Thursday, May 3, 2018

Hell Rider #02 - Blood Run

Dan Schmidt's eponymous series debut introduced us to the bike riding, resilient bounty hunter Jesse Heller. His plight mirrors that of a hundred paperback heroes of the 70s and 80s – avenging the death of a family by vile henchmen. In this case, Heller was two weeks from leaving Vietnam when his family was murdered in the California mountains. Acquiring guns, a 1200cc Harley and a thirst for vengeance, Heller now travels the barren southwest hunting the killers. 

Fresh off of his explosive execution of the bikers in Satan's Avengers, Heller is biking through the Davis Mountains in a rural stretch of California desert. It's there that he stumbles on a hitch-hiking beauty named Lisa Stevens. Lisa is on the run from a biker gang called The Sinners (although the book's back cover synopsis says Grim Reapers) after witnessing her husband, a higher member in the gang, murder college kids over bad cocaine. It seems like a super stretch that Heller just happens to run across this girl, who can now connect him to another criminal biker gang to fight. Oddly, this club and its members had nothing to do with the murder of Heller's family, but our protagonist answers the call to duty and vows to protect Lisa. Our plot seems so simple. But behold...the plot thickens.

In what can only be considered a cautionary warning shot, every single character in “Blood Run” is suffering from bouts of PTSD related to Vietnam. We have state troopers, county police, detectives and Heller himself reliving nightmarish scenes of their time in the bush. Early on it feels like an important addition to explain the bikers behavior. But, more and more of this PTSD is evident with every male. In fact, nearly every chapter begins with some sort of flashback experience where a major or minor character is mowing down Cong or narrowly avoiding some nighttime jungle assault. It's interesting, then becomes over-utilized to the point of being irritating. This whole mess could have been saved with some free help at the VA. However, as much as the bikers are running around doing vile things, they profess their love of country and countrymen and have the flag patches to prove it. How about paying taxes to fix the roads you roam? Or, joining society in a positive way? It's a catch-22 with the author playing off of the war to build these criminals, but paints vets in a compromising light.

While our hero is running away with Stevens, the Sinners are forging alliances with other bikers and bad cops to hunt and kill Heller. These bad cops take up a majority of the network, intermittently inserted between pages and pages of uninteresting biker dialogue. Thrown in for good measure are the two Texas detectives from the last book. They want Heller to clear the black marks on their career path. With all of these characters vying for ad space, Heller doesn't get much air time. When he does...it's nonstop gore.

Heller rides, shoots straight and speaks the truth. In violent episodes we see Heller racing bikers, sawing off helmets and heads with a shotgun while throwing dynamite over his shoulder. In an effective scene, Heller chainwhips the Hell out of a small band of bikers after they attempt to rape Stevens. As the book marches to a fiery finale, Heller begins to think of his life as a re-start, possibly incorporating a new wife in Stevens. In a shocking scene, all of that is blown to Hades and “Blood Run” seemingly just thrusts the hero into another fight by book's end. Here's where it gets perplexing.

“Blood Run” was published by Pinnacle in September of 1985. The last page of the book is a splash advertising, “Watch for The Guns of Hell, next in the Hell Rider series of books coming in December!” That leads me to believe the book was written and ready for release just 90 days after “Blood Run” hit shelves. Could it be possible that Schmidt hadn't written it, thus the series caved after only these two books? Or did he write the novel, and due to Pinnacle's financial ailing, the book and series was just scrapped? Regardless of the catalyst, “The Guns of Hell” never saw the light of day.

And with that tragedy, 'Hell Rider' comes to an incomplete end. It had enormous potential, and with Schmidt's “no bones about it” writing and pace, this series could have went into double-digits in a different environment. Sadly, “Blood Run” was Hell Rider's last run.