Monday, September 01, 2014

Books Read, Partially Read, Or Attentively Thumbed Through: August 2014

The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature, by Richard H. Smith
The Complete Calvin & Hobbes: Book One, by Bill Watterson
Computer: A History of the Information Machine, by Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray
Computing: A Concise History, by Paul E. Ceruzzi
E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation, by David Bodanis
The Devil's Snake Curve: A Fan's Notes from Left Field, by Josh Ostergaard
Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball, by Chris Lamb
Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era, by Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts
The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah, by Stephen King
The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower, by Stephen King
Death Merchant #14: The Vengeance of the Golden Hawk, by Joseph Rosenberger
Death Merchant #15: The Iron Swastika Plot, by Joseph Rosenberger
Death Wish, by Brian Garfield
Maps and Legends, by Michael Chabon
The Vast Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
Top of the Heap, by Erle Stanley Gardner (writing as A.A. Fair)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Death Merchant #15: The Iron Swastika Plot

The secret Nazi organization known as The Spider returns! Camellion had battled them in #6: The Albanian Connection.

In The Iron Swastika Plot, the Spider is searching for a German submarine that was sunk off the coast of Argentina near the end of World War II. It was carrying $2 billion in gold and diamonds, as well as some important Nazi papers. The Spider wants the jewels in order to finance its operations.

The overall plot of The Iron Swastika Plot is fairly mundane. In fact, we don't find out who excavated the sub until an "Epilog" at the end of the book. Also, Rosenberger repeats himself. As he did in #8: Billionaire Mission, Rosenberger has Camellion involved in a fierce shoot-out at sea, before the DM jumps aboard the enemy boat and raises hell. Rosenberger also packs in a ton of information on diving suits, water pressure and issues with breathing at various depths, etc., as well as the workings of an undersea camera.

The true highlight of this book is Rosenberger's unique writing style: the bits of purple prose, the bizarre turns of phrase, and the detailed descriptions of nearly every bullet's passage.

First of all, while some characters use expletives, the Death Merchant does not. In previous books, he sometimes yelled "Fudge!" when things were not going his way. Here, Camellion uses the term "Donkey dust!" no less than five times.

"[Captain Skittone] quickly looked away, thinking of how Cain had called Camellion 'Death Merchant.' To Skittone that mean that Richard Camellion was the Michelangelo of anxiety and the da Vinci of Death."

Nazi Ludwig Baber: "Who else but the Death Merchant kills with uncanny speed? What other man in the world thinks faster than lightning?"
Camellion's cold stare:
"Cain suddenly had the feeling that he was the guest of honor at a party given by a firing squad, as he stared at the two funeral processions marching in the Death Merchant's glittering blue eyes. ... The tough Lieutenant Commander [Mangrum] had heard vague rumors and whispered stories about the lean man standing before him, this quick-moving individual who talked like Western Union and in whose blue sharp-shooter eyes one could envision newly cut tombstones. Was Camellion actually the fabled Death Merchant?"
"He gave Camellion a long, penetrating look, and suddenly, not liking what he saw, felt a chill. Here was no ordinary man. There were ten thousand future funerals in the depths of those freezing blue eyes, and a resilience, an unearthly springiness that abhorred the sterility of the normal, of all equilibrium."
"One grabbed him low in the groin and put two brand new entrances in his colon. The second poker-hot 9mm bored into his midriff, mangled his pancreas, and went bye-bye through his back."

"Fish-Face got the business from the Death Merchant a tenth of a second later. His portal vein cut in two, the mesentery of his small intestine a mess from a Bushmaster .223, Fish-Face corkscrewed to the floor, unconscious and almost dead ..."

"The tall, thin Valles was only thirty years old, but the daily pursuit of women and liquor had taken its toll over the years, and he looked forty. Now he looked dead, both of the Death Merchant's slugs having torn apart his heart and lungs."

"Gunther Busch - a sawed-off Kraut-head who had the appearance of a man who took a daily bath in dishwater - had even less of a chance at life. Camellion's left Magnum exploded again and vomited a slug which was almost as huge as the end of a man's index finger. It cut through Busch's upper lip, knocked out three of his front teeth, blew out the back of his head, and kicked him into Deathland. He feel faster than overcooked sauerkraut, the Haenel submachine gun slipping from his hands."

"The hitman, his life expectancy zero, pulled the trigger of the Walther submachine gun just as Camellion's two 9mm slugs struck him in the chest and in the stomach. He cried out, danced a short waltz that wasn't the 'Blue Danube,' and fell backward ..."

"She was centered between the baby buggy and the Walther chopper, still firing her small pistol, when the Death Merchant kicked her into hell to join Hitler, putting a P-38 9mm slug into her left side. The former call girl made a noise like a chicken being plucked alive ..."

"He burned them so fast their nervous system didn't have time to register the agony generated by the .223 steel tearing through their organs and snapping their bones. The two Germans twisted like pretzels and died in a spray of blood, falling to the floor in front of Alfonso de Beche, a flat-faced Brazilian gunmen who looked like the kind of a moron who'd think an avalanche was a mountain getting its rocks off! A red-hot .223 slug tore off de Beche's left hand, and for a minimoment he stared in profound horror at the stump of his wrist jetting a thick stream of red. Another .223 bored into his gut. He crashed to the floor, made a noise like a pig snorting in mud, gave a final grunt, closed his eyes, and found out what death was all about."

"Firing short bursts to keep the opening clear, he stormed in low through the jagged hole, the Bushmaster roaring, tossing out steel annihilation in a great, wide arc. ... Diego Maximo Rubicaba, the other Spanish idiot in the room, got the big business in the belly - four slugs that made his colon think the entire universe had collapsed."

"In contrast, Camellion's Bushmaster slugs stitched Gutierrez from the base of his neck to his tail bone, each .223mm slug blasting apart his spine and making a mess of his insides. Gutierrez shriveled up like a piece of bacon in a too hot skillet and quietly began frying in hell."
"The Death Merchant was not a happy man. In fact, he felt lower than the belt buckle of a deep-digging mole."

"Walking quicker than a crippled flea tap-dancing on a hot brick, he thrust the nozzle of the extinguisher toward the doorway ..."

"The corridor was as empty as an old maid's dream ..."

"While a closed mouth gathers no foot, it can acquire a .357 Magnum slug."

"In spite of his shattered wrist, [Raul Cano] tried to reach down and retrieve the precious 9mm Llama, but his chances for success were less than those of a crippled turtle trying to outrun a bolt of summer lightning."

"Camellion finished the man off with a mule-kick to the scrotum. Looking like an idiot who had just discovered that ice cream cones are hollow, the man melted to the deck, pathetic moans coming from his throat."

"The [train] car became a madhouse, the blossoms of calm blooming into flowers of hysteria ..."
Deep Thoughts:
"Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first, the lesson afterward."

"Eternity was only a dimension in time and space and had nothing to do with the affairs of man."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Death Merchant #14: Vengeance Of The Golden Hawk

Richard Camellion (aka the Death Merchant) infiltrates a Palestinian terrorist group known as Vengeance of the Golden Hawk, in order to locate and destroy a nerve gas missile the VGH is planning to detonate over Tel Aviv. It could kill upwards of 300,000 people, and if that happens, Israel will retaliate with nuclear weapons, and that would be the start of World War III.

The book begins with Camellion and a Jordanian agent named Yassine Bahnassi being placed in an Amman jail cell that also houses three members of the VGH. Camellion engineers a breakout (when he explains his plan, one of the men says, "The scheme is so crazy it might work" (!)), and the five men stick together in a safe house on the outskirts of Jordan.

Camellion's cover story is that he is a semi-rogue US military explosives expert and is looking to sell some stolen weapons. The three VGH members are impressed with Camellion ("The organization could use a man of your unique talents") and agree to take him and Bahnassi to the Mountains of the Moon, the VGH's headquarters in Syria - which is also (handily) were the missiles are stored.

At this point, it's clear that the main action of the book will be when Camellion gets to the Mountains of the Moon and swings into action. But author Joseph Rosenberger has pages to fill, so we get a couple of shootouts as the five men, in disguise, make their way to Damascus, where they are ambushed in Mina Square. They also fight a bunch of PLO soldiers while crossing a wadi. Finally, they get to MotM, where they meet the head of VGH: Faraq al-Khatid. Some of Al-Khatid's men believe Camellion is a "Jew spy", but the story the three men tell of Camellion's bravery during their travels is convincing.

Camellion and Bahnassi are supposed to meet up with a Harquad agent who has infiltrated the VGH, but it takes six days for Assaf Budny to make himself known. Finally, the three men begin their raid on the radio control room, the first step towards destroying the arsenal. The initial shoot-out was pretty convoluted. Honestly, it would have helped if Rosenberger included a map of the cliff dwellings. There are buildings above and below - and to both sides - of the arsenal from which the DM and his two cohorts are fighting off the VGH. Since Rosenberger is intent on describing every bit of action from every angle, it gets a bit confusing.
The Death Merchant and the two Jordanian Harquad agents with him could see quite clearly by the tunnel's upper opening from the northwest window of the arsenal's rear room. While Camellion and Budny held down the fort in the front room, in the arsenal proper, Yassine Bahnassi took a position by the northwest window ...

Budny, who had taken a position by the west wall, by the center window. Assaf was watching the west side balcony of the building above the arsenal. ... Budny had a clear view not only of the east side porch but also a portion of the steps [from the east balcony to the arsenal] ...

[A] roar of gunfire from the back room and from the first house to the west of the arsenal. ... [T]he Fedayeen in the west side house had begun to toss automatic rifle and submachine gun steel at Assaf Budny. A moment later, Fedayeen in houses to the east of the arsenal opened fire. ...
Rosenberger is on clearer ground when it comes to describing the gore, as Camellion sends an assortment of VGH fanatics on a "one-way passage to deathland":
Three guerrillas, butchered by slugs, danced a quick jig of death and fell over the railing of the long balcony. A man on the steps took a slug in the gut, one in the chest, and three more in the face. Without a head, his brains flowing down ahead of him, he pitched off the steps, hit the west edge of the roof, bounced off, and kept falling, trailing a stream of blood like the red tail of a comet.
(Rosenberger often gives names to all of the bad guys, even if they get "cowboyed" in the same paragraph. I suppose since he's intent on describing the layout and how everyone is shooting, it helps to identify people if they have a name.)

After they get out of the arsenal and climb down the cliffs, the Death Merchant still has to contend with a French Panhard armoured car with a 60mm turret cannon and a Soviet BTR-40 personnel carrier. Fortunately, he's carrying some blocks of RDX explosives.

Finally, Rosenbegrer delivers his expected mention of fruit, though he waits until page 173, seven pages from the end of the book: "Kaouki died faceless and brainless. The Death Merchant's chain of 7.65mm slugs exploded his head, which flew apart like a rotten melon."

Friday, August 01, 2014

Death Merchant #13: The Mato Grosso Horror

In The Mato Grosso Horror, Richard Camellion heads an "archeological expedition" that is trying to locate a group of former Nazis, headed by Doctor Klaus von Linderbock, who have constructed a laboratory in the "hell-hot" Brazilian jungle and are working on a powerful mind control drug. They have been secretly testing the drug on the Carajas natives. With the drug, the Nazis plan to unite Germany and regain Europe - and then the world!

From various reviews of the Death Merchant series, I know that author Joseph Rosenberger filled more of the later books with his own political and social beliefs, from straight American ultra-conservatism to the occult. (His anti-religion stance has been crystal clear since the first book. Here, Camellion dismisses missionaries who venture into the jungle - "one of the most unexplored regions on earth" - armed with little more than Bibles as "idiots to begin with".)

Early in the book (published in September 1975), Camellion opines on the feminist movement while the members of the expedition are double-checking their cache of supplies. The narrative suddenly stops after Major Ryan refers to Monica Belone, an anthropologist, as "Miss Belone". She replies that, "if you don't mind, I prefer to be addressed as 'Ms.'"
[Major] Ryan looked startled. Then he looked as if he wanted to laugh.

"Oh, that 'Ms.' business!" He grinned broadly. "To me that means either 'manuscript' or 'multiple sclerosis!' but if you want to be called 'Ms.,' that's okay by me."

Monica didn't appreciate Ryan's comments, and her brown eyes flashed in anger. She folded her arms over her breasts (which were slightly larger than two fried eggs) and said stiffly, "It's gratifying to know that some men have the good sense to realize male supremacy is on its way out in all the industrialized nations, that it was just a phase in the evolution of culture."

Relighting his cigar, Ryan did not reply. But Camellion did.

"Maybe so, but I'm not very optimistic about the net results of the democratization of sex relations," he said, his eyes on the planes, rather than on 'Ms.' Belone. "The death of male supremacy may simply mean that the sexes become equally powerless, rather than equally powerful. For example, if we continue with the present economic system, the sexual democratization of the labor market will result not in women improving their position, but in a period of worsened conditions for both sexes."

The Death Merchant turned and raked Monica with his icepick-like gaze. "To be specific, the kinds of advantages that have been obtained by women act against the better interests of black women and poor women. I say that because mobility for women depends on education; and it is middle-class women who get the best educations, the most opportunities, and the best jobs."

"Apparently, Richard, you are not familiar with the work of Claude Levi-Strauss and the French structuralists. The emic-etic debate has . . ."

"I'm not interested in self-appointed messiahs who prefer theories and ignore facts. One of those facts is that middle-class families will have both marriage partners working, and that will pull their incomes even farther away from those of working-class families. In short, Ms. Belone, the opening up of certain jobs for limited categories of women may actually mean more economic deprivation for poor people in general!"

He smiled at the angry but subdued young woman. "But all that doesn't have anything to do with this expedition, does it?"
And with that dismissal, the main story continues.

Also, Rosenberger must have done a ton of research on the jungles of Brazil - and he was clearly determined to put it all into the book. The Mato Grosso Horror is packed with information about Brazil, its wildlife and plants. However, Rosenberger isn't really able to integrate his research materials smoothly into the narrative. Here is some info snakes and other hazards of the jungle:
There were more than thirty species of poisonous snakes in that special kind of Hades, divided into two general families: the colubrids and the vipers, such as the corals, short-fanged, which caused them, to hang on and chew after striking. The pit vipers were much worse - two subfamilies or genera; first, the many tropical cascabelas, like bushmasters (aggressive, extremely vicious, no rattles to warn you with); the fer-de-lance, a long-fanged killer, called the jararaca, a night rover and 94 percent fatal; and, of course, the yacu maman, or anaconda, so huge it could swallow a man whole!

The forest would be denuded of game and other foods. There was El Tigre, the man-eating jaguar, hunting in singles or in pairs; crocodiles; pana - two varieties, first cousins of the meat-eating piranha; the ten-foot cannibal zungaro or tiger fish; and giant electric rays capable of electrocuting a man. There were scores of jungle diseases. Ants whose single bite could cause blindness. In short, just staying alive and halfway healthy was a full-time job in the Mato Grosso!
Besides the snakes and other dangerous animals, there are also two tribes of "savages" to contend with. The Carajas are cannibals and "the most warlike tribe in South America". While providing pages of information about the fictional tribe, what they wear and how they paint their faces, Rosenberger helpfully notes that the women are "attractive for savages ... some of them were quite shapely".

At one point, Rosenberger has one of the Carajas alert the Nazis as to Camellion's group's progress: "Drums they say white man-devils close to the land of the Muraitos. Drums they say Muraitos plenty mad and make chop-chop-kill of white devils." Rosenberger also indulges in some casual racism, having the explorers battle the "jungle lollipops", "painted gooks", and "South American jungle bunnies".

The death count in this book is well over 1,000. The various battle scenes are more one-sided than usual, as the DM and his cohorts have automatic weapons and grenade launchers, while the Muraitos and Carajas natives have only spears and arrows. (The Carajas guarding the village in which the Germans are located have modern weapons, however.)

As they make their way through the jungle, our heroes have to take refuge in a cave while battling two bands of Carajas warriors. The Germans then set off some explosives, sealing off the cave's entrance with tons of rocks! It's the end of a chapter - and when the next chapter begins, the group is out of the cave and has made several days' progress towards the Germans' village. ?!?! It's a total cop-out by Rosenberger, as he explains how they escaped being buried alive in only a few sentences.

The Nazis are found, and the DM and his team of 10 men split into two groups and attack the compound from two sides. (Ms. Belone does not participate in the final battle.) During the all-out fire-fight, Camellion narrowly survives a hail of slugs (naturally):
The Germans open fire! In the center of a hurricane of hot steel, he reached the top, jumped over the rim, and zigged and zagged, moving at a left angle on a one-way route for life. A nine-millimeter Heckler & Koch slug sang sinisterly by his left ear. Hot steel from a 7.92mm Krieghoff automatic rifle came within half an inch of drilling a couple of bloody tunnels through the top of his cap-covered skull. Damn! I should have gone into the hardware business with my father! A loud zinggg as steel smashed into steel and his right hip felt as if it had been hit with the head of a hammer. But it hadn't been. A 7.92mm from a St.G. Mauser assault rifle had cut through the metal sheath and had struck the steel blade of his M-4 bayonet-knife. Another 7.92 blob of steel barely raked across his left hand.
Also, Rosenberger adds to his list of food used to describe carnage: "Three more [Walther slugs] opened up his chest and split his skull the way a macana would chop apart a kisva melon!"

Friday, July 25, 2014

Death Merchant #12: The KGB Frame

In a summary of the Death Merchant series, the writer of Spy Guys And Gals, notes: "Extremely little is recorded about the man nicknamed the Death Merchant. His early years are a total mystery as are the means he used to acquire his awesome killing abilities. For a series with 70 different adventures, this is remarkable."

All we know (through the first 11 books) is that Richard Camellion used to be a high school history teacher in St. Louis. We have a basic physical description: "a lean almost-handsome face - straight nose, firm, determined jaw, eyes as blue as polar ice. Brown hair clipped in a two-inch crew cut."

But we get a lot of circumstantial information about Camellion in the early pages of The KGB Frame (published in July 1975). First of all, the Death Merchant has owned an 81-acre ranch seven miles south of Votaw, Texas (an actual small town roughly 75 miles northeast of Houston), for at least six years. The ranch is named Memento Mori ("Remember Death"). Jesus Sontoya, a trusted friend of the DM, lives on the ranch.

Camellion also has four "safe houses" in the United States, each with a sizeable hidden cache of weapons, disguises, etc.: (1) one in Alhambra, a suburb of Los Angeles, (2) a four-room brick house in Arlington Heights, north of Chicago, (3) "a neat cottage" in Sioux Falls, Iowa, and (4) an apartment on Vermilyea Avenue in upper Manhattan. Unfortunately, Camellion ends up having to destroy (by planted explosives) the New York apartment house, which he owned under the name Corliss Durbenten.

Also, it is revealed that Camellion knows (or can speak) 11 languages!

In The KGB Frame, the Russians want to get rid of the Death Merchant, so they create a recording of him supposedly admitting to being a double agent for the Soviets. When the CIA hears the tape - and its experts determine that the recording is genuine - they send several assassins to kill the traitorous Death Merchant. After figuring out that he has been "netted" by the KGB, Camellion travels to both New York and Mexico City in an effort to clear his name. (The final shootout is among the ruins of the Pyramid of the Sun outside of Mexico City.)

Rosenberger engages in some American exceptionalism:
[Belov] like [sic] the country and he liked Americans. In the two years that he had been stationed at the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., he had come to learn that Americans are the happiest, the best fed, the best-dressed people in the world.

Belov thought of the large apartment near the embassy that he and Elana rented. Every single piece of furniture was American and fifty times better than similar items manufactured in the Soviet Union. The refrigerator was a General Electric, the vacuum cleaner a Hoover, the color television set an RCA, the stereo a Philips. Why, even the shower head had come from Sears & Roebuck! Then there were those little everyday things that Americans took for granted, like American cigarettes, ballpoint pens, hot dogs, cola drinks and - Nescafe!
But not all of the United States is super-amazing. For example, New York City is referred to as "the land of freaks and ripoffs, with more kooks per square mile than even L.A.!" Camellion later muses: "If God existed and ever wanted to give the world an enema, New York City is where he'd stick the nozzle!"

One aspect of some men's adventure paperbacks is what is described as "gun porn", in which the author describes - at length - the various weapons used, the caliber of the shells, and how the various guns work. So far, Rosenberger is more apt to over-describe the gore than the specific firearms. Nevertheless, no one in these paperbacks simply fires a gun. It's a "9mm Spanish Astra Condor pistol equipped with a Bennim-Molig silencer" or a "9-MM Tula Tokarev TT pistol". In addition to his trusty shoulder-holstered .357 Magnums, Camellion uses an Ingram M10 .45 ACP caliber submachine gun with a Sonics silencer, and a silenced 9-millimeter Hi-Power Browning. At various points in the book, he carries SIG 7.65-millimeter pistols, a Colt AR-18 rifle (5.56MM slugs), a Remington 870 Wingmaster shotgun, and two .45 Mexican Obregon automatics.

Rosenberger continues his use of racial slurs. During a shootout at a Mexican whorehouse, Camellion refers to gunning down some "chili peppers" and "hot tamales". He also refers to the Russians as both "Ivans" and "pig farmers". The latter insult - which, perhaps in ignorance, I really don't understand - will be used throughout the entire series.

And this volume's food/fruit metaphors: "Dyudin's head exploded from the impact of the Super-Vel .357 slug that split open his skull like a watermelon kicked by an angry mule." ... A gunshot victim's legs give out from under him like "soggy breadsticks".

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Death Merchant #11: Manhattan Wipeout

Manhattan Wipeout is a sequel of sorts to the previous Joseph Rosenberger volume, The Mainline Plot. After busting up Joey Pineapples' mob and destroying $300 million in heroin, Richard Camellion - the infamous Death Merchant - stays in New York and goes after another of the city's mobsters: Salvatore Giordano, perhaps the most dangerous gangster in the U.S.

This book is one of the weaker volumes in the series so far. While Rosenberger's action scenes are as lengthy and gory as usual, there is very little resolution after the mad shootout at the meeting of the various mob heads on Long Island. Camellion indulges in all sorts of murderous mayhem, killing mobsters and their bodyguards, but he makes his escape before he can kill Girodano, after hearing approaching police sirens. And then the book ends. But apparently, the secret recordings Camellion was able to make of the meetings is enough for the feds to move against some of the surviving mobsters, so the Merchant of Death will earn his standard $100,000 fee.

While the action scenes in these books are clearly not meant to be believed - and I'm fine with that - the way that Rosenberger handled the secret recordings really bugged me (pun intended). One device hidden at Krantz, Koonze, Rosenthal & Lebokowski (Giordano's attorneys) picks up "every word uttered in the offices of the high-powered law firm". How is this possible? The firm is likely using multiple floors of a large Manhattan office building. But this is how Camellion finds out about the big meeting Giordano is planning. And then when Camellion stakes out the meeting house on Long Island, he ends up shooting about a dozen dart-bugs outside various windows. Once again, I had serious doubts about how well these mics would pick up sounds within the walls of the house (there is also the howling mid-February winds along the water to consider).

However, you don't expect realism when you read about the "incredible adventures" of the Death Merchant. What you do expect - and what you get, over and over again - are hilarious turns of phrase, some godawful writing, and a bit of casual racism.

One hood is describes as being "uglier than a week old pastrami sandwich", while another one "looked like a man who would use Janitor in a Drum for a cologne". After the Death Merchant fires a few slugs into one bad guy, he acts "like he had a wasp in his underwear, he jumped, jerked, and died." And in seemingly every book of the series, at some point Rosenberger describes someone's shot-up head by referring to smashed fruit. This time: "The back of his head resembled a burst pomegranate ..."

The violence is, as usual, minutely described, with Rosenberger outlining exactly what the DM's many slugs do to the human body:
Two slugs missed Provanzano. Two didn't. One hit him in the left shoulder and tore off his arm. The second hollow-point struck him in the left side, flattened out, and tore all the way through him, taking chips of rib bone with it. ...
Al Ponzi tried to escape through the kitchen door, going through it in a dive. Half of him made it; the rest of him caught a .357 slug that tore off his left foot, and four 9mm pieces of steel which hacked through his stomach, his liver, and his gall bladder. Ponzi died in midair.
Elsewhere, Rosenberger describes Camellion firing his submachine gun ("the chatterbox"): "a whining symphony" of slugs, "the hot hornets of ricocheting steel". Rosenberger even teaches us a little bit about Italian food: "... fresh fettucini, boiled al dente European style, twice as tasty and chewy as al dente American style".

Rosenberg's racism is usually so over-the-top that it makes you shake your head in amazement rather than anger. In this book, he refers to Harlem as "coconut-land" and "apeland" and mentions "a coconut dishwasher" working in a restaurant's kitchen. While describing the events of the previous book, Rosenberger recalls the "slant-eyed monkeys from North Korea". He also describes the "spic areas" of Manhattan and refers to Italians as "garlic-snappers".

Other References?: Rosenberger refers to the Chicago mob as "the Outfit", which could be a nod to Richard Stark and his superb series of Parker novels. Elsewhere, someone is called Hardin, which is the last name of another crime fighter in another series: Mark Hardin, The Penetrator (so named because he was an expert at penetrating enemy lines in Vietnam, not due to any sexual prowess (though his last name might hint otherwise)).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Death Merchant #10: The Mainline Plot

Communists in North Korea have created a super-potent, super-addictive strain of heroin called Peacock-4. It only takes one shot to become an addict for life. The North Koreans intend to introduce the heroin into the U.S. and enslave a generation of young adults. As The Mainline Plot's back cover states: "Wreck the youth of a nation and you wreck its future."

So the North Koreans forge a three-way alliance with the Corsican mob in France and the Pinappello mob family in the New York area, to transport 1,000 kilograms of heroin halfway across the world. It's Richard Camellion's job - as the infamous Death Merchant - to bust up the deal and recover the drugs. (This was the fourth Death Merchant book to be published in 1974. Rosenberger was really cranking them out.)

Camellion begins the book in Seoul where he is being followed in his car by Wan Kwo-Do, North Korea's counterintelligence group. He ditches the car at a farmers' market and runs into a teahouse. After gunning down a team of eight assassins, Camellion is off to France to meet with CIA agents and undercover agents of the US Narcotics Bureau.

This time, a seven-man murder squad is waiting in his hotel room. Camellion, tipped off to the instrusion by his E.I.D. device, comes into the hotel room via the fire escape, surprising the goons. He kills all seven and high-tails it out of the building before the cops arrive.

We then get a couple of chapters of exposition, as we go to the House of Fouche, a small winery run by Roger Fouche, the most powerful syndicate boss in southern France. He and four other men are talking about the operation. He is meeting with two North Korea agents and two Mafioso from New York. It is during this meeting that Fouche gets the bad news that the DM waxed seven of his finest assassins in the hotel room. (At one point, Rosenberger actually writes that the North Koreans "remained silent, their almond features inscrutable".)

More information is given - including the six stages of preparing heroin (it's practically a how-to guide) and background on the New York mobsters - as Camellion visits an apartment in Marseille where the undercover US agents are working. The DM sees Fouche as the link and so he proposes to go to the winery and get some information.

After a couple of shootouts, Camellion captures Fouche and gets him to spill the beans on the heroin deal, how it was arranged, and how it will be shipped. He tells the DM the drugs will be hidden in the gas tanks of Renaults in the hold of a certain vessel, but this turns out to be a lie. (The drugs are moved several times from a seaplane to a cabin cruiser to other vessels before being delivered safely to Joey Pineapples' Jersey City estate.)

Camellion arranges a massive ambush on the Pineapples estate and the drugs, hidden under the floorboards in the stables, are destroyed in a fire. The mission is a success, but the Death Merchant realizes that there are four more powerful Mafia families in the New York area ("he had only begun"). And so it looks like that will be the DM's next target: "There's going to be a Manhattan wipeout!"

Joseph Rosenberger has devoted far more pages in this book to fight scenes and shootouts than in the previous volumes. At every stop Camellion makes, he has to blast his way out. (The Death Merchant actually gets shot in this book, but he is wearing a vest, so he survives.) At one point, Camellion is using something called The Blaster, a submachine gun developed by the CIA with a whopping 3,117 (!) cartridges in the magazine! As Rosenberger describes the damage that the dozens of slugs do, he showcases his unique style of writing:
The tornado of Blaster bullets did more than wreck inanimate objects; it found three of the troops. One man, to the side of a small sofa, simply fell back dead, his face a bloody pulp, his brains smeared all over the Persian rug. The second man cried in pain, jumped a foot, rolled over, and wondered if there could be life after death. He found out a few seconds later. The third man also had a very important question: could a man live without his stomach, with half his insides scattered all over the floor? Then he passed out and found out that a man could not ...