Showing posts with label Vietnam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vietnam. Show all posts

Monday, June 12, 2023

Winter Marines, The (aka Winter's Coming, Winter's Gone)

Allen Glick served two tours of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps during America's involvement in the Vietnam War. He survived the 1968 TET Offensive and the siege of Khe Sahn. After the war, he became a master carpenter, and a high school English teacher. During this time, Glick was also a writer, penning four original novels. Based on his Vietnam War experience, he authored the fictional novel Winter's Coming, Winter's Gone. The book was originally published in 1984 as a hardcover by Eakin Press, but thankfully was reprinted as The Winter Marines, a mass market paperback by Bantam in 1987. It is now available in ebook format. 

At nearly 350-pages, The Winter Marines, is divided into two time periods featuring protagonist David Schrader. The first-half thrusts the nineteen-year old Schrader into the steamy, war-torn jungles of Vietnam in 1966. The book's second-half focuses on Schrader's post-war civilian life in Austin, Texas in 1979. Separating the two halves is a 20-page layover with Schrader in Florida in 1972. 

In Vietnam, Glick's experiences are conveyed to the reader through the fictional, battle-weary eyes of young David Schrader. Through the grueling patrols, intense firefights, bombings, and death, the narrative explores Schrader's resolve in battle and his camaraderie with his fellow soldiers. The author focuses on Vietnam's history, with a South Vietnamese family man named Li relaying his family's role in Vietnam's military campaigns, including the violent French involvement, to Schrader and his brothers-in-arms. There is some racial tension in the book's opening half which explores the Latino, African-American, and Caucasian bitterness, both a disturbing plot point and a reminder of just how far from home and far apart the Americans were despite the togetherness during the battle.

Post-war, Schrader's job as a bartender in Texas is a stark contrast to commanding soldiers and coordinating airstrikes using multi-million dollar equipment. Like a lot of Vietnam veterans, Schrader is suffering with PTSD. Exhausted from nightmares and a lack of sleep, Schrader's life is a cycle of lethargic, pointless activities that challenge his ability to simply rise and exist each day. Thankfully, he has a love interest and a close friendship with one of his war buddies. This second-half of Glick's narrative explores the fringes of drug abuse, alcoholism, and criminality, but shines a spotlight on the unfair condemnation heaped on Schrader and his fellow soldiers back home. Sadly, it's an accurate, historic look at a dark place in American history. 

If you are a military-fiction or non-fiction scholar, The Winter Marines is an obligatory read. There are plenty of autobiographies and accounts of the Vietnam War from many different perspectives. But, from the little I've read, Allen Glick's is one of the most realistic and alarming. While sometimes a tough read, it can also be an encouraging one. Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Executioner #104 - Devil's Horn

Remember the one where Mack Bolan becomes the star of the Chuck Norris “bring'em back” alive flick Missing in Action? Well, it never happened, but it should have based on Dan Schmidt's The Executioner installment Devil's Horn (1987), the 104th book in the series. Like a combination of Missing in Action, Rambo 2, and an installment of MIA Hunter, Devil's Horn deposits Bolan and Jack Grimaldi in a Southeast Asia Hellhole as prisoners in a drug cartel's brutal labor camp. Interested? Read on.

When Devil's Horn begins, Bolan is in The Bowery, the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island, trailing the origins of a massive amount of domestic drug imports. His trail leads to Ronny Brennan, a top-tier drug dealer with arms in various criminal factions as a Mob businessman. After Bolan destroys a drug warehouse, he pressures Brennan to reveal the source of a huge opium farm in Thailand. After a furious firefight, Bolan forces Brennan to ride shotgun as drug enforcers and low-level dealers tail the two to a local airstrip where Grimaldi is waiting. Quickly, Bolan and Brennan climb aboard as Grimaldi rockets the trio to Southeast Asia. 

With a large load of armament and equipment, Grimaldi's plane flies over the whereabouts of the drug farm. But, he gets a little too low and the plane is shot down on the outskirts of the farm. While pushing Brennan into the bush, both Grimaldi and Bolan attempt to escape the onslaught of waves of Vietnamese soldiers, hired mercenaries, prison sentries, and drug enforcers. In a scene right out of Rambo 2, Bolan and Grimaldi climb a hill to make a final stand against the invading forces. Eventually, the two are forced to surrender and are ushered into the living Hell of prison life in the jungle. 

A sadistic warlord named Torquemandan controls the Thai drug farm and has two top henchman inflicting years of punishment on the farm's prisoners. Bolan and Grimaldi discover that a large majority of the prisoners are American military prisoners-of-war that have been transported into Thailand by the Vietnamese government. Bolan also learns that there's a CIA spook imprisoned as well as many South Vietnamese prisoners that were allies to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. 

The orientation outlines what Bolan and Grimaldi will expect in their new lives. The duo will join the other prisoners as slave labor. They work from dawn until dusk scraping the sap off of poppy seeds (opium) and placing it in buckets. Their only nourishment is a handful of rice and a cup of water at dinner. Most of the prisoners are on the verge of death and are routinely beaten, whipped, tortured, and killed. Bolan is warned by the prisoners to never eat the meat that is served with the rice - it's the cooked flesh of the prisoners that are executed! After the harvest season, the prisoners will carry 100-pounds of opium on their backs and forced to march 200 miles to deliver it. Most will then be executed or die of exhaustion. 

I read Dan Schmidt's Eagle Force installment Death Camp Columbia years ago and loved it for all of the same reasons I loved Devil's Horn. I enjoy Schmidt's workmanlike writing style and his use of ultra-violent prison settings for both of these novels. Death Camp Columbia was authored just two years after Devil's Horn, and features a similar premise when the four-man mercenary team Eagle Force becomes imprisoned in a Columbian jungle Hell. It was obvious that Devil's Horn served as a template for that particular novel. 

Schmidt is an on-the-nose writer that uses a low dose of gun-porn to describe and detail the harrowing action sequences in his men's action-adventure novels. His style incorporates a violent, gory combination laced with plenty of brutal scenes of torture and dismemberment. If you need “brains bashed into pulpy matter” then Schmidt is your guy. He was an active Bolan scribe and had a great handle on the high-numbered version of the character. In Devil's Horn, Schmidt also incorporates a human element to Bolan's suffering, but also a sympathetic, endearing quality to Bolan's love of American soldiers and the overpowering need to free the prisoners-of-war. I also enjoyed both Grimaldi and Bolan's chemistry while enduring the harsh elements and horrendous torture dished out by Torquemandan's henchmen. Needless to say, good things come to those who wait. The inevitable confrontation was worth the price of admission and felt like a satisfying conclusion to one of the most violent Executioner novels I've read. Devil's Horn is an absolute must-read if you love Mack Bolan

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Yet Another Voice

Reading military non-fiction is somewhat challenging for me. The fact is that these are real-life, harrowing accounts of action, adventure, and heroism, far from the fantasy escapism I like to indulge in. But, at the same time, I respect it and value its purpose in revealing freedom's cost, the sacrifices made by veterans, and the historical impact of these accounts. Sometimes they can be uplifting experiences and others a dismal journey into despair and ruin. I mostly read fiction to escape my 9-5 existence, but from time to time I delve into a non-fiction book to ground me to reality. I purchased Yet Another Voice from a friend, a 112 page Leisure paperback from 1975 that is a non-fiction account of the author's six years experience as a prison-of-war in Vietnam

Col. Norman A. McDaniel, a U.S. Air Force pilot, was shot down with his crew over North Vietnam in July, 1966. In this autobiography, McDaniel explains that he guided his parachute into enemy territory, a deadly landscape that he was completely insulated from in prior war-zone experiences. On the ground, McDaniel, armed with just a .38 revolver, attempted to radio for help before being surrounded by soldiers and villagers. Other than a neck laceration, McDaniel was mostly healthy as he was taken captive and marched miles to a makeshift prison camp. Here, he was tied, beaten, and interrogated before being shipped to one of the most notorious camps, a compound called “The Zoo”.

In a small, windowless cell, McDaniel never knew light from day, and was interrogated, physically abused, degraded, and forced to endure hours of torture at the hands of prison officials. Refusing to break, he was assimilated into prison life, which McDaniel describes as monotonous existence of staring at the wall for hours on end. Eventually, his hopes of freedom evaporate when he is re-located to the more secure and notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prison. 

McDaniel spent over six years in captivity. His experiences are well-documented in this book, but told in a casual, storytelling way. There's very little technical nuances in the book, nor is it introduced as a timeline of the author's childhood upbringing, education, and training. The first three pages jump right into McDaniel's fateful day and the years following it. The author describes encounters with other cell mates, meeting his crew in the camp, various routines, and the prison Christmas shows, which were touching moments of solidarity. The book wraps up with McDaniel's arrival back home and the struggles of acclimating back into a normal civilian life.

Beyond just being a testament of courage and overcoming adversity, Yet Another Voice is a wonderful Christian message of God's overpowering strength. McDaniel frequently discusses biblical scripture in the book and how these scriptures motivated him to not only survive the ordeal, but to establish an even closer relationship with God. As a Christian myself, I really cherished these messages to reinforce my beliefs. It was just so powerful. If you enjoy military history, or underdog stories of any kind, then Yet Another Voice is certainly worth reading. 

Note – Thanks to Bob Deis at Men's Pulp Mags for providing information on the book's cover. This painting was created by Mel Crair and was originally featured as the cover for Man's Magazine, January 1958 as a “Book Bonus” version of Bridge Over the River Kwai. It was later used as the cover for Man's Magazine, November 1961. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, May 6, 2022

Sea Vengeance

British author Robert Leader (b. 1938) had worked as a Merchant Marine, bartender, and a factory worker before becoming a full-time novelist. He wrote over 200 short stories and sold them to magazines like Reveille, Titbits, London Evening News and London Mystery. He found success authoring a series of 10 espionage thrillers starring British agent Simon Larren. Collectively, British publisher Robert Hale published over 40 of his novels, most authored under his real name or pseudonyms like Robert Charles or Robert Brandon. Some were exported to the U.S. by Pinnacle. My first experience with the author is his 1974 novel Sea Vengeance. It was published in the U.S. by Pinnacle with a cover by Phil Marini.

The first few chapters of Sea Vengeance plays out like the exciting 1992 Steven Seagal action film Under Siege.  Chief Officer John Steele, a Korean War veteran, is working on board the Shantung as it departs embattled Saigon en route to peaceful Singapore. The large ship features eight cabins, each containing a diverse variety of passengers. Within a few hours, Steele and the crew discover that the group of Buddhist monks on board are actually Viet Cong hijackers. They kill a few of the Shantung crew and severely injure its Captain.  

With the ship under command of a Viet Cong leader named Thang, Steele works in stealth to capture weapons and free passengers. His betrayal comes from an unlikely suspect, a lover he has met on board named Lin Chi. Together, Chi, Thang, and the Viet Cong have plans to use the ship to rescue a number of their allies from a small prison camp off the coast of  battle-torn Vietnam.

At 182 pages, Sea Vengeance is brimming over with exciting danger and intrigue. Steele proves to be the capable hero – admirable, courageous, and willing to sacrifice his life for others. As a propulsive action yarn, the scenes with Steele secretly working “behind the enemy” to secure the ship was really engaging. With the author's vast experience on merchant ships, I found some of these scenes had a sense of realism. While Steele's struggles with the Viet Cong on the ship were effective, page turning events, I applaud the author's introspective commentary. 

The combatants in the Vietnam War are presented positively by the author, both condemnation and worthy appraisal provided through a philosophical look at war and its aftermath. This isn't a stretch from Leader's wheelhouse considering he has written a number of non-fiction books on religion, philosophy, and his travel experiences. He certainly has the credentials and education to provide thought-provoking dialogue between these volatile characters. I found that to be one of the biggest highlights. 

If you enjoy Vietnam military history, or love a great nautical or war story, then Sea Vengeance is highly recommended. I found it to be similar to Australian author James Edmond Macdonnell's series of World War 2 novels starring Captain Walt Kenyon. Just don't be surprised with some of the heavy dialogue sequences. While it doesn't bog the narrative down, it may slow the excitement for those of you looking for just head-on carnage. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

A Handful of Hell: Classic War and Adventure Stories by Robert F. Dorr

Back in 2016, Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle teamed up for a book titled A Handful of Hell: Classic War and Adventure Stories by Robert F. Dorr. It is part of the duo's The Men's Adventure Library, published by New Texture. We've covered a number of these volumes, including I Watched Them Eat Me Alive, Barbarians on Bikes, and Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter. Deis remains active with this project as well as his Men's Adventure Quarterly publication co-edited by Bill Cunningham. 

In A Handful of Hell's opening pages, Deis explains that he had received an email message from Dorr in November, 2009 concerning the recently-launched MensPulpMags.com blog. Dorr had explained, with exclamation, that he wrote hundreds of articles for the men's pulp adventure magazines and wasn't aware that there was still a large fan base for those vintage publications. Deis was aware of Dorr's work and the two struck up a friendship which led to the creation of this book.

The book includes a 20 page chapter written by Dorr titled “My Plan Was To Be a Writer and an Adventurer...” Dorr writes that he had two main interests since childhood, the Air Force and writing. His first paid publication was in Air Force Magazine's November, 1955 issue. Although he couldn't be an Air Force pilot due to a hearing impairment, Dorr still served in the military in a very unique role. He enrolled in Army Language School and studied the Korean language for 20 months. He was then sent to Korea to listen to North Korean radio communications between 1958-1960. 

After his military stint, Dorr actively pursued writing and sold “The Night Intruders” to Real for their April, 1962 publication. He states in the book that this was the first of what became several hundred men's pulp adventure stories. Thankfully, Deis and Doyle include the story in this volume. In fact, the duo collected 17 stories (by my count) that are written by Dorr and culled from vintage magazines like Stag, Man's, Bluebook, Male, Real, and Man's Illustrated. Handful of Hell also includes color scans of the magazine covers and interior artwork that accompanied these original stories. That in itself makes the book wildly entertaining, but I'm a reader and here are a few short reviews of included stories.

“5 Downed GIs Who Gutted Ambush Alley”

This story was featured in the June, 1967 issue of Men. The setting is South Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley, a hotbed of violence controlled by The People's Army of North Vietnam. San Diego native Sid Reeder and his crew plunge into the valley when their chopper is shot down. As the helicopter lies upside down, the soldiers inside formulate a plan. The enemy forces are descending from the hillside to destroy what's left of the downed chopper. They have to choose whether they want to call in support and risk another chopper being shot down or just call in the coordinates and go on killin' and dyin'. When Reeder thinks about the helicopter's two ground-to-air rockets, he comes up with a new plan. I loved the story and the frantic pace in which it is told. Dorr showcases a distinct understanding of helicopter aviation and protocols and is able to transport that to the printed page in a way that isn't technically jarring for the reader. This was such a great story.

“The POW General Who Tried to Kill Himself”

In the November, 1965 issue of Man's, Dorr tells this real-life account of U.S. Major General William F. Dean's harrowing ordeal as a prisoner-of-war in North Korea. Dorr explains to readers that Dean was on the run through the Korean countryside after narrowly escaping incoming enemy forces. Separated from his men, Dean's journey took him through jungles, fields, and villages desperately searching for food and medial supplies. Eventually, he's betrayed by a Korean and turned over to the North Korean People's Army. After months of starvation, dehydration, and lack of medical treatment, Dean reached the point of physical torture. After endless rounds of interrogation, for weeks and weeks, Dean is instructed that he will be tortured to gain information about American forces, locations, and strategies. Dean knows that he has reached a tipping point where he may divulge information under the harsh treatment. His only rescue is suicide. Honestly, this is really a tough story to read considering the levels of violence and torture. However, Dean's real life account is vividly told by Dorr as a tribute to his perseverance, patriotism, and internal fortitude. Dean is an American hero and I love that Dorr had the courage to write this. It's a true testament to human endurance and honor. Note - For more information, read Dean's autobiography titled General Dean’s Story.

“The Impossible Raid”

Stag, January 1966 featured this WW2 aviation story about a solo run by a lone B-17 bomber piloted by Captain Barry Helm. His mission is to utilize thick fog to make a daring bombing run on a German base. By targeting a large fuel supply, the bombing can create maximum damage to the Germans. But, in order to execute this nearly impossible assignment, the bomber must enter the airspace at tree level. This avoids field-swept radar that picks up higher elevation aircraft. Combining the low entry level with the thick fog makes it a valiant opportunity to strike a major blow to the German offense. This is just a classic, simple aviation tale that utilizes Dorr's descriptive storytelling. I liked the story's presentation from both the American forces as well as the Germans. In a short story, the narrative's presentation of events in the air and on the ground was just so epic and compelling.

You can buy this book and other collections HERE. Don't forget to check out Men's Adventure Quarterly for even more fantastic vintage stories and artwork.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Rambo: First Blood Part II

In 2016, Gauntlet Press, in collaboration with Borderlands Press, re-printed David Morrell's novelization of Rambo: First Blood Part II. What's interesting about the reprint is the author's lengthy, detailed explanation of how he became involved in the project. I highly recommend reading, or listening to the audio book edition, if you love books. You don't need to be a Rambo enthusiast or fan. It's a spellbinding commentary if you love the films as much as I do, but for a casual reading fan Morrell's involvement and writing experiences about creating a novelization of the script was just so captivating. 

Morrell authored First Blood in 1972, the book from which the 1982 blockbuster film was derived from. That book is much different than the film, as I explained in my review. Mostly, Rambo is a more arrogant, cocky kid in the novel and at the end of the book ***spoiler alert*** Rambo dies. In the film, he doesn't. 

In the author's introduction of Rambo: First Blood Part II, Morrell explains that he had no idea a film sequel was in development until he read it in the newspaper (authors seem to be the last to know). Shortly after, the film's development team, Tri-Star Pictures, contacted Morrell about writing the novelization of the film. Back then, films were seen at the cinema or on network television. Streaming didn't exist and VHS/laser disc wasn't mainstream (or affordable). Novelizations became important because they presented that middle ground between theatrical release and the “Sunday Movie of the Week.” The average consumer may have missed the theatrical release, so reading a novelization was an appealing alternative.

Morrell politely turned the project down because he was already writing a novel, 1984's Brotherhood of the Rose, and his version of the character ***spoiler alert *** died. But, Tri-Star kept encouraging Morrell to get out in front of the film because it was going to be BIG. Tri-Star had no other option than Morrell simply because contractually no one else at the time could write a Rambo related novel.

Needless to say, Morrell became involved (a decision that included a conversation with his friend Max Allan Collins), but was only presented a VHS tape with one scene from the film. Finding it impossible to write a novel based on a film he's never seen, Tri-Star provided Morrell a rough draft of the script written by both Sylvester Stallone and James Cameron (Terminator). That draft is what Morrell used to write the novelization. However, that draft was heavily modified by Stallone due to creative differences with Cameron. Thus, Morrell's book is an alternate version, one that I had never seen before. As a fan of the franchise, reading this book seemed mandatory.

In the novel, John Rambo is in a prison labor camp breaking rock by day and huddling in the dark shadows of his cell at night. His former Commander, Col. Sam Trautman, pays Rambo a visit to offer him a deal. The U.S. government has authorized a mission into Vietnam to take photos of a prison camp reportedly containing American P.O.W.s. With the Vietnam War over, the public had become infatuated with the idea that these P.O.W.s were still alive and being held as political collateral. The unit running this solo mission is a contracting company led by a guy named Murdock. 

Rambo later learns that this Vietnamese prison camp is the same one he was held at. This was the home of pain, a horrific place where Rambo was tortured. Because he was able to escape, the contracting company feels that Rambo is the best operative for the job. He knows the area, the camp layout, and other important details. Soon, Rambo is piloting a chopper into Thailand to meet up with Murdock and Trautman. He's provided a sophisticated portable satellite and a camera (ancient tech today), but Rambo wants weapons and the chance to break the prisoners free. This is strictly forbidden, and Murdock explains that the photos will be used to authorize a clandestine Delta Force unit to retrieve the prisoners.

Mostly all of this follows the final film version, but once Rambo enters Vietnam, it changes. After surviving a parachute fiasco, Rambo enters the thick jungle to meet up with an undercover Vietnamese ally named Co. Together, the two of them negotiate a boat ride up river to gain an access point to the camp. The romantic spark between Rambo and Co isn't the same as the film. Co does ask Rambo to take her back to the U.S., but it isn't based on a romantic interest. 

Once Rambo and Co have a vantage point to the camp, Rambo advises Co that the camera was lost and that the new deal is to rescue a prisoner found tied to a cross. It's here that Morrell absolutely shines. The author provides a brief history on archery, how the weapon has evolved over the centuries and why Rambo prefers the weapon over a more capable tool like an M-16 or AK-47. I found this so intriguing and Morrell's detailed explanation of the importance of archery, and Zen, helped define the hero even more. There's also some history on Rambo's upbringing, his abusive father, and Native American heritage. Again, these are book details that really made Rambo a more dynamic character as opposed to film.

When Rambo is captured by the Vietnamese, there's a brief backstory on a torturer named Tey, the same soldier that tormented him years ago. Obviously, the two have a heated rivalry, but the main antagonist is a Soviet interrogator named Podovsky. The torture sequences are mostly parallel to the movie - slime pit, leeches, and electric shock. The book's finale is similar to the film, but Co's importance and the dealings with a double-dealing pirate captain are modified. The film's intensity, rugged action sequences, and overall violence transcend to the printed page in the same fashion. Morrell brilliantly conveys the movie's emotion and exhilaration. 

If you love the film or if you're just a casual fan, David Morrell's novelization is a thrilling action-adventure experience. In my opinion, it really just exists on its own. Details regarding the movie or franchise aren't important in the grand scheme of things. Rambo: First Blood Part II is just an awesome story and a pleasurable reading experience. If nothing else, I highly recommend reading the author's introduction. It's an introspective revealing of what goes into creating a novelization and a must read for anyone interested in the concept.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Walking Wounded

According to his Amazon author page, Robert S. Stokes majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina. In the early 1960s, Stokes served in the U.S. Army in Europe before becoming a full-time freelance writer for various magazines including Newsweek and Life. His career led him to Saigon to cover the Vietnam War, an experience that aided him in writing his first novel, Walking Wounded. It was originally published by Dell in 1980, and I can't locate any information to suggest it was ever reprinted.

The novel begins by introducing readers to Jim Bonner, a former Vietnam veteran that now works as a hitman for the C.I.A. After numerous years of death and violence, Bonner is beginning to crack up. During an assignment to physically assault a target in Manhattan, Bonner snaps and fatally shoots the man. Fearing that he's now on a C.I.A. hit list, Bonner flees to Las Vegas to consult with a former military buddy named Cobb.

In the deserts of Nevada, Bonner hightails it in a van loaded with weapons. He knows the agency has targeted him, but he plans to stay alive as long as possible. On a rural stretch of blacktop, Bonner finds a woman named Karen stranded with her young son. Granting them a lift, Bonner discovers that Karen is a druggie that's been booted from her apartment. She has nowhere to go, so she's in for the Hellish ride with Bonner.

The narrative settles in as Bonner, Karen and her son make the long road trip to destinations unknown. Along the way, Bonner stops in to see old war buddies and friends he's made throughout his career with the agency. On cue, Bonner's boss sends a veteran named Gereke to locate, and eliminate, Bonner. Thus, the narrative builds to the inevitable confrontation between the experienced government assassins. 

Walking Wounded is the perfect title for the novel because it describes Bonner's inability to cope with his responsibilities. He's in continuous pain from horrific burns he experienced during a napalm drop (which makes me wonder how he even gained the agency gig). He's on a steady stream of heavy narcotics that have really spaced him out. He's also suffering from severe PTSD and finds it hard to decipher reality from war-torn Southeast Asia. 

Stokes' validates Bonner's condition with numerous flashbacks to Bonner's war experience. These scenes range from drug use in the jungles and barracks to firefights with Vietcong. In a unique parallel, Bonner recounts memories of his father and the mental anguish he endured from World War 2. The author has a lot to say about the poor state of Veteran Affairs in the 1980s, the cyclical nature of violence, and America's dependence on narcotics (a timeless statement). It's clever that Bonner replaces his father in war, and Gereke replaces Bonner in post-war operations. It all ties in as a Yin-Yang concept.

Despite the book's cover, Walking Wounded isn't really what I would consider a strong candidate for a 1980s men's action-adventure novel. This is more of a thriller with action sequences mostly replaced with social commentary and drug use. In that regard, Dell performed a disservice to Stokes. It's never a boring novel, but the cover suggests a Rolling Thunder sort of premise with a more traditional hero fighting some sort of stereotypical bad guy. Stokes' is delivering much more, with heroes and villains that aren't as easily defined. If you want something remarkably different, Walking Wounded may be worth the investment. 

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, May 7, 2021

The King of Horror & Other Stories

Paperback Warrior has a thing for Stephen Mertz. That admiration comes partly from the fact that the M.I.A. Hunter novels were my first introduction to the men's action-adventure genre. Since we started this blog, we have mostly focused our reviews of Mertz's work on military and vigilante fiction like Mack Bolan, Tunnel Rats and the M.I.A. Hunter novels. Thanks to Wolfpack Publishing, a collection of Mertz's short fiction stories has been compiled under the title The King of Horror & Other Stories. This multi-faceted examination of Mertz's fast-paced style offers a blend of genre offerings that display the author's diversity.

While I enjoyed the entire collection, here are some highlights:

“Last Stand” features Blaze and Kate, a unique pair of mercenaries who are married to each other. This gritty duo travels the world, accepting contracts to guard stagecoaches, participate in various revolutions or just killing selected targets. After a long career of blood and bullets, Blaze and Kate eventually saved up enough to retire to Mexico. When the story begins, they are both attempting to cross the border, but are ambushed by Native Americans. Through 11 action-oriented pages, the two of them attempt to shoot their way out only to be plagued by wave after wave of warriors. It's really a last stand for Blaze and Kate as Mertz places these characters in an extreme position to test their love for each other. This is an effective story that shows the powerful force of love through overwhelming adversity.

Like “Last Stand”, the Vietnam War story “Fragged” again showcases Mertz's interesting outlook on marriage and the ties that bind. “Fragged” features Cord McCall, an investigator working for the U.S. Criminal Investigation Division in Saigon. McCall investigates homicide, desertion, robbery and other crimes committed within military ranks. Interestingly, McCall's wife is also in Vietnam as a war reporter. The two find themselves in Firebase Tiger, a military installation where McCall is responsible for a homicide investigation. A lieutenant-colonel in the 13th Infantry Battalion was killed by a hand grenade in his own barracks. It is up to McCall to determine if this is an enemy penetration or if someone within the battalion committed the murder. It is a great return to the golden age of the mysteries of the locked chamber – which, why, where, how. Also, there is Mertz's signature of sandbags, guts and bloody warfare. These two characters also appear in another included story called “Chez Erotique” as well as Mertz's novel Saigon Homicide.

Mertz says that “Talon's Gift” is the nastiest story he has ever written. It's not so much nasty as it is violently shocking. The narrative features a suburban couple named Talon and Evie. When Evie departs to the movie theater, Talon begins to spin the cylinder of his .38 while explaining to readers (and himself) that Evie has been unfaithful. There's some backstory on the neighborhood and the couple's neighbor Pete. The most intriguing part for me was Talon's profession. I won't spoil the fun for you. It's an enjoyable read. 

The book's centerpiece is “The King of Horror”, a short-story that Mertz penned about his friend and longtime author Michael Avallone (1924-1999). In many ways the main character, established horror author Rigley Balbo, is Avallone. Mertz's line, “A man who was cheated and pushed aside by these grubby, Johnny-come-lately punks and their million-dollar contracts and their New York Times bestsellers”, perfectly describes the peaks and valleys of Avallone's career. In first person narration, Balbo explains that he was an A-lister early in his career before the publishing market dried up. Crummy distribution, poor advances and strangled sales have plagued Balbo's career for a decade. Needless to say, Balbo's household name tarnished along with the relationship with his publishing agent. Like one of those old Alfred Hitchcock stories, Balbo has a plan to get even with his agent, a grand scheme that will vengefully heal his heart and mind. However, Mertz pitches a wicked curveball to delightfully wreck Balbo's plan. I loved this story and it's one of those rare “industry insider” stories that jerks the curtain on the hectic and turbulent publishing world.

There are so many great stories in this collection, from Mertz's tribute to the pulps with “The Lizard Men of Blood River” to the slick and violent “The Death Blues”. The compilation showcases all of Mertz's skill and passion - violent storytelling with a powerful sense of love, loss and regret. It was a real treat to find Mertz submerged in many different genres and styles. King of Horror & Other Stories is a real showpiece of skill and craftsmanship. If you've never stepped out of Mertz's Mack Bolan world, this is your certified encouragement to delve into this author's deep literary catalog. It's a dive worth taking.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Piece of this Country

Thomas Taylor (1934-2017), a West Point graduate, was a Captain in the U.S. Army and served in the 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War. After an intense engagement with a Viet Cong battalion, Taylor was awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars as well as a Purple Heart. After his service, Taylor graduated from University of California, Berkley and became a writer. His work includes a number of non-fiction volumes on military history and combatants' first-hand accounts as well as fictional novels like A-18 (1967). My first experience with Taylor is his 1970 military fiction novel A Piece of this Country.

The paperback is set in 1965 during the U.S.'s early involvement in the war. Sergeant Roscoe Jackson is an African-American fighting with the ARVN (Army of Vietnam) near the Laos border. Jackson is a short-timer with just four months of active duty remaining before he returns to the U.S. As a husband and father of four, Jackson is anxious to leave the hot and steamy jungles and get back to Maryland. However, after being offered the dangerous job of overseeing the remote and isolated Fort Cougar, Jackson decides he wants to pursue an officer's rank. To obtain it, he'll need to work closely with a South Vietnamese leader to fortify the base and protect it from waves of Viet Cong.

Thomas Taylor's military combat experience is deeply ingrained into this violent and exciting narrative. Jackson tells readers that he keeps his matches inside of condoms, carries hornet spray and wears his poncho backwards. It's these little, descriptive things that make the story come alive with detail. The artillery fire, mortars and minefields are the book's soundscape, drowning Jackson in a sea of emotions as he contemplates his family's financial stress and discrimination back home in the U.S. Through mail correspondence with his wife, Jackson learns that she has a blood disorder and can't work. Further, his oldest son seems to have chosen a criminal path to overcome racial and financial struggles. Knowing that an officer's rank will pay more, Jackson's decision to re-enlist is a costly one.

Once Taylor arrives at Fort Cougar, he begins to formulate a strategy. His collaboration with Vietnamese commander Dai Uy Nguyen involves building escape tunnels while engaging the enemy on small jungle patrols. After numerous attacks on their ranks, Jackson begins to question Nguyen's allegiance. The book's fiery finale places the smaller American and South Vietnamese forces against wave after wave of enemies as they await aerial support from afar.

I really enjoyed so many aspects of A Piece of this Country. It contains so many memorable scenes. There's a powerful dialogue between Jackson where an enemy soldier tells him to leave Vietnam. He explains, “I'm trying to liberate my south. Why don't you liberate yours?” referring to Jackson's race and southern heritage. In another, Jackson explains that he has heard artillery fire so much that he isn't sure that weather-related thunder even exists in Southeast Asia. There's a humorous scene where Jackson trades two Mike Shayne novels to a fellow soldier in exchange for a nudie book. It's all of these realistic things that enhance the propulsive plot points and emotional characters.

If you love military fiction then you'll certainly enjoy A Piece of this Country. Anyone interested in Thomas Taylor's career and proud military lineage should check out both Taylor and his heroic father Maxwell Taylor's Wiki pages to learn more. I'm anxious to read more of this author's work.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Black Berets #01 - The Deadly Reunion

The Black Berets was a 13-book paperback series published by Dell between 1984-1987, a fertile time-frame for the men's action-adventure series industry. Dell was simultaneously publishing the post-apocalyptic series Traveler as well as the vigilante novels in the Hawker franchise. Therefore, it made sense for the publisher to include a team-based combat series in their catalog of offerings. The Black Berets was written by John Preston and Michael McDowell under the house name Mike McCray. Both authors were openly gay and authored a number of well-received gay-fiction novels. McDowell wrote movie and television scripts including Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Tales from the Darkside. After enjoying the aforementioned Dell publications, I decided my team-combat reading could use some fresh faces. Camouflaged of course.

Beak, Rosie, Cowboy, Harry and Runt were utilized by the CIA as a special forces squad during the Vietnam War. After the war ended, the group disbanded and began living their separate lives. Billy “Beak” Beeker is the authors' focal point, the group's leader who is introduced in the opening chapters as a Louisiana Native-American who teaches at a private school while minimally living on large acreage. In the opening installment, Deadly Reunion, Beeker receives a call from the team's old boss, Parker. After an eight year hiatus, he wants to put the band back together again.

The next chapters are dedicated to Beeker reluctantly tightening his bootstraps once again and recruiting the original team members. After partnering with cocaine-cowboy and flying ace Sherwood “Cowboy” Hatcher, the two travel across the country explaining the team's new mission, and the reader learns the backstory of each member. All parties are hesitant to join the resurrected team and are skeptical about Parker's historically-shaky allegiances. The motivation for the reunion is that Parker informs the team that a former Black Beret member has finally been found. After going missing-in-action during the war, this team member has been spotted in a Laos prison. He's not dead but barely surviving off of meek rations among years of torture and abuse. Parker wants the team to penetrate Laos and rescue the man.

Deadly Reunion is like a really good Fawcett Gold Medal novel. The team reunites for a secret mission in hostile territory to recover something with the geopolitics updated to incorporate Vietnam. There's even the old heist bit thrown into the narrative to capture that vintage feel. I had some doubts about another 1980s team-combat series but instantly fell in love with these characters and the solid writing. Unlike other high testosterone action-adventure series, the authors dedicated time and effort to tell a realistic story about Vietnam Veterans. Many of the team members find themselves lost after returning home, haunted by the combat nightmares. Lost love, poor finances, alcoholism and drug abuse are part of the Black Berets narrative, and I found that vulnerability to be a more realistic approach than the typical barrel-chested brawny heroes of the 1980s.

Overall, I just can't say enough good things about this opening installment. Compared to Able Team, Dennison's War and Eagle Force, The Black Berets seems to be solidly higher quality. I've already purchased the second installment in hopes the momentum continues. Stay tuned! 

Note: Author, editor and podcast host Paul Bishop has an excellent write-up on this series including each book's synopsis and vivid cover art. Check it out HERE.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 5, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 64

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 64 explores the legacy of author David Goodis. Also discussed: Black Berets! Eric leaves his house! Used Bookstore haul! Funeral home field trip! Antique store tirade! Wade Miller's Devil May Care! And more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 64: David Goodis" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Survivor of Nam #01 - Baptism

Author Donald E. Zlotnik (born 1941) published over 300 weekly newspaper columns for two metro-Detroit newspapers. Most of Zlotnik's paperback novels are based on his harrowing, and highly respected career in the United States Army Special Forces. Zlotnik's 31 months in combat during the Vietnam War was commemorated by the awarding of three Bronze Stars, The Soldier's Medal and The Purple Heart. Beginning in 1986, Zlotnik began authoring military “fiction” novels based on his own experiences in Southeast Asia. The first was a stand-alone novel, Eagles Cry Blood (1986), followed by a four-book series titled Survivor of Nam (1988). Zlotnik followed with another run of combat-related novels, the five-book Fields of Honor (1990-1992) series. My first experience with the author is the debut novel of the Survivor of Nam series, Baptism, published by Popular Library.

Baptism introduces a handful of characters that will play dominant roles throughout the Survivor of Nam series. The chief protagonist is Private First Class Woods, a wet-behind-the-ears grunt who's introduced on the first page when he arrives at a U.S. Army airfield in Saigon. Zlotnik's sense of realism is reflected in the smallest of details, like the rubber around a transport vehicle's windows with a crisscross of tape to avoid glass shards in the event of an attack. You can immediately sense the horror, fear and remembrance in the author's writing style. After Woods partners with PFC Barnett, the two become close friends as they brave the first days in Vietnam. After being ordered to the 1st Cavalry Division in deadly Qui Nhon, the two soldiers are asked if they want to volunteer for MACV Recondo School. They jump at the chance and the book's opening chapters details the duo's training in small, heavily-armed long range reconnaissance patrols into enemy territory.

Upon graduation, the two soldiers, along with a handful of consistent characters, immediately experience their first battles. Victorious, Woods/Barnett's recon force is dropped along the borders of Laos and Cambodia, where the South Vietnam border touched Laos and North Vietnam. The mission is border surveillance, but U.S. Intelligence instructs the team to drop innovative, unique listening devices along the routes spreading from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It's here where the bulk of the action lies, eventually separating Woods while readers learn that Barnett has been captured. At 185-pages, the book ends with a cliff-hanger that provoked me to research the second book in the series. Sure enough, it picks right up with Barnett's experience as a prisoner-of-war in the aptly titled installment P.O.W.

First and foremost, this is a work of fiction. Many readers, like myself, will ponder the decision to read Vietnam War fiction when so much non-fiction exists. There's a vast abundance of grunts, snipers, tunnel rats, pilots and tank commanders that have recounted their battle experience in explicit, detailed (often with photos) autobiographies. I think the fictionalization of true stories helps to separate the horror from reality and makes for a more enjoyable read. Your mileage may vary.

Baptism focuses on Woods (18) and Barnett's (17) coming of age experiences in the volatile jungles of Vietnam and is worth the sticker price. But, the author creates a number of engaging, side stories that further enhance the reading experience. There's a Black Panther member in the patrol unit that may be killing off white soldiers. There's a black market story-line involving guns, drugs and money with the supply detail with ranking members in the recon force caught in the crossfire. Zlotnik gives readers plenty to absorb and enjoy, and the book reminded me of a good young adult novel - albeit with added graphic sex, violence and profanity.

Overall, Baptism was an effective, but admittedly disturbing, first installment. The characters were compelling, the action propulsive and the author's combat experiences were conveyed to readers through the characters and story. I've already purchased the second installment and have the remaining two in my shopping cart. I absolutely loved this book, and I think you will too.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, February 7, 2020

Doomsday Mission

The king of the paperbacks, Harry Whittington, is often described by fans as a master of crime-noir. The talented author penned a number of crime-noir and suspense novels, but also contributed to other genres like romance, sleaze, plantation (slave gothics) and westerns. But, like his contemporary Charles Runyon, Whittington authored just one military fiction novel, “Doomsday Mission”, published by Banner in 1967.

The book begins as a chopper touches down in the Phuoc Long Province, a heavily trafficked area along the Cambodian border during the early days of the Vietnam War. U.S. Army Lieutenant Robert Edwards and three sergeants emerge from the helicopter and meet with 40 Vietcong defectors intent on assisting US factions. The plan is to march up the Ho Chi Minh Trail into a village ripe with North Vietnamese Army (NVA) underground supply tunnels.

Lieutenant Edwards is a rookie combatant who immediately clashes with his three sergeants. They want to navigate this long trek to the side of the road, hacking through dense foliage in lieu of walking a visible path. Edwards refuses and the large platoon is immediately under heavy fire from the NVA. The narrative's pace is simply driven by the various gunfights and skirmishes the platoon encounters. By presenting the story in that fashion, it comes across uneven and disjointed.

Any author who maintained a high-volume of literary works like Whittington will surely deliver variable quality. In this instance, “Doomsday Mission” just isn't very good. The characters were never developed enough for an invested reader to care about their future. Additionally, there is a 10-page story arc that features one of the sergeants bathing a Vietnamese woman in a seductive fashion. It was an ill-advised attempt for the author to break from the action.

You can read much better Harry Whittington books than "Doomsday Mission".

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 11, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 19

In this episode, we have a hardboiled discussion regarding censorship in our favorite genres. Eric reviews “Bloody Jungle” by Charles Runyon and Tom covers “Modesty Blaise” by Peter O’Donnell. You don’t want to miss this one! Stream below or on your favorite podcasting service. Download the episode directly at (LINK)

Listen to "Episode 19: Hardboiled Censorship" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Bloody Jungle

Author Charles Runyon experienced commercial success with his fourth published work, 1965's crime-fiction novel “The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed”. The Korean War vet followed up that novel a year later with a rather unique literary choice. Like Harry Whittington, Runyon authored a single fictional novel about the Vietnam War, “Bloody Jungle.” It was published by Ace with cover art by famed western pulp artist Gerald McConnell.

Lieutenant Clay Macklin is a battle-hardened Green Beret stationed at Phu Duc, near the Cambodian border. As the novel opens, both Macklin and his demolition Sergeant Bill Cranor locate a North Vietnamese defector crawling through the base's outer perimeter. Under some distress, the defector warns Macklin and company that a battalion of NVA soldiers have regrouped and are heading to Phu Doc the next night. With only 34 US personnel on base, the team feels that the NVA will slaughter the team and the 2,500 sympathetic villagers.

In an early plot twist, Macklin and select riflemen are separated from the base as Phu Duc is overcome with NVA. Stranded miles from the nearest US camp, Macklin drags a wounded man into a small village where he befriends a young woman and her baby. Here, Macklin learns more about the attacks and where the NVA are campaigning next. As the narrative explores Macklin's harrowing journey, Runyon enhances the storytelling with a budding romance between Macklin and the villager.

“Bloody Jungle” has many twists and turns on its ultimate road to Hell. I can't spill much of the second half of this novel, but it's a real powder-keg ready to explode. Runyon takes readers through jungle battles, base bombings, torture sequences, romance and even some detective work in downtown Saigon. At only 160-pages, the action is nearly non-stop and extremely violent. This isn't a novel for weak stomachs...but I think readers familiar with the author's work realize there is a violent temperament in many of his characters. Overall, this is an expensive, rare paperback that deserves a reprinting.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 15, 2019

Siberia 10

Clark Howard (1932-2016) wrote 16 novels, six books of non-fiction and two collections of short stories during his 40-year career. As an amateur boxer and juvenile delinquent, Howard bounced around in his mid-teens before eventually joining the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17. During his three year tour in Korea, Howard was one of only eight survivors in his platoon during the Battle of the Punchbowl. His experience in the USMC led to a number of Howard's war stories including “Siberia 10,” published by Pinnacle in 1973.

Siberia 10 is a fictional USMC stockade in San Diego, California. In the novel's opening pages, Private Zangari escapes from the prison in a rather clever ruse that leads to his eventual capture on the steps of a local newspaper. This opening chapter explains to readers that Siberia 10 is run by brutal leadership, recounting violent everyday experiences for American soldiers.

The political climate inside is a tumultuous storm where black prisoners have formed a faction of Black Panthers. These soldiers have filed a formal complaint with the NAACP charging that they are recipients of racially charged abuse from the white guards. Simultaneously, the white prisoners have formed a petition stating they are being brutalized by the black prisoners. All of this comes under the watch of officers that spend their days drunk, womanizing, gambling and abusing the camp’s prisoners.

Chapter two introduces the book's protagonist, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Hannon. His first appearance is in the Dai Tet countryside of Vietnam running a strategic seek and destroy operation on the Vietcong. After being dismissed from his platoon, Hannon is summoned to Washington D.C. and introduced to an unnamed Commandant. For validity, the Commandant reads Hannon's own resume to Hannon, highlighting his superior fighting strength and leadership in Korea, Manilla, Cuba and Vietnam. The Commandant promotes Hannon to the temporary rank of Brigadier General and asks him to assume the new leadership at Siberia 10. While deeply troubled by the stockade's black eye in the media, the Commandant wants the USMC to fix their own mistakes before the panic escalates. Hesitantly, Hannon accepts the job.

As a seasoned paperback enthusiast, I've consistently came across various literary works that prompted me to think of movie adaptations. That idea was etched in my mind throughout my reading experience of “Siberia 10”. This 300-page novel demands to be a successful television show. There are numerous story threads woven into the larger story arc of Hannon rehabilitating Siberia 10. These threads ultimately consume the narrative, but they are so intriguing and engaging that I was hooked like a housewife watching the soaps.

Hannon's role as the new General begins with a whirlwind of opposition, in-fighting and subordination. After making the necessary adjustments to his staff, Hannon begins life lessons for a dozen or more supporting characters. His stout stance of duty and brotherhood serves like a fiery pulpit sermon on the importance and legacy of the USMC. It's patriotic, stirring and American. Hannon's treatment of Siberia 10 is reminiscent of coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) spurring that small Indiana school into champions in the 1986 film “Hoosiers.” It's an effective feel-good story about overcoming race, cultural differences and adversity that works just as well in 2019.

As an action-adventure piece, this isn't “The Great Escape” or “Papillon” by any means. While firmly entrenched behind bars, the novel's only action sequences are some boxing matches, an occasional brawl and some described brutality. Instead, the novel works like a more aggressive take on Richard Booker's 1968 book “MASH.” There are numerous comedic moments, an abundance of sex and the typical coarse language of a war novel. Like Clark Howard's “The Last Contract”, also published in 1973, the author proves to be a masterful storyteller no matter what approach he takes. I will probably read “Siberia 10” again...and again. It's that good.

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Thursday, May 9, 2019

M.I.A. Hunter #07 - Saigon Slaughter

Stephen Mertz and Joe R. Lansdale collaborated once again on this seventh entry in the 'M.I.A. Hunter' series. Released by Jove in 1987, “Saigon Slaughter' is the first of the series to feature a new moniker, 'Stone: M.I.A. Hunter'. Coincidentally, this book features a prelude to what will ultimately dominate the second half of the series. 

Protagonist Mark Stone has spent his post-war life rescuing M.I.A./P.O.W.s from southeast Asia. The mission for “Saigon Slaughter” remains the same, rescuing three American soldiers from a Saigon prison. Vietnam, refusing to admit they still have prisoners, has agreed to an international summit with U.S. Senator Harler in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Stone hopes to free the three prisoners and present them to the summit. 

The series revelation is around page 43 as Mark Stone self-reflects on the missions and his foreseeable future. He realizes that the intel regarding missing prisoners of war has dwindled, and that everyone from the KGB, CIA and FBI has included him on the hot sheets of most wanted. The rescue of American prisoners in Vietnam and Laos had become a fool's errand. Knowing this, Stone, guided by creator Stephen Mertz, will eventually move his team into a mercenary role starting with the next novel, “Escape from Nicaragua”. 

“Saigon Slaughter” features all of the action-oriented intensity of the prior novels. While never really understanding the ratio of Mertz and the rotating co-authors, this book seems to focus a lot of attention on Hog Wiley. It features the typical humorous banter between Wiley and Loughlin while they support Stone's penetration into Saigon. The three align with a network of resistance fighters including Asian beauty Mai. 

The book's entrance and eventual escape from the prison features all of the firefights we've come to expect. Enhancing the action is some fierce underground tunnel action as well as a clever ruse to lure an evil general into purchasing Mai as a prostitute. With backing support of Stone, Mai is able to gain key intel on where the prisoners are being held. Experienced readers know the liberation will occur, but how Stone's trio breaks in is always the greatest pleasure. 

This was the third and final contribution from Lansdale. Overall, another exciting Stone adventure that will please genre fans.

Note - There is another "Saigon Slaughter" featured in the 'Black Eagles' series. It was released in November, 1984 by Zebra. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 15, 2019

Super Bolan #04 - Dirty War

In Don Pendleton's “Death Squad” (1969), the second of the long running vigilante series 'The Executioner', we are introduced to Mack Bolan's Vietnam colleagues - Bill Hoffower, Tom Loudelk, Angelo Fontenelli, Juan Andromede, Gadgets Schwartz, Pol Blancanales, Jim Harrington and George Zitka. While it's a short-lived cameo, this death squad assists Bolan with a Mafia hit that goes south. While the entire team is nearly wiped out, it was an interesting concept that would eventually lead to more team-based action in its affiliates like Able Team, Stony Man and Phoenix Force.

Pendleton would pen 37 of the first 38 Executioner novels before handing Gold Eagle the rights to produce the books using a myriad of authors. The stipulation that the author's name be printed on the copyright page is important, allowing fans like myself an easy peek at the book's creator without having to roll the sleeves up for a paper trail (I'm talking to you Killmaster). After 60 volumes of 'The Executioner' (titled 'Mack Bolan' at this point), Gold Eagle decided that they could increase the profits from $2.25 per book to $3.95 by increasing the size to 350+ pages under the 'Super Bolan' series. These were simultaneously released at the same time Executioners were flooding the market, providing plenty of paperback Bolans to meet reader demands.

Writer Stephen Mertz was a Pendleton prodigy and by the early 1980s was knee-deep in the Bolan universe. His resume and experience with Bolan provoked a “retcon” idea of re-imagining earlier events in Bolan's life. Thus, “Super Bolan #4 – Dirty War” is written as a time capsule piece depicting events that would happen to the character during his second tour in Vietnam. The idea of a sprite young Bolan in the hands of a veteran author like Mertz is altogether intriguing. The stars aligned to even have veteran artist Gil Cohen design the cover, the ultimate Bolan fan's dream.

The book begins in the present day as Bolan is thinking back to his Death Squad's unfortunate deaths. He's on a Mafia hit of his own and thinking back to his time in Vietnam as sergeant and the various missions that his men performed. In a unique chapter one, 30-yr old Bolan is at Pittsfield Municipal Airport in Massachusetts with his family. We know this would be the last time he would see his parents/sister and Mertz writes this into the narrative. Bolan has premonitions that he won't see his family again. Kudos to the author for also allowing some backstory on Mack's father Sam and his early fights with the mob enforcers. At one point, before Mack's departure, Sam is attacked and Mack comes to his aid. It's this aspect that I don't think was conveyed by Pendleton – that Mack knew what was happening back home prior to the first few letters arriving on his second tour. In this re-imagining, he knew all along. 

The action heats up in Vietnam as we see Bolan and his death squad liberating a young woman and child from a NVA stronghold near the Cambodian border. It's intense cat-and-mouse tactics that mirror Bolan's solo fights much later in life. But here we have Bolan as squad leader, effectively orchestrating the Hell that is unleashed on the NVA base. In a neat fan experience, Mertz provides a cameo of pilot Jack Grimaldi. Familiar readers will know that Grimaldi and Mack originally meet in Executioner #10, later to become longtime allies within the Stony Man group. Retconning that exchange, Mertz has Grimaldi rescue the Death Squad from the NVA fight and pilot the group to safety. While Grimaldi and Bolan never officially meet here, both are respectful to each other leading Grimaldi to think to himself, “I wonder if our paths will ever meet again”. This is fun stuff. 

“Dirty War” eventually tangles with plenty of firefights and escapes, building in a hot lead assault on Bolan's camp, a hunt and destroy mission and the eventual escape from enemy patrols in Cambodia. At 376-pages, it never gets too exhausting with dialogue or slow motion. This is 80s Bolan – 1,2,3,Kill at its finest. Mertz is clearly having a lot of fun with the concept and adds tremendous depth to the characters that made up that original Death Squad. Without giving away the spoilers, we know that Gadgets and Pol would survive that Mafia battle and go on to form Able Team (launched in 1982 by Gold Eagle).

Fans of the Bolan universe, this is simply mandatory reading. It's fun, indulgent and clever. It's clearly designed for the series' fans but should be considered an important part of the Bolan origin story. If you are new to the series, I would start here and then work into Executioners 1 and 2. But regardless of order, just read it.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Tunnel Rats #02 - Mud and Blood

There were only two books in the short-lived Tunnel Rats series by Stephen Mertz (writing as Cliff Banks), and that was a real shame because they are both exciting Vietnam War combat adventure paperbacks. In the second installment, Mertz does a great job of getting the reader up to speed about the team combatting the Vietcong’s unusual guerrilla war tactic of employing underground tunnels, so a new reader is never lost by jumping into the action without having read the preceding paperback.

“Mud and Blood” was released by Popular Library in 1990 and features the same four-man team combatting the Vietcong in the boobytrapped jungle. The foursome consists of Gaines, DeLuca, Hildago, and their Vietcong defector scout, Bok Van Tu. Together they form a highly-classified special forces team with the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Section of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division - a team known as the Tunnel Rats.

The lean paperback wastes no time throwing the reader squarely into the action with Gaines garroting an enemy sentry before snapping his neck with bare hands. Mertz writes vivid combat violence about as well as I’ve ever read. The threat to the team’s success are the trained battalions of Vietcong soldiers who hide underground in the labyrinth of man-made tunnels - over 200 miles worth - beneath the view of the U.S. soldiers around Saigon.

Despite his relative youth as a 25 year-old, Gaines is a formidable leader naturally-suited to the close-quarters combat in the claustrophobic tunnels because of his unique upbringing exploring the mineshafts in his Montana hometown. DeLuca is a somewhat stereotypical New York Italian, and Hidalgo is a SoCal Chicano also straight out of central casting. Meanwhile Tu brings to the table language abilities and a working knowledge of the tunnel system coupled with his sincere desire for a democratic Vietnam. They all have lean bodies suitable for combat operations inside the narrow, claustrophobic tunnels.

The mission at the heart of “Mud and Blood” involves a Vietcong Captain named Quang who is hiding in the underground tunnel system with a group of his own soldiers waiting to kill American troops. The Army needs the Tunnel Rats to drive Quang and his troops out of the tunnels where they can be captured by U.S. forces.

The action occasionally shifts to Quang who has made a home and base of operations in an underground lair. The Americans have no idea that Quang’s troops are expanding the tunnel system with the intention of stretching the beneath a U.S. base - giving the enemy easy access to the heart of local U.S. Army operations. Can the Tunnel Rats stop Quang’s underground activities before it’s too late?

“Mud and Blood” is a terrific, high-stakes action novel with real heroes and a diabolical - but nuanced - villain. The combat set-pieces were written with a cinematic flair for choreographing literary excitement without being overly wordy. This is a fast-moving popcorn novel for fans of pulpy adventure fiction. 

Still an active author, Mertz has been very forward-leaning when it comes to making his historical body of work available as reprints and eBooks for modern audiences. I tracked the author down to ask him if there were any plans to reprint and digitize the two Tunnel Rats novels, and he responded that he’d need to look into who owns the intellectual property rights pursuant to the contract he signed with Popular Library nearly 30 years ago. I, for one, am hoping that these books see the light of day again solely because it would be a shame for combat adventure yarns this good to be lost to the ages. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE