The Destroyer: The Head Men

Author: Richard Sapir & Warren Murphy
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Published: 1977
Book No: 31

I remember when the Destroyer movie came out in the mid 1980’s. I was very excited about it. That wasn’t because I was a fan of the Destroyer books – and in fact, The Head Man, which I am reviewing here, is the first book in the series that I have read. But in ’80s, in a time before the internet with millions of facts, press-releases and opinions available about any subject; information on upcoming films was pretty much the domain of magazines and newspapers. And if the mags and papers got it wrong, or were slightly misleading, the lie or deception could be accepted as fact.

In America, after the film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins tanked at the box office (well at least didn’t perform to expectations), it was released in Australia as Remo: Unarmed and Dangerous, and what attracted me to the movie, was that it was touted as a new film series from the makers of the James Bond. Notice the word ‘makers’. Not ‘producers’. So Remo was not an EON production (the production company behind Bond), but it was very heavily implied that it was. Therefore the film was suggested to be a wild laugh-filled action-stunt fest – in the Bond tradition. So that is why I was excited about the Destroyer movie – it was a surrogate Bond movie.

The reality is that it was directed by Guy Hamilton, who directed Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun. And it was written for the screen by Christopher Wood who had scribed The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. So the Bond ‘maker’ claims are true, but stretched to imply the whole production team was behind the intended Remo franchise, which was not the case.

Whether that was some deliberate misinformation by a marketeer or some clumsy reportage in a magazine or newspaper is probably lost to the sands of time now. Ultimately though, it is not important. Remo didn’t do well and a series was never launched.

However the film wasn’t all bad. In fact it was rather enjoyable in its way, and I have watched it a few times in the passing years – the latest being only a few weeks ago. It still holds up okay except for some annoyingly ’80s music.

As I said at the top though, I had never read a Destroyer novel, and upon watching it again and enjoying the interaction between Remo Williams (Fred Ward) and his Korean master, Chiun (Joel Grey), I wondered if what was presented up the screen was an accurate reflection of the characters or a liberty taken by Hollywood. There was only one way to find out and that was to read some Destroyer novels.

From my local second hand bookshop, the oldest entry in the series I could find was The Head Men, which was No. 31 in the series, and published in 1977 – about eight years before the film. And I am pleased to say that the repartee between Remo and Chiun is as colourful as the film.

This story is rather simple. An unknown group (or person) makes a death threat against the President of the United States. Of course, the President receives many death threats, but most of them are cranks. But what gives weight to this threat is that a man named Walgreen, who used to work for the Secret Service is killed by the same people making the threat against the President. And Walgreen was given advanced warning and went into hiding with the aid of a specialist security company called Paldor. Paldor’s security measures are even more comprehensive than those employed on the President, and therefore Walgreen’s assassination is a powerful message.

Chiun, the reigning master of the ancient and deadly martial art of Sinanju, and his pupil Remo Willians are assigned by Dr. Harold W. Smith, the leader of CURE (an ultra secret – illegal – law enforcement agency) to protect the President from the threat.

The thing I didn’t expect from the book was the large amount of cynical black comedy. The villain is a leering crippled dwarf who spends most of his time on a mechanical platform that raises and lowers so he can look down on people. The heroine of the piece is a ditzy, busty blonde named Viola Poombs, who used to work in a massage parlour, but after allowing herself to be seduced by a Senator is now an investigator for the House Committee on Assassination Conspiracies and Attempts.

At one point she says, “I am an employee of the federal government of the United States of America and I would only take off my clothes only upon a direct order of a duly elected representative of the America people.” The Poombs character would upset most feminists, (or anybody who craves flesh and blood characters in their stories and not simply cardboard stereotypes) and she has no purpose in the story apart from being a source of scorn and ridicule (behind her back), and to be leered at by the majority of male characters in the story.

As a comedy, The Head Men almost works (with the exception of the aforementioned blatant sexism). But as an action adventure novel, and this disappointed me, it fails rather miserably. There are only two real passages of action in the whole book. One, when Remo rips into a car after some assassins have attempted to kill him and Chiun. And of course at the climax, which I won’t spoil. The rest of the time is devoted to our two heroes bickering – which while presenting a modicum of amusement, does become tedious after about 100 pages.

As an introduction to the Destroyer (in written form), I found The Head Men to be rather disappointing, expecting a somewhat more physical adventure. But what I failed to mention earlier was that while I was in that second hand book shop I also managed to snap up another Destroyer book from 2003, which appears to be quite different in style. I’ll have a review up on the site soon.

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