Cody’s Army #2: Assault Into Libya, by Jim Case
November, 1986 Warner Books
Stephen Mertz handles this second volume of Cody’s Army himself, and he has mentioned to me a few times that he considers this the best installment of the series. I certainly liked it better than the first volume, which was by Chet Cunningham working off an outline by Mertz (who created and edited the series). But I can see why Cody’s Army never took off as strongly as Mertz’s other series, MIA Hunter, did.
For one, John Cody himself. The dude’s pretty much a cipher, and two volumes in I still don’t have a clear picture of him. While MIA Hunter hero Mark Stone is driven to find Vietnam POWs, Cody is more of your standard, run-of-the-mill action hero, with no special quirks to bring him to life. About the most we get is that he wants to stop evil and help innocents, but that’s true for practically all men’s adventure heroes. He most brings to mind the Gold Eagle version of Mack Bolan, which is unsurprising given Mertz’s tenure at that imprint.
Like Mark Stone, Cody has a group that is more colorful than he is, in particular Hawkeye Hawkins and Richard Caine, who bicker a la Hog Wiley and Terrence Loughlin in the MIA Hunter books. Not sure if it was made clear last volume, but this time we learn that there’s a bit of a Hard Corps vibe to Cody’s Army; like the Hard Corps, these four ‘Nam vets so loved fightin’ and killin’ that they just couldn’t hack peacetime, and soon enough were pulling assignments for the CIA. Their Agency contact is a man named Peter Lund, who reports directly to the President; Mertz delivers several scenes of Lund in the Oval Office and I had some fun picturing Ronald Reagan fretting over the latest exploits of Cody and team.
Another similarity to those Gold Eagle novels is that Mertz will jump around a small group of characters, not keeping the narrative eye solely on Cody. In true Gold Eagle style we have many sequences featuring Abdul Kamal, the villain of the piece, a PLO terrorist who has masterminded a plot to take the American embassy in Rome hostage. A big problem with Assault Into Libya when reading it in the modern day is that Kamal, despite his evil nature, is almost Mr. Rogers when compared to the radical Muslim terrorists of today.
While the modern terrorist kills all and sundry with impunity, Kamal is more concerned with taking hostages and bartering for demands. Indeed he fears death and doesn’t display the drive to martydom that is so sickeningly common in today’s fucked-up world. That being said, Kamal does kill a little kid, which is as verbotten as you can get in these kinds of books – a shock piece Mertz skillfully employs and uses throughout to give John Cody a little bit of a drive (but nothing too much, as he often shuts off any emotional impulses and goes back to the focus of his military training).
Mertz opens with an action scene, as Cody’s Army, outfitted in black commando suits a la Bolan himself, launch an assault on the just-taken Rome embassy. Rather than send in the Marines, Cody’s Army has been given the job due to the delicate nature of it all and whatnot. In the melee Kamal makes his escape, having killed the ambassador and abducted his preteen daughter. This is the little girl who is later blown away, right in front of Cody, and Cody blames himself because he was unable to save her.
Now it’s a vengeance mission, as Cody’s team is ordered to kill Kamal and stop whatever plan he’s clearly formenting. The helicopter he escaped in was last tracked heading into Bulgaria. Our heroes head to Greece, with the idea to sneak across the border. This part features perhaps my favorite typo of all time: “Cody had allowed himself a catnip” on the flight. I could almost picture a wild-eyed Cody chasing around his own rear like some catnip-hopping cat. Anyway, the Greece sequence culminates in a mostly-arbitrary action scene, as a group of mountain brigands ambush our heroes and are quickly butchered for their menial efforts.
Kamal is backed by the KGB, and we have many sequences devoted to him and his Russian contact plotting more KGB-funded terrorism while bickering with each other. Again Kamal comes off like a harbinger from a kindler, gentler time, despite the fact that he is a psychotic murderer. His terrorist army truly would be considered a “JV team” in today’s world. Mertz further opens up the narrative with the appearance of a female Bulgarian spy: Narda Rykov, a member of her country’s anti-Commie National Freedom Organization. She turns out to be the local contact for Cody’s Army once they make it to Bulgaria, but Mertz doesn’t play up any sexual shenanigans, despite the occasional mention of Narda’s hot-stuffness.
A running action sequence in Bulgaria calls to mind an action movie of the day as Cody’s men and Narda are chased by the Bulgarian army, and our heroes commandeer an armored truck and run roughshod over the countryside in their escape. Mertz shows a very Pendleton-esque flair for action scenes, keeping everything moving and never getting bogged down in firearm detail. He also employs what I consider Pendletonisms, ie occasional one-liner proclamations of Cody’s bad-assery or stoic resolve, etc.
Cody’s Army is a few steps behind throughout the Bulgarian sequence, trying to find Kamal on hardly any solid leads and usually tracking down those Kamal has dealt with when it’s already too late. Meanwhile Kamal himself heads to Libya where he is to open up like a new line of new, improved terrorist training camps or somesuch. While still in Bulgaria, Cody’s Army engages in one of the action highlights of the novel, staging a “soft probe” of a KGB barracks which was really housing Kamal’s Arabic army – a soft probe that quickly goes hard. In the melee Hawkeye is injured and thus doesn’t take part in the final setpiece.
Everything climaxes in Libya, Cody and team finally tracking Kamal there. They chase the “two hairbags” there (ie Kamal and Vronski’s his KGB backer), and we get a brief, sort of arbitrary part where Cody and Caine pose as terrorists who have come down here to join up with this newfangled training camp. I say abritrary because the two are exposed within a page or two. Meanwhile Rafe, the fourth member of Cody’s Army, is flying high above in an F-82 and decides to launch an aerial assault on the camp even though he hasn’t received the proper signal from Cody.
While Cody has spent the novel vowing to kill Kamal for the murder of the little girl, it’s Caine who curiously enough gets the honor of dispatching the terrorist bastard. I found this strange, like the Indian dude popping up in the final seconds to kill the Predator instead of Arnold. But I guess the important thing is that the radical Islamic terrorist is dead. Otherwise, Assault Into Libya was pretty good, and would certainly appeal to fans of the Gold Eagle novels of the era. It’s a fine piece of men’s adventure fiction, but I’m still not warming up to the series as with MIA Hunter. This is no criticism of Mertz, though, who handles the book with craft and skill – I look forward to reading the other volumes of the series he wrote.
On a closing note, I’ve been on paternity leave for the past three weeks (the baby was born on 1/26), so the blog has been running on autopilot; luckily I had several reviews scheduled to post ahead of time. I just checked out my stats and was surprised to see that I’m now at almost 1.1 million page views; over the past few months I’ve noticed the daily page views have jumped significantly. I have no idea where the traffic is coming from (the Traffic Sources is almost humorously unhelpful), but I just want to say thanks to everyone for visiting the blog.