UK publisher Sphere launched in 1966 and rose to prominence with the 1976 printing of “Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker” by Alan Dean Foster (as George Lucas). But, action-adventure readers know the publisher's work through the myriad of 'Conan' and 'The Executioner' releases. The publisher gained the rights to release Don Pendleton's Executioner series, beginning with “War Against the Mafia” in 1973. Losing the series to rival English publisher Corgi, the company emulated 'The Executioner' motif for a new series entitled 'The Revenger'.
The Revenger would run for 12 total books, the first ten written by Terry Harknett ('Adam Steele', 'Edge', 'Apache') and the last two by Angus Wells ('The Eagles', 'Jubal Cade'). The house name used by Sphere is Joseph Hedges. Later, Pyramid Books acquired the rights to reprint the books in the US but changed the series name to 'Stark' to avoid confusion with another The Revenger series written by Jon Messman.
“Funeral Rites” is the debut novel of the series and was released in the UK in 1974 with a printing in the US a year later. The book introduces us to the criminal John Stark, a prison inmate in England. He robbed an electronics company while being employed by a criminal organization called The Company. To keep Stark quiet behind bars, they promise to continue the heroin drop into Stark's lover Carol. The Company henchmen aid Stark in his escape from prison so he can continue to do jobs for them.
After these events transpire in chapter one...this book turns into a real turd.
Stark is brought to sea and reunited with his arch enemy Ryan. Oddly, Ryan provides Stark a bedroom and a nympho named Sheri. In my opinion, Stark loses credibility when he pounds away at Sheri while thinking of the love of his life, Carol. This just seems incredibly selfish, but considering the lack of depth in the book it makes sense the character is easily disliked. Shockingly, Ryan leaves Stark alone so he can set fire to the boat and escape with Sheri.
The author completely loses direction and focus and dedicates the next 100-pages to Stark sleeping, eating...and sleeping and eating. He goes on tangents about how Stark is ravished from hunger but there's no reason for it. He has money and there's food all over London! Ryan, being the book's villain, does nothing. Instead, the author has our antagonist thinking about his lover Jay and how he misses his vibrator. Ugh. In one astonishing, scene Ryan has a mistress flail him with a tree branch before “impaling” herself on him. It's absolutely bonkers.
Action? Well, there's a little here and there. In one wild scene we have Stark's Colt Python against the bad guy's Tommy – with Stark obviously the immortal hero. In a hilarious scene Stark accidentally elbows Jay, knocking him into a sink where he bleeds to death. To get answers to some question (I stopped following the senseless plot), he thrust Sheri's face into the wound while threatening to drown her in the gash if she doesn't tell the truth. Ridiculous.
I hated this book. And it isn't because the English spell “Pajamas” as “Pyjamas” or that they insult the good guys here by calling them a “Tinker's Cuss” (?). No, it isn't that. This character has absolutely no talent. Stark is a thief who was caught. End of story. There's nothing else to it. The Company wants to capture him, there's a bad guy named Ryan, a lover named Carol Burnett (!) and an effort on the author's part to bury 120+ pages in dialogue and trivial descriptions of tea cups and wall décor.
How this series lasted 12 entries is beyond me. Why Pyramid felt the need to reprint it, God only knows. For me, this series lasted one book.
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