Monday, July 8, 2019

Nazi Hunter #1

Nazi Hunter #1, by Mark Mandell
November, 1981  Pinnacle Books

Nazi Hunter was an obscure series from latter-day Pinnacle that amounted to five volumes. Currently you can only find a review of the second volume by Zwolf and another review of the second volume at the Point Blank blog. I suspect the series was not a big seller, and the lame cover art which seems to depict a business executive on his way to the office certainly didn’t help matters.

Mark Mandell is the real name of a veteran men’s adventure author who is better known by his pseudonym: Alan Philipson. Under this name he wrote many of the SOBs novels for Gold Eagle in the ‘80s. I was told that Philipson was really Mandell a few years ago by someone who knew him, but since my informant wasn’t sure if this was public knowledge I kept the information to myself. However I see now that Allen Hubin states that Mandell and Philipson are one and the same, so there you go.

Both Zwolf and Point Blank state that Mandell’s writing is pretty good for the genre, and that’s definitely the case in this first installment, which has almost literary aspirations in the scenery and character description. I don’t recall Mandell’s Gold Eagle books being like this, so perhaps he just reined it in once he better understood the market. Nazi Hunter #1 reads like another of those novels that was written as a standalone, as if shooting for the mainstream market, before it was refashioned into the first installment of a series. Thus, there’s a lot more scene setting and character developing than you’ll encounter in the genre average.

Series protagonist Curt Jaeger is a Captain in the US Special Forces, somewhere in his late thirties, passed over for various promotions due to not following orders and always risking his neck in the line of fire. My only problem with him is that he’s fairly generic, at least in this volume, in which he spends more time standing around. But then this first installment serves as his origin story. We learn that he was born in Germany, his parents killed during the war, and he was raised from a very young age in California by a German immigrant couple who did their best to make young Curt seem like all the other American boys. He never learned to speak German, or was told anything about his parents, etc. But Curt’s foster parents just died, and in their estate he found documents which informed him that his father was actually an infamous Nazi, in fact one who ran a concentration camp, and killed thousands of Jews and Gypsys.

Now an enraged Curt has come to Germany for a reckoning with his dad, who was brought to trial in the ‘50s and has been in a US military prison facility ever since. Mandell opens up the story with a group of Nazi hunters from Israel who are shadowing Curt, unsure what side he’s on. They are unaware that he was raised as an American and fear he might be looking to continue in his dad’s footsteps. Leading the group is a bearish sadist named Wolf Geller who quickly grates on the reader’s nerves. There’s also an older man named Jonas who bears the forearm tattoo of the camps; he is internationally famous as a Nazi hunter, bringing various Nazis to trial. Geller on the other hand just wants to blow them away. Finally there’s hotstuff Tyshana, a Gypsy babe Geller wants to score with but she gives him a consistent cold shoulder.

Curt is granted an audience with his father, only to learn the man who has been in this cell for the past few decades is an unwitting dupe, conned by Curt’s father into doing prison time in his name. He pleads with Curt to get him out so that he can show him where his father really is. Curt comes up with one of the goofier breakout schemes in printed history. And the cover painting illustrates it! Curt lugs an attache case of clothes and books into the prison for his “dad,” then has the guy climb into the case. He’s all frail and small, but still over a hundred pounds, and Curt has to pretend he’s carrying an empty case as he walks out of the prison. So for some reason Pinnacle chose this as the scene to capture for the cover.

There isn’t very much action, anyway. An okay sequence occurs here, with neo-Nazis battling it out with Geller’s Nazi hunters, and Curt is captured by the former. Here we get a lot of torture porn as Curt and a captured neo-Nazi are nearly suffocated by a plastic bag, courtesy Geller, who gets off on it. I forgot to mention, but the Nazis live on, operating under various names, and it’s implied that Curt’s dad (who remains unseen this volume) is one of the leaders of the mysterious group. Their goal of course is to take over the world. The problem with these sorts of stories, to me at least, is that they want to develop pulp action off of the monumental horrors of the Holocaust.

Curt at length ends up in a castle near Linz, having escaped Geller and the others with the neo-Nazi. Here he meets the villain of the tale, Adolf Tropp, a superior officer of Curt’s dad back in the war, but now one of his underlings in the so-called “Brotherhood.” Tropp retains a castle full of neo-Nazis who wear black SS-type uniforms and tote submachine guns, plus there’s a gas chamber in the cellar. This Curt learns is where his mother was murdered, along with untold others, during the war. And Tropp has folders filled with before, during, and after photos of innocent men, women, and children being gassed. Ultimately Curt will decide to follow Jonas’s Nazi-hunting methods and steal this incriminating evidence so that Tropp can go to prison.

But even here it’s sort of goofy…Tropp and the others welcome the big blond American as a fellow Nazi, sort of; first Tropp shows off his gas chamber, insists Curt step inside, and then locks him in there. Curt’s sure he’s dead meat when vapors begin to come out of the vents. But it’s just a “joke,” insists Tropp, and thus begins a goofy and unbelievable sequence where Tropp makes pseudo-threats upon Curt, laughing them off as jokes, and Curt makes pseudo-threats in return. It’s all sort of dumb…like after the gas chamber incident Curt “almost” punches one of Tropp’s stooges in the chest, faking out a “heart punch” that would’ve killed the guy. But as I say, Curt Jaeger spends much of this first novel sort of figuring out the type of action hero he wants to be.

Curt bides his time here for a few days, initially plotting to kill everyone but later planning to steal those documents. Tropp meanwhile wants to send Curt off to the Middle East to assassinate a couple people as his first test for Brotherhood membership. So Curt has Willy, the resident gunsmith, devise a custom weapon for him, with the stated intention of using it on this Middle East job but really so Curt can have a trademark weapon. He’s decided to become a hunter of Nazi scum, and he wants a gun that will serve as his bloody calling card. Here Mandell indulges in the firearms detail that would be mandatory in the Gold Eagle books he’d soon be writing:

The gun was based on the XP-100 design of Remington Arms; a single-shot, bolt-action pistol chambered for super high-velocity rifle ammunition. The Remington pistol was created around the .221 Fireball cartridge. Curt’s modification used the full-length .308 Winchester or 7.62 x 51 mm NATO military round, which gave the Fireball’s screaming muzzle velocity to a bullet three times as heavy. 

The unusual, T-shaped stock of the weapon was resting on Willy’s workbench. Beside it was the standard Remington .308-caliber bolt action that the gunsmith had adapted for single-shot capability. What made the gun look so weird was the overhang of the bolt action behind the pistol grip. It ended a good five inches back from the butt of the barrel, which was in line with the trigger. 

It was an extremely specialized weapon, as illegal in the United States as a fully automatic machine gun. Essentially, it was a cut-down deer rifle. When equipped with a telescopic sight, it was capable of pinpoint accuracy at distances well beyond three hundred yards. It could also be concealed very easily, as the overall length was only about fifteen inches. It was a gun designed with man-killing in mind, an assassin’s weapon. 

This is the sort of thing that should’ve been depicted on the cover. Anyway, Curt enjoys the irony that the Nazis will be creating for him the weapon he will use to destroy them, one by one. And as stated the gun’s single-shot; Curt sees this as another way to create an image for himself – a guy so badass he only needs one shot to take out Nazi bastards. To me it sounds more like a headache waiting to happen. As it is, Curt only uses the gun twice in the book, the first in another goofy bit where he acts out an execution with Willy. That’s right…Willy enjoys pretending to be the people he executed with a Mauser, in the war years, groveling on his knees and wringing his hands, all in good fun. The novel trades, somewhat clumsily, between serious material and comedic material like this.

Geller and his Nazi hunters do all the heavy lifting when it comes to the action, like an overlong and arbitrary part where they hit Tropp’s forces and Geller learns he has a traitor in his midst. He’s sure it’s Curt, and I wonder if Wolf Geller turns out to be a recurring character in the series, because this novel ends with he and Curt realizing they are on the same side. As for Curt, he doesn’t go into “Nazi Hunter” mode until the very end. First he wires Tropp’s castle to blow and then he makes off with the old Nazi as his hostage. He blasts away a bunch of goons with a submachine gun, but it’s mostly a one-sided fight because he hids behind a whimpering Tropp the whole time.

The finale sees Curt employing that “cut-down deer rifle” which will be his trademark weapon, assassinating someone from afar outside of a court building. It makes for a nice ending, but Mandell seems to have run out of pages, as the reveal of who betrayed Geller comes off pretty hastily. The novel sees Curt Jaeger prepared to take the war to the Brotherhood, having quit the army to become a fulltime Nazi Hunter. Overall Nazi Hunter #1 was okay, but I don’t have any of the other volumes and I wasn’t sufficiently blown away by this one to track down any more.


andydecker said...

Mandell is Philipson? Wow. I have this novel but never read it.

Philipson wrote some above average Executioners. A trilogy was quite good. But most of his work was done for the Deathlands series. Back then his novels had a high rating in the Axler forum. I always wondered why he didn't do mainstream thrillers. Even under the restrictions of series-writing he was better than so many of today's boring bricksize thrillers.

Zwolf said...

I read this one a while back and was also underwhelmed by the cover. As I recall, the suitcase the guy was hiding in was also dribbling urine because the guy inside was incontinent. Not exactly the action scene I'd have picked. I remember book two being a fair amount better. Haven't tackled the other two or three yet...

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Andy I've not read any of his Deathlands books...I've never been able to appreciate that series. And Zwolf, you remember correctly, the fake dad pisses himself in terror and the "suspense" occurs as Curt tries to move the suitcase around without anyone noticing the puddle of liquid! If I were to check out any of the other volumes it would be "Butcher Block," which I believe was the fourth volume, if only because the back cover makes it sound like a ripoff of "The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3."