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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"!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

M.I.A. HUNTER #04 - MOUNTAIN MASSACRE

Just like the last entry, "Hanoi Deathgrip", this fourth book in the "M.I.A. Hunter" series is once again written by the talented Joe R. Lansdale (as author Jack Buchanan). The Texas writer has a tremendous skill-set that allows our heroic trio, Mark Stone, Terrance Loughlin and Hog Wiley, to cross over predetermined boundaries. While I love the series as a whole and plan to read and review more (watch out!), no one does it as well as Lansdale thus far. "Mountain Massacre" injects a comical touch thanks to the author's infatuation with the big lovable Hog. The character is a perfect target, he's the strong man that typically makes up every fictional team. If it were the Avengers Hog would be Hulk. The Fantastic Four? Hog is The Thing. It's just formula driven and Lansdale totally got that. Beyond just the humorous bits the book adds some fantasy and darker elements. The mysterious mountain bandits are ninjas, complete with the attached folklore that they can disappear, climb walls and practice dark magic. While our trio of paperback warriors don't buy into the bandit folklore, Lansdale still throws it out there to make this fantastical in a sense. 


The book begins with the P.O.W. hunters on the verge of springing a group of American soldiers from a prison camp in Vietnam. Lansdale gets to work early and gives us a firefight as the group emerge from the camp. Immediately the author pinpoints Hog as a go-to character and makes him larger than life. In one early scene Hog rips the testicles off of the enemy before discarding him like so much rotten meat. Hog and company escape into the mountains and meet up with what is ultimately the book's villain - bandits. The gang disrupts the maiming and raping with a quick disposal of the bandits but Stone is left unsettled by what appears to be former American soldiers in bandit garb. What!?!


Back in Thailand Stone meets up with his old mentor An Khom and discusses the bandits. Carruthers, a series villain and Stone's CIA nemesis, shows up to remind Stone that some of the bandits he killed were American soldiers. Later, Stone meets with an older wealthy man who wants to contract Stone to locate his M.I.A. son...to the tune of a cool million. Stone profoundly agrees to take on the mission. Remember, Stone and the gang are non-profit. However his front detective business is shut-down and things are way more difficult with the CIA bringing the heat. A million bucks can fund a lot of operations into Southeast Asia. 

Like the prior novels this one gives us a thrilling search and destroy through various skirmishes and gunfights. Lansdale throws a thrilling boat ride into the foray along with a village liberation attempt and the climatic showdown with the mountain bandits in a temple fortress. Unlike others in the series this book has a ton of sword-play due to a rivalry between Stone ally Kong Le and his estranged son Chen. Due to the martial arts background of the bandits a lot of the battles are hand-to-hand and showcase a little bit more of Stone and his team in terms of physical strength and conditioning. I like that aspect and hope we see more of that in future installments.

"Mountain Massacre" lives up to the name with a traditional Mark Stone contribution that is worthy in the "top tier" of "M.I.A. Hunter" books. The addition of fantasy elements, a bit of mystery and the Ninjutsu mythology enhances what is a standard search and destroy formula. Kudos to the author for providing more closure to this story than the typical Stone book.

TIME RAIDER #03 - UNION FIRES

In December of 1992 author John Barnes released the last book of his three book series "Time Raider". This last chapter, entitled "Union Fires", doesn't quite wrap the series up in a sufficient way to satisfy the completist like myself. The questions are still left unanswered and I'm not convinced the author had many responses. His time traveling parameters lie somewhere within the realms of reincarnation and Doctor Strange but nestled into a men's action adventure novel. However, tucked away in it's own little corner, it proves to be not only the best book of this series but one of the better books I have read in the military fiction genre. Barnes really comes into his own here and delivers a compelling thrill ride of action storytelling. 

The author thrusts Samson and the reader into some very intense and suspenseful situations by dropping the protagonist into Eastern Virgina in the spring of 1864. Samson, who already fought in Vietnam in his present day, has fought Nazi Germany in WWII (first book "War Tide") and struggled in the US-Mexico campaign in El Paso (second book "Battle Cry"). Shortly after his "death" in "Battle Cry" he awakens to find himself in one of the more interesting characters I've read in a long time. Samson finds that he is a double-agent that has infiltrated a small squad of Union agents. It's intricate and left me pondering throughout the book on which side Samson was currently assisting. 

Samson's character is Prescott Heller, a Virginia Military Institute graduate that has become an agent for the Confederacy. At some point he was sent to the north to pose as a Union soldier. He worked through the ranks and became an agent for the Union under Lafayette Baker and his secret service. As "Union Fires" begins Samson is in a small squad of Union secret service on a mission to free northern prisoners from a tobacco plant in Richmond. As if that isn't difficult enough Samson learns that his former wife, Sarah, in the present day is also living a past life as a Union agent as well as his best friend Matt from his own time. Sarah and Matt don't know that Samson is really Heller which makes for a unique set of circumstances. 

One could read this and dive right into the rather complicated aspect that Barnes is attempting here. Past lives, multiple time streams and a strange time traveling mentor that is more Master Chen Ming Kan (remember "Kung-Fu"?) than any real help. Without dropping endless spoilers here the main premise of the book is Samson's favoritism to the Union and aborting the original mission that Heller was assigned. This leaves him in a life or death balance between reporting to Union requirements undercover and violating his Confederacy commanders who want him to stop those that mean the most to him in his current time. 

Barnes is quite the storyteller here and provides numerous action sequences that move this along in fast pace. The author has a good knowledge of the Civil War and provides technical details that aren't too far between the lines for casual readers. While this is an action-adventure book Barnes provides a ton of intrigue, espionage and other elements that make the spy genre so much fun. The portions that feature Samson behind bars (not too much of a spoiler) are absolutely brutal and left me contemplating my own survival in such extreme conditions. 

While Barnes doesn't provide the closure the series really needed he ended on a very high note. Whether there were more books planned is a mystery. In the "Afterword" section Barnes mentions that these books helped him get through a time in his life where things were collapsing. Perhaps it was his own therapy that provoked the series. Either way it leaves a fairly good trilogy on the table for those that love science fiction, military fiction and action-adventure. Who could ask for more than that? 

Monday, January 16, 2017

EAGLE FORCE #03 - FLIGHT 666

Dan Schmidt released his third “Eagle Force” book, “Flight 666”, via Bantam in 1989. His team-based book showcases four paramilitary members that have all experienced intense action during the Vietnam war and clandestine assignments all over Central and South America. It’s the series’ same core group of four commandos led by the main character Vic Gabriel. The first two books of the series featured a little back story on Gabriel and his family history. With this third book Schmidt goes right for the jugular and gives us action soaked pages that don’t delve into history, instead just bullets and sweat-soaked intensity throughout the 200 pages.

Vic Gabriel is on “Flight 666”, a commercial airliner from France to Israel. The red lights would have been a nuclear fireball if my ticket has anything to do with Armageddon. But ‘ole Vic isn’t afraid of prophecy and dives right in. Vic is doing a little solo work on the side, a cool $50K to escort two Jewish businessmen from France to Israel and provide body guard duty while the businessmen do whatever arms deals they have in Israel. The rest of Eagle Force is chilling at home while Vic pimps himself out.

Like a lot of the books and movies at the time Schmidt hitches his wagon to the “terrorists on board” theme. Four Iranian Islamic terrorists take over “Flight 666” and make a demand that the US release all of its Iranian prisoners or all 200+ hostages are dead. Boom. Vic has no weapons, no team and has to rely on his own skill-set to survive the ordeal. Soon the terrorists execute Vic’s two Jewish clients and another passenger. They know Vic is American and he has the look of CIA so they sort of keep Vic under wraps while they rape a stewardess and generally antagonize the passengers.

Soon the flight lands in a rural desert wasteland in Iran, a fortified ancient city called Bam. I didn’t know Books-A-Million existed so far out. While Vic and the hostages are led into the fort Uncle Sam has a plan. A crack-team of commandos known as the “Phantom Plague” are assembled with orders to fly into Iran and do their search and rescue jive. Think of the Phantom Plague as that evil twin version of Knight Rider’s Michael Knight. They have the look of Eagle Force but they tend to have a bit more reckless abandonment and a whole buncha illwill. At the same time that Uncle Sam is making his ploy our very own Eagle Force (three-fourths) is assembled and they are in route to the same destination. Will Eagle Force and Phantom Plague play well in the sandbox together or turn their smokin’ guns on each other?

Schmidt is a really fast-paced writer who isn’t afraid to smear a little blood and gore on the pages to thicken things up. In “Flight 666” he gives us a little peek at what a more reckless Eagle Force could look like. At the same time, he truly shows how valuable Vic is to the team by holding all the pieces together and providing tremendous leadership for his men. I like the “Delta Force” part of the book that showed the hostages and terrorists conflict in the skies. I think that part was fairly well written although I still have doubts on why the terrorists didn’t just land in an urban region making a rescue attempt much more difficult. My only complaint with the book is this: it is the third consecutive book that saw Vic as a prisoner. The first book he became a willing prisoner of Islamic terrorists. The last book had Vic and his whole team behind bars in a Colombia. Again, Vic is captured in this entry making it very predictable. I am really hoping this isn’t a trend by the author. We’ll see whenever I can hunt down book four.

Friday, January 13, 2017

TIME RAIDER #02 - BATTLE CRY

A time traveling Vietnam veteran is summoned through the "Wind Between Time" and forced to fight in some of the bloodiest campaigns in history. It sounds cool as shit, right? Like Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap, only with big-ass guns and the will to kill. The first book in this "Time Raider" series introduced us to Dan Samson, former Vietnam War vet who gets thrust through time during a weird medical experiment at a local lab. Samson awakens as a young Private in World War II, forced to fight Nazis in the Italian mountains. The end result? Samson gets killed off but awakens in book two, "Battle Cry", as a US Calvary solider in 1846. Is it any good? Just like the first book...I could take it or leave it. 

 "Battle Cry" was released through Gold Eagle in 1992 and is the middle book of this time traveling men's action trilogy. Author John Barnes wrote all three of these and I'm not terribly certain if the idea was just the three books or if there were plans to do more with it. It has the ability to go further than a trilogy but Barnes may have become as bored as I have with the rather lackluster plots.  



The book's premise is Samson is Private Hiram Galt, an alcoholic soldier serving the US Calvary in and near El Paso. El Paso to Chihuahua is hotly disputed between Mexico and the US. They like to shoot at each other. A lot. The battle could have been over rather easily if the two parties could have just agreed on a monetary transaction. Yet they didn't and thousands of soldiers died in the campaign. Samson has Galt's memories and he combines that with his own military experience in what amounts to a whole lot of nothing. 

Basically Samson's superiors want him to carry military plans to another unit. To do this he must go through a territory that is disputed between two ranches. Barrington Taggart is a US rancher who ultimately is very wealthy, and in 1864 that means he has a lot of slaves. The other side of the mountain is Mexican land owner Rancho Bastida, who claims to have Spanish nobility and won't go down without a fight. The two ranchers actually get along fairly well but they don't cross each other. Yet. 

Samson stops in at Taggart's place first. The old guy treats Samson extremely well with hot water and dinner. After the festivities Taggart breaks out some hanky-panky by bringing in a young slave woman and beating her to a pulp. Samson wants no part in this and he is commanded to leave at first light. That night he leaves the camp with another slave woman, Ysabel, who prompts the two of them to leave Taggart in a hurry. The land barren wants Ysabel back and heads out after the two with a crew of hardened men.

The author throws a few firefights at us, mostly just "hit and run" with Samson taking potshots at the crew. The second half of the book is Ysabel's brother Juan showing up. At first he takes Samson captive, however Samson escapes Juan's fort and heads out to fulfill his mission solo. He runs into a pack of Taggart's crew and then runs back to Juan for safety. Together Juan's crew and Samson take up arms to fight Taggart's gang. Samson's utter stupidity leads him into Taggart's camp at night to do a little night sabotage on their cannons. He ends up getting captured and hung at dawn. Does this guy sound like the same bad-ass Lorenzo Lamas wannabe from the book's cover? Hell to the no. However, Juan and the gang show up, kill Taggart and lead Samson to safety. That's a freakin' wrap folks. It's a little short on plot and seemingly just exists so we can watch Samson skip from Point A to Point B repeatedly. Such a great idea with this time traveling soldier bit but just fails to deliver the goods. 

This has a few surprises in it that I won't spoil here. The mystery is still fairly thick on why Samson is floating through time. Who is Master Xi? Can our protagonist actually die? Will he ever return home? Hell if I know. We may never know. It's around 200 pages and makes for an easy read. It beats exercise or manual labor. Sometimes that's enough of an excuse to read anything.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

LAST MOUNTAIN MAN #06 - LAW OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN

William W. Johnstone wrote this sixth book for his "The Last Mountain Man" series in 1989. It was originally released on Pinnacle and featured far more superior artwork than the later editions that are fairly common on store shelves. I am assuming the original artwork is viewed as somewhat dated so the publisher opted for "timeless" cover art depicting black and white towns or simply the profile photo of cowboy and his horse. From the few fans I've spoke with, they feel the new "updated" artwork leaves plenty to be desired. Regardless the publisher has treated the entire series this way and I say it's bloody bonkers mate. 

The book begins with a really inviting premise. Smoke Jensen is holed up in a cave and explains to the reader that he is being hunted by a group of men. The backstory tells us how Smoke arrived in this precarious situation. His wife Sally has her family in town from back east. During the visit the baby acquires a lung issue and the doctors urge the family to go to Arizona for a few months due to the dryer air there. Smoke decides to hang back and work his ranch in Colorado. After a few days of bachelorhood he gets the call of the wild and heads into the mountains for some action. 

After a hard ride he ends up at a saloon where typically a fight happens, Smoke kills or injures someone and then the gang of goons he wrangled with are after Smoke. Damned if it doesn't happen right on cue. Smoke scuffles with a land baron named Jud Vale and lays him out with an iron fist. Smoke is accused of being a Box T rider and he finds this to be an interesting accusation and rides onto a local farm to figure out what's going on. It's typical of the series to find Smoke aiding two farmers in a cattle war with the local baron. The end result is Smoke, farmers, an old cowboy and some kids fighting back against Jud Vale and his hired guns. It's all been done to death but this one has enough action and fast pace to be one of the better books of the series thus far. 

There are two really good portions to this book. The first is the introduction of a character named Matthew. I'm not totally sure this is the same Matt Jensen that shows up in Johnstone's book series of the same name but all of the signs are here. Smoke adores the kid and sees that he is terror with a gun. Much like Smoke being raised by Preacher, Matthew is trained by an old cowboy named Cheyenne. Here Matthew has parents and is a young man. Somewhere along the way I know that Smoke adopts a son named Matt and it could be this kid. Time will tell. The second part is a tremendous firefight in the mountains with Smoke facing a dozen bounty hunters. This isn't an unusual battle and Smoke has had plenty, however the author spends time on positioning, amounts of ammo and really sets up an intense conflict that sucks the reader into the gun smoke. It's really well done.

Overall this is just another Smoke Jensen western and ranks fairly high in the book series thus far. I think Johnstone really came into his own in terms of depicting gunfights and conflict. Unfortunately the plot and numerous bar fights are enough to leave you wanting a bit more out of these western tales. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

THE EXECUTIONER #03 - BATTLE MASK
















Don Pendleton continues his "The Executioner" series with this third entry, "Battle Mask", released in 1970 via Pinnacle Books. In the last book, "Death Squad", we saw protagonist Mack Bolan target two Mafia families in L.A. Bolan's crew was wiped out during their attack on Julian DiGeorge and his mob family. DiGeoge somehow escaped in the book's finale and Bolan continues to be pursued by law enforcement and Mafia hitmen after bringing war to both the east and west coast families. 

"Battle Mask" begins with Bolan recounting the firefight that killed off his death squad of colleagues and friends in the last book. DiGeorge enforcers arrive being led by Lou "Screwy Looey" Pena. Bolan sees their approach and lights them up with flares and a .50 caliber before rolling out. On his way to Palm Springs he is tracked by more enforcers and manages to kill off a few with an assist from an older man. Bolan switches vehicles and arrives at New Horizons, a plastic surgery facility ran by one of his old war buddies named Brantzen. The author provides a little backstory on how the two of them used to supply medical help to villagers in Vietnam. Bolan asks Brantzen to do a new face so he can avoid the numerous detectives and hitmen that are hunting him. Brantzen agrees and Bolan gets a "battle mask".

In the meantime the search continues for Bolan via Captain Tim Braddock of the LAPD. He is one of the main characters and was featured in the last book. His investigation and pursuit deemed "Hardcase" is heating up. Sergeant Carl Lyons is in on the action and is playing a bluff on Braddock. In the last book Lyons allowed Bolan to escape and soon Braddock realizes that Lyons isn't too motivated to capture Bolan. He dismisses Lyons from the investigation and I am assuming this will eventually lead to Lyons joining Bolan's fight in later books (an early peek ahead shows Lyons as an Able Team member).

One of the more enjoyable parts of Pendleton's "The Executioner" debut in "War Against the Mafia" was that Bolan joined the ranks of the mob to kill from within. Like that book Bolan does the same here. With his new face he infiltrates DiGeorge's family by teaming up with the don's daughter Andrea. She has a dislike for her father and senses that his goons had something to do with the murder of her husband.  Bolan disguises himself as her fiance, a Mafia good from New Jersey named Frank Lambretta. Soon DiGeorge hires Lambretta to be an enforcer and pegs him as Frank Lucky. 

Once Bolan accepts the job as mob enforcer to DiGeorge he begins a careful dissection of the family and their assets. He spills important dates and deals to Carl Lyons and between Bolan and the police the DiGeorge empire is slowly dismantled. Bolan targets Pena and his crew as well as a enforcer named Marasco. In typical Pendleton fashion the reader is thrust into car chases and shootouts as the noose is placed on DiGeorge. The climax could have been a little better but I'm not complaining. 

The end result is a really good rebound from the lackluster "Death Squad". This third book in the series recaptures a lot of the high-octane action of the debut and is spread throughout the book in many different angles. Aside from the Mafia portions there are some really good side-stories that sort of break up the detective work being done by both Bolan and Braddock. Overall a great book and one that sets the series back on course. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

THE EXECUTIONER #02 - DEATH SQUAD
















This 1969 sequel to "War Against the Mafia" doesn't have the same feel as it's predecessor. Author Don Pendleton captured a gritty revenge tale, enhanced by character development, in his debut that most would consider the essential building block for modern men's action adventure. This second book attempts to recreate that high intensity affair with a rather lackluster story that fails to connect with the reader for a variety of reasons. 

Protagonist Mack Bolan is fresh from the fight against the Mafia and decides to take the war to the West Coast. It's still open season on Bolan and the police as well as the Mafia all want him. While it's never really clear why Bolan chose L.A. or even why he made this specific portion of the Mafia a target, he winds up with his former battlefield buddy named George Zitka in an early firefight, the first of a few scattered across sixteen chapters. Zitka and Bolan devise a plan to recruit some of their former military pals to take the war to the next level. Pendleton does a brief description of each recruit with a small backstory. All of this is a very small piece of the book and I felt Pendleton could have made this longer and more descriptive. It is this lack of connection that makes the reader very confused on characters' names, how they relate to Bolan and overall a complete lack of interest in whether they live or die. 

After this recruitment phase the book plunges downhill very rapidly. Without having a backstory to pursue the reader is thrust into a ton of radio talk between the "death squad" members as well as police. At one point we are introduced to a detective named Lyons who serves as an ally for Bolan. This relationship is really one of the few interesting portions of the story. As Bolan targets two L.A. mobsters, with no real point or winning plan of attack, the end result is just a whole lot of surveillance and talking. There is a short shootout in the middle and the end has a botched attack on a surf-side mansion that kills off nearly all of Bolan's crew. Pendleton really takes some liberties here and kills off a team that is supposedly bad-ass after surviving heavy combat in 'Nam. This climax battle doesn't even do much in delivering stiff competition for Bolan, yet almost his entire team is killed off. Not good.

Again, this is really a disappointing sequel and from what I understand the next book, "Battle Mask", points the series back in the right direction. Fans of the series probably still hold the book in high regards when compared to post-Pendleton or Golden Eagle stuff. Me, I doubt I'll ever pick this up again. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

THE EXECUTIONER #01 - WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA

The late Don Pendleton, "the father of men's action adventure", created what is arguably the "post pulp" serial of the modern age. "The Executioner: War Against the Mafia" was released in 1969 and originally had the title of "The Duty Killer", something the main character, Mack Bolan, describes himself as. According to the Glorious Trash blog, who cited author Mike Newton's book "How to Write Action-Adventure Fiction", the book was bought by publishing house Bee Line and that company created Pinnacle Books just for this series. The original pressing simply titled the book "The Executioner: War Against the Mafia!" but later copies were pressed that added the "#1" once the decision was made to launch further titles. Numerous versions of the book exists including a modern day covered version that was released in 2016 (featured below).

This debut of the series is divided into three sections with each section including around nine chapters. It's a quick read and Pendleton keeps the reader (and Mack) on their toes. We are introduced to Sergeant Mack Bolan in the book's prologue. He is a skilled sniper in the Vietnam War and holds an official kill record of 32 high-ranking North Vietnamese officers, 46 Viet Cong leaders and 17 Viet Cong village leaders. At age 30 he has been in the military for 12 years and has served two tours of duty in Vietnam. Through letters we learn that Bolan and his mother Elsa communicate twice a week and she would send him care packages. Bolan has two siblings, 17 year-old Cindy and 14 year-old Johnny. His father, Sam, is a steelworker and Mack considers him to be "as indestructible as the steel he made." Later Elsa explained to Bolan that his father had a heart attack and that due to lost wages the family's finances were in a bind. 

One day in August Bolan is summoned to the base camp chaplain's office where he is told that his father, mother and sister are all dead and that his brother was in critical condition. Bolan is air-lifted home for emergency leave. He learns that his father had borrowed some money from Triangle Industrial Finance, a front for the mob. It was only $400 but Sam had been roughed up for payments. He eventually paid them back the money plus interest but it still wasn't enough according to them. Due to the stress and intense pressure Sam killed his wife and daughter, shot his son and then turned the gun on himself in a brutal murder-suicide. This is presented to Bolan by his brother Johnny, the only communication we have in the book of the two brothers discussing the present and future plans. 

Bolan purchases a Marlin .444 lever action rifle and camps out in front of Triangle Industrial one night. He kills five of their employees and a day or two later goes to Plesky Enterprises, the accounting firm for the company, to discuss his father's debt. They explain that $400 was borrowed and $550 was paid back, not enough to satisfy the terms and conditions of the loan. Bolan advises he can give them information on the shooting and they advise that his father's account is now considered settled. 

Like many of the action novels that came after Pendleton's first "Executioner" entry, this one finds Bolan infiltrate the mob as a hired gunman. The group hire Bolan for his weapons expertise and pair him with a guy named Turrin for various chores. In one interesting encounter Turrin leads Bolan to one of the many whorehouses the mob runs. There he nails the second of two prostitutes in a brief sex scene (the first was a brief cabana lay when Bolan gets hired). As Bolan gets deeper and deeper into the mob's operations he starts up a phone relationship with Detective Al Weatherbee (two physical meetings). The police detective is reluctant to provide info to Bolan and during every correspondence begs him to surrender and turn in. By book's end the two have a decent understanding and assist each other to a degree.

Bolan turns the tables on the mob and starts knocking up their establishments and leaving a calling card behind - marksman's medals. After attempting to shake up the whorehouse Bolan is shot. He manages to escape and ends up in the bed of twenty-something virgin Valentina Querente. She mends his wounds and he takes her innocence in one of the more goofy chapters - mostly due to the comical dialogue. Bolan leaves a few days later and tells her he loves her.

The climax comes with Bolan using military ordinance he got from a storage warehouse (where he leaves some of the $250K he stole from the mob to pay for the weapons) and laying waste to several of the mafia establishments. The end comes as Bolan blows a helicopter out of the sky, a scene that is depicted in at least two different covers of the book. In the end Bolan leaves some money for Valentina and heads west to start a new war. 

I think for the most part this debut of "The Executioner" sets the standard for what most would consider the modern serialized action adventure book. From here the copycats arose in droves - The Penetrator, The Destroyer, etc. This was 1969 and the "vigilante justice" and "ex-military" books really hadn't lifted off and may hadn't lifted off with such velocity if Don Pendleton didn't write this landmark title. "The Executioner" is essentially "The Innovator". 

I'll end with one of my favorite quotes from Bolan in the book: 

"Life is a competition, and I am a competitor. I have the tools and the skills, and I must accept the responsibilities. I will fight the battle, spill the blood, smear myself with it, and stand at the bar of judgment to be crushed and chewed and ingested by those I serve. It is the way of the world. It is the ultimate disposition. Stand ready, Mafiosi, The Executioner is here."