William J. Lambert, III – Adonis Trilogy (1969-1970)

Review by Justin Tate

It doesn’t get any more 1969 than Adonis. This novel is as trippy as an extended foot and more surreal than Salvador Dali’s wet dreams. Though billed as “adult only” gay entertainment, much of the sex oozes with a slime of horror and supernatural mystery. You don’t know whether to be repulsed, turned on or terrified. Perhaps it’s the combination of all three which make it so unique.

Back in the day Adonis was popular enough to warrant two sequels. Today it’s an extremely rare find that might cost three figures for a tattered used copy.

California Scene, one of the more literary-minded gay presses, reviewed the novel in their May 1971 issue. They described it as “quite an exciting detective story” and praised Lambert’s “great skill in handling” a “number of good ideas.” In the same breath, however, there was concern that the “extremely involved” plot was peopled with “too many characters” and consequently difficult to follow.

A fair review to be sure, though I would give Lambert more credit for his handling of a large cast, even if it is unnecessarily large. The reviewer doesn’t comment on the steamy moments except to say there is “of course plenty of sex.” It’s actually rare for reviews of pulp to mention erotic scenes. Too bad, since it would be nice to have an historical record of reactions to such things. Vintage pulp isn’t afraid to venture into uncomfortable territories and I wonder if authors intended to make readers feel that way or if it’s just a sign of our changing attitudes toward sex.

That newspapers and magazines reviewed pulp at all, and so rarely mention the sex scenes, I believe is a testament to the fact that many gay readers gobbled up these books for their plot and representation. If it weren’t for the Adult Only aisle, finding adventure stories with a happily gay protagonist would be rare to impossible during the 1960’s and ’70s. It’s still rare!

I’ll try to explain the plot, but it won’t be easy. LSD would probably help. I’ll do my best without…

Adonis Tyler is a hunky detective sleuthing out the culprit of a sadistically mutilated laboratory rat. The rat dates back to prehistoric times, making it particularly valuable to researchers. So valuable, in fact, that if they can find its remaining entrails there’s still a chance to harvest its otherworldly powers.

Shadowy figures also seek the rat intestines, however, including a cabal of attractive men who’re fueled with the sexual prowess of actual Egyptian gods. These cutthroat hotties murder off the researchers, but still can’t locate the dead rat without Adonis’ help.

Adonis follows the case to Egypt where he experiences first hand (among other body parts) what these human sex gods can do. Along the way mysteries unfurl until we’re given a satisfying conclusion which leaves much to the imagination. Perhaps it continues on in Book 2? Perhaps it’s meant to leave the head spinning with visions of erotic nightmares? Either way, it’s a story grabs ahold and doesn’t let go.

Indeed much of Adonis gets wild. For example, Adonis willingly allows a hallucinogenic ant to bite his peter to experience heightened stimulation. He also has an unusual quirk where he drops his pants and satisfies himself when faced with high stakes danger. He learned this “clears his mind” during the Korean war. He revisits the technique after stumbling upon the skeletal remains of a fresh corpse, much to the reader’s shock and surprise.

Adonis At Actum (1970)

This sequel to Adonis (1969) picks up right where we left off—sort of. The adventure of the supernaturally powerful rat guts has been dismissed, and now we’re on to another mystery. Strange beetles have been found in the excavated tomb of King Tut. When eaten, these rare beetles provide powerful aphrodisiac qualities. Specifically, according to the back cover synopsis, “thirty-six nonstop hours of utter sodomistic bliss!” A big deal for 1970, pre-Viagra society.

The only problem is getting to the beetles. The tomb is surrounded by dangerous waters, requiring scuba diving into the Nile and avoiding dangerous characters guarding the area.

For this adventure, Adonis Tyler, our leading gumshoe detective, demonstrates even less sleuthing than before. It’s easy to forget his occupation entirely as he becomes a wallflower of bizarre events swirling around him. The action keeps things moving, but many events seem random and disconnected from the leads. Their purpose, I presume, is only to shock.

As is common with sequels, there’s a desire to go bigger and more extreme than the first installment, which was already more than a sober mind can handle. Horror elements are turned way up, but this time they’re less scary and more gross. Maybe I’m just a baby, but the violence here exceeds what I’m comfortable with—and there’s little thematic justification for the excess, as there have been in previous Lambert novels.

Usually I would find such a blend of eroticism and horror effective, but here I believe pressure to produce another jaw-dropping top seller resulted in trying too hard. Sometimes less is more.

All that said, still an intriguing artifact from the earliest days of gay fiction. These writers were the first in world history to publish uninhibited gay content. Their works are historical, pop culture artifacts, for better and for worse. Now over fifty years old, and often showing its problematic age, this particular artifact falls more into the ‘for worse’ column, but often is the fate of middle books. The ending cliffhanger is dramatic enough that I’ll no doubt continue on to “Adonis at Bomasa” just to finish off the trilogy.

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