Friday, April 24, 2015

Death Merchant #45: The Rim Of Fire Conspiracy

In The Rim Of Fire Conspiracy, Joseph Rosenberger reworks the plot of The Bermuda Triangle Action (DM #37), in which the Russians attempt to plant hydrogen bombs in the fault lines off the Atlantic coast, hoping to cause unimagined destruction to the southern and eastern United States.

This time, the "pig farmers" are drilling deep into the various fault lines off the west coast. Indeed, the U.S. determines that the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was likely caused by the testing of a Russian nuclear device buried nine miles deep in the Earth, along the Pacific Plate. Future (and more powerful) explosions could trigger hundreds of now-dormant volcanoes along the Cascade Range, a stretch of 700 miles from British Columbia to northern California (referred to here as the Rim of Fire).

When Rosenberger switches to the Russian POV, we learn how the Soviets are digging the holes (with a laser) and planting the devices.

At the CIA's main station in Los Angeles, Richard Camellion is in a meeting during which a lot of information about Plate Tectonics Theory, volcanoes, and earthquakes is being discussed. Camellion asks several questions, specifically, what if multiple hydrogen bombs were buried deep in fracture zones and detonated (i.e., exactly what it turns out the Russians are planning to do)?

Through an unbelievable coincidence, the U.S. discovers a KGB agent in an Anchorage, Alaska, drug store. It turns out there is a KGB cell in the town, possibly monitoring the seismic waves from the various Soviet bomb tests. Camellion and a team of commandos head to Anchorage and invade a hotel run by Harry and Sally Bella, who are hiding the Russians (disguised as a group of British businessmen looking to buy some land).

After the raid on the hotel, someone notes that Sally Bella was injured. (This is a good example of how Rosenberger's personal opinions (I assume) get inserted into the narrative.)
"What about the woman?"

"Oh, she's all right. She has a swollen jaw, but it's not broken. She's mumbling about 'suing' us for 'invasion of privacy'! Have you ever heard anything more silly and ridiculous?"

"Yes, I have," Camellion snickered. "Like, Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy or that 'Deep Throat' in Watergate was a 'patriotic citizen' only doing his duty for 'the nation,'" He became serious. "We'll have a doctor check them at Elmandorf [Air Force Base] before we take off for California."
On the next page, the Death Merchant reveals that Deep Throat "was actually a KGB mole, a money-loving son-of-a-bitch that the Company managed to turn around".

After the Alaskan hotel raid, Camellion is on a nuclear sub, the Albatross. Questioning the captured Russians gives the U.S. information about two Soviet bases, one in Roca Oneal, in the Revillagigedo islands, and another in San Cristobal, one of the Galapagos islands. The Roca Oneal base is attacked and destroyed by a separate military group, so it's up to Camellion and 150 others to storm the San Cristobal island base and destroy it.

Three days after that mission, they are on another sub on their way to invade the top submarine in the Russian fleet, the Aleksandr Pushkin. After five helicopters riddle the sub with shells, the Death Merchant and the other men rappel down onto the sub and blast their way in. (I'm not sure why the Russian sub did not simply dive down into the ocean when it heard the copters approaching rather than stay on the surface and get shelled. Or perhaps wait until the men were on top of the sub, and then submerge.) A huge storm is on its way so the DM and his force have to make their way down four levels to the laser room in the very bottom of the vessel, destroy the laser, and get back up to the hovering copters before the weather gets too rough.

There is fierce fighting on the sub, of course, with both sides finally coming "eyeball to eyeball" in the close quarters. "What made the difference was attitude. The United States is a nation of freedom. In contrast, the Soviet Union is a nation of sheep."

In the early volumes of the series - written in the mid-70s - Rosenberger had Camellion make numerous insults about Richard Nixon. Now, in 1981, Nixon's criminal activities are apparently a-okay with the Death Merchant. Working under the name Alex Preston, Camellion is given papers listing his address as 143 East 65th Street in Manhattan. He muses to himself: "Only a block from where Richard Nixon lives. I'm in good company. Nixon didn't do anything that other Presidents didn't do. He just got caught at it."

As usual, it's the Carter administration that the Death Merchant cannot stand: "peanut minds from Foggy Bottom" led by a "Bible-quoting idiot", and "jackass fools who don't even know we already have another Pearl Harbor in the Caribbean". (I don't know to what event(s) this refers.) There is a reference in the next DM book to ex-President Carter, so we'll soon see how Rosenberger feels about Ronald Reagan.

We are told that Camellion is a necessary force in an evil world. "The man was a machine ... But the way to the Holy Grail of Freedom was filled with such men ... men fighting to keep the United States free of communist domination." ... One Navy man on the sub admits his dislike of CIA agents like 'Preston'. "But I suppose we need such people to keep the nation safe."

We also learn that Camellion hates CIA Executive Officer Fred DeRose because "he had heard DeRose mention to another officer that he enjoyed going to Tijuana to watch dog fights. To Camellion's way of thinking, any man (or woman) who enjoyed watching pitbulls tear at each other with their fangs was a no-good ten times over, on level with lice who beat children or battered their wives." ... The Death Merchant is also suspicious of DeRose's personality because he has long fingers; however, no further explanation is given.

Camellion actually comments at one point: "I dislike violence of any kind ..." (!!!) It doesn't appear to be a joke. Obviously, it's more than a little strange to have this coming from Camellion, who has killed thousands of people and has no compunction about killing innocent people if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and need to be "removed" so he can complete his mission without messy complications.

Even more amusing is that after someone refers to some "spic commies", Camellion considers letting the bigoted description slide by, chalking it up to "the worldwide disease of racism", but he decides he must confront the speaker, because "racism was the hallmark of a fool". However, Camellion is interrupted before he can speak out. (Of course, in every other book, Camellion himself uses similarly racist terms.)

Etc.:

"At the same time, [Harry Della] attempted to pull a .38 Charter Arms revolver from his right rear pocket. He might as well have eaten a pound of navy beans and have attempted to fart his way across the Pacific."

"As far as the CIA agent was concerned, it was Graham Cracker Day and Mogatovski was the big crumb."

"'Well, it won't be long now, as the man said when he caught his pecker in a buzz saw ...'"

"[Camellion's] left leg shot out and he employed a Kogan Geri top of the foot slam that landed directly where he wanted it to land - between Sergei Piriev's legs, the instep wrecking the Russian's sexual apparatus, crushing his testicles the way a power press would squeeze together two oranges."

"Surprisingly, Colonel Havilland sounded as calm as a sleeping oyster."

"Crap and cream puffs." (This faux obscenity is actually uttered three times!)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Death Merchant #44: Island Of The Damned

The premise of Island of the Damned makes absolutely no sense.

Yuri Mkrtchyan, a Russian doctor studying DNA, has an hypothesis that the genes in every human being "carr[y] the memories of the hundreds and hundreds of millions who had lived and were now dead".

He is working on a Bio-Memory Scanner, a machine that would be able to unlock this massive amount of information supposedly stored in a person's DNA, giving a person access to the emotions, thoughts and memories of the countless philosophers, musicians, writers, statesmen, and ordinary people that have ever lived. However, in the few tests the Russians have performed, the data overload has simply driven people insane.

Now, how can the emotions and memories of someone on the other side of the world can be encoded into my DNA? This possibility is explained a bit more at the end of the book, once the Death Merchant has destroyed the Russian lab.
According to some theoreticians, the activity of thought extended beyond the physical body and partook of a "field of mind" surrounding the planet and extending into space for . . . how far? This mind field was composed of the collective experience of the human race: our thoughts, our feelings, our actions.

"All these trillions of thoughts exist in one vast thought field," Camellion said, "the equivalent of what Carl Jung called an archetype experience. The totality of this thought field, or archetype, constitutes an 'atmosphere' of thought energy coextensive with the earth's physical atmosphere and beyond."
Whatever. It's ridiculous any way you slice it. (And the fact that I'm criticizing a Death Merchant book because it's not believable is equally ridiculous!)

But, anyway, the Russians are working on the Bio-Memory Scanner in a secret laboratory in a mountain cave on a privately-owned Hawaiian island called Tukoatu. The island is owned by a Japanese billionaire and the Russians are blackmailing him into being allowed to do their scientific work on his island. Why the Russians have invested so much time and money constructing this lab on American soil is somewhat unclear.

The Americans have detected "faint wave ducts" from "wave-form amplitude distortion" and believe that the Soviets have set up a base somewhere and are trying to monitor U.S. satellites. (The U.S. rules out the Chinese as possible perps because they don't have the necessary technology). The U.S. has been searching for this mysterious base for three months. In a secret meeting, Camellion throws out the suggestion that the base might be a mountaintop "on some privately owned island". What a guess!!!

Earlier, Camellion was ambushed after meeting with a contact in Honolulu and one of the gunmen was allegedly a strong arm for the Renton mob. The Death Merchant decides to storm Archie "The Owl" Renton's beachfront property, kidnap him and question him for possible info. Renton offers very little, but then, almost as an afterthought, he says, "something's not right on the island of Tukoatu". The owner of the island recently fired four employees and even though one of them had stolen $75,000 in artifacts from the house, Nagai never reported the theft. Camellion wonders if the two events are connected. (Of course, they are.)

After six TE-15 Eagles fire two dozen air-to-surface missiles at the underwater cave that serves as one entrance to the secret Russian lab and then demolish the house ("a downpour of steel death"), the Death Merchant's team drop in to the island house via copter - and after an epic shootout, emerge victorious.

Rosenberger's description of the Bio-Memory Scanner is pretty lame: "a large contraption that resembled something from a Grade B science-fiction movie. ... There were enormous coils and circuit breakers, and a long control panel filled with dials, knobs, switches, and rows of multicolored lights."

DM Factoids: Camellion has light-sensitive eyes and is "by temperament and biorhythmically a night person". He has a 36-inch waist. He eats fried SPAM. He is described as "a fatalist who was neither in awe of God nor afraid of the Devil, a dispassionate pragmatist who could realize that there were situations which only a Final Solution could solve."

We also get a description of our hero: "a lean, tough-muscled man with a firm jaw, off-blue eyes, and a brown crewcut. Looking at him, the two [FBI] agents were reminded of George Peppard, the motion picture actor". (At the time of the book's publication (April 1981), Peppard had yet to star in the TV series, The A-Team. That show began in 1983.)

Camnellion also remains prone to breaking off into political or social thoughts at any time. At one point, he outlines the many germ warfare programs being conducted by various nations:
And fools worry about nuclear warfare!

There were problems. Already certain concerned people in the United States were stirring up a stink about the U.S. Government's germ warfare and nerve gas program.

It's unfortunate. Peace-loving men and idealists have always been naive fools who will never learn that peace can only come through strength of the military. . . . And wait and see the result when the public learns that UFOs are top secret U.S. military craft, begun by the Nazis and perfected after the war by German and American scientists. Or if the American public ever learns that cattle mutilations are the result of nerve gas experiments. But so far the public have been fools. The Company's "disinformation" people have seen to that. Damned clever, too. By cutting out the tongues and sex organs of the cattle, the technicians have made the public believe that the mutilations are the work of cults, devil worshippers and other kooks . . .
One of Camellion's aliases in this book is "Albert Cosgrove" although at one point, he is referred to as "Osgood". There were more than the usual amount of typos in this book, including one that had the Russians drinking "yodka".

Etc.:

"Bazzziittttttt. Three 9mm round-nosed slugs zipped through Sherill's left clavicle, shot perpendicularly through his left lung, tore through the end of his liver and the upper portion of his stomach, bored through a section of the taenia coli and came to a bloody, skidding halt in the satorius muscle of his left leg."

"An amateur would have died without knowing how he had been killed, but Camellion could spot approaching death when he was asleep!"

"Such an installation would stand out like a twelve-inch erection on a midget!"

"Grinning from ear to ear, Krestell was as excited as a ghetto child getting off the bus at summer camp. 'Hot diddle damn!'"

"This is one mell of a hess!"

"What was really needed inside the building was automatic shotguns. But no! None were available in Honolulu. Washington was on another "let's-all-save-money" binge as the dear, dumb liberals (who would soon be dear, dumb, and dead liberals) pretended that a world of mega-death didn't exist."

"... one ivan had such a long nose that his mother must have been an anteater!"

"One explosion tore mutter-mouth's head from his shoulders and sent it rolling west like a bloody bowling ball."

"A bedbug in a test tube couldn't get out of that cave."

As Grojean and Camellion talk in the epilogue, the CIA chief shows the Death Merchant an 8x10 photograph and asks, "Do you know him?" Camellion says, "Sure, he's that ding-a-ling the press calls The Penetrator. I hear he's very intelligent and has a lot of savvy." Then they change the subject. (The Penetrator was an action-adventure series written by Mark Roberts and Chet Cunningham under the name Lionel Derrick.)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Stephen King: The Colorado Kid (2005)

This short novel (163 pages) is a paperback original from Hard Case Crime, a small publisher specializing in both old and new hardboiled crime novels.

From the original press release:
"Steve is an extraordinary writer, and as much a fan of classic paperback crime fiction as we are," said Charles Ardai, Hard Case Crime's editor. "We originally contacted him to see if he'd be willing to write a blurb for our line, and he decided that what he really wanted to do was write a book for us instead. We're thrilled that he wanted to be part of Hard Case Crime and we're very excited to get to introduce the world to the baffling mystery of The Colorado Kid."

"This is an exciting line of books," Stephen King commented, "and I'm delighted to be a part of it. Hard Case Crime presents good, clean, bare-knuckled storytelling, and even though The Colorado Kid is probably more bleu than outright noir, I think it has some of those old-fashioned kick-ass story-telling virtues. It ought to; this is where I started out, and I'm pleased to be back."
The Colorado Kid is hyped on the back cover as an "investigation into the unknown", a story "about the darkness at the heart of the unknown and our compulsion to investigate the unexplained", a tale "whose subject is nothing less than the nature of mystery itself". That's giving this thin story far more credit than it deserves.

Oldtimers Dave Bowie and Vince Teague run the small newspaper serving the seaside community of Moose-Lookit, Maine. Stephanie, who is from Ohio, is an intern they have hired for the summer. As the book begins, a writer for the Boston Globe has asked around for any information for a series of articles on "unexplained events" in New England, but he has left empty-handed. Stephanie, knowing the two men have been in the news business for decades, says they must have heard of something strange and "unexplained" over the years.

Instead of a straight story, we hear about the tale of the Colorado Kid as remembered by the two men, who stop periodically so they and Stephanie can talk about various aspects of the tale. Dave and Vince insist that there really is no "story", nothing with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end. That's what newspapers want and that's why this tale is no good for the Globe.

One morning in 1980, a pair of teenagers discover an unidentified dead man on the beach. It is later determined that he choked to death on a piece of food. He is not identified and nothing much happens until about 16 months later, when a young man who had been working with the two detectives assigned to the case, has a flashback to the tax stamp on the bottom of the unknown man's pack of cigarettes. It turns out the stamp says "Colorado".

Dave and Vince mail a copy of the man's picture, taken shortly after he was discovered on the beach, to 78 newspapers in Colorado. In short order, they hear from a woman named Arla Cogen, who turns out to be the man's wife/widow. She gives the two newspapermen details about James Cogan's life (including the fact that he was never a smoker). Her information raises several questions: How did Cogan get from Denver to a small coastal Maine town in only a few hours on the day he died? And why? And what's up with the pack of cigarettes?

Dave, Vince, and Stephanie run through several possibilities, teasing each one out, trying to construct a probable narrative. But the truth cannot be known in this case - and guesswork is as far as they get. And this is also as far as King gets. The book ends with the Kid's appearance and death just as shrouded in mystery as before.

In an afterword, King acknowledges that readers will either love or hate the story. "Mystery is my subject here," he writes. "I'm really not interested in the solution but the mystery." King can count me among those who did not like the story - or thought that there wasn't enough of a story to like or not like. When King was producing his best work, he likely would have realized TCK was going nowhere and simply filed it away. Or, if he was intent on exploring the essence of mystery, he would have come up with a more engaging premise. We are told several times how excited and intrigued Stephanie is by this mystery, but we never get that feeling ourselves.

Also, King's use of Maine slang/dialect gets in the way of the story's flow. The two newspaper men repeatedly say "Ayuh" and "Gorry!", drop the "g"s from the end of words, and often remind themselves (and us) that Stephanie is "from away" (i.e., not a local). King did a masterful job capturing an authentic Maine voice in Dolores Claibourne, but he strikes out here. King even interrupts the storytelling to explain that "fair" is pronounced fay-yuh, "bury" rhymes with furry, and dinnah is the meal you eat around noon time.

Next: Cell.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Death Merchant #43: The Devil's Trashcan

News flash from The Devil's Trashcan: Richard Camellion was once married!

Through 42 titles, Joseph Rosenberger has provided next-to-nothing about his hero's background. From scattered scraps gathered from the earlier books, we know Camellion is originally from St. Louis where he was a high-school teacher. In #43, Rosenberger drops the bombshell, when Camellion remarks, "A wedding is really a funeral where you get to smell your own flowers. I tried marriage once. I almost had a nervous breakdown from boredom." (But, sadly, Rosenberger provides no additional information.)

"The Devil's Trashcan" is the nickname Rosenberger has given to Lake Toplitz in the Totes Gebirge (Dead Mountains) of Austria. He describes it as a "dark and sinister body of water".

In the final days of World War II, Nazi leaders allegedly sunk waterproof metal cases in the lake. According to Wikipedia, "Millions of counterfeit pound sterling notes (£100+ million) were dumped in the lake after Operation Bernhard, which was never fully put into action. There is speculation that there might be other valuables to be recovered from the bottom of the Toplitzsee." In addition to possible treasure, Rosenberger suggests there could be documents exposing some world leaders as former Nazi collaborators. There have been actual dives made over the decades, one as recently as 2005. Last year, the nephew of senior Nazi SS officer Ernst Kaltenbrunner (a character in The Devil's Trashcan) stated, "I can guarantee there is a lot of gold and vast treasures inside."

There are not too many plot twists in The Devil's Trashcan. It's all a matter of driving to the lake and getting to work. Which also means that there are minimal gunfights. There is a perfunctory ambush of the Death Merchant's caravan, but after that there's only the big, book-ending battle with Odessa, a group of ex-SS men who want to reclaim the buried cases. During the fight, Rosenberger mentions in one sentence that Camellion killed nine men by various means, and still provides nine pages of hand-to-hand combat. We get a steady dose of Yon Hon Nukite spears, Sangdon Chirugi punches, Hiju Uke elbow blocks, and plenty of Shuto chops. We even get "a right Chungdon Sudo Yop Taerigi middle knife hand side strike"! Yow!

Because of the lack of action, Rosenberger spends dozens of pages painstakingly going through the planning and preparation for the dive, giving readers way too much information about diving depths, decompression chambers, minutia about the construction of the diving platform, background information on the various Nazis, etc. Because the main characters are often sitting around, there are several discussions, similar to the political conversations in the previous book, High Command Murder. It's the usual stuff about the degradation of American society, which is blamed (mostly) on immigrants. I don't agree with these sentiments, but I find their existence fascinating. There is no reason to have them in any of these books; they are not germane to the plots in any way. Plus, they are often awkwardly stuck into conversations, offtopic and unprovoked. (Did other action-adventure authors include similar pontificating in their books?)

For example, the Austrians ask Camellion where he calls home. The Death Merchant says simply, "Home is wherever I happen to be." But it's obvious that he's an American.
A sly glint crept into the eyes of Gerhart Kausch who was sitting to Camellion's left. "I should think our American friends would be happier in this part of the world than in their own United States," he said with deceptive gentleness. "Most European news magazines are in agreement that American society is becoming more mongrelized. Your government lets in 150,000 Cubans and blacks from Haiti, not to mention a few hundred rice farmers from southeast Asia, all of whom breed faster than rats." He laughed harshly. "If the American government doesn't change its ridiculous policy, twenty years from now the trash on welfare will outnumber the hard-working European-Americans supporting them with their tax dollars."

Franz Ritter, on the sofa across from Camellion, chimed in happily.

"Everyone agrees that Castro made a fool out of President Carter, whose refugee policy was costly, unrealistic, a spit in the face of the American unemployed, and gave the whole world a big laugh. And if our own intelligence reports are correct, Castro intends to swamp the United States with another hundred-thousand of his scum to relieve chronically disastrous and rapidly worsening economic conditions in Cuba. Frankly we Europeans find it all very amusing. Now the North Vietnamese and Castro have fifth columns in the U.S. - all of them disguised as economic refugees."
Camellion is usually quick to correct anyone - and sounds like a smug, know-it-all in the process (even his friend Vallie West (who has come out of retirement) feels like slugging him in annoyance at times), but all he does here is make a joke about what an "unrealistic idiot" Carter was for trusting "the Soviet pig farmers". But then a CIA case officer takes offense to blaming Carter. "You should have mentioned that any bill the President might want can be vetoed by Congress. I suggest you put the situation in perspective and quit putting all the blame on any President." Camellion, in an apparent contradiction from his attitude on the previous page, has these internal thoughts:
Right on, Junior! Right on! The hell of it is that Blotz and the two krauts are right. Our transport protection system is ripped apart. Our borders are indefensible. Our weather is being tampered with by the pig farmers. We're at the mercy of the Arab blanket riders and doing nothing about our national defense. Our measuring system is all that's holding us together. Convert to total metric - which is another ripoff and the product of Washington paperpushers - and the world will swallow us alive in one gulp.
WTF? The avoidance of the metric system is the only thing that is saving the United States from total collapse?!?!? Hoooo kay ...

Elsewhere in the book, Camellion explains that thanks to affirmative action, "if a white American even whispers that any Black is less than perfect, he's labelled a racist." ... He refers to Koreans as "pajama clad gooks". ... Camellion also offers his informed opinion on the inevitability of an imminent third World War. Camellion's words are chilling to Vallie West because he knows that "Camellion had a track record of being right."
"This war you spoke about," Duckworth said. "Why all the concern, if we Americans and the Chinese are going to annihilate the Soviets?"

"I didn't tell you the rest of the sad tale," Camellion said. "After the Russians are destroyed, the Red Chinese will sweep across Asia into Europe. With that will come the total destruction of the United States - a full-scale nuclear war. History will sweep the world clean and the survivors will begin all over again. It's all part of a cycle. It has happened before. It will happen again."
Camellion, a serious misanthrope with few kind words for anyone, chides mankind for killing defenseless animals. After a shootout, someone remarks that now "there's a little less evil in the world, not much less, but a tiny bit less".
The Death Merchant, reloading the AMPS did not reply. Damned little! Even the "nice people" are ruthless savages. Sixteen million cats and dogs will be put to death this year because nobody wants them. A hundred and eighty thousand baby seals will be clubbed to death - and many skinned while still alive - this year, simply because they have beautiful fur! To hell with the human race!
In addition to discovering the one-time existence of a Mrs. Camellion, we learn a bit more about the DM: He drinks "carrot juice laced with Deidesheim, a rich German wine" and "ice coffee laced with a jigger of brandy". We learn what some of his vitamins are: choline and procaine. (Why would Camellion take an anaesthetic, often used by dentists?)

Vallie West has fought alongside Camellion several times over the years, but the Death Merchant remains a stranger:
West gave Camellion a long, speculative look. There was never any way to glean a clue of Camellion's thoughts. His body language was always mute and his expression usually inscrutable. Vallie often sensed that he really didn't know Camellion. He never had. Neither did anyone else. The Death Merchant had always been totally self-contained, a man who needed no one, a man who loved no one, a man who was a stranger to his own species; and maybe that was the way it should be.
And even for a supposed friend of the Death Merchant, the mysterious Camellion can be too much:
There were times when West felt like belting Camellion in the mouth. Rick was too intensely analytical, his mind too probing. Too damned intellectual! Vallie told himself. Superstition? Vallie thought of the time he had visited Camellion's Memento Mori Ranch in the Big Thicket region of southeastern Texas. Never again! During the week too many mysterious things happened. Vallie had heard strange noises in the night . . . subtle whispering, and shadows, caught for only a moment from the corner of the eye, shadows that didn't behave like shadows. Vallie was positive that Camellion dabbled in certain ancient and secret sciences. He didn't know what these sciences were, nor did he want to know.
West shares Camellion's avoidance of curses, exclaiming "Hippo crud!" and "Crocodile crap!" on two occasions. Also, here are these three wisecracks that West and Camellion yell at various Nazis before sending them into the blackness of eternity:
"Take a slow bus to Disneyland, you dip-stick dummy!"

"You should drink buffalo scrotum wine, boob-boy!"

"You're a piece of dirty trash. Your mother was a slut and your father was a growth of slime from a dung heap. What are you going to do about it, you son of a diseased bedbug?"
An interesting final note. During a conversation with Camellion, West remarks:
He reminds me of a joker I know back in the States. Hell, if you say "Good Morning" to Rupt Rosenberger, he'd end up giving you a national weather report.
Is "Rupt Rosenberger" meant to be author Joseph Rupert Rosenberger?

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Death Merchant #42: High Command Murder

The set-up: Towards the end of World War II, a group of American soldiers under General Patton's command stole 100 crates of Nazi gold bars and, with the assistance of members of the French resistance, hid the gold in an abandoned mine shaft in northern France.

The Nazi treasure has been hidden for nearly 40 years, but information about its existence recently came to light thanks to an interview by one of the Frenchmen. He was soon found dead. Now several groups of French terrorists, an association of ex-SS men, and the CIA are in a frantic race to find the gold, now worth upwards of $500 million.

But even before the story begins, we get a unique dedication from author Joseph Rosenberger: "To the best friend humanity will ever have - the Cosmic Lord of Death." (Also, Pinnacle changed to a different (and less appealing, to me, at least) cover layout with High Command Murder, published in December 1980. Dean Cate is still doing the artwork.)

Richard Camellion begins his work in Paris, meeting with members of the ARC (Action pour la Renaissance de la Corse). The CIA says they will pay the ARC $5 million for its assistance in finding the gold, and the group believes it has discovered another man who helped hide the gold and that he may be willing to talk. Camellion is forced to work what he terms a terrorist organization because the other group looking for the gold is Odessa, a group of ex-Nazis who have thrown in with the FLB, who are also trying to find any Frenchmen who assisted the American gold thieves).

Before that, though, the Death Merchant has to fight his way out of a gunfight at a safe house in Montmartre. (Rosenberger provides nice descriptions of both Saint-Villeneuve and Montmartre.) After escaping the mayhem, they drive to Place de la Concorde and meet three ARC members, who they take to another Parisian safe house. Their next move is a long drive to Lamballe to meet the top leaders of the ARC. (The town is frequently misspelled Laballe in the book.)

The 250+-mile drive - which for some reason is spread out over two whole days - gives Rosenberger the opportunity to have the eight passengers engage in wide-ranging political discussions, always voicing right-wing opinions. The narrator - speaking from Camellion's point of view - notes:
[T]here is an international group of power brokers working toward a one-world government.

The evidence was all there, particularly in the new patterns in political corruption and subversion affecting the United States and its Western allies. Bribery of elected and appointed government officials with money, gifts and sex had long been a staple of American political life. A sizable minority had been for sale to the highest bidder, as proved by the FBI's ABSCAM operation. In the past that bidder had been American-based corporations, labor unions, wealthy families and other well-heeled groups with interests to serve and money to spend.

Camellion's face became hard, ruthless. But now, the rise of international corporations has led to a situation where American politicians are now being bought to protect interests that are outside the U.S. and are seldom compatible with the voters. Analyses of political trends show that multinational corporations operating at the level of the Trilateral commission believe national governments are obsolete and cannot be trusted to create a stable world order. This loose international group, based in the USA, Europe and Japan, will attempt to handpick all party candidates for president, prime minister, etc. - Dummies who can be manipulated toward international ends. While the taxpayer is still saddled with the enormous expense of a feeble bureaucracy, every attempt will be made to condition the voter that the government is powerless to act decisively. This will preserve cushy political jobs and ensure support from those in office. What a setup! The present coalition of blacks, women, homosexuals, and all the rest of the minority crap is over fifty percent, and will keep this disaster going for years. Only at the ballot box can this trend be reversed. But it won't. The average voter is too damned stupid to realize that all current officeholders should be voted out, regardless of party.

Personally, the Death Merchant didn't give a damn. In his opinion, the whole human race was just one big pack of savages - Too bad a cosmic Hitler can't wipe out all three billion of them.
So even though Camellion's face turns hard and ruthless as he ponders these thoughts, he actually doesn't care at all? That seems odd. And the ballot box is supposedly the answer, yet the people running for election are being handpicked by the international ruling group, which would seem to make voting irrelevant, so ...

Then, two pages later, after someone refers to the French people as "a bunch of lice" that couldn't hang onto Vietnam, Camellion (who is using the alias Leonard Kidd) notes: "We didn't do so well in Vietnam ourselves."
Jordan glanced at the Death Merchant and grinned. The dour Gerstung [a CIA agent] was not amused. "Remind me to laugh in the year 2000," he growled. "We lost in 'Nam for the same reason we're losing everywhere else in the world. Because of the greedy politicians, the moronic do-gooders and the half-witted unrealists who refuse to see the handwriting on the wall. Screw the American government. It's composed of idiots, traitors, gun-grabbing hypocrites and first-class swine. Fuck the American government ten times over." ...

[Jordan pipes in:] "Did you know that there are more than fifty Soviet-backed 'front' committees operating in Washington? And the majority are located on the one hundred block of Maryland Avenue in Capitol Hill. Most are funded from U.S. taxpayers' dollars through 'study grants' procured by witting and unwitting dupes in Congress. Systematically, their propaganda and lobby efforts - and many of these organizations are allied with the anti-gun groups and would dearly love to see all of America totally disarmed - attack the FBI and the Company for 'civil-rights violations and invasions.'"

Gerstung, who had just taken a slug of wine, belched loudly. "I'll tell you something, Kidd. If you think we in the Company have it rough, you should see what those poor bastards in the FBI have to contend with. The commie front people scream like hell about 'civil-rights violations' every time a poor fed questions one of the slime balls about a federal crime; then the media picks it up and the feds get another black eye." ...

The realistic Death Merchant, who couldn't have cared less about American sheep and their Judas shepherds in D.C., changed the subject ....
Again, the Death Merchant supposedly cannot be bothered with these thoughts. However, in most other books, he often leads these types of discussions.

After having fought an ambush along the way, the group reaches their destination. The ARC states that it knows one of the men who helped hide the gold, a man named Philippe Castile. The location is deep in an abandoned mine shaft near Saint-Brieuc. (As it turns out, the Odessa/FLB team is also converging on the site of the mine.)

The Death Merchant's group finds the gold - behind several walls of rock and wood - and hauls it up. They are in the process of loading it onto boats to take out to a submarine when the Odessa/FLB team arrives at the beach. A fierce shootout ensures, and Camellion and the ARC prevail.

There are two other subplots mentioned a few times in the book: the possible murder of Patton by his own troops because he found out about the gold heist and disapproved and a cryptic comment made by Castile. Rosenberger does not return to these story strands at the end of the book.

Regardless, High Command Murder is well-paced, though I miss the goofiness of the first 20 books (or so) of the series. And once again, of more interest to me than the main plot are Rosenberger's odd turns of phrase and his political/social offshoots.

Camellion talks some more about being able to see people's auras and, judging by what colour they are, knowing if they are going to die soon or not. (Black is a bad colour!) As one footnote states: "The human aura can be seen with a photomultiplier tube under certain conditions. Psychics can see the human aura with the 'mind's eye.' So can men and women who have lived very close to death." (I presume Camellion falls under that final category.)

Etc.:

"And Grojean, he's so paranoid about security, he's more close-mouthed than a clam with lockjaw."

"This is about as bad as trying to plow a potato field with a dull-bladed plow."

"[E]veryone - except Camelllion - was, nonetheless, surprised with the suddenness of the assault when it did come. The Death Merchant wouldn't have been amazed is Adolf Hitler had pedaled by on a tricycle."

"It was the same with Jordan and Capeau, slugs buzzing around them like bees enraged with bronchitis."

"Those morons in England are so dumb they think the Bermuda Triangle is a musical instrument."

"What we need is a rabbit's foot, but not the kind that was carried by General Custer."

"If I wanted to talk to a fruitcake, I could have gone to a bakery!"

"I'll be a jackass on rollerskates! ... If I had half the sense of a moronic doodlebug I wouldn't even be here!"

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Death Merchant #41: Shamrock Smash

Someone - or some country - is supplying the IRA with all sorts of weaponry and it's up to Richard Camellion (the Death Merchant) to find out who.

Joseph Rosenberger goes into a huge amount of detail about the political/religious situation in Ireland circa 1980 (when this book was written and published). At one point, Camellion is driven around South Belfast in an armoured car with a military official who provides a running commentary/guided tour. (The official also refers to "a certain well-known Irish-American U.S. senator" as a "gasbag", although Rosenberger does not identify Ted Kennedy for another 11 pages. Much later in the book, Rosenberger notes a Death Merchant-led rocket barrage causes the the IRA's "spirits to sink faster than Ted Kennedy's car off Dyke Bridge". Rosenberger also makes a Chappaquiddick wisecrack in the next book, #42.)

The Death Merchant's goal in Shamrock Smash is to get Keenan McGuire, the IRA leader, who is expecting delivery of a big weapon. Camellion and CIA agent Chris McLoughlin first meet with Liam O'Connor, who poses as a diehard Protestant but is feeding info to the British SIS. Through O'Connor they learn about an important Provo base to the north: Lha-Beul-tinne Castle.

So - in what is becoming a serious cliche in this series - Camellion and a British fighting force go off to storm the castle. But McGuire is not there. Through some amazing deductions, Camellion figures out that McGuire - now in possession of a small atomic weapon that was delivered by a Russian submarine - can only escape to the northeast. He takes a wild guess that the only place to hide out is Teamhair na Riogh, "an ancient pagan site [abandoned in 1021] that was supposed to have belonged to the druids". You'd think this might be an historical site, but apparently not, as Camellion orders a helicopter to shell both ends of the large mound with heavy artillery before he and his force of 13 men race inside. McGuire and five others are captured. Facing execution, one of the prisoners blurts out the location of the bomb.

Camellion is extremely sadistic in this book. On two separate occasions, when questioning prisoners/captives and not getting immediate answers, he simply shoots the uncooperating captive dead. In one case, he ties an IRA guy to a pillar and stuffs an L-flare in his waistband. The guy basically burns to death in front of everyone else, as Rosenberger notes the sickening smell of charred flesh, etc. Camellion is not usually so ruthless.

At several points, Camellion is described as something other than human, presumably living on some higher plane. Working under the name Ringgall, Camellion "seemed to have a mystical covenant with death". And as usual, a character "detected a strangeness about Ringgall, an eerie quality he couldn't quite put his finger on, yet the weirdness was there, and it was frightening".

Towards the end, during the final firefight, a thought floats through Camellion's mind:
Silly humans, with their "if only" kind of mortality. It was the fomes peccati of the Latins and the yetzer-ha-ra of the Hebrews. Camellion laughed to himself. Be as gods knowing good and evil, so says the myth. But it forgot to add: capable only of evil when man is left to himself.
In talking about old age, Camellion hints that he knows when he will die:
"It's the same with old folks the world over," Camellion said, thankful that he would never experience the miseries of old age. "It's that constant sense of being superfluous, of being useless, that causes so much depression in the frigid years of life - that and the solitude."

"The young also become depressed," McLoughlin said, "and kill themselves."

Camellion agreed with a nod of his head. "Yes, but generally speaking the young can bear solitude better than the old because passion occupied their thoughts. For the elderly, ailments and anxieties have replaced passions as the only avenue of escape from the melancholy that usually accompanies a retrospective cast of mind."
More deep thoughts from the Death Merchant:
"[Camellion] lay there on his stomach, listening to slugs cut the air several feet above his head, and feeling sorry for the young paratroopers and for Ford, Grimes, and Lieutenant Merriweather. They were all so terrified of death, none of them realizing that it was this "life" that was the only real "death". Once a person learns that life is the transitory illusion - no matter how real it appears during its duration - then he has mastered dying ..."

"Death is not darkness, but light, liberation, and freedom."

"In his own personal philosophy, existing in a three-dimensional continuum (four when one considers time) in a flesh-and-blood-and-bone body was definitely a horse-and-buggy was to travel through the universe."
In a bizarre (and completely superfluous scene), the men witness an apparition, dressed in clothes from the 1700s, descend a partially destroyed staircase, floating on air when coming to the missing steps. He cross the room and disappears through a wall. The men are shocked at this sight, but Camellion matter-of-factly explains what just happened: "We're seeing a memory pattern. ... It all has to do with time and the brain. ... It existed outside of space and time, outside of our time and our space, both of which are relative in our continuum."

At one point, Camellion muses:
A realist knows that every human being is born alone and dies alone. So he never loves anyone or lets anyone love him. He remains an observer, but never becomes one of the observed. ...

Only wise men seek the truth, just as wise men never seek to return to the past and take the risk of excavating forgotten pain while looking for remembered happiness.
Rosenberger has not (to date) provided an origin story for Camellion. We have received no hints about why Camellion does this dangerous work. There has been no mention of a former girlfriend or wife, but it almost sounds like at one time Camellion experienced happiness, but it ended, putting him on the lonely road he now travels, never looking back.

Etc.:

"Seven of the Provos couldn't have asked for more trouble if they had tried to smoke sticks of dynamite for cigars."

"The Irish idiot in the truck ... was attempting to lean around the side of the cab and get a Soviet PPsh41 submachine gun into action, but he didn't even get off to a good start. His head and chest exploded as if a grenade had gone off inside his torso, blood, rib bones, chunks of heart and lungs flying into the spring wind."

"The Provo next to the woman was dusted next, three charges of .24 caliber shot popping him in the left side of his head and shoulder. Head, neck, and shoulder exploded into a pulpy mass of flesh, blood, and bone, his Adam's apple jumping out of his torn-apart throat and hitting the inside of the metal windshield like a bloody ping-pong ball."

"The Death Merchant made up Shannon's mind for him. He used the last bullet in his left auto mag to explode Shannon's head and send blobs of his think machine rocketing in all directions."

"Both more enraged than a hornet with the hiccups, Camellion and McLoughlin fired with precision, never wasting ammo."

"A long, long time ago, he had learned that it was always unrealistic to fight evil with goodness. The trouble with goodness was that it went to bed every night and slept soundly. Evil was an insomniac, forever awake, forever active."

The Death Merchant almost never curses. "Tiger turds!" he exclaims at one point.

The British troops conform to stereotype, saying things like "old chap", "jolly good", "by jove" and "Dash it all, man!", and they beginning sentences with "I say, ...". A general with a Cockney accent remarks, "We'll give them blokes 'ell, we will." Once the fighting is complete, he sums up: "We got them all, we did."

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Eiffel Tower Opened 126 Years Ago!

The Eiffel Tower debuted 126 years ago. It nearly tore Paris apart.

Stephen King: The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004)

I can't do it!

I made it to page 60, but I cannot force myself to read any more of the 800+ pages of the seventh and final volume of Stephen King's Dark Tower series.

I don't give a shit what happens to Roland - or any of the other characters - and I don't care what happens when the Ka-tet finally reaches the Dark Tower.

At the start of this project, I considered omitting the entire series because I thought I would not enjoy its fantasy elements. But when I found used hard covers of the later volumes, I decided what the hell. I should have stuck with my original plan.

(P.S. This also means I won't be reading The Wind Through The Keyhole, which was published in 2012 and fits chronologically into the Dark Tower series between Books 4 and 5.)

Next: The Colorado Kid.