In the real world, eleven years had passed since the events told about in Stephen Mertz’s A Day of Mourning and Dead Man Running occurred – they were first published in 1984. And although I still haven’t read A Day of Mourning (which I’ll rectify soon – as I write I have a copy winging its way to me from Western Australia), I know that Mack Bolan’s Soviet protagonist in that story was Greb Strakhov. Strakhov was killed by Bolan, but all those eleven years later, in post-Soviet Russia, Strakhov’s influence can still be felt, when one of his underlings, Kharald Shevchenko re-activates a network of sleeper agents around the world.
But as you’d expect, many of these agents who have been in place for over a decade, and after the fall of Communism, have set up new lives with families. They have no desire to sacrifice themselves for a cause that no longer exists. However, this failure to comply is met with swift retribution.
One sleeper agent, Petyr Voroshilov, fearing for his life, and the life of his son, contacts Stony Man HQ, and asks to be brought in – offering a wealth of information in the bargain. A pick up is arranged, and Mack Bolan – the Executioner – is the man assigned to bring him in. And as Shevchenko’s men attempt to stop Voroshilov’s defection, Bolan and fellow Stony Man operative Leo Turrin are engaged in an action-packed running battle. The first one-hundred pages of this book are a breathless thrill ride that doesn’t let up. It is so good in fact, it almost over shadows the other action set-pieces in the book. Don’t get me wrong, the other passages are very good too, particularly a helicopter raid on a freighter carrying nuclear material, and the climactic battle above and below the East China Sea, but they aren’t given the full reign that the opening has.
The villain of the piece, Kharald Shevchenko, after four years of capitalism, wishes for Russia to return to the old days of communism, and to that end he teams up with renegade Red Chinese General Hua to achieve his goal. From the get-go, Bolan and Stony Man (characters from Able Team and Phoenix Force make cameo appearances in this story) are on the back foot, trying to work out what the hell is going on around the globe. Only as tiny scraps of intel come in, do the pieces slowly begin to fit together.
On of the great things about this book is its high-tech approach to intelligence gathering, and its application throughout the mission. I have talked about this before, in relation to films, how spy stories used to be structured with a mission briefing at the beginning, and then the agent is sent off to save the world in an autonomous fashion. But the world has changed. Communication has changed. As a clumsy example, throw one mobile phone into the beginning of Dr. No and you have a whole new story! Routine radio transmissions at a set time? What nonsense is that? Killpoint embraces modern technology and author Mel Odom beautifully balances the operations out in the field and the back at Stony Man base, with wheelchair bound, Aaron Kurtzman (the tech wizard), actively involved in the field operations, almost as if he was standing right beside Bolan.
On numerous occasions, when I have looked at Mack Bolan or Nick Carter books, I have said ‘they are what they are’, which is simple, fast-paced, formulaic and with a body count. And they generally deliver on that level, but not much else. In fact, if you took one of the stories, and used the ‘find/change’ function to change Mack Bolan’s named to Bill Smith; even with the new name, the stories would still read pretty much as Mack Bolan adventures. I hope that makes sense. What I am trying to imply is that the template used for these stories is very identifiable and doesn’t vary too much. However, with Killpoint, the ‘find/change’ test would produce something different. With different character names, Killpoint would be a damn fine stand-alone spy story. However, the fact that Odom has managed to keep the story well grounded in Bolan/The Executioner lore means he has achieved an incredible balancing act. The story works in both worlds, as spy fiction and as a Mack Bolan novel.
I think I have expressed how much I enjoyed this novel, and a part of that pleasure comes from the fact that I didn’t expect a lot. Obviously I enjoy the Bolan adventures, but I am well aware of their limitations. But on this occasion, my pre-conceived expectations were knocked out of the ball park. Killpoint is a fine story.