Thursday, July 21, 2011
MIA Hunter #2: Cambodian Hellhole
MIA Hunter #2: Cambodian Hellhole, by Jack Buchanan
April, 1985 Jove Books
This second entry in the MIA Hunter series is an exercise in patience more than anything else. Nothing much happens throughout, the whole thing a looong buildup to an attack on a VC compound filled with US POWs. Michael Newton also wrote this volume, and you can't really be too hard on the guy: I mean, he was handed a premise which was only good for one novel, and asked to write two. And back-to-back novels at that! For how many books can you write about a three-man team busting American POWs out of Vietnamese bases?
Well, the sarcastic response to that question would be "seventeen," which is how many novels there were in the MIA Hunter series, but luckily the scope of these stories expanded in later volumes. It's my understanding Stephen Mertz outlined each of these novels, so I'm guessing his plot for this one went something like: "Have protagonist Mark Stone get captured this time and then have his two teammates bust him out."
Because really, that's all that happens in Cambodian Hellhole. (A great title by the way; I'm surprised some '80s punk band didn't lift it for an album title.) The previous installment had a sort of grand scope which became dilluted with too many action scenes in the end; this volume is pretty much devoid of any action until the end. Stone is a screw-up this time out, too; he bungles a POW rescue operation in the opening pages, and then, after getting away from a CIA team sent to capture him in Bangkok, he goes out on another mission, this time to free Jess Lynch, a pal of his from back in the 'Nam...and promptly gets captured himself.
This happens not even halfway through and we're left with a wheel-spinning installment in which we have moments from Stone's perspective, where he undergoes torture and wonders how long he can hold out until his buddies arrive to save him; to sequences from Stone's teammates points of view as they scope out the area and plan their attack; to sequences from the VC commander's point of view, as he worries over an impending US strike. It just goes on and on and on, with many of the sequences exact repeats of one another; I lost track of the number of times Hog Wiley or Terrance Loughlin (Stone's partners) would give themselves pep talks that Stone was still alive.
Stone also takes some serious abuse this time, tortured by the VC with sticks to his knees and flames played across the bare soles of his feet, but he apparently walks it all off. Other than a few mentions of being "sore," he gets over it okay. The only colorful character here is Lon Ky, a Cambodian who hates the Vietnamese and wants to kill as many of them as he can. Unfortunately he's overshadowed by the boring stuff and Newton dispatches him much too quickly.
It all culminates in a massive attack on the VC base, with Stone of course getting his share of bloody payback. This time out he and his pals save twenty-some POWs from the clutches of the VC; you start to wonder how many more could be left out there. But it appears that the next handful of novels continue on with the "POW-rescue" theme; it isn't until later on that the series ranged a bit further afield. However this was it for Newton; the next novel was written by Joe R. Landsdale.