Mack Bolan: Paramilitary Plot

Mack Bolan: Paramilitary PlotAuthor: Mike Newton
Based on characters created by Don Pendleton
Publisher: Worldwide: Gold Eagle
Published: 1982
Book Number: 45
Pictured: Australian paperback edition 1984

Paramilitary Plot marks the first occasion that legendary pulp fiction character, Mack Bolan – The Executioner, has graced the pages of Permission to Kill. Needless to say it wont be his last. However, Mack Bolan’s early adventures, written by Don Pendleton were not particularly espionage based. That Mack Bolan operated outside the law, and his enemy were the Mafia. However, from book 39 in the series – The New War – after Pendleton sold the rights to his creation, Bolan was different, and I guess, depending on your definition of spy fiction – mine is very loose – that’s where The Executioner stories move into a counter-terrorist, espionage realm, and become worthy of examination of these pages.

In these stories, Bolan has been awarded a Presidential pardon, given plastic surgery, and rechristened ‘John Phoenix’. Bolan/Phoenix is a counter-terrorism operative codenamed Stony Man. Here’s an overview of the Bolan we are dealing with here; from pages 15-16:

When Mack Bolan retired from his private war against the Mafia, he did so with a purpose. The thought of rest and relaxation, so alluring to a battle-weary warrior, never seriously crossed his mind. Instead he resigned his role in one conflict to join another – a new war, against a threat more insidious than any offered by the mob.

Terror was a chief target in Bolan’s newest phase of war everlasting. In a world divided on the lines of race, ideology, religion, the firebrands and fanatics found fertile breeding ground. For too many years, small bands of savages, often acting without coherent thought or guiding policy, had held the world at bay. Free nations often seemed powerless to stem the violent tide.

Time for Mack Bolan.

Or rather, time for ‘John Phoenix’, a full colonel in America’s sub rosa war against the terrorists.

The Bolan identity had for all intents and purposes been shed in the final hours of his ‘last mile’ against the Mafia. As a fugitive and public figure, the Executioner was ‘dead’.

Also by this time Mack Bolan, and the Bolan universe was on the verge of breaking out into other pulp fiction series. First their was Mack Bolan’s Able Team – this book promotes the first entitled Tower of Terror. Then their was Mack Bolan’s Phoenix Force – the first title being Argentine Deadline. There were also the Stony Man series and the Super Bolans and War Books.  So I think that it’s fair to say that Bolan and his hard hitting companions were (and still are) a marketing juggernaut, with over six-hundred books in the market place.

Paramilitary Plot begins with Bolan being briefed about his next assignment, which will take him to the Everglades. A biochemist, working for a company named Warco has gone missing – or so his daughter, Holly Bruce, suspects. However, when she enquires about his whereabouts, Warco insist that he is merely on leave. She doesn’t believe them and contacts the department of justice. They send a man out, who later turns up in Florida, dead – his skin blackened – from a virulent disease, much like the dreaded Bubonic Plague.

Bolan is assigned to follow up the investigation, and immediately is thrown into the action when he finds a paramilitary compound set up deep within the Everglades. This compound is under the control of Colonel Charles Rosky, and old seasoned campaign soldier, who now works as a mercenary – for hire to the the highest bidder. The man paying the bills is Thurston Ward, the head of Warco, and also a man with ties to the Mafia. He also has a mad scheme to take over the island of Grenada, using Professor Bruce’s research, and making himself the sole, omnipotent ruler.

Of course, Mack Bolan has other ideas – which involves a lot of shooting and explosions.

There were a few of things that irked me about this novel. Firstly was the filler in between action scenes – and unfortunately it was the same filler chapter after chapter – that being the repetition of Mack Bolan / John Phoenix manifesto which outlines his ‘everlasting war’ or ‘war everlasting’ against terrorism. That’s all good and well, because it is nice to know what drives and motivates the characters in a story. But after you’ve read it four or five times, it wears a bit thin.

The second irksome story trait was the use of the word ‘yeah’. I have no problem with ‘yeah’ used as dialogue, but in this novel it is used to reaffirm Mack Bolan’s actions. So there are passages like (p. 157):  … Laying charges, yeah, making ready to blow their bridges behind them as they left. I guess it gives the story a comfortable immediacy, like some old guy telling relating an action packed tale in a pub – but once again, after twenty or so ‘yeah’s, it had worn out its welcome.

And my final gripe – and before I go any further, if you are offended by foul language, I’d skip ahead two paragraphs, because my my problem is with the swearing in this book – which is hard to discuss without swearing. Now am not prudish when it comes to swearing. I have a mouth like a sewer, and Australians have a reputation for swearing more than practically any other country. Apparently there is a language usage dictionary that credits an Australian in war time with the most varied usage of the same swear word in one sentence. That being a young Aussie soldier explaining to his senior officer that his jeep won’t start. His words were, ‘The fucking fuck won’t fucking fuck, sir!’ Feel free to correct me, but  I believe there’s an adjective, a noun, an adverb and a verb in that simple statement. Australian English at its very best!

So I like swearing, and am not offended to read it or hear it. If it’s in the dialogue, great. But, I don’t believe it is an effective literary device for describing an action scene. Once again, this is not dialogue, but the description in a passage of action. So when Mack Bolan blows up the enemies airboats, the description reads (p. 120): … All four of those fucking boats went to hell at the same time, in one huge mushroom of explosive flame.

Have the characters swear their heads off when all hell breaks loose, but swearing in the descriptions actually does nothing to create atmosphere or heighten the tension. Once again, it is like the story is being narrated by some fellow sitting in the corner of a bar. I almost wonder, if the story was narrated into a cassette recorder, and somebody later typed it up into book format (I think I once read that Peter Cheyney used to do that).

This are minor gripes to be sure, but when added up, it results in a pretty poor book that plods in sections and lacks tension. At the end of the day, I am a guy who likes to read lurid pulp fiction spy novels – and as such I will cut them more slack than most people. So if I am disappointed, then I guess it’s fair to say, that this novel is crap. I realise the Bolan books were written quickly to meet short deadlines, and there is a rough and tough formula to adhere to. At the back of The Executioner No. 60 – Sold for Slaughter, there’s a brief overview of author Mike Newton and it suggests that he had forty-four books published in seven years (I am sure they were not all Mack Bolan) – and maybe therein lies the problem with this book. Pumping out five books a year is a big ask for any author – even the most prolific writer – and this book just seems stale and lazy.

From the back:

Warning: Black Death!

The disappearance of a leading U.S. biochemist was handled routinely by the Department of Justice… until their agent on the case was found dead in Florida, his body ravaged by a plague bacillus.

Enter Mack Bolan. The murky world of the Everglades was ominous enough without the unknown variables – a strange secret fortress, the bio-chemist’s strong-willed daughter, and a mad billionaire’s private army bent on territorial expansion way beyond the confines of the Sunshine State.

The Executioner’s search-and-rescue suddenly became a blistering search-and-destroy. In this lush steaming swampland, the man in black would spare no quarter to bring a defenseless world back into balance.

Picking on a Mack Bolan story is fairly pointless. The books are short and sweet and the cover art fully discloses the type of story contained in the pages. If people running around with guns, and airboats blowing up – as depicted on this particular cover – doesn’t appeal to you pictorially, then let me assure you, then literarily this book too will have little to offer. And even if the story isn’t quite up to par, well at least it is fast paced, and can be finished quickly, allowing the reader to move on to the next in the series.

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Mack Bolan: Paramilitary Plot

The Deighton Dossier: Len Deighton Q & A

Rob Mallow’s blog The Deighton Dossier has achieved the impossible (well the almost impossible) –  an interview with legendary spy novelist Len Deighton.

Parts One, Two and Three are all up now at the Dossier, comprising the entire interview session. In the first part, the author discusses his writing habits, what he’s working on now, and the Harry Palmer movies (including the never-filmed Horse Under Water).

Fan art for the unmade Harry Palmer film, 'Horse Under Water'.

This is, of course, essential reading for all spy fans. To head across, click here!

The Deighton Dossier: Len Deighton Q & A

Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)

Godzilla vs MegalonCountry: Japan
Starring: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Hiroyuki Kawase, Yutaka Hayashi, Robert Dunham, Kotaro Tomita, Wolf Otsuki, Kanta Mori, Shinji Takagi, Hideto Odachi, Tsugutoshi Komada, Kenpachiro Satsuma
Writer: Jun Fukuda
Director: Jun Fukuda
Cinematographer: Yuzuru Aizawa
Music: Riichiro Manabe
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Original Title: Gojira tai Megaro

As a highly paid professional writer – you believe that don’t you? – I am expected to do a modicum of research before I present a film review.  But there is one huge gap in my cinematic knowledge that needs to be rectified. Now don’t get angry at me – don’t throw anything at your monitor – but I have only seen three Godzilla films. Firstly, a hacked version of the original (Godzilla: King of Monsters) and Godzilla: 1985, both watched as practically a kid. Then of course, the American 1998 version – but it is probably best that we ignore that. What I am clumsily saying my knowledge base of kaiju eiga is quite poor. So taking the bit between my teeth, I ventured out of my darkened hovel, shielding my eyes from the sunlight, and made my way the largest shopping centre in the area. As I scoured the multiplex, I found (ignoring the American version once again), only one Godzilla film – Godzilla Vs Megalon.

Now I may be new to kaiju eiga but the general consensus is that the Godzilla films of Jun Fukuda from the early 1970’s are despised by many hard-core Godzilla fans. But as you have read, I am not a hard-core Godzilla fan – I am a tourist, and when watching Godzilla Vs Megalon, after a protracted opening, at the forty-five minute mark, when Godzilla arrived on the scene to battle Megalon and Gigan, shaping up like a punch-drunk prize fighter, a small tear welled up in my eye. The tear wasn’t because I had been dragged emotionally into the story or at the simple beauty of a monster taking a stand on behalf of humanity – the tear was because I thought ‘what have I been missing?’ Godzilla Vs Megalon is considered one of the worst in the series and there I was thoroughly enjoying myself as the Big G took on two bad-ass monsters. But no doubt I am preaching to the already converted. Let’s have a brief look at the story.

The film starts with another nuclear test. This pisses of the inhabitants of the underground kingdom of Seatopia. You see, Seatopia used to be a continent on the surface of the planet – it is hinted that it may have been the fabled lands of Mu or Lemoria – but an earthquake rocked the planet and sent the land to the bottom of the sea – and somehow beneath the earth. Somehow they managed to create oxygen and manufactured an artificial sun to sustain life. Now they Seatopians live in peace – well they did until us surface dwellers started nuclear testing. The tests have destroyed over a third of their land, and now they decide it’s time to strike back. They choose to send Megalon to the surface to destroy the surface dwellers.

Megalon, like most monsters, is a pretty ugly beast. He looks like a giant cockroach with two huge drills on his arms. On his head, he has a weird antenna, which looks like a five pointed star, which is turned upside down. From this antenna he can shoot energy beams. His mouth is unusual too. He seems to have four lips which roll back so he can fire, or spit out red hot cannon balls.

On the surface, a scientist, Goro Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki ) has been building a robot called Jet Jaguar. Jet Jaguar is a silver robot with a pointy head who is jet propelled – he can fly. The purpose for this robot is never really explained, but the Seatopians send up a few human agents to take control of Jet Jaguar. They use Jet Jaguar almost as a homing beacon to direct Megalon to Tokyo where he can do the most damage.

With a miniature remote control Goro Ibuki takes control of Jet Jaguar once again, and tells him to fly off to Monster Island and get Godzilla. You see, in this film, Godzilla is a good guy. The Big G responds and makes his way to Japan. Meanwhile, Jet Jaguar races back to Japan, but upon his arrival, something strange has happened. He no longer responds to Goro Ibuki commands. It appears that Jet Jaguar has gone into survival mode and become sentient. No his own master, somehow – never really explained – Jet Jaguar transforms himself into a larger robot – the same size as Megalon. While waiting for Godzilla to arrive, Jet Jaguar takes on Megalon. Now the Seatopians are privy to the battle going on, up on the surface, and decide that Megalon needs a little backup. So they send Gigan up to help. Now Jet Jaguar is in an unfair two on one situation. Not only does he have to counter Megalon but also the cybernetic chicken with the buzz-saw belly, Gigan. Natually these two monsters start to give Jet Jaguar a kicking, that is until Godzilla arrives. The last third of this movie is monster fights – and for me that perfect entertainment.

According to Wikipedia, Jet Jaguar was created as the result of a contest Toho studios ran in 1972 for fans to come up with a new super robot hero for them to use. The winning entry was a drawing of a robot called Red Arone. This robot was renamed Jetto Jagā ( Jet Jaguar) and was set to star in his own film – Jet Jaguar vs. Megalon. After much deliberation, Toho decided that Jet Jaguar would not be popular enough on his own, so the film was rewritten to include Godzilla and Gigan.

All in all, I found Godzilla Vs Megalon to be an enjoyable adventure. It is slightly on the childish side – in fact it has often been labeled a kids movie. But in the end we are talking about a giant monster – and is there anything that appeals more to the cult film lover (or a child) than a man in a giant monster suit destroying miniature cities – I think not!

Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)

Nick Carter: Night of the Warheads

Nick Carter: Night of the WarheadsAuthor: Jack Canon
Publisher: Charter Books
Published: 1984
Book No: 189

Once again we join Nick Carter, Agent N3 – Killmaster for AXE on another mission to save the world from certain disaster.

This time he takes on the Basque terrorist organisation ETA (Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna), who have got their hands on eight nuclear missiles. So right from the get-go, Nick is in the thick of the action.

Although, when it comes to the ladies, ol’ Nick is a bit slow in this adventure. The novel is 43 pages into the story before Nick seduces his first woman. What was the author thinking?

The author in question is Jack Canon who penned at least thirty-seven Nick Carter books, starting with The Ebony Cross in 1978 and finishing in 1990 with the last book in the series, Dragon Slay. That’s roughly three books a year over those twelve years, which is an impressive feat in its way. I only have a couple a Canon’s Carter adventures, and a cursory look at them would suggest that he was one of the authors who preferred to write his stories in third person (the bulk of the Carter stories that I have read, have been scribed in first person). Beyond that, there is very little I can tell you about Jack Canon. The ‘Google Machine’ doesn’t shed much light on him – the only snippet I found was reference to a book called A Hangman for Paradise – (1980) allegedly from the Michael Paradise series – which I also cannot find any information on. I do not know if Canon was the sole author of this series, or simply a contributing writer. If any vintage pulp fiction fans have any clues, or information, feel free to drop me a line.

Anyway, back to the story at hand. Nick, after taking out a band of terrorists, working for a group calling themselves Latinos for Freedom, stumbles on to information linking these particular two-bit terrorists with the militant Basque Separatist Movement. And further along the chain, through a rogue ex-CIA agent information on how they have hijacked eight nuclear weapons, and kidnapped men with the scientific knowledge to launch them.

To get close, Nick poses as a hitman named Nick Carstocus, who lives in luxury, in the tiny nation of Andorra, in the Pyrenees. As a perk, Carstocus is also a swinging Lothario, so in setting up his cover, he has to wine, dine and seduce as many women as possible. Thankfully most of this happens off the page, or it would get rather tedious – but his ploy works, and he soon attracts the attention of Armanda de Nerro, who happens to be the matriarch of faction of Basque terrorists.

The twist to the story (minor spoiler ahead), is that Carter, as ‘hitman’ Carstocus, has been paid to kill Armanda by the head of another Basque faction. The winner of this power-play will ultimately have control of the eight stolen missiles and be able to hold Spain (and the rest of the world) to ransom, in their violent quest for independence.

The action passages in this Nick Carter adventure are pretty sprightly (and appropriately bloody), but some of the more ‘investigative’ elements of the story are a bit plodding.  But I have read worse (and I am sure I will again).  Ultimately Night of the Warheads is routine Carter adventure that doesn’t strive to be anything more than it is. If you’re a fan of the Carter series, you’ll find this acceptable – if not, this book is certainly not the one to convert you.

Nick Carter: Night of the Warheads

The Dead Man: Hell in Heaven

Hell in HeavenAuthors: Lee Goldberg, William Rabkin
Publisher: Adventures in Television
Published: May 2011
Book No: 3

The year is absolutely rocketing by, and it’s time once again for the next installment of The Dead Man. If you haven’t been reading the series, now is a good time to jump on board, because the first book, Face of Evil, has been reduced to a measly 99 cents at Amazon(for Kindle).

Hell in Heaven, is the third book in the series, and sees the return of Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin to the driver seat, after book two, Ring of Knives was penned by James Daniels.

So what paranormal mayhem does Matthew Cahill find himself involved in this time? The story starts with Matt continuing his search, on a motorcycle, for the elusive Mr. Dark. But so far, he has found neither hide nor hair of him – and that’s beginning to wear on his nerves. On the highway, he sees an off ramp that leads to a small village named Heaven.

Matt decides that Heaven is possibly the perfect place for ‘The Dead Man’ to rest and regroup, and think of a better strategy for locating Mr. Dark. The thing is though, that Matt has never been to Heaven before, and doesn’t quite realise what he is in for.

At first glance, Heaven looks like the type of town that hasn’t changed in one-hundred years – which in this day and age is kind of creepy. But what is even more creepy, as Matt rides into town, is that a banner has been strung across the main street which reads ‘Welcome home, Matt’.

But the sign isn’t for Matt Cahill. It’s intended as a welcome for a soldier named Matt Delaney, who has been recently discharged. But as Matt’s features are hidden by a motorcycle helmet, the townsfolk are not to know who he is and rush out to greet him.

Once the townsfolk realise their error, they return to their homes and their lives. There and then, Matt decides that Heaven is not the place for him, and prepares to leave, but just before he goes, an old woman grabs him by the arm and whispers, ‘help us!’

Matt agrees to stay and help, but Heaven is not your average backwoods town, and he finds himself caught in the middle of a Hatfields vs the McCoys style power struggle – that is, Hatfields vs the McCoys via John Boorman’s Deliverance (without the banjos), and with a dab of The Wicker Man thrown in for good measure. Matt finds himself enmeshed in quite a surreal adventure. Thankfully, he has on hand his grandfather’s axe, and when in doubt…, well sometimes it just best to come out swinging!

Those who have read the first two installments of The Dead Man series, myself included, have been waiting for Matt to start wielding the axe. The axe has already established itself as a symbol for The Dead Man character – look at the logotype on the book cover above – and as such, it’s time for it to take centre stage. And here, Matt starts chopping, not just wood, but at some of the things that go bump in the night. However, despite his affinity for the axe, initially he is not as confident as you might think. Matt is still pretty much human – an everyman – so his first foray into the world of fighting the forces of darkness with his preferred weapon, certainly cannot be compared to the fluid, muscular hacking displayed by Conan the Barbarian (although Conan is named-checked a few times in the story).

Hell in Heaven, once again is a brisk entry in the series, and I am pleased to report that the story didn’t go anywhere that I predicted. After the first two installments, in my head, I thought I had figured out the formula and the pattern the series would take, but this sort of threw me (which is good!) If the series keeps presenting stories as deliciously unpredictable as this (but obviously within the boundaries already established), then I can see myself continuing to read and enjoy The Dead Man’s adventures.

The spiel:

The sign on the exit reads “Heaven.” What better place could there be for a dead man to visit? But when Matt takes the ramp, he finds a banner welcoming him by name to a tiny town seemingly left behind by the 21st century… and waiting for him to rescue it. But when he agrees to save Heaven’s citizens from a coming terror, he discovers that evil has more faces than he could ever imagine – and good is far more complicated than he ever dreamed.

Hell in Heaven is available from today (May 4) on the Kindle, as a trade paperback, and on the Nook., and other online retailers. Next up will be The Dead Woman, by David McAfee (of which two teaser chapters are included with Hell in Heaven).

The Dead Man: Hell in Heaven