Thursday, May 10, 2012
Tracker #3: Blood Money
Tracker #3: Blood Money, by Ron Stillman
March, 1991 Charter Books
At this point, my reading of the Tracker series borders on the sadomasochistic. Without question the dumbest damn bunch of books I've ever read, this series proves that with the advent of the Politically Correct era in the early 1990s, the men's adventure genre was doomed. But even though Blood Money is in its own way just as stupid as its predecessors, there are actually parts of it where it isn't too bad. It's still just hamstrung by its too-perfect protagonist, its coloring book mentality, and its overbearing PC-minded vibe.
What's funny is that the back-cover copy does little to provide the plot of the actual novel. It would have you think that Blood Money is about Natty Tracker taking on a billionaire supervillain who is involved in all sorts of nefarious schemes, even using inner-city kids as his personal army. (We do of course learn that these kids are being taken advantage of and, due to the savage, squalid nature of their lives, don't realize that it's wrong when they kill people for drug money and etc. I mean, they're not to be blamed at all, society is!) And though the novel starts off in that direction, what it really turns out to be is the tale of how Tracker is stranded on a tropical isle, nearly dies, is finally rescued, and, after taking a year to recuperate, wages a one-man war of vengeance upon the billionaire.
The gimmick with this series is Tracker's blindness, but this is now a moot point. In Six Million Dollar Man style Tracker now has regular-looking eyes which allow him to zoom in on things and also record them. This creates an annoying fail-safe sort of deal where Natty, with a bit of pressure to a spot behind his ear, can instantly patch in to the monitor of his government contact Wally Rampart. So then, no matter what sort of trouble Tracker gets himself into, with a touch behind his ear he can alert Rampart, who will prompty send Apache helicopters or whatever to save him. And hell, Tracker's such a superstar that even the President is a fan, sometimes watching the events on Rampart's monitor.
There are a lot of action setpieces at the start of Blood Money, as Tracker sets in on billionaire villain James Earl Smith. Along for this portion of the novel is Dee, the knockout gal Tracker picked up in the previous volume; she's still in love with Tracker, but oddly drops out of the book toward the end. (Even odder is a bit late in the tale, unrelated to anything, where we learn that Dee's father has died, and so Tracker consoles her -- I say this is odd because it just comes out of nowhere and then is passed over.)
Everything proceeds as in past books; namely, Tracker taking on tons of adversaries and always emerging victorious, no matter the odds. Then things change midway through as the novel appropriates the vibe of survivalist fiction. Soon after setting his sights on James Earl Smith, Tracker is caught and taken to a remote isle, where after a huge battle he of course overcomes his would-be killers, but as a result is stranded. However his eye gear is ruined and he is blind. So now he is alone, unsure where in the world he is, surrounded by ocean and sharks, and unable to see. Any other character would understandably be scared, but Tracker instead starts forcing himself to eat raw shark meat and paddles around blindly.
It's to Stillman's credit that he doesn't have Tracker miraculously save himself. Indeed he takes a lot of damage here, even getting the lower part of his leg eaten by a shark. (Of course, the lost limb is later replaced by another fancy cybertech piece of equipment.) Eventually though he is saved by Rampart's men, who are finally able to pinpoint Tracker's location -- turns out he is somewhere in the Philipines.
Here Blood Money becomes the tale of Tracker's recovery. After six months (!) in a coma, he returns to his roots and hangs out with his "Native American" grandfather who blusters all of the expected wiseman stuff. After lots of horseriding and meditating, Tracker then finally declares vengeance upon Smith -- initiated in a lame and goofy scene where Tracker, on a horse and painted in traditional Indian warpaint, crashes a public event James Earl Smith is hosting and screams a war cry at the man, then somehow is able to evade the police and security men who chase after him.
It's odd though because for the rest of the novel Tracker does not operate in the interests of the people Smith is screwing over. He's out solely for his own vengeance. And, rather than quickly killing Smith, he instead just fucks with him. Stupid stuff like sneaking into Smith's penthouse in the middle of the night and scrawling warnings all over the place, including on Smith's own body. It's all just very stupid and juvenile, and again makes you wish that someone would just shoot Tracker dead.
Finally though Tracker launches a climatic assault on Smith -- even though he could've killed the guy five times over by this time -- and the novel ends on the lamest note possible, with Smith getting the drop on Tracker and trying to shoot him, but missing with each damn shot, even though Tracker is standing right in front of him. All of this so Stillman can deliver an ending where Tracker, true to his pledge, can kill Smith with a traditional weapon of his forefathers, ie a Bowie knife.
Overall the novel is written in the same rough style as the previous volumes, jumping back and forth between various characters and situations with little rhyme or reason. Dialog falls flat over and over. And the characters lack even the barest of human qualities -- there's even a scene where Dee discovers that Tracker's eyes can broadcast everything he's doing back to Wally Rampart's monitor, and she discovers this right after she and Tracker have had sex, and even though she throws a tantrum, she basically just brushes it off.
But Tracker himself is the biggest problem. One of the biggest stumbling blocks of men's adventure fiction is the too-perfect heroes, guys who excel no matter the situation or the odds. Tracker is the epitome of the type, so omniscient and omnipotent that he only succeeds in making the reader root for the bad guys.