Friday, March 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Bronson - Street Vigilante: Streets of Blood

As can be read in my review of the first BRONSON book, BLIND RAGE, I was somewhat disappointed with the first of this weird, unconnected, three-book series. I found BLIND RAGE to possess a main character who was not only unsympathetic, but downright loathsome, and there were tones of strong racism and homophobia that went beyond mere character PoV.

However, I knew that Len Levinson - a veteran writer of more than 80 books under countless pen names - wrote STREETS OF BLOOD, and so I gave this second volume a try. None of the three BRONSON books are related in any way beyond the premise that a guy named Bronson becomes a vigilante after his family is killed by criminal scum. In SoB, Bronson is a high-powered businessman living in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, after moving his business to New York several years ago, when his wife and children were killed by muggers.

Unlike the Bronson of the first book, this Bronson is a war hero, a former Captain in the Green Berets who'd served with distinction in Vietnam. He's smart and capable and ruthless to his enemies, but he also fights to protect and defend the other innocents out there. While the first Bronson really didn't care about anyone else, and was fine with collateral damage, SoB's Bronson hunts criminals not for revenge, but to clean the scum from the streets so they can't harm anyone else. This change in characterization goes a long way towards making him a more sympathetic character while still maintaining a badass attitude.

Also unlike the first book in the series, the point of view shifts between Bronson, Jenkins - the detective who first suspects Bronson of being a vigilante - and several other minor characters, such as Rinaldi, a crooked cop, as well as various victims and criminals. Some readers dislike this kind of PoV switching, and I think it can be handled badly at times, but here it works pretty well, and I think it is a trademark of many Levinson novels. It works best, in my mind, to build the rich atmosphere of the seedy 1970s New York City that the story is set in, a place Levinson knows very well. You can smell the exhaust, taste the cheap liquor and greasy food, and feel the gritty pavement underneath your feet. It goes a long way towards immersing the reader in the story.

As for the plot, it is pretty straightforward. Bronson kills four rapists in Central Park with a sawn-off shotgun, then eacapes, but is stopped by Jenkins. He's questioned, but since Bronson looks like a well-to-do businessman, Jenkins lets him go, figuring this guy couldn't possibly be a vigilante killer. But when the victim of the rape describes her savior as someone who matches Bronson's description, and later changes her story after Bronson visits her in the hospital and asks her to help conceal his identity, Jenkins becomes suspicious. As Bronson continues to kill and Jenkins closes in, he has a change of heart - Bronson is skillful and disciplined, and he doesn't harm innocents. Jenkins makes the decision to just let Bronson do his thing, as long as no one gets hurt who doesn't deserve it. While this does sound ludicrous, consider that the original DEATH WISH has a similar outcome - both the book and the movie - where the cops tacitly agree to look the other way, to one degree or another.

However, things go sour when one of the hoodlums Bronson kills is the nephew of Scarlotti, a mob boss with a lot of weight. Scarlotti's sister demands justice, so he begins to hunt down the vigilante, and eventually learns of Bronson's identity. There are some attacks and counter-attacks, and as things come to a head, Jenkins actually teams up with Bronson to take out Scarlotti, after the mob boss has a cop killed. This was a pretty cool, unforeseen turn of events, since before, Jenkins came off as something of a jerk. But when he goes "rogue", he develops a lot more of a backbone.

I also can't review this book without talking about the sexual content that pervades the novel. Levinson is great at maintaining a semi-sleazy vibe throughout the book, but it is never gratuitous or offensive. Characters have sexual drives, and sometimes those drives influence their behaviors. Bronson gets seduced by his next-door neighbor, a young woman who is a professional model. Bronson is reluctant at first, having remained faithful to the memory of his dead wife for years, but he finally comes to the conclusion that she wouldn't want him living alone and lonely for the rest of his life. Jenkins also has a brief extra-marital affair with a woman who tends bar at one of Scarlotti's joints, and we learn a little about the mob boss' own sexual appetites. Levinson's characters live in a world where both the bad guys and the good guys check out women, and occasionally get checked out themselves, and that's okay. I find it adds a layer of reality that's often missing in Men's Adventure novels, where the characters are either bizarrely chaste or outrageously promiscuous.

In conclusion, this was a fun read, and a welcome change of pace from the first BRONSON title. The third and final book, SWITCHBLADE, is on its way to me as I type this, and I'll be sure to review it as soon as possible.


FreeLiverFree said...

So basically each of the Bronson novels is a rewrite of the first one?

Which if your review of the first one is any different is a good thing.

Charles Gramlich said...

This is the only one I've read.

Sean McLachlan said...

So do these books have any link to Charles Bronson or did they just hijack the name?
I remember the old gritty New York from my youth in the 80s. It was a fabulous place to grow up in!

Joe Kenney said...

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this one. I've been meaning to read it for a long time! I've also got Switchblade, but if Marty McKee's review is anything to go by over on the Craneshot blog, it isn't that great.