Thursday, March 29, 2012

MIA Hunter #4: Mountain Massacre

MIA Hunter #4: Mountain Massacre, by Jack Buchanan
October, 1985 Jove Books

Joe Lansdale turns in another volume of the MIA Hunter series, one that gives double bang for your men's adventure buck: in addition to the customary Rambosploitation of the series itself, you also get the added bonus of ninjas! Not only that, but Mountain Massacre even borrows a page from Apocalypse Now, in that hero Mark Stone's mission is to "exterminate with extreme prejudice" an American soldier, once an MIA himself, who's now a rogue psychopath who commands his own army in army of ninjas.

Unfortunately the novelty soon wears thin. What could've been a cool bit of WTF? insanity instead turns quickly into tedium, with ninja battle after ninja battle after ninja battle. My understanding of this series is that it was overseen by Stephen Mertz, who a la Lyle Kenyon Engel would send his ghostwriters an outline of each book along with requirements. (For example, per Michael Newton, who penned the first two volumes of the series, each "Jack Buchanan" was always required to insert martial arts into the book). So I'm guessing then that Mertz's outline for this book must've been "Feature ninjas," and Lansdale, after belting back a shot or three of Jack Daniels, grumbled, "Fine. You want ninjas? You'll get 'em."

Anyway, we open with Mark Stone and his two-man team already on a mission in 'Nam, freeing a handful of MIAs. Strangely, Lansdale does not tie up any of the loose ends from his previous volume -- when last we saw Stone in the US, his files were nearly stolen by the CIA and his girlfriend was in hiding. This time out Lansdale doesn't cover any of that, and indeed Stone spends the duration of the novel in Vietnam. At any rate he frees this latest batch of MIAs, but while escaping through the jungle Stone's team is attacked by "bandits." Bandits who are covered head-to-toe in black, with only their eyes visible. Bandits who, despite being armed with assault weapons, choose instead to attack with swords and other bladed weaponry. In short, ninjas.

Stone returns to Bangkok, where he is again attacked, this time by CIA agents, who try to kill him. Of course they prove little match for Stone, who immediately thereafter is given his latest mission -- contacted by an elderly billionaire named Porter who has journeyed here from the US, having gotten wind through his own sources that the famous MIA Hunter Mark Stone is here. Porter's son was a high-ranking officer during the Vietnam war who was marked as an MIA, but was never freed. He also never appeared on any official registries and seems to have disappeared. However the old man believes that his son now commands his own army within Vietnam, one which he is using to cause much chaos and bloodshed.

Putting it all together, Stone suspects that Porter Jr. must be the mysterious leader of the "bandit army" which runs rampant through the jungles of 'Nam and Laos. Stone has seen their destruction first-hand; the ninjas attack villages and kill everyone, even the children and the elderly. Their leader is swathed in mystery, but it is believed he is a practicioner of the "dark arts," ie a ninja, and that he has taught his followers the same skills. Also, his army is quite large, and the leader himself is surrounded by "the two hundred," the top ninja fighters at his disposal, warriors who are claimed to be more demons than men.

Stone and his two stalwart companions (big bruiser Hog Wiley and the still-boring Terrance Loughlin) put together another team of Laotian freedom fighters and head once more into the jungle. Their guide is Kong Le, himself a martial arts swordsmaster; not only that, but his son happens to be one of the ninjas, and Kong Le has sworn to kill the boy, to purge the evil from him. So there's all sorts of stuff going on in Mountain Massacre, but it's soon lost in the shuffle of endless fight after endless fight.

In my opinion, there's only one author who can write endless action scenes and keep them entertaining, and that's David Alexander. Lansdale's action scenes get very boring after a while, the death knell for any action writer. Seriously, as soon as Stone and his team enter the jungle, it's like they're attacked by ninjas on practically every other page. And what makes it stupid is the ninjas keep coming at them with swords, running right into the blasting CAR-15 fire of Stone and his comrades. What makes it even more stupid is that the ninjas themselves carry firearms! But for reasons Lansdale skirts over -- something about a magic potion the ninjas drink, which they believe instills them with invincibility -- the ninjas just continue to run pell-mell right into blazing death, their swords obliviously held high.

The book's a bit over 190 pages, and I don't exaggerate when I say that about 150 of those pages are comprised of action scenes. Porter the insane commander doesn't appear until the final third; Stone and team, on their trek through the jungle, comes upon another village destroyed by Porter's bandit army. One of the men there is a young punk who hopes to join the bandits -- we learn that Porter boosts his army by regularly scouting the various villages and taking away those young men who show some fighting prowess. After getting his ass kicked by Loughlin, the kid agrees to show Stone and company where the hidden bandit retreat is located.

Lansdale brings the otherwise-idyllic retreat to life; in pure Kurtz fashion Porter lives in the ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery deep in the jungles of 'Nam. Stone launches a dawn raid on the place, but he and his small squad of soldiers are no match for Porter's army of hundreds. Soon enough the whole lot of them is captured, and, in pure Willard fashion, Stone is eventually taken down from his chains for a one-on-one meeting with Porter. You can almost hear the Doors on the soundtrack as Porter tries to sway Stone over to his side -- there's even a swipe on the New Testament as Porter escorts Stone over to a window and gestures at the domain below, telling Stone that all of it could be his if he would just come over to his side.

We can all guess what Stone's answer is. This leads to the thankfully final action sequence in the novel, as he and his men are able to escape from their dank and rundown cell. Once more we're off into ninja-blasting carnage as hordes of the bastards race pell-mell to their doom, swords obvliviously held high. However the man-to-man fight between Stone and Porter is well done, devolving into a flat-out brawl amid the blazing ruins of the temple. It's all very cinematic and indeed the novel appropriates the feel of say Apocalypse Now as made by the Cannon Group, with action choreography by Sho Kosugi.

Curiously, the satirical touch of his previous installment is gone, and for the most part Lansdale plays it straight throughout Mountain Massacre. Also, it got annoying that every single character had to say Stone's full name nearly every time they spoke to him. I will agree that "Mark Stone" is a cool name, but seriously, do characters have to repeat it every other sentence? I figure this must've been another of the "requirements" for the ghostwriters of the series; Newton also poked fun at the tendency of repeating Stone's name in his 1989 book How to Write Action-Adventure Novels. Another funny thing is that Stone and his fellows are here reduced to the level of animals; I lost count of how many times he or his pals would "growl" something instead of just plain old saying it.


francisco said...

"bandit army" which runs rampant through the jungles of 'Nam and Laos.

wow... sure they weren't organized by the CIA? it reminds me somehow of the programme of contra insurgency of the CIA with the montagnards and other tribes during the Vietnam war althought in a pulp and exploitative way

Sean B said...

"You can almost hear the Doors on the soundtrack as Porter tries to sway Stone over to his side -- there's even a swipe on the New Testament as Porter escorts Stone over to a window and gestures at the domain below, telling Stone that all of it could be his if he would just come over to his side."

Are you sure it wasn't a swipe from Monty Python?
"All this could be yours!" "What? The curtains?"