Review: The Death Merchant

The Death Merchant

Joseph Rosenberger’s Death Merchant is one of the most notorious men’s adventure series of all time. Its reputation is such that I had to check it out, starting with the first volume.

The adventures of psychotic super-assassin Richard Camellion start off on a mixed note. Like the Destroyer series, the Death Merchant (for understandable business reasons) had to start off with a conventional “shoot the mobster” plot that has little in common with the crazed excesses the later books reached.

That being said, Rosenberger’s writing er, “eccentricities” are definitely on display en masse here. Long and weird descriptions of gore, over-detailed action scenes, and more, including an erratic prose style with lots of exclamation points, “grace” the pages of the book as Camellion slaughters his way through.

Rather than sink into the middle of the pack, the initial Death Merchant at least stands out due to its writing style. Whether or not it’s in a good or bad way depends on your tastes.

Review: The Kidnapping Of The President

The Kidnapping Of The President

Charles Templeton lived a long and involved life which involved everything from newspaper editor to author. His debut thriller, The Kidnapping of The President, was  later made into a William Shatner movie.

Adam Scott, the President, goes off to campaign in congressional elections in New York City. A pair of South American revolutionaries with an armored truck are there as well, and…. look at the title. Then the cabinet, a scandal-hit vice president, and the perpetrators all race against time, as the plot twists and turns.

This book wasn’t exactly breaking new ground even at the time, and it has issues. Issues like the grounded and genuinely researched deep infodumps clashing with the inherently strange premise (which is even mentioned in-story). Issues like the few action scenes, when they finally happen, being dry and questionable.

And yet it flows well in spite of the “look how much I researched” exposition, works acceptably as a read to pass the time on a dreary, snowy day, and does what a cheap thriller needs to do. The novelty of a “a prominent Canadian media figure wrote a cheap thriller about the American president being kidnapped” helps it stand out, but this book works even beyond that.

Snippet Reviews: October 2019

The Press Gang

Kenneth Bulmer (as “Adam Hardy”) wrote the Fox series of age-of-sail adventures in the 1970s. The Press Gang is marked as being the second in the series in the modern Kindle format, but it was the first actually printed (chronological vs. publication order?).

In any case, the tale of George Abercrombie Fox is not the best one to ride across the waves. Bulmer’s prose, which I recognized from the Dray Prescot books, isn’t the best, and the setup is this weird hybrid of cheap thriller and Herman Melville “this is what an age of sail ship is like”.

The Enigma Strain

Nick Thacker’s first book in the Harvey Bennett series of thrillers, The Enigma Strain is a solid thriller, if a 51% one. The book features the titular park ranger and a CDC scientist as they fight to stop a plot that involves an ancient, exotic disease and multiple nuclear bombs.

On one hand, it’s in the awkward uncanny valley that plagues a lot of cheap thrillers. It’s clearly too ridiculous to be realistic, but it’s not bombastic enough to be the gonzo silly thriller that it deserves to be. On the other, it’s still competent enough to be a passable, fun reading experience, and that’s what cheap thrillers are supposed to be.

Review: The Other Side Of Midnight

The Other Side Of Midnight

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The time has come for Fuldapocalypse to broaden its horizons once more. Now reviewed is Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side Of Midnight. This is in the kind of fiction genre best described, for lack of a better word, as the “romantic epic”, or maybe “romantic suspense.” How do I even begin to unpack this tale of scheming women, world war (well, technically), and romantic drama?

Well, the plot itself focuses on the romantic entanglements and schemes of four people throughout decades. Noelle Page, a French beauty who schemes. Catherine Alexander, an innocent midwestern American. Larry Douglas, a boorish but handsome pilot. And tycoon Aristotle Onassis  Constantin Demeris.

See, this book is very much a cheap thriller at heart, but it’s what I call a “gilded cheap thriller”. Most of the other stuff from the period I’d have reviewed on this blog is obvious, open, blatant, unashamed, sleaze-pulp. This is that in substance, but it’s wrapped in a tiny fig leaf of “sophistication” and “grandeur”.

It has the trappings of a literary epic that travels across time and place. There are descriptions of places, chapters marked by the passing of time, and narrative statements. All of which serve to bookend one scene of sleazy romance novel cliches (really, even someone like me could instantly spot almost all of them) after another.

The question that went through my mind after I finished was “was this intentional”? Was it a case of Sheldon’s pretensions exceeding his literary skill? Or was it knowingly making something that deliberately sleazy yet slightly, visually “respectable” enough for people to buy it without guilt? My very strong feeling is the latter, given that the author was already experienced in show business long before he wrote novels.

Well, whatever it was, it worked at selling lots and lots of books, especially this one.

Review: God Of Death

Casca: God Of Death

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So I figure I should mention the best Casca book in my eyes. That would be the second, God of Death. By some accounts in the confusing internet tangle of rumor and whisper surrounding the series, it’s the last book Sadler personally wrote. I have no knowledge or evidence for any of this being true or not, but figure I should mention it.

In the book itself, Casca sails with the Vikings and ends up in pre-Colombian Central America. Then he gets his heart cut out-and puts it back in what should have been the defining scene of the series. Cue many of the Casca staples. The doomed romance, the “exotic” historical eras, and the lack of strict accuracy.

What makes this Casca stand out is that it actually runs with the supernatural qualities and the immortality gimmick in a way that many of the later ones simply don’t. It could be that the series was still fresh and new, or it could be that the vagueness of this time and place gave Casca more breathing room than a more documented one where he ultimately has to stick to history. Whatever it is, God Of Death is one of the few books where Casca’s premise lives up to its potential.

Review: Lone Wolf-Night Raider

Lone Wolf: Night Raider

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The book Night Raider is the first entry in the Lone Wolf series of “shoot the mobster” vigilante novels, written by famed sci-fi author Barry Malzberg under the pen name “Mike Barry”. The novels have the reputation of being…. something. I’ll put it that way. And that reputation is deserved.

What Malzberg himself admitted in an interview and essays was both that: A: The Lone Wolves were churned out quickly for the money to ride the “shoot the mobster” bandwagon and B: When he read an Executioner book prior to writing the Lone Wolf, he didn’t like it. You might think this had a negative effect on the series, and you would be right.

The book itself is the most generic 70s vigilante “be wronged, shoot the mobster” plot. I could guess everything if I’d only read War Against The Mafia. I could probably even guess everything just from secondhanded knowledge of the genre. The biggest, and arguably only divergence is how much of a lunatic the main character is (which is very much intended).

But it’s executed (no pun intended) in this almost avant-garde blocky stream-of-conciousness infodump style that joins Mike Lunnon-Wood’s lush “just keep going and talk it out, describe it out, but calmly” and Bob Forrest-Webb’s “I never met an exclamation point I didn’t like!” prose in the “weird style for a cheap thriller” club.

In many ways, the thoughts and controversies surrounding this series are better and more interesting than the books themselves. Night Raider itself, thanks to its origins, just has all the all the weaknesses of both artistic and commercial fiction. It has few of the strengths of either.

 

Review: Transit To Scorpio

Transit To Scorpio

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Though published close to fifty years ago, Kenneth Bulmer’s Transit to Scorpio was already almost an anachronism when it was released. Much of what we now know as “science fiction” and “fantasy” was once unified in a type of genre following in the footsteps of the legendary John Carter of Mars, one known as “sword and planet”, involving Earthmen traveling across exotic worlds and fighting with blades.

This book fits that category to a T. 18th century sailor Dray Prescot is transported to the planet Kregen around the star of Antares, where he proceeds to be rejuvenated and made near-immortal, only to be cast loose as he disobeys his masters to aid a beautiful woman, Delia. Cue a book of “planetary romance” (another name for the genre) in every definition of the term.

Transit to Scorpio has a lot of prose that’s sadly familiar even to someone like me who’s only read a bit of the style of the day, being both overwrought and clunky. It also has a plot setup that’s familiar, with almost all of the “science fiction” elements being used to set up the plot and little more. In spite of this, it’s not bad, particularly by the standards of the genre.

Snippet Reviews: August 1-11 2019

It’s time for more snippet reviews.

The Omicron Legion

The fourth Blaine McCracken book, The Omicron Legion continues Land’s style of ridiculous plots, quadruple-crosses (yes, I’m using that word), and BLAINE MCCRACKEN action. If you liked the past Blaine McCracken books, you’ll like this a lot.

The Mercenaries: Blood Diamonds

This Peter Telep (under a pen name) novel would be a routine 2000s thriller if not for one thing-the dialogue. It’s ridiculously and constantly crazy. This wouldn’t be too big of a deal if the actual story was goofy to match, but it’s supposed to be a serious tale of weary mercs in the southern African wilderness.

While it at least it stands out a little because of that, this book really ought to be focused around a Macguffin giant magical diamond that can power a super-deathray, not a stash of normal ones.

Terror in Taos

One of the Penetrator novels, Terror in Taos serves up all the 1970s “vigilante vs mobsters” action one could possibly want. By the standards of the genre, it’s very good. The action, which includes hero Mark Hardin storming a desert castle, is good. There’s even a bit of semi-mystical Native American stuff that makes it even more ridiculously over-the-top and fun (yes, it could easily be tasteless and offensive to a modern audience, but this is a 70s action novel-what did you honestly expect?).

Review: The $3 Million Turnover

The $3 Million Turnover

I’ve been in a basketball mood recently, tracking the evolution of the sport from pre-shot clock clunking around to the 1961 superfast play to the grinding and “isoball” of the late 1990s and early 2000s to the current superfast play and three point launching. And of course the off-court drama.

So, having already heard of the “Pro” series of sports agent mysteries in the 1970s from Paperback Warrior, I read the initial hoops-centered installment, The $3 Million Turnover. Centered around a sports agent/private eye and a kidnapped star basketball prospect, I found it-iffy.

The prose is really, really dated and reads almost like an unintentional parody of old “hard boiled gumshoe” novels. There’s that and the basketball part of the story being mostly incidental to the main plot-the stuff like the then-present rivalry between the NBA and the ramshackle ABA is just window dressing and the player himself is really just a MacGuffin. I had a lot less fun with this book than I hoped I would, though to be fair I was stepping out of my comfort zone.

 

Review: Casca The Eternal Mercenary

Casca 1: The Eternal Mercenary

Casca The Eternal Mercenary

So the Casca series is a little off the Fuldapocalyptic beaten track for me. But really, I of all people couldn’t resist a series written by Barry Sadler of ‘Ballad of the Green Beret’ fame with the premise of “The Roman soldier that stabbed Jesus with the spear is fated to be a soldier/warrior forever”, fusing the Longinus and Wandering Jew mythologies. That part brings a very different song to my mind.

The first book opens in Vietnam where the main character heals ridiculously fast from a seemingly fatal head wound, and one “hypnotic narrative” later, returns to nearly two thousand years in the past. After the event, he gets in a fight with his “sergeant” over a girl and ends up with a deep wound… …which heals, because in practice, he turns into essentially Marvel’s Wolverine without claws. Cue a long stretch of time where he fights throughout dynasties of Roman history, then a final scene in the then-present where Casca/Casey has escaped from his Vietnam hospital-and is fighting in the Arab-Israeli wars.

This is very much a pop-historical “sword and sandal epic” rather than trying for any serious attempt at realism, and is all the better for it. Casca becomes a slave, he becomes a gladiator, and he enjoys a bit of peace before returning to his horror.

One of the low points of the book is its cultural er- insensitivity. While an action novel in the 70s is not going to top anyone’s “most progressive” list, this has a few moments that made me raise eyebrows. The walking stereotype Chinese martial arts master (yes, in ancient Rome, it’s a long story) who teaches Casca I was more bemused by than anything else. I went ‘uhh….’ at both the vicious savage African gladiator whose victims included (of course) a young blonde woman and the man whose marriage improved after he started hitting his wife.

But even the worst I found tolerable, because it only felt offensive and not offensive and creepy. This is, after all, a 70s action novel. And what it does well, it does very well. The Eternal Mercenary can make its action dramatic even with an immortal protagonist, and that’s no small feat.

Casca: The Eternal Mercenary is lightweight sleaze, but it’s good lightweight sleaze.