The success of 1967's “The Dirty Dozen” led to countless imitators in fiction and on screen. The formula of “team-based” adventure thrived throughout the men's action-adventure genres of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Specifically, the film's use of criminals as American soldiers was often utilized. That premise was the basis for the 1967 ABC television show “Garrison's Gorillas”.
The show featured Lt. Garrison reforming four hardened criminals into an elite fighting force during WW2. The incentive for the prisoners was a complete parole from their remaining sentence...if they survived. While only lasting one season, the show gained a cult following. In 1967, military fiction writer Jack Pearl authored two spin-off novels, one as a young adult title called “Garrison's Gorillas and the Fear Formula” and the other as a mass market adult paperback simply titled “Garrison's Gorillas” (Dell). My only experience with the show is the “Garrison's Gorillas” novel.
The author assumes you are already familiar with the team and premise so the action begins immediately without much back-story. Lt. Garrison's orders are to locate a secret German base that is manufacturing the Messerschmitt ME 262 fighter jets. In order to do so, Garrison and his team disguise themselves as German officers and infiltrate a hotel meeting among the top German brass. Things immediately go awry when Garrison's disguise doesn't satisfy one of the German generals. Further, after locating the airstrip, Garrison's Gorillas learn that a second airstrip contains 60 of the jets. The team, while not breaking character, must stay ahead of Germany's inquiring leaders while also relaying intelligence back to the Allies.
At 160 pages, this was a swift and easy read. Some may find it lacking in heightened action or any sense of urgency to produce gunplay. But, overall it was enough to satisfy my WW2 craving despite the slow-burn narrative style. The characters of Casino, Goniff, The Actor and Chief were enjoyable but never overindulgent or distracting from the overall team concept. After reading the book, I sampled a few YouTube episodes and quickly realized I preferred these characters on paper instead of the screen.
The bottom line, “Garrison's Gorillas” should cater to fans of military fiction or to the old-timers that remember watching the television show when it premiered. This was my first Jack Pearl novel and I have two others I hope to read this year - “Stockade” and “Ambush Bay”.
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