John Eagle Expeditor #2: The Brain Scavengers, by Paul Edwards
May, 1973 Pyramid Books
Manning Lee Stokes serves as “Paul Edwards” for the Expeditor series once again, dropping us back into John Eagle’s life a month after the events in the first volume of this series. And once again Stokes delivers a novel as if from another age, filled with terrain description straight out of Jack London and reeking of a male chauvinism unheard of even in the rarefied world of '70s men's adventure novels.
And like the first novel, The Brain Scavengers takes forever to get going. It’s also longer than the average men’s adventure novel, coming in at 220 pages. Stokes could've cut a lot of this stuff; indeed our hero John Eagle doesn't even appear until page 60, and the entire novel is basically him preparing for his mission.
In a way The Brain Scavengers is padding in its worst form; Stokes fills pages by hopping from one character’s POV to another, but it's all immaterial because their thoughts and actions have little bearing on the novel. In particular he wastes a lot of space detailing the life of Suthinya, a gorgeous (of course) Russian scientist who lives in a hidden base in the midst of Siberia; here Suthinya heads a team who has extracted “insane” scientists from the US and other capitalist countries, where they aim to repair the damaged brains and coax the newly-sane scientists to work for the USSR. But rather than providing details on her scientific methods, Stokes instead focuses on Suthinya's romantic woes with a Russian commander.
It takes our heroes endless pages to discover this latest commie threat and devise a plan of action. Mr. Merlin, wheelchair-bound director of the Expeditor program, calls in his one and only Expeditor: John Eagle. Again the rudiments of Eagle’s training and prep are glossed over, and he’s sent out into the Siberian wasteland. Once more in his chameleon suit and armed with his needle gun and trusty bow and arrow, this time Eagle has a new gadget: a nuclear grenade which can destroy six square miles. But the novelty factor of the previous volume is gone.
Indeed, the action half of the novel goes down without any big fuss; Eagle treks through the frozen wasteland, kills a few Russian soldiers, and gets into the hidden base. But then he meets Suthinya, and here the novel appropriates all the lurid charm you’ve been waiting for. For Suthinya has already rebelled against her Communist leaders and wants to escape with Eagle, only she fears him, and in fact threatens to break down entirely. So what does Eagle do? Realizing that women are “the weaker sex," he knows that only one thing will calm down this complete stranger: “bed medicine.” Yes, Eagle takes Suthinya into a side room – moments after meeting her – and coaxes her into sex, where his manly passion will of course subdue her womanly fears. I couldn’t believe what I was reading!
Of course it works, and Suthinya comes out of it worshipful of Eagle and ready to help him in any way possible. But really, that's about the extent of the action in the novel; even the escape is handled in a perfunctory manner, with Suthinya doing the big work while Eagle waits, using her credentials to smuggle the nuclear grenade into the depths of the hidden complex. Eagle himself only pulls off a few kills, and I must mention he comes off like a heartless bastard this time out, killing everyone – even those he promises not to kill – in order to accomplish his mission.
At any rate, this was Stokes’s last Expeditor novel for a while, so I'm hoping the next author opens up the series a bit more.