The Company hires Richard Camellion, the Death Merchant, to investigate. Posing as a scientist named Justin O. Bystrom, Camellion places ads in newspapers around the world, soliciting information about the phenomenon of Spontaneous Human Combustion. (It is thought that some nefarious group (or nation) has figured out how to induce SHC and direct it at a specific person and these ads are merely a ploy to draw whoever is responsible for these fiery assassinations to Camellion.)
Thus begins a rather meandering story of tracking down the group with the SHC machine (later called a Transmutationizer). After we read about some Dutch goons attempting to kidnap Camellion in Amsterdam and watching the Death Merchant busts in on some IRA members being held in the basement of a tobacco shop, the story finally settles in on a neo-Nazi group known as the Brotherhood. In some underground rooms on the estate of Baron Fredrich von Hammerstein-Equord, a Nazi doctor is continuing work on a weapon he initially devised during Hitler's days that can turn a human being into a small pile of ashes within minutes.
While the overall story is somewhat flat, author Joseph Rosenberger (thankfully) is still Rosenberger.
After that aborted kidnapping effort, in which Camellion lays waste to seven of the Dutch goons, their deaths are reported in the newspaper as "murders", a description which irks the Death Merchant.
Killing another human being in the pursuit of preserving freedom for one's nation was not murder. Somebody had to protect American freedom and the nation's position in the world community. The jelly-backboned liars in Washington weren't doing the job. ... Washington was an expert at saddling people with more and more taxes and more and more invasion of personal privacy, not to mention giving the rich all sorts of tax breaks.Besides the statement about the job of protecting American freedom being the exact opposite of what Camellion usually claims - he accepts jobs solely for the big bucks - the bit about rich people getting tax breaks is extremely amusing, because only 11 pages later, Rosenberger writes (in the mind of the CIA's Director of Operations): "Camellion made a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year from the Company - all of it tax free, since IRS wasn't aware of his services for the CIA; he earned another 100 Gs or so playing the stock market; using legal loopholes and reinvestment techniques, the clever son of a bitch payed damned little taxes on that."
Inconsistencies aside, Rosenberger is just getting warmed up, rant-wise:
There was a lot wrong in the United States, much of it due to stupidity, the power of payoffs, and hypocrisy. But how does one talk to people with closed minds, with millions who insist on treating certain subjects as sacred cows? All too often, honest criticism of the legitimate religions met with screaming accusations of religious "bigotry." To ask what church-owned motels, hotels and other numerous businesses had to do with religion, and why these businesses should not pay taxes was to invite fanatics to scream "Atheist!"(Yet none of this ... is going to be cut from the manuscript!)
Camellion knew the real truth: The concept of religious tolerance had been stretched to the outer limits of stupidity, implying freedom from any criticism and from the payment of honest taxes. The right to worship can never be a justification for the suspension of all reason, he thought. The American people must stop equating religion with nonpayment of taxes, normalcy with numbers, sanity with conformity and individual eccentricity with craziness. Yet none of this is going to help me solve the riddle of the burning blue death.
Early on, Camellion also discourses on the dangers of smoking versus alcohol, gun control, Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick, the rights of criminals, liberals ("a lot of them tinged with a commie pink"), and the death penalty - all in one page-long rant. "The way American society is falling apart, I seriously doubt whether we'll have a working nation twenty years from now." (This book was published in 1980.) ... After Camellion makes a bloody mess of the would-be kidnappers, Rosenberger says that Bystrom (i.e., the DM) "was about to vanish quicker than Carter's campaign promises".
About one-third of the way through the book, we get - completely out of the blue - some more of Rosenberger's weirdness regarding human auras, complete with a footnote:
By no means was the Death Merchant the risk-taking oddball that Reeder suspected he might be. Camellion had charged the trapdoor opening for two very good reasons. Earlier in the afternoon, psychic conditions had been just right and he had caught sight of Reeder's aura.1 The bioelectric emanations had been a pale blue, tinged with deep green and some yellow, this type of radiation indicating that Reeder would not die in the near future. Since Camellion would be with Reeder, he reasoned that hem, too, would be safe.The action stops a bit later so Camellion can have a pages-long discussion with Dr. Cottier of the CIA about SHC, "biorhythms", human auras, and various metaphysical thoughts. To wit:
1 Invisible electrobiochemical radiation, sometimes called the Od, Odyle or Odic Force. Although the human aura can be detected by sensitives and some clairvoyants, it was not until 1911 that W.R. Kilner devised ways of showing it experimentally: First by looking at the human body through a dilute solution of a dye called dicyanin; second, by looking at a very bright light through a strong alcoholic solution. The aura must not be confused with the etheric double, which is a part of the physical body, or with the astral body - the inner you.
The Death Merchant [said], "Would you agree that each human being is related to all life and, through the earth's magnetic field, influenced by changes in the electrical fields of the sun and moon?"And during the copious amounts of violence, we get a few anatomy lessons:
Dr. Cottier nodded vigorously. "Oh, yes. Definitely. We are indeed a part of the universal whole and are constantly being influenced by the ceaseless ebb and flow of the various energies of the infinite all."
An eye blink later, Steinhauser was well on his way toward being turned into a dead man from Camellion's two bullets. One had bored into his upper chest, severed the left innominate vein and lodged against his backbone. ... the Death merchant had not missed the targets with his right browning. A bullet had slammed into Max Weill's right hip, shattered the ilium, then plowed its way through the descending colon and the jejunum, stopping only when it hit the inner side of his left hipbone. ... Weill lost his grip and started to fall backward, along with Fisher who had taken a Browning hollow-point in the right buttock. The high velocity projectile had passed through the large gluteus maximus and lodged in the ischium ... It had all happened in eight seconds!When the Death Merchant's force finds the main entrance to the underground rooms in which the Transmutationizer is being developed, Camellion uses tetryl and termate to blow the metal doors off their hinges, and follows that by tossing in various types of grenades. Once Camellion and his forces are in the same large room as the Nazis, the usual violence ensues, pages and pages of gunplay and (when everyone's guns run out of ammo - all around the same time, oddly enough) hand-to-hand combat. Rosenberger notes that Camellion, in the heat of battle, thanks to his mastery of Oriental martial arts and Eastern Indian yoga techniques in breathing, remains "as tranquil as a sleeping oyster".
In the end, Koerber is killed and Camellion and Klaus Hahn of German intelligence have drawn weapons on each other, both wanting to claim an intact portable Transmutationizer for his government. However, Hahn realizes that there are times when a man must think beyond loyalty to his country and he and Camellion agree to destroy the machine.
At the book's end, Camellion remarks (again) that mankind will not survive another 20 years:
[In] the long scheme of things, you and I are going to live to see the end of civilization as we know it. This six-thousand-year era in history will close in less than twenty years, and there isn't anything that anyone, anywhere, can do about it. The destiny of the US, all of Europe, all of the Middle East and the Soviet Union is to become a radioactive wasteland.***
"I'd just as soon put in a bullet in your belly as bounce a bedbug off a baseball."(The cool artwork on these books is by Dean Cate, about whom the internet knows absolutely nothing.)
"Balls of blazing bumbrush!"
"The Director had to talk like an Israeli trying to set up a bagel factory in Yassir Arafat's home town."
"Another big brrrooommm, and Barry Huttas got the perfect gift for the man who has nothing. His head exploded, and skin, bone, blood and scrambled gray brain matter went flying in every direction of the compass. Camellion pumped the Savage so fast it was a miracle the 12-gauge didn't jam. Brrooommmmm. 'Chuckie' Blomquest's head vanished like a pumpkin hit by a grenade."
"Both Auto Mags roared with all the crashing sound of two small cannons. A flat-nosed .41 bullet hit Koster in the chest and blew away his entire breastbone before it zipped through his torso, pulverized several vertebrae and tore a hole in his back the size of a Golden Delicious apple."