After seven installments of Stephen Mertz's 'M.I.A. Hunter' series, the popular title takes a slight shift into a new direction. Beginning with this eighth entry, “Escape from Nicaragua,” we discover Mark Stone's combat hardened trio working in unison with the U.S. government, a rather unique turn of events considering Stone had been targeted by the CIA and FBI.
In the last novel, “Saigon Slaughter,” Stone has a revelation about his team's future. It's 1987 (the series was written in the 80s) and the Vietnam War has been over for 14 years. The idea of malnourished prisoners of war still alive in Vietnam's harsh climate is a stretch. Further, Stone's network of intelligence has become sporadic and inconsistent. His admirable missions of saving prisoners of war may be finished. In that book's rowdy finale Stone rescues American prisoners from Saigon and conveniently returns them during a U.S. summit with Vietnam.
“Escape from Nicaragua” has a sense of continuity by mentioning these prior events in the novel's opening pages. Now, the CIA and FBI have stricken Stone's trio from the record books in what is perceived as an exchange for their labor. U.S. government agencies, impressed with Stone's fortitude, will now contract his team for messy assignments...like freeing two CIA operatives from a Nicaraguan prison.
Those of you excited about this new series direction, and the enticing idea that Stone might be assassinating drug lords, dictators and communists while utilizing upgraded intel, should really hold your applause. “Escape from Nicaragua” doesn't really present itself as anything other than a recycle of the prior seven books. Stone's team hits Honduras for intel, then penetrates the Nicaragua jungle to align with freedom fighters who assist the trio in liberating the prisoners.
Seasoned magicians say the rabbit don't come easy. I'd say the same for “Escape from Nicaragua.” The magic of transforming this series into a “Phoenix Force” styled mercenary unit apparently isn't easy. The collaboration between series creator Stephen Mertz and a relatively unknown writer named Arthur Moore lends a sense of familiarity to the novel, but the plot never really pushes the envelope. The series, while certainly delivering action-packed goods, should have turned the corner on this eighth novel. Looking ahead to the next installment, “Invasion U.S.S.R.,” appears to have a similar theme – Stone freeing a U.S. journalist from a Soviet prison. I'm hoping for the best.
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