“Black Samurai #1” is a terrific introductory novel from an author who clearly understood the genre. The story opens in 1973 with an action-packed massacre at a Samurai training camp outside Tokyo. After being banished from the U.S. Army for Vietnam war crimes, Colonel Leo Tolstoy (an odd literary reference never fully explained), along with a group of rogue commandos and a pack of attack dogs launch a bloody raid on the Samurai encampment.
The slaughtered Samurai students and master in the camp were all Japanese with the exception of the one survivor, our hero, Robert Sand. The reader is quickly presented with a few flashbacks that explain how an American Black Guy became a Black Samurai with a paperback series of his own.
As a character, Sand is not exactly brimming with personality, but he sure knows how to kick ass. The action sequences featuring Sand’s quest for vengeance are really well-written. They are the perfect blend of bloody martial arts fighting and gory gun-play. Sand is an earnest man of honor who is intelligent, gallant, courageous and highly-skilled in every martial arts discipline.
However, this inaugural 'Black Samurai' novel really succeeds because of the addition of two key characters: an outstandingly diabolical villain and a powerful billionaire benefactor.
First the villain: Colonel Tolstoy is one of the best bad guys ever appearing in 1970s numbered paperbacks. His suicide squad of lethal toadies includes an Arab terrorist, an IRA gunman, a Vietnamese torture specialist and an American black militant - all lead by a U.S. Army officer bent on revenge. He is a growling, loathsome, genocidal maniac and the reader really becomes invested in his eventual downfall.
Early in the novel, the reader is also introduced to its most interesting character, former two-term U.S. President William Baron Clarke. He was responsible for discharging Colonel Tolstoy from the Army following atrocities in Vietnam, and now uses his money and influence to save the world behind the scenes. He’s a brash Texan running an off-the-books intelligence apparatus and sponsoring capable action heroes to prevent global tragedies. His working relationship with the Black Samurai is the richest relationship in the short novel.
The plot is extremely well-executed and structured similarly to an early Mack Bolan novel. Good guy scenes and bad guy scenes alternate leading to a satisfying and violent conclusion. Blood is shed. Women are laid. Ethnic stereotypes abound. But it’s a formula that works because Olden is such a good writer who can spin a tale filled with interesting characters, vivid action and creative bloodshed. Book one of this series will definitely make the reader want to tap into future Black Samurai adventures.
After Robert Olden’s death in 2003 and the subsequent digital fiction revolution, the author’s heirs did something very smart: they kept his work alive by making his books available on eBook and audio platforms at affordable prices. It’s astounding that more rights-holders haven’t gone this route to monetize and preserve genre fiction stories from this era. Modern readers who want to explore his fiction don’t need to scour used bookstores for scarce and decaying paperbacks. For 'Black Samurai', some great action is only a click away.