Thursday, December 29, 2016

Last Ranger 07 - The Vile Village

You guys know the story by now, right? America is a wasteland and the bombs have turned the clouds that funny shade of purple. People are sick and dying and our hero, Martin Stone, is riding his Harley Davidson through the carnage to rescue his kidnapped sister April. It's a fairly simplistic concept throughout this ten book series known as 'The Last Ranger'. Book number seven is "The Vile Village", written once again by Jan Stacy under house name Craig Sargent and released via Popular Library in 1988. 

The book begins after that fallout of book six's nuke. Stone and his pit bull Excalibur are cruising along when they get spit on by some radioactive clouds. The purple stuff falling out of the sky stings the skin. This paperback warrior is attempting to drive through it, gets annihilated by the radiation and wrecks the motorcyle - something that happens a lot in this series. Stone and Excalibur plunge from the bike and get knocked out cold. An old farmer turned undertaker finds the two and brings them back to his farm. Something about his incident and exchange reminds me of an old western I've seen somewhere along the way. Only it was a guy falling off a horse and taken back by an old worn-out gunfighter.

Once there the undertaker gets his daughter LuAnn to nurse Stone back to health again. You know what the series does when a female character appears. Stone and LuAnn romp for three pages, then Stone gets down to business with the undertaker. Just like a western tale, the town of Copexi is a small farming community that is caught between two rival gangs - The Headstompers versus The Strathers Brothers. The gangs are leaning on the farmers and shopkeepers really hard to pay weekly taxes for protection. They are stretched thin and dying. Stone simply isn't going to stand for it, thus the book's plot. 

Stone heads into town and immediately gets into a bar fight with The Headstompers. After shooting them down, he approaches The Strathers Brothers with an offer - he'll be their gunman for money and they can call him "Preacher-Boy", because all gunmen need a cool name. You see Stone has a plan; He'll pretend to be a head-knocker for The Strathers Brothers while really just pulling the right switches to cause the Headstompers to get in an epic war with The Strathers' crew. If they kill each other the farming community will be free of trouble and can get back to planting cabbage or whatever they do in Copexi. 

Everything goes according to plan and Stone plays the part. He gets in a few skirmishes along the way but his ultimate downfall is when The Strathers Brothers find out he isn't the "Preacher-Boy" that he claims to be. Just like the last book, and a few prior ones, Stone is clamped to a table for a good round of torture. Miraculously he escapes, kills all the baddies in the room and makes a break for it. Unfortunately, The Strathers Brothers have Excalibur blocked off and Stone needs his dog. Badly. The end comes with a massive firefight between Stone, The Strathers Brothers, The Headknockers, The Farmers and a lion. 

The idea of Stone disguising himself as another person has been done before. Conceptually, Mack Bolan has used this tactic numerous times and it's certainly a mandatory aspect of the thriller and spy genres. Here it works okay and adds a little bit of a different perspective to what is typically the "Stone vs arch enemy" formula plaguing the middle of the series. This was okay as sort of this one off but the series is a little stale at this point.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Eagle Force #02 - Death Camp Colombia

Here comes the ex-CIA strike team known as Eagle Force. It's all action and all guts by author Dan Schmidt. "Death Camp Colombia" is book two of the series and serves up our talented four-piece of doom deep inside the jungles of Colombia fighting the evil cocaine kingpin Fernando Hernandez, known as El Diablo. 

The book opens with El Diablo held captive in a Florida mansion by the DEA. He's waiting for trial and contemplating the moments of his escape. Inside is the "inside man", a DEA traitor named Jameson. This two-timer has spilled the beans to El Diablo's goons and soon the DEA is wiped out by Jameson, El Diablo, the goon squad and a vile henchman named Raul "El Leon" Pizarro, who's sort of that mid-level video game boss with the big sword. 

After the escape we get down to Eagle Force, mainly Vic Gabriel and crew planning on the next mission - taking out El Diablo and his angel dust empire. Vic has a vendetta against coke - it killed his brother and he wants payback. To get to El Diablo they need to take out a mid-level dealer in Fort Lauderdale. The group enlist the aid of an ex-DEA agent and have a beach front shootout with the dealer and his cronies. From there it's off to a bar where they take out even more cronies and get the details of a Colombia Death Camp being ran by El Diablo. After taking Johnny "The Falcon" Lightning prisoner, he leads the group at gunpoint to an airport where they all have another massive firefight. Eagle Force grabs a plane headed to Colombia with "The Falcon" on board. 

Next is a meeting at a whorehouse because all men's action-adventure tales end up at a whorehouse eventually. This one was a set-up by "The Falcon" and the entire Eagle Force squad gets taken out by poisonous darts. I don't see many poison dart fights in a brothel. Really gets the old pecker limp. From there, El Diablo's crew takes Eagle Force to the Death Camp Colombia where they are beaten and locked in a cell. It's just a matter of time before Vic breaks out, this time easily just reaching through the bars and squeezing a guard's face. From there it's disarm the troops time, kill them all and release the prisoners. They have a massive firefight with AK-47s and grenades and eventually El Diablo and that bloody vile henchman Pizarro die. Oh and Jameson dies too. Because he has to, right? 

Much like the first book, Schmidt injects a ton of high-paced action. That's what I love about this series thus far. It's just firefight after firefight with some backstory and well developed villains. Unlike an 'M.I.A. Hunter' book for example, these go beyond just search and rescue. Kudos to creating battles on the beach, at airports, in brothels and, of course, for delivering our heroes out of the bloody pits of in the arms of victory. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Last Ranger #06 - The Warlord's Revenge

Think of Jan Stacy's sixth entry in the post-apocalyptic series 'The Last Ranger' as the book that just sort of sits sideways on the shelf with its peers. Unlike the previous five books, which were pretty good, "The Warlord's Revenge" is stunningly boring. Halfway through I'm sitting there just wondering why I've dedicated this small little portion of my life to this paperback pile of below-average nonsense.

Martin Stone, the Cherokee warrior Meyra and her tribe of Native Americans have escaped that madman with all the nukes. All that jazz happened in book five. Yet Stone was only able to shoot one nuke out of the sky. The other one fell and, needless to say, the skies are purple pink and some folks are growing tails. The first few chapters has Stone and the crew battle a little band of outlaws. Around the 80 page mark Stone leaves the folks and heads back to his bomb-shelter hideaway to restock on Iodine tablets and motorcycle rockets. Unfortunately, he reads a note that says his sister, April, left the shelter because some mafia goons were chasing her and Doctor Kennedy (a minor character from a prior book, does it matter?). Here's the thing -  Stone has this heavily fortified shelter that will sustain itself for ten years if he just did nothing but eat Twinkies all day everyday. He can sit in there and just chill out. Why does he ride out on a motorcycle fighting cannibals and warlords? 

By page 100, Stone is headed to the place where he thinks April might be. However, April was sold into prostitution by a mafia henchman named Scalzanni. He is running this shopping mall of sin. You can go there and gamble, do the wild-monkey dance and partake in enough drugs to float Keith Richards. Scalzanni has April there and Stone wants her back. Immediately our hero gets himself captured and Scalzanni tucks him away into a torture lab. A prostitute friend helps him to escape and he ultimately kills Scalzanni...with the help of Excalibur (the mutt that Stone pals around with). On his way back to the mall to get April he finds that she has once again been captured and taken to some place called Apaloosa.

First off, I would think Stone would lay down some ground rules for sister April. She has been in captivity in some fashion since book one. If she isn't being hauled off to strip or whore around then she is being attacked at home by mafia goons. Second, Stone really doesn't do much of anything in this book. The first 100 pages has him wreck his bike, shoot down an outlaw gang and blow a helicopter out of the sky with a motorcycle rocket. I think the author was just attempting to get Stone from Point A to Point B with this book and it really does little else. If you are reading the series in chronological order, you could honestly just skip this one.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Gunships #01 - Killing Zone

I stumbled onto the 'Gunships' series at a used book store. "The Killing Zone" is book one of this four book series. It was released in 1981 via Zebra. I've Googled author Jack Hamilton Teed and can't find much of anything out there. Aside from this series he only wrote one other book, "The Blood of Dracula, that I could find. It's a shame because this first entry of the series is stellar stuff.

I'm not a big fan of the vehicular action books. There's a ton of stuff out there that involves planes, tanks, boats and motorcycles. I think I even saw some RV action. I was thinking that "Gunships" would be helicopter action in Vietnam (the tag is A Vivid Journey Into the Vietnam War). Surprisingly, that isn't the case at all. The idea of why it's called "Gunships" is described by a soldier on page 228 of the book:

"Gunships! You ever thought, Sarge - we all gunships. Human gunships. We got more badass weaponry and infernal Goddamn machines hangin' from us than any other licensed killers in history. Only we could flap our fuckin' arms an' take off into the wild yonder, they wouldn't need no chopper-gunships at all."

Make sense? Yeah, sort of threw me with the title but it makes sense now. The book begins with a seedy General named Dempsey giving an order to our main character, Colonel John Hardin. Dempsey is running all sorts of stuff in South Vietnam - drugs, whores and money. He is demanding that Dempsey run up north, watch an NVA patrol for a few days and then gingerly swing by a village to drop some important documents. Hardin knows it stinks and refuses to do the order. Dempsey is pissed and calls some meetings. That is essentially the 26 page prologue. 

"Part One" is a really interesting endeavor by the author. Dempsey is putting together a masterplan to eliminate Hardin using military resources that have gone south...for lack of a better term. Remember when Lee Marvin is recruiting the 'Dirty Dozen' misfits from the lock-up? "Part One" is like that with little short stories that make up the files that Dempsey is flipping through. There are seven guys that the author vividly captures, each with their own history of how they ended up in the stockade. My favorite of the group is the story of O'hara, a really good guitar player who got drafted for the war. He had a tangle with his sarge and ultimately ended up behind bars. He is treated horribly and eventually fights back which creates an even bigger situation. "Part One" runs about 90 pages and is captivating stuff. I really enjoyed these short stories and overall they contribute to the grand scheme of things. Really solid stuff.

"Part Two" is the final 140 pages and I've gotta is an absolute whirlwind of action. It's arguably some of the most exciting scenes of the entire genre. Hardin gets an order to attend some sort of staff meeting. He boards a chopper that flies him all over the place with different directives. Finally, he takes a nap only to wake up and find that he has flown into Laos solo for a drop mission. Before he can scream that this isn't his mission the craft is shot out of the sky. Now Hardin is alone with the injured pilot with hardly any firepower and miles behind enemy lines. It's FUBAR to the extreme. He knows Dempsey set him up. He attempts to negotiate with a nearby village but the NVA show up and start a long night of torture. The author holds nothing back and the waterboarding scenes are...really disturbing. 

Now Dempsey knows that Hardin has been shot down so the rest of the plan comes together. He is going to take the seven screw-ups and send them on a chopper into Laos to rescue Dempsey. Only he has instructions for Sarge Stocker to kill all of them at the drop zone and head back. Fortunately, the crew turn things around quickly and find themselves up the creek in Laos right outside of the village Hardin is held captive in. Here things really get fired up. There is a massive firefight as Hardin and two of the crew hole up in a hut and fight off waves of NVA using a special forces cache that was left at the village. This part is something akin to 'Assault on Precinct 13'. While that group is holding off hordes of enemy troops the remaining crew is fighting them flank-side from the mountain-side. It's this writing that Teed excels at. The action is fast, furious yet still atmospheric with a looming sense of dread and isolation.

Teed wraps up this story by book's end and I wonder what he has in store for the whole series. Hopefully Hardin continues to be a main character but considering how abstract the author is with the genre...anything could happen. "The Killing Zone" is a worthy start to what should amount to a very entertaining and thought-provoking series. The author has a very gritty style and his presentation here is extraordinary. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Eagle Force #01 - Contract for Slaughter

Author Dan Schmidt has contributed immensely to the 'Executioner' and 'Super Bolan' series of books. Along with a few stand alone titles he was also the creator of a nine book series known as 'Eagle Force'. This team based series got a bit of a late start, originating in 1989, as opposed to lots of teams that had solid bibliographies by this point in time. Nonetheless, it's four guys heavily armed. The first book, "Contract for Slaughter", kicks it off in grand fashion.

While this book definitely has a plot, you can sense with only 159 pages that this one is really just the fleshing out process. Like a lot of these team based books this one goes through the recruitment phase. This is where the men compare sizes, review their badges and ribbons and make sure that all of them know which end of the barrel to point. We get the hard-nosed Vic Gabriel as the leader and main character. He's a Vietnam vet who spent some additional time as a free lance CIA assassin. Now a days he's retired and soaking up the sun of Florida on his boat. However, catching fish just isn't firing up the furnace like it used to. Gabriel needs to get back to the killing. Lucky for him a guy named Milton shows up with a story to tell.

Milton is the stereotypical wealthy guy with the spoiled daughter. Turns out the daughter has been kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist group called "The Sword of Islam". They are holed up in Tunis and waiting for some ransom money from him. Milton knows some CIA guys who turn him onto Gabriel. There's really an intricate backstory as to why they turn him onto Gabriel but I'm not gonna rattle that cage too much here. Milton throws his case at Gabriel and it's a reason for the old dog to rejoin the fight. 

Now comes the "recruitment" portion that takes up the majority of the book. Gabriel goes out and puts the old band back together. He starts with grabbing Dillinger. His specialty is Ninja knives and two Colt .45s. Dillinger is wasting away these days as a gumshoe and fairly happy to join the band. Next is Simms, a martial arts master who plays a mean M-16. He's in debt and owes everybody and their mother. Once Gabriel mentions Milton is paying 50K a head, Simms is down for it. The last one is a tough Dutchman named Boolewarke, who's in the middle of his own war in North Africa when the gang comes calling. He has a slight beef with Simms, but joins the ranks. The team's all here.

As Eagle Force travels to the ransom location the author throws some flashback sequences at us in all italics that's really hard on the eyes. But these are great backstories that show how Gabriel was raised by his Green Beret father. We also get a look at his weak brother. There's the history of why the CIA is interested in Gabriel's current whereabouts, but that's major spoilers that we will detour around. The history is really important and probably a "mythology" that will backbone the series in the future.

The final portion of the book is a glorious firefight between Eagle Force and "The Sword of Islam" cronies. There's some flamethrower action, a ton of explosives and the familiar barking of M-16s. The end was really a curveball out of left field. Definitely a surprise sprung by the author. I loved it. The end of the book gives a preview of the next volume, "Death Camp Colombia". Great book, great start to the series.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Out of the Ashes #02 - Fire in the Ashes

Beginning in 1983, prolific author William W. Johnstone created the first of 35 installments in his Out of the Ashes series of post-apocalyptic men's action-adventure novels. The eponymous debut introduced hero Ben Raines and his resistance to a socialist regime in the wake of a devastating nuclear war. One year after the debut, Zebra published the subsequent entry titled Fire in the Ashes. 

After Ben's downfall at the end of the series debut, the country has become an enslaved population under an ultra left-winged police state. Two mercenaries, Cody and Lowry, are sodomizing, gang raping and torturing any resistance. The author spends a great deal of time describing graphic, grotesque torture sequences involving Ben's girlfriend, a reporter and her young daughter. In fact, nearly the first 350-pages of the novel is Ben roaming the countryside while sex torture permeates the nation. Weird.

Without ruining the story, the government's military eventually starts backing Ben and the resistance which leads to the inevitable nomination of Ben Raines as the new President. Once a plague reduces the nation's population, the dead corpses attract armies of rats. There's also gigantic mutant the mutated six-year old that Ben is forced to fight in the book's disappointing finale.

Look, the post-apocalypse fiction of the 80s and 90s comes in all shapes and sizes. There's something for everyone. Out of the Ashes, based on my two experiences, isn't anything remotely interesting or engaging for readers to explore. If you like the political intrigue and pawn maneuvering that doomsday provokes, then by all means this book, and series, might excite you. I've never had any desire to pursue any other books in the series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Out of the Ashes #01 - Out of the Ashes

William W. Johnstone was a prolific author that wrote across multiple genres in the 80s and 90s. While known mostly for westerns in his Last Mountain Man series, and it's many offshoots, the author created a long line of post-apocalyptic books called Out of the Ashes. The series ran 35 books and was spun-off into one additional series called The Last Rebel that managed one book release before Johnstone's passing. The thriving Johnstone estate, which continues to release monthly titles through a revolving door of authors, chose not to pursue any further entries in the series.

The first book of the series, aptly titled Out of the Ashes, was released in 1983 by Zebra. The series had a tremendous following and surely this debut entry was a runaway hit for Zebra considering series longevity. In it, the end of the world begins with a treacherous double-cross within the Washington D.C. brass. The political upheaval eventually turns to force and nuclear bombs begin falling like rain. Most of the US's most populated cities are decimated. However, 5,000 militia were privy to intelligence and prepared for the inevitable bombing. After the dust settles, they emerge from hiding and become a force known as The Rebels. In an effort to become a right-winged government superpower, they learn that the default new president, Logan, declares that the “new” America adopt military socialism. The Rebels then become true Rebels by fighting back against President Logan's new regime and his ruthless aggression. 

The series protagonist is Ben Raines, a Vietnam War veteran who later went on to be a mercenary in Africa and did a lot of wetwork. Afterwards, he retired to Louisiana where he slouched on Scotch and wrote a bunch of pulp fiction. Ironically, on the day the bombs fell, Raines ends up getting stung by yellow jackets and falls down with an allergic reaction. This saves him somehow from the nuclear attack. When he wakes up several days later he realizes the apocalypse occurred. The author then spends pages and pages on Raines traveling the country writing notes about doomsday while getting laid a lot. Eventually, Ben becomes involved with the Rebels and decides to lead the forces against President Logan. 

Unlike Johnstone's western series', Out of the Ashes is incredibly graphic. There's an abundance of torture, rape and sadistic villains threatening to sodomize any resistance. The over-the-top sex reminded me of David Alexander's Phoenix series. I think it was just there for shock value and didn't necessarily expand the story or develop characters. Needless to say, I'm not a fan of this book. About halfway through the novel I pondered what made this series sell and how it could have possibly attracted so many consumers. The political maneuvering and counter intelligence devoured most of the book's narrative. In terms of action, only the last 15-pages were worthy. 

The end result – Out of the Ashes was simply out of ideas. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

M.I.A. Hunter #03 - Hanoi Deathgrip

The previous "M.I.A. Hunter" titles by house name Jack Buchanan were written by Stephen Mertz and Mike Newton. The share ration between the two is anyone's guess. However, with book three, "Hanoi Deathgrip", the talented journeyman Joe Lansdale ("Batman", "Jonah Hex") steps up. Newton/Mertz were great. Lansdale is awesome. 

We start where any action tale worth it's salt begins - a brothel. Texan Hog Wiley is throwing bodies out of windows and tearing up the cathouse like a rat on a cheeto. Luckily, Terrance Louglin and Mark Stone arrive to grag Hog and head out for another jungle excursion. But first, we get an obligatory flashback from the author. Combat reporter Jackie Winslow shows up looking like an 80's Kathleen Turner. She's at Mark Stone's private eye firm to beg for his assistance in rescuing her father from Vietnam. Major/Dr. Winslow was captured doing some volunteer medical work in Laos. Stone and Winslow have a little attraction that Stone dismisses later. Anyhoo, Stone finds that the ISA has targeted his home and attempted to steal a bunch of his files. He turns over a van and gets them all back in an early scene.

The three main characters do the normal song and dance of the series. They meet with some freedom fighters to thicken up the gun-soup and head into the jungle for the rescue. In the meantime,  Lansdale introduces us to the captive Winslow and some other Americans that are being held at the prison camp. Winslow is getting brutalized by the cruel camp commander Po. This guy is pretty much the cookie-cutter of the prior series' commander villains. Lansdale does descriptive work with more gritty, albeit grizzly, details than his predecessors. The harsh treatment is depicted with no holds barred. The snake scene left me disgusted to say the least. 

Our non-profit heroes are meeting by the river to scrape on some black goo and waterpoof the goods. There they find that Jackie has joined them in full fatigues and combat get-up. She's ready for a fight. Hog loses his temper and refuses to fight side by side with a woman. But once Jackie proves she can shoot straight and ride a horse Hog is fine with it. Fast forward past the near drowning, the snake viper fight (second book in a row that has Stone vs Snake by the way) and we are in the middle of a Jean Claude Van-Damne tournament fighter movie. 

Po's brother is a fat brute named Tho. Turns out Tho likes to duke it out and squash people half his size. Po has a giant battleground pit inside the camp and throws prisoners in for Tho to digest. Tho kills off three guys at once, which proves that a Hog vs Tho contest is surely coming. But before that, Winslow knows that he is the next food for Tho's ghastly combat diet. He wants to break out on the same night Stone wants to break in. 

Winslow's break-out attempt is quickly squashed by Po and the two square off in a deadly torture session. Before Winslow expires Stone blows the gate off and our boys and girl are ready to gun it up. The group lights up the M-60 guard towers and soon this book comes down to the meat and potatoes. Hog vs Tho, strong man vs strong man. As the whole camp comes under fire, the two have a epic battle. How do they get back to the US? Where does Winslow go? Can he get back into the country? These are all excellent questions that the 'M.I.A. Hunter' series never has really time to answer.

End result? Lansdale creates a gritty and uber-violent tale that shows Stone doing what he does best. Shooting snakes and Cong with CAR-15s. That's what we came for, right? 'M.I.A. Hunter' is built on these types of stories and "Hanoi Deathgrip" fits right in. It has a little bit of everything albeit a bit predictable and dated looking back. Lansdale returns again to the series in future books.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Phoenix #02 - Ground Zero

"Ground Zero" is the second release in the 'Phoenix' line written by David Alexander and released in 1987 via Leisure. Phoenix (real name Magnus Trench) is currently an attorney, formerly a Vietnam vet and is vacationing alone in California when the US goes total nuclear devastation. He survives because he has goes into a cave to avoid the bomb, radiation and this strange Russian virus they have plagued Earth with. His wife and son are on the East coast so Phoenix is out to search for them across the American wasteland. He makes it into LA where he learns that only after three months since the nuke that the entire US military is gone. So are the cops and all semblance of law and order. Instead factions have arose and most people have dropped their first and last names and gone with cool monikers like "Uber Ballsack" or "Banana Dong". Magnus Trench becomes Phoenix. Phoenix learns there are the Contams, folks that have the Russian viral stuff. He also learns there is a New World Order called SCORF who have targeted him due to his immunity to the virus. All of the above is ultimately book one. 

Phoenix and teen prostitute September Song part ways somewhere between LA and Las Vegas, leaving Phoenix in a little town called Trinity in the opening pages. He gets into a gun fight and gets rescued by a midget named Big Wally. Adorable. Big Wally and Phoenix head into Las Vegas where the Sheik runs the show and controls everything. The author takes a lot of liberties with the character and that's a bit frustrating for the reader. Phoenix can walk into a shop and they just hand him awesome guns and loads of ammo. No one rides for free - except Magnus Trench. He gets everything for free because he survived the bomb in a cave. It turns out that it's Murder Weekend or something in Las Vegas. The Sheik has his road games where contestants battle in fast cars toting huge guns like 'Deathrace 2000'. It's only a matter of time before our boy Trench gets to meet The Sheik. 

Apparently, the Sheik needs a new contestant to represent his faction so Trench gets a sweet ride called Death Wings. After some hanky panky stuff, and there is a lot, Phoenix enters the death race thingy and of course he can outrun everyone. He mops the track up with the clowns and then notices all of these troops and planes trying to shoot him down. Phoenix is outrunning a fighter jet in a car. He ends up wrecking and falling into another cave. Here's where the author just goes bonkers with this stuff. Inside the cave is a sex cult that feel they can escape Earth during orgasm. At one point Phoenix watches the ultimate of orgies go down and, in his infinite wisdom, asks when it can be his turn. Phoenix quickly learns that he is going to have to escape the caves due to an army of attacking orcs. He chooses to resurface only to fight it out with SCORF. Phoenix, using a small arsenal meets the SCORF baddies in an abandoned town in pulp western style.

'Phoenix' in general is just simply awful. It's gun porn before pages and pages of porn. I mean every single male character is essentially running around just trying to find something to mate with. Alexander spends painful amounts of detail on guns and calibers only to completely get them wrong. I've checked his firearms and the calibers don't match. But this is trivial, yet just explains how bad this really is. If you are looking for all volumes of this series you can purchase them in digital format at Amazon. You owe it to yourself to at least pick the whole series up for a measly $10 and just poke fun at what is essentially some of the worst fiction ever created. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

M.I.A. Hunter #02 - Cambodian Hellhole

It's 1971 in South Vietnam and our boy Sergeant Mark Stone is out on patrol in the green slimy filth hunting some Cong. AK fire rips up the night and shreds the silence like a steel cleaver. Stone guns them down but almost gets killed in the process. Who's there to fetch his tail from the hot winds of Hell? His drinking buddy and RTO SP4 Jess Lynch. After Lynch saves Stone's butt he tells him "You owe me one". Later, it is presumed that Lynch is killed in action and a letter is sent to his family from Uncle Sam. 

Fast forward to present day 1985 and Stone is on a mission with his guys Hog Wiley and Terrance Loughlin to free some prisoners. Instead, Stone royally screws up and shockingly kills every prisoner in an explosion. Stone, down and dismayed, is in Bangkok doing a little gun business. He gets a visit from a deep CIA guy named Carruthers who forces Stone to a house in the city. By force I mean, "come with me or we will shoot your face off". Stone fights back and then eventually goes with the goons. 

At the house he finds that the CIA operatives are keeping a US prisoner of war on a dirty cot, malnourished and dying. The prisoner escaped his jungle Hell after thirteen plus years and was picked up. The CIA has no intention of helping the guy and doesn't want to admit to a US public that they dropped the ball on guys left behind. The prisoner tells Stone that Jess Lynch is still alive and is being held captive in Cambodia. This makes Stone furious and he has quite the little skirmish with Carruthers and his men. Fast forward a day and Stone is picking up guns and supplies from his dealer and ready to hit the jungle for a shoot'em up. Carruthers gets in the way and Stone runs him off the road and escapes.

Stone, Hog, Lough and a handful of mercenaries for hire are in Cambodia outside the camp where Lynch is being held along with twenty or more US P.O.W.s. Instead of doing some more surveillance work and having an actual plan, Stone decides to approach the camp and - get this - crawl through a sewer pipe and enter the camp through a ton of human feces. It almost works. After slicing the head off a King Cobra with a knife he manages to walk right up to the cages and get captured by the enemy. What's with all this "Cambodian Hellhole" talk? Well Stone is about to find out.  

Our boy gets hung up like a bat and then gets the bat treatment. Stone gets nearly clubbed to death while the commander, Nguyen Ngu, goes on and on about confessing his real reasoning for entering the camp. Stone refuses to break so they light his foot on fire with a Zippo. Stone gets dropped in a cage next to his old buddy Jess Lynch, who looks and sounds like he is approaching death's door. If a good nightly beating isn't enough, Stone awakens to find that all the prisoners including himself are going into the mines to dig for gold all day. That's what I love to do on my day off. Eat soggy rice, succumb to a hefty beating and then go lug rocks out of a dark cave for twelve hours. Brutal. 

Hog and Loughlin plan the attack perfectly, blow the bridge and bring Hellish fire and thunder onto the camp. The book's finale was a graphic exercise in violent expression. Overall, it was a decent read, plenty of action at the beginning, a short nod off in the middle but finished up with a solid ten pages of kill 'em all. Throw the snake in there, that CIA bullshit and a Zippo to the foot and you've got the makings of a real slobberknocker.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Last Mountain Man #05 - Journey of the Mountain Man

The fifth book for what should be referred to as the "Smoke Jensen" series is "Journey of the Mountain Man". As I alluded to in the last book review, "Revenge of the Mountain Man", the whole idea of "mountain man" is sort of lost by the author. This Colorado rancher is more just a skilled fast-draw gunfighter with the ability to ride, shoot straight and speak the truth. I think I would have liked this series to be more like the first book but based on the state of affairs here it doesn't seem like that will happen. As the series continues, Smoke has become the larger than life six-shooting hero that literally kills everything printed on the page.  

In "Journey of the Mountain Man", Smoke receives word that his cousin Fae, whom he has never met, is stuck in the middle of two range wars in Montana. One side is owned by a crooked rancher named Dooley Hanks, who borders on lunacy with his vile plans to own a robust portion of Montana. The other side is owned by a wealthy land owner named McCorkle, who is really just a nice guy who just wants to peacefully ranch. Fae Jensen is stuck in the middle with portions of her land being infringed upon by Hanks' wranglers. She's on the verge of land rape and she's asking for Smoke's help.

The whole "journey" bit is lost. Smoke really just rides over to his cousin's house and starts shooting. Smoke soon finds himself with allies in both Fae and his cousin Parnell along with McCorkle and his hands. The enemy is a cookie-cutter one and Hanks does the typical house burning, cattle-thieving and staffing to harass both McCorkle and the Jensens. 

Obviously, Smoke handles the issues with both barrels blazing and another obligatory series entry is complete. Dooley Hanks is just cut-and-paste from prior villains in this series and honestly I can't even tell them apart at this point. Potter, Stratton, Richards, Hanks, Yosemite Freakin''s just all the same. However, it was interesting to read more about Smoke's family in Fae and Parnell. The Parnell addition added much needed humor to the tale and hopefully the character will appear again in the series. Overall, this one was violent, gritty and action packed in true Johnstone style. One of the better ones of the first five books even when you consider the utter nonsense of it all.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Last Mountain Man #04 - Revenge of the Mountain Man

The fourth book in the 'Last Mountain Man' series, "Revenge of the Mountain Man", centers on that age old formula - avenging the death or injury of a spouse. Over the course of the first three books, Smoke's reputation as quick draw gun-fighter has caught up with him numerous times. Every fast draw, gambler and adrenaline junkie is gunning for Smoke and wants the gold ticket to Hollywood that comes with a fresh corpse. 

Johnstone's narrative introduces a few unwanted guests at Smoke's Sugarloaf ranch. It's evident they want the fame and fortune from killing the famed gun-slinger (which oddly isn't a mountain man at all). Unfortunately, Smoke is away selling cattle and his wife Sally takes the violent hit. She's shot three times but the doctors patch her up  - with boiling water and rags (important ingredients in western culture!). Smoke sends her back home to her family in the East, but not before learning she is pregnant with the couple's first child. 

Smoke discovers that the killers are from a desert Babylon in the Southwest. Using a bit of detective work, Smoke goes into the barbaric town playing a fool - he dresses like an eccentric artist and takes numerous beatings from the book's bully and outlaw extras. But, dressing like a fool and sacrificing a few ribs allows him the opportunity to scout out the town's cronies. He soon teams up with a US Marshall and the two devise a detailed plan to tree the criminals while liberating hundreds of prisoners held by the town kingpin. 

The author provides another traditional western tale but takes a less common approach by weakening the hero purposefully. The fist fights are inevitable, which just leads to gun battles and a lot of anticipation knowing Smoke will turn the tables and fight back - eventually. The addition of a few allies helped flesh the book out a bit. Plus, the series becomes a little more dynamic by introducing Sally's wealthy family and some of her backstory. 

Overall, the action mirrors events that happened in prior books - Smoke arrives in town, scouts it, attacks everything and then leaves. Plus, the amount of bar fights and their outcomes are easily predictable. Almost every Johnstone scene in a bar is just an excuse for a gunfight or brawl. Why can't a man just get snozzled in the suds without a bunch of grief? 

"Revenge of the Mountain Man" is just another good western, take it or leave it. You can buy a copy of the book HERE

Last Mountain Man #03 - Trail of the Mountain Man

The third book in William W. Johnstone's western series arrived in 1987, proving that the author was delivering a book a year for this series among all the other genre fiction he was writing at the same time. Amazing how much output came from this author in so little time. 

"Trail of the Mountain" finds Smoke and his wife Sally settling into sprawling Sugarloaf ranch in Colorado. They are now raising an adopted son named Ben or Billy (the stable boy from book two). When a vein of gold is found in a little town called No Name, it sets off a furious chain of events for the Jensen family. Hundreds of gold rushers ride into town and start staking claims in the area. With a gold rush comes a boom town and the ill-effects leads to gunfighters, brothels, gambling and reckless abandonment in search for the almighty dollar. With this much action threatening to consume the Jensen property...well it's only a matter of time before the lead is flying.

Smoke's land retains a sliver of the gold vein. Even though he has staked the land and its minerals for himself...there are still those bad apples that have to break all the rules. Smoke fights for himself and some other homeowners who are too lazy to lift a gun when their rights are infringed upon. With a whole town of thievery and lawlessness, Smoke is backed into a corner and fights his way out with the help of recurring character Preacher and some aging "last" mountain men. 

In many ways this is a more superior novel than it's predecessor and brings in some of the lovable parts of the mountain men. Their antics are humorous and when the bullets start flying they prove they are more than just fat fodder. This is laughable, enjoyable and action packed. It's quite simply just a good western tale and one that cements the early stages of this long running series.

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Last Mountain Man #02 - Return of the Mountain Man

William W. Johnstone's 1986 sequel to "The Last Mountain Man" proves to be a little underwhelming considering the raw intensity and power of the first book. Once again the author brings fast-draw protagonist Smoke Jensen into a wild west full of gunpowder and iron fists. "Return of the Mountain Man" is the second installment of the long-running series and marks a turning point for the character. 

After the violent events of the series debut, our hero lays low for a year or two mourning and planning his vengeance. Soon, he straps on the iron and sets out for the town of Bury, Idaho where three outlaws - Potter, Stratton and Richards - are running the town from money stolen from Smoke's father and brother. 

The narrative explores Smoke's fame after events from the debut novel. Due to his notoriety, he changes his name to Buck so he can secretly ease into town. Once there, he settles in as the average citizen while plotting a plan of attack to eliminate the three outlaws. Smoke's mentor, the elderly mountain man Preacher, makes an appearance and readers see a new love life in Smoke's life, a young school teacher named Sally (a mainstay series character). But, this book is about revenge and that's what Johnstone delivers. 

After the "Last Mountain Man's" epic presentation, this successor is fairly simple. Buck hits the town, bangs up the baddies, rides home and settles in with Sally. While traditional, it left me desiring a little more. However, true to Johnstone's style, the book is filled with fast-draw showdowns on the streets of Bury and a cinematic finish. Overall, a decent early entry to a series that can deliver better stories.

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Outrider #01 - The Outrider

This is why I love this genre so much. "The Outrider" is the ultimate example of the post-apocalyptic hero formula done perfectly. Author Richard Harding is actually Robert Tine, a novelist who wrote a ton of movie novelizations in his prime. He absolutely excels in this action yarn that kicks off the 'Outrider' series of books. The series is presented in five books and, according to some online reviews, never officially ended with a good send-off. Nevertheless, based on my experience with this first novel, we are going to get a thrilling five book run. This debut was released by Pinnacle in 1984.  

Harding presents the familiar premise of a nuked America. While he never really elaborates on how far into the future this is, one would assume around 50 to 70 years after the big one hits (at least one full life cycle). The country is separated into districts and rulers. From Ohio through Pennsylvania and Tennessee lie the Firelands, a ruined stretch that saw the coal fields ignite and burn. This is Hell. The Slaverstates consume Washington, DC and run northeast. The southwest is simply known as the Hotstates (the Mississippi river evaporated) and the pacific northwest is known as the Coldstates. Chicago remains a neutral area and an open city, thus our hero Bonner lives there with other loners.  

Bonner gives us a brief rundown of what used to be the Outrider clan. After the bomb, groups of Outriders traveled through the country and provided supplies, support and law to the survivors. They were trusted and generally accepted by the remaining Americans. Somewhere along the way the Outriders stopped and unruly districts popped up. At the beginning of the series Bonner gets attacked by a baddie, a henchman sent by Bonner's enemy Leather, the sadistic ruler of the Slaverstates. The two have history together as Outriders but Leather took a left turn into barbarism. I assume a shortage on outpatient mental health care? He is holding captive Bonner's lover Dara and Bonner wants her back. 

Bonner quickly kills off the hitman and heads to a garage where a super Dodge buggy awaits. It has a .50 caliber gun mounted on it's rollbar, a weapon that Bonner quickly uses to annihilate a small squadron of armed goons right outside of Chicago. Our hero teams up with two guys, Starling (expert archer) and Cooker (expert fuel man) and journeys into the madness to kill Leather in Washington DC. After some shootouts early on the trio of badasses hit New York first to bail out an old friend of Bonner's. This portion of the book reminds me of John Carpenter's 'Escape from New York'. There is a huge prison there that is surrounded and manned by some wild crazies. The two free the coveted Harvey from his cell and pick up two behemoth twins aptly titled the Mean Brothers. This group then heads into Washington DC where they meet up with The Sisters, a commando force of women decked out in fine fashion and combat boots.

With this many heroes and firepower the ultimate destination is Leather's fortress. Bonner uses too much bravado and becomes a full-fledged member of the Morons of Pulp Fiction. He gets captured and forced to watch his lover Dara get raped and beaten to death. Let me get you a Shasta to go with that. Thankfully Bonner's crew blows up a nearby building so Leather orders the death blows on Dara instead of the ill-advised gang rape. She still dies. There went a potential backstory that could run for years of publishing checks. Bonner escapes, hacks off Leather's hands before our arch enemy escapes for the next book. A hired killer named Beck sets out to kill off Bonner but has a change of heart at the end. Cue the credits kids as Leather seeks out a wench that will hold his junk to pee. 

This one is absolutely loaded with action, over the top characters and a furious pace from start to finish. I loved the book and huge props to Harding for including three outrageously bad-ass firearms for our heroes to utilize - Ruger Super Redhawk .44, Steyr Aug .556 and the Winchester tactical 12 gauge. Among Bonner's useful skills comes a ton of knife work. He is able to throw combat knives with extreme accuracy and that combined with Starling's ability with the bow and Cooker's flamethrower - well it's like a comic book team of destruction in one fell swoop. In true post-nuke fashion, the book embodies everything we know and love about 'Mad Max', 'Road Warrior' and 'The Warriors'.

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Time Raider #01 - Wartide

Another barrel-chested action hero emerges with John Barnes 'Time Raider' series. "Wartide" is the first of this series and was published in 1992 by Gold Eagle. Barnes is an American writer that has written a lot of science fiction tales in his career, notably the 'Thousand Cultures' line of books. The 'Time Raider' series was short lived with only three books instead of a long line of time traveling entries that could have made up for a lengthy writing endeavor if Barnes chose to pursue it. 

The book introduces us to a Vietnam War vet named Dan Samson. At the start we get a brief backstory on Samson - decorated veteran who is financially strapped selling cars for a dishonest dealer. To obtain some extra cabbage Samson agrees to a lab experiment that has something to do with cables attached to his head for some sort of hidden memory nonsense. Samson agrees to do it for a measly $200 bucks. The lab tech gives specific instructions that Samson cannot move during the two hour procedure. During the experiment, Barnes throws us a curve ball with some really jumbled writing that seems to suggest an AK-47 toting bad guy breaks into the facility and starts stacking up bodies. Samson moves his body and thus becomes Time Raider.

Trapped in his own time Dr. Sam Becket leaps from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, hoping that his next leap will be the leap home. - wait that's 'Quantum Leap' and this is something very similar. The time traveling hero awakens to find himself in Nazi occupied Italy during WWII. The author treats the whole thing casually as Samson just simply keeps on living in this world as if it's no big deal. I mean we all do this right, leaping around through time fighting wars from the history books. It turns out Samson is in the body of Private Houston, a pimping US Army hustler that has done some really bad things through the course of the war. Like he's a really bad guy. With very little concern or questions Samson kills off an Army rapist and then annihilates a squad of German goons. To prove he is a changed man he teams up with an Italian rebel to break into a German military base and kill off a few Nazis. The two then go back to camp and decide to break into another facility. They get caught, tortured and inevitably break out. The whole purpose of Samson's trip through time is to defeat the Nazi regime's use of Sarin gas on North America. Or was it to make snow angels? 

The book is really written without a whole lot of explanation or reasoning. Nevertheless Barnes gives us a whole lot of action including a much needed shootout in a wine cellar. Kudos to the author for delivering the goods with a fairly decent pace. Why Samson is a ping-pong ball in the time stream really isn't unveiled here. Instead, a bunch of Asian prophecy crap is laid on us with the Winds of Time fortune cookie. At the end, Samson learns that he can't return home and will be time traveling in lieu of collecting Medicare and playing church bingo in his old age. 

While this is a really interesting concept, it surprisingly isn't that original. A series called 'Casca' is essentially the same thing, debuting in 1979 and running through the 80s. 'Janissaries', 'Lost Regiment' and 'Freedom's Rangers' are similar and released prior to this series. The next entry in 'Time Raider' promises the Mexican-American war. I'll be searching the book caves for the remaining two installments. 

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Last Mountain Man #01 - Last Mountain Man

William W. Johnstone was an incredible talent that dabbled in a ton of different genres during his 65 years around the sun. From early endeavors in the horror realm to explosive action series' like 'Out of the Ashes', his writing style simply never let up. He loved to write and his passion and enthusiasm poured out on each and every page. Johnstone passed away in 2004 but his legacy lives on. The Johnstone empire continues to grow and expand based on a revolving door of hired authors that have assumed the "house name" of Johnstone. 

One of Johnstone's enduring legacies is the Jensen family. This lengthy and all-consuming mythology of Johnstone books (both under William and J.A.) began in 1984 with this first book, "The Last Mountain Man", published by Zebra. The book introduces us to two characters that will remain a part of the Johnstone collaboration for over 30 years - Preacher and Smoke. 

The debut book begins with young Smoke Jensen working on the family farm in Missouri. Conditions are abysmally bad at this point in the 1800s, just after the end of the Civil War. Smoke's mother has passed away from illness, his brother has been killed in the war and his father, Emmett, is just coming home from years of fighting the Union. After a quick reunion, the two decide on a fresh start and abandon the farm. Emmett wants the two of them to push westward into the mountains. Unfortunately, neither of them are aware of the dangers in exploring the far west. 

As the narrative progresses, the two quickly find they don't possess the skills for living in the wild. Thankfully, an old mountain man named Preacher finds them in the wilderness and begins a close-knit relationship with young Smoke Jensen. They all find themselves in a tangle with Native Americans and Smoke quickly reaches manhood in the battles. Preacher is impressed with the man and senses that Smoke's father may have a different reason for heading west. Preacher promises to teach Smoke how to live off the land and fight for a living in the high mountains. 

After some skirmishes Emmett confesses to Preacher that there is another agenda for the push west. After the war Smoke's brother was killed by Union soldiers in an attempt to steal Confederate money. They had planned on taking the money and heading west and had killed the Jensen boy and shot Emmett in a firefight. Smoke's father was dying but wanted to ride on and kill the outlaws and get back some of the stolen money. Preacher promises to raise Smoke as Emmett rides off to fight the outlaws.

Preacher spends a winter teaching Smoke how to draw fast, fight with his feet and hands and how to survive in the forest hunting and trapping. The character Preacher is extremely funny and Johnstone presents him in a warmhearted way. In true pulp western style, Emmett is killed and Smoke needs revenge. After Emmett is buried both Smoke and Preacher head into the towns of the west to hunt the outlaws.

In a shock and awe ending, Johnstone promises that Smoke will never be able to rest with a graphic finale. It paints a gritty, horrific scene that will catapult the future of the series into the revenge mold - at least for the first few books. Personally, I felt Johnstone rushed the ending a bit but this closes a very busy and exciting first chapter in a series that will last for years. Preacher turns out to be a popular character, so Johnstone decided to tell his origin and how he came to be a mountain man in his own series aptly named 'The First Mountain Man' or sometimes just 'Preacher'. 

This book was discussed on the seventh episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Last Ranger #05 - War Weapons

The doomsday epic from Jan Stacy rolls on as Martin Stone continues his pursuit of that raving lunatic General Patton III. But Hell, it's doomsday and anything goes. After Stone saved the world in book four, 'The Rabid Brigadier', he sets out on a path to crush Patton. After a rather lifeless fourth entry, 'The War Weapons' gets back on track with what we love about the series.

This one picks up as Stone and his rag-tag clan of overnight heroes pursue Patton in Bradley tanks across the desert. Sargent does his best detailing the Bradley machines and their positioning and pursuit of the baddies. I think he's probably a bit off with the tank mechanics and technical prowess, but who cares when he is providing this much explosive firepower. Right? Right. And what's the deal with this superpooch dog Stone has been carrying around through the wasteland? You are telling me Excalibur has lived through maniacal rapers and apocalyptic raiders? I call bologna.

After a hot pursuit through the desert the gang gets obliterated, wreck the tanks and Stone ends up being captured by Patton. In scenes that can only be a bi-product of the 80s, Patton and his savages go to work in the torture chapter ("Rambo 2"). Stone gets annihilated by beatings and then staked out on a massive wooden X after being dipped in some sort of sweet sticky substance that attracts massive ants. Soon Stone is a Golden Corral buffet as the ants swarm onto him and start chewing up the baby fat like a rat on a cheeto....or a mutant ant on honey dipped man-candy. Left to die in the wasteland doesn't last long though. A Cheyenne warrior named Meyra shows up for the rescue and fodder for the lovemaking. Before Stone begins to bone, the Cheyenne warrior princess rubs "healing paste" all over our hero and makes him good as new. Goldbond powder? After a miracle healing and a good lay, Stone joins the Cheyenne warriors on an all-out assault on the General and his goons. 

'The War Weapons' provided a ton of action, from the climatic assault, escaping torture and battling back to back with Native Americans. It was predictable, and maybe even a little short on plot, but the end result is another classic 80s action yarn in what has been a really good post-apocalypse series thus far. In terms of re-reading the series, I would pull only select titles including this one. The author nailed it.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Last Ranger #04 - Rabid Brigadier

"The Rabid Brigadier" from Craig Sargent, real name Jan Stacy, continues the wasteland survival tale of the badass, barrel-chested Martin Stone. The book released in 1987 by Popular Library and is the fourth of ten books that fall under the 'The Last Ranger' series. Will it live up to the high-octane thrill ride of the first three entries? 

By 1987 Jan Stacy had completed the first four books of the 'Doomsday Warrior' series, co-written by John Sievert, and had 'The Last Ranger' series on his plate full-time by '87. Sadly, Stacy died from the AIDS virus in 1989 and I often wonder if his diagnosis this late may have had some impact on his writing style. This book is shoddily crafted and doesn't resonate with the same attention to detail that the series' first entries had. While the book is entertaining and continues the epic journey of Martin Stone, it leaves the reader with wanting a bit more out of this by book four. 

The novel picks up right after the events of the third book - remember dwarves, big Colorado fortress, huge explosion and the truckload of whores? Yeah, Stone gets buried in an avalanche of debris and wakes up to bodies everywhere. He gets his bearings, waylays some biker scum and finds his dog Excalibur. 
An injured water-logged Stone gets picked up by a new military force called N.A.A. - New American Army. They have little patches on their uniforms of two M-16s crossing the US flag that notates they are mutant killing baddies off to cleanse the world and create a new order. Stone befriends them at first and later finds they are indeed fascist bullies controlled by an arch enemy in the making called General Patton III. 

Stone gets invited to their camp and immediately gets tended to his groin by nurse Elizabeth. You can pretty much gather that any female characters that show up in 'The Last Ranger' series is really just fodder for a page or two of lovemaking. After that, Stone is all better and physically fit to join Patton's ranks as Major. But it doesn't last long as Stone eventually finds that Patton is in league with the devil and hopes to baptize the world with nuclear fire - three nuclear warhead launch sites are revealed. Stone stops one missile from being detonated by shooting it out of the sky with an anti-aircraft rocket. But, the General escapes and Stone sets out with his new buddies and three tanks. 

Unfortunately, this book really just doesn't do a whole lot overall. Stacy spends a big part of the beginning just showing us Stone nearly drowning and then ultimately being rescued. There's the whole Patton III character but he's rather one-dimensional. The character has no prior military experience, so there's not much to elaborate on in terms of depth or expansion. But, the end promises we haven't seen the end of this maniacal general. End result - obligatory read if you are doing the series chronologically. Otherwise, it's probably a skip on repeated reads.