Thursday, August 4, 2011
The Executioner #112: Blood of the Lion
The Executioner #112: Blood of the Lion, by Dan Schmidt
April, 1988 Gold Eagle Books
This was one of Dan Schmidt's earlier Executioner novels, published nearly twenty years before his later offering Devil's Bargain. Thankfully Blood of the Lion is a lot better, proving yet again that the shorter these novels, the better. But regardless Schmidt still finds a way to jam too many plots into one book, again neutering an otherwise interesting concept.
Alchupa, a South American drug lord with plans to launch a takeover of Brazil, hires the "top assassins in the world" to kill Mack Bolan. Five dudes who have just walked out of your average '80s Cannon action film: there's the Viper, American, former CIA hitman; a Swede who goes by the name The Headhunter; a Mongol who likes to battle with bow and arrow; an Arab who relishes the idea of gutting his prey with his scimitar; and a Britisher who uses a Weatherby sniper rifle, the same rifle Bolan has been known to use. Strangely, everyone knows who Bolan is; Alchupa even has an entire wall of his place lined with newspaper clippings about the Executioner's exploits.
Alchupa has the assassins draw straws to see who goes first; he's offered a million dollar bounty for whoever kills Bolan but he's uncertain if any of them will succeed. Why he doesn't send them all out at once is glossed over; it's intimated that the five wouldn't get along. The Arab is up first and heads from Brazil up to the midwest, where Bolan has been tracked -- for in his own subplot Bolan has conveniently just learned about Alchupa.
In one of the many subplots here the regular branch of the DEA have been tracking the drug lord, suspecting something big coming up for Alchupa; also there's something about a secret branch in the DEA which is made up of former mercenaries and other of their ilk, rather than "true" DEA agents. Long story short, it all has the taste of a setup, and Bolan eventually learns that there are dirty agents in the DEA who are plotting with Alchupa to overtake Brazil.
The battle between the Arab and Bolan is well done and very much in The Most Dangerous Game mould, as the Arab hunts Bolan through the dark forests. In fact, Schmidt leaves little room to doubt this is his intention; he actually writes: "It was the most dangerous game." It's a good scene and makes one want to read more -- the idea of top assassins coming one after another to collect a bounty on Bolan's head makes for an interesting plot. Only, just as he did in Devil's Bargain, Schmidt blows it. It's as if he doesn't realize he already has a good plot, or perhaps that he gets bored with it. For the entire assassin plot is jettisoned.
The Viper, you see, is one of those DEA special agents and has his own subplot in the mire of subplots. He takes the weapons of the three other remaining assassins and informs them that they're now working for him; they're still going after Bolan, but not to kill him -- they're going to recruit him and then the four of them will join up with the Viper's DEA special team to launch their own war against Alchupa.
Bolan's captured after a running battle in which an innocent old truck-driver and a good DEA agent are killed. He goes along with the Viper and his men; Bolan is determined to kill Alchupa anyway, so why not? Also he's determined to find out who's behind the DEA corruption and bring them to justice, too. The other assassins, meanwhile, cook up their own plots; some of them still want to kill Bolan, so as to brag in the assassin's world (how exactly they'd spread the word goes unmentioned -- I gather there must be a magazine like Assassin's Weekly or something), whereas the Mongol in true B-movie "wise Oriental" fashion sees the noble character of Bolan and decides to help him.
There follows of course a huge battle scene, with everyone against everyone. Again like Devil's Bargain it all spirals out of control due to Schmidt's character-hopping. He doesn't POV-hop; Schmidt stays locked in the perspective of one character at a time, which is a good thing. It's just that he jumps from character to character to character. Too many cooks in the kitchen. After reading enough of these novels I've come to understand that they work better when they focus on just a few characters; Schmidt instead wants to deliver epics, complete with large casts of characters and various subplots. It just gets to be all too much after a while.
Other than that Schmidt is a good writer, which makes the plot-jumble such a shame. If he'd stuck with the Most Dangerous Game concept I think Blood of the Lion would've been an exceptional installment in the never-ending Executioner series.