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.  

Miami 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 ContractBuy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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 sub-genre so much fun. The portions that feature Samson behind bars 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 decent trilogy on the table for those that love science fiction, military fiction and action-adventure. Who could ask for more than that?

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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. 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 at home resting while Vic literally flies solo.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. 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. 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 bunch of 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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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's similar to the earlier series 'Casca', 'Freedom's Rangers' and 'Lost Regiment' The first book in the '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. 

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. 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. 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. 

'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. 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? 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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Last Mountain Man #06 - Law of the Mountain Man

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Executioner #03 - Battle Mask

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

Battle Mask begins with Bolan recounting the firefight that killed off his death squad of colleagues and friends in the last book. DiGeorge enforcers arrive being led by Lou "Screwy Looey" Pena. Bolan sees their approach and lights them up with flares and a .50 caliber before rolling out. 

On his way to Palm Springs he is tracked by more enforcers and manages to kill off a few with an assist from an older man. Bolan switches vehicles and arrives at New Horizons, a plastic surgery facility ran by one of his old war buddies named Brantzen. 

The author provides a little backstory on how the two of them used to supply medical help to villagers in Vietnam. Bolan asks Brantzen to do a new face so he can avoid the numerous detectives and hitmen that are hunting him. Brantzen agrees and Bolan gets a "battle mask".

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Executioner #02 - Death Squad

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

Protagonist Mack Bolan is fresh from the fight against the Mafia and decides to take the war to the West Coast. It's still open season on Bolan and the police as well as the Mafia all want him. While it's never really clear why Bolan chose L.A. or even why he made this specific portion of the Mafia a target, he winds up with his former battlefield buddy named George Zitka in an early firefight, the first of a few scattered across sixteen chapters. 

Zitka and Bolan devise a plan to recruit some of their former military pals to take the war to the next level. Pendleton does a brief description of each recruit with a small backstory. All of this is a very small piece of the book and I felt Pendleton could have made this longer and more descriptive. It is this lack of connection that makes the reader very confused on characters' names, how they relate to Bolan and overall a complete lack of interest in whether they live or die. 

After this recruitment phase the book plunges downhill very rapidly. Without having a backstory to pursue, the reader is thrust into a ton of radio talk between the "death squad" members as well as police. At one point we are introduced to a detective named Lyons who serves as an ally for Bolan. This relationship is really one of the few interesting portions of the story. As Bolan targets two L.A. mobsters, with no real point or winning plan of attack, the end result is just a whole lot of surveillance and talking. There is a short shootout in the middle and the end has a botched attack on a surf-side mansion that kills off nearly all of Bolan's crew. 

Pendleton really takes some liberties here and kills off a team that is supposedly bad-ass after surviving heavy combat in 'Nam. This climax battle doesn't even do much in delivering stiff competition for Bolan, yet almost his entire team is killed off. Not good.

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

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Executioner #01 - War Against the Mafia

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

This debut of the series is divided into three sections with each section including around nine chapters. It's a quick read and Pendleton keeps the reader (and Mack) on their toes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE