“San Francisco: Kill or be Killed” (1976) is the third entry in 'The Vigilante' series by V.J. Santiago (really Robert Lory). What's interesting about this series is that each book is one week in the life of protagonist Joseph Madden. The debut, “New York: An Eye for an Eye”, was an emotional origin story that had Madden watching in horror as his wife was brutally murdered on a subway train. Later, attacked and left with a facial scar, the book focused on his recovery stage and the mental restraints lifting to become a nighttime vigilante. The close proximity Madden is to normalcy is astounding, but like a pulp character, he turns into a crime-fighter at night. It's this Jeckyl/Hyde sort of formula that propels the character and story. Otherwise, it's just a guy with a revolver shooting rapists.
After a second week of coping/avenging in book two's “Los Angeles: Detour to a Funeral”, this third novel begins week three. It's awe-inspiring that Madden has killed 23 bad guys in just two weeks. Western singer Corb Lund's gloomy lyric, “Work that shovel with vigor grave digger and dig grave digger dig” comes to mind when describing Madden's robust killing spree. While the author concentrates on Madden's night life, it also describes in detail his real job of engineering at a large firm. It's this assignment that brings him to San Francisco to interview an Asian prospect for his employer, which ultimately is just a reason to give this story an Asian spin by placing it in Chinatown.
The story-line here is that a group of ruffians are forcing merchants and shop keepers to pony up cash for the old protection racket. The gang is called the Scarlet Fist and Madden goes to work identifying the culprit, who the next target is and reestablishing a friendship with his old Army buddy from the Korean War. Where this book's mood and narrative changes in contrast with the first two novels is...sex. Lots of sex. In fact, there is shockingly an 8 ½ page section dedicated to Madden's pleasure with two massage therapists and their sexy boss Marie. But it doesn't stop there, continuing on with several different interludes to attend to Madden's desires (in which he also brings Marie to ecstasy seven times in one 20-minute romp!). I think these scenes, while not necessary, added a little more dynamic to this rather cold and calculating killer. The end result is another quality entry in this series.
Next stop is Chicago...because all vigilante series' visit the Windy City at least once.
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