Sunday, August 17, 2014

Death Merchant #15: The Iron Swastika Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Death Merchant #14: Vengeance Of The Golden Hawk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 01, 2014

Death Merchant #13: The Mato Grosso Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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