I stumbled onto the "Gunships" series at a used book store. "The Killing Zone" is book one of this four book series. It was released in 1981 via Zebra. I've Googled author Jack Hamilton Teed and can't find much of anything out there. Aside from this series he only wrote one other book, "The Blood of Dracula, that I could find. It's a shame because this first entry of the series is stellar stuff.
I'm not a big fan of the vehicular action books. There's a ton of stuff out there that involves planes, tanks, boats and motorcycles. Hell I think I even saw some RV action. I was thinking that "Gunships" would be 'copter action in Vietnam (the tag is A Vivid Journey Into the Vietnam War). Surprisingly, that isn't the case at all. The idea of why it's called "Gunships" is described by a soldier on page 228 of the book:
"Gunships! You ever thought, Sarge - we all gunships. Human gunships. We got more badass weaponry and infernal Goddamn machines hangin' from us than any other licensed killers in history. Only we could flap our fuckin' arms an' take off into the wild yonder, they wouldn't need no chopper-gunships at all."
Make sense? Yeah, sort of threw me with the title but it makes sense now. The book begins with a seedy General named Dempsey giving an order to our main character, Colonel John Hardin. Dempsey is running all sorts of shit in South Vietnam - drugs, whores and money. He is demanding that Dempsey run up north, watch an NVA patrol for a few days and then gingerly swing by a village to drop some important documents. Hardin knows it stinks and refuses to do the order. Dempsey is pissed and calls some meetings. That is essentially the 26 page prologue.
"Part One" is a really interesting endeavor by the author. Dempsey is putting together a masterplan to eliminate Hardin using military resources that have gone south...for lack of a better term. Remember when Lee Marvin is recruiting the "Dirty Dozen" misfits from the lock-up? "Part One" is like that with little short stories that make up the files that Dempsey is flipping through. There are seven guys that the author vividly captures, each with their own history of how they ended up in the stockade. My favorite of the group is the story of O'hara, a really good guitar player who got drafted for the war. He had a tangle with his sarge and ultimately ended up behind bars. He is treated horribly and eventually fights back which creates an even bigger situation. "Part One" runs about 90 pages and is captivating stuff. I really enjoyed these short stories and overall they contribute to the grand scheme of things. Really freakin' solid stuff.
"Part Two" is the final 140 pages and I've gotta say...it is an absolute whirlwind of action. It's arguably some of the most exciting scenes of the entire genre. THIS SHIT IS MANDATORY READING. Here's how it goes down...Hardin gets an order to attend some sort of staff meeting. He boards a chopper that flies him all over the place with different directives. Finally he takes a nap only to wake up and find that he has flown into Laos solo for a drop mission. Before he can scream that this isn't his mission the craft is shot out of the sky. Now Hardin is alone with the injured pilot with hardly any firepower and miles behind enemy lines. It's FUBAR to the extreme. He knows Dempsey set him up. He attempts to negotiate with a nearby village but the NVA show up and start a long night of torture. The author holds nothing back and the waterboarding scenes are...really disturbing.
Now Dempsey knows that Hardin has been shot down so the rest of the plan comes together. He is going to take the seven screw-ups and send them on a chopper into Laos to rescue Dempsey. Only he has instructions for Sarge Stocker to kill all of them at the drop zone and head back. Fortunately the crew turn things around quickly and find themselves up shit creek in Laos right outside of the village Hardin is held captive in. Here things really get fired up. There is a massive firefight as Hardin and two of the crew hole up in a hut and fight off waves of NVA using a special forces cache that was left at the village. This part is something akin to "Assault on Precinct 13" or, shit, "Night of the Living Dead". While that group is holding off hordes of enemy troops the remaining crew is fighting them flank-side from the mountain-side. It's this writing that Teed excels at. The action is fast, furious yet still atmospheric with a looming sense of dread and isolation.
Teed wraps up this story-line by book's end and I wonder what he has in store for the next books. Hopefully Hardin continues to be a main character but considering how abstract the author is with the genre...anything could happen. "The Killing Zone" is a worthy start to what should amount to a very entertaining and thought-provoking series. The author has a very gritty style and his presentation here is extraordinary. Highly recommended.