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: Lone Wolf-Night Raider

Lone Wolf: Night Raider


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: Diamondhead



Patrick Robinson’s Diamondhead is in some ways the perfect book for this blog. Robinson was one of the few authors to get going as a new technothriller writer after 1991, when the genre was imploding. Robinson also has a reputation for being well, not very good. After reading Diamondhead, I can say that, at least judged from that book, that reputation is accurate.

But there’s more to it. This isn’t just a clunkfest like say, a later Tom Clancy or “Tom Clancy’s” novel. It was strangely fascinating in how so many elements of the “cheap thriller” had, by the year 2009, just sort of mushed together.

The military details are ridiculously inaccurate, from SEALS riding into battle inside tanks (yes, along with the regular crew) to Sidewinders being used as air-to-ground missiles. Where this is particularly bad is the MacGuffin of the book, the titular missiles. They’re a new, formally banned as too cruel (wha?) type of anti-tank missile that burns the crew of any vehicle it penetrates-you know, like any other ATGM with a shaped charge that shoots something very hot into something with a lot of fuel and ammunition inside it.

But even beyond that, the genre kind of comes full circle back to the vigilante style as SEAL Mack Bedford (those are two truck brands) gets excoriated by the EVIL MEDIA, subject to a court martial that reminded me, no joke, of Phoenix Wright with all the loud “OBJECTIONS!”, before he gets his revenge on the evil French businessman/politician who’s been providing these super-missiles to rogue Islamist groups-and personally aiding in the first deployment of them. 

This plot could very well have worked as one of the classic “Men’s Adventure” thrillers. But unlike those, it suffers from the two things that plagued the technothriller-bloat and self-seriousness. At least with one of those books, you tended to get a brisk, smooth, “when in doubt, fight it out” style. This plods and clunks through unsuspenseful “suspense”, and then Mr. Truck just turns into John Rourke when the time comes for him to actually fight anyway. It has cheap thriller implausibility but not cheap thriller whimsy or bombast.

And the sad part is that more and more of the big-name, big-published “mainstream” thrillers (the kind I could find in the small book section of a local grocery store) are like this. There’s a reason why I review very few “big-time big-name” authors. Part of it is expense and part of it is me wanting to highlight obscure authors who need all the recognition they can get. But to be honest, a big part is that most of these thrillers are like Diamondheads in the ways that count.