Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mace #3: The Year of the Rat

Mace #3: The Year of the Rat, by Lee Chang
No month stated, 1974 Manor Books

Joseph Rosenberger returns as "Lee Chang" for another installment of the fight-filled Mace series, and let me tell you, these books are getting harder and harder to endure. For one, Rosenberger here drops the bell-bottom fury vibe which (sort of) saved the first two volumes, replacing it with the feel of just another installment of the Death Merchant.

Victor Mace, we learn in the opening pages, has taken extensive CIA training since the last volume and is now a secret agent working for the US government! Other than the many, many references to specific kung fu or martial arts moves, The Year of the Rat could easily be a Death Merchant novel. Just like Richard Camellion, Mace is a cipher who accepts his job without emotion and proceeds to kill everyone with even less emotion. Oh, and sometimes he wears a ninja costume.

But yeah, Mace is now basically an Asian 007; skilled in all manner of subterfuge and modern weaponry. Not that he uses modern weaponry, mind you. There’s an action scene (one of many) where Mace goes in with a Browning Hi-Power in a shoulder holster, and I spent the entire endless damn time waiting for him to blow someone’s head off, just due to the fact that it would be something different than yet another belabored martial arts sequence, but he never even took it out of the damn holster!

Well anyway, the “plot” this time concerns some “Red Chinese” who are infiltrating spies in through French Canada, Ottawa to be precise. Mace is hired to go up there and see what’s what. But as is typical with a Rosenberger tale, Mace’s cover is blown on like the first page, and it’s straight into the fighting. He has a mere two contacts, an American CIA guy and his Canadian girlfriend, and though Mace realizes one of them has set us up, Rosenberger doesn’t bother to tell us who it was until literally the last two pages of the book, well after the action has moved on from Ottawa.

And as for that Canadian locale, Rosenberger doesn’t do much to bring it to life, other than mentioning the odd building or street, or to feature a soon-to-be-wasted French-Canadian thug who speaks in stilted English. There’s also an assault on the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, but this too devolves into an endless fight scene. What I’m saying is, plot, locale, and narrative all suffer at the hands and feet of Mace’s endless damn kung-fu fighting.

Let me give you an idea of what the book is like:

Mace’s cover is blown. Fight. Fight. Fight. Shuto chop. “We’re going to spread this virus across the US, my Communist brothers!” Fight. Fight. Fight. Flying sidekick followed by Shuto chop. “The world is going to end in 1980 -- this is why.” Fight. Fight. Fight. Spinning back kick followed by Shuto chop. “My son, when one seeks to kill a rat, one must proceed directly into the nest!” Fight. Fight. Fight. Reverse monkey kick followed by Shuto chop. “We’ve gotta kill that Chink!” Fight. Fight. Fight. Roundhouse kick followed by Shuto chop. “That Chink’s killing us!” Fight. Fight. Fight. Explosion of getaway helicopter followed by Shuto chop. The end.

It wears you down. It seems clear to me that Rosenberger figured he had settled upon the craft for writing action fiction, and nothing in the world was going to budge his conviction. Fight, fight, fight, fight. Which would be fine, if every damn scene wasn’t written out to the nth degree, and if everything wasn’t so repetitive! A reader can only endure so many back-to-back fight scenes before he can take no more.

As usual though, the only saving factor here is Rosenberger himself, but this time he seems less unhinged than in the previous books. I mean, as far as the sadistic violence goes, he’s still there -- he as ever takes delight in describing every detail of the deaths of those who fight Mace. But this time he doesn’t do as much of the goofy stuff as in the first two books, like jumping into the POV of some hapless stooge, or churning out his patented unusual turns of phrase. There are a few instances to be sure, but not as many as I’d want.

Even the conspiracy/hidden knowledge stuff is toned down, other than a part where Mace tells his Ottawa contacts -- with complete conviction -- that the world will end in 1980, due to various “prophesized” events. I kept wanting to yell at him, “You’re wrong, asshole! Wrong!” Not that I usually yell at books, but Mace is so damn annoying…I mean he is never wrong, and blitzes through the book constantly correcting or belittling others. What I’m saying is, he’s a dick.

None of the characters spark to life, save perhaps for the Canadian girl who worries about her boyfriend and has the audacity to question how Mace is always right. (Of course, she turns out to be the traitor.) Mace’s CIA goon-pals are also ciphers; toward the end when Rosenberger writes that one or two of them died in the final melee, you have no idea who the hell he’s talking about. I mean, there’s nothing to tell them apart. And the same goes for the Red Chinese villains, each a clone of the other. Plus the constant barrage of Chinese names causes reader confusion -- and mind you, my in-laws are Chinese!

Anyway, I’m just bearing through these until I can get to the sixth volume, The Year of the Boar, which was written by Len Levinson. It will come as a definite relief after the fight-heavy monotony of these Rosenberger offerings.


Jack Badelaire said...

You're perverseness in suffering through that much gunk is mind-blowing. I need to look and see if I have a Mace book lying around. I did start some martial arts themed Rosenberger book - not sure if it was the same series or not - and it was far less tolerable than Death Merchant.

muskrat said...

You, sir, are a reading MACHINE. Like Jack B said above, it's mind blowing.

I'm still waiting to get yer take on Dael Forest's Slaves Of The Empire series. But be warned: the one I read POV hopped like a frog on crack. Lots of characters for so short a novel.

Zwolf said...

I've got one Mace book but haven't tried to read it yet... and it's one series I haven't put much effort into tracking down, because there's only so much of that kind of thing ya can take! I've got two of Rosenberger's Murder Master books and I've been hesitant to start 'em... a little of him goes a long way.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks all for the comments. I agree, I come off like a reading machine on here...maybe even a little obsessed! Really though, these books are super-short and you can blow through them in no time. Now, if I went back to reading stuff like Gravity's Rainbow or the Horrors of Love, etc, I would not be posting reviews so frequently!

Jack -- I wouldn't go to too much trouble seeing if you have one of Rosenberger's Mace books lying around.

Muskrat -- I'll actually have a review of Barba the Slaver (aka Slaves of the Empire #1) posting in early October. And yeah, some POV-hopping in that one. Overall I enjoyed it, even if it was a tad low-key.

Zwolf -- I'll look forward to your eventual review of those Murder Master books...if you can ever force your way through one of them!

allan said...

the "plot" this time concerns some "Red Chinese" who are infiltrating spies in through French Canada, Ottawa to be precise

Ha! Ottawa is in Ontario, which is most certainly not French-Canada (i.e., Quebec). I guess Rosenberger didn't check his maps that carefully this time out.