Being both black and a drug addict, the writer Clarence Cooper, Jr. was on the fringes of the publishing world. Though as Gary Phillips mentions in the afterward, Cooper was the toast of the town for a short time, “For a brief run he was the shit. The just as quickly, he fell from sight.” Cooper’s first book “The Scene” was published in 1960 and was lauded, but to remind you of the times, here’s what The New York Times said of “The Scene”:
Clarence Cooper Jr., a young Negro, who formerly was a narcotics addict, start to write a novel while he was serving a prison term. His story, called “The Scene,” will be published by Crown on Jan. 28. It is laid in an area of a city where narcotics are readily accessible and where elements of a mixed population meet to acquire it.”
Almost sixty years ago, those were different times, yet they are too familiar today. In Phillips’ afterward, Clarence Cooper, Jr.: An Appreciation, he writes that Cooper’s works “have mostly to do with the harder edges of life in black America: the underworld of the urban street, of drug addiction and violence.” Cooper, a heroin addict for many years, wrote half-a-dozen books, stopped writing in the late ’60s, and died in 1978 on the streets of New York City. His residence at the time was the 23rd Street YMCA. It seems as if Cooper wasn’t in jail he was shooting heroin.
Clarence Cooper, Jr.’s “The Syndicate” (Molotov Editions) is a tough and unrelenting book. Hired gun Andy Sorrell is sent by the syndicate to kill three men who have stolen over half-a-million dollars from the organization. In the first few pages, Sorrell’s hatred pushes him to desperately want to beat up the gay owner of a club and Sorrell’s questioning of a woman leads to a quick and unnecessary brutal beating. Homophobia? Check. Violence against women? Check. Did I mention this was a tough and unrelenting book? That said if you find the beating up and killing of men more agreeable, “The Syndicate” has got that too.
Clarence Cooper, Jr.’s “The Syndicate” runs at high-gear throughout as Sorrell changes his end game from killing the three men to finding the cash. If men (and women) must die in this pursuit, Sorrell’s fine with that. Originally published in 1960 under the pseudonym Robert Chestnut, “The Syndicate” is filled with tough guys and equally tough dames. In this scene, Sorrell is woken up by the club owner’s wife. It’s so 1950s, it’s wonderful.
I slung the .32 under my right hip and opened the door with my left hand.
“Hello,” she said. She was spraddled-legged, with a round little belly under her sexy suit and a devilish curl around the corners of her mouth as she smiled at me. “I’d like to come in, but there’s something about a man with his shirt off that makes me cautious.”
“Didn’t you notice the gun?” I said.
She giggled. “What can a gun do to you that a man can’t?”
“There’s something I never thought about.”
She slipped past me suddenly in the room. “Well, it’s something I’ve thought about, Mr. Sorrell. A gun is useful only when you want to use it.”
“Isn’t a man?”
“Men are unpredictable.” She went over and stretched out on the sectional, tossing her purse over on the coffee table.
“Make yourself at home,” I said, closing the door.
Cooper doesn’t hold back anything back in “The Syndicate,” if Cooper isn’t in your face with anger and violence, no worries, he soon will be. “The Syndicate” has everything one would want from a pulp—it’s a hardboiled barn burner.
Buy: Molotov Editions