The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


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.

25 Sweet Dreams by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

One of the weaker novels, a scientist has created a device that allows people to watch their daydreams on a television screen. The mafia gets involved and Remo and Chiun have to kill a lot of people. The only slightly interesting twist is that one of the mafiosos realizes that Remo and Chiun are the people who were killing off members of the mafia in earlier books. Unsurprisingly, this knowledge doesn’t help him.

26 In Enemy Hands by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

While the plot of this novel is not great—the espionage version of mutually assured destruction is messed up by Congress unilaterally disarming all CIA agents so that they cannot bungle their way into creating another international incident—there is a little bit of fun in watching Murphy and Sapir satirize President Gerald Ford. This is the first time Ford appears in the series and the authors were not kind to him, taking his propensity to trip and turning it into an ability to injure himself with any and everything that comes into reach—a paper clip, a piece of paper, even a band aid. So not great on the plot—especially the alleged love interest—but marginally saved by the literary equivalent of some slapstick humor.

27 The Last Temple by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

This is by far the worst of the Destroyer novels thus far. The plot moves along at a pace slightly slower than cold molasses dripping off a table. It should have been captivating—Remo and Chiun are trying to stop Nazis from exploding one of Israel’s atomic weapons in Israel so that it will destroy the nation—but it just never worked. The only interesting facet of the story is that the head Nazi is superficially similar in appearance to Remo (thin with thick wrists) but the authors don’t utilize this similarity in any effective manner.

28 Ship of Death by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

This was another weak Destroyer novel with only two truly interesting elements. First, Remo and Chiun decide to cease working for CURE and the U.S. and find a new client. In this case, they choose Iran which is still ruled by the Shah. I thought the decision to do this was fascinating, but the groundwork was poorly laid. Remo is simply feeling disillusioned and Chiun really doesn’t put much effort into finding himself the best deal post-America. He simply settles on Iran because Persia had paid well hundreds of years earlier.

The better element was the bad guy who got a tremendous amount of camera footage of Remo and was trying to analyze his abilities. This storyline wouldn’t work later in the series when Murphy and Sapir decided that Chiun and Remo couldn’t be filmed, but it was interesting to watch the attempt to analyze their weaknesses in order to kill them.

Overall, this was another very weak book whose plot made little sense (the United Nations decides to leave New York and set up headquarters in a half mile long cruise ship where someone is killing off delegates). I’m hoping the next book will be better.

29 The Final Death by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

The Final Death continues a string of very weak Destroyer novels. The best element was a conversation between exiting President Gerald Ford and newly sworn in President Jimmy Carter in which Ford passes to his successor knowledge of the existence of CURE. Carter, of course, is horrified to find out that there is an off-the-books government agency acting unconstitutionally to protect the country. He is indignantly ready to close CURE down, until Ford’s warning sinks in and he realizes that maybe, just maybe, he will need an agency no one knows about to help him do his job.

The actual plot is weak—a Chinese cult that has been around for at least a thousand years is trying to kill off Americans by poisoning beef. While the plot was bad, the element of the ages old cult let us take a look at an earlier stage of Sinanju before they became the sun-source of the martial arts. Watching Master Pak at work shows where many of Chiun’s hard-learned lessons came from. But overall, this was not enough to salvage the story.

30 Mugger Blood by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

This is one of the worst Destroyer novels in the series thus far. I really can’t find anything positive to say about the plot. The story is slow moving and engaged in a seemingly endless satirical parody of the crime and law enforcement problems (plus the educational system problems) of New York City in the 1970s. It was positively painful to read, and if I weren’t rereading the whole series, I would have given up on it.

Yet, I find it interesting to note that the author reports this as one of his favorite stories. His reason? Remo goes off on his own to try and help people instead of waiting for his next assignment from CURE.

31 The Head Men by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Jimmy Carter is in the White House, has discovered CURE, knows what they can do, and is so confident in their abilities that he refuses to worry about a very credible assassination threat. Indeed, he’s so confident in Remo and Chiun’s skills that he decides to stops payments that have been made by several presidents now as a prevent measure to stay the unknown assassin’s hand. The problem is that Remo cannot defend the president from a threat that he doesn’t know about.

This is a much better story than the series has been producing of late. The problem is credible and the solution—hinted at by Sinanju legend—was well thought out. There’s a lot of muddling around in the middle that really wasn’t that fun, but when Remo finally figures out what’s going on things start moving well again.

Perhaps the best element of the story was the way in which Murphy and Sapir took a centuries-old Sinanju teaching fable and showed how it directly applied to modern day problems. The Masters of Sinanju are not the best solely because of their extraordinary physical abilities. They have been in the assassination trade for thousands of years and have learned just about everything there is to know about killing people. It was very clever of the authors to show how relevant that ancient knowledge can be today.

32 Killer Chromosomes by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

After several weak books, The Destroyer finds its magic again with a straight-up science fiction adventure story. Scientist Sheila Feinberg recklessly combines several experimental DNA solutions in an attempt to prove how safe they are and turns herself into a sort of weretiger driven with a need to hunt and kill humans. Remo is sent out to find the beast and makes a critical mistake which leads to Feinberg almost killing him. He’s still good enough that he drives Feinberg off, but the shock to his system knocks him out of his Sinanju training (something Chiun describes as an amnesia of the body rather than the mind) and he begins sinking back into his ordinary human state—smoking cigarettes, eating meat, and plunging into a terrible depression.

Feinberg, meanwhile, is so impressed by Remo’s physical skills that she becomes obsessed with capturing him as a stud for a future race of tiger creatures. It’s not completely clear why she feels the need to do this, because she also begins forcing regular humans to imbibe her tiger formula turning them into werebeasts like her—creatures that begin hunting Remo.

Smith also makes several mistakes here and President Carter actually tries (and fails) to shut CURE down because Remo isn’t reporting in anymore. In setting a trap for the tiger people, Smith unknowingly puts everything on the line as CURE faces off against its most serious threat yet.

33 Voodoo Die by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

The plot of Voodoo Die is fairly weak. A fictitious Caribbean nation has discovered a new superweapon that disintegrates people and the nations of the world are trying to make a deal with them to obtain it. Their dictatorial leader is erratic at best and there is a parody of spies racing around trying to find the weapon and obtain it. In fact, just about every nation in the world has sent their spies except the U.S. because the CIA of Jimmy Carter’s Administration is so terrified of Congressional investigations that they don’t do their job anymore—at least not until Carter twists their arms and they agree to send a part-time untrained woman named Ruby Gonzalez to pacify the president.

Ruby is the highlight of the novel. She’s smart, practical, competent, and funny and her interactions with Remo and Chiun are often hilarious. She lifts a mediocre plot into something much better, and because she is going to appear in at least the next two novels, that is a very good thing.

34 Chained Reaction by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Ruby Gonzalez appears again but she’s not enough to rescue this very weak Destroyer novel. A descendant of southern slave holders has decided to re-enslave African Americans—at least until he runs into Remo, Chiun, and Ruby. The only really good thing about this novel is Smith’s interaction with Ruby in which he correctly deduces that she has figured out what CURE is. He wants Remo and Chiun to kill her and they refuse. Chiun, in fact, has decided that Ruby would make an excellent mother for Remo’s children (Remo has not been consulted) and thus the next generation of the House of Sinanju. Unfortunately, the small bits of fun this circumstance brings about were not enough to save the novel.

35 Last Call by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Murphy and Sapir definitely did not like the CIA in the 1970s. Several of their books have plot elements that stress the incompetence of the organization and its failure to prioritize national security. In Last Call, a Carter appointee gets rid of a program he knows nothing about in order to save money—and in so doing, accidentally triggers a doomsday scenario. The program was designed to assassinate key Soviet figures if they launched a nuclear strike on the U.S. but it is set in motion not by a nuclear strike but by a failure to file a report which can’t be filed when the program is shut down.

This is a fun novel and let’s Harold Smith get some time in the limelight. Smith set up this program during the Eisenhower Administration when he was still in the CIA. Now Smith has to use Remo and Chiun to try and stop the leader of the Soviet Union from being assassinated.

Ruby Gonzalez reappears for the third time in this novel and while she certainly continues to be a sharp and capable operative, I did not think that the banter between her and Remo and Chiun was as effective this time around.

36 Power Play by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Remo and Chiun get the task of protecting Wesley Pruiss, publisher of the aptly named pornographic magazine, Gross. Pruiss has been crippled by a knife wielding assassin shortly after announcing that he was investing his fortune in figuring out how to power a town completely by solar energy. (He actually “bought” the town so that he could make extremely raunchy movies without trouble from the authorities.) For some reason, Harold Smith, the Director of CURE believes that Pruiss will come through on the solar energy and sends Remo and Chiun to keep him alive.

This is not the sort of mission Remo excels at. What usually happens is that Remo meets the bad guy early in the book, likes the bad guy, and totally doesn’t understand that the bad guy is moving against him until very late in the novel. Chiun, for his part, usually figures everything out very quickly and just doesn’t tell Remo what’s really going on.

To make this book more interesting than most, Murphy and Sapir introduce a group of renegade descendants of Sinanju villagers. (Sinanju is the impoverished North Korean fishing town that Chiun calls home.) These descendants betrayed one of Chiun’s ancestors after he had taught them how to wield a knife effectively and he exiled them. Interestingly enough, the knife-wielding assassin in this book does not believe the myths of the Masters of Sinanju and is in for a big surprise when he runs into Remo.

Over all, this is a fun novel despite its weaknesses. The elements that make this series so enjoyable—the legends, the relationship between Remo and Chiun, Chiun’s peculiar way of viewing the world, and the action—are all here.

37 Bottom Line by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In Bottom Line, Remo and Chiun are once again given the task of protecting people rather than killing them. In this case it is a wealthy and influential American family whose youngest members seem to be going crazy before killing themselves. They, of course, don’t seem to think there is anything to fear. The plot was completely transparent to everyone (including the reader) except Remo. That being said, it was still a quick and enjoyable read.

38 Bay City Blast by Warren Murphy

This is one of the better Destroyer novels. In the destitute New Jersey town of Bay City, an eccentric and wealthy man arrives and begins taking over, eventually blackmailing the mayor into leaving and getting himself appointed to the position himself. He then begins to invite major organized crime figures to come to Bay City and set up shop. This attracts the attention of a group of vigilantes whose leader calls himself The Eraser, He’s come to town to rescue Bay City from the criminals. Finally, this results in Remo and Chiun being called in to protect the mayor who has caused all the trouble. Yes, you read that right. Remo is assigned to protect the bad guy from the vigilantes.

What follows is a delightful parody of the “shoot ‘em up” subgenre—especially of books like The Executioner, or even, The Destroyer. And it does this without Remo having to be his normal absolutely dense self. This book breaks the “bodyguard” rules that Murphy and Sapir have established in many earlier books and allows Remo and Chiun to do what they do best. There’s the usual banter to liven things up and one of the best endings of the series so far.

39 Missing Link by Warren Murphy

President Carter’s brother-in-law, who I think (based on my elementary school recollections) is loosely (at least I hope it’s loosely) based on his brother, Billy Carter, disappears under mysterious circumstances and Remo has to find him. Frankly, there isn’t a lot in most of this book that required Remo’s skills, but it was still fun from beginning to end. The side plot was in many ways more memorable than the main storyline. Chiun has been watching Olympic Trials on television and realized that his Sinanju training makes him capable of winning in every category. It’s a delightful image—a ninety-year-old Korean man outlifting the weightlifters, out sprinting the runners, out jumping the jumpers, and so on. Chiun is, for all intents and purposes, superhuman. However, it would be difficult to keep the low profile required for their work for CURE if Chiun was on the cover of every magazine and cereal box. So Remo has to talk him out of this by convincing him that it would be against the rules for him to compete in his kimono. This only momentarily diverts Chiun who then realizes that Remo could compete for Sinanju instead. I presume that this is setting up the next novel which will occur during the Olympic Games in the Soviet Union.

40 Dangerous Games by Warren Murphy

This is one of my favorite Destroyer novels. A terrorist group has threatened to kill all of the American athletes at the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. (Yes, I know that the U.S. didn’t attend those games, but this book was obviously written before Jimmy Carter made that decision.) The Soviets will not let the U.S. send security teams to accompany their athletes, so Harold Smith, head of CURE, sends Remo and Chiun. To get there, Remo has to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team and the only challenge for him here is to not perform too well—because as the heir to the mysteries of Sinanju, Remo could make the Olympic athletes in every sport look like toddlers coming out onto the field.

So on one level it was just a lot of fun watching Remo try not to perform too well, but there are a couple of great subplots involving a jealous athlete and a young gymnast who intrigues Remo enough to help her excel at her art in a way she never before imagined. Then there is Chiun who wants Remo to win so he can get endorsement deals. And there is also the not insignificant problem of stopping a terrorist organization from killing all the Americans at the games. Suffice it to say, that this was one of the best of the series and I enjoyed every page of it.

41 Firing Line by Warren Murphy

With Firing Line, Murphy provides another strong volume in the Destroyer series. This time, Remo and Chiun have to go head-to-head with a villain who can make fire with his mind. He’s only a teenager, but he’s got a taste for burning buildings—and people—and Remo is on his list. Chiun is particularly concerned because of an ancient Sinanju legend involving the only time a Master of Sinanju failed in a mission—and a pair of curses that ordain that a descendent of Sinanju and of the original fire maker will refight the battle in the future. It's always nice for Remo to have to solve different problems, and the fact that the bad guy is technically a child adds a lot of complexity as the traditions of Sinanju abhor killing children. But how can Remo stop this firebug without killing him?

This novel is also worth reading as it is the last appearance of Ruby Gonzalez. Ruby started strong in this series and then was poorly written for most of the rest of her appearances. Fortunately, she ends on a strong note. She’s decided to leave CURE and Smith has decided that means she must die. Remo, her friend, naturally doesn’t want to take that assignment. Ruby’s fate is worth reading the novel for.

42 Timber Line by Warren Murphy

An old acquaintance of Harold Smith’s discovered a tree that produces raw kerosene like a maple tree produces syrup. That was twenty years ago and the trees have been successfully transplanted from the Amazon to the U.S. and are about ready to prove their worth. Naturally, lots of people find the idea that the U.S. could become self-sufficient in oil production troubling and want to burn the grove to the ground. Remo and Chiun have to stop them from doing it.

This is a fun adventure. Nothing about it is too deep and you have to keep reminding yourself that this was written forty years ago when the oil and gas situation was very different than it is today. There are the usual cast of over the top personalities as Remo blunders around trying to find the villain, eliminating suspects usually because they die. Chiun, of course, figures things out much faster, but doesn’t deign to give Remo the information he needs. How Sinanju will survive when Remo becomes reigning master remains to be seen.

43 Midnight Man by Warren Murphy

Murphy slides back into science fiction for this tale about Elmo Wimpler, a man who invents an invisibility paint. Notice that Murphy wastes no time with subtly here. Wimpler, as the name suggests, is a total wimp. He’s the kind of guy that used to get sand kicked on him at the beach in those old Charles Atlas advertisements. He’s wimpy enough that the reader’s sympathies are strongly with him, until he’s pushed over the edge and becomes a homicidal murderer at which point we can’t wait for Chiun and Remo to catch up with him and put him out of his misery.

Interwoven around Wimpler’s tale is the story of a monarch based on the Shah of Iran in exile. He’s the target for the new homicidal maniac who is in quest of a new profession as an assassin. He’s portrayed highly sympathetically, but one suspects all is not well at his home in exile.

As Remo and Chiun try to protect the dying monarch while catching Wimpler, new assassins, apparently connected to the monarch’s household start coming after them. These combats between the Masters of Sinanju and these highly trained soldiers are the highlight of the story, for they show once again how superior Remo and Chiun are. The problem of dealing with an invisible opponent is also well dealt with. Overall, this is a good one.

44 Balance of Power by Warren Murphy (Ghost Co-Writer Molly Cochran)

The best thing about this weak Destroyer novel is the foreword by Warren Murphy in which he gives some insights into his partnership with Richard Sapir in writing the books and sort of explains why Sapir has disappeared from the covers. Sapir then writes his own forward which I hope was meant to be humorous but makes him look insane.

The story is not actually much of a Destroyer novel. It’s really about an aging CIA man named Barney Daniels who has lost himself in a bottle and is both outing the CIA and killing people. Much of the novel is dedicated to finding out how Barney got this way and seeing if he can pull himself back together. I suppose it was an okay story, but it wasn’t what I look for in a Destroyer novel.

45 Spoils of War by Warren Murphy (Ghost Writer: Molly Cochran)

This was another weak book in the series. A charismatic minister is taking over army bases and turning the soldiers into his own army and no one can figure out what’s happening to the soldiers. No, that doesn’t make sense, and neither did this novel. Remo and Chiun come in to fix things, get attacked a few times, and finally figure out what’s going on. There’s really nothing to write home about here.

The only truly good thing about the novel is that Remo passes another phase of his Sinanju training, having a dream about dying. I didn’t think this boosted the story very much, but in the larger scheme of things as Remo advances toward being a master, it’s worth noting. I also wonder if Chiun’s former pupil, Nuich, passed this stage.

46 Next of Kin by Warren Murphy

The Destroyer finds its footing again in this novel about an unsuspected apprentice to Sinanju traitor, Nuihc. The apprentice, known as the Dutchman, combines Sinanju training with psychic abilities that make him a formidable opponent for Chiun and Remo. Add to that that he has sworn to the now deceased Nuihc that he will kill the remaining masters of Sinanju and you have the basis for a good story.

Murphy takes the time to develop the backdrop and build tension by getting into the head of the Dutchman who clearly doesn’t truly understand how deadly Remo and Chiun are. At times, unfortunately, it also felt as if the author didn’t remember how deadly the Masters of Sinaju are, making me wonder if there may have been a ghost writer involved in the novel. Remo is troubled by the need to hold his breath long before he should have been and there is an encounter with some strangely acting serpents that also didn’t feel quite “real” to me as a longtime admirer of the series. I’d also say that after a great buildup to the Dutchman’s powers, he didn’t use the psychic abilities nearly as effectively as I would have expected. Yet none of this truly detracted from the story and Chiun’s surprising sympathy for the Dutchman really humanized the tale. I would have expected Chiun to want to stamp out the illicit branch of Sinanju and yet he seems to not want to be driven to that extreme. Perhaps he is remembering his own failure to properly mentor Nuihc.

We also see some excellent interaction between Remo and Chiun—not the normal banter (there is plenty of that)—but genuine concern and affection for each other when they fear that the Dutchman may just have what it takes to kill one or both of them. Overall, it is one of the best novels in the series and also introduces one of its most interesting recurring villains.

47 Dying Space by Warren Murphy

The survival machine, Mr. Gordons, returns for what is his most unusual adventure yet. Mr. Gordons is an assimilator machine who believes that its survival is threatened by the existence of Remo and Chiun. To defeat them, he is constantly searching for a way to become “creative”. After his last encounter with Remo, he was dismantled and destroyed, but enough of his parts survived that when (through a strange confluence of events) they came into contact with an extremely high-tech computer, he was able to put himself back together again—but with memory problems that cause him to seek out the creator of the high-tech computer for assistance. Strangely, the android who has been so horrific in past adventures, forms a friendship with this scientist, even as he continues his crusade against Remo.

Things get rather complicated after that and I don’t want to give away any surprises, so I’ll just say that this book will make you wonder if the killer robot could actually become a hero. It’s a bit silly at times, but thoroughly enjoyable.

48 Profit Motive by Warren Murphy

This is the longest Destroyer novel in the series thus far and one of the worst. Someone has invented a bacteria that eats oil. It sounds great when you’re talking about oil spills, but the villain is planning to seed it in the oil wells of the world to destroy them, then step into the void this creates with a monopoly on an incredibly expensive (and damaging to human health) synthetic fuel.

The plot holds potential, but Murphy utterly fails in enacting it. The story is just plain boring and it goes on and on and on (remember, longest Destroy novel in the series thus far). In fact there are only two slightly redeeming characteristics to this tale. First, Remo and Chiun get put at odds over an ancient Sinanju contract. This could have made things great, but unfortunately this plot twist falls as flat as the rest of the novel.

The second point of interest is that this is the first appearance of recurring Destroyer villain, Friend. Friend is an autonomous computer program written for the sole purpose of making a profit. In later books, Friend makes a great villain, but unfortunately not here.

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.

Inside Sinanju by Richard Sapier and Warren Murphy

(Formerly titled The Assassin's Handbook)

This quick guide to the Destroyer series doesn’t really offer very much other than a great novella reviewing the events of Remo’s training in the first book from the perspective of his trainer, Chiun. When Sapier and Murphy wrote Created, the Destroyer, they did not yet have a full understanding of what Sinanju was. (Let’s be honest, they probably didn’t have any real understanding of it.) This retcon permited them to tweak the origin story to fit in to the understanding developed later in the series and by itself it is worth the price of admission.

There are also a bunch of throw-ins such as a list of major villains, snippets about the main cast, and tongue-in-cheek addressing of some of the issues that have come up in the series. The one thing I found most interesting was Warren Murphy’s list of his ten favorite Destroyer novels and why he felt that way. In a couple of cases I strongly disagreed with him, but his reasoning interested me.

Here's Murphy’s top ten with the number of stars I gave the same books:

  1. Chinese Puzzle ****
  2. Union Bust ****
  3. Judgment Day *****
  4. Assassin’s Playoff ***
  5. Funny Money ****
  6. In Enemy Hands ***
  7. Mugger Blood *
  8. Killer Chromosomes *****
  9. Firing Line ****
  10. Profit Motive **