Monday, October 17, 2011
MIA Hunter #3: Hanoi Deathgrip
MIA Hunter #3: Hanoi Deathgrip, by Jack Buchanan
July, 1985 Jove Books
Joe R. Landsdale emerges as "Jack Buchanan," and I don't want to say anything negative about Mike Newton's previous two installments, as I think Newton is a fine writer, but Landsdale takes the MIA Hunter series to a whole new level. But then, this might not be so much Landsdale's talent as just more confirmation of my theory that the only way to keep the stale concept of this series fresh is to bring in a new writer every few volumes. Because, despite the novel touches, the genre-spoofery and fun dialog, Hanoi Deathgrip basically retreads the plots of those previous two volumes.
Our hero Mark Stone is hired by attractive combat reporter Jackie Winslow, who has gotten confirmation that her father, a medic in 'Nam, has been spotted in a POW camp. Major Winslow's name has been clouded in the past decades; the US Government claimed he turned sides in the final days of the war. Hence Jackie goes to Stone as the last man who can help her.
In a scene out of a hardboiled novel, the gorgeous blonde pleads her case to Stone, the private eye (his day job), and the sparks fly. However Stone has a steady fling, who later proves her worth in a car chase as government stooges chase after them. This sequence has definite ramifications on the series as a whole, as by the end Stone must give up his private eye cover and his girlfriend must go into hiding, for now the CIA will certainly be after them.
But all that has to wait, as Stone and his MIA-hunting comrades Terrance Loughlin and Hog Wiley go to Laos to meet up with their native fighters and from there sneak into 'Nam. Landsdale really shines when it comes to Wiley; Landsale, like the character, is a Texan, and so references several East Texan locales throughout the novel. And with Hog Landsale spoofs the gung-ho characters of the series; we learn that Hog wears a Mickey Mouse watch and has a rubber ducky in his bathtub back home. Landsale even manages to bring to life the cipher that is Loughlin, but has a hard time of it; later he even has Jackie mention something along the lines that Loughlin is too distant. It makes one wonder why they just don't kill the character off.
Another highpoint in the novel is Thene Khan, a Laotian fighter who works with Stone and team. Determined to kill as many commies as he can, Thene is a sprite little bastard who speaks in a patois of curses and '50s slang: "We're gonna kill them Commie sum'bitches, by golly." And Jackie Winslow is an interesting character; as expected, she shows up in Laos, having orchestrated her own journey into the jungle, and demands that she go along with Stone and his team. And she proves herself well in battle, having covered combat stories around the globe and picking up battle skills along the way. But Landsdale manages to keep it all grounded; it's not like she's doing flips in the air while firing two pistols at once or anything.
Like the previous novels, we have the occasional chapters that hop over to the POW's point of view, and for once these scenes are entertaining. Major Winslow, due to his smart mouth, has found himself in the camp of one sadistic bastard. This guy likes to call in his equally-sadistic brother, a Bolo Yeung-type who likes to kill cowardly soldiers for sport. Landsdale piles on the horrific imagery in these sections, with the gruesome treatment of a few US prisoners, including one sequence where a man's stomach is sliced open and a snake is placed inside him before he's sewn back up. (Later it gets even more OTT when Winslow must rip open the corpse and pull out the metal wire that was used to slice up the man's guts.)
Again, it all follows the same template: Stone and team arrive in the jungle, meet their assistants, get into a few running battles with Pathet Lao and etc, finally find the camp, free the prisoners and then unleash hell on the Vietnamese, then endure more running battles as they make their way to safety. And like the previous novels the latter half degenerates into a nonstop battle, but Landsdale excels throughout, particularly in an endless but enjoyable scene where Hog faces off against the camp commandant's hulking brother.
Throughout Landsale writes with flair, both paying tribute to and spoofing the genre. It's a fine balance and it reminds me of the style of another men's adventure writer who went on to mainstream success (and another "Joe" to boot): Joe Haldeman, in his Attar #2.