Just like the last entry, "Hanoi Deathgrip", this fourth book in the "M.I.A. Hunter" series is once again written by the talented Joe R. Lansdale (as author Jack Buchanan working off of Stephen Mertz's outline). The Texas writer has a tremendous skill-set that allows our heroic trio, Mark Stone, Terrance Loughlin and Hog Wiley, to cross over predetermined boundaries. While I love the series as a whole and plan to read and review more (watch out!), no one does it as well as Lansdale thus far. "Mountain Massacre" injects a comical touch thanks to the author's infatuation with the big lovable Hog. The character is a perfect target, he's the strong man that typically makes up every fictional team. If it were the Avengers Hog would be Hulk. The Fantastic Four? Hog is The Thing. It's just formula driven and Lansdale totally got that. Beyond just the humorous bits the book adds some fantasy and darker elements. The mysterious mountain bandits are ninjas, complete with the attached folklore that they can disappear, climb walls and practice dark magic. While our trio of paperback warriors don't buy into the bandit folklore, Lansdale still throws it out there to make this fantastical in a sense.
The book begins with the P.O.W. hunters on the verge of springing a group of American soldiers from a prison camp in Vietnam. Lansdale gets to work early and gives us a firefight as the group emerge from the camp. Immediately the author pinpoints Hog as a go-to character and makes him larger than life. In one early scene Hog rips the testicles off of the enemy before discarding him like so much rotten meat. Hog and company escape into the mountains and meet up with what is ultimately the book's villain - bandits. The gang disrupts the maiming and raping with a quick disposal of the bandits but Stone is left unsettled by what appears to be former American soldiers in bandit garb. What!?!
Back in Thailand Stone meets up with his old mentor An Khom and discusses the bandits. Carruthers, a series villain and Stone's CIA nemesis, shows up to remind Stone that some of the bandits he killed were American soldiers. Later, Stone meets with an older wealthy man who wants to contract Stone to locate his M.I.A. son...to the tune of a cool million. Stone profoundly agrees to take on the mission. Remember, Stone and the gang are non-profit. However his front detective business is shut-down and things are way more difficult with the CIA bringing the heat. A million bucks can fund a lot of operations into Southeast Asia.
Like the prior novels this one gives us a thrilling search and destroy through various skirmishes and gunfights. Lansdale throws a thrilling boat ride into the foray along with a village liberation attempt and the climatic showdown with the mountain bandits in a temple fortress. Unlike others in the series this book has a ton of sword-play due to a rivalry between Stone ally Kong Le and his estranged son Chen. Due to the martial arts background of the bandits a lot of the battles are hand-to-hand and showcase a little bit more of Stone and his team in terms of physical strength and conditioning. I like that aspect and hope we see more of that in future installments.
"Mountain Massacre" lives up to the name with a traditional Mark Stone contribution that is worthy in the "top tier" of "M.I.A. Hunter" books. The addition of fantasy elements, a bit of mystery and the Ninjutsu mythology enhances what is a standard search and destroy formula. Kudos to the author for providing more closure to this story than the typical Stone book.
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