Showing posts with label Team-Based. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Team-Based. Show all posts

Friday, January 20, 2023

M.I.A. Hunter #10 - Miami Warzone


M.I.A. Hunter was a series of men's action-adventure novels published by Jove in the 1980s and early 1990s. The series was created by Stephen Mertz (Cody's War, Kilroy) and featured his outlines and editing with a revolving door of authors including Joe Lansdale, Arthur Moore, and Mike Newton. Crime-fiction author and popular blogger Bill Crider (1941-2018) contributed as well with his series debut, Miami Warzone. It is the 10th installment, originally published in 1988 and existing today in digital format through Wolfpack Publishing

Miami Warzone is the first domestic appearance of Mark Stone, Terrence Loughlin, and Hog Wiley, the three-man retrieval team effectively known as “M.I.A. Hunter”. The series began with dangerous missions into Southeast Asia to rescue American prisoners held captive from the Vietnam War. Stone's team was working without permission from the U.S. Government, therefore their activities were highly illegal and placed them on a C.I.A. hitlist. But, the American government caught on to Stone's skills in the same way that they caught on to The Executioner. If you can't beat them, join them. So, a U.S. Senator (Harler I think?) in book seven liberates the three hunters and places them on the federal payroll working out of Fort Bragg. You're all caught up now.

In this 10th installment, Crider introduces readers to Jack Wofford, a former teammate of Stone's during the Vietnam War. He even helped to save Stone's life during a nasty firefight at a seemingly abandoned village. In a terrific backstory, Crider tells of how Wofford's brother succumbed to drug addiction and eventually died. To avenge his brother's loss, Wofford went vigilante and began running his own one-man vice-squad. Eventually, he had enough intel and dirt on some of America's most powerful drug dealers. The D.E.A. were impressed with Wofford's talents and placed him on the payroll, similar to what happened with Stone and the C.I.A. But, on a recent undercover buy, Wofford is caught and becomes imprisoned as collateral during a Cuban and Columbian drug war. 

Stone receives a call from Wofford's wife stating that the D.E.A. isn't doing enough to free her husband. The trio takes the job to track down Wofford's whereabouts while also attempting to destroy the drug importing operation devouring Miami. The narrative has a tremendously high body count as the locations include park battlefields, a wild Everglades romp, the ultimate barfight, a mansion blowout, and even a shootout at an airport. 

M.I.A. Hunter isn't Hemingway and never professed to be. Instead, it's a rip-roar, ass-kicking team commando series with explosive action and a slight dose of testosterone humor (Hog is a riot!). As much as I loved the old fashioned “bring 'em back alive” Vietnam rescue missions, the idea of Stone and company working domestically is a nice change of pace. The last two novel locations, the Soviet Union and Nicaragua, were both excellent choices to move this series into another dynamic. Crider's writing style is ultra-violent, but also balances out with a quality story laced with crime-fiction elements, sex, and a buddy cop camaraderie. In other words, this one is a series standout. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Counter-Terror #01 - Hour of the Wolf

The Counter-Terror series, authored by Robert Leader under the pseudonym Robert Charles, was published between 1974 through 1980. The eight-book series was released by Robert Hale in England  and by Pinnacle in the U.S. I enjoyed Leader's stand-alone novel Sea Vengeance, so I was anxious to try this Counter-Terror series debut, Hour of the Wolf. It's compared to the fiction of authors like Eric Ambler and Frederick Forsyth.

After the deadly terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics in 1972, lots of authors began writing “counter terrorist” series and novels. Hour of the Wolf is spawned from that horrific act as a group of Palestinian refugees are banded together in an international terrorist plot. The Wolf is Abdel Rahmin Marani, a veteran of war during Black September in 1970. His quest for bloodshed is an effort to bring attention to Palestine's refugee camps and the atrocities he feels are committed there. 

To combat worldwide terror, a Counter-Terror team is created by the British military. It is coordinated through international channels that involves French and Italian Intelligence, West German State Police, the British military and features the series star, Detective Inspector Mark Nicolson in New Scotland Yard. Collectively, this team will work within their own agencies and divisions, but will also share intelligence on terrorism. The goal is to lower the walls of their own respective authority in an advancement of security, preparation, and planning. 

Hour of the Wolf is less than 200 pages, but divided into three separate parts to fit the trilogy narrative. The first part is the Wolf's recruitment and planning, the second is set in Japan, and the final part situated in London. The operation is rather simple. 

Due to the IRA's frequency of attacks to liberate Northern Ireland, the British population has become desensitized. Shootings, bombings, and senseless murder is so common that the attacks aren't creating the desired impact or reinforcing the message. A small cell of the IRA agrees to detonate a bomb in Japan to gain notoriety in another part of the world. In return, the Japanese terrorist group The Red Army will attack a large population of Jews at an Israeli airport. To complete this nightmare trifecta, the Palestine Liberation Army will attack London. 

The first thing to know is that Hour of the Wolf is pretty darn good. It isn't your rudimentary team-commando series. There's a great deal of intelligence, inner-workings, and networking that takes place over the course of the narrative. It isn't necessarily a slow-burn, but it's not a standard Phoenix Force shoot 'em up. Like Sea Vengeance, the author provides a lot of historical data to cement each character's position. These history lessons were informative, bringing to light the refugee camps, the displacement of non-Jews in that region post-WW2, and the Middle East struggles that still affect the modern world today. 

As a compelling espionage thriller, Hour of the Wolf delivers the goods. While the team members will change, I'm interested in learning more about Mark Nicolson and his ordeals and trials as this series further explores international terrorism. It's a series I'm really excited about, so I'll be searching for the other installments.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Swap

Walter Wager (1924-2004) was an American author of espionage, crime, and adventure fiction. He penned the books inspiring the movies Telefon and Die Hard 2. Under the name John Tiger, he also wrote several media tie-in novels for Mission Impossible and I Spy. His stand-alone 1972 novel Swap was a Cold War espionage heist adventure of the Vietnam war era.

The action opens in combat where American super-soldier David Garrison is 28 days away from the end of his tour in Vietnam. Garrison is a jungle fighter, parachutist, sabotage expert, and ambush maven. He’s like Rambo on steroids (make that additional steroids). Unfortunately, Garrison’s luck runs out when an enemy grenade detonates near him in the ‘Nam forest making his whole world go black.

Fortunately - for the sake of the novel - killing Garrison isn’t that easy. He is airlifted to safety - blind, mute, disfigured and paralyzed - where a U.S. Army brain surgeon named Dr. Bruce Brodsky saves Garrison’s life and mind. Garrison learns that Dr. Brodsky is “at war with war...he wants to kill death with a scalpel...it’s a personal feud.” In any case, Garrison’s war in Vietnam is over. He’s flown to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, where a plastic surgeon gives him a new face - just like Parker, Drake, Bolan and dozens of other men’s adventure paperback heroes.  

Garrison owes his life to Dr. Brosky and seeks out the miracle medic to thank him. After tracking him down, Garrison offers him a favor - anything the surgeon wants. After some cajoling, it turns out that Dr. Brodsky actually does need help. The doctor’s grandfather is a department store tycoon in his 80s who is dying of cancer. Before the old man dies, he wants his 14 year-old great-grand-niece rescued from a Russian orphanage and brought to America to live in freedom. The problem is that back in 1972, the Soviets weren’t enthusiastic about shipping teenage orphans to capitalist America. The old man is willing to pay Garrison $250,000 to snatch the girl from her orphanage and transport her to the USA. Out of loyalty to Dr. Brodsky, Garrison accepts this impossible mission.

En route to the Soviet Union, Garrison stops in Athens and Israel and is able to dispatch terrorist plots in both countries. Once in Moscow, the difficulty of the mission becomes centralized. Grabbing a kid from a Soviet orphanage is harder than you might think. As Garrison’s plan evolves, Swap becomes a team-based heist novel featuring the obligatory Apache soldier, Georgia hillbilly, Israeli killing machine, and sexy babe. Think of them like a smarter, better-written Phoenix Force.

Beyond that, I don't want to give much else away other than to say that this book is so, so good. Wager’s writing is never flashy, and the action moves forward in a compelling, linear fashion. There are great twists and turns along the way and vivid characters who make you want to cheer and jeer. Wager successfully merges the combat, heist, and espionage genres into one, nearly-perfect paperback.  

Many of Wager’s novels have been digitized and reprinted over the past few years, but Swap has yet to be rediscovered by any of the reprint houses. This is a glaring oversight because the novel is simply awesome and will appeal to fans of early Nelson DeMille or classic Alistair MacLean high adventure. Whatever it takes, your mission is to drop everything and get yourself a copy of Swap. Highest recommendation.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Ben Corbin #1: Sgt. Corbin’s War

Among the over 100 books he authored employing a variety of pseudonyms, Con Sellers (1922-1992) wrote a six-book series starring a soldier-turned-CIA operative Ben Corbin under the pen name Robert Crane. The series debut was 1963's Sgt. Corbin’s War and it takes place long before the hero became a spy. 

It’s late in the Korean War, and U.S. Army Sergeant Ben Corbin is an unusual asset for the military. Having been born and raised in Korea by American missionaries, Corbin speaks the Korean language fluently, has a keen understanding of cultural norms, and a spitting hate for North Korean commies. As such, he’s the guy chosen to interrogate North Korean prisoners of war, something he does with a cruel and torturous glee. He’s also an unlikely hero in the novel’s opening scene as he removes the fingernails of an enemy P.O.W. with a sharpened bayonet. Regardless of your opinions on torture, it’s a rough read. 

Corbin has a pessimistic view of U.S. military leadership and believes that the war effort needs a hand-picked unit comprised of a few G.I.s and trusted Republic of Korea soldiers unbound by the red tape of a formal command structure. It would be a unit that could really take it to the NoKos without the handcuffs of the pesky Geneva Convention rules of war. He pitches this idea to a General who grants him low-key permission to form a unit to kill the enemy without any micromanaging. With that blessing, Corbin’s Invader Security Force is born. 

As Corbin begins hand-picking his fighting unit, his first stop is a sexy Korean woman named Kim Chuni, who was a key figure during the resistance against the Japanese rule over Korea that ended in 1945. Nowadays, she’s a black marketeer and underworld figure. Her ostensible job in Corbin’s war unit is interpreter, but her real role is providing intel on the ground as well as having regular sex with Corbin. The rest of Corbin’s Army is Korean fighters and hard-case Americans with a distaste for authority and a taste for blood. 

The battle scenes are vivid, violent and well-written. However, much of the paperback is dedicated to Corbin feeling deeply between the worlds of his Korean upbringing and his American blood. He’s also struggling with the legacy of a strict religious father whose evangelism left deep scars in Corbin. The overwritten trajectory of the romantic partnership of Corbin and Kim mostly left me cold as well. 

Overall, Sgt. Corbin’s War was just okay. Our friends at Spy Guys and Gals website say it’s the highlight of the series. As such, I don’t see much need to dive deeper into the world of Ben Corbin

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

S.O.B.s #01 - The Barrabus Run

Author Jack Canon spent a majority of his action-adventure storytelling career firmly planted in the Nick Carter: Killmaster series. Canon penned over 40 novels of the series in the 1980s, but he was also contributing to a team-based combat series for Gold Eagle called S.O.B.s. The series debut, The Barrabus Run, features not only Canon but also two additional authors – David Wade (Executioner, Super Bolan) and Robin Hardy – all writing as Jack Hild. This team-commando series was published from 1983 through 1989 with a total of 33 installments. The Barrabus Run is my starting point with this beloved series.

The book's opening chapters introduces two key characters, protagonist Nile Barrabas and eventual team liaison and C.I.A. operative Walker Jessup. This early narrative explains that Barrabas was in the U.S. military from 1958 through his retirement in 1975. His career included extensive training at West Point before joining Special Warfare Training in Fort Bragg and Panama. The advancement led to his placement in a Vietnam Special Forces team. During the conflict, Barrabas received Silver Stars, a Distinguished Service Cross and the eventual Medal of Honor. Then he seemingly disappeared.

Now, Walker Jessup works for a shadowy Senator running administrative duties and delegating high-powered personnel into high-intensity situations. The Senator asks Jessup to run an operation in South Africa. There, the people of Kaluba are subjected to a puppet dictator and the U.S. wants to establish a different leader in his place – Noboctu. Only he is now being held prisoner by the puppet dictator's chief rival, a notorious terrorist named Mogabe. Mogabe wants to become the new dictator and is holding Noboctu prisoner until after Kaluba's elections are over. Follow me?

The formation of S.O.B.s (Sons of Barrabas or Soldiers of Barrabas) originates when this Senator requests that Jessup create a team of specialists who can do his international bidding. The team, described as a dirty strike-force, will perform assignments and tasks that are beneficial to America's security as well as its allies. To lead the group, Jessup picks Barrabas. The problem is that Barrabas has been off the radar performing international mercenary jobs. His most recent venture led to captivity in a Latin American prison awaiting execution. Jessup finds Barrabas there and makes him a deal. He'll spring Barrabas, ultimately saving his life, if Barrabas will come work for Jessup. 

Barrabas agrees to the deal and makes arrangements to recruit ten hardened operatives who fulfill the checklist for a team-based combat series – explosives, driver, sailor, Native American, general commando, etc. The wildcard is a female specialist who also serves as a doctor. The whole team makes for a dirty dozen.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the hell out of this series debut. I typically like my team-combat titles to feature no more than five members. It's easier to keep up with and a quick read through the recruitment stages. However, this trio of authors really made the recruitment compelling, an asset made even more valuable by making them a bit more vulnerable than the stereotypical “invincible white hats”. The obligatory training and exercise segments was paired with a narrative that featured Barrabas on solo assignments scoring guns, bombs and transportation. Otherwise, 11 people training for combat could have been uninspiring. 

When the mission begins, the authors never tap the brakes and provide for an explosive good time that served two distinct purposes – enjoyment and introducing a series villain in Karl Heiss.

If you love team-combat titles, S.O.B.s certainly seems like an easy choice. Based on this excellent debut, the series seems to possess the correct ratio of dialogue versus action. While this trio of authors will fragment, Robin Hardy takes over most of the series installments going forward. I hope to purchase and review more installments in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Hard Corps #01 - The Hard Corps

After their re-branding from Pyramid, the Jove publishing house experienced a retail bonanza in the mid-1980s. At the height of post-Vietnam War action films like Missing in Action and Platoon, Jove launched a plethora of hard-hitting, hi-octane team-commando series titles like M.I.A. Hunter and The Guardians as well as the novelizations for Rambo II and III. Another series title that Jove introduced to the market was The Hard Corps. It ran eight total installments from 1986 through 1989 and was written under the house name of Chuck Bainbridge. In reality, the series was mostly written by William Fieldhouse (M.I.A. Hunter) and Chris Lowder (Deathlands #01). Fieldhouse's efforts are mostly the early volumes with Lowder writing the series' later installments. The eponymous debut, The Hard Corps, is my first experience with the series.

At 320-pages, this paperback is loaded from cover to cover with action. The book begins with The Hard Corps team liberating a Mexican couple from a terrorist group for a million bucks. This early onslaught showcases the five-man team in their element – violently blowing away the bad guys. After the mission, readers are introduced to the team and the series premise.

The Hard Corps is led by William O' Neal, a former Green Beret captain who excels in all combat situations. John McShayne is the team's primary caregiver, a Korean War vet that handles inventory, cooking and some accounting. Joe Fanelli is the obligatory explosives guy. James Wentworth is O'Neal's second in command and a samurai sword expert. Rounding out the bunch is Steve Caine, my personal favorite. Caine is sort of a loner, a survivalist who is comfortable in the wilderness, an expert in blades and designs various traps to ensnare and kill enemies.

These five guys are all Vietnam vets who served together as a fighting force in Southeast Asia. Now they are mercenaries with a unique relationship with the U.S. government. The C.I.A. and F.B.I. promise to leave The Hard Corps alone as long as they share their valuable intel and also agree to do a few odd jobs for the U.S. brass every so often. The team's C.I.A. liaison is a guy nicknamed Saintly.

The Hard Corps are probably the most organized and efficient team in action-adventure literature. Their compound is located in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest. It's here that they live, train, park their choppers and do all of the mission planning. As such, it's unusual when a small team of Vietnamese rebels land a chopper at the team's headquarters.

Unbeknownst to O'Neal and company, Saintly has instructed these rebels to find safety with the Hard Corps. The reasoning behind the safekeeping is that these rebels are being hunted by almost 100 Vietnamese government operatives. Before you groan and ask how this many communist soldiers are in the U.S. undetected, let me stop you. You see the Soviet Union's K.G.B. operatives have secret locations along the Pacific coast. It's easy for the K.G.B. to assist in getting these Vietnamese operatives through the U.S.'s southern border undetected. With this many assassins hunting the freedom fighters, the Hard Corps quickly realize that their unwanted guests have brought plenty of baggage. Their entire compound is surrounded and the rebels are their target.

Fieldhouse uses this double-sized debut to not only tell a story but to also dedicate whole chapters to each team member. In long backstories, Fieldhouse showcases each member's childhood and their natural evolution from the streets to the jungle. Some stories were captivating while others were a bit of a snooze. The book's central focus is simply The Hard Corps holding off waves of enemy forces with high-capacity guns and Earth-quaking explosives. The author's descriptions of guns and other weaponry was thankfully held to a minimum but the violence factor was amped pretty high. This series isn't for the squeamish.

At 320-pages, I mostly enjoyed the book but honestly skipped through some of the biographical sections. With so many of these titles, and so little time, I wanted the meat and potatoes action more than an emotional war story about brothers in arms. Regardless, The Hard Corps is one of the better 80s team-commando series titles and remains fairly respected decades later. If you like Phoenix Force, Eagle Force and S.O.B.s, you'll be at home with The Hard Corps.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 12, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 86

On Episode 86 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we explore team-based action adventure series including Phoenix Force, Alpha Team, SOBs, and so many more. This is a jam-packed episode that men’s adventure paperback fans won’t want to miss. Listen on any podcast app or www.paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 86: Action-Adventure Teams" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Protectors #01 - The Petrova Twist

Sometimes referred to as the “Stephen King” of young adult fiction, Robert Lawrence Stine (R.L. Stine) is a true literary icon. He's written a number of young adult horror series titles like Goosebumps, Rotten School, The Nightmare Room, Fear Street, Mostly Ghostly as well as dozens of stand-alone titles. As Jovial Bob Stine, the author has released a slew of humorous joke books. In addition to his own creations, Stine has contributed series entries for G.I. Joe, Man-Thing, Masters of the Universe and the movie novelizations for Ghostbusters II, Spaceballs and Big Top Pee-Wee. How does any of this interest Men's Action-Adventure fans?

In February 1987, Scholastic published the first of a two book series called The Protectors. It was titled The Petrova Twist and was written by Stine under the pseudonym Zachary Blue. The idea was to cash in on the men's team-based commando popularity of the time period. Able Team, Phoenix Force, S.O.B. and other long-running series titles had tremendous marketing success in the 1980s. Using that idea, complete with similarly themed cover art, Stine introduced a team of high-school kids who are employed by the U.S. government to fight international crime. 

Here's the line-up:

- Matt O'Neal – He's an engineering genius. Think of Gadgets Schwarz of Able Team.

- Lu Golden – The martial arts guy from Vietnam.

- Riana Riggs – African-American girl with a photographic memory.

- Micky Malano – She's the master of disguises. A less violent Death Merchant Richard Camellion.

- John Wendell Waterford IV – The wealthy guy who can rub shoulders with high society.

In the book's opening chapters, each of these high-school students receive a special invitation from The White House to attend a special awards ceremony celebrating their tremendous academic success. Oddly, they can't bring any adults, and it's a solo trip for each of them (the 80s were so safe). 

Once they arrive in Washington D.C., the kids meet each other in a strange warehouse where they are introduced to Tiger Browne. He informs the kids that they have been carefully selected to serve in a government agency called CENTRAL. This agency will combat international crime and assist other government agencies on special assignments. Without any training, the team is assigned the task of helping a Soviet gymnast named Elena Petrova defect to the U.S. Will they succeed?

Mostly this book is fairly lousy. At almost 200-pages, the entire narrative takes place at an auditorium or the kids' hotel. This tight location setting left me feeling confined and limited in my imagination. Granted this is a young adult novel, I still found the action to be very minimal compared to other kids' fiction. Essentially, the team has no experience, receives no training or guidance and botches the whole thing up from start to finish. These types of high-octane action novels aren't meant to be plausible and The Protectors proclaims that limitation with an astounding voice. The entire plot is just senseless. There's a swerve ending that clears up most of my confusion regarding the narrative and story-line but I was still really disappointed. 

The last few pages of this book sets up the idea that CENTRAL becomes the elite PROTECTORS and must fight a terrorist group called CONQUEST in the next book, The Jet Fighter Trap. I'll probably still read it because I'm a completest, but you can do so much better with this genre.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, January 25, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 75

On Episode 75 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, the guys discuss Canyon O’Grady, Ledru Baker Jr., Able Team, Bagging Books, Longarm, Trailsman, Robert Randisi, and more! Listen on any podcast app or at www.paperbackwarrior.com, or download directly HERE:

Friday, December 4, 2020

Phoenix Force #01 - Argentine Deadline

In 1981, Don Pendleton's The Executioner was redefined by publisher Gold Eagle as a new series of international espionage thrillers. Mack Bolan's vigilante characteristics remained, but with the 39th installment, The New War, the series shifted to Bolan working as a government operative named John Phoenix. This seismic change in the series led to Gold Eagle introducing two new series in 1982 – Able Team and Phoenix Force. I tackled the debut Able Team book recently and wanted to give the same treatment to Phoenix Force. This time, I was hoping for a much more enjoyable reading experience.

Phoenix Force's debut novel, Argentine Deadline, was authored by science-fiction writer Robert Hoskins using the house-name tandem of Don Pendleton & Gar Wilson. The novel is the quintessential origin tale centered around Mack Bolan's recruitment of five super-soldiers:

David McCarter – British commando expert with a background as an SAS officer.

Gary Manning – Canadian explosives expert.

Rafael Encizo – Cuban-American expert with a penchant for underwater warfare.

Yakov “Katz” or “Yak” Katzenelenbogen – French-Israeli battle-scarred warrrior.

Kelo Ohara – Japanese martial arts expert.

The introductions to the characters is summarized in the narrative as a round-table first-time meeting with Bolan to discuss the team, long-term goals and the group's first mission. These five commandos are tasked with locating and liberating seven members of a joint peace-keeping think-tank. These men, and one woman, were invited to romantic Argentina by the country's over-taxed government. But instead of a warm welcome and an open exchange of ideas, the scholars are abducted by the terrorist group Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP) and taken into captivity as bargaining chips in a robust ransom scheme.

What I really enjoyed about this series debut is the central idea that Phoenix Force is fully backed by the government and utilizes a number of weapons caches and military offshoots to accomplish their mission (or die trying). The book's main stars are McCarter and Manning, a fighting duo who does much of the heavy lifting throughout the narrative. Nearly all of the characters star in solo missions that incur heavy firefights in the quest for information. These solo missions are really effective in displaying each character's strengths combined with their background.

While I felt that the villains were a little weak (but much stronger than something like S-Com), the narrative and plot-points were a real pleasure to consume. Argentine Deadline is a far more superior series debut than Able Team's Tower of Terror, which was released in the same month. I'm sure I will have plenty to like and dislike about both series titles as I navigate further into the expansive Bolan universe. But with a firm opening foothold, Argentine Deadline is a solid step in the right direction.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 9, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 69

The Paperback Warrior Podcast recognizes Veteran’s Day on today’s episode on World War 2 Adventure Fiction. Also: Stephen Mertz, Max Allan Collins, G.H. Otis, Edward S. Aarons, and more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com, or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 69: World War 2 Fiction" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Soldier of Fortune #05 - First Blood

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Eagle Force #06 - Berserker

The 1980s proved to be a successful era for author Dan Schmidt. Beginning in 1986, Schmidt began contributing to the Mack Bolan universe with an astounding 40-installments across The Executioner, Stony Man and Mack Bolan product line. The busy author also launched a series of team-based combat novels called Killsquad that ran 10-books from 1986 through 1988. Of the author's extensive catalog of violent, bloody literary works, perhaps my favorite was the Eagle Force series. Like Killsquad, it was a team-based combat series and featured four ex-CIA members working as freelance mercenaries. The series lasted nine novels from 1989-1991 and was published by Bantam. I've slowly been collecting these books over the years and I was happy to finally locate the sixth installment, 1990's Berserker.

The first five novels of the series tied up some loose ends involving Eagle Force leader Vic Gabriel and his quest to learn how his father was betrayed and killed on covert operations in Vietnam. The climactic conclusion to that story arc was the emphasis of Ring of Fire. Berserker is the first of the series to feature a full-length action mission without the backstory baggage.

In the book's first chapter, a seemingly invincible man commences to sprint across the White House grounds. Using just brute strength and a primal rage, the man begins tearing at the frantic Secret Service men while absorbing a barrage of bullets. After the carnage, the chapter reveals that the man's furious assault was a final experiment performed by the KGB under top secret clearance from Soviet High Command. Project Berserker, in collaboration with East Germany, was created to modify human soldiers into savage, flesh tearing combatants that can be used to destroy villages, small cities and most importantly, military installations. It's like Marvel Comic's Weapon X program that created the Wolverine character...but only really, really evil. And communist.

Dan Schmidt utilizes the vile Berserkers as the perfect enemy for his rejuvenated Eagle Force. However, the author creates a number of fire-fights and smaller battles as foreplay before the bullet-orgy with the Kremlin and Project Berserker. The first of these battles is with a tactical mercenary unit calling themselves the German Fury. The mid-section of Schmidt's narrative focuses on Eagle Forces assault on a remote Greek island and their action-packed gunfight with the SPETSNAZ, an elite Soviet fighting force.

Berserker is another exciting installment of the Eagle Force series. The author's commitment to “brand new” adventures after five prior novels of backstory - using annoying recollections presented in italic fonts – was a much needed change. Because of that, readers receive 132-pages dedicated to Eagle Force versus Soviets, mercs and beastly soldiers. It's over-the-top, slightly deranged and completely unrealistic, three traits that make Dan Schmidt's writing so much fun. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Crime Commandoes

British author Peter Cave (born 1940) was both a newspaper reporter and editor before transitioning into writing full-length novels. The majority of his literary work was in the 1970s and 1980s under his own name as well as the pseudonym Petra Christian. He contributed to three installments of the “New Avengers” television novelizations in the late 1970s. Fascinated by the “Easy Rider” culture, Cave wrote a hand-full of biker novels beginning with 1971's “Chopper”. Beginning in the mid-80s, Cave authored five books as tie-ins to one of the U.K.'s longest running television shows, “Taggart”. My first experience with Cave is a 1976 team-based commando novel titled “The Crime Commandoes”. It was printed by Everest, a British publisher run by author Ken Follett (“The Pillars of the Earth”).

In the book's author notes, “The Crime Commandoes” was actually a pilot novel for an expected series of team-based combat adventures. The paperback even has the obligatory team member names and skill-sets printed on the back cover. It had all of the ingredients for a series...except for successful sales numbers. It's my guess that the debut didn't receive enough consumer demand to warrant additional installments. Nevertheless, the book is surprisingly a lot of fun.

Paul Crane is a Detective Inspector working long nights in London. As the book opens, Crane arrives to a crime scene to find a slain young woman. Shortly afterwards, a constable arrives with the prime suspect. After Crane's questioning, the man admits to killing the woman after she asked him for money. In an explosive rage, Crane brutally beats the man. With plenty of witnesses, Crane is brought to his superiors where he's chastised for allowing his pending divorce, alcoholism and depression to bring about a downward spiral of police brutality. He's suspended from the force with orders to get his life cleaned up.

After a few days, Crane is summoned to a special council with a man named Grant. The idea is to form an “urban guerrilla” force featuring four of London's most controversial law enforcement officers. Crane's is given free reign to use whatever methods he chooses for targeting high-profile criminals and terrorist cells across England. He'll receive weapons, supplies, targets and support. 

The catch is that Crane must be publicly arrested for taking bribes and placed on trial. With some agency resources, Crane will become owner of the notorious Blackball Club, one of London's seediest criminal dives. The trial will provide a light sentence and Crane will officially be terminated from service. It's an orchestrated bit of theater that places Crane into an undercover operative role while allowing him to mingle with other criminal cohorts at the Blackball. Does Crane accept? It wouldn't be much of a story if he didn't.

Joining Crane's Crime Commandoes:

Cornish – History of insubordination in the Army, former boxer. Bomb disposal skills.

Lake – Former police sergeant, terminated for brutal tactics. Explosives and fighting prowess.

Babsley – Police officer, terminated for attacking his superintendent. Fighting specialty.

Jelly – The fifth member is a bomb-sniffing dog that's rejected his handlers. His talents...he's a dog!

The team's first and only assignment is tracking down a terrorist cell calling themselves Apocalypse. After blowing up several buildings throughout London, the team begins researching patterns and studying the cryptic messages that are phoned to the newspapers. After eventually narrowing down the target area, the terrorists are forced to change their agenda from bombing to kidnapping. After Crane's team begins negotiating with the terrorists, a link is formed to a heavyweight drug dealer named Panosa. But is he the leader of the cell or just an ally? It's this question that leads into an explosive finale as the team fights Apocalypse on land, sea and air.

I read and reviewed a 1981 team-based commando novel called “Terror in Turin” by Robert McGarvey earlier this year. It was the debut of a six-book series called 'S-Com'. The story-line of that novel is very similar to what Peter Cave offers with “Crime Commandoes”. Peter Cave produces a winning formula whereas McGarvey failed to produce engaging characters, a propulsive narrative or a believable villain. 

The Crime Commandoes formulate sound counter-terrorism strategies to fight a formidable foe in Apocalypse. It was extremely satisfying to find that this author doesn't restrain the good guys. In fact, he elevates the violence and body count as the heroes attempt to decimate the enemy. While I would have enjoyed more emphasis on properly introducing half of the team, I did enjoy Cave's focus on Crane and Cornish. Dog lovers will be frustrated that Jelly doesn't really make an impact on the storytelling.

Overall, “The Crime Commandoes” was an excellent, action-packed novel that should have produced more installments. Maybe Cave has another two or three unpublished series manuscripts that author and publisher Lee Goldberg will unearth 15-years from now. I'm hopeful there's more to these characters than just this sole adventure. One is a dreadful, lonely number.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

The Mercenaries #01 - Black Blood

British author John Harvey's most notable literary work is a series of police procedural novels starring Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick. The series began in 1989 with Lonely Hearts and ran an impressive 13 installments through 2014. In the early 1970s, Harvey wrote two biker-adventure novels under the name Thom Ryder and also authored a three-book WW2 series called Death Shop. My first experience with the author is his The Mercenaries series of team-based combat novels written under the pseudonym Jon Hart. The series ran five total installments with the debut paperback, Black Blood, published in 1977 by Mayflower.

Black Blood has an auspicious beginning as the author introduces a character named Dick Thompson, a young boy who's being brutalized by his peers. After the beating, Thompson returns home where he discovers his mother is having adult-relations with a man. As Thompson runs out of the house, he collides with his father. Fast-forward to present day and we find Thompson working in Africa as a mercenary. Through thick foliage, Thompson spies a black woman breastfeeding her baby. Cautiously, Thompson enters the hut, rapes the woman, threatens her baby at knife-point and then leaves. The odd thing is that Thompson is a Lieutenant in the author's band of mercenaries called Five Commando.

I was hoping for something remarkable considering Harvey's respectability as a talented author. However, once another character was introduced as antisemitic and the son of a Nazi soldier who assisted in the mass extermination of Jews, I was immediately turned off. With Black Blood, the author's idea was to establish an action-adventure series starring criminals. Five Commando is made up of despicable characters that are led by a cunning negotiator named Major Kane. The debut mission is Kane's contract with an African leader who is attempting to resist a strong rebellion. After hiring Kane's mercenaries for 70 pages, Five Commando kills all of the rebels and take on a second mission of protecting a monastery of nuns. By the 100th page, I had completely lost interest.

At 125-pages, this book was the pits. The writing was disjointed and unnecessarily gory. Often I had trouble placing where the team members were in battle and in some cases I couldn't ascertain whether Kane had just five Mercenaries or five-hundred. There were brief portions of the narrative where team members are interacting with other allies. This was extremely confusing from a reader's perspective and left me disenchanted with the storytelling. The end result is a low-brow fictional effort that shouldn't be in your hands on or on your bookshelf. We have a special place for these abysmal literary efforts – the Paperback Warrior Hall of Shame. Black Blood, welcome to your permanent home.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Able Team #01 - Tower of Terror

With The Executioner's overwhelming retail success, it was just a matter of time before publisher Gold Eagle would expand the Mack Bolan universe. In June 1982, Gold Eagle launched two successful spinoff series - 'Able Team' and 'Phoenix Force'. The publisher used The Executioner's creator, Don Pendleton, on the covers of the first three novels of each series as a co-author. Of course the author had no hand in the writing, it was only a marketing scheme to lure consumers familiar with the Pendleton name. Instead, house names were assigned to each series: Gar Wilson for Phoenix Force and Dick Stivers for Able Team. Like the later Bolan installments, the books were really penned by a revolving door of authors. We're examining the debut Able Team book, “Tower of Terror”, authored by L.R. Payne. It was the first of 51 total series installments.

In the Vietnam War, Sergeant Mack Bolan commanded a special forces unit called Team Able. Much later, Bolan's crusade against the mafia warranted Bolan to call upon his old team again. These events occurred in “The Executioner #02: Death Squad”. Unfortunately, the entire team was killed in that battle except Bolan, Rosario “ Politician” Blancanales and Herman “Gadgets” Schwarz. Both of these former members have served Bolan periodically throughout his war (and the book series). Carl Lyons is a former Los Angels Police Sergeant that became Bolan's ally during his West Coast mob fight. Under the direction of Bolan and Stony Farm director Hal Brognola, these three men combine as a trio to fight criminal cells within the U.S. Thus, Able Team is born.

In the series debut, a Puerto Rican terrorist group called FALN have claimed a Wall Street skyscraper. Thankfully, they chose to do this on a Saturday morning when the building is mostly empty. Quickly the terrorists commandeer the facility and plant bombs on nearly every floor. A Vietnam Vet turned business executive ushers a dozen employees to safety on one of the building's higher floors and the call goes out that the building is wired to blow. The NYPD calls the FBI who then calls Stony Man to get Able Team on the scene.

The problem lies in the fact that Able Team spends 160-pages of this 187-page novel running all over town hunting clues on who the terrorists are. Mercifully, they arrive at the building as the book closes but only have a brief encounter with the primary villains. This is acceptable if the hunting was more of a character developing storyline that delved into police procedural. Maybe it is my love of Mid-20th Century crime-noir, but I found the investigation to be a sluggish exercise with very little to offer readers. Gadgets played with gadgets, Lyons rode around in a cab and Politician seemed like an unnecessary character here.

Needless to say, I hated this book. I counted the pages down just hoping it would end or the book would spontaneously combust. It isn't Hall of Shame material, but it is safe to say 'Able Team' was unable to fulfill my reading pleasure. Perhaps another author will produce a different result. I'm in no hurry to find out.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, February 28, 2020

S-Com #01 - Terror in Turin

By the early 1970s, the team-based commando theme had become a popular market for men's action-adventure paperbacks to explore. The idea probably stemmed from military fiction, but became increasingly more prevalent after Don Pendleton's second 'Executioner' installment, “Death Squad”. By the 1980s, the sub-genre hit its pinnacle with titles like 'S.O.B.', 'M.I.A Hunter' and 'Phoenix Force” among others. To capitalize, Warner Books launched their “Men of Action” line of paperbacks and one of their creations was an obligatory team-based series called 'S-Com' (short for Strategic Commandos). The publisher hired freelance writer Robert McGarvey to author all six volumes under the house name Steve White. The series debut, “Terror in Turin”, was published in 1981.

The five-member team is led by Stone Williams, a Yale graduate who excelled as a soldier in Vietnam and later inherited his father's lucrative business. After contemplating a mercenary life, Williams forms S-Com to fight the good fight internationally. The team is rather diverse:

Myles – African-American who served with Williams in 'Nam. Martial arts.

Leah – Israeli, the only female member.
Acrobatic and uses throwing stars.

Lucky – Cuban defector. Explosives.

Rod – Australian mercenary. Comedic big man.

The “Terror in Turin” stems from a terrorist group called “Seventh Mao Force”. It's leader, Vincent Teresio, introduces readers to his communist ideology by blowing up an Italian post-office. Partnered with his girlfriend Gina, Teresio then murders Turin's police chief before shoplifting celebratory bread and wine from a nearby grocery store. However, readers quickly learn that the terrorist group is actually just one guy – Teresio. The explosives used to demolish the post-office were just some sticks of dynamite stolen from a construction site. In fact, other than an AK-47, Teresio has no fighting ability or any other weaponry. How could the author possibly validate such a weak foe for a team of five hardened heroes?

Teresio targets the owner of an Italian auto company, Salvatore DiGrazia. In a botched kidnapping, Teresio grabs Salvatore's daughter Maria and scampers off to his crumbling residence to make the ransom call - $50 million in cash for Maria's safe return. With the police written as just foolish fodder, Leah becomes involved and the entire team quickly hits Turrin to stop the terrorist. Due to the author's weak villain, the majority of the book focuses on S-Com picking a fight with the local mob. While the team searches for a formidable foe, Teresio spends his days playing grab-ass with Maria while threatening rape. Thankfully, on page 154 the team actually confronts Teresio and the whole book mercifully concludes on page 159.

Needless to say, “Terror in Turin” is the first Hall of Shame entry of 2020. Don't waste your life reading a page of this nonsense. I've already sacrificed enough time for the both of us. This series is abysmal.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 24, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 32

This week we are doing a deep-dive into the life and work of Richard Deming, including a review of his novel, “She’ll Hate Me Tomorrow.”  The first installment of the “Able Team” series is also reviewed, and Eric discusses his brush with fame when he finally spoke to Men’s Adventure cover model Jason Savas about his remarkable career in the publishing industry. Stream the episode below or your favorite podcast app. Download the episode directly HERE.
  Listen to "Episode 32: Richard Deming" on Spreaker.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Special Operations Command #01 - Special Operations Command

'Special Operations Command' was a six-volume series of men's action-adventure novels authored by James N. Pruitt and published by Berkley. Pruitt was a former U.S. Army Green Beret master sergeant and winner of the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars and five Purple Hearts. The Vietnam War veteran also wrote three stand-alone novels of military fiction as well as a short-lived series of NASCAR fiction paperbacks. My first experience with the author is the eponymous series debut “Special Operations Command” from 1990.

In this series opener, the author introduces the two core members of “SOCOM”, Major B.J. Mattson and Lieutenant Commander Jacob Mortimer IV. In backstory segments, readers learn that Mattson is a career soldier with multiple campaigns as a Green Beret in Vietnam. Mortimer is a distinguished Navy Seal with a majority of his battle experience in Latin America and the Middle East. The two have united under General Johnson's plan to create a diverse, superstar team that can analyze, lead and execute international missions for the U.S. military. While Mattson and Mortimer will perform a supervisory role, they are both willing to suit up for the team's first mission.

In the oil-rich, Ecuadorian town of Lago Agrio, Cuban commie fighters penetrate a dictator's fortress in hopes of kidnapping Juan Garces, the Minister of Finance. In a frenzied (and extremely perverted) exchange, the fighters end up killing Garces and instead foolishly kidnap the U.S. Counsel General. Later, in an attempt to return the Counsel General unharmed, the group of fighters are setup by Ecuador’s dictator who hopes to capitalize on the kidnapping. By creating turbulence between the U.S. and Havana, he hopes to enrich his pockets with more criminal funds while the spotlight is firmly on the hostage ordeal. Once he detonates one of his own oil fields, SOCOM is called in to negotiate.

Unlike other team-commando based entries such as 'Eagle Force' or 'Phoenix Force', Pruitt showcases a hint of techno-thriller writing. Most of the book's action is presented as board room meetings and briefings from a high level. Eventually the boots hit the dirt, but for the most part they remain unsoiled as planning and execution remain the narrative's focal point. Due to the author's vast military experience, occasionally some sequences were lost on me. This wasn't a major disconnect, but still distracted me from the story.

“Special Operations Command” was an enjoyable debut for a series that I look forward to exploring periodically. With only six novels, I may read one a year just to preserve the enjoyment. If you are a men's action-adventure reader looking for something to split the difference between Chet Cunningham and Tom Clancy, this series and author may be exactly what you're seeking.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 3, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 29

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 29’s feature is about Australia’s popular Larry Kent series. Eric reviews S-Com #1, and Tom presents an early rarity by David Hagberg. The guys also ponder what makes a paperback “vintage” as well as an impromptu discussion of Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch series and non-fiction reference books. Stream it below or on your favorite podcast app. Direct downloads are HERE.

Listen to "Episode 29: Larry Kent" on Spreaker.