents. 

The final third of the novel is the best, as Captain’s increasingly unhinged pursuit of the drug pushers brings out his lust for vigilante violence. The closing chapters offer genuine suspense, and a denouement that avoids contrivance.

The verdict ? For a first novel, ‘Captain Blood’ has its faults, but it does succeed in conveying a clear, and in many ways weirdly affectionate, portrayal of early-80s Southern California and its more crazed inhabitants. 

Blodgett regularly suspends his narrative to offer quasi-cinematic sequences that describe the often smogbound, but sometimes idyllic, landscape of the Southern California, as if to say that for all its craziness, there is no better place to be on a clear and sunny spring morning.

'Captain Blood' also stands as a definitive work of proto-splatterpunk, in many ways eclipsing many – if not all - of the novels referenced as touchstones of the genre in Paul M. Sammons’s 1991 anthology Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror.

If 'extreme' craziness literature appeals to you, then picking up a copy of ‘Captain Blood’ can be worthwhile.

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