Friday, May 25, 2018


Life still sucks royally for poor Kelly Green. This time around, she's called upon to deliver a payoff from an oil company to a former executive who has embezzled five million dollars from them with the promise to reveal to the world how he did it, thus allowing further such thefts in the future. The premise alone is... weird. The embezzler, Gus Arakian, is an old friend of Kelly's pal Spats, and Spats explains that, yeah -- the guy got away with $5 million, but it was earned more or less legitimately, and will thus not be as respected in the underworld compared with money stolen in a more direct manner. Thus our enterprising villain attempts to ransom an additional million, which is somehow more criminally respectable.

Now I don't know how these things work. I'm not a criminal. But it seems to me that stealing is stealing. You still have millions of dollars that don't belong to you, after all! But I guess the idea that this guy put in years as a loyal employee just to embezzle a few million bucks makes him look like a chump to his fellow crooks -- though the fact that he only wants one additional million after all that makes him look like a chump to me (and to Kelly as well)!

But regardless, that's our premise. And unlike the last story, which was set entirely in New York state, this one sees Kelly traveling once more as in her debut appearance. This time she heads to Oklahoma to meet with the Tyree family, Arakian's former employers. Instructions from Arakian tell her to go from there to Alaska, but she makes a stopover with her friend Jimmy DeLocke in Seattle, where she trades the ransom -- a million dollars in bearer bonds -- to a shady businessman for several valuable coins worth the same amount. Jimmy provides her with forged bonds to act as a decoy ransom, while Kelly wears the coins on her wrist as a bracelet.

This part of the story, I like. The plan by Jimmy and Spats to create a fake ransom for anyone looking to steal it from Kelly is pretty cool -- and presumably Spats knows his old acquaintance Arakian well enough to realize that he won't balk at being given a bunch of change for his hard work instead of something more physically substantial.

So -- in Oklahoma, Kelly bumps into a handsome cowboy who winds up arriving in Alaska not long after her -- and who turns out to be a United States senator named Judson Packers. But a pair of hit men working for the Tyrees have followed Kelly to Alaska as well, planning to use her as bait to lure out Arakian and then kill him. After checking into her hotel, Kelly is drugged and her room searched by a mysterious individual, but both her fake bonds (hidden on the bottom of her makeup bag) and the coin bracelet go undiscovered.

It all sounds pretty good so far, right? Lots of travel, a double-cross or two, some mystery, and so forth. But the next morning, when Kelly checks out and climbs aboard a "puddle jumper" for the final leg of her flight into Alaska, the entire story goes irrevocably and irredeemably into "torture porn" territory.

Aboard the plane with Kelly are Inuit pilor Meko, Senator Packers, and a couple of elderly tourists, the Hungerfords. It'll probably come as little surprise that the plane crashes when a freak storm blows in. Mister Hungerford dies on impact and the group buries him, then uses the plane's husk as shelter for a couple of weeks (!) during which they struggle to survive in the bleak, freezing Alaskan wilderness. I've never been a huge fan of this sort of survival story when presented honestly. I don't mind reading about Cyclops, Storm, and Professor X stranded in Antarctica because they're super heroes and their predicament will be presented as appropriately optimistic. But this story goes hard into "true life" territory, really selling the bleakness of the situation and even featuring one of our stranded quartet digging up Mister Hungerford's corpse and resorting to cannibalism to survive. (Don't worry, it's not Kelly... but no matter who it is, this isn't something I want to read about!)

Eventually, the two hitmen -- who the Tyrees won't allow to come home until they've completed their mission -- take a helicopter out into the wilderness to find Kelly. But first they come across an isolated cabin, which Kelly herself stumbles onto not long after while out exploring. She's punched in the face and tortured via flogging before she eventually manages to slip free and throw a pot of boiling water in one hit man's face. Kelly escapes outside, nearly gets eaten by a bear, and is finally found by a rescue crew that's also located the rest of her group.

Again, this stuff isn't exactly fun for me to read. Seeing poor Kelly with a shiner as she's tied down to a bed and whipped for information isn't my idea of a good time. And this isn't some old-fashioned sexist idea either -- it's not just because she's a woman. I'm equally uncomfortable with male characters getting beat up and tortured. Maybe super heroes are just too ingrained into me, but I like my protagonists to remain pristine and unblemished for the duration of a story. Some physical harm will come their way, of course, but they generally should come out of things looking basically like they did going in, the occasional torn outfit or mussed hair notwithstanding.

But Kelly winds up getting discharged from the hospital in the story's final pages, a bandage over her blackened eye as Senator Packers picks her up. She never makes her meeting with Arakian, and I won't spoil here what happens to the payoff since it's part of the story's minor mystery element -- but I will spoil the fact that in the book's last scene, Packers reveals that he wound up in Alaska as part of a crusade against the Tyree family, who have mob connections (hence the hitmen, who actually work for the mob). And on the final page, as Packers fills his car with gas while Kelly waits inside, he's shot between the eyes -- assassinated to die in Kelly's arms, piling yet another tragic moment onto her already depressing life.

Look, I understand that "hard-boiled" fiction is a thing, and I get the appeal -- I've read some of it myself over the years. But like I said, I don't go in for the super-realistic type of hard-boiled that Starr and Drake seem so keen on here. I like at least a little bit of the fantastical in even the most grounded story -- so for me, some of this stuff is just a bridge too far, and the ending is a complete downer in a way neither of the previous stories were. I'm sure this type of writing has its fans, but I'm just not one of them. That said, the first two Kelly Greens, dark though they could be, entertained me in various ways. And, like I noted above, even this one is pretty good up to the plane crash. It's just from that point that it becomes hard to read.

So hopefully this is as dark as Starr and Drake are willing to go with Kelly. I guess we'll find out next week whether or not THE MILLION DOLLAR HIT can be written off as an aberration.

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