A One And A Two...

Hiya, it's me again with more reviews of action-series (and books that I can logically force into that definition) books.   I know it's a long stretch between me posting these monkeyspanks, but how can ya miss me if I don't go away?  And at least I give you a lot of bang for your buck when I finally get 'round to it... there's eighteen books reviewed here!  That's at least a dozen more than you probably want, even!   You can count them if you're a weirdo.   By fate, not by design, most of these are the first or second (or in the case of the Sonny Barger books, the first and the second) in the series.  Hence the title.   Anyway, enough intro... after all, you've got eighteen of these things to read!  And with all my lil' I-think-I'm-soooooo-funny intrusions, they're long enough as is.

It's the best infomercial for Sharpfinger knives ever!

Dead in 5 Heartbeats - Ralph "Sonny" Barger with Keith & Kent Zimmerman  (Harper Torch, 2003)

"I'm not no peace creep by any sense of the word," president of the Hell's Angels MC, Sonny Barger, once said, and he brings those sensibilities to his sideline as a novelist.  Gritty and kick-ass biker novel about the  problems faced by "Patch" Kinkade, former president of the Infidelz Motorcycle Club, as he tries to relocate to Arizona.  Almost as soon as he moves, a member of the Infidelz is gunned down and a gang war is brewing, so a reluctant Patch is called back to deal with that, as well an Infidel who's about to spill all the club's secrets to the feds.  It all plays like a really good grindhouse movie (and it's just become one - you can pre-order the DVDs now at http://deadin5heartbeats.com/ - I've got mine in), with realistic action scenes and plenty of fighin' 'n' ridin'.  Patch is a well-drawn character; he's a world-weary guy who'd like to settle down to a peaceful life, but circumstances don't make that feasible, and, being a stand-up fella, he does what (and who) he's gotta do.  

If you ever read the kind of short stories they had in Easyriders magazine (back before it turned "motorcycle enthusiast" instead of "biker") and wished they'd write something longer, this will make you really happy.  Who knew Sonny had it in him?  I hope he's got plenty more, but so far we've only gotten one other novel.  Hopefully the movie will be a hit and inspire him to write some more.  But, I'll forgive him if he's busy making more Sons of Anarchy episodes  (if you're not watching that show, go pick up the DVDs immediately - Breaking Bad and Walking Dead are the only things even giving it a contest for the best show on TV).

6 Chambers, 1 Bullet - Ralph "Sonny" Barger, with Keith & Kent Zimmerman (William Morrow, 2006)

After being burned on a gun deal where they're paid with counterfeit money, four members of the Infidelz MC are found in a meat locker, dead and frozen on their bikes.   Even though he's alienated from his club, Patch Kincaid teams up with a guy named Redbeard -- brother of one of the dead 'Delz -- to find out who did it so payback can be dealt.   They discover a Russian mob connection, and Patch and Redbeard get the snot walloped out of them by twin Russian boxers and their crime crew.  Patch is a hard guy to deter, though, and decides that the best way to get at the killer is to get himself sent to prison.  After a contempt-of-court charge he's sent up, and he works the system to ferret out the killer.  He knows the guy's supposed to have a panther tattoo so he equips himself with a jailhouse tat of a panther trap and a shank made out of a piece of a plastic bucket, and he goes hunting.   But there's a lot going on that Patch doesn't know.   Good thing he's a resourceful dude....  Good, tough biker action novel with a few slightly-far-fetched plot twists but a good sense of pacing and style.  Never gets boring, and Patch remains an interesting character.  Now, how 'bout another one?

Hellrider #2:  Blood Run - Dan Killerman (Dan Schmidt?)    (Pinnacle, 1985)

Jesse Heller (The Man Called Hell... who nobody ever gets around to calling Hell) is still a little banged up from the events of volume one (which was not, but should have been, called Barren Anus Of Suffering - don't be scared, you can click it!) when he picks up a hitchhiker named Lisa.   You'd think she'd find a more effective means of transportation since she's on the run from a motorcycle gang who want her dead.  Her old man was a member of the Sinners MC, and she witnessed them kill some college kids over a drug deal, so they want her out of the picture.   Heller has a vendetta against outlaw MC's, anyway, so he doesn't mind getting mixed up in this too much, even though he's on the run himself because cops want him for the massacre that ended the first book.  

The Sinners are an evil bunch, with foul bad-guy names like Turd, Pisser, and Cheese Nuts.  How tough can these guys really be if they allowed such names to stick?  Anyway, as in the first book, Heller takes almost more of a beating than he can dish out.  Every other page there's some new injury from a fight or a bike wreck, but he still manages to get a few shots off and brutally chain-whips a guy.  He also loses his guns a helluva lot, but manages to find one when he needs one (after taking another pounding, of course).   The Sinners aren't his only problem, either -- he's also got a crazy sheriff on his case.  This all results in a barrage of action that's pretty much constant after a point, but it turns into one big numbing blur. 

It's copyright by Dan Schmidt, so that's probably who actually wrote it, but, hey, "Killerman" is a cooler name, yeah?  A third, The Guns of Hell, must have been written because it was announced on the last page as coming out in just two more months, but it never surfaced.  Oddly, the back of the book says the gang is called The Grim Reapers, but they're the Sinners.  Maybe the existence of a real Grim Reapers MC made Killerman think twice?  I know I wouldn't write a book about killing off guys in a club who might come play kickball with my head. Okay and not badly written, but pretty average.  I still wish they'd made more, but Pinnacle was kinda on the ropes in those days.

 Attention mutants!  Bill O'Reilly has had enough of your shit! And he'd like a kitty to pet!

The Outrider #1  - Richard Harding  (Pinnacle, 1984)

I love the idea of post-apocalypse series (hell, I used to write ‘em) but they always seemed to get goofy on me.   This one starts with the cover.  What were they thinking, having Andrew-Dice-Down’s-Syndrome as the hero?   Then again, he looks a little like Bill O’Reilly, but that’s not really much kinder.  By the fourth book they had a different guy, but the damage may have been done because that dude was set in reader's minds. 

Anyway, that’s Bonner, a guy who used to be an “outrider” when the U.S. was destroyed in a nuclear war.   He, and others like him, drove all over the wrecked country, finding out where people and resources were and trying to unite it in some way.  Some of the outriders turned evil and set up little kingdoms, like the Hotstates, The Snowstates, and the Slavestates.  Bonner has an old enemy named Leather, who runs the Slavestates (in what used to be Washington D.C.), and he has a $10,000 bounty on Bonner’s head.  One of the fools who tries to collect it tells Bonner that Dara -- a female outrider who was Bonner’s girlfriend -- is still alive and being held hostage by Leather (who she was crazed with hate to kill because he’d slaughtered her village).  Bonner loads up his car (basically pipework welded around a engine) and drives out to get her back.  On the way he assembles a motley crew of helpers, including an outrider buddy who uses the ever-popular exploding arrows that captivated the world in the 80’s, a flame-thrower-wielding “gas-hound” named Cooker, a couple of 7-foot-tall mute giants called The Mean Brothers, and a lesbian biker gang.   They have to take on Leather’s squads of “radiation leper” bikers (guys who are eager to die in battle since it’ll save them from rotting away with radiation poisoning) and an 8-foot-tall tracker named Beck. 

There’s lots of gunfights and explosions and Bonner throwing knives into people, and some colorful post-nuke things like subway tunnels full of “rat people” and a trip through the Firelands (the coal belt, which got ignited and perpetually burns).  Past the halfway point it’s pretty much constant fighting, which actually gets kind of numbing even though it’s not badly written.   Bonner cuts off Leather’s hands, which he’ll replace (rather hilariously) with blocks of wood with knives in them -- they’ll fight it out about that in the following books.   A bit goofy, but the writing’s okay and it reads quickly, so you could do worse.

 Attention, heretics!  Marcel Marceau has had enough of your shit!
 (Remember, posing for this cover is on a couple of people's resumes.  I don't advise you to look too hard at the woman... there's something horrifyingly spooky about the look on her face.  And... a crocheted dress?  Ah, the 70's!)

The Inquisitor #2:  The Last Time I Saw Hell - Simon Quinn (Martin Cruz Smith)   (Dell, 1974)

Our hero, Francis Xavier Killy, enforcer for the Catholic Church, is already in deep shit as the book opens.  And I mean that in the most literal sense -- he's been rendered nearly comatose by a dart full of drugs and a couple of goons have tossed him into the fetid slime of the Paris sewer.  The flow carries him through underground pipes toward blades that grind the sewage into liquid mulch.  To find out how he gets out of that stinky situation you're going to have to be a stupid as I am and pay the ridiculously high price these books are fetching on the used market.   And even though I ponied up my dough for this, I still had to wait a hundred pages because it goes into a flashback right before Killy's about to go into the blades.  Gotta admit, Cruz knows how to hook a reader. 

Killy is the son of a Boston cop and worked for the CIA before his Catholicism led him to the church's Militia Christi, a part of the Holy Office of the Inquisition that takes care of church business by any means necessary.   And a guy named Sully, a former priest who collaborated with the Nazis, is now threatening the church and the entire French government.  He's pretty much forsaken Christ to worship Napoleon and has been using Action, the assassination squad of the French Intelligence services, to gather info on their own citizens and plan a coup on the French president.   Killy is dispatched after him... but Action is after Killy, too.   A girl he slept with (vows of celibacy would make for a boring book, so Killy's not burdened with those) almost shoots him with a gun disguised as a pen, they put a bomb in his car, and even blow up half a hotel where he's staying.  There's also a car chase and a shoot-out, all of which are well-written action scenes that make you wish there were more of them, but the book is mostly complicated (but intelligent) espionage and intrigue instead, which is nicely done but a bit slow.  

Killy is tough but not bloodthirsty at all;  in fact, he has to do fifteen days of penance for any man he kills, so he doesn't even carry a gun since that'd only make him more quick to cause deaths.   And that also makes the final confrontation with Sully pretty inventive (and a bit far-fetched) as Killy tries to take him to Hell... as literally as he can arrange.   It's good but not the holy grail or anything;  they should re-publish these in collections and drop the price.

 Yeah, my cover has a price sticker on it, but considering that yeah-who-gives-a-shit cover art I figured it wasn't worth trying to peel off...

Hardball #1  - William Sanders  (Diamond Books, 1992)

As the book opens, agent Dane is locked up and tortured in an African prison, awaiting execution.  He'd been caught while looking for a friend of his to help him on a mission.  Dane  (who's also your first person narrator) is former CIA, now free-lance (or trying to be -- the CIA has a way of pulling him back in) and he's getting a little burned out at 40 years old, weary from years of killing and in rough shape from getting shot, beaten, and diseased in trouble spots all over the world.   The CIA gets him out of his predicament and sends him to an island for rest and recovery, and to keep an eye on a congressman who'll be shacking up there with his mistress.  Dane gets back in shape quickly and has to fend off some partying jerks with a skeet gun.  When the jerks come back and shoot up his trailer in a speedboat-drive-by, he tries to buy a gun but can't get around the gun laws and ends up with shotgun slugs and an old cap-and-ball .44 Dragoon pistol that kills fine but is slow and tedious to load.   He pals around with an 80-year-old Indian and screws the congressman's mistress, and it's a pretty nice vacation... until an Arab hit team lands on the island and Dane has to fend them off with the few weapons he has.  Capturing AK-47s helps, and at one point he improvises a single-use shotgun out of an old bicycle pump.  

It takes a while to get violent (which I didn't mind because the day-to-day life won the island was interesting even if no one was getting killed), but when it kicks into gear it stays there a long time, and Dan racks up quite a body count and gets out of some tough scrapes.   The writing is better than usual for an action series (Sanders was supposedly in Army Security in Turkey and Laos, so he knows his stuff) and it keeps you engaged, giving Dane plenty of personality and making him tough but not superhuman.  He's definitely in the Matt Helm school of badass.  Why they gave the series a dumb name like "Hardball" is beyond me, and all three books had the blandest covers in the genre, with those featureless, modified silhouettes.   That can’t have helped sales, which is too bad because this was pretty good stuff. 

 Attention absurdly-huge clams!  Mike Nelson has had enough of your shit!

Sea Trap - Nick Carter (Jon Messman)   (Award, 1969)

Judas, an evil mastermind with a metal hand (and a gun built into one of the fingers) and a horribly-scarred face, is an old enemy of Nick’s, having appeared in a couple of previous volumes.  In this one he’s come up with a bizarre giant man-made clam to trap submarines (stop laughing!  it could happen!), and he’s holding one of them hostage and threatening to sell it, with all its tech secrets, to an enemy country if the U.S. doesn’t pay him a hundred million dollars.   The “hundred million dollars” makes this sound even more like a plot dreamed up by an eight-year-old than the giant clam does.  Helping him design the clam is a demented marine biologist who’s pathologically attracted to women, but he’s impotent so his frustration leads him torture and mutilate them and have them raped by a huge Mongolian.  

All these bad guys are so monstrous I pictured them drawn by Jack Kirby, and the things they do to women are horror novel stuff, torturing them ‘til they’re insane freaks, sticking sea lampreys and leeches on them, etc.   Nick goes undercover with an oceanographer who thinks he’s working for the Navy.  The oceanographer turns out to be a beautiful, intelligent, self-assured woman, so Nick decides it’ll be fun to “tame” her, which he’s sure he can do by acting like a chauvinist pig asshole.  He arrogantly bets her she’ll fall in love with him, then tries to flirt by rubbing his knee in her crotch!   On the side, Nick lays two other girls almost as soon as he meets them;  as luck would have it, they both end up as victims of the mad professor, giving Nick a revenge motive on top of the rest of his assignment.  Don’t worry, there’s plenty of mayhem, too, with Nick getting in gunfights, a battle to the death with the Mongol, and stuck in one hell of a fix when he calls an airstrike on the island while Judas pumps a couple tons of chum into the surrounding water to attract sharks in a huge feeding frenzy!  Pretty crazy written-in-third-person actionfest that never stops moving and keeps Nick in constant trouble while letting him be a more diabolical asshole than usual; the way he treats the feminist oceanographer (and the fact that he gets away with it -- I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything to tell you he wins his bet) had to be pretty Neanderthal even for the swinging ‘60’s.  A scene with the two of them stuck in a malfunctioning submarine had me laughing pretty hard;  Nick has to repair something under her seat and keeps smiling up at her from between her legs.  The gore and depravity level is pretty high here, with one guy even getting eaten alive by a mob of psychotics.  Kinda loonie but it’s a good one, even if it’s less plausible than some.  Then again, who doesn't love a good hey-let's-get-in-the-sandbox-and-play-armymen wheeee! plot once in a while?  I don't mind clams big enough to swallow nuclear subs as long as they don't abuse it by having them show up in every book.

Pale Horse Coming - Stephen Hunter (Pocket Star Books, 2001)

This extremely kick-ass book belongs with these action-series reviews even though it trods mainstream bestseller turf and has an elevated (more literary than pulp) level of writing, because you can put chrome on something and shine it up and give it a leather interior and full options package, but when you step on the gas and it rumbles and bitches rubber there's no mistaking a hot-rod.  And though it does it in style and goes a little smoother and a little farther, it's taking you to the same place as any Executioner or Death Merchant type of book. 

When a lawyer is sent to investigate the disappearance of a black man on an isolated all-black prison farm in Thebes, Mississippi, he tells his double-tough friend Earl Swagger (father of super-sniper Bob Lee Swagger, who stars in most of Hunter's other books) to come get him if he doesn't return soon.  Good move on his part, because it's 1951, Thebes is accessible only by the river, and in its isolation there are things going on that make Parchman look like Six Flags... and its minders aren't going to want a white lawyer with liberal leanings get back to tell anybody what he's seen.  

Earl goes in and rescues him but gets caught in the attempt, and since the prison guards (led by a huge, musclebound albino sadist named Bigboy, who considers himself an artist with a bullwhip) don't believe who he is, they subject Earl to the torments of the damned.   Hunter really makes Thebes sound like a circle of the Inferno and it's a miracle that even Earl is able to withstand the level of constant punishment he has to endure, working hard labor in incredible heat with little food or water, injured and lacking sleep from brawling with his fellow prisoners, who hate him because he's white.  Eventually -- though it seems impossible -- Earl escapes... but he's going back to settle things, bringing with him five old men (and one young one who's so blatantly supposed to be Audie Murphy that I don't know why Hunter even bothered changing his last name to "Ryan") who are the top gunfighters alive;  they're all based on real-life gunmen.   Rather strangely for a big gun advocate like Hunter, he portrays them all as mainly being motivated by a chance to kill people; even more than seeing justice done, these dudes just want to use their guns to kill people for the thrill of it.  They're damn near supernatural in their shooting abilities but they'll still have quite a fight on their hands.  

The dialogue is a wee bit stiff and treads (and sometimes crosses) a line between archaically poetic and hoo-rah fucking cornball;  if you can, imagine the dialogue from Deadwood, but without all the cussing.   But it gets the job done, and with style, and this book is all kinds of epic badass.  It'll blow you away, guaranteed.   Recommended and damn-near required. 

 That's the last time you'll criticize my taste in neckties, fucker!

Agent For COMINSEC #1:  The Bloody Monday Conspiracy - Ralph Hayes (Belmont Tower, 1974)

A group of Arab terrorists known as Bloody Monday kidnap a chairman of China.  They hope to provoke nuclear war between China and the United States, if not from the act itself then because his successor would be more of a radical.   Top secret agency COMINSEC (Committee for International Security) gets wind of the plot and send in their top agent, Taggart, to stop it.   Taggart is a violent asshole who used to be a Mafia hit man, and he works not out of patriotism (he doesn't really give a damn about national security or world peace) but for the money, and because he flat-out loves killing and working for COMINSEC gives him the chance to do a lot of it.   Violence is his first solution to any situation -- if he wants info he finds out who has it and then beats it out of them.  

He tries joining Bloody Monday to infiltrate it;  the pretty much beats his way into that, too, but takes a whole lot of pounding himself along the way, since he ends up captured, tied up, and nibbled by rats.   But he doesn't mind all that so much since it gives him a chance to drown a guy in a kettle of boiling sheep fat after a knife-and-hammer fight.   Another guy even ends up killed with a steam shovel, and I don't even know how many he shoots or blows up.  Then, when a pretty bizarre setback happens, his mission takes an extreme turn... right into more violence.  

The book still manages to have a complex (but far-fetched) plot even though it's throwing nonstop fights in your face as hard as it can.  They get numbing after a while;  Hayes' writing isn't bad at all but it's very meat-and-potatoes, without a lot of flash.   He's not afraid to make the hero not particularly likeable (Taggart is basically a shark -- he finds something to kill and then tears through it while feeling nothing) or to give him a good whacking (I don't know how he's in good enough shape to finish the mission after all the abuse he endures), and his main motivation seems to be body count... and isn't that what you read this stuff for?   Pretty plain but it moves and it doesn't take a lot of your reading time, so if it doesn't offer major rewards that's fair enough.

 Attention, Muppies!  The Punisher, oops, I mean Jake, has had enough of your shit!

Jake Strait #2:  The Devil Knocks -- Frank Rich  (Gold Eagle, 1993)
Jake Strait, a "boogeyman" or private enforcer of the very Blade Runnerish year 2031 is contacted to cause  revolution in the police state of Denver.  Political coups are not his kind of gig, but then a pimp pisses him off enough for Jake to blow his head off, and he suddenly needs a ticket out of town before the pimp-protection-agency's hired guns overwhelm him.  So, with his bank account tapped of credits and few other options, Jake takes the job, recruiting an old skimmer-pilot who's become a "squeeze" junkie to get him to Denver, because he (wisely) doesn't fully trust his employers. 

Then the book makes a misstep into some doggie doo and turns the road trip into kind of a comic saga, where characters get a bit goofy and broad, and things lose their focus.  I'm okay with Jake being a smartass, but there's a thing I have about books or movies: when situations get too absurd I feel like the book's not taking things seriously so neither do I.  That's why I just get pissed off at "horror comedy" movies like Sean of the Dead or whacky horror-goof books like John Dies At The End.   I know that's a "me" thing and some people (*coughgeekscough*) love that shit... but I just can't deal with that, it makes me feel stupid. 

So, I got mad at the book at that point, even though I admit the parody is kind of clever, with rebels fighting "muppies" (Militant Urban Professionals) in designer armor, and they aren't allowed to use armor-piercing bullets or they'll get sued.  And the Muppies fight back with rubber bullets so they won't damage buildings, since what they're fighting for is better apartments.  And it is funny to see Jake's reaction to the absurdity;  they've sent in a cynic to do an idealist's job. 

There's a ton of action but since I'd already decided I was dealing with satire it didn't have much impact for me, and in the final stretch it tires to pull heavy drama out of characters previously established as buffoons, and that doesn't work for me, either.  I still think it's a smart, badass series with writing that's far better than the usual, and there are some great hard-boiled badass lines in this thing, but I just hope the remaining two are more like the first one, or, preferably, even darker and grimmer.  Recommended for some, but with a caveat for guys like me.

Hawker #2: L.A. Wars -- Carl Ramm (Randy Wayne White)   (Dell, 1984)

Frustrated-cop-turned-vigilante Hawker goes to tinseltown to take on the Bloods and Crips... or, as they're known here (because gangs can sue you for copyright infringement for all I know) the Satanas and the Panthers, respectively.  The Satanas are Hispanic and the Panthers are Black, but they're all violent degenerates and superstitious, so Hawker plays a Batman card and does things to scare them, like painting hawk pictures (sometimes in flammable explosive that makes them think he can piss fire), disappearing in smoke bombs, and calling himself the devil.   He gets in numerous gunfights with each gang, killing many and, in one case, blasting a rapist's dick off.  

Meanwhile, he sports with a famous actress, Melanie St. John, who he meets on the beach when he helps her with a sting from a stingray.   She's captivated by Hawker's lack of interest (he's another of those complicated men, and no one can understand him but his woman) and invites him to a party.  There he learns that she's not shallow and drug-addled like the rest of her friends.   Hawker passes up a chance for sex with a thinly-veiled version of Suzanne Sommers and gets in a brawl with a thinly-veiled version of John Travolta ("Johnny Barberino," who "started out a teenager in television dramas and then gone on to become America's heartthrob by doing a series of discoteque rock operas").   Randy Wayne White must've really been fed up with Travolta at the time 'cuz "Johnny Barberino" gets plastered with just about every type of villainy you can think of.  

Anyway, Hawker is so badass he even gets into gunfights while bedding the actress, and even though the cops figure out almost instantly that he's a vigilante (turns out painting a hawk on crime scenes when your name is Hawker isn't just unimaginative, it's the least-neato way to be incog), but they're so frustrated by the legal system's inability to solve the gang problem that they give him a wink-wink nod-nod say-no-more.   As you'd expect, Hawker takes on the leaders of both gangs, reveals a surprise bad guy, AND eventually gets to lay the Suzanne Sommers figure as the end credits roll.  

It's a little pat (okay, a LOT pat) but ya gotta love it because it just delivers and delivers -- if most action novels try to fit in a fight every twenty pages, Hawker goes for more like eight, and still has enough of a plot to keep it from being a cartoon.  There's a wee bit of cornball moralizing here and there, but when the guy cuts loose with a MAC-10 several times in a book, you can forgive him.  Writing's simple, clean, and works well for this kind of mayhem-tale. 

 If only this book were actually about this girl...

Room 59 #3:  Aim And Fire -- Cliff Ryder   (Gold Eagle, 2008)

A big-shot terrorist everyone had believed dead smuggles a suitcase nuke over the Mexican border, massacring a couple dozen illegal immigrants to keep the secret safe.   Another Al-Queda operative working very deep cover has gotten into a government position where they build rockets, and the two plan to work together to send up the bomb on a rocket and cause an EMP that'll destroy electronics across half the U.S., and millions will die in the resulting riots, and if you're reading this on a Kindle you'll never find out how it ends.  

Clandestine anti-terror group Room 59 gets wind of the plot from the suspicions of Nate Spencer, a border security guard who's notorious for not sticking to the book and being a loose cannon.  They pair him up with Tracy Wentworth, a Homeland Security analyst who also bucks the system and has been longing for field work.  They send the two into Mexico to trace the trail of the nuke and find out where it's going.  ON the way they get in a good car chase/ gunfight with some zetas and snatch a gang leader for info, before pulling a full-scale assault on the rocket compound at the last minute.  

This is well-written and very cinematic (I'm wondering if the "59" isn't supposed to make you think "24"), and stays on a realistic scale even if that hampers the action a little bit.   One annoying thing is the need to make the "Room 59" part relevant; to do so they have to stay in contact with the home base a lot, which results in people yammering a lot of jargon on cell phones during fire fights (I lost count of how many times people said something, then said "I repeat" and said it again), and one car chase is even watched on some remote Skype-type program on a Room 59 director's laptop instead of putting the reader with the agents in the truck.  And maybe it's just because I hate technology, but I think it's impossible to write or film computer hacking so it looks like "action"  -- it's always just going to be some nerd typing fast.  I know people are in love with the little gadgets that have taken the place of their brains -- and, for the most part, their lives -- but can we minimize their presence in an action novel for fucksake?   I want to watch the agents dealing death in a firefight, not watch them live-Tweet it. 

Also, the people giving the orders are never as interesting as the people carrying them out, so less focus on Kate, the director of Room 59, would also be welcome.   Also, I wanted the leather-clad badass chick on the cover to show up in the book;  Tracy kicks a fair amount of ass but the closest she gets is black sweatpants, and kinky as I am, that's not eeeeeeeeven on my fetish-radar.  Minor quibble, and a personal one, but hey, it's what sold me the book.   Overall it's a good read and the writing is smart,  I'd just shift more focus away from the control center.  Fuck the brass, the grunts are the interesting ones.

The Liquidator #1 -- R. L. Brent (Award, 1974)

Jake Brand's father was a cop who got murdered by a junkie.  Jake's brother Roy decided the best way to avenge him was to shut down the Mafia that supplied the junkie, so he passed up a football career to become a prosecutor.   He caused such trouble for the mob that they had a hit man with a sawed-off shotgun take him out.  Jake became a cop to carry on the war, and was using his contacts to pin down a mob boss named Hester.  Jake's efforts get the mob so rattled they cease operations for a few days and bring in a hit man.  Brand thinks the torpedo is after him, but instead the guy disguises himself as Brand and guns someone down in front of witnesses.  A betrayal by Brand's girlfriend completes the frame, and Brand spends five years in prison.   He's pardoned for saving the lives of guards on two separate occasions and once he gets out he immediately resumes his war on the mob, even though he's no longer a cop.   He icepicks one guy, clogs another's shotgun, and gets in car chases and gunfights, keeping the novel moving at a fast clip.   The writing is very good and elevates this above the standard Executioner variation.

The Black Berets #2: Cold Vengeance -- Mike McCray  (Dell, 1984)

Picking up where the first volume left off, a hit team hired by Parkes, the CIA agent who tried to backstab the team on their first mission, gets sent to the Black Berets' compound.   They burn it down but are killed by Tsali, the orphan kid the Black Berets rescued and are raising.  They rebuild the compound better than before, adding a lot of computer surveillance stuff.  Then they start answering ads in mercenary magazines as a way to get a line on Parkes so they can give him the payback he's got coming.  Rosie, Harry, and Applebaum get hired by one of Parkes' groups to do some work for Quadaffi... which, of course, they don't do.   Instead they turn on the troops they've infiltrated and manage to take out a large number of them by attacking their helicopters with LAW rockets, making it look like an enemy attack that they alone survived.   While those three try to figure out a way to take down the rest of the army, Beeker, Cowboy, and Tsali fight off more attacks on the compound and try to track down Parkes.   There's a pretty harrowing scene where, to keep from blowing their cover, Rosie has to torture a good guy to death -- including ripping nipples off with pliers.  So far these books all seem to include at least one scene that will make you squirm. There are still plenty of well-done action scenes and the characterization is top-notch, but the slam-bang stuff takes a bit of a backseat to the intrigue here, slowing things down just a little.  Not enough where it's a problem, though, and McCray's writing is still a standout for action series books.

This series turns out to have an interesting history to it, as Glorious Trash's Joe Kenney (for my money, THE authority on adventure-series books) told me last time I reviewed one of these.  Turns out Mike McCray was actually John Preston, a gay writer who wrote a lot of gay fiction.  The Black Berets are all straight, but once you have this knowledge it's almost impossible not to look for subtext.  And you can kind of find it, just in the camaraderie the team feel for each other, but honestly, it’s no more than you’d find from a military-team book you’d get from a hetero author, so it shouldn‘t distract you.  Preston also wrote an action series that was gay-oriented, The Mission of Alex Kane.  Haven’t seen any of those and won’t likely be seeking them out because I’m not the target audience, but if I’m no phobe, either, so if I ran across any in a used bookstore I’d probably give one a try, anyway, just on the strength of writing he shows in the Black Berets books. According to Wikipedia (which is not a source I take as gospel at all), several Black Berets novels were written by Michael McDowell, who was a frickin’ genius in the horror field.  He apparently collaborated with Preston on some things.  And then things get confusing... because McDowell is also credited with writing books by “Preston MacAdam” (such as the Michael Sheriff: The Shield series).  But, John Preston is also credited on the web as being “Preston MacAdam,” and is also rumored to have written some of the S.O.B.s (Soldiers of Barrabas) series.  So, I don’t know if Michael McDowell actually wrote any Black Berets books, or who wrote the Michael Sheriff books.   But, if you’re interested,  that may be a pseudonym plot worth investigating.  Unfortunately it’s a cold trail, since both John Preston and Michael McDowell died of AIDs in the ‘90’s.  Anyway, if there are other Michael McDowell works out there, I’d be doubly interested because I’m a huge fan of that guy; you can look for a review of The Elementals by him next time I do a horror-novel-review post.  Or you can find a copy and read it yourself, because I promise you that's what I'm going to tell you to do, anyway.

 This is one of those fancypants books that you open up and there's a double-page picture..

 ...which I find oddly hilarious.  Attention, Viet Cong!  Kappa Delta Sig has had enough of your shit, bro!

The Hard Corps #1 - Chuck Bainbridge  (Jove, 1986)

This reads like Jove wanted their own version of Dell’s Black Berets or Gold Eagle’s Phoenix Force team, but a variation on those isn’t a bad thing.   Five guys with unique talents for killing meet in Vietnam and once the war’s over they don’t feel suited for much else, so they reform their team and become mercenaries known as The Hard Corps (which is a silly-as-a-fish-with-titties name to me, but luckily the book ended up being a lot better than the title). 

The five guys include an Italian hood turned explosives expert, a ninja-type (‘cept white) guy who kills with a Rambo-type survival knife, bow and arrow, and other silent-death methods.  Another favors Japanese swords, one’s a Green Beret captain, and an older dude serves as a mechanic, cook, doctor, and gunsmith.   They have a big compound in Washington state, complete with helicopters, bunkers, and all kinds of military gear.  

After a first chapter where they rescue some kidnapped kids from Mexican terrorists (their fee:  a million dollars -- so that’s how they afford the helicopters and other goodies), they come home and a chopper full of Vietnamese resistance fighters lands on their base.  Among them is Trang Nih, a rebel leader who’s being sought by Viet Cong Communists.   Rather improbably (but essential for the action) a small army led by Vietcong commander Captain Vinh promptly invades the Hard Corps compound, trying to kill Trang Nih and his men.   Of course, our heroes can’t be allowing that and soon the Vietnam war is on again, on a smaller scale and without government interference (which means the good guys win). 

It’s a pretty ridiculous premise, with around a hundred Vietcong soldiers showing up in Washington to get taken out by a five man team, but what the hell, right?  That’s why we read these things, and when it comes to action, this thing delivers -- without much plot to get in the way there’s almost constant gunfights, mortar attacks, ninja sneakin’ ‘n’ stabbin’, all that good stuff.  And for characterization purposes (which aren’t bad -- they don’t seem quite real, but they’re far from cardboard characters, either) each guy on the team gets his own flashback chapter... which are also geared toward action sequences from back in ‘Nam or during their rough childhoods.   I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much out of this but ended up pleasantly surprised; there’s more premise than plot, but that’s enough for the purpose, and Bainbridge does a good job giving them individual identities so they don’t blur together, and his action scenes are solid and keep the book moving without getting too ridiculous.  Not bad a’tall, I’m glad there are seven more. 

 Yeah, it's got housepaint on it, but it saved me thirty bucks, so viva le housepaint.

Operation Hang Ten #4: Cute And Deadly Surf Twins - Patrick Morgan  (Macfadden-Bartell, 1970)

Considering this series tried to combine spying and surfing, and had a title like Cute And Deadly Surf Twins, I was expecting it to be pretty light and goofy, so I was pretty surprised when it started with such a bang.  After a brief surfing interlude, beach bum turned beach-Bond Bill Cartwright gets the shit kicked out of him by the Diablos motorcycle gang.  He gives a good account of himself in the brawl and even bites a dude’s finger off, but one badass versus a dozen just isn’t good math and he ends up stomped, pissed on, and thrown off a cliff... all because he was looking for a guy named Moon.  

After two months in the hospital, Cartwright gets out and keeps trying to track down Moon, who’s working with Chinese commies who are counterfeiting money and smuggling it in surfboards with secret compartments.   Thanks to some fancy driving and good ol’ fashioned brutality, he gets some payback on the Diablos and kidnaps one of their women, who he hangs naked by her wrists and terrorizes until she gives him information. 

Then he goes after a biker (the resulting fight is so brutal the guy’s upper lip gets chopped off by the edge of a board) and rescues a girl who’s been starved and almost raped to death by Moon.  Closing in on him leads to more brawls with the gang, and Cartwright takes another beating with a bike chain, but dishes out more mayhem with a surfboard and a rotary sander.  He still ends up caught, but escapes even though he has to swim five miles with his hands tied and a bullet in his shoulder.  

This is surprisingly gritty and violent stuff, and the only goofiness is the strange choice of having Cartwright’s trailer run by a computer that makes all his food and mixes drinks; that’s weird, unnecessary, and I’m not sure why it’s in the book.   Also superfluous is a novice female agent named Pat Parrot who he reluctantly has to work with;  he’s a little put out with her at first because when she shows up she’s disguised as a hippie!   At times the book seems to be trying a little too hard to maintain its “surfing” connections, since espionage doesn’t really fit in well with goofing around on the beach, but it’s still a lot better book thatn just a novelty piece.  The writing’s pretty solid.   And that’s kind of unfortunate for me, since this series is price-prohibitive; used copies are going for around twenty bucks each, minimum, and I’m just not paying that.  I got lucky and found two of them at a used bookstore that didn’t know what they had, and they were thirty-eight cents each.   They’re worth way more than that, but thirty-eight dollars... not so much.

 Attention, fertility drug companies!   Mitt Romney has had enough of your shit!  (Just kidding!  He's all for unregulated capitalism!  This Yard madman must be stopped!)

The Hunter #1: Scavenger Kill - Ralph Hayes  (Leisure Books, 1975)

It’s our ol’ buddy Ralph again.  I was tempted to read a Stoner book for this batch, too, and go for the trifecta, but, good as he is, I was worried about getting Ralphed out.  After Vietnam, Col. John Yard tried finding peace by hunting big game in Africa, but finds it hard to put up with the obnoxious tourists he has to take on safaris.  Into this discontent comes an old war buddy whose wife has killed herself and their deformed, brainless baby because a bad fertility drug caused her to give birth to the monster.  Yard decides that Marice Lavelle, who owns the pharmaceutical company than markets the drug, needs to pay for his crimes.  Lavelle doesn’t care if his products cause abominations as long as they remain profitable, and he wants to start selling the drug in Africa and Asia.   Since he can’t talk yard out of this vengeance quest (even after a brawl), Yard’s friend Moses Ngala decides to join him on it.  Moses is Black and Hayes is preoccupied with never letting you forget that, awkwardly referring to Moses “shaking his black head” or “putting a black hand on Yard’s shoulder,” and also getting him in brutal bar fights with racists.   Yard also tangles with thugs as they try to track down the elusive Lavelle, who usually stays hidden on the top floor of a hotel surrounded by bodyguards (including one with a metal hand).  The action scenes are pretty workmanlike but Yard takes his share of punishment.  He also gets away with putting a silencer on a revolver;  you’d think a gun expert would know that doesn’t work.  Anyway, not bad but not outstanding.

 Attention, Brian Dennehy!  Sylvester Stallone is tired of your shit!
(What, you didn't think I wasn't gonna do that, did you?) 

First Blood - David Morrell  (Fawcett Crest, 1972)
Of course this is the basis for Sylvester Stallone’s action franchise classic, but it differs from the movie adaptation quite a bit.  Rambo is more of a “kid” and he’s a bit more disturbed and not quite as reasonable;  he’s perfectly willing to kill the deputies who chase him into the woods when he gets fed up by being pushed around by Sheriff Teasle.  Also, he spends more time just trying to hide and survive than he does being the super-powered aggressor that Stallone’s version was; early on he’s hampered by badly broken ribs that keep him from doing a lot of fighting.   And, most importantly, the outcome is very different.  Morrell’s writing is simple without a lot of flash, but he handles outdoor things well and maintains an interesting, convoluted conflict between Rambo and Teasle;  both know the whole thing’s a big, stupid mistake that’s causing great harm, but after a point they’re committed to it and have to ride it out even if it’s going to end badly.   Good stuff.  For a better, more in-depth review of this book, check out Glorious Trash, where all three of the trilogy (and the circumstances under which the last two were written) are discussed.

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