The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack

Subtitle

The Destroyer

The Destroyer

In 1971 Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir published a novel called Created, the Destroyer, the first in a series that has passed 150 books and spun a daughter series. The novels have changed considerably since the beginning. Originally, they read very much like an Executioner novel. Remo Williams is framed for a crime, "killed", and given a new life as a government agent with a so called "license to kill". (They don't use that term.) Apparently, JFK created an extra-constitutional organization called "CURE" who was supposed to save the constitution of the U.S. by violating it. Congress was investigating organized crime and JFK worried that organized crime had become so strong that it threatened American democracy. Enter the Destroyer, a single man impowered to take out criminals without a trial. 


To train Remo, Smith, head of CURE, has hired Chiun, a Korean assassin, reigning master of the glorious House of Sinanju. (Sinanju being an impoverished fishing village in North Korea.) Originally, Murphy and Sapir saw Chiun as simply a martial art expert, but they quickly come to realize that he has superhuman abilities and that Remo can learn them as well. (Explaining why that is takes a good number of books.) The novels enter science fiction with a growing number of non mob opponents. At some point, the authors also become interested in writing scathing (and hilarious)  satires of current celebrities, political figures, and social trends. (Since the series spans fifty years they offend just about everyone.)


I picked up the first book at Hole in the Wall Books somewhere in the early 1980s. Approximately twenty years later I noticed the current volume on a book rack in a Kmart and picked it up and ended up reading the rest of the series. My recollection is that a lot of them were very bad, but most were fun. 

1 Created, the Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

This novel is essential reading for anyone who likes the Destroyer series, but be forewarned that it also represents a time before the authors understood what they are writing about. Remo Williams is a NJ cop who is framed for murder and “killed” in the electric chair so that his identity can be wiped away and he can be trained to become a government assassin for a secret unconstitutional agency called CURE. Their job is to protect America and its constitution by eliminating threats that are two big to handle through the existing legal mechanisms. In this first book, that’s organized crime.


The recruiting and training of Remo is pretty well done. Chiun, Master of the Glorious House of Sinanju, is introduced, although neither Murphy or Sapir realized what they had created in the Master of Sinanju yet, so he has a very small role. The mystery is also fairly good. The New York City crime syndicates are run and protected by a man named Maxwell and Remo has to infiltrate, identify Maxwell, and kill him, before a congressional committee investigating organized crime reaches NYC.


One of the things that Murphy and Sapir do very well is bring the chief villain to life. At times, we are learning so much about his past that he takes over the novel, all of which adds to the credibility of the story.


What you don’t get in this novel is the trademark banter between Remo and Chiun and the superhuman abilities that Sinanju imparts upon Remo, but it’s still a very important start to a very fun series.


The Day Remo Died by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

A couple of decades after the start of the series, Murphy and Sapir wrote a companion book called The Assassins Handbook which included this novella—a brilliant rewrite of the first book of the series from the perspective of Chiun, the Master of Sinanju. Forty or so books in, the authors had a much clearer idea of what it meant to be a Master of Sinanju and how one became one, and they took advantage of that knowledge to retcon the origin of the series. It’s an extremely clever reworking that all fans of the series will want to read—but it’s better if you’ve read the original book, Created, the Destroyer, first.


2 Death Check by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

The second volume of the Destroyer series occurs eight years after the first. Remo’s training has greatly advanced, but the authors still don’t have the full understanding of what Sinanju is and the book still does not have Chiun enjoying a major role in the story. So in many ways, this book still does not feel like a Destroyer novel.


Yet, it does fit the genre of action novels pretty well. Remo has been brought to a training peak in readiness for a job and held there so long that by the time the job finally appears, his skills are starting to deteriorate. He has to infiltrate a brain trust which is developing a plan to conquer the world. Technically it is doing this for the U.S. government, but there’s evidence that all is not well in the trust and Remo’s work is cut out for him.


There’s a lot of fun in this novel as Remo verbally spars with pompous academics and physically spars with a biker gang and others. This book may not be the Destroyer “proper” yet, but it’s still a fun read.

3 Chinese Puzzle by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the third Destroyer novel Murphy and Sapir finally began to figure out the magic that would make the series work. Chiun travels with Remo through the whole book and their back-and-forth banter brings some wonderful levity to the novel. Plus we learn important things about Remo and Chiun. Remo is a patriot (a change from Chiun’s initial assessment of him) and while Remo is becoming brilliant in the practice of Sinanju (sun source of all martial arts) he is actually not very intelligent. Oh, and Remo really enjoys teasing his boss, Harold Smith.


For his part, Chiun, gets his first serious development. He loves American soap operas (and the occasional updates on what is happening in his favorite television show are always hilarious). We also learn that Chiun really hates everyone with the possible exception of Remo. (This comes off at racism at first, until it becomes clear that it’s more akin to universal misanthropy.) Chiun can also be as temperamental as a child, which always causes additional problems for Remo—because this child can kill with a single finger and has no compunction against doing so.


The authors also recognize (perhaps after their experience with Death Check) that there is a lot of room for satire in this series. Sometimes this comes off as stereotyping, but it’s really satire. And while the satire is rarely sophisticated, it is almost always fun.


4 Mafia Fix by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Murphy and Sapir continue to catch their stride in this fourth book in the series, bringing it closer to the feel of the series as a whole. Remo and Chiun banter (or is that bicker?) humorously, and Remo’s fighting skills are building into the superhuman Sinanju abilities that help to make these books so distinctive. Yet the best thing about this book is the first of many times that the bad guys make the mistake of interrupting Chiun’s beloved soap operas. Chiun, the Master of Sinanju, is in his eighties and believes the soap opera to be the greatest expression of American art. Nothing can be permitted to interrupt them. Therefore, it is always with humor that the reader watches some poor fool intending to do Chiun harm make the mistake of coming between him and his beloved programs.


The plot is rather straightforward with very little genuine mystery. The mafia has managed to import four tanker truck loads of pure heroine into the country—a six-year supply at current U.S. usage rates—and Remo and Chiun must find the drugs before they are dispersed across the country. Not being much of a detective, Remo takes a very direct approach designed to make the criminals come to him. There’s no heavy thought in this book, but it’s still a lot of fun.


5 Dr. Quake by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Remo and Chiun are back to stop blackmailers—but not your traditional type of extortionists. These criminals don’t have secrets to expose, they have invented a device that can cause (or suppress) earthquakes and they are offering to protect (or destroy) areas along the San Andreas fault for a fee. Naturally, other criminal elements are also interested in this process, so Remo and Chiun have their hands full.


Murphy and Sapir are still working to perfect their Destroyer formula. In this book they add a very significant science fiction element, something that will feature in many future books. Remo continues to be rather stupid as a detective, but his plan is designed to draw the bad guys to him so it doesn’t cause him too much trouble. Once again, it’s Chiun who is the stealth star of the novel, bringing his delightfully bizarre way of looking at everything. I once read that the authors had originally planned to kill Chiun off in this book. If true, it’s fortunate that they changed their minds. Chiun is the heart of this series.


6 Death Therapy by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the sixth Destroyer novel, the authors satirize group therapy and it’s all rather funny. Someone has put the United States government up for sale. To prove that they can pay the goods, they have a nuclear bomb (that does not explode) dropped on St. Louis. The pilot then ejects from his plane without a parachute humming a strange song as he happily falls to the earth. CURE is able to connect that individual to a high-priced residential therapy clinic and send in Remo and Chiun to find out if there is a connection to the coming auction for the United States. The resulting therapy sessions created the most light-hearted atmosphere in a Destroyer novel yet. There’s still plenty of action, but the satire that will dominate the later novels is very much in evidence here. Overall, this one is a lot of good fun.


7 Union Bust by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

The overall plot in this novel—someone trying to create a super union that can dictate wages and politics to the U.S. —was slightly more elevated that most Destroyer novels. Since the vast majority of the union workers are not criminals, and what they want to do would seem to be supported by the constitution, there were some ethical questions not generally dealt with in the series about a pair of assassins. But the heart of this novel centers around Chiun and his first pupil, a man who abandoned the traditions of Sinanju and went to work for himself. The super union is his plan, and this novel is really an opportunity to both create a villain whose skills are better than Remo’s and to begin to develop the House of Sinanju in a much more significant way than had been previously done. Anyone who has enjoyed this series will want to read this book to witness the first appearance of Nuihc.


8 Summit Chase by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

While on assignment, pretending to be a normal assassin hired by the bad guys, an unlucky blow gives Remo amnesia and sets him on a collision course with Chiun. While it is possible that amnesia has been overused in the action and spy thriller subgenres, there is no denying that it adds a lot of spice to this adventure. Watching Remo try to figure out who he is and watching him interact with Chiun—all while wondering if the two will come to blows—added some much-appreciated tension to a series in which Remo’s extraordinary skills rarely leave any doubt as to whether or not he can complete his mission. It made for a very enjoyable read.


9 Murder’s Shield by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

This time it’s the cops who have gone bad, causing Remo difficulty from two different perspectives. First, he was a cop and he doesn’t want to kill other policemen. Second, the cops appear to be doing essentially what he does as the enforcement arm of CURE—kill criminals. It’s a rare ethical dilemma in this series and that makes this book stand out from the others.


10 Terror Squad by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the tenth Destroyer novel, Murphy and Sapir satirize the far-left revolutionary groups of the early 1970s, humorously pointing out the basic lack of humanity in these organizations even as they oppose a system that they claim lacks humanity. They also, far less humorously, show the similarities to other totalitarian regimes which are universally despised for their human rights abuses. All of that is par for the course with the Destroyer series—satirizing some aspect of the world is a part of just about every novel. The thing that makes Terror Squad stand apart is the return of Chiun’s first pupil, Nuich, and watching him manipulate events in an effort to be the only Master of Sinanju left standing. It’s a journey any fan of the series will want to take.


11 Kill or CURE by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the opening chapter of this novel, CURE is exposed to the nation and teeters on the brink of Harold Smith having to take his suicide pill. Everything depends upon Remo and Chiun finding a way to convince the world that there really isn’t a secret government agency violating the constitution to keep American democracy safe. This time the satirical target is the American political system and it’s hilarious to watch Remo try and figure out how to manipulate the election in a major city to bring down the bad guy without confirming to the world that CURE truly does exist. This is the most unusual Destroyer adventure yet.


12 Slave Safari by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

One of the things I like best about this series are the large number of legends of Sinanju that the authors relate. These are not just stories of past masters, but prophecies and other legends that derived out of the thousands of years of the masters interacting with the great powers of the world. Slave Safari offers one of these legends and part of the fun is in trying to figure out who the various pieces of the legend refer to in the story.


Overtop of this legend is a storyline having to do with a corrupt African government and an American trying to avenge all of those who were kidnapped into slavery by torturing the modern-day descendants of families who built their fortune on the slave trade. Throw into the mix a conflict between two differing tribal groups in the fictional African country and major money-driven power-politics in the U.S. and you have all the makings of a classic early Destroyer adventure.


13 Acid Rock by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

This time Remo and Chiun go head-to-head with another House of Assassins as they struggle to keep a witness from falling victim to an open contract on her head. The witness is the daughter of a multi-millionaire business man who has decided to turn state’s evidence on her father because he tried to keep her from chasing down an acid rock star (named Maggot) whom she wants to have sex with. For most of the novel her sex, drugs, and rock and roll mindset makes her two dimensional, although there is just a touch of added personality given to her by the end of the book.


Most of the fun in the novel comes from seeing what another House of Assassins—this one with a six-hundred-year-old-history—looks like. And Remo, for possibly the first time in the series, really seems to understand what it means to be a member of a thousands-of-years-old house of assassins. This is a good addition to the early series.


14 Judgment Day by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

The fourteenth Destroyer novel should have been called Hostile Takeover and this one is all Harold Smith’s show. Smith has been a fairly two-dimensional supporting cast member for the first thirteen books. He’s the elderly, budget conscious, patriotic head of CURE who apparently has no imagination and no personal ambition other than to do his job to the best of his ability. He carries a poison pill with him at all times, prepared to commit suicide to protect the secret of CURE. But in this volume, the bad guys have figured out the kind of information CURE tracks and they kidnap Smith and torture out of him the info they need to step in and take over. Unfortunately for them, they forget to actually kill Smith and that oversight leads to one of the best Destroyer novels, because smith is not about to leave CURE in enemy hands. Murphy and Sapir finally bring the head of CURE fully to life and leave only the question of why they waited so long to do so. Fans of the series will not want to miss this book.


15 Murder Ward by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Doctors as murderers—it’s a highly disturbing concept. When people go into a hospital for surgery, they need to believe that the doctors and nurses are wholly committed to helping them recover their health. But in this Destroyer novel, a couple of those key personnel are turning a profit by making certain their victims (I mean their patients) never recover consciousness. It’s a chilling premise at the root of another enjoyable tale by Murphy and Sapir.


Two other things add substantially to the enjoyment of this novel. The first is the continued focus on Remo’s remarkable skills that include mental training as well as physical adeptness. Remo isn’t just good at killing people, he recognizes how others go about their shared trade and knows their weaknesses. In addition, the ongoing interactions between Chiun and Remo are especially well displayed in this novel—especially Chiun’s usually concealed caring for his pupil. It also doesn’t hurt that the resolution of this novel depends upon the superhuman mastery of the body that masters of Sinanju attain—and so reinforces just how different Remo and Chiun are from other humans.


16 Oil Slick by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

The thing that stood out most strongly to me in this novel was that I liked the nominal villain. He’s a colonel who has managed a successful coup in his fictional country, driving out a hereditary monarch, and is now trying to make life better for his people. Unfortunately, the oil companies, the industrialized nations, and even his own subordinates and people appear determined to frustrate him at every point. So nothing is changing despite his honest efforts to provide good government. As if that isn’t bad enough, he has also unintentionally run afoul of Sinanju. It seems that there is an ancient legend that Sinanju would protect the latest descendent of the ousted monarchy, and Chiun, is determined to uphold Sinanju’s end of the bargain. But even that is not the real problem, because Chiun’s original student, Nuihc, also knows the legend and is determined to use it to destroy Remo and Chiun.


This novel has all the usual satirical fun of the Destroyer series, plus plenty of action, and a very interesting conflict over who will be reigning master of Sinanju. I liked it a lot.


17 Last War Dance by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Sometimes a Destroyer novel works because of the introduction of a fascinating problem. That’s the case in this book. Back in the early 1960s, the U.S. developed a doomsday nuclear weapon to frighten the Soviets out of launching a first strike. As long as the weapon’s location is secret, it deters the Soviets. If its location is ever revealed, however, there is the possibility that the Soviets could turn the weapon back on America destroying much of North America. A decade has passed and the weapon, hidden beneath a memorial marking a massacre of native Americans by the U.S. army, is in danger of being revealed due to protestors planning to destroy the memorial.


That’s the problem confronting CURE—how to deactivate the weapon without the Soviets ever figuring out that it is really there. To complicate matters, Remo and Chiun also have to deal with the protestors (a ridiculous parody that really didn’t work that well). Weaknesses aside, the eventual resolution of the problem was sheer genius.


18 Funny Money by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Funny Money introduces one of the Destroyer’s best recurring villains—the survival-oriented machine called Mr. Gordons, and with it places the series’ feet another step further into the realm of science fiction. The problem initially confronting Remo, Chiun, and Smith is a perfectly counterfeited $50 bill being produced in vast quantities and threatening the entire U.S. economy, but it’s the brain behind the counterfeiting that is the real danger—one that even puts fear into the heart of the Master of Sinanju. This is a good story in its own right, but particularly important as the first appearance of Mr. Gordons.


19 Holy Terror by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

This is the weakest of the Destroyer novels in the series so far. A religious cult, based in India, is spreading its influence across the United States essentially by using drugs to addict people and calling it some form of enlightenment. The cult has its fingers all over the U.S. in corporations, the federal government and many local governments and Remo has to figure out a way to stop it. That, of course, is the big weakness in the story. Remo’s solution does not appear to me to have resolved the country’s vulnerabilities, although it does provide a setback to the cult.


20 Assassin’s Playoff by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Nuihc is back with another plan to kill Remo and become Master of Sinanju. As with all of his plans, it depends completely on the Sinanju tradition that prevents the Master (i.e. Chiun) from killing a member of the village—meaning that Chiun cannot simply kill Nuihc and be done with him. (One does wonder if perhaps he shouldn’t punish him for his continued rudeness in the rather extreme ways that all masters of Sinanju tend to act.)


Nuihc is also clearly becoming afraid of Remo as well, because this time his plan involves training three westerners to attack Remo in a way that allows them to injure him even as Remo kills them. So Remo is coming to the big show down in very bad shape.


I liked the concept behind this novel, but I think it could have been enacted better. The back-and-forth insults and charges of cowardice between Nuihc and Chiun became rather tiresome as did the insults of the people of Sinanju toward Chiun when they thought that Nuihc would win. The novel was still enjoyable, but won’t rank as one of the great Remo vs. Nuihc showdowns.


21 Deadly Seeds by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

The secret organization CURE has been at work trying to save the American government from crime and corruption for twenty books now and in this novel we learn that their greatest feat was bringing down Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. Apparently, Nixon’s activities were not unusual for sitting presidents, but thanks to CURE, his crimes were exposed and hopefully no future president will do it again.


But that is what you might call the routine work that CURE carries out. Remo and Chiun are only brought in for emergencies and this time the crisis involves a threat to the world’s food supply. Mentally, Remo has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, and this time that causes serious problems. Remo mistakenly believes that the bad guy is the good guy and starts helping him out of his desire to “do some good”. As if that isn’t bad enough, other bad guys hire a bunch of ninjas to go after Remo and Chiun. Many times Chiun has bragged that Sinanju is the “sun source” of all the martial arts and that none of the others can stand against it. In this book, he’s going to get the chance to prove it.


22 Brain Drain by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

This novel opens with a horrific multiple murder in which terrible things have been done to the victims’ bodies. The crime was carried out by recurring Destroyer foe Mr. Gordons on his perpetual quest to become more creative and destroy Remo and Chiun as the major threats to his long-term survival. Mr. Gordons is a great opponent. He doesn’t think the way we do and his mechanical nature makes him a particularly difficult foe for Remo and Chiun. Perversely, he also (in my opinion) proves to be quite creative in the ways in which he goes after Remo and Chiun—even if no one in the novel admits it. (And humorously, it’s uncreative Harold Smith who finds himself most in sync with uncreative Mr. Gordons.)


This isn’t one of the better Destroyer novels. It struck me as being slower moving than most books in the series so far, but it’s fun to see Mr. Gordons and it was an utter delight to watch Chiun get starstruck when he gets to meet his favorite soap opera actor, Rad Rex. And even if this wasn’t my second time through the series, it would be difficult to imagine that the threat of Mr. Gordons is actually ended at the end of the book.


23 Child’s Play by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

One of the problems with creating two preternaturally capable assassins is that it is difficult to find challenges for them. With that in mind, Murphy and Sapir have added an interesting concept to the idea of Sinanju. Chiun and Remo cannot harm children. Now, this is a good thing from the reader’s perspective. We do not want our heroes assassinating children and we are thrilled when Chiun takes vengeance on a child killer early in the novel. But when the children are trying to kill Remo and Chiun, it adds an interesting and much appreciated complication to our heroes lives.


And that’s basically the plot of this novel plus a little satire of educational theories during the 1970s. The bad guys are using kids as their weapons and Remo and Chiun need to figure out how to survive this unusual weapon.


24 King’s Curse by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

This novel is based on a fascinating premise—when the Spanish conquered the Aztec Empire a small native kingdom survived by abandoning their territory and over the next several centuries blending into various European (and other) countries while secretly keeping their culture and their devotion to their stone god of the secret name. Their god has been put in a museum (with no one knowing of its “importance”). When the “god” is defaced by a graffiti artist, they go crazy and bring back their old heart-stealing rituals to avenge the dishonor. CURE, by a coincidence, almost comes to light in the resulting chaos.


I admit that I’m a little tired of CURE almost getting exposed at this point. We’re only 24 books into the series and it’s been the threat of a handful of the plots already. But this is a fun book which lets Remo and Chiun’s talents shine. The authors also deserve kudos for coming up with one of their most unique threats for the assassins from Sinanju.


152 Continental Divide by Warren Murphy

The Destroyer series is the story of the glorious House of Sinanju—a 5000 year old line of assassins who created the original martial art from which all others are pale derivatives. The current master and his pupil have been hired by a secret agency within the U.S. government (called CURE) to clean up crime and protect the country by working outside the constitution. Each book features ridiculous parodies of current events, politicians and celebrities. This novel focuses on a poorly defined conspiracy to destroy bridges in the U.S. to boost the air-freight industry. Since it is happening during the presidential election, parodies of Trump and Clinton, both of whom look utterly ridiculous, try to spin the events to boost their campaigns. At the same time, parodies of the Scooby Doo characters are also investigating the crimes.


I have read every book in this series, it’s spin off series, and the handful of unnumbered books associated with the series and this one did not measure up to its best standards. The thing that makes the Destroyer so interesting is the banter between Remo (current Master) and Chiun (Master Emeritus and teacher of Remo) and the frustration they cause Smith, the head of CURE. That all important personal storyline was present, but didn’t boost the book as well as it usually does. Also, the basic plot was weak and lacked a satisfying resolution. The book is saved from a poor rating because it serves as the set up for a team up of at least two prominent Destroyer villains, so the prospects for the next novel are great.