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Saturday, June 3, 2017

LAST RANGER #08 - THE CUTTHROAT CANNIBALS

Craig Sargent's "The Last Ranger" series is winding down. The author, Jan Stacy, had succumbed to AIDS and by this point one would assume he was nearing death unfortunately. I love his writing style - quick, action-infused - and hated for this series to come to an end. He finished it up with ten books total and this volume, "The Cutthroat Cannibals", marks entry number eight. It was released in 1988 via paperback publisher Popular Library.

The premise of this one promises that our hero, Martin Stone, will face cannibal mongrels like a "Hills Have Eyes" or "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" horror theme. Unfortunately, the book's cannibals don't even appear until page 137 of the book's 170 pages. Disappointing for sure. Also, Stone doesn't even fire a weapon until the last ten pages. Shocking, right? After all, this whole series feeds our animal magnetism to cold, anonymous violence via firefights and blunt instrument terror. Nope. Shake all of that off. But what we get is a unique take on the character by the author that knows him so well.

The first few pages has Stone and his dog Excalibur thrown into a landslide via a timely placed avalanche. This creates a savage broken leg for Stone, leaving our typical badass hero gimpy and weak. That's okay and gives us an added depth to the character. With the help of Excalibur the two find themselves stranded with no food, weapons or vehicle in the Colorado wilderness. In what would be perfect in "Cujo" or "Day of the Animals" is a pack of wild dogs that chase the two into a river that eventually washes the two up in a wild Native American tribe that worships a dog God. Yeah. 

Stone is left to fend for himself as Excalibur becomes "lost" in the forest. The tribe's chief plans to execute Stone but our hero comes up with a new plan - fight the Chief's son to death for the chance of freedom from the tribe. The two get it on and needless to say Stone, sporting no weapons and a broken leg, arrives the victor. 

The Chief lets Stone escape but it's a ruse. He plans to kill him after Stone's nap. Luckily, the Chief's son isn't a terrible loser and pays back Stone's gratitude of not killing him in battle to assist him with an escape. The two run from the tribe and eventually end up in another settlement near the end of the book. As promised - Cutthroat Cannibals are ready to dice up Stone for their version of Human Stew. Yummy.

Needless to say this is a different book than what has become par for the course for the series. It was fun and entertaining to see Stone defenseless and relying on talking himself out of battle. The survival aspect is way high and the action, while few and far between, is just enough to keep it interesting. Per the prior seven books, there is a love interest that appears near the very end. Fitting that Stone gets nailed right before getting nailed. This guy's luck has to run out soon, right? 

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

OUTRIDER #02 - FIRE AND ICE

I’d have to say that Richard Harding’s first entry in the “Outrider” series was nearly brilliant. Aside from a few pieces of dialogue the book had a tremendous pace and engaging action sequences. Harding followed that book with a sequel in August of 1984, a mere two-months from the release of its predecessor. Where Harding had a story to tell with “Outrider”, it’s follow-up is absolutely abysmal. It’s sad considering how promising the series looked.

Our hero, the knife-wielding, super-car driving Bonner is laying low in Chicago and chilling with his hottie (Harding never elaborates much on this character but she sporadically appears in both books). His colleague from the first book, Starling, shows up to advise Bonner that it would be in their best interest to find some gasoline reserves. Bonner says he isn’t interested but Starling reminds him that if they don’t find the promised gas reserves (a character in the prior book, Cooker, said it’s the Heaven of gas reserves) then Bonner’s arch enemy Leather will get it. This strokes Bonner’s engines and soon he is out the door and the book’s premise is underway.

Bonner, Starling and The Mean Brothers team up with a locomotive engineer to find the gas and bring it back to “neutral” Chicago. Leather and his goons are on the hunt for the gas as well. It sounds good on paper, but Harding misfires terribly. The book just goes nowhere and the action sequences are few and far between. When the bullets do start flying…I just didn’t really care. In fact, I disliked this book so much that it took me nearly two weeks to read it – it’s only 214 pages in length. The huge fight that is brewing between Bonner and Leather (an anticipated continuation of their struggle in the first book) never comes to fruition. The only bright spot for me is the atmosphere. It’s cold, snowy and dark – key elements that keep this book from reaching the “burn the pages now” tier.


I have the whole series and will eventually get around to book three, but I might master the art of pruning banzai trees, take cooking lessons and grow my own wine vineyard before I get around to it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

ROADBLASTER #02 - DEATH RIDE

Author Paul Hofrichter, also known here at Paperback Warrior as “he who creates the horror”, wrote three “Roadblaster” books total. The second, “Death Ride”, was released by the Leisure Adventure line in 1988. If you haven’t read my review of the first novel, by all means please do. It’s called “Hell Ride”, and it is easily the worst action-adventure novel that I’ve read. I would even push the envelope a little further and say it ranks pretty high in the “Worst Fiction Ever” list as well. It’s utter garbage…so it’s mandatory that you read it.

I was able to locate the second book at a local used store and figured…what the Hell. Basically, our hero, Stack, is a New York resident and ex-National Guard serviceman. In the first book, he’s in California on a little vacation and the big bombs fall. The US is a nuked-out radiation zone and the book picks up just a day after the bombs fell. With very little heroics, Stack saves a town and a young girl from being gang-raped by bikers. Really, after 24 hours we have rampaging bikers, perverts humping everything and even one-word nicknames for people living in Armageddon. It’s crazy.

“Death Ride” picks up at day three of post-nuke America. Stack is doing his normal gig, driving around in his van and generally doing a whole lot of nothing. The book starts with Stack visiting Rayisa, the young girl he saved from the bang-train. He tells her he has to head East to tend to his wife and kids. Rayisa doesn’t want him to go so he agrees to take her with him when he leaves. From there Stack heads out to the desert to talk to the “B-52” people. In the first book this damned B-52 bomber landed in the desert and it apparently has some nuke firepower on board. Stack wants to keep it in good hands and needs somebody wearing stars to step in and command the safety of the bomber. Here’s stupidity:

The mechanics working on the B-52 want Stack to take himself, and a “Harley Davidson” club, to San Francisco. The reason for San Francisco? Because the mechanics say that’s where the real authority lies. Once there, Stack needs to find someone in uniform that can have a message sent up the chain of command to notify someone in the ranks that an armed B-52 is sitting in bumfudge Egypt. Nobody gives a flying beaver. But Stack, needing to be in a hurry to get East to his family, agrees to do this. Along the way he promises he will search for the biker’s missing relatives. Geez.

Stack and the gang ride over to Frisco, find some military brass assisting with the wounded, helpless, starving people of the city. Stack tells the guy something like this: “Hey man, we are just driving around trying to find some missing relatives. We need you to help us”. This guy tells Stack that he is busy running a skeleton crew that’s rescuing senior citizens from apartment buildings and rooftops. He’s trying to run a hospital for the injured. Feed people. He’s basically Mother Freakin’ Teresa here. Stack looks at him and says in utter disappointment, “So you won’t help us at all?” Oh. My. God. The utter nerve of this loser. 

Later, Stack and the bikers find a young man who's on the run from a militant group called Vengeance Team. Apparently they are out hunting down the gay community to keep them from spreading AIDS. Really? No shit. Stack wants to help, so he puts aside all of the B-52 bullshit, looking for biker relatives and his family in New York. He is shown an underground cellar labyrinth of rooms and hallways that is never really described to the reader. What is this place? Why is it so large? Hofrichter never bothers with describing the setting, instead just picks a random place and says to the reader, "The gay folks are here, hiding out, underground, fighting to stay alive." Right. They are so weak aren't they Hofrichter? Needless to say this is 1988 and they need a savior so Stack is the guy. 

Stack runs back and forth from the cellar dwelling to Candlestick Park getting guns and ammo. He gives it out to the community and says he will defend them and make an attack formation to fight Vengeance Team. In an incredibly painful Chapter 6, we are forced to read nearly 30 straight pages of battle between members of Vengeance Team and the community that we have barely been introduced too. The author spends an enormous amount of time talking about characters that we don't know waging war with other characters we don't know. I can't even make heads or tails of which character is on which team. It's just senseless garbage from pages 116-191. A character goes up a few feet, fires. Another character returns fire. Rinse. Repeat. Agonizing.

The book really just ends after the last of Vengeance Team dies. No worries, no one gives a rat's ass who won, who died and who's left to rear their ugly heads in book three. Geez. This one is equally as bad as the first book. Paul Hofrichter...you are such a horrible author I am now deeming you as the dream killer. "Death Ride" is exactly that for any readers daring to jump on this wagon of putrid green horseshit. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

HAWKER #02 - L.A. WARS

This second entry in Carl Ramm's (real name Randy Wayne White) "Hawker" series, "L.A. Wars", was released in 1984. Like the series debut, "Florida Firefight", this one is very similar to the "Death Wish" series, notably "Death Wish 3". The book starts with Hawker on an L.A. rooftop discovering the body of a young woman. Her grizzly appearance suggests she's been raped and brutally beaten. In a wild opening sequence the reader is thrust into a short shootout between Hawker and a trio of gang members known as the Panthers. Hawker crotch shoots one dubbed "Cat Man" and leaves him to warn the rest of the gang -- Hawker's in their town now. 

The second chapter is essentially the set-up to how Hawker arrived in L.A., taking an assignment from his wealthy Chicago colleague Jacob Montgomery Hayes. Hayes advises Hawker that a suburban neighborhood in south L.A., Starnsdale, was a really wonderful place to live until it became a battlefield between two rival gangs. Now, residents are forced to stay in the neighborhood due to property values decreasing. They have little to no choice except living with the gang violence and staying out of the warzone. Hayes wants Hawker to clean it up. 

Ongoing chapters are a bit cut and paste honestly. While I was never really bored with the book, it still left a lot to be desired. Hawker becomes a friend and teacher to the neighborhood and it's residents. He befriends the young female victim's father, Virgil Kahl, and uses him as an advocate for vigilante justice. Being the sap that I am, I actually enjoyed the love interest aspect of the story more than the crime fighting. Hawker meets a famous actress and gets invited to rub shoulders with some of Hollywood's elite at a beachside party. Eventually Hawker and the actress are bumping uglies in between training and preparation.

The finale felt a little fizzled out with very little gun on gunner conflicts. The idea of the series is to have Hawker be a vulnerable human hero. I like that part of it but the sacrifice is very little action. Our hero uses surveillance equipment, some intelligence gathering and a formulated plan to unite the gang leaders in one location. I've seen it done a hundred times and this one left very little surprises for the reader. I dunno...even though I felt it fell flat at the end, I'm still planning to read the next volume soon -- "Chicago Assault".

Monday, February 20, 2017

HAWKER #01 - FLORIDA FIREFIGHT

Randy Wayne White wrote the first “Hawker” novel, “Florida Firefight”, in 1984 under the moniker Carl Ramm. White would later go on to achieve much bigger success with his “Doc Ford” series. In a lot of ways “Florida Firefight”, and its sequels, remind me of “Death Wish” not only in the sense of vigilante justice but the way Hawker goes about it. It’s this formula that White builds on here and later utilizes to prolong the series.

The book’s opening chapter has Lieutenant James Hawker looking through optics at a Guatemalan madman holding hostage a room full of students. Hawker’s Chicago police force wants him to hold his fire and await further orders. Hawker has a clear shot but waits. Eventually the gunman becomes aggressive and two students fight back and are ultimately killed. Hawker, exhausted from the political games being played, fires one .308 bullet from a Remington 700 and puts the baddie down. Heroic? Yeah, but the force doesn’t like it and the lefty Chi-Town bureaucrats suspend Hawker. He one ups them and gives them his badge, done for good.
 
The next act opens with a rather outlandish scene with Hawker aiding two senior citizens in the park. It’s stereotypical and nonsensical but helps reinforce the morals and values of our hero. Later, Hawker receives an invitation from a wealthy man living in a posh Chicago suburb. He recognizes the name as the father of one of the students killed, Jacob Montgomery Hayes. Hayes wants to provide tools and resources to Hawker and allow him to provide vigilante justice. Hayes understands the world is changing and society is degrading and he wants to keep the criminal activity at bay. Hawker accepts the job and we now have a vigilante with endless supplies of money and guns. A series is born.

Hayes sends Hawker to the Florida Keys to bring the book’s title to fruition. The tiny fishing village (or drinking village as we like to say down here) has been plagued by Colombian drug trafficking. Hayes runs a scheme that introduces Hawker as the new owner of a local pub. This puts him into the local population and also gives him a vested interest in fighting the Colombians alongside the God fearin’ town folk. While Hawker helps mobilize the town he also invests Hayes’ money into rebuilding the fishing village. Without adding additional spoilers, the third act has Hawker and the town fight off the Colombians. Surprisingly a trip to Washington D.C. is thrown in with a slight political angle…but you’ll have to read it to learn more.

The “Hawker” series has a great level of support from fans of the men’s action-adventure genre. While it isn’t as over the top as some other vigilante novels, the injection of vulnerability really enhances the story-lines. Hawker gets his ass handed to him in some cases. That’s a rare trait with this sort of bravado writing. The other aspect is that Hawker attempts to talk his way out of some conflicts and typically makes allies quickly. While the action could be limited for some readers, I found it as an adequate amount to contribute to the storytelling. It’s a good read and a great introduction to the series.

Those of you that want to spend a smaller amount of money on this should look for the digital copies. They are available in the Hoopla library system (ask your local librarian) as well as Amazon. I believe the digital copies sell for about $2 and every title in the series is available. The cover art leaves a little to be desired and done by the same company that recently released the first 38 “Executioner” titles. The books are listed by Randy Wayne White now. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

EAGLE FORCE #4 - RED FIRESTORM

Somebody put the wrong bullets in the box. The calibers aren’t matching up. Dan Schmidt’s fourth novel in his team-based “Eagle Force” line is out of sequence from the other books. Events and locations are all out of whack as if the author wrote this book before the second and third entries. Not only is the book missing series mythology, it’s also poorly written. Schmidt doesn’t have the same energetic pace or attention to action based sequences that move the book forward from A to B. It’s just a complete mess.

The first “Eagle Force” book, “Contract for Slaughter”, ultimately assembled the team through the typical recruitment process and some flashback sequences to show history of the characters. The mission to rescue an heiress from the clutches of Islamic extremists was a failure but it led to the creation of the team and some funds to acquire gear and guns. In the opening pages of book two, “Death Camp Columbia”, protagonist Vic Gabriel (Eagle Force leader) recalls the team’s second mission on the icy slopes of Nepal. The mission left the team with a relocated headquarters from the Florida Everglades to Pyrenees along the French-Spanish border. It also mentions that the team dismantled a CIA kill-force and Soviet SPETSNAZ. The problem? That mission was never explained to the reader! As we begin book two it is really just the team’s second mission that the reader has experienced. All of the events mentioned never occurred in book format. These are just mentioned but never fully explained. The reader just has to assume the author never elaborates on it further and just takes the jump in the timeline and location and moves on. Thus, we have a new headquarters and the next missions which roll out in book two, “Death Camp Colombia”, and book three, “Flight 666”.

Book four, our current review, is called “Red Firestorm”. However, it isn’t really book four. Instead this is the entire mission mentioned in the opening pages of book two. So, it’s out of chronological order which makes me think two things must have occurred. Either the publisher agreed with me and decided that this book just absolutely sucks and sit it to the side and released the vastly improved books out of sequence hoping readers would identify more with the team, characters and Schmidt’s normally otherwise well-written action formula. The other thought was that maybe Schmidt had never planned on actually telling this story and then had second thoughts. Nevertheless, we have book four at our disposal and it’s really just book two in disguise.

At the beginning of “Red Firestorm” we get a little payback from Zak Dillinger and Johnny Simms on a local drug cartel in Miami. It’s clearly written right after the events of book one and has Dillinger and Simms locked into a firefight in a small club. Half of Eagle Force walks out alive and that’s that. The next sequence has a CIA task-force arrive at Eagle Force camp in the Florida Everglades to offer a proposition. It turns out that some upgraded U2 aircraft flown by the CIA (or it’s colleagues) over Russia crashed in the Himalayas on Mt. Makalu, also known as the fifth highest mountain in the world. The aircraft were flying surveillance and spying on Ivan’s nuclear capabilities. The wreckage includes Sphinx black boxes which will not only show the data of the mission but also create some serious red flags if Russian can report that the US were violating airspace. The CIA wants Eagle Force to prevent WWIII. Why don’t they use their own people? Why ask Eagle Force, a team that has no experience climbing in the Himalayas? These are great questions that the author apparently never asked.

From there this book is an absolute train wreck and feels really disjointed. Russia’s Kremlin send a team into the regions on and around Mt. Mikalu. They shove around the locals and create a few skirmishes. Of course, Eagle Force is in the area as well but the two never really exchange gunfire until the last couple of pages. The big confrontation never comes to fruition. Also, these black boxes could be anywhere yet the two factions are able to find them with relative ease. That’s illogical writing. It’s lazy. The hardships of climbing the mountain, surviving the elements and the hunt itself should have been the main focus of the book. It would have added just one more set of super-skills to our paperback warrior team. The author spends way too much time on the village, Eagle Force corresponding with the village and some quick chapters on a pilot trying to survive after the crash. It just never gets up to full speed and leaves the reader bored to tears. The end of the book explains why the team is in a different headquarters at the beginning of book two. It definitely fills in the blanks retroactively. 

Overall I think the book’s disjointed writing style left the publisher with no other choice but to keep the book’s release on hiatus until better quality stories were developed by the author. Once books two and three were released I’m sure they felt the series had a large enough fan-base to support a not-so-good book. Let’s hope for better things with book five, “Reign of Fire”.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

THE EXECUTIONER #04 - MIAMI MASSACRE
















Don Pendleton's fourth "The Executioner" book, "Miami Massacre", is more of a chain reaction event that ultimately ties up some loose ends. Protagonist Mack Bolan's West Coast war on the DiGeorge Mafia family dominated the second and third entries and left the crime-ridden empire in a shambles. After his Palm Springs "gutting", amidst a police manhunt and a Mob kill contract, Bolan heads eastward to flush out the rest of the rats.

Despite this book's title the opening pages are set in Phoenix, AZ with Bolan targeting the offshoot sector of DiGeorge's family. Looking for Johnny"The Musician" Portocci, a DiGeorge head, Bolan ends up dismantling what little is left at the Phoenix stronghold. Equipped with his ever present Luger 9mm, Bolan knocks off a few guards before finding a prostitute that advises him the entire clan has left for Miami to attend a Mafia planning event. This sets the stage for the eventual "Miami Massacre".

What I really love about this book is that Pendleton turns the pages with a very violent presentation. This is a Mack Bolan that is driven by hatred for the Mob. It is his reason for rising and existing each day. In several scenes the author has Bolan as a reaper of death, targeting various Mafia members in their beachfront hotels and villas. In one riveting sequence, Bolan goes door to door and brings his brand of point blank justice. It's Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" in ten minutes of blood and gun-powder. The pages themselves seemed soaked with this lethal energy that consumes our hero. 

Non-spoilers for those who should be reading "The Executioner"; two prior characters show up to really create a whirlwind closure to this particular DiGeorge storyline. The book's climax comes in three exciting waves that left me surprised with each "false ending". One scene involves an ambush that turns into a front lawn skirmish between Bolan, an ally, a cop and Mafia enforcers. A second sequence near the end has Bolan hunting the Mob in an industrial park (kudos to a small piece of gun porn). The end comes on the water with a boat battle.  

"Mafia Massacre" has a little romance, loads of gunplay and a calculated push to make Bolan the unstoppable killing machine that he is. In a number of ways this is the end of the four-part story. The next one picks up in Europe as Bolan's allies have a welcome addition to his Mafia war and a tempting invitation to take the fight globally. Stay tuned for "Continental Contract"!