Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Where Survival is the Game, Swag Makes the Rules.

VOLUME/TITLE: #1/Swag Town
AUTHOR: L.S. Riker
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's Paperbacks
YEAR: 1992
OPENING LINES: This is the way it happened. Eight hundred banks failed that year. The Japanese traded in their T-bills for francs and headed for Europe's Common Market. A loaf of white bread cost three dollars, and unemployment was over eighteen percent. A Republican was in the White House. Then came the war...
CLOSING LINES: "Huh," came the reply. "I thought you was a tourist. Must have been the shirt."

Of the half-dozen or more men's adventure novels, comics and eBooks I've read so far, SWAG #1: Swag Town definitely has the most intriguing concept. The United States has fallen victim to economic terrorism through a small-scale war conducted with assassins' bullets and a flood of foreign currency. By the time the "war" is over, the haves had fled to Europe and the shelter of their foreign bank accounts. The have nots have been left behind, old scores are being settled and payback – as you may have heard – is a bitch.

While the rest of America struggles under the belief that things will somehow be as they once were, New York City has become a playground for loads of skeevy Eurotrash and foreign jet-setters, a bustling center of commerce where anything – and everyone, it seems – is for sale.

Into the midst of this post-financial-apocalypse comes Swag, a former NYC detective who was shoved off the force in the aftermath of a bungled high-profile case. Swag – whose nickname is a mean-spirited joke and whose real name we never discover – is now forced to play bodyguard for the rich jet-setters who come in to the city and use their foreign cash to go on extended shopping sprees. But when one of Swag's clients gets blown away in a brazen, broad daylight hit the ex-cop wants answers... like who would want the pretty blonde dead so bad and what kind of hired trigger has Kevlar implanted under his skin?

Author LS Riker keeps the story moving as Swag drifts through the NYC underground – and briefly into Jersey – encountering low-lifes, mobsters, gun experts, hustlers, government men, ambitious bodyguards and a bevy of almost-indestructable killers who insist they are simply tourists. Even when they're trying to blow our hero's head off.

Swag Town seems more ambitious that your typical action novel of the era. Riker's NYC is familiar enough that you recognize it but just scary enough that you'd never, ever want to go there. Jam-packed with colorful characters and inter-weaving, overlapping plotlines, it requires a bit more attention on the reader's part than, say, the blast 'em all heroics of Mack Bolan – more than once I found myself doubling back to make sure I was making the right connections. Better than that, it never quite went where my expectations were leading me, which kept the novel full of surprises from the financial war start to the action-packed finale.

Swag also stands out as a character, because unlike Bolan, Remo Williams, Nick Carter or other heroes of these pulp adventures he has no special training aside from his time as a cop and he is most decidedly human and vulnerable. On more than one occasion our hero finds himself in an impossible scrape, only to have his ass pulled from the fire by a character who may be a friend, a foe or even a little bit of both.

Unfortunately, the Swag series only lasted for two more books: a Most Dangerous Game riff called Full Clip (1992) and the "more powerful than crack"-fueled revenge tale Kill Crazy (1993). Frankly, I think Danny McBride should get himself in shape and option the Swag novels for his own action franchise. For some reason I kept picturing a blend of Kenny Powers and a MARKED FOR DEATH-era Steven Seagal as the Hawaiian-shirt sporting, pistol packing bodyguard hero of the novel.

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