I collected the 'M.I.A Hunter' series when I was in high school. I believe at one point I had the entire sixteen book run and had read a majority of them. The novels started in the mid 80s amongst a frenzied media and pop culture environment that was obsessed with Vietnam action. That time frame through as late as the mid 90s contributed heavily to the Vietnam war scripts and post 1973 theatrics. Films like 'First Blood', 'Rambo 2', 'Full Metal Jacket' and 'Platoon' scored well on the top tiers. The media degraded into B films like the 'Missing In Action' series before becoming completely stagnant with blowhards like 'Platoon Leader' (Michael Dudikoff!) and 'Siege At Firebase Gloria'.
The late 70s and 80s was a rather controversial period of time to discuss the Vietnam War in terms of its prisoners of war. There was a huge portion of society that firmly believed US troops were still being held in Vietnam. Contrived images of soldiers in tattered uniforms suspended in bamboo cells were firmly etched in pop culture ('Missing In Action', 'Uncommon Valor'). The other side of the fence felt all of this was simply fantasy and that the majority of these supposed P.O.W.s would have been pilots whose age and extreme living conditions in Southeast Asia would have limited their lifespans. Depending on which opinion you have the numbers are really alarming. 1,300 Americans are reported as missing in action to this day. Were they killed? Exported to the Soviet Union? Worked as slave labor? Who can really speculate at this point considering Vietnam has been open for trade and tourism for twenty years now.
The first installment of the 'M.I.A. Hunter' series is simply called "M.I.A. Hunter" and it was released by Jove in 1985. These books were created and written by Stephen Mertz, who occasionally, due to time constraints and deadlines would employ other writers to work off of his outlines or draft - Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Newton, Chet Cunningham and Bill Crider under house pseudonym Jack Buchanan. The series followed the trend of having larger than life book covers and marketing catch phrases.
The book begins in a Vietnamese military base just shy of the Laos border. Three American POWs are being held in bamboo cages under very harsh conditions. One of the prisoners, Bradford, manages to escape and is eventually seen by a Laos freedom fighter before being re-captured. The freedom fighter relays the information about the American POW to a CIA operative who eventually gets the information to Bradford's wife. This sets the stage for Bradford's wife to contact the MIA Hunter and our first mission is now set; find Bradford and bring him back alive. Mark Stone is a former Green Beret and Vietnam Vet who spent some time as a prisoner himself. He runs a business for hire that rescues P.O.W.s all over the globe. He has a network of associates that assist with travel, firearms and overall logistics. Stone relies on two fighters with his missions, big Texan Hog Wiley, a former team mate of Stone's in 'Nam and a former British SS named Terrance Loughlin. Stone is your default main character. Wiley would be the big strong brawler. Loughlin is a more technical character with an explosives background. The book is written in a way that focuses on each character during battle and what they are contributing. Often, Wiley is shown brawling, Stone is organizing the battle and Loughlin is conveniently off planting charges. After taking on the job of rescuing Bradford the team journey into Bangkok to acquire weapons and intel from a network associate. A battle ensues with some operatives apparently clued into Stone's global antics. This part of the story was rather frustrating because nothing comes to fruition. What government is after him and why don't they just shut him down? Maybe this is a story that runs the series. Anyhow, the team eventually meets up with a Laos freedom fighter and two other Americans who serve as transportation. After a few clicks down river the group battle a boat patrol of Vietnamese and quickly dispatch them. Stone finds the prisoners and frees them in a huge firefight with the Vietnamese camp. Retreating out of the camp consists of more gunfights and in the book's finale a "last stand" scenario that plays out in a remote Laos village (briefly reminds me of 'Seven Samurai'). The novel reads briskly and fits the mold of action adventure under 200 pages. It is fairly obvious that this book sets the tone for future installments and that the central core will always be Stone, Hog and Loughlin as the primary killing force of the series. Authors can easily deposit these three fighters in Vietnam, the Soviet Union, China and the Middle East to rescue prisoners in a cookie cutter action formula sure to please mercenary and soldier of fortune hounds. The series always had great cover art, was made at the height of 'Rambo' type films and seemed readily available at grocery stores, pharmacies and book stores back in the day. Sales had to be decent considering sixteen installments were created. After being out of print for two decades a reissue has been authorized. These Kindle editions feature generic - read that as horrible - artwork and weigh in at $2.99 each. I prefer the $1.00 paperback versions no matter how worn out they are. Look for new books being released by Mertz as well.