Thursday, April 11, 2013

MIA Hunter #6: Blood Storm


MIA Hunter #6: Blood Storm, by Jack Buchanan
October, 1986  Jove Books

I’m really taking a trip down memory lane this time – I remember reading this installment of the MIA Hunter series shortly after it was published. In fact I have a vivid memory of watching my Commando VHS and, still in need of an action fix, heading into my bedroom to read this book! Other than that I have no memory of Blood Storm, whether I enjoyed it or not, but I can say with this reading I thought it was very good, definitely on par with the rest of the series.

But the biggest news here is that recently I’ve gotten in touch with Stephen Mertz, a genuinely great guy who edited the MIA Hunter series and wrote most of the later installments. Stephen has informed me who wrote each volume of this series, something I don’t believe has previously been known…in fact Stephen told me he had to dig through his files to find out, as even he wasn’t sure!

Thanks to Stephen we now know that William Fieldhouse wrote this installment. And an even bigger thanks to Stephen for letting me know that it was actually Fieldhouse himself who wrote the letter from Gar Wilson I received so long ago – Stephen told me that he recently spoke to Fieldhouse about it, and Fieldhouse remembered writing the letter to me!

William Fieldhouse is most known for writing the majority of the Phoenix Force series, and as “Gar Wilson” he was my favorite writer when I was a kid. But I hadn’t read a Fieldhouse novel since then, so I was anxious to see how I’d enjoy Blood Storm this time around. But then, Fieldhouse was the guy who got me into the men’s adventure genre in the first place, thanks to the 18th Phoenix Force novel, Night of the Thuggee, which I discovered sometime in late October 1985 at a Waldenbooks store. So I knew I’d at least find something here to enjoy.

I’m not sure if it’s due to Stephen Mertz’s behind the scenes editing, but Fieldhouse’s novel actually reads almost exactly like the previous installments. I’ve read six of these MIA Hunter novels so far, and one could easily be fooled into believing there was a real “Jack Buchanan” behind the work, as none of the volumes have been much different from one another so far as the narrative goes. Only in the minor details can you notice a difference: for one, there’s a bit more gun-porn here, likely thanks to Fieldhouse’s long tenure at Gold Eagle, and for another Fieldhouse is the first of any of these “Jack Buchanans” to give Terrance Loughlin a personality!

The plot of course follows the series template: Mark “MIA Hunter” Stone gets wind of yet another group of American soldiers held prisoner, this time in Laos. Stone gets his information from a group of Laotian freedom fighters and quickly puts together a team. In the first instance of continuity yet in this series, we learn that Hog Wiley was so injured in the previous volume that he’s unable to go on this mission. Stone settles upon an unruly replacement named Leo Gorman, an American merc who allegedly once had ties with an opium kingpin here in Laos – an opium kingpin who supposedly wants Gorman dead.

Gorman is a very entertaining character, foul-mouthed and prone to violent outbursts. He basically steals the novel from Stone and Loughlin, but the problem arises that Stone would have to be out of his mind to hire such an unstable character. Stone keeps giving the lame reasoning that they need a seasoned soldier on this mission and Gorman, despite his rampages, can keep a cool head in a firefight. This is proven when the trio are attacked by masked gunmen mere moments after their first meeting with Gorman, Fieldhouse providing a running battle that is only the first of many. But when Gorman and Loughlin get in a huge fistfight themselves, you’d think Stone would wise up and find some other merc for the job.

Blood Storm has a lot more going on than previous volumes. Fieldhouse runs two subplots in addition to the main one, gradually bringing them all together. In the first subplot a Thailand-based detachment of CIA operatives determine to finally track down Stone and bring him to justice. And in the second Gorman’s old opium kingpin boss discovers that Gorman is coming into Thailand – Gorman’s plan is to sell out Stone so as to get back in the kingpin’s good graces – and plans to kill Gorman and then capture Stone and his team, to ransom them to the government. In fact this last subplot takes up most of the novel, with the actual POW rescue occurring midway through and being a fairly easy task for Stone et al.

The majority of the second half of Blood Storm sees Stone himself captured – Gorman’s old kingpin boss ambushes them in the jungle and takes them all prisoner. Here the novel appropriates a sort of tortune porn vibe, with several unsettling scenes of the kingpin taking sick pleasure in torturing a bound Stone, beating his back with bamboo sticks, burning his toes and fingers, etc. Meanwhile an old friend comes for Stone, resulting in a total deus ex machina rescue, an action scene that ends with yet another martial arts battle, this one between Stone and the kingpin. It really goes on for quite a while.

As mentioned Fieldhouse brings more gun-porn to the series; a variety of firearms are named off, with manufacture and ballistics detail provided. Also there’s a huge amount of martial arts included – there’s almost as much kung-fu fighting in Blood Storm as the average volume of Mace. Stephen Mertz has told me that Fieldhouse was part of a “Rosenberger circle” of writers, and I can easily see that here, as the amount of hand-to-hand fighting is almost as overwhelming as the amount of gun fights. Luckily Fieldhouse's action scenes are a whole lot more entertaining than Rosenberger's. And he doesn’t shy on the gore, with plenty of exploding guts and brains.

In fact I was impressed with how much story Fieldhouse was able to put in here despite the wealth of action sequences. He brings to life the many characters and gives each of them colorful dialog – the reader will note that the heroes have developed a sudden tendency to curse this time around. (Speaking of profanity, there’s a profane amount of spelling and grammatical errors in this book!) Fieldhouse also delivers a few reversals and surprises, in particular the appearance of a particular character just in the nick of time.

But despite the plethora of action scenes, Blood Storm somehow doesn’t come off like an endless battle sequence, and overall the novel is an enjoyable read. In fact this turned out to be my favorite volume of the series since #3: Hanoi Deathgrip, but unfortunately this was the only installment Fieldhouse wrote.

5 comments:

Brian Drake said...

I had wondered if Fieldhouse wrote your letter. I'm not sure why; maybe because he was the most prolific. Anyway it's neat to see a solution to the mystery. What is Fieldhouse writing these days?

As for the martial arts in the MIA Hunter books, Michael Newton (who wrote the first two, I think) mentioned in "How to Write Action Adventure Novels" that he was told by the publisher that there had to be at least two martial arts scenes in each book. Perhaps Fieldhouse added more.

AndyDecker said...

That is cool about Mertz. Congrats.
I still have a letter from Jerry Ahern, who answered a letter from Europe at the time. Good memories.

Fieldhouse was very dependable, I also have fond memories of his Phoenix Force.

Does anyone know what happened to him after the genre dried up?

nbakingdom said...

Hi Joe, hi all

I live in France and I've been reading your great blog for quite some time now, I check it on a regular basis and it's my very 1st message here.
Thanks to you, I've discovered the MIA Hunter books, a great serie loaded with action in south east Asia.
I sure had a hard-time getting my hands on those old paperbacks (unfortunately only number 7 is still missing in my collection) but once I started reading the 1st one, I just got hooked right from the get-go.
I take it you're well-versed about vietnam fiction novels and I'd like to ask you, and to all your faithful readers, a list of all the vietnam series you have knowledge of, fiction stuff I mean, no books written by a former vet (I already have lots of 'em, my 2 favorites being "Why didn't you get me out" by Frank Anton, and "Xin Loi Vietnam" by Al Sever).
Here is the vietnam novel series I know so far, feel free to complete the list !
- Chopper 1 by jack hawkins
- Vietnam ground zero by eric helm
- Black Eagles by JOHN LANSING
... ???
Thanks in advance and keep up the good work !

Regards,
Julien

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Brian and Andy -- Stephen Mertz tells me that William Fieldhouse is now retired from the writing business. I was very happy to hear that it was actually him who wrote me. And that's cool about the letter from Jerry Ahern!

Julien -- Thanks for the post and I'm happy you have been able to track down those volumes of MIA Hunter. I can imagine it would be pretty difficult to do in France. It's funny you should mention Black Eagles, as I'm currently reading the first volume, "Hanoi Hellground" -- Mike Madonna told me it was written by Mark Roberts, so I checked it out. Apparently the majority of the other volumes were written by Patrick E. Andrews.

I was never as much into Vietnam series fiction...I always more enjoyed the "modern" series. But every once in a while I keep meaning to check out some of the series that were set during the 'Nam war.

Other than the ones you mentioned, I know of:

Saigon Commandos -- Jonathan Cain (aka Nicholas Cain)

War Dogs -- Nick Uhernick (aka Nicholas Cain)

Chopper 1 -- Jack Hawkins (aka Nicholas Cain)

Little Saigon -- Nicholas Cain (this one's set after 'Nam)

Hatchet -- Knox Gordon (aka Michael Kasner)

Seals -- Steve Mackenzie (aka Kevin Randle, the author of the Vietnam Ground Zero series)

Tunnel Rats -- Cliff Banks (aka Stephen Mertz)

As you can see, Nicholas Cain sort of had the monopoly on these 'Nam series, but I've never read one of his books.

As for non-series 'Nam fiction, if you haven't read it already I HIGHLY recommend "The Short-Timers" by Gustav Hasford, which is one of my favorite novels. It served as the basis for the film "Full Metal Jacket," but the novel was much, much better. Hasford also published a sequel, "The Phantom Blooper," but it wasn't as good.

Thanks again for the comments!

nbakingdom said...

Many thanks for your prompt reply Joe!

I'll try to get some of those books, that's exactly what I'm lookin' for.

Have a nice day,
Julien