The first “Sgt Hawk” paperback was published by Belmont Tower in 1979. The novel features a heroic, gruff US Marine Sergeant leading soldiers in the South Pacific Theater of World War 2. Not much is known about author Patrick Clay, but the book was apparently successful enough to warrant three sequels - “Return of Sgt Hawk” (1980), “Under Attack” (1981), and “Tiger Island” (1982). I'm a sucker for Belmont's military fiction and “Sgt Hawk” generally receives positive reviews. I'm digging in.
Like Len Levinson's 'Rat Bastards', Sgt Hawk's platoon is made up of hardened, battle-scarred grunts with vulgar mouths. Hawk is a country boy from Mississippi, thrust into leadership by wielding an uncanny fighting spirit. In many ways, Hawk could be a misplaced western hero superimposed onto war-torn Japanese Islands. He's a lovable character with a deep accent, an attribute that helps calm the civilian population while also motivating his troops. When readers are first introduced to Hawk, he's a monumental workhorse leading his men through dense foliage to destroy a pillbox. He takes the hardest route himself before risking his soldier's lives. Hawk's that kinda guy.
After an early skirmish, Hawk and fifteen troops are offered a special assignment. As the US pinches the eastern portion of the island, US intelligence fears that the Japanese will retreat to the northwest quadrant. Hawk's role is to protect a Dutch rubber plantation, an asset being utilized by the Allies. Once Hawk arrives at the plantation, the narrative settles into the cusp of the story – Hawk's interaction with the plantation's wealthy owner and family while trying to solve...a murder mystery.
The Van Speer family have owned and operated the plantation for fifteen years and don't immediately welcome Hawk and his men. Cut-off from the rest of Europe, the Van Speers don't fully grasp the war's impact. The family's oldest daughter, Gretchen, is smitten with Hawk and the two form a budding romance over the course of a few weeks. While Hawk and his men await the inevitable conflict, they appear to have an enemy on the farm. The platoon is slowly picked off one-by-one in a macabre “Ten Little Indians” series of murders. Could one of Hawk's men be a traitor? Or, is it an early advance of Japanese forces?
Patrick Clay does a tremendous job in maintaining the suspense until the very end. I had an early theory that panned out, but it kept me guessing for the majority of the book. The author propels the narrative in a multitude of ways. The romance between Hawk and Gretchen adds depth to these characters and allows the rock-solid Hawk character to become soft for readers. The murder mystery is slowly developed and adds a touch of eerie isolation. But, when the action hits, it's non-stop brutality that comes in waves.
“Sgt Hawk” delivers a gritty, violent war tale with a unique murder mystery as an added touch. The sequels are fairly pricey and, to my knowledge, aren't available as ebooks. In particular, the third book seems to be the rarest, pitching a double-digit prices online. Against my better judgement, I spent and arm and a leg to buy the remaining books. This is an exciting series with a ton of potential, and I'm excited to review the batch.
Buy a copy of this book HERE