Friday, October 08, 2010

Forgotten Books: THE LAST BUFFOON -- Leonard Jordan

A couple of weeks ago Juri Nummelin discussed a book by "Steve Jenkins," who is, it seems, actually Leonard Levinson, author of numerous men's action paperbacks from a couple of decades ago. Juri mentioned Levinson's non-genre novel The Last Buffoon, which is an account of the life of a paperback hack. So I figured I'd get out my copy and read it.

The title character and narrator is Alexander Frapkin. He's the author of fifteen novels, so far. He's also paranoid and given to masturbation, and he believes he'll eventually be recognized as one of America's great writers. Just as soon as he can write his masterpiece. In the meantime, he's turning out series books, like those in his Triggerman series. In fact, the novel opens with an excerpt from that series, and as soon as I read it, I knew without question that Levinson had written books like that. The passage could have been lifted right out of one. So I checked, and, sure enough, Levinson is credited by Pat Hawk with having written at least three novels in the Sharpshooter series as Bruno Rossi.

Later on, Frapkin mentions in passing that he's written a kung-fu novel. Back to Hawk to discover that as "Lee Chang" Levinson wrote book #6 in the series Kung Fu, featuring Mace.

Near the end of the book, Frapkin writes a tough cop book. Hawk tells us that Levinson wrote book #3 in Nelson de Mille's Ryker series. He also wrote Joe Blaze #2, The Thrill Killers. There's a nice inside joke when the editor tells Frapkin that he needs to change the name of the cop from Benson to Shanahan. Frapkin's already half through with the book, so he complains about making the corrections. The editor says she has a hundred starving writers who'd be glad to write the book if Frapkin doesn't want to do it, so he caves. So what's the joke? Well, thirty-five years ago, give or take, I wrote a review of these books for some fanzine or other, maybe The Armchair Detective, and one of the things I mentioned was that the names of the cops are all mixed up in the books, maybe in more than one. Maybe Levinson's letting us know how it happened back in those days before "search and replace."

But back to the plot. Frapkin does get his big break, but his mental problems don't allow him to accept it. The Last Buffoon's not a particularly good book, but for those of us who love the old paperbacks and remember the series books, it's good entertainment.

22 comments:

George said...

This sounds like a lot of fun. I remember your review where you mentioned the name confusion, but I can't recall if it was in MACAVITY or some fanzine.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love writer memoirs. Reading at the Willeford one right now.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the inside jokes about writing make the book.

Good choice. I never heard of the guy before.

Jeff

PS - ditto on the writer memoirs, Patti. I'm looking for the Willeford one too.

Bill Crider said...

This one would definitely be a fictional memoir.

Paul D. Brazill said...

This sounds great. And I love the title!

Richard R. said...

So it's true, masturbation makes you crazy. Somehow I always thought that was a parental-inspired myth. Ha!

This sounds both good and lousy, and I can't decide which wins out. I think this is one of those times when your review will suffice for me, without reading the book.

I used to have Hawk's Pseudonyms, on disk, but one of the Windows upgrades left it behind in functionality, then the switch to Mac made it impossible. I think I gave it away years ago.

Bill Crider said...

"Good and lousy" is probably accurate.

I have the hard copy of the Hawk book.

Juri said...

Thanks for this, Bill! I got interested in the book when Lee Server pointed it out and I was very curious about it.

Todd Mason said...

Wonder who posed for the cover photo...

Richard R. said...

That's not you, Todd? I coiuld have sworn it was.

Bill Crider said...

Todd, I'm glad you asked that question. There's a note on the blurb page that says, "Cover posed by professional model." I wonder if Levinson was that model. The outfit is identical to the one Frapkin wears in the book.

Todd Mason said...

I don't have that sort of pixie-ish charm in aspect, Rick. Also, my beard, even when I let it go for a while, is much more William Petersonesque (to be kind).

I rather suspected, Bill.

Gonzalo B said...

Apparently, he wrote a few other novels under that nom-de-plume (including a few Gold Medals). These include Cabby, The Bar Studs, Without Mercy, Hype and Operation Perfidia.

Bill Crider said...

Haven't read those. The Bar Studs was a Gold Medal, all right. I remember seeing it on the stands. Don't have a copy, though.

Evan Lewis said...

No skin on the cover. No wonder you'd forgotten this book.

Joe Kenney said...

Bill, I was very happy to discover this post. I came across "The Last Buffoon" at a used bookstore about 6 years ago. I read it and enjoyed it a lot. My copy is in fact signed by Levinson himself, in scrawled pen:

To my dear Hadley
From The Last Buffoon himself
Leonardo Levinson
“The Purpose of Life is Life!”
2/16/85 NYC


The occasional line from this novel still pops into my head -- in particular the "I am not used to being treated in this way!" comment the one lady keeps yelling at our hero. I also remember lots of scenes of disco music playing on turntables while he snorted coke.

In a way I found "The Last Buffoon" to be like a psuedo-literary view of a paperback hack. The "Triggerman" stuff mentioned is great, too -- my guess though is it's a parody of "The Marksman" series (as if there's much difference between the Sharpshooter and Marksman series!). My clue is that the Triggerman title referenced is "Time Square" something, and one of the Marksman books is titled "Times Square Connection." I wonder if this is one Levinson wrote?

Anyway, your review has me wanting to re-read this.

Joe Kenney said...

Oh, one more comment -- I just saw that the Amazon page for THe Last Buffoon features a review, and Levinson himself posted a comment on it, requesting to correspond with the reviewer!

http://www.amazon.com/review/R39K0DT5GV5FE4/ref=cm_cr_dp_cmt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B000PCBRD2&nodeID=283155&tag=&linkCode=#wasThisHelpful

Bill Crider said...

Glad the review struck a chord, Joe, and thanks for that Amazon link.

Jimmy D. said...

I first read this book as a young boy maybe 11 as it was in the bottom of a pile of books in a dollar bin on a road trip with my parents. The ideas were adult for a boy, but it made me laugh!!!

A few years ago I picked up another copy and one Sunday stretched out in bed with a girlfriend and read aloud... We laughed like kids...


It's worth a read... Not serious lit but perfect bathroom reading

Len Levinson said...

This is Len Levinson himself, demented author of THE LAST BUFFOON. I am not Steve Jenkins, and Leonard Jordan is one of my 22 pseudonyms. I personally deserve all the credit or blame for THE LAST BUFFOON.

Bill Crider said...

Indeed. I had fun reading the book.

Anonymous said...

I read "The Last Buffoon" in my early 20s and for better or worse, it had a lasting impression on me, esp the hilarious phrases such as, upon witnessing a fisting demonstration: "I don't know whether to shit, throw up, pass out, or go blind." /j/