Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Death Merchant #32: Deadly Manhunt

After thwarting a potential roadside ambush upon his return from South Korea, Richard Camellion is back at Memento Mori, his ranch in the Big Thicket region of Texas, where his handyman, Jesus Sontoya, was recently murdered. Sontoya's death was meant as a warning to the Death Merchant. Someone is gunning for him.

Camellion enters his house through a secret entrance to make sure there is no one waiting inside. He searches the house before going into several well-protected underground rooms, in which he stores his disguises and weapons arsenal ... and shoeboxes full of $100 bills. (The DM receives $100,000 cash (tax-free!) for each of his missions for the U.S. government.)

Camellion heads to Langley, Virginia, to meet with the CIA's Deputy Director of Operations and get the lowdown on this new threat. Camellion is convinced someone with the CIA has ratted him out. On a hunch, he asks for the files of agents who have resigned or retired in the last five years - and finds that two men ended up working security for the same metal company in New Jersey. It turns out that this company happens to be (ultimately) owned by the Silvestter family. It was Cleveland Winston Silvestter - the self-proclaimed son of Satan - that the Death Merchant battled and killed back in Billionaire Mission (#8). Plus, Camellion recognizes the face of Silvestter's 25-year-old son as the man who escaped from the ambush that began the book!

After the meeting, Camellion drives back to his hotel. The motion detection transmitters he placed in his room tell him that there are people awaiting his return. The Death Merchant sets off the hotel's fire alarms to create confusion before storming into the hotel room and wasting most of the waiting gunmen. Silvestter and an associate escape out the fire escape, but they leave behind an attache case containing a strange device with many knobs, wires, and a small screen. From the labels on the various knobs - which include Hypothalamic Read-In, Limbic Adjustment, Pons Inset, Thalamic Coordinator, and Aura Pattern & Adjustment - Camellion deduces that the machine can detect a particular person's aura and that this is how they have been able to pinpoint Camellion's exact location. Rosenberger does not explain how the Auraic Transfinder can differentiate Camellion's aura from the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of others in its range (and why did they bring it with them on the attempted hit?), but Camellion nevertheless believes the machine works - and he believes in the existence of auras.
Aura? That's something right out of occultism. The aura is a luminous appearance seen surrounding the human body. I'm convinced it exists and that it's made up of numerous elements of the human forcefield, including perhaps heat radiation, electromagnetic fields, and many other things unknown to modern science.
Camellion first tries to invade Silvestter's mansion near Hyannis on Cape Cod. A CIA boat takes him close and he scuba dives to the shore and makes his move. He manuvers and shoots his way through the fences and patrolling guards and gets into the mansion, only to be pinned down in a room by six armed thugs. Using some grenades and his usual quick thinking, he ices them and escapes. But fires have started and the house is burning down, and Camellion has to get out before he can kill Silvestter.

The Death Merchant then travels to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with the idea of hiding in the Sangre de Dios mountains. I'm not sure why he chooses this location, beyond the fact that there is a CIA station in Santa Fe. Perhaps it is to see if Silvestter's thugs can track his aura (if they have a second machine) across the country. After catching up with an old friend, Norberto Martinez, Camellion sets off into the mountains, making his base of operations in a small cave. Camellion spends 18 days getting a good feel for the layout of the area, while also setting up electronic detection transmitters and burying packs of explosives. On the 19th day, he hears a helicopter, which was sent by Silvestter to fly over the area and draw the Death Merchant's fire, thus revealing his position. Camellion, wisely using a silencer, succeeds in damaging the copter with his trusty Auto Mags, and it crashes.

Silvestter had spent the past three weeks on the west coast hiring a team of 80 gunmen to track and kill Camellion in the mountains. With groups of men advancing, the Death Merchant detonates the buried explosives and nearly all of Silvestter's goons are obliterated. Only 17 men are left. Camellion uses his recently-acquired knowledge of the terrain to help him hide and sneak up on various shooters. He picks them off in groups of two and three. Naturally, he ends up in a martial arts showdown with Silvestter after everyone else has been killed.

Deadly Manhunt is a fairly perfunctory story. It's missing a lot of Rosenberger's usual silliness. The recent volumes have not been nearly as goofy as the early books. Plus, Rosenberger/Camellion have been making references to religion that seem wholly inconsistent with the Death Merchant's supposedly virulent anti-religion stance. In #32, Camellion mentions "the murder of Jesus" early in the book, and someone is described as looking as forlorn as Joseph trying to find a manger. At one point, Camellion thinks, "No man is infallible. Except the Pope!" And Rosenberger writes: "With his back facing Silvestter, Camellion didn't have time to say any Our Fathers."

Finally, Rosenberger has Camellion show an interest in women and sex, something absent from most of the books:
The second part of the surprise was that the agent was not a he. It was a she - an attractive woman of about thirty, with well-rounded curves in just the right places of her off-white pants suit ...

[Camellion] tilted the cup to his mouth, watching her over the rim, wondering how she would look wearing nothing but a wristwatch and a smile. She was crisp, cool, and all business. He had met dozens like her, and everyone of them had been fire and ice in bed - at least those he had bedded down for the night. Or the weekend. Or, occasionally, for the entire week.
If you came up with 100 nouns or adjectives to describe Camellion, I don't think "horndog" would be among them. But we did learn in an earlier volume that the Death Merchant is "a leg man", so maybe he gets a lot of action outside the confines of the books.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Death Merchant #31: Operation Thunderbolt

Operation Thunderbolt was the 12th Death Merchant book published by Pinnacle during the years 1977 and 1978. Joseph Rosenberger turned in one manuscript every other month, like clockwork, for two years! That's a tremendous workload, even by the grind-'em-out standards of the men's adventure pulps field. (And it looks like his pace continued into 1979.)

In #31, the CIA sends Richard "Death Merchant" Camellion to North Korea to rescue Dr. Douglas Hausheer and his wife, two of the 37 survivors of a plane that was forced to make an emergency landing. (The plane was "blown off course during a severe storm"; is that possible?) Unbeknowst to the North Koreans, Dr. Hausheer is a scientist working on a top secret ultrasonic bomb for the U.S. Camellion's mission: Get the Hausheers out of North Korea or, failing that, kill them. Either way, Hausheer's scientific knowledge must not fall into the hands of the enemy.

Camellion pretends to be a journalist from Australia, and the book opens with him getting a tour of various sites, including the Sinch'on Atrocity Museum, which was "the most vicious and ridiculous example of black propaganda the Death Merchant had ever seen". Back at his hotel, Camellion receives a message that a CIA contact wants to meet. But before Camellion can do anything, four Korean officers are at his hotel door, accusing him of being a spy. The Death Merchant uses martial arts to disable all four, taking one man with him down through the lobby (killing a few more Koreans along the way) and into an alley where they take a car to the contact's address. There, Camellion is introduced to Kang Ban Sok, and they discuss where the airline passengers are being held, how heavily they are being guarded, and how possible is it to break them out. The Death Merchant is highly skeptical: "The whole scheme has got more kinks than a two-dollar garden hose. ... This strike was the biggest gamble he had ever undertaken."

But Camellion - who is in disguise for most of the book as a 70-year-old Korean going by the name "Kim Cho Wang" - formulates a plan to get the Hausheers and the other passengers safely across the DMZ and into South Korea. (The pilot of the downed plane exclaims: "My God! Your plan is so crazy it might even work!"*) The multi-part escape takes up most of the second half of the book. The action is all right - at one point, Camellion notes "what we're doing beats bone testing in a ladies'-corset factory" - but it was somewhat confusing as the three-part Korean names all ran together. It was sometimes difficult to remember who was on which side. (I think even Rosenberger got confused, with one character apparently fighting for both sides.)

* The pilot, Dennis Wilburn, is impressed with this "Wang" character. He remarks that "Wang could spend six months in a cave and come out with a suntan." ... Earlier in the book, someone else exclaims about Camellion: "A strange and weird person. A first-rate killer with the education of a philosopher! Incredible!" (The DM quote that prompts this description is "Mankind is a victim of collective amnesia." Not all that deep, philosophically.)

Here are a few of the men fighting with the Death Merchant: Kang Ban Sok, Bong Yi Choy, Jo Go Pugchi, Lin Bi Wubok, Chu Ji Su, Pok Shi Pom, Pog Li Sibki, Chub P'o'do, Pong Do Chamko, Tita Sum Kida, and Map Gap Win.

Among the bad guys we have: Chim Ki Wu, Gin Ki Ping, Sasip Wong Yong-ri, Obu Hu Dang, Cho Ip-Poon, Lee Jwa-ye-t'anh, Yon Gip Kajang, and Bigiru Kowdow, among others. (There is also a weapon called a Hanko-ji'gok and the NK police force is known as the Ju-sun-kyong.) Thankfully, Rosenberger does not fully indulge his habit of identifying every single man fighting (and then dying) against the Death Merchant this time around.

The Death Merchant engages in martial arts at several points, so we also get the names of various moves, like ken tsui, shuto, ura ken, teishi, fumikomi, chungdan pandae, yon hon nukite, yoko kekomou, hiraken, empi, heiko zuki, soku-to, and ashi kubi.

After the copious anti-Asian slurs that littered the last book, The Shambhala Strike, I was intrigued to see Rosenberger's author's note at the front of Operation Thunderbolt:
In this book I used the word "gook" in referring to the North Koreans. Certain liberals object to this word.

By "gook" I mean precisely an uncivilized Asiatic Communist. I see no reason for anyone who doesn't fit this definition to object to the way I use it.
Because, hey, why be bothered or concerned about anything if it doesn't affect you personally?

It turns out Rosenberger doesn't use the term "gook" nearly as many times as I was expecting (I counted only 40 or so instances). There are also a few references to riceballs, rice-eaters, and Nips.

In the epilogue, Camellion expresses his serious interest Nostradamus's alleged predictions of world events.
"By 1990 there will not be a United States. There won't be any civilization. ... 'The world shall be put into trouble by three brothers. Their enemies will seize the New City by the water, hunger, fire, blood, plague, and all evils doubled.'"

A serious look crossed [CIA agent Geoffrey] McKenna's face. "I've read Nostradamus, too. I've got to admit that his prophecies, down through the centuries, have been very accurate."

"According to him, World War III will start in Red China, and the entire U.S. will be destroyed by nuclear weapons," Camellion said. "As he wrote in one Quatrain, 'The Sky of the New Land will burn, its cities a new ash to form.'"
At the very end of the book, Camellion gets some horrible news: Jesus Sontoya, the handyman at his ranch in Texas, has been murdered. McKenna says: "The consensus is that someone is out to neutralize you. There's a deadly manhunt going on and you're the target..."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Death Merchant #30: The Shambhala Strike

In Hell in Hindu Land (DM #20), it is mentioned that alien beings, having traveled to Earth millions of years ago, established three bases on our planet. One installation was beneath a monastery in the mountains of India (Hell in Hindu Land), a second was located under the North Pole (The Pole Star Secret; DM #21). A third base was constructed off the U.S. coast, near the Bermuda Triangle.

Well, author Joseph Rosenberger either changed his mind about where these alien bases are located or he created a fourth base, because in The Shambhala Strike, Richard Camellion (aka the Death Merchant) heads to the Middle East in search of the fabled subterranean metropolis - and meets up with (and chats with (!), via telepathy)) one of the aliens mentioned in the previous two volumes. Camellion and his fellow fighters (including CIA man Vallie West, a recurring character in the series) also get to use some cool alien technology to defeat a force of 450+ Chinese soldiers who are also intent on reaching the alien city for nefarious purposes.

Rosenberger writes of a gigantic system of caves and tunnels underneath the countries of Tibet, Bhutan, Manchuria, Mongolia, Kurdistan, and Afghanistan. A sentence that claims this underground city contains "miraculous inventions" and a history of the human race going back 17 million years is footnoted with the statement: "The legend of Shambhala is genuine; we did not invent it for the sake of this story." ... See the legend of Agharta (also).

After trekking through the Himalayas, Camellion and his party of 13 others come to the entrance of the tunnel. As they go deeper into the tunnel, it gets wider and taller. They come to a huge barrier, blocking further passage. the barrier is glowing, the same kind of glow Camellion witnessed at the other two alien bases. A door opens in the barrier and they pass through.

After they walk several more miles, the tunnel opens up into "another world". They are stunned by a "fantastic panorama stretching out before them". As far as the eye can see, there are "rock-covered hills and outlandish vegetation" as far as the eye can see. "None of them could see the northern end or the east and west sides of the cavern". The ceiling is roughly one mile above their heads.

They meet three aliens, called Goros, who are able to communicate with Camellion and the others telepathically. They also know everything about each of the people in the DM's party, including the Merchant of Death himself. Camellion gets a telepathic message from one of the Goros (who also make reference to the "Cosmic Lord of Death") meant solely for him:
"You are also the man of death, the Death Merchant. Your secret is safe. No one else can hear me."
There are a total of 40 Goros in this world, taken from the surface world 18,000 years ago by the Inelqu, the aliens who first came to earth. The Goros, for reasons that are not clearly stated, want the Death Merchant's party to kill the Chinese soldiers, who are advancing on the cavern from another tunnel, one large enough to drive tanks and armoured carriers through.

After the first battle with the Chinese, one character figures the odds now stand at "ten of us against a couple of hundred chopsticks!" (More on Rosenberger's racism below.)

Camellion and his team are taken inside a huge dome, where one of the Inelqu is awakened. Inside this room - which is similar to the room of aliens Camellion saw in India - are "such abysms of hideous impossibility, such grotesque contradictions of universal order, "something horribly remote and distinct from mankind" and "something frightfully suggestive of ancient and unhallowed cycles of life in which earth and human concepts had no part, no existence". Camellion takes all of this in stride, of course, and Rosenberger doesn't really have any of the others freak out all that much, even after the Inelqu explains mankind's origins, reveals the aliens' original planet and means of traveling to earth, and the existence of another group of aliens, the Flimmms, which warred with the Inelqu, and led to the establishment of many of the world's myths and religions.

To ensure the Death Merchant's victory over the Chinese, the Goros allow them to use a bullet-proof flying craft (constructed out of "kkokro metal") that allows them to soar over the Chinese soldiers and drop five-pound packets of explosives on them. Before they take off, though, Camellion and West have a totally believable conversation (complete with a footnote!) about setting the timers:
"Rick," [West] had said, "the height we use will determine the number of seconds we click off on the timers. I suppose you know that for purposes of standardization, the acceleration due to gravity is g equals 998.665 cm/sec. to the second power?"

"I know, Val. It's also a matter of dynes*. Since the Earth rotates, the weight of a body is somewhat less than the Earth's attraction for it, because of the centrifugal force, and in general is not directed toward the Earth's center. You take a plumb line ten feet long in the latitude of New York. Okay, this line departs about a quarter inch to the south, from a line in the direction of the Earth's geometrical center."

"Which adds up to what?" Vallie had asked.

"Well, this same influence accounts for the oblateness of the Earth, and these two facts together account for the variation of gravity from equator to poles - a fact few people realize. At the equator the weight of a gram mass is 977.99 dynes. At the poles it exceeds 983 dynes."

*: The dyne is the unit of force in the C.G.S. - centimeter-gram-second system of physical units. It is such a great force that, under its influence, a body whose mass is one gram would experience an acceleration of one centimeter per second per second - yes, two "per seconds.
What this has to do with setting the timers for approximately 18 seconds - while flying around in a huge cave miles beneath the Earth's surface - is anyone's guess. Anyway, this attack is merely a prelude to the climatic battle, most of it hand-to-hand combat, which is recounted over 16 (!) pages.

The DM and his crew emerge victorious and the book ends abruptly. The Goros tell Camellion that after he and his group are back on the surface, the entrances to the three tunnels will be sealed up forever and no one will stumble upon this underground world again. Camellion's reaction is pretty much, "Okay, cool. See ya." before heading back with the others ... in fact, he's already thinking about his next mission. And so Rosenberger, like he did in the previous two books, attempts to mix in a little science fiction, but then once the fighting is done and the enemies are dead, he completely drops the aliens subplot.

Rosenberger also goes wild throughout the book with racial slurs (especially during that big end-of-book fight), often referring to the Chinese soldiers as riceballs, chinnies, and gooks. Also "chopstick chaps", "Chopstick Charlies", and "the chopstick stupids" - which sounds like the name of a punk band). Individual soldiers are called "wonton weirdo", "Peking pervert", "Mao moron", and "'ah-so' dummy". Rosenberger even has one of the Chinese military officers asks a peer: "Aren't you letting your imagination run wild and unchecked through the rice paddies?"

Some amusing lines that makes you know you are reading Rosenberger:
"Camellion, you're talking like a man with a retarded wisdom tooth."

"... and Commie scouts and soldiers from the main body were being killed faster than a fruit jar full of moonshine at a Kentucky hoedown."

"...perpetually amazed, somewhat like a man who had bought a pair of water skis and was disappointed because he could not find a lake with a hill."

"The intelligence service of India was as useless as snowshoes on an Arab."
While spending several pages recounting the unnecessary back story of Helen Banya, a Soviet defector who (for reasons not worth explaining) is part of the expedition, Rosenberger refers to her "ample lacteal endowments". What a romantic!

In all of the DM books, Camellion does not curse. (I guess Rosenberger didn't want his main character setting a bad example - while slaughtering scores of people - for any youngsters who might be reading.) Instead, Camellion says/thinks things like, "Hammer my hamhocks!" and "Go suck stale ding-dongs, you dumb dodos!"

Note: I first learned about the existence of the Death Merchant earlier this year from Joe Kenney's always-entertaining blog, Glorious Trash. If I recall, reading Donald Westlake's Richard Stark novels (and looking for information online) led me to Max Allan Collins and his Nolan series, which pointed me towards Don Pendleton's The Executioner, which led me to Joe's blog. He reviewed this volume of the Death Merchant here.

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 (2004)

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.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Death Merchant #24: The Kronos Plot

Fidel Castro's latest plot involves blowing up the Panama Canal, by loading explosives onto two container ships and then triggering the explosives when the ships are travelling through the Gatun and Miraflorez locks. The attack is being carried out by FAR (Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes) for whom Castro has secretly been supplying weapons and tactical advice.

After surviving a shootout while trying to crash a pro-Castro meeting in Key West, Florida, hoping to gain some information about the plot, Richard Camellion - the Death Merchant - heads to Panama City to meet with Trajan Hasbijanian, a heavy-drinking, bar-owning CIA man who fills the DM in on the details.

Camellion then announces his plans to go to a nearby banana plantation to "have a chat" with Captain Alfonzo Gallego, second in command of FAR, aka the Rebel Armed Forces. Everyone says it's a suicide mission. Nevertheless, Camellion disguises himself as an old peasant hoping for some extra work. When he is searched and a gun is found on him, the Death Merchant has to spring into action and lay waste to the plantation. Making his way through the big house and into its wine cellar, he finds Wilfredo Magrinat, the plantation owner, wounded, blinded in the left eye. In short order, Magrinat spills the beans about the plot to Camellion: the attack will take place the day after tomorrow!

Time is obviously running out. The Death Merchant, trying to figure out where the controls for the explosives would be located, starts free-associating, wondering how the plot will likely unfold. He comes up with a theory - pretty much out of nowhere, and based on nothing concrete - that turns out of course to be 100% correct.

After persuading the head of the Panama Canal Zone to allow Camellion and seven others to "invade" the Canal, they travel by helicopter over the nearby jungle. Camellion engages in a firefight in the jungle (including some hand-to-hand combat). Two rebels are taken prisoner and they end up revealing more about the plot. In the end, Camellion, Hasbijanian and a few others storm the ship from which the explosions would be triggered and save the canal.

***

Joseph Rosenberger is usually extremely stingy about providing any background information about the Death Merchant. However, in The Kronos Plot, we learn quite a bit. Camellion is "a leg man" - and he actually has sex in this book ... but only after making doubly sure that his trusted Lee Jurras-designed Auto Mags are safe. He went to high school in St. Louis (we already knew he taught high school there before becoming (for unstated reasons) the Merchant of Final Oblivion). Also, he never eats breakfast.

Camellion is described as a superman "who could use pistolas with an impossible accuracy and who talked like a philosopher" and someone who combines "the brute force of a prizefighter and the gentle reasoning of a psychoanalyst". ... Camellion is described at one point as being "as calm as an unconscious clam". ... Also, his "peculiar", "icy" blue eyes have at times "a kind of unearthly shimmering". His intense, blue-eyed stare makes people very uncomfortable.

One seemingly hokey invention Camellion's men use is something called a P.F. Analyzer, developed for use in the Vietnam War.
... the "P" standing for perspiration, the "F" meaning feces. Often called the "People Sniffer" or the "B.O. Detector," the P-F-A could detect human beings by identifying minute traces of enzymes found only in human sweat or excrement. For either the air or the ground, the P-F-A had a range of 3.7 miles.
For all I know, the U.S. military really has/had a device like this, but - with its two dials and round radar screen - it seems like some silly magical box seen on a '70s TV show.

Camellion, of course, comes very close to catching a slug or two, but narrowly escapes. Rosenberger is fairly exact in his descriptions: "These latter two [slugs] hissed so close to the Death Merchant's chest that one came within .16 centimeters of hitting the middle button on his shirt." ... Hmmm, wouldn't that still strike him in the middle of his chest?

Also: Someone is riddled with slugs from "nose to naval" (perhaps with all the talk of ships, this typo was inevitable).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue, Rolling Thunder 1976

This is my new favourite song: Bob Dylan and his Rolling Thunder Revue unleashing a seriously rocking nine-minute version of Tangled Up In Blue.

This was played at the rain-drenched, tour-ending show at Fort Collins in Colorado in May 1976. The show was taped and an hour was broadcast on NBC. It featured a Shelter From The Storm that is firmly in my Dylan Top 10 and an incendiary Idiot Wind.

Whenever I want to hear some RTR, I instinctively go to the fall of 1975. The spring tour in 1976 had a somewhat different sound and, considering my love for the Fort Collins performance, I should explore it more.

Tangled Up In Blue (not broadcast - and apparently no footage of it circulates) just flat-out smokes, especially when the band kicks back in at about 4:10. Download and listen here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Death Merchant #23: The Budapest Action

The United States Defense Intelligence Agency has learned that Russian scientists, working in Hungary, have developed a new chemical weapon (Nusocynikamine Hithoalide-4):

"NK-hk-4, an hallucinatory gas that didn't kill, but kept its victims deranged for as long as two weeks, reducing them to the level of idiots. Colorless, tasteless, and odorless, NK-hk-4's value lay in its power and its worth as a weapon of war. One liter (1.06 quarts) would suffice to immobilize a city the size of New York. The possibilities were more than fantastic: they were mind-boggling. An aircraft could spray the gas over the city. Within a few hours at the most, millions of people would be staggering around like drunks, unable to think, slobbering, crawling on their hands and knees, having lost even their individual identities. The second terrible potential of NK-hk-4 was that it wouldn't damage the hardware of the city attacked. Not a single building would be affected."

The DIA has asked Richard Camellion, the infamous Death Merchant, to obtain the NK-hk-4 formula and destroy the laboratory of Dr. Imre Meleter at Karolyi Castle.

Camellion enters Hungary with a West German passport as Brother Helmut Krim, of the Catholic monastic order of Benedictines. According to his cover story, he has traveled from Cologne and is making the pilgrimage to Shrine of Our Lady of Bakony. The Death Merchant is working with the Society of the Double Cross, an underground outfit in Hungary. The plan is to smuggle various weapons in their vehicles and blend in with the thousands of other people making the pilgrimage. When they get close enough to the castle, they will attack.

With Camellion impersonating a priest, I was all set for a ton of anti-religion comments, but I was disappointed. The Death Merchant keeps his opinions to himself for the most part in this book, although he does discuss good and evil, faith, and miracles with the men of the cloth. Camellion notes: "All men have faith in something ... his field of endeavor is his own personal kingdom of faith."

When Father Csoki says that he is "convinced that demons walk this earth, that Communism is but the prelude to the coming of the Antichrist, to the end of the world", Camellion replies "with his usual perceptiveness" (and sounding like a jumbled encyclopedia entry):
The Jews refer to this figure as Armilus, that is, he's an eschatological figure found in the literature of the Gaonic Period. Other sources - Midrash Va-Yosha, Nistarot de-Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai - call Armulis the successor of Gog and depict him as a monstrosity, who claims to be the Messiah or even God, and is accepted as such by the sons of Esau, but is rejected by the Jews. In the ensuing struggle the Ephraimite Messiah and a million Jews are killed, but Armulis is destroyed by God or the Davidic Messiah. The composite Armulis legend appears to have been influenced by older concepts such as Ezekiel's Gog and Magog, the Persian Ahura-Mazda, and Ahriman. It all forms part of the eschatological aggadah that visualizes the messianic era as the ultimate victory of the forces of good, represented by the Messiah, over the power of evil.
Then he starts talking about how the Antichrist "just might be the weather". According to Camellion, "wars, revolutions, economic depressions, even tastes in art and musical expression" can be predicted by five-hundred year weather cycles throughout history. There will be "a heat climax" around 2040 after which "glaciers will begin to advance again" until a cold climax is reached around 2500.

Elsewhere, Camellion restates his thoughts on life and death, telling one priest:
Father, the entire purpose of life is to reach death. As a man of God, you should know that birth and death and joined together by life, by a short period of time. So the only reason for our existence must be to prove that time exists. One might say that the only positive thing we discover in life is that time is eternal. The irony is, though, that in eternity time doesn't exist. It's all the forever now.
As always, there are plenty of Rosenberger's unique turns of phrase:
"looked as startled as a snake with a sudden backache"

"appeared to be twice as surprised as a subversive termite trapped in the beam of a searchlight"

"as tricky as playing baseball with a blowtorch in a fireworks factory"

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Death Merchant #22: The Kondrashev Chase

If this is the third book in the trilogy that includes Hell in Hindu Land and The Pole Star Secret, Joseph Rosenberger has dropped the alien subplot completely. In #22, he has Richard "Death Merchant" Camellion travelling to (or being smuggled into) East Berlin and Czechoslovakia to locate a missing Russian colonel who had been a double agent, feeding information to the CIA.

Colonel Vladimir Boris Kondrashev disappeared with a lot of valuable information: the names of KGB agents and their contacts in Europe, the U.S. and South America. He is trying to get to the West, but many governments in Europe would love to get their hands on him (and his info). It's up to Camellion to find Kondrashev and then ferry him safely to the U.S.

Camellion teams up with a group of ex-SS members called Silent Help, a group supported by the CIA. This story is pretty dull, with a minimum of action. Rosenberger spends far too much time with descriptions of towns, extended conversations about what to do, and details of how Camellion and the Silent Help people get from place to place. There are a few shootouts, including a climatic scene in which Camellion, Kondrashev, and two others hijack a Russian T-62 tank at the famed border crossing known as "Checkpoint Charlie" and, after blowing away scores of Germans, head across the bridge to safety.

With the bare limit of shootouts, Rosenberger's gift for describing each bullet's trajectory and the damage done is seriously curtailed. And instead of simply using the word "slug" all the time, he's now often using "projectile", which doesn't work as well, especially in the middle of a tense shootout.  Plus, "slug" sounds exactly like what it is.

The Kondrashev Chase is dedicated to "the Cosmic Lord of Death", who is also mentioned several times in the text by the Death Merchant. The book begins with a epigraph from none other than R.J. Camellion:
Tyranny often establishes itself by choosing first an unpopular victim or by pleading that massive invasion of privacy is necessary. No matter the form of government. Call it a republic. Refer to it as a democracy. Call it socialism or communism. But make no mistake about it, Victim: the name of the game is power ...
At one point, the Death Merchant is hiding out in the basement of an East German church. One of the priests mentions his joy at being able to "strike a blow for God against the Satanic forces of atheistic Communism". Camellion is "too tired to argue with the hypocritical priest" and merely nods ... and then Rosenberger continues with half a page of what Camellion would have said had he bothered to reply to the priest!
Over the centuries, organized religion had done its diabolical work in stealing the wills of the weak-minded and in making moral slaves of millions by threats of eternal damnation. In the Western world, where the Church was supreme, there was always oppression for the "moral good" of the people. For example, there was no divorce in Spain. The sale of contraceptives was also forbidden in Spain, as well as in Italy and in Ireland. Ireland was also afflicted with the disease of censorship of the press: anything that Church authorities disapproved of could not be printed, spoken over the air or put on television. All of it was nothing more than a dictatorship of the priesthood - And why not? The citizens of the Pope's kingdom are morons who believe in a man-made god!
Camellion's ill-timed love of fruit juice makes a strong comeback! In many of the early volumes, during a shootout or when Camellion is otherwise pinned down, he often would express a desire for a cold glass of fruit or vegetable juice. In this book, he wishes for pineapple juice twice and grape juice once.

Kondrashev mentions that Russia's Special Services Two has a "very thick" file on Camellion. In some of the previous DM books, Rosenberger has had various KGB agents and officers express confusion and ignorance about who Camellion is and/or who the "mysterious" Death Merchant is. It's as if Rosenberger cannot decide if Camellion is widely known throughout the world's spy network/underground or is more of an enigma.

As usual, Rosenberger sneaks in his political opinions, or rather - since he does it without any subtlety whatsoever - dumps his beliefs in the middle of the room. One character details how the United States has assisted (and refused to deport) certain German war criminals. And it falls to Knodrashev to voice this book's indictment of the U.S. as a nation that benefits only the rich:
In America, it is the tax loopholes who protect the rich. It's the working man who pays the taxes. Do you realize that since the end of World War II, your government has paid out about two hundred and twenty-one billion dollars in foreign aid; yet there are hungry people in the United States. In many respects, Death Merchant, your people in Washington are no better than mine in the Kremlin.
And Camellion delivers a mini-rant against religion (with a strange twist):
If a Christian god existed, we wouldn't have world hunger and daytime television. Religion is nothing more than the invention of the people of the future for the control of humanity's present. The Dark Ages represent a thousand years of religious repression of inquiry, a period that was forced on us by malicious time travelers, who have been with us even before Biblical times.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Death Merchant #21: The Pole Star Secret

A few months after his adventure in India, Richard Camellion is headed to the North Pole, in search of a second complex built by the Sandorians, a race of aliens that arrived on Earth more than 10,000 years ago.

The Pole Star Secret is the dull continuation of the story begun in DM #20: Hell in Hindu Land. Two scientists have been kidnapped from a Russian weather station near the North Pole and are now being questioned aboard the Halsey, a U.S. nuclear submarine. They claim there is a miles-long undersea tunnel that opens up into a hollow area 100 square miles in diameter under the polar ice caps. A small artificial sun makes it possible for a rain forest climate to flourish. And there exists a domed building that was apparently built by the aliens.

The CIA men are incredulous, but Camellion, because of his mission in India in which he saw the bodies of more than a dozen aliens, knows the Russians are likely telling the truth. (Fashion Alert: When we first see the Death Merchant, he is "dressed in a scarlet jumpsuit, black Wellington boots, and ... eating raisins"!) Camellion asks if the artificial sun shines with a blue light and he is told, from one of the surprised scientists, that it does. He realizes the light is similar to the one he saw glowing in the secret room at the monastery in India. So with the help of the Russian scientists, the Halsey locates the tunnel, travels through it, and come out in what the Russians have dubbed Thulelandia.

The Death Merchant and 14 others leave the sub and travel in rafts to the shore and start exploring the "island". The air is normal and the temperature is a constant 74 degrees, with no wind. There is a "ceiling" 3,000 feet above them, dotted with giant stalactites. (It's never stated whether the aliens created Thulelandia or whether it was some natural phenomenon that they discovered and exploited/expanded.)

Suddenly, Camellion spies a lone Russian soldier on the trail ahead and quickly shoots him. This kicks off a battle between the DM et al. and roughly two dozen Russians. Camellion and the others wipe out the "pig farmers" (of course), but he feels there is a larger Russian force somewhere on the island, probably at the dome. And so one Halsey crew member climbs a tree, spies the dome in the distance, and off they go. At the dome, there is a very long fight sequence (14 pages) that includes a lot of hand-to-hand combat. Rosenberger describes it all in painstaking detail, and in his unique style. Various "boobs", "half-wits" and "Siberian stupids" are unceremoniously "kicked into Deathland". Rosenberger refers to one dead Russian as "the ding-dong from vodkaville".

After killing all of the Russians, Camellion and the others approach the domed building. But there is some kind of force field around it. They toss a hand grenade at the building and as it nears one of the sides, it simply vanishes! At this point, Rosenberger totally cops out and has Camellion simply decide to turn around, contact the Halsey, and leave Thulelandia. He says, "I think we had better get out of here ... [It's] too much for us." Camellion would rather go back and attack the Russian weather station because there might be some information there the U.S. can use. So, without even a perfunctory attempt to enter the domed building, that's the end of the aliens subplot!

While Camellion and his group are attacking the weather station, the Halsey goes back, sinks a second Russian sub, and then uses 11 torpedoes to seal off the tunnel to Thulelandia forever with millions of tons of rock. They burst in with maximum firepower, slaughter a bunch of Russians, grab a few hostages, and head back through the freezing cold and snow ("colder than the bare ass of a Canadian well digger") to the waiting sub. Rosenberger never mentions Camellion getting any papers or information of any kind from the weather station.

Throughout the book, and especially in the beginning, Rosenberger offers way too much information on the operation of a nuclear submarine, the various jobs to be done, how crew members communicate, what missiles are on board, etc. He also includes a lot about deep-sea diving, including too much talk of what clothing needs to be worn. And Rosenberger's obsession with Lee Jurras continues. The book is dedicated to him and he is mentioned several times throughout the story, including a two-page conversation (!) Camellion has with a submarine crew member about Jurras's various amazing firearm inventions.

Here and there, Camellion gets deep and profound.
"The purpose of life is to reach death. Birth and death are joined together by life, a period of time. So the only reason for our existence must be to prove that time exists. But the only positive thing man discovers in life is that time is eternal. It's like the logics of mathematics. The irony is, though, that in eternity there is no time."

"Death is the ultimate of all experience - or the birth of one into eternity, depending on what brand of metaphysics one believes in."

"Too many symbols can and do cloud the face of reality, just as too many saints can cause sanctity to fall into disrepute!"
Camellion, musing to himself about prayer:
How foolish were the bipeds crawling around on the speck of a planet called Earth. Since Cro-Magnon days a divinity of some sort, either perceived by mankind's sapience, deliberately created in his own image, or inspired by respect for what he cannot comprehend, has been man's primordial and primary object of special prayers. But for most people a divine auditor is essential to psychological self-confidence - Just as little children need Santa Claus. And so throughout the relatively brief period of recorded time, prayer has become an approach to suprahuman deity in word or thought, and this custom has been reinforced by centuries of tradition. Yet I and others know better, don't we, old buddy Death?
In the book's intro, a quote from Camellion mentions a "partnership with Azrael", who is (according to Wikipedia) the Archangel of Death (or retribution) in some traditions and folklore. ... Camellion also comments on his nickname: "I dislike that term. It would imply that one could sell death, which is impossible."

Rosenberger also has members of the Halsey blurt out political/social comments completely out of the blue:
Slipping on a camouflaged head net, Earl Wolfe muttered as if talking to himself, "Come to think of it, I don't know why we're down here risking our butts for Washington. Those shit-ass politicians aren't much better than the dudes in the Kremlin. Bullshit to all the propaganda jazz about the 'land of opportunity'! Even a moron can see that the U.S. is a rich man's nation. The rich get richer, the little guy keeps paying higher and higher taxes, and the poor keep getting hungrier! Screw 'em all!"
No one comments on this outburst, not even Camellion. The scene simply continues as though he had said nothing. Then, thirty pages later, there is this exchange:
"I hope the brass in Washington will appreciate what we've accomplished here today," [Colwin Storms] said, "especially our Fearless Leader in the White House. Naturally he won't. That would be expecting too much of the half-wit. He's so damned stupid he actually thinks the Soviet Union will keep its agreements."

"Yeah, it's a great country," Earl Wolfe laughed. "While senators retire on fifty-thousand-dollar-a-year pensions, millions of old people have to eat on a buck a day! But hell, it's still the land of opportunity. In what other nation can a dumb slut shack up with a U.S. senator and then become a celebrity by bragging to the public how often she rolled in the sheets with the dirty old fart?"
(I have no idea to what specific event Wolfe could be referring; the book was published in March 1977.)

And 18 pages after that:
Colonel Hurdbetter burst out laughing. "Claffin, you should be president of the United States! You're an absolute genius at being out of touch with reality. The idiot in the White House makes speeches about prosperity while conveniently ignoring the fact that twenty million Americans haven't enough to eat."
Rosenberger even has the Russians get into it, with one of the soldiers guarding the dome against the approaching Americans thinking:
Damned Amerikanski pigs! But what could one expect of a nation who didn't take care of its poor but discriminated against its white population in favor of black storskyi! Christian hypocrites! They professed to pray but never practiced those prayers. Stupid God lovers. Savages with dollar signs in their eyes!
The idea of blacks getting everything handed to them for free while whites are discriminated against has been expressed in several previous Death Merchant volumes. It seems like a core Rosenberger belief.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Death Merchant #20: Hell In Hindu Land

Hell in Hindu Land begins a trilogy that concerns a bunch of alien beings who visited the Earth approximately 10,000 years ago. These Other World Creatures constructed three bases on Earth - one in India, one at the North Pole, and one off the U.S. coast in the general area of the Bermuda Triangle. (With any luck, this is the beginning of author Joseph Rosenberger's high weirdness.)

The CIA has learned through a spy in the KGB that the Russians are planning an expedition to a Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Rajmahal, in northeast India. Supposedly, in this centuries-old monastery is a secret room, "a vault that contain[s] the corpses of a dozen alien astronauts, each body in a glass casket". The room also contains "many scientific secrets" known to the aliens, some of which could be used to create deadly weapons. So the CIA wants to send a expedition to the monastery, get there before the Russians do, and claim the alien secrets for the U.S.

The Death Merchant is tasked with heading up a 15-man expedition party. In addition to possibly having to battle the Russians if the two groups meet, the DM et al. will have to trek through the territories of two murderous jungle tribes: the Sauria Paharias and the Thugs. Also, the monks at the extremely private monastery practice a deadly form of martial arts called "Zen-Kisba". As Rosenberger puts it, the Death Merchant should be prepared for "the unexpected impossible".

Hell in Hindu Land was a bit more complex (everything being relative, of course) than the last few books in the series. Besides being escapist entertainment, Rosenberger's goofiness is a big reason why these adventures are so much fun to read. When the Death Merchant's group meet up with the first group of savages, the natives are overmatched by the expedition's firepower and stand less chance of survival than "a midget trying to drink beer at the wrong end of a bowling alley". I have absolutely no idea what that means. Someone else is shot and looks "as surprised as a man who has just discovered that someone had stolen a Twinkie from his lunch box". Other gems: "as dead as the British Empire", "faster than an Israeli going through Damascus on a pogo stick", "wearing the expression of a man who had just seen a dinosaur", and "This is worse than going to church with dirty socks!"

Each day when the expedition makes camp for the night, Camellion lays out an acoustic radar system (similar to his EID devices), so he will be alerted if anyone approaches the campsite during the night. One night, he is awakened by the noise of the radar and realizes that one member of the expedition is sending a signal of their location, likely to the Russians.

After the Death Merchant's group is ambushed by a group of Russians but comes out on top, we switch perspective over to the group of Russians. It turns out that the "pig farmers" know Camellion is leading the group but they believe he is merely a rancher from Texas and a friend of anthropologist Dr. Gopi Randuhabaya. This makes little sense. Considering the many battles Camellion has fought against the Russians and how many "pig farmers" he has killed, how could any Russian KGB agent or an agency higher-up not know his identity and reputation? It's nuts.

The Death Merchant's party eventually gets to the monastery and battles it out with the monks to reach the secret room. The tales are true: there are 14 aliens in glass caskets. But Camellion and the others don't make much of a fuss about it. In the climatic shoot-out with the Russian group, Camellion is the sole survivor. He takes with him a pale-green book of cuneiform-like writing - a history of the aliens (known as the Sandorians) and why they came to Earth thousands of years ago. Perhaps this book, or its information, makes an appearance in #21, The Pole Star Secret (in which Camellion travels to the aliens' second base at the North Pole).

Rosenberger has had a three-book (and counting) obsession with a gun designer named Lee E. Jurras, who I discovered is a real person and is still alive. Hell in Hindu Land opens with Camellion walking through the airport in Calcutta and spotting Jurras, who was on a hunting expedition. They talk mostly about guns for about four pages.

DM #18: Nightmare in Algeria:
... two twin Auto Mag pistols, M200/International models. Along with the weapons were boxes of .357 AMP Magnum cartridges and specially designed shoulder holsters to accommodate the seven-shot automatics, which had a 12.5" barrel length. Designed by Lee E. Jurras, the noted ballistician, international handgun hunter, and author, the Auto Mag, which was also manufactured in .41 and .44 calibers, was the most powerful autoloading pistol in the world. (pages 19-20)

Hidden under the burnous, in special shoulder holsters designed by Lee E. Jurras, the Death Merchant carried two Auto Mag autoloading pistols, the long weapons, with their 12.5" barrels, reaching to his hips. (36)

"You'd better believe it!" Camellion shot back. "A good friend of mine, Lee Jurras, the designer of those weapons, gave them to me." (115)
DM #19: Armageddon, USA!:
Camellion moved back six feet, pulled one of the .41 JMP Auto Mags from its special Jurras-designed shoulder holster ..." (30)

Unfamiliar with firearms, Griffiths had no way of knowing that he was staring into the muzzle of a .41 JMP custom-built Auto Mag pistol designed by L.E. Jurras, the famed ordnance specialist." (71)

Seeing McAulay's intense interest, the Death Merchant explained that while the "Backpacker" Auto Mags had been designed by L.E. Jurras for those individuals who preferred a smaller version of the A-M system, there were various other kinds of the famed and fabled Auto Mag. (146-47)
DM #20: Hell in Hindu Land:
As Camellion hurried through the terminal to pick up his baggage, he spotted Lee E. Jurras sitting in one of the lounges - the very same man who had designed and developed his line of Auto Mag Pistols. Almost at the same time, the noted ballistician, pistolsmith, and international handgun hunter looked up and saw Camellion, a look of surprise and pleasure crossing his tanned face. (2)

A moment later the bandit didn't exist; the Death Merchant having put a .41 Jurras Magnum Pistol slug through his stomach ... (48)

Camellion adjusted the focusing knob of the binoculars and recalled what Lee Jurras had said about going into deep brush after a dangerous animal that had been wounded - "believe me, it can be a living nightmare." Richard believed Jurras. It was the same when hunting the most dangerous game of all - MAN! (106)
And - looking ahead - the dedication page to DM #21 (The Pole Star Secret) reads: "Dedicated to Lee E. Jurras - whose Auto Mags have saved my life scores of times. R.J.C."

So a fictional character is providing the dedication for his creator's book? Or is this a meta situation where Camellion is a real person, but is writing the books in the third person under the name Joseph Rosenberger? I've read that Rosenberger envisioned the Death Merchant as a fantasy version of himself - Camellion's middle name is Joseph - so perhaps the lines between author and character are blurring a bit.

I have become more than a little fascinated with Rosenberger after reading all of these books, but there is next-to-nothing about him online.

Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Basement Tapes Complete" To Be Released November 4

Next Tuesday, Columbia will release the 11th volume of its Bob Dylan Bootleg Series: The Basement Tapes Complete. Six CDs - 139 songs! - of music from Dylan and The Band at Big Pink in West Saugerties, New York, during the summer of 1967, presented in as close to chronological order as is known. (A two-CD set of 38 songs will also be available.)

The Basement Tapes, a double album of songs released in 1975, purported to be from those informal sessions, but many of the songs featured overdubs added years later, and there were eight songs recorded at a later date by The Band without Dylan.

There have been collections of these songs available as bootlegs for decades, most notably on the superb A Tree With Roots. However, this new 6-CD set includes thirty uncirculating tracks.

A number of songs have been posted online as pre-release teasers. Here they are:

Odds And Ends (Alternate Version)

Dress It Up, Better Have It All

Don't Ya Tell Henry

Lo and Behold (Take 1)

Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread

Tupelo

Ain't No More Cane (Take 2)

900 Miles From My Home

I Shall Be Released

NPR is streaming 12 tracks:
Edge Of The Ocean (Disc 1, Track 1)
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (Take 1) (Disc 3, Track 17)
I Shall Be Released (Take 1) (Disc 3, Track 19)
Quinn The Eskimo (Take 1) (Disc 4, Track 4)
This Wheel's On Fire (Disc 3, Track 21)
Johnny Todd (Disc 2, Track 1)
Don't Ya Tell Henry (Disc 4, Track 21)
I Don't Hurt Anymore (Disc 2, Track 19)
Silent Weekend (Disc 5, Track 12)
Crash On The Levee (Take 1) (Disc 3, Track 10)
One Too Many Mornings (Disc 5, Track 2)
I'm Your Teenage Prayer (Disc 2, Track 8)
And, finally, Pono has 30-second samples of all the songs on the six discs.

For more on the Basement tapes, check out Greil Marcus's Invisible Republic (later retitled The Old, Weird America) and Sid Griffin's Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band, and The Basement Tapes. Griffin wrote the liner notes to the upcoming Columbia box.