Richard Harding’s ‘Outrider’ series rolls along with entry five, “Bay City Burnout”. It was released in 1985 under Pinnacle’s “Crossfire” line of action and adventure. The odd numbered books in the series are clear standouts with book two being the series’ low point. The author remains on task of documenting the iron-fisted adventures of the protagonist, Bonner, through nightmarish post-nuclear North America. However, the series can get subjugated by a more comical conquest, thus the failures of “Bay City Burnout”.
The book starts off in a familiar location, Dorka’s bar in neutral Chicago (the rest of America is controlled by feudal tyrants). Bonner and the series’ regulars like the Mean Brothers typically hang out here prior to the book’s plot unveiling. After a really funny opener with the Mean Brothers carrying in a piano to introduce music to the gang, the book’s premise is revealed. The western portion of the former US is now controlled by a land baron aptly titled The Rich Man. He has a wealth of supplies and treasure but locked into defensive combat with feudal gangs. He’s sent an expedition into Chicago to rally troops to his cause with the promise of wealth for their services. The convoy is led by a one-dimensional idiot named Roy. Bonner notices that Roy is holding a lighter that belongs to his friend Seth (a character from prior books) and the two butt heads. Bonner declines the offer and heads to Lucky’s garage to fuel up his armored car.
I’m not sure if the author had enough of a plot created to have Bonner just chase Roy to the west coast looking for Seth. That’s a bit thin and had already existed as a theme in the last book. To counter that, Roy’s gang brutally rapes Bonner’s girlfriend while he is gone. The next morning the convoy heads west with about sixty Chicago recruits. Bonner, furious about the attack, heads out with The Mean Brothers to follow Roy back to The Rich Man’s compound. He can kill two birds with one stone; revenge the rape and rescue Seth. Along the way he teams up with his old colleagues from the first book, Clara and her motorcycle sisters.
I think generally speaking this should have been a fairly good entry. The idea of Bonner and the gang crossing the Rockies, braving the elements and running a few guerilla tactics to take out pieces of Roy’s small army sounds great on paper. But, Harding never expands on any of these ideas, instead dwelling on senseless, comical dialogue between Roy and his misfit crew. Often the book reminded me of that 1979 film ‘The Villain’ with its slapstick chase scenes. There’s a few hit-and-run tactics thrown in but Harding portrays Bonner in God-like status as he single-handedly kills nearly 50 members of the gang (with assistance) before they arrive in California. The last 15 pages rewards the reader with another Leatherman and Bonner confrontation…but it’s short lived with very little payoff. Overall, it’s not as bad as the second book but definitely fails to rekindle the fire and intensity of the series debut. Let’s hope the series finale ends with a bang instead of a comical whimper.