Thursday, June 2, 2016

Tracker #8: Dynasty Of Evil

Tracker #8: Dynasty Of Evil, by Ron Stillman
October, 1992  Charter-Diamond Books

The worst series in men’s adventure fiction limps to a close in this final volume of Tracker. Once again a big thanks to Martin O’Hearn and S. Michael Wilson, who each posted comments on my review of #7: Shock Treatment, informing us that David H. Jacobs wrote these final two volumes of the series. But whereas Shock Treatment, while padded and ultimately dull, at least had some sort of spark to it, Dynasty Of Evil is a snoozefest of the first order, and almost (almost!!) makes one miss the moronic but action-packed installments of series creator Don Bendell.

Jacobs continues with his retconning of series protagonist Nat Tracker, here referred to as “Uncle Sam’s most unusual sleuth.” As with the previous volume, Jacobs has recreated the character, likely not even having read Bendell’s first six installments. Tracker is now a shady government spook, a freelance agent, and Six Million Dollar Man style he was biomechanically augmented by the government after his horrific Air Force crash. While Jacobs’s version of the character is still smart and tech-savvy, he is not the godlike figure of Bendell’s books, and almost comes off more as a pawn of the government after the high-tech surgery he endured to become the “radar warrior” (per the cover).

Also thanks to Martin and S. Michael for confirming my suspicion that the author of Shock Treatment was also the author of the short-lived Psycho Squad series. Indeed, my suspicion is that Dynasty Of Evil started life as a potential plot for that earlier series. For this time Tracker doesn’t go up against a terrorist plot or anything of the sort; instead he finds himself confronted by voodoo and other strange, bloodthirsty religions in an island republic very much like Haiti. Action is sparse for the most part, but when it happens it’s pretty big if chaotic, with legions of henchmen blasting submachine guns at Tracker and comrades.

Jacobs isn’t kidding about the “sleuth” tag. Tracker is no longer the high-tech lone wolf of previous books; he does the bidding of the US government, which this time has sent him to the fictional island of Tambour in the Caribbean. US notables have been murdered across the US and now here in paradise, usually in “random” shootings or such, but this time a family has been massacred in gory style. When we meet him Tracker is investigating the murder house, working with local police captain Martel, a native who speaks with a French accent and keeps calling him “M. Tracker.”

My friends, this investigation of the murder site goes on for 50 or 60 pages. It is mind-bogglingly tedious as Tracker, hiding his high-tech hardware eyes (which look like Ray-Bans or something), bickers with Martel while roaming about the palatial villa and looking at all the blood and hearing all the details of how this or that person was killed. This incredible deluge of padding is the first indication that Tracker is not headed for the most spectacular of finales. Things slightly pick up when Tracker, using his tracking video components, finds a previously-overlooked piece of evidence: an iron claw.

Tracker is not on the best terms with Martel and his cops, all of whom resent Tracker for his presence here. But Tracker figures there might be a connection between this slaughter and the random deaths back in the US, and he gets more verification when they are attacked, while still investigating the murder house, by a group of armed men with “tiger-striped” painted faces. Jacobs is not the best action writer, with the ensuing melee more chaotic than thrilling, and also he doesn’t dwell much on the violence and gore. It’s more along the lines of “Tracker stitched the man across the chest and he fell into the bushes.”

The guerrilla fighters each wear medallions fashioned after that iron claw Tracker found. Turns out this is a mystical symbol of the “egobo” religion, a sort of pre-voodoo cult that’s like darker than plain ol’ voodoo or somesuch. By this point we’re almost 90 pages into the book and Tracker still hasn’t left the villa in which the murders occurred; when they head out, they’re attacked yet again, leading to another firefight and car chase. Part of the problem with Dynasty Of Evil however is that Tracker disappears for long stretches, so that for the most part these action scenes star Captain Martel and his bungling police force.

This I’ve found is typical of David Jacobs’ work; his protagonists get lost in the swelter of minor, one-off characters, many of whom are introduced in the eleventh hour. As is the case here, where an infamous crime kingpin, thought dead for ten years, turns out to be behind the plot in Tambour and is only introduced like twenty pages from the end. But Tracker really is a shadow warrior this time out, with only a few lines of dialog, more so using his brains and his fancy gear. Once again he is not the superwarrior of Bendell’s books, though he does gun down a few thugs. Indeed Tracker fears for his safety quite often, another big difference from the superhuman character of the first six books.

There’s one single female in the book, a pretty doctor’s assistant, who shows up like on page 110, says a line or two, and promptly disappears. Later it’s discovered she’s left a bomb in Martel’s office, and she’s, uh, working for the bad guys or something. Tracker defuses the bomb and chases after her, but again Jacobs denies us a big climax; the gal is gunned down by the crime kingpin, who himself is summarily blown away by Tracker without any big buildup. But that’s the case throughout; despite the back cover hyperbole, Dynasty Of Evil just drifts along.

The book is so convoluted and padded, friends, that the last several pages are comprised of exposition courtesy Tracker as he explains what all has happened! And if that isn’t enough padding for you, before that we get another several pages of exposition as Martel tells how he thinks the massacre went down and who was behind it – all of it moot, because he turns out to be wrong. I’m talking pages of exposition!

So yeah, David Jacobs is a classic ghostwriter who is prone to padding to meet his word count. I try not to be hard on these guys, I mean they were just doing their job, but sometimes you wish for a bit more spark and pizzaz. For god’s sake, have fun with it! But anyway, the novel ends “months later,” as Tracker sort of blackmails the father of that doctor’s assistant, who himself is a fallen politician, into carrying a bomb into the White House and killing off two powerful senators who have been behind a lot of bloodshed and misery(!?). So in other words, the cover image happens in the book – and it’s caused by Tracker himself!

Jacobs does get some things right…I like how he employs Tracker’s fancy gear, something which always seemed so unbelievable in the Bendell installments. Tracker also gets a few good one-liners. But the book is just so padded and uneventful – there’s even a part where the natives grow restless in true cliched fashion, setting fires and killing the prisoners falsely accused of the villa massacre, and it too happens off-page – that you breathe a sigh of relief when you come to the last page.

Now maybe one of these days I’ll go back and check out the two Bendell volumes I skipped (#5 and 6). But not anytime soon.


Stephen Mertz said...

"The worst series in men’s adventure?" Man, that is really sayin something!!

allan said...

I saw a bunch of these books at a thrift store and remembered how shitty you said they were, so I left them alone!