Monday, July 02, 2012

Men's Action Roundup: Journal Entry 7/2/12

Thanks to used book sales, flea markets and generous pals, my cup runneth over with men's action paperbacks. Those same books I drooled over in the bookstores and K-Marts of my youth are now so plentiful in my office that I have a hard time deciding what to read next!

To kick off July's ACTION MONTH here's a look at two surprisingly fun faves from my stack of recent reads...

PROTECTOR #6: The Dragon Slayings (Pinnacle/1985) by Rich Rainey
On the book’s acknowledgements page author Rich Rainey thanks Alexandre Dumas and it’s no wonder. Not only is the lead character named Alex Dartanian, but he and fellow ICE agents Sin Samara and Mick Porter create a loose version of Dumas’ Three Musketeers that make this, the final PROTECTOR book, easy to digest.

When a Soviet-trained brain-bender launches an attack on America’s top psychics, Dartanian and his team are sent into the psychic battlefield to find the ringleader and stop him. Along the way, Dartanian finds himself at the mercy of the enemy, brainwashed into a killing machine aimed straight at his allies.

Definitely one of the better men’s adventure books I’ve read in recent months, The Dragon Slayings builds real tension and benefits from replacing mind-numbing gunfights and explosions with mind-control battles that frankly get a bit creepy at times. Dartanian’s ordeal places the character in real peril and – without a working knowledge of the series or character – made me feel like I wasn’t 100% certain things would work out in the end.

It’s too bad this was the last in the series as I would have liked to see where it went from here. Reviews of the previous books suggest that they were more in line with the typical Pinnacle “blast first, ask questions never” scenario, so maybe this was just dumb luck. Author Rainey also turned out several EXECUTIONER and MACK BOLAN titles. (More on Mr. Live Large later this month.)

THEY CALL ME THE MERCENARY #15: The Afghanistan Penetration (Zebra/1983) by Axel Kilgore
Admittedly, I plunked down 25 cents for this book purely on the author’s name alone. Seriously? Axel Kilgore? Like you wouldn’t have done the same thing.

Turns out it was 25-cents well worth investing as The Afghanistan Penetration is a riveting and fun read with an excellent lead character I’m definitely interested in catching up with. One-eyed merc Hank Frost is called on to slip behind Soviet lines (it’s 1983 and the era of Soviet occupation) and rescue Matt Jenks, a former Army buddy who has uncovered a secret Soviet super weapon capable of bringing the West to its knees.

Kilgore (real name Jerry Ahern) strikes just the right balance, blending characterization and tense situations with bloodthirsty violence. Frost is a great character – both icy and sympathetic – capable of blowing off a Soviet soldier's head on one page while wistfully missing his girlfriend Bess on another. I also dug how Kilgore peppers the text with allusions to past THEY CALL ME… adventures with notes like “See THEY CALL ME THE MERCENARY #13, Naked Blade, Naked Gun” tucked at the bottom of the page.

Begun in 1980 with The Killer Genesis, THEY CALL ME… appears to be Ahern/Kilgore’s first foray into men’s adventure publishing but it certainly wouldn’t be his last. The series would run for three more installments before the author would go on to essay the TRACK, DEFENDER and SURVIVALIST series’, a handful of standalone novels (including something called WerewolveSS) and the non-fiction title CCW: Carrying Concealed Weapons: How to Carry Concealed Weapons and Know When Others Are.

1 comment:

Brian Drake said...

I once interview Ahern for my blog and he reflected warmly on this series, though the focus of my article did not leave room for the comments.

He wanted to do something that was a bit more humorous than other action stories and the variety of reasons for how Frost lost his eye was a running gag. Jerry's telling of some of them were very entertaining.

I think my favorite was how Frost got caught in an automated cherry picker (!) and his eye was plucked out that way. Jerry neglected to mention which book that story was told in.

Read anything by him that you can get your hands on, especially TRACK (my favorite--his least) as the ten books he wrote are spectacularly entertaining. Jerry didn't like the series because of the restraints and story changes imposed by Gold Eagle but admitted they were the only publishers that would take the books so he signed the deal.

When I said to him, "But you had already scored big with The Survivalist. I would think they would have catered to you."

"Publishing is a hard business," he replied. Just because he had one hit didn't promise he could write his own ticket.

"We did ten books for them," he said, "and after that we didn't do any more."

He did not go into further detail but I could tell he was still unhappy with how it all worked out.