Thursday, July 15, 2010

TNT #3: Spiral of Death

TNT #3: Spiral of Death, by Doug Masters
July, 1985 Charter Books
(French publication, 1979)

The madness continues in volume 3 of Charter's TNT series: Spiral of Death. This story was actually volume 6 in the original French series (where it was titled Terminus Eldorado, cover below); I can only assume that Charter placed it earlier in the series because it comes close to recapturing the insanity of the death-maze from TNT #1.

This time Tony Nicholas Twin goes undercover to join a terrorist army deep in the jungles of Bolivia, one under the control of a self-styled "Napoleon of Terrorism" who has assumed the name Torquemada. Along the way there's Eldorado, a lost city of Incan gold; a death-maze called "The Death Spiral" from which only mauled, half-dead victims emerge; and a sado-masochistic woman named Epifania Galvan who wears a gold chain, one end wrapped about her neck, the other piercing her vulva, each link of the chain representing a man she has "conquered." (You can be certain Twin joins the ranks...and what with his sexual insatiability, he impresses Epifania so much that she deems the chain representing him should be made of a "more malleable material.")

Spiral of Death jettisons the template of the previous two entries; here, Twin navigates the obligatory death-maze halfway through the book rather than at the end. This is the "Death Spiral," a snail-like structure in the heart of the jungle devised by the Black Army terrorist faction. Twin is sent in with a group of other recruits; those who survive get to join. Talk about boot camp hell! The Death Spiral is nearly as twisted as the death-maze in TNT #1.

Contestants must roll electronic dice to determine their path, which means that luck plays just as much a part in surviving as their skills do. The death-maze features rooms filled with circular saws, pits of acid, poisonous gasses, flame throwers, and in one memorable sequence a dome filled with bees; Twin makes his way across while covered in several layers of them. When two constestants land on the same square one must kill the other, otherwise the computer which monitors the maze will release poisonous gas which will kill both of them.

This would be enough for most books, but Spiral of Death has just gotten started. Twin emerges to discover the terrorist camp is deserted. The Black Army leaders have turned against their employer Torquemada and have stormed into the jungle, determined to find his gold-filled Eldorado. In the carnage Twin comes upon the still-alive but injured Epifania and, since she alone knows where Torquemada is, they go into the jungle together.

Eventually they discover Eldorado, an idyllic paradise beneath the jungle floor, populated by descendants of Conquistadors and whores (they're equally proud of both) who wear no clothes, have sex all day, and know nothing of the outside world. In a stroke of narrative genius, Arnold Benedict happens to be there, having come to Eldorado in a very enjoyable sideplot. Benedict the germophobe can't bear these "indicent heathen," and to make it all the more entertaining he's unable to speak to any of them as they only know Spanish. And in a final twist of the blade, since Benedict is overweight they make him wear clothes.

But it's not all paradise, as the turncoat Black Army is closing in...

As mentioned, this was the sixth volume in the original French publication of the TNT series. Even without knowing this the reader may suspect that Spiral of Death takes place long after TNT #2: The Beast -- for example, midway through the novel Twin has a brief conversation with Dawlish, Benedict's right-hand man whom we last saw in The Beast. Twin and Dawlish are familiar with one another and discuss past missions they handled together, and yet the cagey reader will recall that Dawlish and Twin never met in The Beast.

Twin is a more dynamic character this time out -- and he engages in quite a bit of action (not just the sexual type). He still doesn't use any weapons, but there's a great sequence in the end where Twin, nude and covered in gold dust, uses his ability to see in the dark to pull a night-time raid on the terrorists, stalking and killing his prey one by one.

And speaking of Benedict, whereas in the previous two volumes he had to force Twin on his missions, here he literally begs him to take on the job -- and Twin finally agrees to it. No threatening from Benedict, no kidnapping Twin's daughter October and forcing Twin to drugging Twin up and placing him in a SR-71 Blackbird on autopilot. Obviously the relationship between Twin and Benedict is no longer as strained as it once was; further sign that Spiral of Death occurs well after The Beast. Again, I'm uncertain why Charter switched around the order of the volumes; it would be interesting to someday re-read these in the proper order.

Here's the cover of the original French publication, titled Terminus Eldorado:

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