Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Rat Bastards #04 - Meat Grinder Hill

Never pick a fight with a guy named Nuttsy. That’s a key takeaway in “Meat Grinder Hill”, the fourth novel in the outstanding 'Rat Bastards' series by “John Mackie” (actually, Len Levinson). 

As with all of the earlier books, this is a top-notch WWII adventure set during the grueling fight to take Guadalcanal from dug-in Japanese troops. The situation this time forces the exhausted Americans to make one final push to capture the last remaining enemy stronghold on the island. Unfortunately, that stronghold is up in the hills, camouflaged and surrounded by dense jungle, and defended with banks of lethal machine gun nests. The Americans can’t see it, and anyone venturing too close gets chopped to pieces by the machine guns. Worse, the stronghold is oddly impervious to mortar rounds or aerial bombing. Oh, and the Japanese will defend it to the last man.

The reader knows why all the shelling has failed to obliterate that stronghold. Our protagonists in the recon platoon will have to find out the hard way, and that means with a hell of a lot of vicious and frequently desperate combat. Nobody’s a Superman here, and one key character will fall in battle. The action is relentless, and it’s charged with foreboding and suspense. The book isn’t a downer by any means, but it doesn’t let you remain a disinterested bystander either.

As a counterpoint to all the carnage, we leave Guadalcanal from time to time to see what’s happening on another island, where two men from the platoon (two of the best characters in this series) are recovering in an Army field hospital. One is an old war dog who’s restless and almost empty inside, believing that his place is on the battlefield and that he doesn’t belong anywhere else. He might be right. The other guy is at the opposite end of the scale, interested in nothing but seducing nurses and extending his reprieve from the war any way he can. (This leads to some erotic grappling that’s just as heated as the action back on Guadalcanal.)

Most of the guys in this book aren’t so lucky. The struggle against the Japanese is grueling, bloody and miserable. One soldier hopes to affirm his masculinity with feats of combat glory, but glory is in short supply on Guadalcanal. Frustrated and still hungry to prove his manhood, he turns his attack to the aforementioned Nuttsy, which proves to be both a bruising and enlightening experience, but fate isn’t finished with him yet.   

“Meat Grinder Hill” puts its characters through the wringer, but it’s much kinder to you, the reader. The men in the recon platoon get chewed up and spit out by the war. You, on the other hand, get a muscular, exciting adventure, which is all the more effective because you’re slogging through it right alongside these guys, with easy access to their hearts and minds. That makes all the difference. The 'Rat Bastards' aren’t the little green plastic army men you played with as a kid. You’ll know ‘em and love ‘em, and--- like me--- you’ll soon be reaching for the next book in this series.