|Francis Xavier Killy
(creator: Simon Quinn)
|Francis Xavier Killy is an Irish American lay brother of the Militia Christi, a tertiary branch of the Dominicans, working for the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Rome. Unmarried, and unbound by vows of celibacy, he is tough, aggressive, and violent, although "he avoided killing people if possible." When we first meet him, he is aged 32 and had been an Inquisitor for some five years. He is "a big man with very dark hair and wide cheekbones, brow and jaw, a man who might have appeared menacing if his skin hadn't been fair, nearly girlish." Appearances were deceiving ....
Born in 1938, he had been the last of the six children of a sergeant in the Boston Police Department. He'd been considered by the priests who taught him as "unruly and uncooperative, of poor academic potential". After throwing a chair at a priest, and being thrown out of school, he had enlisted in the US Army, being later transferred to Army Intelligence in Berlin.
Demobilised as lieutenant, second grade, he graduated cum laude at Harvard University in International Affairs (he was going to have a lot of these!) and Languages. In 1961 he joined the Central Intelligence Agency where personality tests described him as "aggressive, enquiring, suspicious. Reacts best under stress, prefers to operate alone. Demands strong father-control figure but will challenge figure. Perfectionist with self; very high pain threshold .... Catholic, inactive." It was agreed that "This operative will (only) serve fifteen days penance if in the course of operation he causes the death of another man. For his own death he will receive a free burial".
HIs one "failure", as far as the CIA were concerned, ended in Saigon "when he broke into files and found agency planes (Air America) were helping Kuomintang fly processed opium to dealers in return for anti-Communist support." It was this that made Killy abandon his agency ties. He went on to use his wartime skills, including his ability to fly a host of different warplanes, in his new role as the only American Inquisitor serving the Holy Office.
Simon Quinn (better known as: Martin Cruz Smith,1942 - ) began by writing novels using various pseudonyms, including that of Simon Quinn, before going on to become a best selling novelist (the well-known Gorky Park is one of his books) using his real name, to which he had added Cruz to avoid confusion with similarly named writers. He has since said that he'd like to disassociate himself from his earlier formula books, including the Quinn ones.
So Killy is sent to work undercover at a War College in Kansas which aims to teach foreign officers the most effective ways to kill their enemies, but unfortunately four of their recent graduates have recently gone crazy and tried to kill their own leaders. it is not long before Killy is wondering about General Pew, the new Director of Allied personnel at the school, and Pew does not trust him either. As he tells another officer, "I want that son of a bitch dead. Understood?" It is not long before Killy is having to jump from a helicopter and then be pursued by four fast-firing tanks. It all gets quite exciting, as do his subsequent sexual exploits with the glamorous Marie, who "unbuckled his belt and slid her hands inside, feeling his size as she kissed his mouth." It's that sort of book. But is she to be trusted?
Killy soon finds that he is not only a prisoner and the subject of a strange medical treatment that uses injections to make him experience "a temporary deadening of the lower brain stem". As a leading scientist tells him, "I don't want to destroy your brain, only use it." He is taught to shoot at the image of a face, moving from pain to soothing pleasure each time he did so. "Ten times, twenty times, a hundred times. When the lights went back on, they had to peel the gun from his hands. 'I got him, didn't I?' Killy asked eagerly." It wasn't until later that he realised that, over and over, he had shot the Pope." Oh, dear! But he had passed the test. Next he has to escape from attacking warplanes in what was meant to be a pilotless drone. You can't complain that there is any lack of action.
Later on, Monsignor Cella has to test out how thoroughly he had been deprogrammed, and does this by giving him a loaded automatic pistol and an opportunity to shoot the (real) Pope, an opportunity which he does not take. "I guess I passed," Kelly said. "But you had faith in me, that's the important thing." Then "the two men looked at each other evenly and then Cella shrugged and drew out the hand he had been keeping in his cassock. In it was a Beretta."
Then it's off to Moscow and Peking and murderous attempts on his life by the KGB, involving more sexy young girls, whom by now Killy should really have learnt to treat with more suspicion. But Killy, we are told, is no common killer as he "dares to hesitate before he kills", as befits a servant of the Holy Office. It is a totally absurd story (at least I hope it is) but it is fast moving, short, and, it must be admitted quite fun to read, as it is all told in a racy, entertaining style. Even if it is a load of nonsense!
The Last Time I Saw Hell (1974)
The questions are, of course, all answered in the unlikely tale that follows, which, like its predecessor, is full of shootings, explosions, dead bodies, sexual violence (even including a scene involving a very sexually active hermaphrodite) and drugs - with Killy himself emerging unscathed at the end of it all, and the arch enemy, a power mad ex-priest about to seize the French government, ending up in what Killy has rigged up to make his prisoner think must be hell. But then, the ex-priest had always been "obsessed with religion".
As usual, there is plenty of action, with Killy struggling to avoid drowning in a Paris sewer, and trying to avoid being shot in a 120 mph chase around the city. And the enigmatic Monsignor Cella, the Head Inquisitor, who is always busy manipulating things in the background, turns out to have been an Italian partisan during the war - and that is why he had sent Killy off on a hunt to discover the priest who had betrayed them to the Germans. It makes a slightly more coherent plot than that of the first book - although Killy should realise by now that when a glamorous girl seems so eager to make love to him, she is likely to have some other motive, e.g. to shoot him. But, as Killy eventually tells Chella, "All I'm doing is getting people killed. That is not my idea of success." But it all makes a very easy read.
Nuplex Red (1974)
It all turns out to be a dastardly plot to capture a nuclear power plant and hold the American government to ransom, but there is so much technical explanation about how the plant works, and the likely consequences of a nuclear explosion, that what was obviously intended as a highly exciting story ends up by getting distinctly tedious, with just about everybody (except Killy, of course) getting killed. There is never any sign of humanity or concern for the dead. As usual, it is a totally amoral tale.
Killy is pretending to be "Brother Franco Roti, Apostolic Observer to the International agency for Atomic Energy", which is about as convincing as his suddenly acquired detailed knowledge of nuclear physics. But it's reassuring to learn that even a few minutes from apparent total destruction, he still has time for sex. And the villain, John Peay in charge of security, is equally unconvincing - despite an over-long flashback involving him and Killy when they had first met when working for the CIA in Thailand.
We are also told how Killy had first met Monsignor Cella, who had started by questioning him about his past. "What is this, the Inquisition?' Killy had demanded.
Nuplex Red turns out to be the name for "the alarm for any situation at a nuclear power facility, military or civilian, that can significantly affect national security or public safety". But the crooks have so rigged it that setting off the alarm would also detonate a nuclear explosion, so, in the end, Killy only has a few minutes in which to manually override the bomb mechanism.
Then, right at the end, the badly injured Killy catches up with the villain and shoots him dead. "Well I've been a sick man," Killy apologised. He thought it over for a second. "But I'm getting better." Not so these books. This one is by far the feeblest so far.
His Eminence, Death (1974)
Killy is 36 now, and has had eight months in which to recover from his previous injuries. He had broken into his medical file in the Holy Office and read that "The subject exhibits a need for physical activity and sexual contact even above his previous rates, as if danger and sex were the only stimulants powerful enough to warm the cold grip of death. It is questioned whether the subject, in this mental state, is not too dangerous to himself and to the Office to be a controlled operative." Well, he never had been very controlled.
His mission this time is to protect a schizophrenic black cardinal from assassination. The arch villain is the sinister, notorious and supposedly dead, one-armed one-eyed Colonel Klein who finally involves Killy in a battle at sea (gunboat versus tri-hull racer), and a desperate chase and shoot-out as two Mercedes cars hurtle over the countryside. And, as usual, sex with a beautiful girl ends up with her trying to murder him, but this time with the aid of an 8 foot snake that curls itself around him in the bath. After he has disposed of this, he even has the presence of mind to milk the snake of its venom and preserve it in case it should come in handy.
Luckily Killy proves himself again to be a crack shot as well as an expert swordsman, and, as you would expect, survives to fight another day.The story is again full of violence, including the remorseless shedding of human life, and some scenes are very unpleasant to read, as when first an eye, then severed feet, then a tongue and finally a torso are discovered in the bedroom of the African Cardinal.
However, it is a real improvement on the previous book and manages at times to be quite entertaining.
The Midas Coffin (1975)
It begins with Francis Xavier Killy objecting to the way that Monsignor Cella is concealing facts from him and walking out on him, determined to give up his role as Inquisitor. Cella soon offers him a paid sabbatical - but he still finds himself endangering his life in a series of extraordinary and highly improbable exploits. By a series of amazing coincidences he not only soon spots the missing bishop in Zurich, but bumps into Carlin, an English ex-agent with whom he had worked a dozen years before, who has since become a billionaire and wants to enlist his help in hijacking forty million dollars' worth of Russian gold. Carlin is accompanied by Marya, a sexually inexperienced Russian masseuse whom Killy introduces to the art of love-making - at the usual risk to his own life.
At one stage Killy takes Marya to the cinema where, within the first ten minutes, they "were engulfed in the Technicolor, widescreen representation of murders by car, shot gun and strangulation .... The movie lasted another 80 minutes, 12 corpses, five beatings, two flashes of nudity. The hero kissed and killed, unscathed by bullets, untouched by emotion." Just like Killy in fact - surely an in-joke on the part of the author.
The ever-resourceful Killy, despite being shot and left for dead, is, of course, bound to survive to fight another day, and so this does not make for real excitement. Even so there is one incident when he is apparently locked into a steel chest when his life really does seem in danger and tension mounts. There are also moments of welcome humor too as various treacherous opponents find themselves totally outwitted and put firmly into their place.
Last Rites for the Vulture (1975)
The action sequences are nothing if not lively, and are helped along by some amusing dialogue, as when a doctor's receptionist tells Kelly, "Don't be so holy with me. I know what's inside your pants. The first lady I ever had was a priest. I've has some a little more recent, too. I could tell you a lot."
It is Alexandra who tells Killy, "Money is all these people care about, and the more they have of it the more they care. Money is marvelous. But the love of money is the root of all boredom." Then when Killy joins Alexandra on a yacht belonging to a Dallas realtor, and discovered who else was there , he decides that the true criterion for being allowed on board "was being stupid, drunk, crass, or desperate enough to be stuffed into a boat full of overweight, over-jeweled, and over-lubricated bores. He put himself down as stupid."
Even though this makes quite an entertaining story, you can't escape a feeling that once you've read one of these books, you've read them all. The author must have churned them out, what with the first four all appearing in the same year, and the next two in the subsequent year. And you can understand why, as an established novelist, he no longer wishes to be associated with them. Yet they sometimes had a certain verve and wild invention which suggest that better things were to come.
|The first and last books in the series are nothing if not colorful, with The Inquisitor writ large on each. The photographs do not necessarily have much, if any, connection with the text!|