Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Hawker #03 - Chicago Assault

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Traveler #03 - The Stalkers

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 20, 2017

Traveler #02 - Kingdom Come

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

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

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

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

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Traveler #01 - First, You Fight

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Black Friday

After his 2004 death, the estate of William W. Johnstone - under the direction of his niece, J.A. Johnstone - kept the family business alive by turning the Johnstone name into a successful fiction factory. The company hires talented genre authors to craft action and western novels published under the house names of William Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone. Unlike James Patterson’s similar business model, the actual authors are given no credit. The ghost writers are sworn to secrecy through non-disclosure agreements and the promise of future work if they keep their mouths shut about their contributions to the family business while fostering the illusion that William and J.A. are actually authoring these paperback originals. The ghost-written Johnstone westerns are pretty standard fare, but the contemporary action novels ("Treason", "Stand Your Ground", etc.) tap into the growing market of politically-conservative adventure tales marketed to the Fox News-Breitbart crowd. The formula: common-sense American heroes battle crime, immigrants, and Muslim terrorists as well as the politically-correct liberals standing in their way of success. These stand-alone novels celebrate the triumph of conservative American values over progressive societal chaos. Commercially, this formula has been extremely successful. The unknown authors would never have gotten their books into every 7-11, grocery chain, and big box store if they weren’t leveraging the Johnstone house name and the right-wing wish fulfillment thriller formula.

2016’s "Black Friday" is the most recent Johnstone thriller to dominate the non-bookstore bookshelves in this successful sub-genre. It’s the story of a Muslim terrorist attack on a middle-America shopping mall on the day after Thanksgiving. The unknown author introduces us to a cast of characters - several war veterans, an ex-con with a heart of gold, a Catholic Priest, a cowardly school teacher, and others - who all head to the mall on the busiest shopping day of the year. Little did the heartland customers know, but Islamic terrorists (a 100 man cell!) were planning a mass-casualty attack that day at in the name of Allah. Things quickly devolve into a barricade situation with the cartoonishly inept law enforcement outside (paralyzed by their politically-correct bosses) while a core group of hostages, armed with their own weapons and those taken from a sporting goods store, mount a stand.

Politics aside, this is an excellent action novel. Think of it as “GOP Die Hard in a Mall.” There is plenty of blood-spurting violence throughout the book. The heroic characters were well-developed and sympathetic, and the bad guys were all suitably reprehensible. The unknown author did a fantastic job of moving the plot forward from one violent set-piece to another. The novel’s conservative politics didn’t detract from the quality of the adventurous tale conceived by the author. At worst, they came off as a distraction when awkwardly shoe-horned into otherwise great scenes (one character growls, “Thank God for the Second Amendment” as he’s raining bullets on terrorist intruders, for example). There’s nothing factually incorrect about that sentiment given the context, but these asides can take the reader out of the story for a moment - a disservice to the suspenseful sequence underway.

As with many propulsive action stories, there needs to be some suspension of common sense and disbelief. Mall anchor stores tend to have more exits than the author allows. And a law enforcement response in real life is (thank goodness) way better than this fiction depicted. But why quibble with a Walmart paperback? "Black Friday" is a truly exciting and violent book that will please fans of classic 20th Century Men’s Adventure literature. If you find the occasionally awkward conservative talking-points bothersome, just remind yourself that this book is filed under fiction, and enjoy the thrilling ride.

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