Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Man From W.A.R. Inc. #01 - Mission: Third Force

California author Michael Kurland is one of those guys who has published novels in several different genres. He wrote a successful series of mystery novels in the Sherlock Holmes universe starring Professor Moriarty. He also has a sizable back catalog of science fiction and alternative history titles spanning 1964 to 1990. Of greater interest to Paperback Warrior is his “The Man from W.A.R. Inc.” action series that lasted three installments from 1967 to 1969.

W.A.R. Inc. is Weapons, Analysis, and Research Incorporated, a for-profit American company that provides training and logistical support around the world to clients (mostly small nations) desiring greater stability. The hero of the series is W.A.R. Inc. employee Peter Carthage, who uses the skills he honed in U.S. Army Intelligence to fight evil for profit. “Mission: Third Force” from 1967 is the first Carthage novel in the trilogy.

The campus of W.A.R. Inc. contains a giant underground fortress beneath New Jersey farmland for drills and experimentation. The corporate lair is unimaginably high-tech...for 1967. The unintentionally hilarious descriptions of the equipment includes space age technology including “digital tape recorders” storing mountains of data. The “modem mercenaries” of W.A.R. Inc. are primarily research and development types as
well as consultants - not unlike the cadre of “Beltway Bandit” defense contractors we have today. The weapons developed in the company’s “dirty tricks” department are cool as hell and seem to be borrowing a page from the James Bond films.

Peter Carthage is one of three people in the firm with the title of “Expediter.” In this first adventure, he is sent to the fictional Southeast Asian kingdom of “Bonterre,” formerly a French colony in Indochina. The author basically took the colonial history of Vietnam and superimposed it over a Thai-style constitutional monarchy to conjure up Bonterre. Anyway, the country is experiencing instability caused by guerrilla insurgents from the kingdom’s northern province as well as the shadowy influence of a right-wing “Third Force” also seeking to topple the current government from within.

The Bonterre ambassador wants Carthage to train his armed forces in combat and intelligence to be used against the guerrillas while establishing a link between the insurgents and the traitorous Third Force. Carthage puts together a multi-disciplinary team of colorful fellow employees for the training engagement and spearheads the investigation into the Third Force himself.

The result is a ton of fun to read. Carthage is basically Sherlock Holmes in a third-world guerrilla warfare environment. He uses clues and deduction to unearth Third Force operatives among Bonterre’s military and government class. And when the time comes to kick-ass, he and his crew justify their hourly billing rate. It’s also a hilarious book, but not in the cartoonish way of the fake spy novels of the late 1960s. Instead, the author peppers the dialogue with clever wisecracks and sarcastic remarks from Carthage and his crew causing me to laugh out loud more than once. The novel also has a good sex scene but nothing particularly graphic.

Kurland’s writing and plotting is exceptionally well-done - although the climactic ending felt a little rushed. The story moves forward with vivid characters and no dull moments. I’m frankly surprised this series wasn’t a greater commercial success justifying more than three installments. In any case, I’m overjoyed to have acquired all three books in the series. Snapping up these paperbacks should be a no-brainer for any vintage adventure fiction fan. Highly recommended.

This book was discussed on the fourth episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link

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