Showing posts with label Stoner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stoner. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Stoner #04 - King's Ransom

Ralph Hayes conclusion to his four book series 'Stoner' was “King's Ransom”. It was released by Manor in 1978 and is the only entry that doesn't have the series name or number on the cover. I'm not sure why the publisher went this route considering the artwork leaves much to be desired. Perhaps that was the main issue? The lack of quality artwork to support the 'Stoner' title? While the previous three entries look fantastic, this one seems rather dull. But the contents offer us another quality entry in what amounted to a fantastic short-lived series.

Unlike the prior three novels, “King's Ransom” puts Stoner on the trail for a kidnapped corporate hotshot instead of a treasure or stolen relic. It's another urban installment, like the prior book “All That Glitters”. Set in Buenos Aires and Argentina, the novel has a militant group called the Mendoza Committee planning a snatch and run of Thurston King, head of an empirical oil company called AROCO. The terrorist group wants to rid corporate, and oil companies, from Argentina and wants to make an example out of King. The plot is to kidnap King and ransom him for three-million dollars. How this solves anything is debatable, but it's a surefire way to set up Stoner versus the baddies.

Argentina government contracts Stoner to assist the police in retrieving King. It's another $50K offer like the last jobs (I guess this is market rate for retrieval of stolen people and goods?) and Stoner takes the contract. On the flip-side, this Mendoza Committee ruthlessly kills King's son while mouth raping his wife. King is taken to a cottage in Buenos Aires, shot in the knee cap and left to starve, dehydrate and die while waiting for his employer to pony up. In a satirical way, the company finds King expendable and isn't going to pay a dime to liberate him. Thankfully, he has Stoner on the case.

This is probably the worst of the series, but the series is so good that even worst could be first when compared to other late 70s action offerings. While the first two books didn't showcase a whole lot of fighting skills from Stoner, these last two introduce a more formidable fighting force. Hayes, again completely oblivious to firearms, has the hero running around with the fictitious Magnum .38 revolver (he has it confused with the .357) and I cringed each time the bad guy screwed a suppressor on a revolver. It's trivial nonsense but as a firearm enthusiast it drives me batshit bonkers. Overall, you can't go wrong with “King's Ransom”. Hunt these four books down, turn your brain off and just have a damn good time.

Stoner #03 - All That Glitters

The third 'Stone' novel, “All That Glitters”, was released by Manor in 1977. I've grown fond of this rugged salvage hero, a loner that hunts treasure and thugs across the globe. Thus far, the second entry, “The Satan Stone”, has championed the series, but Hayes has a gift for storytelling and he has a lot of fun with this one.

“All That Glitters” runs that familiar scheme where everybody that touches the wealth is immediately killed by the next guy wanting to touch the wealth. It's a simple formula that has been done to death (even by 1977 standards) in all forms of media, but nevertheless it's entertaining. It revolves around the theft of the cherished Southern Cross, an ornamental bling-bling worth millions.

Hayes embeds us in the action very early. Zachariah Smith, a stealthy dealer, runs a museum heist, cleverly switching out a fake Southern Cross with the real one. He kills two guys in the exchange but pulls the snatch off with smooth expertise. It's only when he attempts to sell it to another nefarious dealer, Vlahos, that the chain of death commences. Before the transaction is complete, both are murdered and the treasure passes to the next criminal. This continues through a dozen hands, some planned, some sheer luck, throughout the alleys and backstreets of Athens. Stoner's involvement is a plush $50K to recover the cross and return it to the museum.

“All That Glitters” differs from the prior two books of the series. Those entries put the action in exotic locations in the jungles and deserts of Africa and South America. This book changes direction by placing Stoner in an urban environment. Instead of tanks, planes and horses, we get high speed car chases and alley sweeps. I like this change of direction and it adds a little more dynamic to Stoner's one-dimensional joystick of “punch, shoot, run”. The end result is another fine addition to a high-quality series.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Stoner #02 - The Satan Stone

“The Satan Stone” is the second installment of Ralph Hayes' 1970s treasure hunting action series 'Stoner'. Our hero is Mark Stoner and this four book series focuses on the character attempting to find precious stones – thus the name could be duel usage. This book is my first taste of the series, but I've enjoyed the author's exceptional line 'The Hunter' (sometimes called 'John Yard'). It shares a lot of the same exotic locations as this series – sweeping African deserts and rowdy towns like Lagos and Nairobi. It wouldn't surprise me to see crossovers from each line, but I'm not sure Hayes' had publishing permission or the motivation. As I delve into each series more, I'd love to see a reference to the other books somewhere. I could easily imagine John Yard crossing paths with Stoner or even Yard's colleague Moses. These two series' run parallel to each other, so it would make rational sense to have them entwined.

The first 37-pages of “The Satan Stone” is intriguing and presents a phenomenal problem – how do you smuggle a 1,000-carat diamond out of a mining prison? That's the issue at hand for an engineer named McMillan. He has come to the mining prison of Shoshong, in the South African desert, to provide a new sorting machine. The arrangement is he receives profit sharing for a year in trade for this new machine. De Villiers, the book's dictator/prison warden welched on the deal and now a dejected McMillan is leaving the camp with nothing. Kicking some dirt and dust, he miraculously discovers an egg-sized diamond. The prison is notorious on security, and routinely beats (or murders) thieves. McMillan, fearing that he will be caught, hides the diamond on the undercarriage of a bulldozer with hopes of retrieving it and escaping. 37-pages later, the diamond is still securely dozing and McMillan has killed a helicopter pilot while escaping through the desert.

Thankfully, chapter three gives us a brief introduction of Mark Stoner. He's an adventurer and exporter based out of Key West (home of author Ralph Hayes). He globe-trots buying precious gems and artifacts. While wealthy and free-spirited, he's still a hunter for allusive treasures and antiquities. Thus, McMillan and his awareness of the prized diamond are an inviting challenge for Stoner. 

McMillan contracts with Stoner to have the diamond retrieved from Shoshong. The issues are aplenty – breaking in and out, passing security and dodging the mine's Gestapo-like cartel called The International Diamond Security Organization (IDSO). Plans are concocted to put Stoner inside the prison under the guise of a recently killed security inspector from the IDSO. Once Stoner infiltrates the prison, his exploits to retrieve the diamond are a bulk of the story. Hayes' is masterful in the cat-and-mouse tactics and leads the reader on numerous paths speculating the outcome. While not sounding overly complex, there's several side-stories that enhance the narrative – a suspicious guard, an inmate/laborer in the know and McMillan's own struggles escaping the IDSO in Nairobi. Surprisingly, this novel may have the most exhilarating scene ever involving a simple phone call. It's so elementary, yet the entire white-knuckle finale hinges on it. 

I've said this previously in my reviews of Ralph Hayes extensive catalog. The author takes seemingly normal, everyday people and places them in extraordinary circumstances to see how they react. It works well here as Stoner doesn't necessarily have the fighting skills or know how to solve difficult issues. Like 'The Hunter' and 'Buffalo Hunter', often Hayes leaves it to complete ignorance on the part of the characters or sheer luck to decide life or death situations. It's this aspect that makes his writing so enjoyable. It might be nonsensical, but you have to at least believe there's a “lucky shot”. That's the Hayes' style. 

I'm on my very own treasure hunt now, fueled by the anticipation of securing the entire series for my paperback museum. 

Stoner #01 - The Golden God

Ralph Hayes' 'Stoner' series kicks off with 1976's “The Golden God”. Like a majority of the author's work, it was released by publishing house Manor (which questionably may have been a tax dodge for Belmont/Leisure or a Mafia money laundering scheme). Regardless, the Hayes/Manor combo was a successful one for genre buffs and fans, producing nearly 25 titles that are still discussed nearly 40 years later. Along with series' like 'Buffalo Hunter' and 'The Hunter', 'Stoner' introduces another hefty dose of bravado in Mark Stoner, a treasure hunting exporter that is just damn good at everything. This novel in particular is a bit pulpy, capturing exotic jungles, ancient ruins and cursed relics. It's all plot bait to set-up Stoner versus a bunch of baddies. 

Oddly, the synopsis on back of the book mentions an Erik von Richter. There's no character by that name in the book. Instead, this Richter guy is actually Johann Strasser. I'm not sure if this was a late edit of the name or just a major miscommunication from the editor to artist. Regardless, the book has esteemed archaeologist Strasser acquiring a small Peruvian golden statue (The Golden God) called the Cuzcapac. I'm calling it “Goldie” for the sake of simplicity. The prior owner, an Indian named Idilio, is killed off by a duo named Diablo and Maltese, so it's just a matter of time for the next owner to be hunted and killed. The evil exporters are after Goldie and soon make a play on Strasser. Not only do they want Goldie's riches, but also the location of ruins where the statue was found. Big money, big money, no whammies.

Before Strasser is inevitably murdered, he passes Goldie to Stoner in Key West. With the treasure and a semblance of where the ruins are located in Peru, he travels to Buenos Aires to hook-up with Strasser's attractive daughter Ursula. Together, the two strike a bond and travel into the Peru jungles to locate the ruins. Maltese, Diablo and some goons simultaneously strong-arm their trek to the ruins, setting up the impending confrontation for the last 10-pages.

Hayes is a meat and potatoes writer and “The Golden God” emphasizes that. At 180-pages of exotic adventure, soldiers of fortune and buried treasure, Hayes delivers the goods. While the story-line is boiled down, the action is intense and moves at a rapid-fire pace. I read the book in a few hours and was thoroughly entertained. The book's sequel, “The Satan Stone”, is miles better than this, but the series grasps a good foothold here. Those looking for more pulp adventure will find plenty to like in this series.