By the time the 1970s rolled around, the quality of output from the Fawcett Gold Medal paperback imprint had decreased noticeably. The publisher that practically invented the paperback original was getting its clock cleaned by upstart violent adventure houses like Pinnacle Books anchored by series titles including ‘The Executioner’ by Don Pendleton. Fawcett Gold Medal needed to change with the times or disappear into obscurity.
Enter Basil Heatter.
During this life, Heater wrote 20 suspense and adventure novels - many with maritime themes, including the successful “Virgin Cay” for Fawcett Gold Medal in 1963. However, a decade later when the demands of the market called for bloody paperback vengeance, Heatter delivered his publisher “The Scarred Man.” It’s a violent and shocking revenge story about a mild-mannered attorney forced to hunt and kill the motorcycle punks who raped his wife, and it’s a successful entry in the vengeance genre.
William Shaw is a Manhattan corporate lawyer who is given some vacation time after a client prevails in a $40 million dispute. William and his wife head down to Florida, purchase an old wooden boat, and begin the repairs needed to sail to the Bahamas together. Through William’s first-person narration, Heatter does a great job conveying to the reader just how much William loves Stacey. She is everything to him.
One day they take a break from sanding, patching, and painting their boat and rent a Honda motorcycle to cruise through the Everglades of South Florida. William is in heaven riding with Stacey behind him, her arms wrapped around his torso. Out of nowhere, they are forced off the road by three motorcycle punks looking for kicks as they beat William’s body and face with a chain. As he’s fading into unconsciousness, William sees the naked ass of a leather-clad ruffian lowering himself onto Stacey while she is being restrained by the other thugs.
William awakens in the hospital (this is still the very beginning of the paperback) to find his face has been mutilated from the attack. He’ll be left with a nasty scar that will also provide the basis for the novel’s title. Stacey has also survived the attack - sedated and severely traumatized from the sexual assault. Unfortunately, neither William nor Stacey recall enough descriptive details to be useful to the police in identifying the attackers. It’s just another unsolved violent crime for the books.
Because this is a 1973 men’s adventure paperback written in the wake of “Death Wish”’ and “The Executioner,” it comes as no surprise to the reader that William decides to hunt and kill the barbarians on bikes who scarred his face and shattered his bride. William’s plan for infiltrating the biker gang subculture is pretty clever, and I won’t spoil it here. The bulk of the novel consists of the investigative steps undertaken by William to locate and get close to his wife’s assailants. As you might expect, neither motorcycle nor hippie youth culture get a particularly fair shake in the story, but this is a vendetta paperback, not a sociology textbook. You get what you pay for, and there’s no shortage of scenes featuring explosive violence.
I have no idea if “The Scarred Man” was a commercial success for Fawcett Gold Medal. I suspect that if it sold well, we would have seen “Scarred Man 2: Mississippi Mayhem”, but no such sequel exists. The stand-alone novel is better written than most entries in the 1970s vigilante genre and, at moments, packs a real adrenaline punch for the reader. Some of the dialogue with bikers and hippies was a bit cartoonish and stereotypical, but that’s par for the course in this genre. Because the novel is out-of-print, you’ll need to find yourself a copy on the used paperback market where it remains available at fairly reasonable prices. If violent revenge fantasies are your thing, “The Scarred Man” is certainly satisfying reading. Recommended.
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