Thursday, December 18, 2014

Death Merchant #29: Fatal Formula

Richard "Death Merchant" Camellion is tasked with the job of organizing the kidnapping Dr. Anna Trofimov, a Russian biochemist specializing in bacteriology. She has been working on germ warfare and may have hit on something known as the Voltec Formula, a potentially deadly strain of flu virus.

The United States is worried that the Russians may not be able to contain the killer virus. If it leaks, it could destroy the human race in two months! (Of course, the Americans prove no better at keeping killer viruses under wraps. A similar type virus got loose in a secret U.S. lab in Utah and killed 15 scientists, but (naturally) no one suggests that the Americans are as incapable as the Russians.)

After a different kidnapping goes awry in the opening of the book, the DM and two members of the Banderists, an anti-KGB group, escape and hide in an attic two floors about a cafe before being smuggled out in the bottom of a garbage truck. We next join Camellion on board a nuclear submarine where he is told about his real mission. Camellion - along with CIA man Sidney Dormar and two Turkish intel agents, Turhan Paksu and Nurettin Sevik - travel from submarine to fishing boat to truck on their way to another hiding place in a farmhouse. There's no real reason to include the initial kidnapping attempt (it is supposedly to throw the KGB off the trail of the real mission) or for the men to do so much traveling. It just seems like a way for author Joseph Rosenberger to fill pages.

The obvious endpoint of the book is when Camellion stages an assault on the secret Russian laboratory in which Torfimov has been conducting her experiments. The preparation for, and the pre-dawn approach of, the lab is quite drawn out, as is the big battle throughout the complex. But Camellion comes out on top, taking Torfimov and two other scientists captive while destroying the lab and all strains of the the virus. ("His agreement with the Cosmic Lord of Death was intact, the seal unbroken.")

Once again, Rosenberger doesn't disappoint with his pseudo-intellectual asides:
Cooped up in the underground room [at the farmhouse], the men found the waiting intolerable, each hour a day, each day a year. Every man except Richard Camellion, who knew that time is an illusion, who knew that while we remember the past, we plan the future but act now. The "now" is a single instant of time. each instant of time becomes the "now" when it happens. The year 2000 is in the future. In the year 2000 it will be "now." One day, in 2001, it will be in the past. The past, the present, the future are linguistic. But they are not physical. And the Death Merchant knew it. In any case, even an "eternity" must end and the final second enlarge, by a single second, the "past."
Elsewhere, Rosenberger offers what he calls a "coincedence-generating principle":
While the existence of Fate is pure philosophical speculation, there is a synchronism, a meaningful linkage of facts, that transcends the space-time-cause universe.
Once the Russian lab is destroyed, the Death Merchant and the others make their way through a rain/wind storm to meet the Banderists' boat. Rosenberger goes all out describing the weather conditions:
As yet the wind had not risen to full fury; the storm was still building. However, the wind was strong enough to shape the rain into twisting sheets, contorted walls of water that impeded progress with a malice, with a malevolence from which there was no escape. Booted feet slipped on rain-wet rocks and sank into sand-mush. Whips of rain furiously slapped faces while long, jagged streaks of blue-white lightning stabbed out of the angry clouds, each thunderbolt seeking - seemingly - the pathetic little group fighting for existence.
Camellion, whose birth date is given as July 14, is described as being "clever enough to sleep on a greased corkscrew". ... And then there is this sentence: "The CIA man had the nervous system of an armadillo: There wasn't any danger of his getting a hole in his bag of marbles." Whaaa?

Lee E. Jurras gets several mentions, including Camellion saying at the end of the book that he is going to visit Jurras in New Mexico because the gunsmith has some "new goodies" for the Death Merchant. Rosenberger has mentioned Jurras a couple of times in every one of the last 8-10 books. I'm just about convinced Jurras paid him for the plugs!

The saying "Fool me once - shame on you. Fool me twice - shame on me!" is identified as "an old Russian proverb". I found this online, but do not know if it is reliable:
Among the old sources mentioned for this proverb in The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs by Jennifer Speake (ed.), Oxford University Press (2008) is this quote from The Court and Character of King James by Anthony Weldon (1650), page 52: "The Italians having a Proverb, He that deceives me Once, it's his Fault; but Twice it is my fault.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Clash's London Calling: "Tested By Research"

The Clash's seminal album was released in the UK 35 years ago today.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Death Merchant #28: Nipponese Nightmare

The United Red Army (Rengo Sekigun), a Communist terrorist organization operating in Japan, is planning several assassinations around the world in the hopes of starting a planet-wide revolution. Obviously, these "commie crackpots" - who may be getting some help from North Korea - must be stopped.

Nipponese Nightmare begins with Richard Camellion attending a strategy meeting at the house of Amida Chogomiga, a member of Kompei, the Japanese version of the CIA. The house is in a wealthy neighbourhood ("Chogomiga certainly doesn't have to eat rice every day", the Death Merchant muses). While Camellion and the various Kompei agents discuss what to do, the house is attacked by the URA and the first of several shootouts is underway.

Camellion and Shiki Brown team up to invade a strip club run by Kato Honjuji, who is suspected of being a URA sympathizer and using his club for meetings and as a place to store weapons. The two men actually interrupt a URA meeting in the basement. A fierce gun fight follows, with the DM discovering afterwards that Honjuji was killed by the URA ahead of Camellion's arrival.

Left with no real leads on the URA, Camellion proposes invading the North Korean embassy and kidnapping someone important, assuming he or she will possess some information on the URA. Everyone says attacking the "self-contained fortress" is a suicide mission, but the Death Merchant chides them all for a "lack of imagination".

A doorman at the NK embassy has been feeding the Kompei information and from him they learn about two employees who leave each Friday afternoon to shop for food for the embassy staff. Camellion uses his masterful skills at disguise and makeup to make two agents look like these two workers - and they are able to drive into the embassy grounds (with Camellion hidden in the car). The three agents storm inside and a wild battle takes place. Killing everything that moves, they race through the building floor by floor, eventually reaching the roof. It turns out that there are three survivors on the roof who surrender: a man, woman, and child. The man is Ho Ick Chang - amazingly, the man the Death Merchant had hoped to kidnap. What luck!

From Chang, they learn about a big meeting at a castle owned by Baron Okumiya. Camellion plans a four-man attack on the huge, nine-floor castle. (This is either the third or fourth castle that Camellion has decimated in the series already.) Towards the end of the book, Camellion battles Kiyoshi Zuikaku, the head of the URA:
A high-pitched scream of rage rolled from Zuikaku's mouth and he streaked toward Camellion, the sword raised high above his head. At the very last moment, the Death Merchant ducked, jumped forward, and swept his right hand toward the floor as the deadly blade swooshed over him. Very fast, Zuikaku raised the sword, spun around, and brought it down in a two-handed chopping motion.

Clang! The blade found not Camellion but the blade of the o-dachi that the Death Merchant had scooped up from the floor. Astonished, Zuikaku drew back. The Death Merchant jumped to his feet, smiling and saying, "Don't let a star fall on you, stupid!"

Desperate now, Zuikaku attempted another maneuver, but again the Death Merchant blocked the stroke, the two blades ringing loudly together. However, the thrust had brought Zuikaku closer to the Death Merchant, who expertly smashed him in the belly with a right-leg sokuto geri sword foot-kick. Zuikaku screamed in the worst pain he had ever known in his life.

He saw the blade in Camellion's hands coming his way but he was powerless to do anything about it. He never knew it when the sharp steel cut threw [sic] his neck and his head bounced off. The eyes kept right on blinking as the head fell to the floor. Headless, the stump of neck pumping blood, the corpse sagged to the floor.
One of Rosenberger's trademarks is his minute descriptions of the trajectory of, and the damage done by, seemingly every bullet fired by the Death Merchant. Here, he actually describes the path of several pellets from a shotgun!
The shotgun blast had done its work on the two men twenty feet away. All the Double 00 buckshot had missed, except three pellets. One pellet had struck a man in the eye, blinding him and coming to a halt in the front lower portion of his brain. A second pellet struck the second man in the mouth. The third pellet sliced into the hollow of his throat, the entrance wound the size of a penny, the tiny ball of lead lodged in the windpipe. Choking to death, the Japanese clawed at this throat, sank to his knees, and was 99 percent dead by the time Brown leaped over his jerking body and pumped a new shell into the shotgun.

Rosenberger indulges in his usual level of casual racism throughout the book. Enemy gunfighters are referred to as "slant-eyes", "slopeheads", and "rice eaters". Even Shiki Brown, the Japanese-American CIA agent, uses the term "Nips".

I'm surprised to report that some of Rosenberger/Camellion's deep thoughts and pontifications actually make a little sense:
"I have found there is always a grain of fact to any myth."

"Happiness is nothing more than health and a poor memory."

"Human history is nothing more than one long boring tale of a slaughterhouse."
In many other cases, however, Rosenberger's writing either does not make sense or is just plain silly:
"Always expecting the worst, Camellion would not have been surprised if Adolf Hitler, carrying Joe Stalin on his back, had hopped into the kitchen on a pogo stick!"

"He flopped flat on the table, looking stupid, looking very dead."

"Get set to run faster than an Israeli trapped in the middle of Syria."

"His short scream died away on a coagulated mishmash of drowning agony."

"[Naruse's] glance held the contempt of a film critic looking at Popeye the sailor."

"You funky frankenberry!" (spoken in anger during a shootout)
Finally, we get a couple of new facts about the mysterious past (and mind) of the Death Merchant.

A Kompei agent mentions to Camellion: "I am told you used to teach on the junior college level." (In previous books, Rosenberger had hinted that Camellion used to be a high school teacher in St. Louis.) At a Kompei safe house, Camellion asks for a glass of vegetable juice, and someone cracks, "Don't tell me you're a health nut? If you are, you're certainly in an odd business!"
The Death Merchant had a pet hate list that would fill all of the New York City telephone books, even the Yellow Pages! Near the top of the list were people who invaded his personal privacy, big mouths who probed into his habits.
Naturally, in the previous 27 books, we've never received even a hint of the things on Camellion's alleged lengthy "hate list" (besides religion). If anything, the Death Merchant seems to do his own thing and not be overly bothered by much around him, since he's usually on assignment or at his Texas ranch.

Five Songs

I was asked last week on Facebook to post five songs in five days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Stephen King: The Dark Tower VI: Song Of Susannah

The events depicted in Song of Susannah take place over one day immediately following the events in the previous book, Wolves of the Calla, with members of Roland Deschain's ka-tet travelling to New York City and rural Maine.

As I have stated in previous entries, The Dark Tower series is far from my cup of literary tea, but I'm determined to plow through these books. My main interest in reading the sixth book of the series was seeing how Stephen King introduced himself as a fictional character in his own epic - and how he fits into Roland's life-long quest for the Dark Tower.

In Wolves of the Calla, Donald Callahan saw a first edition of 'Salem's Lot and was extremely confused when he read the events of his life portrayed in a work of fiction. Roland, believing the author of 'Salem's Lot to be a key in his quest, takes Eddie Dean with him to East Stoneham, Maine, to have a talk with Mr. King. They arrive in the year 1977.

But that is merely one of the book's subplots and "Stephen King" does not appear in the narrative until the chapter entitled "The Writer", on page 265. The main story is the emergence of Mia, who has taken control of Susannah Dean's body, and the expected birth of her "chap". (A fuller telling of the book's plot can be found either here or here.)

King describes The Writer as tall, ashy-pale, bearded and wearing thick glasses, "starting to run to middle-aged fat". He's a bit confused by the appearance of the two gunslingers. "I made you. You can't be standing there because the only place you really exist is here" (pointing to the center of his forehead).

"King" tells his visitors about the first Gunslinger stories that he wrote, how he felt about them ("It was going to be my Lord of the Rings), and why he ultimately left them alone ("I ran out of story - and stopped."). He tells Roland: "I couldn't tell if you were the hero, the anti-hero or no hero at all. ..."
You started to scare me, so I stopped writing about you. Boxed you up and put you in a drawer and went on to a series of short stories I sold to various men's magazines. Things changed for me after I put you away, my friend, and for the better. I started to sell my stuff. Asked Tabby to marry me. Not long after that I started a book called Carrie. It wasn't my first novel, but it was the first one I sold, and it put me over the top. All that after saying goodbye Roland, so long, happy trails to you.
Roland hypnotizes "King" and while in the trance, "King" talks of being a slave to the Crimson King since the age of seven. "I love to write stories but I don't want to write your story," he pleads with Roland. "I'm always afraid. He looks for me. The Eye of the King."

Roland tells him that he must go back to the Gunslinger story.
"... The only real story you have to tell. And we'll try to protect you."

"I'm afraid . . . I'm afraid of not being able to finish. I'm afraid the Tower will fall and I'll be held to blame."

"That's up to ka, not you."
Roland then tells The Writer something that the real-life Stephen King has said many times in recent years, that all of his novels and stories are part of the Dark Tower universe. "You'll go on with your life," Roland instructs the Writer. "You'll write many stories, but every one will be to some greater or lesser degree about this story. Do you understand?"

While some of what "King" says in the manuscript about writing the Gunslinger stories may be fictional, a lot of it rings true. The book closes with an epilogue containing entries from a journal kept by the fictional King (or the King who inhabits the particular world that Roland and Eddie currently happen to be in). The entries correspond rather closely with publicly-known events in the "real" Stephen King's life, except for the fact that this fictional King dies on June 19, 1999, after being struck by a van.

Next: The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Death Merchant #27: The Surinam Affair

Only two months after his last adventure, Richard Camellion is on his way to South America. (The DM is paid $100,000 (tax-free!) for each mission, but he doesn't seem to have much downtime to enjoy his spoils.) A U.S. spy satellite, which was supposed to photograph Soviet missile installations, somehow went off course and took photos of the U.S. missile sites instead before crashing into the jungles of Surinam.

Obviously, the Russians would love to get the information from WINK-EYE-1's data banks. The Americans need to get there first - and they have hired the Death Merchant to head an expedition. The Surinam Affair is a race against time as the Americans and the Russian "pig farmers" attempt to be the first to reach the downed satellite.

The Russians try to ice Camellion out several times before he can even start the expedition - the book opens with a shootout in a public square - but of course he escapes every time. The NSA has pinpointed the location of the crashed satellite within several miles, and the DM and his crew rappel from a helicopter and, once on the ground, prepare for an arduous hike. They are almost immediately ambushed by Brazilian bandits, whom they proceed to slaughter. Later, they watch two groups of Russians parachute out of a plane - mere preface to the book's climatic battle. Upon reaching the satellite, they discover that the tapes were destroyed during the crash, and there is nothing to salvage.

This is the first Death Merchant paperback in which author Joseph Rosenberger uses the footnotes which became somewhat infamous (relatively speaking, of course) in the later volumes. In #27, he uses about two dozen, most often to translate a foreign phase, something Rosenberger usually just works (awkwardly) into the text. In one case, a British agent refers to the CIA as "you pickle factory boys". The footnote states: "It has never been made clear why British Intelligence sometimes refers to the CIA as 'the Pickle factory'."

As per usual, the Death Merchant's blue eyes are described at various times as "icy", "strange", and "odd". At one point, the Death Merchant stares directly at someone, and he "was suddenly afraid, suddenly conscious of a terror that was nameless". No more than fifteen pages after that, another character "had detected an unfathomable quality in Richard Camellion which had warned him that he was in the presence of a very unusual individual, almost as if this man named Camellion were a member of some alien species". We learn that the Death Merchant is "one of those rare individuals who had total recall". He also uses various breathing techniques as he leads the expedition through the Surinam jungles (Bhastrika, Kapalabhtai, and Ujjayi).

The Surinam Affair also contains numerous examples of Rosenberger's one-of-a-kind writing style:
"He's about as cheerful as a sponge!"

"There are 52 bones in the human foot and Richard's pile driver stomp broke 41 of them in the Russkie's foot."

"Caught with their vodka bottles turned upside down, the Soviet force was at a deadly disadvantage."

"As dead as Joe Stalin, the GRU major flopped to the moist ground ..."

"A foot in the door is worth two on the desk."

Camellion "was so unnervingly calm that he might have been going to Sunday dinner with the Waltons!" [FYI: The book was published in March 1978]

"... like an atheist cursing out loud at a Christmas mass being celebrated by the Pope."

"The man had that rare quality of basic honesty, hypocrisy being as alien to him as truth was to the communists."

"They despised communism, considering it just another form of slavery, which it is."

"Maxim's head had exploded like a watermelon."

Death Merchant #26: The Mexican Hit

The Mexican Hit opens with Richard Camellion, travelling undercover in Mexico as an English tourist named Justin Alfred Lawrence, being apprehended for drug trafficking, as a big brick of cocaine is "found" in his hotel room by federal policemen.

When Camellion suddenly attacks, he takes the eight men by surprise and eventually guns them all down. One "Mex Fed's skull came apart like a jigsaw puzzle hit by a hand grenade". The Death Merchant also wipes out a half-dozen policemen in the stairwell and a few more in the lobby - doomed, they "might as well have tried to win a maracas-playing contest with a rattlesnake" - before escaping into the street.

The main plot is that Mexican revolutionaries are arranging a huge deal with portions of the American Mafia, trading 640 kilos of heroin ("Mexican Brown") for a shit-ton of anti-tank weapons, heavy machine guns, etc. for their anti-government activities. After the opening shootout, we get two chapters of exposition, one from each side, laying out the plot and what everyone knows. By the start of Chapter 4, the actual story can begin!

This was a pretty straight-forward narrative. Camellion gets a couple of tips on the location of the revolutionary leaders, and he checks them out, engaging in wild gunfire both times. Then he hears about the boat/copter plan with the heroin/weapons, and figures that if the drugs are destroyed, the mob will take the guns back to the U.S., and so he heads off to sink the big yacht on which part of the exchange will take place. Everything comes off like clockwork. Camellion even lays a trap for a double agent.

Some examples of Joseph Rosenberger's odd ramblings on life/death and general philosophy:
The Death Merchant was past being shocked at anything, especially death, which he considered as natural as living. What people really feared was the when and the how. Unlike the man eight feet ahead of Camellion who very suddenly knew when and how! Camellion blew apart his head with a four-round burst of 9mm slugs and watched the yo-yo's hate-twisted features and skull part company, explode, and vanish into the rest of the bloody surroundings. Camellion laughed - We are such stuff as dreams are made of; and our little life is rounded with a sleep! Bull excrement! I wonder what Shakespeare would have said about a mess like this?
Camellion pursed his lips ... Hmmmm. Either heaven is on our side, or else hell has stopped helping the terrorists. The eight of us are still alive. Not one man is wounded. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, what's the difference whether we die now or do it a day at a time. Karma? The Hindus and the Buddhists would call it that. We in the West might say Destiny. Yeah, Destiny shapes our ends. So do rich foods. But we're still free to go on reducing diets!
Camellion never gets even slightly wounded in any of these books. Reading how streams of machine-gun slugs narrowly miss him - because he is so intuitive so as to leap out of the way just before the enemy fires - is always hilarious. This segment is nearly a parody:
He was halfway to the wall when an automatic rifle began its vicious coughing to his right - It has to be from the barn! Sounds like a CETME! - and he heard the zip-zip-zip of high velocity slugs slicing into the grass all around him.

He felt a tug along his left hip, but the bullet had not touched the skin. Then two savage pulls on both sides of his right leg, one on the outside, by the ankle, the other on the inside, by his thigh. There were pulls across both shoulders. He felt the air by his right cheek disturbed. A bullet ripped downward through the long bill of his field cap and twisted the cap to the left, proving that the firing was coming from the upper level of the barn.
At another point, a slug is noted to have missed the Death Merchant by only ".16 centimeters", the exact distance noted for another errant slug in the previous book! Camellion's "special relationship" with the Cosmic Lord of Death must give him some sort of immunity from being riddled with slugs. The bad guys - always given names by Rosenberger - are never so lucky:
One .44 JSP cut into [Vinnie] Aiuppa's belly, blew apart his bladder, broke his spine, then tore out his back. The impact was pitching Vinnie against [Sammy] Piletroto, who had caught a .44 bullet in the right bronchus, when another .44 smacked him in the deltoid muscle and ripped off most of his left shoulder. The fourth .44 projectile, sounding like an egg breaking, chopped into Piletroto's right side. The lead sent tiny pieces of shirt flying, tore all the way through Piletroto's longs, shot out his left side, and stuck in the throat of Aiuppa, who was falling.
Also: "Korse is the type of jerk whose hobby would be collecting used echoes!" ... There is an ashtray so full "it resembled a crooked model of the Tower of Babel". ... No one's head explodes like a fruit or a vegetable this time, though one dummy's face is likened to "a pushed-in melon". ... And Camellion retorts at one point: "I've seen better heads on cabbages!"

Rosenberger (and/or his characters) refer to various Mexicans as "chili bean", "hot tamale", "chili pepper" and "bowl of chili sauce". Mexico is referred to as "chili-land". ... An overweight Mexican is referred to as "a tub of Latin lard". ... One of the Mexican revolutionaries, a woman, is described as being "as queer as a four-buck bill printed in Eskimo". ... The few Russians who appear in the book are either "pig farmers" or "Ivans".

The expression "Good God Gerty!" - which has appeared in some of the previous volumes - is uttered no less than four times in the book, though not by Camellion. He often exclaims (to himself) "Oh Fudge!" when things are not going his way.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Review: The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith's debut novel, garnered positive reviews upon its April 2013 publication, but had sold fewer than 500 copies in three months. When it was learned that Mr. Galbraith was actually J.K. Rowling, the mystery/crime novel became an international best seller.

Rowling was both unhappy and angry at her unmasking: "I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name."

Cormoran Strike, a detective who lost part of his left leg in the Afghanistan War, is not in a very good place as the book opens: he has few clients, mounting debts, and has just ended a relationship. He is essentially homeless, sleeping on a cot in his office.

Strike is hired by John Bristow, the brother of supermodel Lula Landry, to investigate Landry's apparent suicide three months earlier. Bristow believes there may have been foul play and his sister may not have actually jumped to her death from her apartment balcony. Strike is assisted in his investigation by his secretary, a young woman named Robin Ellacott.

I have not read Rowling's first non-Harry Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, but Laura, my partner, gave it a very positive review here:
There are multiple subplots of interlocking stories, which take time to unfurl (and which Rowling juggles brilliantly, by the way). Most importantly, it takes time to introduce so many finely drawn characters. A lesser writer of a more facile novel would give you a few sentences of cliches for each. Rowling offers each character's internal monologue - their fears, their frustrations, their pain, their dreams - and lets their personality come to you in their own thoughts. This takes time. Rowling's writing is precisely descriptive without being ponderous or self-conscious. The characters, for the most part, are authentic and complex.
Much of those characteristics apply to The Cuckoo's Calling, as well. Rowling may not spend as much time on each character here, but that is because a mystery novel should - like a shark - continue briskly along. However, Rowling trusts her talents (and her readers' willingness to stay with the story) to digress every so often, e.g., Robin's relationship with her fiance Matthew. The dialogue, especially when Strike is interviewing people who knew Lula or traveled in the same celebrity circles, following various leads, sussing out nuggets of information, is superb.

I'm looking forward to reading Galbraith/Rowling's second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm, which was published this past June.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Death Merchant #25: The Enigma Project

In The Enigma Project, Richard Camellion joins the Jasper Grundy Bible Study Institute's expedition to climb Mount Ararat to ostensibly search for Noah's Ark. (The book's cover shows a decidedly undashing Camellion - what is with that hair? - on a mountain peak strangely devoid of snow and ice.)

The Institute is actually a CIA front, although the various Grundy men on this expedition are unaware of that fact. Camellion (and two CIA men) are posing as mountain climbers going along with the group. Their actual mission is to photograph Soviet satellite-tracking stations from the top of Ararat.

Before they even start their climb, the Camellion/Grundy expedition is ambushed by Kurdish bandits. At various points on the mountain, groups of Armenians and Russians set about to kill the members of the expedition. (The Turkish government has allowed a Russian expedition to climb Ararat from the other side. That party, led by Dr. Filatov, is also searching for the Ark.) But led by the Death Merchant, who eventually has to come clean about his purpose in the group, they wipe out these enemies and continue on with the climb.

Joseph Rosenberger must have done a lot of research into mountain climbing, as he describes what is involved in extreme detail. The setting - most of the book takes place while climbing the mountain - makes the book a bit duller than the usual DM fare.

The Death Merchant, in addition to his awesomeness as a killing machine, is also "an expert at detecting the foibles in human nature and a past master in reading body language". This comes in handy after he takes a Russian GRU agent captive and tortures him to get him to reveal some information about the "pig farmers" climbing the mountain's other side.

The captured Russian "confessed that Dr. Filatov and some other Soviet scientists feel that the Ark could be an intergalatic space vessel". The men from the Institute laugh at this suggestion, but Camellion keeps quiet, and recalls both the extraterrestial base he saw at the monastery in India and the vast hollow land he explored beneath the North Pole. (Rosenberger actually includes footnotes identifying the two books, Hell in Hindu Land and The Pole Star Secret.)

The expedition makes it to the summit and Camellion sets up his camera, which takes a number of photographs. Knowing that the Russians are likely lying in wait for them to come down the mountain, they take an alternate route, and come at the Russians' camp from an unguarded angle. Camellion and the others wipe out the Russian party, but they suffer significant casualties. The only survivors are Camellion, CIA agent George McAulay and Mehmet Cirkelok, one of the guides (and a Turkish intelligence agent).

Camellion and the other two men simply head down the mountain, barely mentioning the possibility of the Ark's existence. Rosenberger lets the "Ark as spaceship" possibility dangle for a bit, but then (like he did in the earlier two books), he never comes back to the subplot.

While Camellion never really opines strongly on religion, he does seem to believe that there was once a "primordial vapor canopy" above the Earth - and he actually quotes several sections of Genesis as proof! ... That doesn't sound at all like the anti-religious know-it-all of the earlier books.