Thursday, May 4, 2017

Book Of Justice #1: Genocide Express

Book Of Justice #1: Genocide Express, by Jack Arnett
November, 1989  Bantam Books

I think I already see why this obscure, late-era men’s adventure series only amounted to four volumes. Not that it’s bad or anything, it just lacks much bite, and its main protagonist would be more at home hanging out in a beach house in Malibu than gallivanting around the world fighting evil. There’s an off-putting New Agey type feel about Genocide Express, but not in the cool Ryder Syvertsen-esque way; rather, we have here a book where the protagonists say things like “What is reality?” and frequently hug one another.

I would’ve never heard of Book Of Justice if not for the series ad in Overload #2. As I wrote in my review of that trucker-action book, it’s commendable of Bantam Books that they were even attempting to launch new men’s adventure series while the genre was so ignobly dying. This first volume even sports a back-cover blurb by none other than Warren Murphy, who claims that Book Of Justice is “something new” in the action-fiction world. Well, it sort of is…but really it’s kind of a take on The Liberty Corps, with a bit of SOBs tossed in. But judging from this first installment it’s not as entertaining as either.

“Jack Arnett,” who even has his own (fake) bio in the back, is really Mike McQuay (who also holds the copyright on the novel), a prolific writer I’ve not yet read, though I do have his time travel novel Memories, which I’ve meant to read for a while. McQuay also turned in some of the Gold Eagle Executioner books, so there’s a bit of that feel here, though to be sure McQuay is clearly going for more of a realistic or perhaps serious vibe – not to mention he’s throttled way back on the action. One will not only not find any of the Gold Eagle-mandated gun-porn in Genocide Express, but one also won’t find much action, either!

The series setup is a little complicated. Basically, William Justice, an American whom the world knows as William Lambert, has just gotten his “island republic” Haven (apparently off the coast of France) inducted into the United Nations. It’s a self-sustaining “corporate nation” comrpised of people who have been deported or kicked out or just plain left their own countries. Operating under the guise of Lambert International, Justice and his core group go around the world under political or entreprenneurial interests, but really their main goal is to combat evil and help the downtrodden. Apparently they have an arrangement with the US State Department, something unexplored here, so in that regard the series is similar in setup to The Liberty Corps, with Justice’s army fighting wars for the US government. But that doesn’t happen this time; it’s all Justice’s ballgame.

As usual with ‘80s men’s adventure novels, the focus is on teamwork instead of the (much preferable, I think) lone wolf ethic of ‘70s men’s adventure novels. Justice has a fairly big entourage, and McQuay doesn’t help the reader out much as he barely describes most of them. Here are the main characters:

William Justice – I don’t believe he’s ever described, so the moussed-up “Just For Men” dude on the cover will suffice. Justice’s schtick is that he gets emotionally invested in the people he wants to help, so that their fight becomes his personal fight. He has a vague backstory of suffering and loss; his wife was killed in a housefire sometime in the past, one started by a bomb. It’s mentioned a few times that Justice is “certifiably crazy” and that his sanity is only a pretense, but come on, people – John Sullivan is insane. Johnny Rock is insane. Philip Magellan is real friggin’ insane. But William Justice is practically Mr. Malibu – a guy who sprinkles wheat germ on his egg whites and periodically embraces his teammates and tells them how much he loves them.

Sardi – Turban and ankh-wearing Indian who is basically Justice’s right-hand man. Has the ability to hypnotize people. Worries that Justice might become too insane someday.

Kim – Hotstuff Vietnamese/French babe with a fondness for throwing knives, watching cartoons while drinking bourbon, and arbitrarily announcing “I’m horny” or “I’m bored – let’s fuck,” to the male members of the team, though she never follows up on it. Also seems to disregard the occasional verb, ie “You stupid,” and the like.

Kiki – Not to be confused with Kim (though I sure as hell did), Kiki is a “Nigerian cowboy” who wears Western clothing and calls people “podner.”

Bob Jenks – Completely-undescribed dude Justice sprung from prison (with the help of the State Dept); Jenks was in prison for murdering a drug dealer in vengeance. Along with Justice he’s the guy Kim makes occasional sexual propositions to – at one point he tries to take her up on it, but she turns him down because he doesn’t have a rubber! (Welcome to the late ‘80s, my friends…)

There are others, including a State Dept contact and another guy who has an eyepatch and a prosthetic hand, who I hoped would feature a chainsaw or gun he could screw onto his arm a la Ash in Army Of Darkness, but he stays back in New York.

McQuay does a fairly good job juggling all these people, but as is typical with the team focus of ‘80s men’s adventure entries, the “main” protagonist is thus mostly lost in the shuffle. Therefore none of these guys were ever as memorable as their ‘70s predecessors. And Justice isn’t very memorable at all, though we’re often told how much of a badass he is and how he lives for the “game” of fighting wars and taking down evil. As mentioned, his main thing is he gets involved in his wars, and he’s especially riled up in this initial adventure, which brings to mind the plot of The Hunter #1.

On the day Haven is being inducted into the UN – a scene which features Justice making a blunt speech to the various heads of state about how they need to watch their asses around Haven(!) – an Ugandan native named David Lule approaches Justice’s apartment in the UN building, his Americanized niece, Alena, in unwilling tow. David Lule wants Justice’s help – like the A-Team, he and his people are there to help the unfortunate – and the Ugandan shows that his body has been inhumanly twisted, his eyes bulging out, by some mysterious plague. He then breaks his own neck in a seizure and dies on the spot.

Justice is all fired up and leaves immediately, first busting Bob Jenks out of protective custody. Not by force or by action, but by computers – again, welcome to the late ‘80s, my friends. Speaking of computers, McQuay wrote sci-fi and there is, I think, a bit of a Neuromancer vibe when an Ugandan nuclear submarine (a gift from the US) shows up in the harbor to take Justice et al to Africa; the crew is populated by apparent stoners, the sub reeks of incense, and the heavyset Captain roars “Prepare to dive, motherfuckers!” over the loudspeaker. All of it reminded me of the stoner Jamaican crew on that space station in Neuromancer.

McQuay adds some dark humor here and there – like when one of Justice’s crew pops open a bottle of champagne right as David Lule’s corpse hits the floor – but to be honest Genocide Express is pretty dour and slow-going. We get lots of detail on how Uganda was raped by Idi Amin and how the country is still rebuilding itself, and it’s all very depressing and to tell the truth a bit more than what is needed for the genre.

You might notice one thing I haven’t mentioned yet – the action. That’s because there is none! Well, not until fairly late in the game, when Justice and team realize that sadistic General Asea of Uganda is plotting something with some KGB agents and even working with Amin himself, Asea turning out to be the tyrant’s cousin. At this point Justice whips out his customary .45 and declares that the Republic of Haven is going to war.

But talk about The A-Team…I had bad flashbacks to that show, as the initial action scenes see a bunch of bullets flying but not a single person getting shot. It’s all Justice’s team, split up for various pursuits, running afoul of Asea’s soldiers, engaging them in brief firefights, and running and ducking. The novel is a very bloodless affair, akin to the PG-13 dreck with generic photoshopped covers that fills the Thriller sections of bookstores today. Personally when I read these books I want rivers of blood, with exploding organs and brains blown out in chunky sprays of gore, with men puking their guts out as they shit their pants and die. But that’s just me.

It only goes on to get even more unintentionally humorous, and friggin’ fast, when McQuay expands on his New Agey vibe. First Justice suffers nightmarish visions of the people who were tortured in the hotel he’s staying in, which years before was the torture palace of Idi Amin. Then later Justice, Sardi, and Alena Lule head into the jungle to find Alena’s home village, from which the mysterious Mama Alice operates – David Lule told Justice to find Alice, who heads up a sort of Christian-voodoo cult.

“Paint me!” Justice screams as he goes native in the jungle, having a similarly reborn-into-savagery Alena whip out her lipstick and paint up his face and chest! Then they meet Mama Alice, who has like a thousand jungle warriors at her disposal; Justice is the prophecized “Windbringer,” and Justice casually informs his crew that he has already been in “spiritual conversation” with Mama Alice(!). There follows an eye-rolling sequence in which Mama Alice commands Justice to “Dance! Dance!” in front of her warriors in a Golden Bough-esque ritual, the desired effect of which is for Justice to become one with the jungle people. Does it work? Of course it does.

Meanwhile Bob Jenks and Kim try to infiltrate the Ugandan army, a scene which sees the unforgettable moment of white guy Jenks using shoe polish to give himself blackface! The two are quickly caught and summarily beaten – it’s the late ‘80s so there’s zero lurid stuff with a nude and/or exploited Kim, as there would have been (and naturally so) in a ‘70s men’s adventure novel. The two are sprung by one of those KGB agents, who turn out to be the good guys. Oh and Idi Amin is here, and there are also two Europeans who a few years before massacred a bunch of Ugandans so they could resttle the area to pursue their own twisted interests (one of ‘ems named Merkle, which I thought was particularly ironic).

There are even Libyan soldiers afoot, and at length McQuay decides they are the main threat. They are working with Merkle and the other European, as well as General Asea and Amin; the sadists are mixing that body-destroying plague into locally-produced Joke Cola, which is eagerly quaffed by the jungle natives. Now Justice is real fired up, leading us, finally, into an action sequence, in which he takes a commandeered personnel carrier on an assault of the Joke factory. Violence is, again, bloodless, with the most graphic detail being when Kim cuts a Libyan soldier “in two” with an Uzi burst.

McQuay has gone so long without action that he just barrels on through this one and keeps going; learning that a train bearing the plague is headed for the capital of Uganda (ie the “Genocide Express” of the title), Justice commandeers a helicopter and gives chase. Still the action is almost in outline detail, with none of the juicy gore or jetting bloodsprays I demand in action pulp. But McQuay at least delivers his villains memorable ends. For one, Idi Amin is torn apart by the natives (off-page, though), and Justice forces General Asea to drink a can of that body-deforming Joke Cola!

For his good deeds Justice is gifted the nuclear sub by a grateful president of Uganda, along with its joint-smoking captain. Justice has also bullied the US President into confirming Haven’s membership in the UN, something which was in jeopardy throughout the novel. And that’s that. I can’t say the book was terrible – McQuay shows a sensitivity for character that is unexpected in the genre, so there’s that, but the problem is his characters are pretty boring. And so, ultimately, is Genocide Express.


Steven Johnson said...

Mike McQuay's MEMORIES is all kinds of awesome. Sci fi, not men's adv, but really good.

He also wrote Mathew Swain, the 21st Century Private Eye, which is hard-boiled rather than men's ad, but also very good. That one was a series of at least three, although without numbers. He's got a real expertise in the hard-boiled pulp. Having him do a Gold Eagle might have been a mismatch to his talents.

Clobdell3 said...

A Ugandan nuclear submarine? Were the captain and crew too stoned to realize Uganda is a landlocked country? Or were there secret tunnels under the ocean leading to Lake Victoria - now that would make a more interesting story.

Unknown said...

McQuay was a pretty damn good author. Loved Memories, that's one of my favorites. He also wrote the novelization for Escape From New York, which adds TONS of background and plot to the story, and a book called Jitterbug, which is so over-the-top weird, you can't NOT love it.

halojones-fan said...

Hahah, so the main character is in charge of an actual libertopian Sealand? Although he seems rather interventionist for someone into seasteading...