Monday, March 24, 2014

Mace #4: The Year Of The Dragon

Mace #4: The Year Of The Dragon, by Lee Chang
No month stated, 1974  Manor Books

Joseph Rosenberger turns in another installment of the Mace series, and thank god there’s only one more Rosenberger volume to go. Seriously, The Year Of The Dragon is a straight-up beating of a novel, mercilessly pounding the reader into a lethargic stupor of boredom. Now let me tell you all about it!

Once again coming off like a Chinese clone of the Death Merchant, Victor Mace is a walking, talking cipher who blitzes his way through the opposition without breaking a sweat, let alone taking any damage. Mace, that “kung fu monk-master” as Rosenberger constantly refers to him, is up in Seattle looking into the disappearance of the Ming Do Chun, a Ming dynasty statue worth around five million dollars. A gift from China, in exchange for artistic gifts of similar worth from America, the statue went missing during its shipment to the US, and now Mace and his CIA fellows are working with “Red China” secret agents to track it down.

There’s even less character or plot development this time out than previously, which is really saying something. The Year Of The Dragon is hinged around three massive action sequences, and not much more. Mace rarely even speaks in the novel, with the “plot development” mostly relegated to his Seattle handler, Darren Crawford, and a group of Chinese agents whose names get confusing and who are even less developed than Mace. As usual it’s the villains who are more memorable, a hapless trio who through some hazily-explained ruse have gotten hold of the Ming Do Chun.

We know from page one that these crooks – Kirk Bogue, Harry Bothers, and Manny Zoe – have the statue, yet it still takes around 190 pages of small print for Mace and his colleagues to get it from them. The novel opens on the first of those three big action sequences, as Mace et al raid Kirk Bogue’s warehouse, where they think the statue is hidden. The ensuing action scene is practically endless, and sadly a sign of things to come, as Mace cripples and kills an army of thugs. And after all that, the statue isn’t even there!

Here we get one of the few dialog scenes, where Mace and the various agents sit around and talk about…well, not the case, as you’d expect, but instead about the imminent collapse of the United States, and how China ain’t much better. There’s some egregious right wing sermonizing here, with Mace basically stating that America should enforce martial law. That all of this radical rhetoric is coming from a “kung fu monk-master” from Hong Kong doesn’t seem very strange to Crawford and the other CIA agents, who basically just let Mace do whatever he wants throughout.

Rosenberger does work in some references to his other creations, though, with the Chinese rep asking for the assistance of the Death Merchant or the Murder Master (another Rosenberger creation, who featured in a three-volume series of that name for Manor around this time), but the CIA tells him they’re busy at the moment! But this little sequence, maybe a page or two, is about the only moment of levity in The Year Of The Dragon. Rosenberger seems to be in dead earnest throughout, which as usual makes for a pretty confounding read, as you wonder how any sane person could sit down and write crap like this in earnest. 

The second major action sequence has Mace and Chinese agent Lt. Ko mounting a nighttime raid on a freighter upon which they think the statue might be stored. Here’s the kicker, though – we readers know that it isn’t there, and yet Rosenberger delivers a 45-page action scene as Mace and Ko beat to shit and kill an endless tide of gangsters during their assault upon the ship! It’s all just a massive waste of time – and again, given the tiny print, you wonder why the hell Rosenberger even bothered.

The final action sequence is also the finale, as Mace et al launch an attack upon a foundry, and here at long last the Ming Do Chun really is being held. This final battle is even more taxing than those that came before. And again Rosenberger gets off on informing us all kinds of incidental details about various thugs who pop up out of the woodwork, take a swing or shot at Mace, and then get killed by him for their efforts. The same holds true for the few comrades of Mace who get killed in the assault; they die, Rosenberger documenting their death like it’s a big deal, and you have no idea who in hell they were in the first place.

However Rosenberger is truly in his element when it comes to the racist invective. Mace is once again called “Chink” so many times that you start to think it’s his name, and Rosenberger describes the Chinese agents as either “moon-faced rickshaw drivers” or “moon-faced laundrymen.” He unleashes his biggest ammo on the black characters: “black-as-tar North African coon,” “black boob,” and even “jungle bunny” are all terms used to describe what few blacks appear in the novel – and of course, all of them are thugs. And when they have dialog, Rosenberger writes it in all-caps pidgin English, so they come off like monsters straight out of some reactionary’s view of hell: “CHINK MOTHERFUKKER YOU! WE GONNA STOMP YORE ASS!” That’s an actual quote from the book, misspellings and all.

Again, I must thank the gods of Shaolin or whoever that Rosenberger only wrote one more volume of Mace. The finale of The Year Of The Dragon seems to lead right into this next volume, in fact, with Mace disappearing after the final battle and heading off for his next adventure – which I’m sure will be just as endlessly-detailed and tedious as this one was.


Anonymous said...

Great review, Joe! I actually kinda want to read it now :)

Actually, I'm kinda fascinated by Rosenberger. He seems to have a thing for Asia, seems like. I mean, I've read two Death Merchants that I came across at a used book store--both had to do with Asia (one, China and Korea, the other Burma) and I had this old C.O.B.R.A. book about Chinese gangsters in the US. I mean, what are the odds?

Jack Badelaire said...

Rosenburger's endurance for writing this stuff is only matched by your ability to read it, my friend!

It is a little ridiculous, but after reading your reviews of his other series, I'm beginning to (sadly) think Death Merchant really is his best work...

Karlos said...

Hi Joe. Sorry to read you weren't enamored with Mace #4. I can't possibly see you enjoying #5 any more as it really is more of the same.

Speaking of Rosenberger, I'm part way thru one of his C.O.B.R.A. books and it's quite good. Not as nutso as some of his other stuff, but just as violent, sexist and racist, all the same!

Grant said...

I don't know these books from Adam, but the part about choosing Mace after hearing that "Death Merchant" and "Murder Master" are unavailable made me laugh out loud.
It's a very predictable comparison to make right now, but that sounds like some "Marvel Universe" or "D.C. Universe" moment.