Review: Covert Action

Covert Action

Chet Cunningham’s Covert Action was one of his last books released, out on a small independent press. While I didn’t think too much of it upon my initial readthrough, now I think it clarifies something that’s been bothering me.

Having read some of Cunningham’s SEAL Team Seven novels, the book itself is basically one of those. The names are obviously changed, but the plot structure of hyperactive zipping around the world and constant action remains unmistakable to someone who’s read the “Keith Douglass” books helmed by him. The problem is that thanks to even iffier fundamentals and considerably worse proofreading, it goes from “ok” to “bad.” The book itself I’d just leave and not really recommend.

But what was the “a-ha” moment for me was how this affected reviewing. This is an example of how some cheap thrillers can feel interchangeable-because in some cases they are. There’s this. There’s the same author doing most of the work on both the MIA Hunter and Cody’s Army series. And finally, in one of the most extreme examples, the “Sharpshooter” and “Marksman” series of ‘shoot the mobster’ novels in the 1970s shared so much and were so rushed that manuscripts from the latter were used for the former, to the point where the main character’s name didn’t stay consistent.

There’s going to be a lot of overlap in a genre that’s formulaic by nature. And not all, or even most of the books I read reach this extreme. But there’s an undeniably sour feeling I’ve been getting as I reach for the keyboard.

The kind of “51% book” that Marine Force One still stands as the best example of can still be perfectly fun to read. But I’m finding, much like I’ve found with books in the same series, that repeated examples of those are getting harder and harder to actually review.

Review: Bloodstorm

SEAL Team Seven: Bloodstorm

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A Chet Cunningham SEAL Team Seven novel, Bloodstorm is a strange book. It features a globetrotting chase to hunt down loose ex-Soviet nukes, going everywhere from Libya using them in a Dale Brown-ist fashion to Afghanistan (in a pre-9/11 book) to Syria.

There’s the usual tons of weapon descriptions, including a “Bull Pup” (two words) that matches the ill-fated OICW in terms of what it does. Like Frontal Assault, this is a hyperactive thriller that zips around the world over the span of a comparably short book-and yet it still feels overly padded. Cunningham was no stranger to writing out large quantities of books very fast, and this feels like one of them, with a huge amount of  sloppiness. While a cheap thriller is better off moving too quickly than moving too slowly, there are better books of this type out there.

Review: Frontal Assault

SEAL Team Seven: Frontal Assault

By the time of Frontal Assault, the “Keith Douglass” behind SEAL Team Seven was veteran cheap thriller writer Chet Cunningham. To give an idea of how long and prolific his career was, Cunningham wrote half of the Penetrator books close to twenty years before this one.

Really, this whole book is “what if a classic men’s adventure novelist wrote a technothriller?” Because it is. It combines the very basics of a technothriller (high tech military weapons! Superweapons! Big-picture struggles!) with a bunch of set pieces as Blake Murdock and his team struggle to go against…. Saddam Hussein.

I admit to feeling just a little uneasy about books using then-living real people in them, even utterly unsympathetic dictators (Tin Soldiers and Proud Legions at least had fictional strongmen oust Saddam and Kim Jong-Il before beginning the plot). It’s not a deal-breaker, but it still feels tacky. Even if this genre is tacky.

There’s inaccuracies like “.25 revolvers”, the USMC still using M48 tanks in the 2000s, and other nitpicky designations, along with a strategic big picture that’s, um, well, less than entirely accurate. As for the actual battles, if original author William Keith tried to at least have a tiny bit of grounding and Direct Action at least got most of the designations right, this is just pure action spectacle with all one would expect from a classic pulp thriller writer. Any one of the set pieces could have made up an entire book on its own, so putting them all in makes this book feel both audacious and overstuffed.

But still, I had fun with this.