I honestly didn't mean to take so long to put up a new blog post, but my internet service has been having some issues. See, my house got struck by lightning several months ago (just as all the church-going folks in my town have been predicting it would) and it blitzed a few things. I got off pretty lucky and only had to replace a few DVD-recorders and telephones, but it also whacked my modem. I got a new one, but for some reason that I'm way too non-tech to understand, my computer doesn't like it much. So, I hardly ever have the internet at my house. And I get so sick of looking at it at work all day that I haven't been in a huge rush to get it fixed. I'm pretty much a luddite, anyway -- I kinda hate the internet, even though I use it a lot. But, in any case, a friend of mine who's far more net-savvy than me was at the house this afternoon and he played around and got it working. Will it work next time I turn the computer on? That's something no one can predict. Honestly, I'm kind of doubting it... but, since it's on tonight, I figured, better put up a blog post while I can! My reading's been a little slower than usual lately, and I've been doing more horror than action books, but I had more than enough to make a decent post, so, I figured I'd do one of those. I could probably wrangle a way to get some text up from work, but what fun are these posts without the cover scans? So, anyway, here goes... sorry for the wait!
Some of these are not technically "series books," but I take a wide approach to that -- it's the same kind of fiction, so the difference between a John Clarkson or Lee Child or Donald Hamilton book and a Revenger book is pretty much just presentation. If you're into the kind that are more pulpy and number them, you'll almost assuredly like the glossier, un-numbered kind, too, if you give them a chance.
And Justice For One - John Clarkson (Jove, 1992)
Tough, violent, uncompromising revenge story pitting a hard-ass security expert against a rich bastard's army of enforcers, who beat his brother into a coma. Getting some help from a trained martial artist, our hero, Jack Devlin, ferrets out who did the deed and brings down the whole connected-to-the-cops criminal organization, mostly with his bare fists and a couple of martial arts fighting sticks. Excellent hard-edged modern noir with as much shooting, fighting, and action as you can put into a book and have it remain plausible. Any more and it'd be in Executioner-novel turf. Clarkson knows how to write fight scenes, and puts his hero through a meat grinder. The fights get really brutal and even when Devlin wins he takes a ton of punishment... but always manages to deal out more than he takes. Great read.
One Man's Law - John Clarkson (Berkley, 1994)
Second book about Jack Devlin has him still nursing the bruises from all the brawls in the first book, while going to Hawaii to go on a whole new revenge rampage. A war buddy who'd been through hell with him in Vietnam has been found sliced open and half-eaten by wild pigs, and Devlin wants to put the hurt on whoever's responsible. So does his buddy's beautiful sister, Leilani, who immediately starts an affair with Devlin just so we can have plenty of sex mixed in with all the violence. A big Samoan bruiser named Tuli joins them as Devlin hunts down the killer, a vicious psychopath who's been dealing in guns stolen from the army and planning a race war to kick all the haoles (whites) out of Hawaii. Clarkson is great at setting up situations that land Devlin in some major fight every thirty pages or so; there's plenty of plot to hold it all together, but you know it's never going to be long because Devlin's throwing down with somebody, be it in brutal street brawls, gun battles, or, often, both. There's lots of maiming, and Devlin takes a beating himself, but, as in the first book, no matter how banged up he gets it's never enough to stop him from handling another vicious fight; sometimes I pictured him as Marv from Sin City. He and Tuli even duke it out with wild boars at one point. The sex is as graphic as the violence, including some pretty hardcore dominatrix stuff that one of the bad guys is into. It's a little long at over 350 small-print pages, but you can't fault it for pacing -- it never lets up.
Gunships #1 : The Killing Zone - Jack Hamilton Teed (Zebra, 1981)
First in a Vietnam war series. Your hero is Col. John Hardin, a tough but weary Special Forces vet who's pretty sick of the war, especially the brass, and isn't adverse to doing things like smoking opium. He's sent out on a mission he tries to refuse (even telling a general to go fuck himself) and the whole thing's a set-up to get him killed. But even though the helicopter flying him in gets shot down, he survives and is taken prisoner by the Viet Cong. A team of murderous misfits -- each explained by a chapter devoted to them -- are sent to recover him. There's a guy who shot his own men so the helicopter he was in wouldn't have to risk enemy fire picking them up. Another shot his fellow soldiers while hallucinating on LSD. Another's a black guy who killed a sadistic prison guard to avoid being raped by him. Another fragged an officer. These guys are forced to go after Hardin, and meanwhile Hardin's being waterboarded and beaten. There's a lot of action and it's not badly written, but there are so many characters that it all goes by in one big non-absorbing blur, like you've just turned on a war movie long enough to see a battle scene; it's not boring but there are just too many personalities to deal with in a large-print 250 page book. Oddly, the book doesn't have much to do with helicopters. I'm wondering if Teed (whose writing style has quirks that make me suspect he might be British) got handed the series title and was told to work up something around it, and, not wanting to be stuck writing about helicopters, had a grunt lamely compare every man in Vietnam to a "gunship." It's not a gung-ho or jingoistic book; the war is presented as pretty much of a life-wasting mistake and the soldiers don't want to be there -- they're just stuck in a bad situation and doing what they have to to survive the day. The cynicism helps elevate the book above just another pulp book, but in the end it gets lost under its own action scenes.
Storm Rider #2: River of Fire - Robert Baron (Jove, 1993)
Post-apocalypse biker action that's uncomfortably closer to being a fantasy novel than Road Warrior stuff. It has its biker knowledge down tight, but blends it all with something a little too sword-and-sorcery for me. The world's been wrecked by what sounds like a meteor strike, and biker gangs rule the plains. The gangs are divided into two main factions, the High Free Folk and their enemies, the Cathead Nation. Vaguely allied with the Catheads is some mystical quasi-religious cult called The Fusion, complete with Fusion Priests and such. Our main hero is a High Free Folk dude who in the first book had the cool name of Outlaw One but now is going by the lame Dungeons & Dragons moniker, Tristan Burningskull. He's the only survivor of a big gang called The Hardriders, who were known as "Storm Riders" because they liked to ride around the tornados that plagued the plains. The bikers are all mingled with Indian tribes and it's very complex and, frankly, not interesting enough to keep track of, although if you're into fantasy novels that clan/tribe shit'll probably fascinate your gooberish Game-of-Thrones ass. The plot is pretty incidental, with the legendary Tristan going to a big gathering of bikers, where he gets in a power struggle with a biker leader named John Hammerhand. Most believe Tristan is fated to be the new leader because there's a new star in Taurus or some astrological bullshit. He tangles with some Sons of Thor and defends the gang he's riding with, The Jokers, who catch a lot of flack for having a female president (which the "Man Lodge" can't handle). Another legendary biker, a little guy in a metal mask named The Black Avenger, shows up and puts a whupping on Tristan with some kung fu stuff (and a metal foot). Then they have a big battle with the Catheads, where Tristan gets to use his new sword (a lot of the fighting is done with swords, chains, and clubs, because they have guns but ammo's kinda scarce). Then Tristan goes on a quest to retrieve his father's legendary bike, Wildfyre, from some ugly mutants in the "shaking lands" -- an earthquake-prone zone where people live in tunnels even though that's the least sensible place to live in a fault zone. Just in case the story isn't fantasy-crap enough for you, Tristan has to get the bike by battling a "dragon" -- a tyrannosaurus that's alive for some reason. Then he leads another battle against the Catheads. It's all crazy and whacky, but also has enough biker grit to keep it from floating completely away into mural-on-the-side-of-a-van land. The action scenes are too few and aren't terribly strong, which could make a 236-pages-of-small-print book a tedious trip, but the book survives on better-than-usual writing... which is quirky enough to stay interesting. This is one of those books that's practically written in its own language, which you have to figure out by context (it's usually not that hard, especially if you have some knowledge of biker culture). The post-apocalypse biker/Indian/mutant/hippie slang is pervasive and some of it is kinda badass, even if a lot of it is silly, too. It's definitely fantasy-style stuff, though, with wandering bards and such -- it wouldn't surprise me if it was written by a moonlighting Elfquest-type author. It has shortcomings, it has strengths, it may irritate you but it's still worth reading. An odd one for sure.
The Devil's Dozen - Nick Carter (Martin Cruz Smith) Award - 1973
Killmaster is disguised as a Turkish drug dealer so he can make a sale to the Mafia overseas and get the skinny on who's importing junk into the U.S. -- an assignment that's already killed off another AXE operative. The Mafia assigns a girl to handle the deal (just so the book can have the required sex scenes), but Nick is dealing in such high amounts of opium that the mob's not sure they wouldn't rather just bump him off so he can't sell to the competition if they don't want to pay the high prices he's demanding. Escaping the hits means fights and car chases (which are very well-written -- Smith knows his way around defensive driving). Nick smuggles opium out of Europe by disguising it as marzipan candy; either this would actually work or Smith is a great bullshitter because as silly as that sounds, the details are convincing. His ingenuity gets him invited to a top-secret Mafia fortress (which sounds like the Nazi headquarters in Where Eagles Dare), which is what AXE was trying to target. Nick learns that they have a method of destroying any army that might be sent to save him... and then his cover's blown. Wall-to-wall slam-bang action that manages to maintain a fairly complex plot without a letup, and it's very well-written. Nick fights a huge wrestler, tries to out-ski a helicopter gunship, gets caught in an avalanche, and Bond, James Bond, can just go fuck himself. The only weird things are I have no idea what the title has to do with the story, and the motorcycle chase depicted on the cover doesn't happen. I have no problem forgiving that, though, because this is one of the good ones, regardless.
Spykiller - Nick Carter #238 (David Hagberg) (Jove, 1988)
The plot is a bit like the James Bond Skyfall flick -- a thief steals a list of espionage agents in the Mediterranean area. The Russians send men after the thief, and America sends out Nick Carter. It should be great but even though I usually love the Nick Carter books, I really couldn't get into this one at all. So much time is spent following this not-very-interesting thief around that Nick becomes a bit player in his own book (this is one of the third-person ones, if you haven't guessed). The action scenes aren't bad and there's some fairly graphic sex, and overall the writing is more than competent, but somehow it doesn't hang together and I couldn't stay interested in it. Even with all the action going on, it remains uninvolving and dull. Ah well, with over 250 books, you're bound to get a dud once in a while.
Confirmed Kill #1 - Mike Morris (Diamond, 1992)
The government drags top sniper Con Duggan out of retirement because a tech wizard named Stephen Dye has developed a super-gun weapons system known as the See It Kill It Multiple Skill 1000 (SIKIM-1000, affectionately known as the "sic 'em") and they need Duggan's sniper skill. Why they need a skilled sniper is unclear, because from the way the gun's described it can aim itself and kill anything that's on its screen. It also seems to fire like a machine gun most of the time, or works as a grenade launcher -- it's not really portrayed as a sniper rifle (although the author is touted as a former Marine sniper himself). Honestly, I couldn't really make much sense out of the damn gun, which is one of the problems with the book: it sounds like it has some kind of death-ray function -- an "energy depletion" thing that's described as a "round of pure heat." A round is a physical bullet -- how can it be "pure heat" then? It's described as a shell that looks like a dildo (there's some honest gun-porn for ya!) but also only works about half the time. At times it sounds like a sniper rifle, but they also talk about mounting it on a plane. It needs Duggan's sniper skill but acquires its own targets and has a fire button instead of a trigger. You want to know a secret? Technology isn't very interesting. In fact, it makes things boring. During fights these guys are programming this gizmo and it lacks immediacy, tension, and good ol' fashioned oomph! I'd rather the dude struggle with a rusty ol' M-1 than this death-dealing Dude-You're Getting-A-Dell contraption. but, it is what it is, I guess... whatever it is. Anyhow, our two heroes - older grouchy tough guy Duggan and smartass oddball Dye -- form a team (they hate each other for about an hour and spend the rest of the book as BFF's) and are hit-men for the USA. Their first target is eveil sumbitched Peter Coy Booker, who's planning to kill the President of France and the Prime Minister of England. Duggan and Booker have a bad history. Anyway, after some skullduggery of variable interest, they fight it out with the aid of a quirky British girl and her old double-decker bush that they use as a shooting platform. Morris's prose is good, yet somehow he doesn't draw very clear pictures, and while a lot rests on the interplay between our buddy-team, neither of them are particularly witty or interesting, so it all falls kinda flat without ever actually getting bad. There's a sex scene or two and the battle scenes aren't bad, but I remain pretty meh on the whole thing and don't feel like it's the "sniper" book it's advertised to be. There were three more, which I won't avoid but will be in no rush to read, either.
The Revenger #1 - Jon Messman (Signet, 1973)
Yet another Executioner clone. A businessman, Ben Martin, resists the Mafia's protection racket, and when they try getting pushy he pushes back, sticking one torpedo's hand to the table with a bayonet. Even if you're a tough guy -- which Martin definitely is, having been a top trained assassin in Vietnam -- this isn't really a wise thing to do, because the Mafia operates on its reputation and can't let such a thing slide. So they kidnap Martin's son (who at various points sounds like he's anything from an infant to a first grader). They don't intend to hurt him but mistakes are made and the kid gets away from them and falls off a roof and dies. Ben's wife is devastated and leaves him and Ben -- who's an extremely stubborn man who honestly causes a lot of his own problems -- is vengeance-crazed and starts hunting the mob with high-powered rifles. It's written with more care than most (it's certainly no Sharpshooter or Marksman book) but Messman's style is off-putting for a reason I can't quite put my finger on, since the prose is far from bad. There's a fair amount of mayhem and it's held together with drama, but it comes across as a little slower than it should be and it's a bit dry. Martin's not quite a cardboard character, though, coming across as so hardheaded he sometimes undermines himself, but he's also not just some nihilistic psychopathic trigger-puller -- he's careful and follows his training so he gets in as little danger as possible while taking out his targets. It's not a bad book, just not quite what it could have been.
For more on this book and the second volume, please visit the excellent Glorious Trash blog... which, if you like this post, should be one of your main internet hang-outs, anyway - I know it's one of mine!
Omega Sub #1 - J. D. Cameron (Avon, 1991)
While the super-secret, top-of-the-line nuclear submarine U.S.S. Liberator is on maneuvers under the polar ice cap, the rest of the world gets decimated by nuclear war. Thinking they may be the last people alive on the planet, the Liberator heads out to see if there's anyone else to rescue (the first, through AMAAAAAAZING good luck, is the captain's brother in a lifeboat, after his helicopter was shot down by another super-sub, possibly Russian). Everywhere they go they find devastation and "white shirts" -- people gone homicidally deranged by radiation madness who -- for some bizarre and bewildering reason -- all wear white dress shirts. The white-shirts are homicidal maniacs but don't seem to make very worthy opponents, trying to fight against the crew's machine guns using scythes and such. The crew find survivors in San Francisco (where the author thinks the World Trade Center was located!), including a pretty lady scientist so we can get an awkward romantic interest going with Donovan, the sub's captain. Donovan decides the best way to deal with the radiation-maddened white shirt is to blow them up with one of the sub's missiles, so you get a what-the-fuck? scene of a sub nuking part of an already-nuked American city. Adding to the rather lunkheaded thought process is the mention of a "Quayle administration" - I guess the author thought a moron who couldn't spell "potato" actually had a shot at being president. Then again, there was George W. Bush, so maybe he wasn't too far off the mark with the Quayle thing. Anyway, there's more wrangling with survivors about who'll join the sub's crew and more non-eventful confrontations with the enemy sub, which I'm sure will figure into later volumes, and hopefully be more interesting (if the copyrights are any indicator, this one was written by Michael Jahn while the second was by David Robbins). It's an interesting idea, packed with lots of technological details which might excite somebody who isn't me, but overall it's kind of dry, too timid, and tediously by-the-number.
The Wrecking Crew - Donald Hamilton (Gold Medal, 1960)
Second Matt Helm book has a supposedly out-of-shape Matt being officially brought back into the spying business and given the assignment to find and kill a notorious agent known as Caselius, who's killed off the last several agents who went after him. Matt is supposed to pose as a photographer taking pictures in Sweden for a hunting magazine, and, since he's supposed to just be an average citizen, if he gets provoked by enemy agents he's supposed to just take the beating, rather than blow his cover by showing how well-trained he is at defending himself. His contact is a woman but she's not very trustworthy and may be working for the other side, setting him up for the kill. Forget (as in completely) the Dean Martin movie of the same name -- there is absolutely zero goofiness in this book and Matt is a killing machine who's ruthless about getting his job done. Everything is kept very realistic so the body count is relatively small, but the kills pack much more punch because of it. Great stuff.
It's maybe the dullest cover for a book imaginable, and somebody actually got paid for designing it.
Die Trying - Lee Child (Jove, 1998)
With Jack Reacher's uncanny knack for the highly improbable, he ends up accidentally kidnapped by crazy militia thugs because he just happened to be helping their target (a woman named Holly Johnson) with her dry-cleaning because she had a bad leg. This woman, who Reacher never saw before, is not only a highly trained FBI agent, she's also the daughter of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the militia wants to use her as a bargaining chip so they can start their own country in a part of Montana... or inspire other militia groups around the country to rebel by seeing government forces massacre them all. If you can buy it that Reacher would just end up in such a dire situation by complete happenstance, then you should have little problem with the rest of it. Child does a great job keeping Reacher and his evenly-matched new girlfriend/fellow captive in seemingly-hopeless situations against a very formidable enemy (the head of the militia is especially evil, fanatical, ruthless, and capable enough to be a problem even for the almost-superpowered Reacher) and there are plenty of tense situations. Holly ends up in an escape-proof building whose walls are insulated with dynamite that'll go off if it's hit by a stray bullet. Reacher has to escape by squeezing himself through a narrow cavern infested with rats in total darkness -- it's likely a nod to what Rambo had to do in First Blood but even more harrowing; it's enough to throw even Reacher into a state of near-panic. And there are plenty of fights and battle scenes, interspersed with detailed lectures on ballistics that remain interesting enough not to slow down the action even though that's exactly what they're doing -- Child's telling you where bullets are and what they're doing on a thousandth-of-a-second timeline. It's not quite as "coincidental" as the first book, but also doesn't move quite as fast since Reacher's a captive for most of it, but it's still a good surviving-a-seemingly-hopeless-situation-through-skill-and-wits tale that's hard to put down.
Now, hopefully the internet connection will hold up and the next post won't be six months from now, but, we'll have to see how it goes.
Even lightning didn't stop me from Twittering, so you can always find me there.