“The Specialists” was a 1969 action-suspense paperback by Lawrence Block that was originally released by the Fawcett Gold Medal imprint and has been reprinted several times over the past 50 years, available today as a $5 eBook. The novel was written by Block as the first in a series, but the author never wrote a second book with the characters leaving the novel as a stand-alone footnote to a storied career as a mystery grand-master.
Fans of team-based men’s adventure series titles (The A-Team, Able Team, Phoenix Force) will feel right at home with “The Specialists.” They are a group of Vietnam vets using their special forces and infiltration skills against organized criminals on the streets of America. They steal bad money from bad men and use the funds to finance their operations and private lives. When an opportunity arises, they receive a telegram from their leader, paraplegic Colonel Roger Cross, and the five ex-soldiers under his civilian command report for duty ready to kick some ass and make some cash.
In the book’s opening chapters, we meet the members of the team going about their separate lives as they begin receiving telegrams telling them to drop everything and report for duty (“Avengers assemble!”). To society, they are a rare stamp dealer, an encyclopedia salesman, a travel agent, a short-haul mover, and a professional gambler. This time around their target is a slimy mobster who owns banks he regularly robs to collect the insurance proceeds. The banks also serve as a money laundering vehicle for juice loans and other ill-gotten gains. He’s the kind of villain who receives oral sex from a paid hooker while keeping a pistol pressed up against her head - just for kicks.
The plan to defang the racketeer banker and take his money was audacious and complex - probably more so than was necessary but always in service of the plot and page count. Block’s writing is serviceable but not the top of his game, but the characters he created in this one are enjoyable enough to keep the pages flying by. The adventure’s conclusion was typical of the genre, and the ride along the way made for a fun trip.
Block never wrote a second book in the series, but it seems that everybody and his brother explored the same idea over the subsequent decade. If you set aside your normal high expectations for a Lawrence Block novel and walk into “The Specialists” looking for a slightly smarter version of The A-Team, you’ll probably walk away satisfied.
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