Springblade #2: Machete, by Greg Walker
January, 1990 Charter Books
Jeez, I pretty much plumb forgot Springblade, that 9-volume “Special Forces” series from the early ‘90s that features a protagonist a bit too fond of bladed weaponry. It’s been so long since I read the first volume that I had to go back and re-read my (typically long-winded) review to refresh myself on the gist of the series before reading this one. Not that I needed to, as it turned out; as typical for the genre there’s scant reference to the previous book.
Again, this series shows how the men’s adventure genre slowly metamorphasized into military fiction. The focus is more on how an off-the-books black ops outfit like Springblade would work in the real world, with more of a slow-burn approach than the constant action more typical of the men’s adventure genre. Like the previous volume, Machete hardly has any action at all until the very final pages. But the series lasted for a respectable 9 volumes, so clearly it resonated with many readers.
Author Greg Walker again turns in a novel that revels in the grungy world of an army lifer; hero Bo Thornton and his gang are as crude and rude as can be, “blowing farts,” endearingly referring to one another as “cum bubbles,” and engaging in banter that would melt modern snowflakes. As with the previous volume, there’s some dialog here that wouldn’t be publishable in today’s world, and if all that weren’t enough, there’s a wildly outrageous part where Thornton and his pal, DEA agent Calvin Bailey, are nearly mugged (and raped!) by transvestite gay bikers.
It’s some unspecified time after the previous volume, and when we meet up with Thornton again he’s on his land in Oregon, hacking down the marijuana plants someone’s planted there. After this it’s on to some off-page sex with his girlfriend, Linda, returning from the previous volume. Like with most other entries in the genre at this time, Springblade is not overly concerned with sex – or women in general – and this will be it for any hanky-panky on Thornton’s part. The focus is actually more on the fiery banter these two exchange; Linda is a hardcore liberal, having been raised by left-leaning parents (“God help me if Mom ever finds out you were a Green Beret”), and Thornton often pokes fun at her liberal sentiments.
Thornton is contacted by Bailey again, who brings our hero and his outfit into a mission that is pretty convoluted. But it goes mostly like this: down in the fictional banana republic of La Libertad, despotic ruler Aguillar has sicced his loyal and sadistic henchman Melendez on the freedom-loving revolutionaries. The novel opens as Melendez butchers a bunch of them, though leading revolutionary Ricardo Montalvo is able to escape the massacre along with his family. Montalvo is popular among the people and, if a free election were to be held, he would easily beat Aguillar. Montalvo makes his way to America, into the safety net of the State Dept, but his story of Aguillar’s butchery isn’t fully believed.
Speaking of the State Dept, boy is it taken through the wringer in this book. Walker clearly held some strong opinions about them. Throughout the book the Dept is mocked as being run by a bunch of bumbling fools; in particular there’s Richard Lippman, mockingly referred to by all and sundry as “Dick Lips.” Walker takes a special relish in abusing Lippman; the convoluted setup at one point has Thornton and team staging the “kidnapping” of Montalvo and his family, and Thornton’s boys beat up Lippman a bit too thoroughly. As if that weren’t enough, Walker has to constantly remind us of the agony the man endures.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Bailey, again representing the DEA, hires Thornton and his “Springblade” outfit for the job of feinging Montalvo’s kidnapping (due to a bunch of convoluted reasons) and then protecting him from any forces Aguillar might send up to America to exterminate him. Eventually Thornton will learn there is more to this, much to his chagrin: the DEA, despite Bailey’s own dislike of the idea, also wants Thornton to use Montalvo as bait. Anyway Thornton puts together his team, which is the same as the last time – total cipher Jason Silver, who is referred to as Thornton’s “alter ego,” and mother hen Frank Hartung, Korean War vet who actually sees some action this time. But David Lee is off on official military duty, so Bailey brings in a hired gun replacement named Mike Bannion.
Like last time it’s mostly page-filling until the fireworks finale, but boy do Thornton and Bailey get in a lot of fights throughout, all of them as arbitrary as can be. The action moves to San Francisco, which Walker presents as a liberal hellhole with an almost surreal proportion of crime – the comments on SanFran’s gay community in particular would raise the hackles of the sensitive readers of today. It becomes an intentional recurring joke that each time these two go out for dinner, they encounter some sort of bloodshed, from an arbitrary drive-by machine gunning to those aforementioned tranny bikers. Thornton as ever carries his knife, and Bailey, a sword fanatic (who drops lines from the Koran), has a cane that conceals a long blade.
The part with the gay bikers is the highlight of the book, and a damn mini-masterpiece of sleazy pulp. Led by Turk, with colorfully-named members like Teddy-San (who dresses like a “geisha girl”), Charley O, and Oboe, the bikers plan to rape, kill, and then mug our two heroes, who of course respond to the threat thusly:
“Fuck me to tears,” grunted Bailey. “Look at ‘em, Bo. They’re all queers!”
“Big, mean queers, too,” whispered Thornton.
Of course, our two battle-hardened heroes make short but grisly work of the gang, slicing and dicing with their bladed weaponry in full graphic splendor:
Ignoring Teddy-San, who was spewing vomit over Oboe’s head, Bailey stepped directly behind the injured man, raising the waki high above his head, then brought the whistling blade down with all the power he could muster. With a sound like a coconut being split by a hammer, the hard cranial bone parted, offering the off-white softness of the brain to his eager cutting edge. Calvin, his muscles swollen with adrenalin, continued the stroke, pulling the blade back toward himself as it roared through the sponge-like mass of brain cells, effortlessly parting the tough cartilege of the neck and throat, and continuing into the dead man’s upper body.
Compared to this graphic insanity, the finale can only pale in comparison. Sure enough, Melendez – who by the way is the wielder of the titular “machete” – sneaks into the US with a group of enforcers, their goal the murder of Montalvo and family. Springblade of course prevents this, in what is unfortunately a rather anticlimactic fight – though Melendez at least buys it in fitting fashion, his heart impaled by Thornton’s springblade. So I guess the series’s titular weapon trumps the volume’s titular weapon. (That sentence made sense in my head, at least.)
But the book for some reason isn’t over yet, so Aguillar sends another dude after Montalvo, and this guy’s like the replacement for Melendez. His name is Azo and it turns out he once received combat training from none other than Bo Thornton. This final battle is a bit more spectacular, taking place in the San Francisco zoo, and features a nice blockbuster movie-esque send-off for one of the villains, as he falls into the zoo’s alligator pit. Meanwhile temporary replacement Mike Bannion has received minor injuries, and it’s doubtful if he will return in a future volume, who knows.
Walker injects a little in-jokery with the tidbit that Jason Silver enjoys reading men’s adventure novels, in particular a series entitled “Night Raider.” We see him finish the latest installment, grumbling to himself how unreal the events depicted in the book are – and then getting into a firefight just as outrageous as those in the series. However Walker drops the ball on this one, or at least didn’t even realize he had a ball in play, as at the end of the book when Thornton tosses the villian into the alligator pit, Walker describes Thornton as “the powerful night stalker.” Seems to me like his intention was actually to write “the powerful night raider,” thus serving up the payoff to the “Night Raider” setup earlier in the book.
Overall Machete is okay, mostly saved by all the insane, arbitrary stuff. One almost wishes that Walker had forgotten about delivering a “realistic” setup of our heroes guarding Montalvo and family, and just turned in more surreal stuff along the lines of the arbitrary fights on the streets of San Francisco. Personally I could’ve read an entire book of Springblade slicing and dicing tranny gay bikers who were trying to mug and bugger them.