The Soldier of Fortune series ran from 1976 through 1985 consisting of 18 total installments. The series also ran for a limited run in the U.K. under the name Jim Rainey: Death Dealer. The books are mostly written by Peter McCurtin, however Ralph Hayes authored seven of these books under the McCurtin name. I've always enjoyed the series and Ralph Hayes' work so I was looking forward to reading First Blood, the fifth Soldier of Fortune novel. It was published by Belmont in 1977.
Like the second novel, The Deadliest Game, the book begins with mercenary-hero Jim Rainey visiting an old Vietnam War buddy named Daniels in Panama. Rainey’s purpose is to testify before the U.S. Army as a character witness to defend Daniels' recent assault on an anti-American Panamanian citizen. But just as Rainey joins Daniels, the two find themselves targets of a hit-and-run assassination attempt by the ruthless terrorist group Canal Reclamation Organization (basically a group of armed citizens fighting America's occupation of the Panama Canal). When Rainey and Daniels fight back, it puts them both on the radar of the U.S. Army – an official court-marshal of Daniels and the warning for Rainey to leave town. When Rainey, Daniels and an M.P. named Hollis leave a secured portion of the base, the CRO attacks the trio and takes them prisoner.
The bulk of Ralph Hayes' narrative is the imprisonment of these three men and their cruel treatment at the hands of the CRO. If you have a weak stomach, First Blood's graphic details of eyes being removed, testicles being squeezed and various body parts being severed will probably ruin your Brazilian Steakhouse experience. Despite Rainey's negotiations, Daniels and Hollis are brutalized into writing statements declaring the US occupation as tyrannical. Further, Rainey is ordered to execute the two men. Without ruining the enjoyment for you, let's just say Rainey eventually teams with the C.I.A. in an effort to bring down the CRO in the book's furious, exhilarating closing chapters.
We've reviewed four other Soldier of Fortune novels here at Paperback Warrior and the consensus remains surprisingly consistent – these books kick total ass. Regardless of Hayes or McCurtin, the series delivers plenty of action, violence and compelling story-lines to keep readers enthralled. Further, for a series of this nature, the first-person narrative is truly unique and welcome. You just can't go wrong with the Soldier of Fortune books and First Blood is another fine addition to a solid catalog of titles.
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