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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

HANGING WOMAN CREEK

‘Hanging Woman Creek’ was released in 1964 by Bantam Books. For me, it’s considered one of L’Amour’s early books due to being released about 15 years into his writing career. At 150 pages, it fits snugly into the author’s “short but exceptional” western template. Set in frosty Montana, L’Amour introduces us to the rough and tough Pronto Pike. He’s a down on his luck journeyman who drifts from job to job all over the country. Like many paperback cowboys, Pronto is decent with his fists and Hell with a rifle. He’s a great cattle guy, a hard worker…but his temper has been the bane of his existence. So, it’s fitting that the book opens with Pronto being released from an overnight stay in jail along with a couple of other drifter types – Van Bokkelen (who may be wanted for murder) and an older African American boxer named Eddie Holt. 

After separating themselves from Bokkelen, both Eddie and Pronto team up to find work before the bulk of winter hits the Montana timbers. After asking around, the duo find a great stint punching cattle for a rancher named Bill Justin. It’s a good gig – warm cabin, plenty of wood, a few books and the calm day to day activities of babysitting cattle through the winter. Eddie, while not a skilled rancher, earns his keep by preparing good meals and teaching Pronto some boxing lessons. In turn, Pronto shows Eddie how to punch cattle. However, the good vibe at Hanging Woman Creek doesn’t last long.

L’Amour slowly envelopes the story with an impending sense of gloom, enhanced by the cold, rural landscape. After learning that cattle rustlers are among them, Pronto finds a murdered man in the snow (with a bit of mysterious horseprints). With tensions high and both men feeling watched and unsettled, Pronto rides into town to present the dead man and to make a sworn statement. There, he finds an Irish beauty named Ann Farley, the sister of a nester named Philo Farley, an old friend of Pronto’s. Ann explains that her brother could be in trouble and needs a ride out to his cabin just shy of Hanging Woman Creek.   

I am recommending this one to any action and western fans, and with that being said, I don’t want to elaborate too much further for fear of spoilers. The heart of the book is ultimately a classic western…but it’s loaded with atmosphere and mystery. Where’s the rustlers, who’s leading them and what’s behind the murders? How is Philo and Ann Farley tied to it? While the first third of the book develops great characters, the middle really expands on that and introduces mystery and intrigue. The last third is Hell bent for leather, matching the book’s cover perfectly.

L’Amour is a master storyteller and this one has all of his best ingredients. Action, mystery, interesting (and lovable) characters and a frantic sense of pacing. It’s a short read packed with atmosphere and firepower. ‘Hanging Woman Creek’ is highly recommended…and won’t let you down until that noose snaps tight.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

DEATHLANDS #01 - PILGRIMAGE TO HELL

‘Deathlands’ is yet another series that has periodically slipped through my hands over the years. The covers were always inviting, promising an entertaining trip through post-nuke America. For whatever reason, I just never bothered purchasing or reading any of them. Now, as I get further and further through westerns, crime and apocalyptic styled yarns (and yawns), I’m revisiting the books that just never made the cut initially. Thus ‘Pilgrimage to Hell’, the first book of the series and my first taste of this long-running, highly recommended series. 

The series was introduced in January, 1988 by publishing giant Gold Eagle. It has run for 130 books as well as an ill-conceived SyFy film. The concept was created by U.K. author Christopher Lowder, a talent that contributed to science fiction and adventure stories for the likes of ‘The House of Hammer’, ‘2000 A.D.’ and ‘Thunder and Lion’. Lowder worked on the series’ first entry, ‘Pilgrimage to Hell’, but had to stop writing it due to an illness. This led to Lowder arguably writing the first ¾ of the novel before conceding the book, and a majority of the series, to fellow British writer Laurence James. James was a member of the “Piccadilly Cowboys” and wrote 12-14 novels a year under various pen-names. Before working on the ‘Deathlands’ series, James had contributed to motorcycle, Viking, science fiction and post-apocalyptic novels.

The book’s opening pages presents a detailed history of how Earth was ravaged by a nuclear exchange in 2001. It’s lengthy (on paper almost 20 pages), and documents a ton of information that I thought I might need to remember…but it turns out none of it even matters other than Earth has changed significantly due to bombs and radiation (yes, it’s the inevitable Soviet-US fiery transaction). Geography consists of various hot and cold spots with dark clouds that seemingly burn the sky. Mutants, sickness and plagues take over and cull the weak, resulting in decades of famine and death. The opening chapter puts us in 2101, 100 years removed from the big bang and roughly two to three generations after the civilization that we know. The end result is a barren wasteland that resembles some sort of alien landscape than the Earth that we all know and love. Mutants, telepaths, warriors and Barons (leaders) populate what was once the US, ruling small villages and towns and recreating the shambles of what life once was despite the “nuclear winter” effects. It’s medieval, putting this book and series more in line with the fantasy genre than the typical post-nuke adventure. 

No disrespect to Lowder, but his writing style for the first half of the book is very restless. About 100 pages in I was seriously questioning my decision to read this and if I had enough focus to retain much of the information presented. There is a lot to unpack after several chapters, including multiple characters that could be major or minor characters early on. At one point I couldn’t keep track of which character was saying the dialogue and how they were related to the group. The book’s opening half centers around a telepathic mutant named Kurt who is assisting a group of bandits. They are attempting a journey north into a frosty wasteland known as The Darks. It’s here that a fabled treasure of supplies and wealth exists…yet no one has ever returned from the area safely. As soon as the group enter the area…tentacles and claws emerge from the fog and they are seemingly killed off.

From that point we are then introduced to a mysterious guy named Trader and his motorized convoy as they travel to the ville of Mocsin. Trader runs three large trucks (what I would think of as armored tractor trailers) and about 40 men and women - including his comrade, and series main star, Ryan Cawdor. This group are legendary traders and travelers and do business with the Baron Jordan Teauge, a notoriously bad man that has quite the reputation for raping, killing and stealing. The group is attacked by mutants led by a character named Scale before eventually rescuing another series mainstay, the beautiful Krysty Wroth (I told you there were a ton of characters). The convoy engages in road combat and run ‘n gun with a host of baddies including mutants named Stickies (they literally pull flesh from bones on contact) and Teauge’s rogue baddie Cort Strasser. Eventually, the convoy arrives near Mocsin where the book settles into a groove at the halfway point.

Lowder finishes off his portion of the book with a bit of western styled storytelling. Ryan, Krysty and company are captured by the now crooked Strasser and Teauge. During their capture, they meet an interesting character named Doc Tanner who may, or may not be, from another time period all together. He speaks in Victoria era broken sentences, but seems to know more about The Darks than anyone else. The gang breaks free of Strasser and eventually reunites with Trader and the convoy. More skirmishes and gunfights occur as the group attempts to escape Strasser and an army of mutants. Along the way we learn Trader is dying, Ryan is in love with Krysty and the whole group is embarking on a trip to The Darks to learn the secrets or seal their fate.

In what is essentially the whole premise of the book, the gang fractures off into a main cast of just eight characters as they learn that “redoubts” exist all over the country. Think of these as teleportation stations that allow them to jump all over the country in seconds. We assume that they somehow lead to time travel based on Doc’s misplacement in 2101…but future volumes will address that (I hope). The book finishes on a cliffhanger that promises a second book will continue the current storyline. 

The book’s much more focused and arranged with James writing the last fourth and I’m glad that we slimmed down on the number of characters. While the first half was a bit messy, I’m a bit sympathetic with Lowder’s monumental undertaking. He had a lot of ground to cover, a huge storyline to introduce and just under a few hundred pages to accomplish the feat. While I’m sorry he couldn’t finish his effort, James really comes in and makes it his own. I’m looking forward to more of this series. Science fiction, fantasy, action adventure? Really it is all three with a slight nod to Lovecraft horror. This was a surprising concept that definitely puts ‘Deathlands’ outside of the typical post-nuke novels of the 80s and early 90s.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

DOC SAVAGE #01 - THE MAN OF BRONZE

Predominantly, my Paperback Warrior musings are catered to 70s and 80s fiction, but I’m leaping through time to cover this iconic pulp warrior. Shamefully it has taken me 41 years on Earth to read my very first Doc Savage title. Over the years I’ve discovered the character while browsing a multitude of media including novels, comics, magazines and audio. For some reason, I just never had any interest in delving beneath the surface until now.

‘Doc Savage Magazine’ was first published in March, 1933 via Street & Smith publishers. Street & Smith was a New York company formed in 1855. It released its first pulp, ‘The Popular Magazine’, in 1903. By the mid-20s the pulp market had exploded, led by what many claims as the “Big Four” – ‘Argosy’, ‘Adventure’, ‘Blue Book’ and ‘Short Stories’. Street & Smith publishing agent Henry Ralston and editior John Nanovic had a hit on their hands with ‘The Shadow’ and were pursuing a second title. They pitched their Doc Savage hero concept to author Lester Dent with a dangling carrot of $500-$750 paychecks per book. It was a triumphant transaction that led to Doc Savage appearing a whopping 181 times for the magazine and related media. In 1964, the title regained popularity with Bantam reprinted each magazine as an individual novel. The books were handsomely presented with new artwork by James Bama and listed under house name Kenneth Robeson. These books are mostly out of chronological publishing order except the first – ‘The Man of Bronze’.

As the forerunner to the modern superhero, ‘The Man of Bronze’ starts the series as the obligatory origin story. It begins by introducing us to Doc Savage and his “Fabulous Five” team members. Each are introduced by name and what their overall skill is. Monk is a strong type that doubles as an industrial chemist. Ham is an accomplished attorney with a sword cane. Renny is the team’s brawn and construction engineer. Long Tom is an electrical wizard and Johnny rounds it off as the team’s archaeologist, complete with magnifying lens over his damaged left eye. Savage himself is sort of the conglomerate of all his team’s skills, only he has perfected each due to a strenuous two hours daily spent exercising his body and mind. Author Lester Dent describes Savage as a physical specimen with a chiseled “bronze” body.

Savage and his teammates served together in WWI, yet it wouldn’t be until Philip Farmer’s 1991 novel, ‘Escape from Loki’, that the full details are explained. The group is assembled on the 86th Floor of what is presumably New York’s Empire State Building after learning of the murder of Savage’s father. Doc, in distress, learns that his father was poisoned while exploring a remote location called Hidalgo in Central America. During the assembly, a red-handed assassin attempts to assassinate Doc. Through the book’s opening chapters, the group run from building to building chasing the assassin before learning that Savage’s father left a hidden message behind. This message pushes the book’s focus to the team traveling to Hidalgo to investigate not only the murder, but the land that has been willed to Doc.

From one fast-paced frenzy to another, Dent presents a riveting adventure for the team. From deep underground caves and primitive villages to sea and air battles, ‘The Man of Bronze’ covers a lot of ground and, for the 1930s, took the imagination into foreign and exotic lands. Collectively, the team uses all of their resources to foil the enemy and solve the inevitable mystery. Who’s the assassin? Why did he murder Doc’s father? All of this comes to fruition in a climatic, mountainside finale that finishes one chapter while introducing elements that will be key in future editions. The author’s clear boundaries of good and evil are questionable in 2017, but one has to remember this was written in a much simpler time with black and white social and cultural outlines. It’s easy to dismiss the fantasy and incredible writing style, often putting Doc Savage at Godlike strength and mind, but that’s the whole idea, right? It isn’t really supposed to make sense.

It’s written as an escape from the factory work and mundane daily rituals. For my own interpretation, Savage is one-part Indiana Jones, one-part Bruce Wayne and one-part Captain America. His skillset or power? I think it could easily just be perfection. He’s seemingly human perfection. Who wouldn’t want to be this bronze, intelligent hero? I say bring on book two – ‘The Land of Terror’. I can’t get enough of this stuff.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

APACHE #01 - THE FIRST DEATH

I had been reading up on the U.K. westerns of the 70s and stumbled on a series entitled ‘Apache’. Further reading brought me up to speed on a familiar name in western fiction – Piccadilly Cowboys. This group consisted of writers Terry Harknett, Kenneth Bulmer, Mike Linaker, Angus Wells, Laurence James, Fred Nolan and John Harvey (if not more). Collectively, they wrote a ton of westerns and individually contributed to science fiction and men’s action adventure genres. ‘Apache’ was a bit of a snowball effect resulting from the tremendous success of the violent western series ‘Edge’. According to the excellent blog "Western Fiction Review", ‘Edge’ was published by George Gilman, a pseudonym for authors Terry Harknett and Laurence James. Harknett (under the name William M. James) wrote the debut ‘Apache’ novel “The First Death”, released in February, 1974 through Pinnacle. The series would run from 1974 through 1984 – 27 books written by Harknett and John Harvey (later). Thankfully, I was able to track down an Ebook copy of “The First Death” using a nifty online library – openlibrary.org.

Although the year is never mentioned, the book is set somewhere around 1861. There is a mentioning of a possible rebellion against the Union in the East, thus the beginnings of the U.S. Civil War. The book begins with Lieutenant Pinner riding troops into an Apache rancheria in the Arizona Territory of the Department of New Mexico. He’s looking for a Native American that he suspects stole his prized golden dagger, a cherished gift from his father. Pinner is a royal dick and routinely takes his aggression out on what is now a peaceful tribe of Apache. Their chief, Black Horse, allows Pinner’s troops to run through the tepees searching for the dagger, putting aside frustration and pride for the greater good. 18-year old brave Cuchillo sees the invasion from a rock outcropping and races in to protect his wife Chipeta and his newborn son. In a shocking early revelation, Cuchillo produces the dagger from inside of his shirt. Pinner and the troops take Cuchillo back to nearby Fort Davidson for trial. Pinner asks his superior, Major Anson, to execute Cuchillo, but the leader suggests removing Cuchillo’s index finger as a suitable punishment. Pinner, in a prime asshat move, actually removes two fingers in a disturbing and graphic scene.

Harknett introduces a solid backstory outlining Cuchillo’s place in the tribe, a feud with fellow brave White Dog and his friendship with the white John Hedges, whom has educated Cuchillo with English culture. Cuchillo provides a valid explanation as to why he had Pinner’s dagger, and later, tangles with the violent father-son due of Nathan and Armstrong Ford – two pivotal characters in the book’s ultimate plotline. Cuchillo attempts to settle the dagger transaction, only to run afoul of the Fords, killing one of them. Before he can return back to the rancheria, the cavalry arrests Cuchillo’s wife and retains his son until the brave returns to Fort Davidson to confess and ultimately hang. This puts Cuchillo in the worst situation – trading his own life for his wife and son’s.

The book’s violent finale has Fort Davidson’s scum run the rape train on Cuchillo’s wife. It’s a brutal scene, but done with just enough detail to paint the revenge scenario facing Cuchillo and the reader. It’s tough to read, but isn’t a grizzly, squeamish scene. I’m glad the author held back a bit…enough is enough with the cruelty. The climatic ending is a shocker, but a mandatory finale to set up the long running series. I’ve got to have book two…right now.

I’ve read a ton of western fiction but I’m going to put ‘Apache’ in the upper echelon. It’s a quick read at under 200 pages, with just enough violence and a good mystery to saturate the book’s contents. I’m hoping this series will expand on the Cuchillo and Pinner conflict while also furthering the development of White Dog’s feud. I can’t say enough good things about this book. Based on this debut, ‘Apache’ looks like a winning formula. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

THE EXECUTIONER #06 - ASSAULT ON SOHO

At the end of 'Continental Contract', Bolan was in a furious nighttime run 'n gun with the mob in France. He's attempting to escape Europe with a still-beating heart. The beauty queen knockout from the last book (does her name even matter) helps Bolan into the English Channel. Now, 'Assault on Soho' begins with Bolan in London, trying to punch a ticket to fly back to America. His interference is another short-skirted bombshell, Ann Franklin, who warns Bolan of goon danger and escorts him to a sex palace called The Club De Sade. Really. Why? I have no Earthly idea...and I'm not sure author Don Pendleton knows either. This is unfortunate series filler while thinking of the next good adventure for Bolan. 

After the stellar 'Continental Contract', Pendleton messy-shits the whole bed with 'Assault on Soho'. I'm not sure if his prior erotic writing was creeping in or if he was asked to insert a bunch of kinky stuff. The end result is a big poo-poo in the series and one that should probably have been better off with some sort of 70s spy jazz that was booming at the time. I'm not sure what the story was really about...other than Bolan escaping the mob by going back and forth from London's streets to the sex palace...over and over. 

There's a Major Stone involved, a leftover mobster named Danno Giliamo from 'Miami Massacre' and this Ann Franklin bimbo that has somehow fallen in love with the five minutes she's spent with Mack Daddy. There's a really good action sequence early on...and the rest of the time Bolan takes a backseat to a wacky sex mystery. Our hero is sitting front row while people mysteriously die...and none of it makes any sense. The only interesting bit is that the mob has now formed an alliance to kill Bolan...and I'm sure this will come up in future volumes. Otherwise, stay clear of this one.

THE EXECUTIONER #05 - CONTINENTAL CONTRACT

Don Pendleton's fourth book in his "Executioner" saga continues with "Continental Contract". This book will be the first of the series to export the action to Europe. It only makes sense to travel abroad after the highly intense mafia conflict fought domestically over the last three volumes. With that being said, the book's opening pages has Bolan arrive at Dulles International Airport in DC. Quickly, he realizes he's walked into mob gunners and has a furious action sequence before donning a disguise and jumping on a flight to Europe. Oddly, Bolan finds out that a celebrity passenger on the plane, Gil Martin, looks exactly like him. 

Now, the cat and mouse tactics move to Paris where Bolan assumes the identity of Martin in a clever switch-a-roo. In one of the book's key action sequences, Bolan annihilates a house ripe with whores, moving the beauty goods downstairs while he topples the upper levels with his "machine pistol". This ultimately proves to be a notoriously bad deal for the whores. But, more on that later. In vintage "Executioner" style, Bolan gets escorted to a hotel by some British writer/tramp and the two try to get undressed as quickly as possible. Later, Bolan meets a British celebrity in her own right named Cici. Early, she thinks Bolan is the Gil Martin guy but later figures out he isn't. None of this makes much sense and it's all swept under the rug.

The whole premise of the book arises when Bolan learns that the mob goons are taking their revenge by transporting all of the well-fed, pampered whores to Africa where they can be starving, throw-rug whores. Bolan doesn't like it, communicates with a news anchor and reports that he will execute a mobster every hour until the whores are placed back where they belong - on their backs in the Paris hotels making bank. In some of the best "Executioner" scenes thus far in the series, Bolan "hits" a mobster an hour before tangling with the thickest of the crew in Monaco.

Pendleton writes a ton of different angles into 'Continental Contract' - some backstory on the mobsters, the celebrity stuff, Bolan questioning his longevity - but the most under-developed is the one that peaked my curiosity the most. Early in the book the mob contracts one of Bolan's ex-Nam teammates to meet up with Bolan and betray him. There's a passionate moment when the two eventually meet at the end...but I wish more focus had been provided on this whole angle. Nevertheless, 'Continental Contract' is an early highlight of the series. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. How does Bolan get stateside again? It's coming up in 'Assault on Soho'. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

HAWKER #03 - CHICAGO ASSAULT

The third book in the vigilante "Executioner" knock off returns our violent hero Hawker back to his home turf in Chicago. He's been summoned by an old friend named Saul Beckerman to an exclusive group sex party in a swanky penthouse suite. Who isn't turning that down? In reality, Beckerman asks Hawker for some assistance, but before he can make his request he is killed by gun toting goons that may have ties to Hawker's best friend, James O'Neil. Hawker kills two of the bad guys with a Colt Commander .45, only to have his weapon taken from him by Boone Chezick, an old colleague that is conducting an investigation of the shooting. Chezick warns Hawker that the commissioner is out to get Hawker and will use the shooting as leverage. Blah blah blah. 

Hawker and O'Neil have a brief team up and gun down some baddies before meeting a lovely beauty named Megan. Together, Megan and Hawker share a similar past of growing up in Ireland and losing loved ones in the IRA-Orangemen conflict. O'Neil dies in a bar explosion later that night...but surprises are indeed in store. 

Fawning over Megan and practically demanding sex, Hawker gets the coldest shoulder ever. But, the two of them make some sweet violence together as they dig deeper into O'Neil's tangled web of terrorism. While the IRA stuff seems to be present early on...the book takes a different path. Hawker's sugar daddy, Jacob Hayes (along with his mysterious butler) appears near the end. Wham-bam...the surprise ending hits and it's a shocker. 

I read this one in a few hours and didn't feel like I wasted anytime. This one breezes by and is action packed from start to finish. Hawker books are typically action thrillers for dummies...and I am one so we are the perfect marriage. Thoroughly enjoyed this one and jumping on "Deadly in New York" soon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

TRAVELER #03 - THE STALKERS

“On the wasted highways of post-holocaust America, he ran a savage gauntlet for survival…and revenge”

Who can resist that sort of front cover invitation? Unfortunately, “The Stalkers” has horrendous artwork to accompany it. I’m not sure who came up with the idea of Traveler fighting X-Men’s Beast…but we simply can’t unsee it. Nowhere in the book does this scene actually take place. It’s goofy, awful and looks like a piss poor Conan cover.

“The Stalkers” is book number three of the “Traveler” series. It was released in 1984 courtesy of Dell and is written by John Shirley (under house name D.B. Drumm). This one picks right up at the conclusion of “Kingdom Come” with Traveler motoring across Nevada in an effort to locate Major Vallone and the notorious hitman Black Rider. Within the book’s opening chapters, Traveler battles roving mutants called Bloats in some heated action sequences. He loses, and finds himself draped over a tree waiting for the mutants to carve him up for human casserole (“Last Ranger: Cutthroat Cannibals” seemingly ripped this scene in 1988). Teaming with a survivalist group, he manages to escape the mutie clan only to see his precious Meat Wagon stolen. The race is on.

Traveler eventually finds his van and its thief – a Cheyenne beauty named Jan. Eventually the book’s main premise comes to fruition. Jan needs to rescue her brother from a prison compound where, coincidentally, Major Vallone is at. Collectively, with Jan’s people and a former commando teammate, the group infiltrates and liberates the prison.

“The Stalkers” shines with a break-neck pace, plenty of gunfire and a little romantic chemistry. The author utilizes the whole neurotoxin backstory but sets up a neat and tidy remedy to write this out of the rest of the series. Arch enemies Black Rider and Major Vallone live on to fight another day. And sell another book. Kudos for another fine slab of paperback warrior fiction. Books 4 and 5 are on the way courtesy of Abe Books. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

TRAVELER #02 - KINGDOM COME

Following on the dirt tracks of “Traveler” debut “First, You Fight” comes the inevitable sequel, “Kingdom Come”. We get Michael Dudikoff this time in place of Christopher Walken as the visual interpretation of our paperback hero. I’m probably reaching, but it’s my show, right? It was released in 1984 via Dell for a cool $2.25. I’m paying $8 for these and they look like used toilet paper. What the Hell?

Like the first book, adorning the back page comes more engaging invitations like, “His only goal: to keep moving, his only skill: staying alive” and “His only code: shoot first and ask questions. He was perfect for the job they had in mind”. What does all that mean? It’s simple – The Traveler is a badass ex-special forces guy who has a neurotoxin in his body that elevates his senses and gives him tremendous integrity. Mix that with the hot wheels violent van, The Meat Wagon, and we’ve got a bona fide post apocalypse star.

Sci-fi author John Shirley takes over this book and the next four, introducing a bit more backstory with Traveler’s pre-nuke existence. His name is actually Kiel Paxton, and his family was killed during the attack. The Traveler is now cruising the wasteland searching for the guy who set him up, Major Vallone, as well as his old commando teammates so he can cure them of their poison. For book two, he’s running rampant in Kansas circa 2004 (back when anything 2000 was surely doomsday) and once again finds himself caught up in the crazy actions of others. While I loved the first book, penned by Ed Naha, this one is a bit messy and…ridiculous. Traveler takes on a new job to escort so-called Princess Sandy of Wichita to Kansas City so she can marry Baron Moorcock’s son (Peter North has nothing on this shit).

The whole thing reminds me of the most recent Mad Max movie, “Fury Road”, as one long race. Traveler fights off some mutants and gangs and generally plays cavalier with more guns and brains. A new arch enemy is introduced named Black Rider, a biker who is on his own assignment from Major Vallone to kill Traveler. Black Rider will show up again in book three…so just wait for it.

Overall, this one disappointed me after the stellar first entry. I sort of held off on reading any more in the series but picked up the more superior third novel, “The Stalkers”. It mirrors the first book’s action and pacing, proving “The Traveler” could be a great series. 

TRAVELER #01 - FIRST, YOU FIGHT

The “Traveler” series was introduced in 1984 by Dell books house name D.B. Drumm, better known by his real name, Ed Naha. Naha wrote the first, seventh and 9-13 volumes. John Shirley took over the account for books 2-6 and 8 and is a household name on the science fiction front…but these sorts of 80s nuked out America stories don’t always make the sci-fi lists at your book store. The book’s cover always brings me a chuckle with it’s obvious similarity to the actor Christopher Walken. We get a ton of cool, macho nachos with descriptions like “Fifteen years after doomsday, survival is a vicious game, nobody plays it better than…THE TRAVELER”. Or how about, “He sells his services to the highest bidder. He kills as easily as he blinks an eye”? I like, “...ever since the Nukes came down, he’s the only hero we got!”. Great stuff to introduce what is actually a very good series thus far. I’m about to start book four but wanted to pause long enough to cover some ground with these first three entries.

The series starts with a little history on The Traveler. He’s a special forces guy (aren’t they all) who was admitted into a VA hospital when the bombs fell. The time period of the big one was 1989, and the book fast forwards fifteen years later as our paperback warrior is roaming the wastelands fighting gangs, mutants and what’s left of the government. It’s not a far cry from similar fare like “The Last Ranger” and “Outrider”, so much so that I could misplace The Traveler as Martin Stone. What I love about this series is Shirley’s explanation of why our hero is such a badass. As a covert operative in Latin America, he was unwilfully given an experimental neurotoxin that heightens his senses to extraordinary levels. The downside is that he has to take small supplements of the toxin every few days or he loses his sanity. Thus, the whole point of the story – he drives around (in a fortified van called The Meat Wagon) trying to find the other members of his team so he can remedy them with the toxin. Along the way, he’s searching for Major Vallone, the one responsible for poisoning him.

This first entry, “First, You Fight”, sets up all of the above and introduces us to the character. The storyline has been done to death but is brimming with two-fisted action and a fast pace. Traveler finds himself in a modestly rebuilt town that has two warring factions. Each wants to employ Traveler in an effort to secure a firearm supply being ran in by The Glory Boys, a warmonger faction that is now the US military. Along the way he picks up an extra bit of work – freeing a young girl named Allison from slavery.

This one is the perfect introduction to the series and certainly sets the stage for a host of sequels. The artwork alone is worth the price of admission (the horror!). If you are in the market for more “The Last Ranger”, “End World” and “Outrider” jazz…this one’s solid.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

OVERLOAD #02 - THE WRATH

Bob Ham's Overload series debuted in 1989 with "Personal War". His follow-up is a few weeks later with entry two, "The Wrath". It's once again released by Bantam Books, complete with that lovable Red Rooster logo. 

The first novel introduced readers to Marc Lee and Carl Browne, Delta Force standouts that went to war with the Mob. Do we need even need a reason? Yeah...the Mob was putting the squeeze on Marc's father and his Texas freight company Leeco. All of this is recapped on the first page of "The Wrath", including the end result - nobody messes with Daddy. 

The fallout from Lee and Browne's first war is the ultimate premise of the sequel as both are forced into action against a psycho motorcycle gang (or club) called Lobos. The bikers were "cocaine cowboys" in the pipeline of trafficking and distributing that Lee and Browne shut down. The remains of this Mob family requests the bikers handle vengeance their own way. This leads to a crazy Vietnam vet named Bruno leading the bikers into war against the police, feds and our obligatory heroes Lee and Browne. There is some undercover FBI nonsense thrown in to add a little intrigue. Also, in shocking fashion, the US President makes an appearance requesting our paperback warriors report to some third-world country to stop terrorism. Yeah, our dynamic dudes are just that damn good. 

This all sounds promising, right? Delta Force warriors versus crazed motorcycle ruffians. But the whole thing craps the mattress thanks to horrible writing, a botched pace and one of the most ridiculous villains in pulp fiction. The author defies any logic by placing the bikers all over the interstate running and gunning through traffic with complete freedom. Where are the freakin' cops? Literally worse than Gotham's police force. The villains just run around on the loose and nothing really prohibits them from controlling American highways. This is just lazy writing, but ultimately leads to the Overload duo's barrel-chested bravado. Only they can stop the bikers since the law can't, right? And they do this, but only after the reader has thrown the book from wall to wall in utter disbelief and frustration.

There are more books to the series and I had a handful in my hand the other day. I quickly put them back on the shelf, discarded and abandoned...the only response Bob Ham is getting from me. Ugh.

Monday, July 10, 2017

OVERLOAD #01 - PERSONAL WAR

Big trucks…big men…riding for justice!

Here we go, the truck driving vigilante series known as Overload. According to my research author Bob Ham wrote 12 of these books total. The series shifts into drive with the first novel, “Personal War”, released in 1989 courtesy of Bantam Books (gotta love the red rooster logo). The book introduces us to the “Overload” duo of Marc Lee and Carl Browne. Both of these guys are Delta Force members, weighing in with a strong sense of male heroism courtesy of Ham’s overindulgence on survival instincts, martial arts skills and knowledge of all weaponry. I get it, Ham has to make these two guys the cream of the crop (and by book two even the White House is calling them this) but it seems a little like hyperbole with so many references to their military expertise. But, it’s Paperback Warrior for a reason and these two are getting the passing grade.

In the opening segment, we see some Mafia goons appear at a freight office to rough up a truck owner. We get a cool description of a sword carrying baddie that, unfortunately, never really gets utilized in the book. But damn if it ain’t cool. From there the goons advance and kill off a Leeco Freight truck driver who was just minding his own business listening to Reba tapes. He gone. Next, the big carrot gets dangled – the goons threaten Marc Lee’s Daddy, the owner of Leeco Freight. They tell him he’s gonna get the same treatment as all the others if he doesn’t sign over Leeco to them. He refuses and they tell him they’ll return a little later to re-negotiate with hot, smokin’ lead.

While all this is shaking, Marc Lee is on leave from Delta Force for a week and invites his colleague Carl Browne to enjoy some of mama’s chili down in Texas. The two arrive at home, find out about the goon racket and attempt to stop the baddies at midnight. It doesn’t go as planned, Daddy gets hurt the duo are seeking revenge - trucker style!

Ham maximizes his 159 pages and brings to life truck driving shootouts, some wild torture (Browne shoves a gun barrel up a bare ass and pulls the trigger!) and a really cool forest chase in the snow. Escapes, gunfire, 18 wheels of justice…Ham pulls it off and makes this a really good action-heavy book with very little downside. If only he could have kept up the pace into book two…but more on that to come. 

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.