Showing posts with label John Mackie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Mackie. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Rat Bastards #04 - Meat Grinder Hill

Never pick a fight with a guy named Nuttsy. That’s a key takeaway in “Meat Grinder Hill”, the fourth novel in the outstanding 'Rat Bastards' series by “John Mackie” (actually, Len Levinson). 

As with all of the earlier books, this is a top-notch WWII adventure set during the grueling fight to take Guadalcanal from dug-in Japanese troops. The situation this time forces the exhausted Americans to make one final push to capture the last remaining enemy stronghold on the island. Unfortunately, that stronghold is up in the hills, camouflaged and surrounded by dense jungle, and defended with banks of lethal machine gun nests. The Americans can’t see it, and anyone venturing too close gets chopped to pieces by the machine guns. Worse, the stronghold is oddly impervious to mortar rounds or aerial bombing. Oh, and the Japanese will defend it to the last man.

The reader knows why all the shelling has failed to obliterate that stronghold. Our protagonists in the recon platoon will have to find out the hard way, and that means with a hell of a lot of vicious and frequently desperate combat. Nobody’s a Superman here, and one key character will fall in battle. The action is relentless, and it’s charged with foreboding and suspense. The book isn’t a downer by any means, but it doesn’t let you remain a disinterested bystander either.

As a counterpoint to all the carnage, we leave Guadalcanal from time to time to see what’s happening on another island, where two men from the platoon (two of the best characters in this series) are recovering in an Army field hospital. One is an old war dog who’s restless and almost empty inside, believing that his place is on the battlefield and that he doesn’t belong anywhere else. He might be right. The other guy is at the opposite end of the scale, interested in nothing but seducing nurses and extending his reprieve from the war any way he can. (This leads to some erotic grappling that’s just as heated as the action back on Guadalcanal.)

Most of the guys in this book aren’t so lucky. The struggle against the Japanese is grueling, bloody and miserable. One soldier hopes to affirm his masculinity with feats of combat glory, but glory is in short supply on Guadalcanal. Frustrated and still hungry to prove his manhood, he turns his attack to the aforementioned Nuttsy, which proves to be both a bruising and enlightening experience, but fate isn’t finished with him yet.   

“Meat Grinder Hill” puts its characters through the wringer, but it’s much kinder to you, the reader. The men in the recon platoon get chewed up and spit out by the war. You, on the other hand, get a muscular, exciting adventure, which is all the more effective because you’re slogging through it right alongside these guys, with easy access to their hearts and minds. That makes all the difference. The 'Rat Bastards' aren’t the little green plastic army men you played with as a kid. You’ll know ‘em and love ‘em, and--- like me--- you’ll soon be reaching for the next book in this series. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Rat Bastards #03 - River of Blood

This third novel in the 'Rat Bastards' series maintains the very high standards of the first two. The guys are still on Guadalcanal, still fighting the Japanese, and still getting the job done. But the mental and physical burdens get heavier all the time, and we’ll see several of them begin to break down.

The men are individually haunted by fears that they won’t survive the next firefight, that their women back home no longer care about them, that the Army won’t give them the material support they need, and that each new assignment is more impossible than the last. They’re rats trapped in a maze from which there’s no exit.

Don’t get the idea that this book is just some sort of downbeat psychological study. It isn’t. The action comes at you almost continuously, and it’s gritty, tense and exciting. It’s because the author has skillfully brought us into the hearts and minds of these men that we care about what happens to them, in and out of combat. And that’s why this novel is vastly better than your typical 'Abel Team' or 'Phoenix Force' bang-bang shoot-‘em-up story. You won’t be just observing the action. You’ll be in it with them. 

The cover says the author is John Mackie, but it’s really Len Levinson, and I’ve yet to read a book of his that was less than outstanding. He’s the gold standard. However, this book isn’t for everybody. If you’re concerned that graphic depictions of hand-to-hand jungle combat might make you queasy, or if references to “Japs” might be upsetting, you should read something else. (I suggest HOP ON POP; my toddler loves it.)

This is a novel grounded in both reality and humanity. Of course, it’s still pulp fiction, and the magnitude of the action is enhanced for dramatic effect. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. You want history? Read a history book. You want a hell-for-leather, gut-churning, heart-pounding war saga that’ll keep you sweating through the action and devouring chapter after chapter way past your bedtime? You want RIVER OF BLOOD. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Rat Bastards 01 - Hit the Beach!

'The Rat Bastards' was a 16-book run of World War Two action-adventure novels. It was written by Len Levinson under house name John Mackie (one of his 22 pseudonyms) and follows his first, similar series, 'The Sergeant'. Where 'The Sergeant' was set in Europe, this series is set in the South Pacific. 

The first book in the 'Rat Bastards' series, “Hit the Beach!”, released by Jove in 1983, introduces its characters as they arrive at Guadalcanal for what will be an incredible ordeal of desperate hand-to-hand combat. The events in the book span only a couple of days, but the intensity of the fighting is conveyed extremely well by the author, who also has a gift for rendering realistic dialogue. Our Rat Bastards platoon kills a staggering number of Japanese soldiers, far more than a critical reader can really accept, but that goes with the territory.

And what bloody territory it is! 

The magnitude of gory violence here makes Edge look like Gene Autry, but it’s blended with some well-crafted suspense and atmosphere too. Len Levinson is clearly right up there with Don Pendleton for creating powerful, visceral pulp. Outstanding. 

The entire series is available as ebooks through Amazon (along with 'The Sergeant' series). The author does recommend reading them in order to preserve the story.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Rat Bastards #02 - Death Squad

Len Levinson's (as John Mackie) 'The Rat Bastards' series began with “Hit the Beach!”(1983), an outstanding wartime action/adventure novel, careening from the harrowing to the exhilarating and back again like a roller coaster. It wasn’t very likely that the follow-up novel could be just as good, and it isn’t. 

It's better! 

Although “Hit the Beach!” was tense and exciting, it was also episodic, lacking a real plot. It's simply about a combat platoon on Guadalcanal fighting back waves of Japanese soldiers. But the sequel, “Death Squad” (1983), is a story with a clear beginning, middle and end, and that structure gives it more power. It’s pulp fiction, but it’s extremely well-written, and the characterizations, dialogue and pacing are all superb. 

In this novel, the platoon has survived the meat-grinder of “Hit the Beach!” and heads out on a highly dangerous reconnaissance mission over to the far side of the island, where they’ll be isolated deep behind enemy lines. Their task is to find out where Japanese supplies and reinforcements have been landing. 

The mission gets off to a good start but the guys are in for a very rough time and before it’s over there will be snakes, snipers, capture, crocodiles, torture, torpedoes and always (always!) relentless action, bloodshed and suspense. Every time you think you know what’s about to happen, you’re hit with a surprise and just when the adventure seems to be over, there’s a spectacular extended climax that tops everything. 

Good luck finding a pulp action/adventure novel better than “Death Squad”. War is truly hell for the Rat Bastards, but it’s a 200-page thrill ride for the reader.