Thursday, April 01, 2021

The sleaze paperbacks of Max Nortic

I'm sure you've never heard of Max Nortic. I wouldn't have, if I hadn't set out to do a book on American sleaze paperback writers (it will be out only in Finnish, sorry). There are four translated novels by him, and they rise above the usual hardcore fare of the late sixties and early seventies, which is the time when the porn business and the sleaze paperback industry were being taken over by Mafia. Some critics say this was the turning point of the American sex paperback, and after that the books became worse. 

No one has ever written anything about Max Nortic, though several other sleaze authors, such as Orrie Hitt, and the writers who became later known for another genre, such as Robert Silverberg and Lawrence Block, have received praise and seen reprints of their sleaze work. Max Nortic has seen some of his books being republished as e-books, but none are available in print. 

Should they be? As I said, they are better than many other sex paperbacks of the era, as they have discernable plots and characters in them, and not such some ploy to hang some sex scenes on (I've now read several of those, and they can be pretty dull, though sometimes they have their own goofy charm). Nortic's sleaze books have crime and spy elements, and some of them take place in magazine industry, which sounds like Nortic was a journalist himself. There's also some satire in Nortic's work. 

Nortic published mainly through Midwood, and some of his books are Black Satin (1969), Virgin Wanted (1968), Night Nurse (1968), School for Sin (1969), Possessed (1969) ja Island of Desire (1970). For Brandon House he did The Strange Love of Lady S. (1968), which takes place in the early 19th century, so it's a historical novel. 

I've read these four books by him: The Real Thing (1970), Code Name: The Gypsy Virgin (1971), Total Awareness (1969) and Dirty Secrets (1969). All were published by Midwood. Of these, The Gypsy Virgin and The Real Thing are to my mind the best, though the others also hold some interest. Code Name: The Gypsy Virgin is a book about two female spies, working on the other sides during the Cold War, the one is of course American, and the other one is also a Caucasian, but she works for China. You might think this is a spy parody, which were indeed prevalent in the sixties' paperback sleaze, but this is actually a very grim and disturbing book. The American spy is made lesbian through manipulation in order to catch the Chinese spy, who's been modified into a sadistic killer through beatings and rapes in Chinese camps, starting already from a young age. The actual plot is about an American scientist, who the Chinese spy tries to manipulate to defect to China and start working for the Chinese government. In order to do this, she picks up the scientist's teenage daughter and forces her to make love to her. The ending is very bleak, and the evil China is victorious. (There's a one-word review for this in Amazon: "Rubbish.") 

The Real Thing is a heist novel, of all genres. It's about the robbing of a casino in which several of the characters are working. One of the ex-workers tries to get back to the casino and uses counterfeit cards. Nortic moves the story along with a nice speed, never stopping for too long on sex scenes, which are mostly worked well into the plot. The women in the book are the winners in the game, and the sadism of The Gypsy Virgin is largely missing, so this isn't as disturbing. This could've been written by a more famous paperbacker, like Harry Whittington. 

Dirty Secrets (Salaisuus in Finnish) then again is a funny expose romp in which two rivaling women's magazines are making features of a well-to-do family that's been chosen as "The Family of the Year". Under their facade, there's under-age sex, lesbianism, fetishism and other steamy stuff. Some of the sex scenes are actually quite titillating, but what's more important is that the book moves on quite fast. There's always something happening. Total Awareness is the least of the bunch, but holds some interest as a picture of its age: the middle-class couple gets acquainted with a sex cult and its charismatic leader, so it's about the aftermath of hippie culture. This one is played mainly for the sex scenes, though there are some interesting set pieces here and there, especially the one with the Chaplin comedy that's intertwined with a real couple having sex in front of the screen. 

I've been reading so much smut lately that I'm not really sure whether my judgment is reliable. But Max Nortic's books really stand out among some of the crap I've come across. Some of that crap makes me laugh, some of it makes me only bored. It would be interesting to read other people's comments on Nortic's work. Here's Dirty Secrets for Kindle, and here's The Code Name: Gypsy Virgin

But who was Max Nortic? There's a copyright notice from 1968 saying that the pseudonym belongs to one Max Citron (see?), but I can't find any info on him. Is Max Citron a pseudonym? A house name, perhaps? So, if anyone knows anything about Max Citron-Nortic, please, speak up! 

1 comment:

altebauernhaeuser said...

There have been a few translations of novels by Max Nortic in Germany. Most of them were published by Zettner.