Thursday, February 26, 2015

Depth Force #4: Battle Stations

Depth Force #4: Battle Stations, by Irving A. Greenfield
July, 1985  Zebra Books

Once again coming off like the men’s adventure equivalent of a soap opera, the Depth Force series continues with this fourth novel that picks up immediately after the events of the previous volume, with not one word of helpful background material to catch up the reader.

Battle Stations follows the same template as that third volume; the first quarter wraps up events that began in the final quarter of the previous volume, and then the narrative moves on to documenting the harried, soap opera-like life of hero Jack Boxer, captain of the experimental nuclear sub The Shark. And like that previous installment, the “main plot” of Battle Stations doesn’t even get started until the final quarter of this volume, with events once again unresolved, so that the fifth volume will pick up the thread and continue the cycle…

As we’ll recall, Boxer was in Russian waters in the Arctic when last we met him, having exfiltrated a group of spies while at the same time kidnapping a bunch of KGB agents, including the head of that agency. When Battle Stations opens Boxer is still in the midst of this life-or-death battle. Only through the deus ex machina crash of a US plane in the ocean is the Shark able to evade the radar of the Sea Savage, the Russian equivalent of the Shark which is captained by Borodine, a noble sort of dude who harbors much respect for Boxer, and vice versa. However they both understand that they will kill one another in open combat if the opportunity arises.

Once the Sea Savage leaves the area, Borodine mistakenly believing he’s destroyed the Shark, Boxer must navigate his ship through the hostile ice-fields of the Arctic ocean. This sequence goes on forever. As with the previous volume, “action” is mostly relayed via dialog, and boring “naval” dialog at that, with Boxer shouting orders to his sailors. Meanwhile, back in the US, Admiral Stark (Boxer’s friend and mentor) bickers with Kinkade (wily CIA chief who hates Boxer). The latter is more so concerned about the KGB abductees, and rails on and on about how Boxer refuses orders (the Shark is owned by the CIA, by the way).

When the Shark finally gets back to friendly waters, Boxer returns to DC and is reuninted with Stark. Here the soap opera vibe resumes; last volume, Boxer hooked up with a pretty nurse named Louise Collins. Kinkade we learned didn’t like this relationship – because Louise was black, and a radical black, at that. So, behind the scenes, he’s paid her lots of money to leave Boxer a “dear John” letter and hit the road. She’s done just that, and now Boxer reels at his loss, not knowing that Kinkade was behind it all. He was “in love” with Louise and etc, blah blah blah…not that this matters, as once again Boxer scores with many women in explicit detail.

In the brief action denoument of Bloody Seas, a Shark sailor named Redfern was killed (Greenfield by the way is notorious for not reminding or even informing readers who the characters are, nor what they do on the ship). Apparently Boxer was close to this dude, and thus goes to a dinner party held in the home of his father-in-law, Senator Sam Ross; also there is Sue-Ann, Redfern’s attractive widow. After getting in a fight with a McCarthy-esque senator named McElroy, Boxer repairs to his guest room…and what reader will be surprised when Sue-Ann shows up by his bed that night?

“I want to be fucked,” announces the recently-widowed woman, and after like a second of deliberation Boxer grants her wish. One of Greenfield’s typically-graphic sex scenes ensues, complete with thorough description of oral venturings and deep plungings. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy for writing stuff like this – this genre should be filled with filth. But this is just a one-time fling, announces Sue-Ann, and besides she just wishes the Russians would give back Redfern’s body, as it’s still back there on Russian soil. Boxer determines to use his “friendship” with Borodine to get the body back.

There’s no action, no thrills -- Battle Stations is really more along the lines of the trashy novels Greenfield penned in the ‘70s, with a bit of a “political suspense” overlay. This is mostly through Kinkade, who schemes against Boxer throughout, as well as Senator McHugh, who makes it his career to “destroy” Boxer publically. In this McHugh and Kinkade become allies. But the novel is mostly relegated to scenes of Boxer driving around DC and talking to various people about thing he’s done and things he plans to do. Seriously, most of the dialog throughout the novel is of an incendental nature. (Ie, “Where would you like to go for dinner tonight?” and the like.)

Plot developments from the previous book are lost – for example, General Yeotev, the KGB leader who was shot in the knees before his capture, is only given passing mention. Instead we get bizarre, out-of-nowhere stuff like Boxer’s mother dying after her home’s broken into and she’s beaten by thugs(!?). As I said, it’s all very much like a soap opera, mostly because the series seems to be more about Captain Jack Boxer’s love life. This is evidenced with the appearance of Lt. Cynthia Lowe, Admiral Stark’s secretary, and apparently a character who either last appeared in volume 1 or 2; as usual, Greenfield does nothing to fill us in.

But at any rate Cynthia and Boxer were once an item, and somehow, prior to Bloody Seas, they broke off, and on bad circumstances at that. Boxer sees that she’s back on duty when he visits Stark (why exactly she was off duty is also unexplained), and after initial hostilities on Cynthia’s part Boxer is able to get her out on a date – and, of course, back in the sack. Cue more graphic sex as they exuberantly fuck, making up for lost time. But before that can happen, Boxer is cockblocked…shot by a cop!!

Bloody Seas featured a goofy bit where Boxer got in a bar fight with some thugs who were against the fact that his date for the evening, Louise Collins, was black. Battle Stations features an early moment where Boxer blithely tells the bartender at this same bar that he’d fight those assholes again. Well, it soon happens – but after Boxer’s beaten them, pulling a gun to defend himself, some cops come in and shoot him by accident. Or something like that. While Boxer recovers, Cynthia warms up to him.

More soap opera stuff – Boxer and Cynthia go on a yacht cruise, which Sue-Ann also attends. She gets drunk and starts screaming at Boxer in front of everyone about being a horrible leader, how he got her husband killed, and also how he was so quick to jump in the bed of his husband’s widow! Seriously it’s all like Days of Our Lives or something. Then Sue-Ann’s on her knees apologizing, and then Boxer and Cynthia are back in his stateroom, once again exuberantly fucking…

Now Boxer’s in Paris, where the Russians have said they’ll hand over Redfern’s body. Meanwhile Borodine has been cornered by the KGB to set up his “friend” Boxer for death. Boxer meets Borodine’s ex-wife, Maria Dodin (aka Glena) here, where she works for the US – a completely superfluous scene, though Greenfield fools us by describing how “impossibly beautiful” Maria is; normally this would be instant grounds for another sex scene. Instead Boxer gets his booty from the most unexpected source – Trish, the gorgeous young wife of Senator McHugh, aka the dude who is trying to destroy Boxer. Oh, and Trish also happens to be the granddaughter of Kinkade!

Any nitwit would suspect something, especially after the blowup Boxer had with the McHughs early in the novel, yet when Boxer receives an invite to dinner with the McHughs while in Paris, he ends up going – only to find a sexily-dressed Trish waiting there for him alone. When Greenfield mentioned her incredible cleavage, I immediately knew where it was going. One thing he did surprise me on was that Trish McHugh actually ends up falling in love with Boxer; in other words, the backstabbing playout I suspected doesn’t happen. She is here on her own free will, not sent here by McHugh to “distract” Boxer.

Trish ends up being the most frequent bedmate of Boxer this volume, and the one who receives the most explicit scenes; like the last book, Greenfield once again graces us with a sex scene that features the word “bung hole.” We also get Trish’s memorable declaration: “I’m going to come quickly.” But hey, remember how the KGB was going to kill Boxer here in Paris? This is where that goofy “Boxer’s mom gets killed by burglars” subplot arises, and our hero is called away suddenly to attend her funeral, thus unwittingly dodging his planned assassination – and the entire “Redfern’s body being returned” element is hastily dropped.

Now the plot’s all about McHugh’s attack on Boxer, and it’s dumb because the dude is aware that his wife is screwing Boxer, but doesn’t care. However he almost succeeds in destroying Boxer anyway, only saved when someone (perhaps someone sent by Admiral Stark) shows up with photos of Boxer and Trish together in bed. McHugh drops his case in shame, less the photos be revealed, and ends up divorcing Trish, who happily announces she wants to be with Boxer. Oh and meanwhile Cynthia is long out of the picture, having gotten into another spat with Boxer, who had only been considering her for an “easy fuck,” with no intention of a relationship.

Only in the final pages does the plot announced on the back cover come into play. Basically, the crew of a Russian sub mutinies, and the Sea Savage is sent off to destroy the sub before it can reach western waters. The Shark hurries to get there first, only to find the Sea Savage nearly destroyed after a confrontation with its sister ship. Now Borodine and crew are trapped on the bottom of the ocean, their oxygen running out. Boxer ignores orders from Kinkade and vows to save them. By the way, Kincade’s had a heart attack, after a confrontation with Boxer over his granddaughter…strangely, Kincade wants Boxer to marry the girl, despite how much he hates the man.

The Shark manages to save the crew of the Sea Savage, and the Russians plan to overtake the ship, a fine way to show their gratitude. Meanwhile Boxer’s about to get laid by his fourth woman in the book, hot KGB agent Dr. Suslov, who comically enough first offers herself to Borodine while the Sea Savage is stuck on the ocean floor (they are however unable to do the deed, thanks to the Shark’s timely arrival), and then later that same day waltzes into Boxer’s stateroom and informs him that she wants some good lovin,’ pronto.

But then the klaxons go off, and Boxer sends a still-unsated Suslov back to her quarters, with orders to shoot on sight if she attempts to flee. Now Boxer must contend with Borodine and his crew, who have taken over part of the Shark. And here, the action finally growing heated in the final few pages, Battle Stations comes to an inconclusive end – to be continued next time.

Unfortunately volume 5 is one I don’t have, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

And a curious final note – whereas the previous volume was stated as taking place in the “future” year of 1997, this one is stated as taking place in 1995! In fact it’s expressly stated that the last portion of the novel occurs in October of 1995 – yet this book clearly takes place after the previous volume. Maybe the Shark is the USS Eldridge of its day, unstuck in time due to some Philadelphia Experiment…?

Not that Boxer would notice…he’d be too busy exuberantly fucking.

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