Soldier For Hire #7: Pathet Vengeance, by Mark K. Roberts
No month stated, 1983 Zebra Books
The penultimate volume of Soldier For Hire has blowhard hero JC Stonewall heading into Laos to square up an account from his days in ‘Nam. If you’ve ever wondered what it would’ve been like if Mark Roberts had written an installment of MIA Hunter, look no further. This is especially ironic given that MIA Hunter creator Stephen Mertz himself appears in Pathet Vengeance.
While he still kills a bunch of “commie pigs” and engages in the usual illicit sex, Stonewall is a bit subdued this time around. He rarely displays the lovably stupid jingoism of previous installments, and for the most part operates like a regular men’s adventure protagonist. Which is to say there’s very little of the assholic blowhardy typical of the dude. And while this volume sees Stonewall settling a score with an old enemy, a commie one at that, there’s only sporadic bursts of the usual “a good commie’s a dead commie” vitriol.
Anyway, Stonewall’s origin story – as apparently created by the series’s original author – has it that “the one woman he ever loved,” a Eurasian babe named Angilique, was raped and gutted by the commies in Vietnam. This was a personal attack overseen by the Pathet Lao. Stonewall we learn now refuses to take any jobs in Southeast Asia, thus he’s shocked when his handler Trojan insists that he, Stonewall, consider rescuing a few of Trojan’s captive operatives in Laos – not to mention a few ‘Nam POWs who are also kept in the same prison. Stonewall is pressed to consider it because the man who runs the compound, a sadist named Colonel Boupha, was the leader of the Pathet Lao squad that raped and murdered poor Angelique.
Meanwhile Stonewall’s busy getting laid. Roberts again delivers his over-the-top sex scenes that leave nothing to the imagination, with Stonewall initially scoring with his “liberal” girlfriend, Karol. (“Am I a better lay than my sister Karen?” she asks him!) Post-lay Stonewall as expected brushes the girl off and focuses on Trojan’s offered mission. The POW camp is at the Temple of the Moon Goddess in Laos, and when Stonewall learns that Boupha is in charge of the place, he can’t say no. He contacts series semi-regulars Hank Polanski and Tommy Mitsu to go along with him.
Roberts pads out the page count with arbitrary cutovers to the POW camp, where we learn that one of the ‘Nam prisoners is named Rob Randisi, Roberts again displaying his penchant for in-jokery. But the prison camp sequences get to be a chore, with lots of arguments between Boupha and his Russian overseer, Boris Zmeya, who tangled with Stonewall back in #5: Libyan Warlord and hopes to settle his own score with our hero. There’s also lots of lurid torture-porn stuff as we read about the sadistic camp torturer going to work on the captured Trojan operatives; the dude even brings along his two prepubescent sons to watch, one of whom gets off on the torture!
Speaking of getting off, Stonewall hooks up on the Japan Airlines flight to Laos; he hits on a sexy stew named “Mico” (should be “Miko,” btw) whom we’re informed is not only super hot but has bigger boobs than the average Japanese gal. From having already read #8: Jakarta Coup I knew this was going to be headed for some sleazy stuff, as Stonewall was still fondly recalling his encounter with Mico in that later installment. After a night on the town in Laos Mico takes Stonewall back to her hotel room: “Slowly, delightfully, she played her love melody on his satiny instrument.” It only proceeds to get more outrageous, with bonkers likes like, “His lips fluttered over her lush jugs.” Then there’s Mico’s penchant for kinky sex: “With each upthrust, Mico inserted a handkerchief knot into his anus.” Which ultimately leads to, “What started as a powerful ejaculation turned into a gusher.” No wonder Stonewall was still thinking about it next volume!
The usual method of sex scenes in men’s adventure novels is that the girl disappears promptly after screwing the protagonist, so we can get back to the manly stuff. Roberts takes this to ludicrious extremes, with Mico’s head getting blown off mere seconds after engaging Stonewall in another bout. This is courtesy a group of Laotians who break into the room, gunning for Stonewall; when our hero dodges the blast of a would-be killer, the bullet goes right through Mico’s opened mouth and blows out the back of her head. Stonewall spends a hot second mourning the poor girl, then figures out how to get rid of her corpse without compromising his cover.
All of which serves to piss off Trojan’s man in Laos, none other than “Steve Mertz.” Humorously, Mertz spends the majority of his “screen time” bitching at Stonewall, particularly for even getting an innocent young woman involved in the first place. But no worries, as there’s another sexy babe on the horizon: Arlene Farrel, a gorgeous blonde with Stonewall-mandatory big breastesses who is another of Trojan’s operatives, but who was able to escape while her comrades were captured and thrown in Boupha’s compound. Mertz introduces the two, and also tells Stonewall that he will have to listen to Arlene’s demands that she go along with the team to the prison camp.
More in-jokery ensues when Steve Mertz ridicules Tommy Mitsu for carrying around a sword, referring to him as “the Six-Gun Samurai.” “Hey, you read them too?” Responds Tommy. “Hell of a series.” Six-Gun Samurai was another series Roberts wrote at the time, under the house name Patrick Lee, William Fieldhouse being another writer for it. At any rate our heroes head off into the jungle for Boupha’s camp, and Roberts doesn’t waste any time getting to more of the good stuff: Arlene has the hots for Green Berets, and makes her interest in Stonewall quickly known.
“You’re a beautiful broad, Arlene,” Stonewall the ladies man says as Arlene slips into his tent that night. The initial boffing is, surprisingly, a fade to black affair, but later on Roberts provides the juicy details during another bout, Arlene becoming a frequent visitor to Stonewall’s tent (“My God, Stonewall, you really know how to use that economy size member you’ve been equipped with.”). For once Arlene is a female character who sticks around, even learning to kill in the novel’s periodic action sequences as the group is attacked by varios communist Laotian forces.
Speaking of action, Roberts finally lets loose with Stonewall’s customary anti-Red sentiments when they are attacked: “Bodies. Everywhere the ripped and splattered bodies of dead commies. God, how he loved it!” But as usual with the series, the action comes off more like military fiction than men’s adventure, with BRDM scout armor giving Stonewall and crew the most trouble. Which is to say, there isn’t much of the usual lone wolf stuff common for the genre; it’s more about Stonewall leading various “fire teams” of mercenaries and Laotian guerrillas against enemy armor and artillery. In fact there isn’t even any action until midway through, first with a big battle when the group first enters Laotian red territory, and later when they arrive at Boupha’s camp.
The liberation of the camp prisoners very much has the spirit of the later MIA Hunter series, even with the freed American POWs taking up arms and blowing away their former captors. Meanwhile Stonewall settles his account with Boupha, first engaging him in a digressive kung-fu fight and then chopping off his left arm and leaving him to bleed to death. Apparently Stonewall didn’t just put a bullet between his eyes because Roberts intended to bring Boupha back some day; in fact as I recall, in Jakarta Coup Stonewall figured he’d once again track him down. Unfortunately the series ended with the eighth volume, so Stonewall’s revenge went unsated.
Even Boris Zmeya escapes, and in fact assists Boupha, who would’ve died otherwise. The raid on the prison camp is over by page 164…and we still have like 50 pages to go. As with another Roberts novel of the era, Hanoi Hellground, the narrative free-falls in its final quarter, given over to an overlong chase scene through the jungle as Stonewall and the freed prisoners try to escape while the commie forces pursue them. Along the way Roberts delivers even more in-jokery, courtesy Stonewall: “I read some books by a guy named Joseph Rosenberger. He calls [communists] pig farmers, like they were peasants, up to their knees in pig shit. It fits, but it’s too simplistic.” I’m unsure if this is really what Rosenberger’s Death Merchant had in mind with “pig farmers,” though.
The climactic ambush sees Boris Zmeya possibly being killed by Stonewall; it’s left vague, with the horribly-injured Russian stumbling off into the jungle. Meanwhile he’s succeeded in hurting Tommy Mitsu to the point that the Japanese sword-wielder is unable to assist Stonewall in the next volume. Speaking of which, after another bed-tussling with Arlene Stonewall receives a new mission briefing from Trojan, who asks Stonewall if he’d be interested in heading over to nearby Indonesia for another job.
And here ends Pathet Vengeance, which also turns out to be my own personal end for the series, given that Jakarta Coup was the first one I read. Overall this one was on the level of the others, but it missed some of the OTT right-wing stuff, with the caveat that the sex stuff was actually more outrageous than the series norm – save, that is, for Jakarta Coup, which was the most OTT in all departments, and thus was by far my favorite of the series.