Bloody Vengeance by Jack Ehrlich (1973)
I know very little about Jack ehrlich. He was born in 1930 in Colorado; if still living he would be 90 years old. Ehrlich wrote a number of paperback westerns and crime novels, including The Drowning, which was nomiated for an Edgar Award as Best Paperback original in 1971.
When Bill Crider reviewed this book in 2017, he wrote, "...I don't know if Ehrlich was serious in this book or if it was a parody of the series like The Executioner. Euther way, reading it is quite an experience." Bill also added, "There are a couple of ways you could take this book,...but whichever one you choose, I think you'll agree that the book is very well done and pretty dang scary."
For myself, I found the book an uncomfortable read. It took me a long time to get through it and I almost gave up a couple of times. Bill was right; the book is well done and scary. Reading the book made me feel that I was reading fan fiction by Eugene McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon, Dick Cheney, or Donald Trump -- or perhaps a hellish combination of these sterling gentlemen. (From that list, I'm being facetious about Trump; every knows he is incapable of reading a book.) The book reads like an ultra-right wing paean to the Michigan Militia.
Lt. Rob Royce is a fifteen year veteran of a small city police department. He answered a call about a body found by the highway -- Mary Gunner, had been horribly mutilated but somehow still alive for a few moments after Royce had arrived at the scene -- a "mass of breathing meat and bone was no longer human." The clues led him to arrest Harry Jako, a violent sado-masochist who lived near the vicitm. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Jako was guilty, but that did not stop a clever lawyer from getting him off. Leaving the courtroom, Jako whispered to Royce, "She wasn't the first, and you can bet she won't be the last." Fed up with lenient courts and a system that seemed to negate much of what he and other officers do, Royce killed Jako and he and his partner disposed of the body.
Not long afterwards, Royce's partner, Willis, murdered a wife-killer whom the grand jury failed to convict. If justice was missing, perhaps Royce, Willis, and others should be dispensing it.
A group known as the Pillow Case Gang was terrorizing a neighborhood in the city. The cops know who each member was but never had enough evidence to bring them to trial. Now Royce and others, including the beat cop where the gang operated. spent a few days busting the skulls of every gang member. The gang cleared out and the neighborhood was a little safer. Word of Royce's activites had gotten around and he was called before the police commissioner, who, surprisingly, approved of Royce's actions. He gave Royce his personal list of felons he did want to see in the city again.
And so it began. Royce built up a small cadre of trusted cops to wreak vengeance on the criminal element. However, the criminal element is a term loosely defined. It included draft protesters, long-haired hippies, pot smokers. and just about anyone who did not meet the groups rigid standard of social purity. Royce organized and formed the IPBS -- the International Police Benevolent Society -- obstensively to support police officers.
Soon, the city's crime stats dropped by 84%, while other city's crime stats rose 20%. This large a change did not go unnoticed. Royce got a call to meet with the director of the FBI, who also tacitly approved what he was doing. A "tough on crime" billionaire funded Royce's group. The IPBS membership soon grew nationally and internationally and began operating beyond Royce's city. Royce and his men brutally stopped a college protest. When a KKK leader was acquited of of hanging and castrating a black protester, Royce led his men south for tit for tat, with Royce personally castrating the culprit. Royce's campaign was supported by the leaders of most federal and state agencies, by large business mogols, by high-ranking officers in the military, and by the president of the United States. It was this last who sent Royce to England to assassinate a young protester who had fled America.
Royce did not really like what he had become. His goal was to dispense justice until the laws and courts reflected "common sense," then he would withdraw. The book concludes with a bloodbath during a ceremony naming Royce as the American of the year.
One of the reasons why I found this book uncomfortable is because we live in the age of Trump. In a divided country, there is a too-real chance that America could devolved into a country without rights. In Bloody Vengeance nearly all the leaders (and most of the populace) is in favor of vigilante justice. One exception in the novel is a newspaper columnist, three of whose columns appear in the text, but even he is glossed over. As a country we have been divided before, often for the political benefit of one politician or another, but today we are entering a whole new territory.
I don't mind books and movies about vigilantes doling out their version of rough justice. I'm a big fan of Mickey Spillane and some of the men's adventure heroes. But those are fantasies. Wishful thinking, like wanting that damn fool driver who cut you off to have an accident. Fantasies are not reality. Today the prospect of a vigilante society really scares me.
Bill Crider was right. The book is very well-written and it drew me -- unwillingly -- to the last page. It revealed a scary dystopian possible future. I don't know if I am glad I read Bloody Vengeance, or not.
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