Kane’s War #4: Crackdown, by Nick Stone
September, 1987 Ivy/Ballantine Books
The fourth volume of Kane’s War seems to confirm my theory that this series had two different authors. Whereas the previous volume featured a vaguely sci-fi plot featuring a mind-controlling madman, not to mention really big print, this volume has the “realistic” vibe of the first volume, as well as the same small, dense print. Also there’s a ton of brand-name dropping, and elaborate scene-setting, this particular author really trying to capture the glitzy “beach read” vibe of an ‘80s trash paperback, even down to the explicit sexual shenanigans.
And at 275 pages, Crackdown really does come off like one of those beach read novels; no idea why the volumes of Kane’s War are so damn long, but I assume it was a mandate from the publisher. As would be expected, though, the author has a helluva time filling up so many pages with what is just another entry in an action series; it’s like these publishers and editors didn’t understand that the shorter these books are, the better. The editors and publishers of men’s adventure in the ‘70s understood this, but it appears that by the time the ‘80s rolled around the intention was to make these books look like “real novels.” Thus Crackdown sort of stalls out for long portions of its runtime, but it must be stated that this author does a good job of capturing the “marina mystery” vibe Ivy/Ballantine was clearly aiming for.
One thing this volume does retain from the ‘70s is the sleaze; Crackdown opens with a focus on T&A …actually, make that some uncomfortable T&A. For we meet Mike and Michelle Mulhaney, the father-daughter duo who have appeared in the series since the first volume, cast adrift on a stalled boat. And Michelle, a hotbodied brunette who is the casual bedmate of Ben Kane, takes the opportunity to get into a skimpy string bikini…even doing a “pirouette”…for her dad!! Very strange. Otherwise, all this occurs mainly so the two can witness a hijacking: the Mulhaneys watch as the boat belonging to Maria, a “light-skinned black” beauty pageant queen friend of Michelle’s, is taken over by some swarthy Cubans. The Mulhaneys wonder what’s going on, desperate to get their boat fixed so they can report this. Meanwhile we readers see that Maria and her galpal, a six-foot stripper named Shirley, are in for a rough time.
The entire incidenct comes off like something from a men’s adventure novel of the decade before, as sleazy as can be. The Cubans take the captured girls to their yacht, which is filthy with garbage and refuse, and there proceed to rape Shirley. As I say, it’s all very ‘70s in its exploitative tone, as the Cubans rip off Julia’s clothes, exposing her “jutting tits,” and go about raping her in explicit fashion, after which Paco, the boss, jams a knife in Julia’s heart. It’s Maria the men are here for; Paco reveals to her that he has two keys of “la coca,” and he wants Maria, who happens to have a degree in chemistry, to help him with it. Maria is not raped, but chained up in a cabin that stinks of garbage and a backed-up toilet. There she will stay for pretty much the entire novel, which occurs over a few days.
The Mulhaneys, when they get their boat fixed and get back to St. Thomas, tell Ben Kane about this hijacking, but our hero is more focused on getting in Michelle’s pants. The author, to his credit, delivers yet more graphic sex material here: “[Kane] guided his cock toward the damp entrance. With a mighty thrust, he rammed his slippery cock deep.” I mean, two points for the usage of “cock” in back-to-back sentences. One other thing that calls back to those ‘70s mens adventure books is the unrepentant wish-fulfillment of Ben Kane: he’s in his 40s, ruggedly handsome and virile, and lives on a retrofitted Chinese junk that’s basically a waterborne bachelor pad, as swank as you could imagine. As mentioned this particular “Nick Stone” likes to lay on the topical details, and the ship, the Wu-Li, has all these fancy accommodations that you could just expect some wealthy, unattached guy to create for himself. As I’ve mentioned before, this very much gives Kane’s War the feeling of the earlier series Killinger.
And speaking of wish fulfillment…just a few hours after he’s with Michelle, Ben’s getting busy with his other casual badmate, hotstuff Brit Jessica! We learn this volume – it might’ve been mentioned before, I can’t remember – that Michelle is insanely jealous of Jessica. The two women are quite aware that each is involved in a casual affair with Ben, but whereas Jessica pretends to be “adult” about it, Michelle gets very worked up over the thought of Ben having sex with Jessica. However it should be mentioned that Ben spends much more time with Michelle in this one; it seems like each volume has traded off on which of the two will act as his “main girl.” Jessica really only factors into this opening part; her father is throwing a gala affair on their island, and Ben’s invited. There he runs into returning character Weaver, an intelligence spook who offers Ben a job – and Ben tells him to screw off.
Unbelievably, the author turns out yet a third hardcore sex scene, so soon after the previous two, this time again with Michelle. At least he presages it with some action; Ben tries to get the drop on these Cuban hijackers who have been preying around this area, leading to a nicely-done action scene. But right after this it’s back on his Chinese junk so Michelle can give his bruised body a massage, leading to more whoppers like, “[Michelle] eased his shaft into her well-lubricated pussy…she began to ride him like a steeplechaser posting for each fence.” I don’t even know what that least part means, but I sure do like the sound of it! I quote this stuff in full because “Stone’s” usage of hardcore words is very out of touch with the otherwise-reserved tone of the narrative. In many ways the series is like something Lyle Kenyon Engel would’ve “produced” in the ‘70s; those books too would be written in a sort of highfalutin style, only getting explicit in the sex scenes.
Curiously though, after this the sex stuff dwindles away…almost as if the author had some editorial mandate to include at least three sex scenes per novel, and decided to just get them out of the way as soon as possible. At this point the narrative gets more into the lukewarm espionage vibe of previous volumes; Weaver lets Ben know about Pritchard, a “triple-agent” Weaver suspects has now become merely a double-agent, working with “the Reds.” Somehow this is all factored into the Cuban hijackers subplot. Ben for his part gets involved because “Pritchard” turns out to be a guy he knew by another name, Carter, back in the ‘Nam…a guy who worked in intelligence and sold out Ben and his pals, setting them up for dead. He’s waited over a decade to punch the bastard’s ticket, and now he has his chance.
Speaking of teams, Kane’s World is typical of ‘80s men’s adventure in that the focus is on teamwork, on a large group of characters that surrounds and assists the main character. It seems as if Ben Kane’s entourage is growing per volume, but this time his main crew is the same: Ganja, the pot-smoking black dude (my favorite character in the series, and sorely underused), and Miles, the cipher-like former SEAL. These three, as well as other members of Ben’s crew, get in frequent skirmishes with the Cuban hijackers, as well as Cuban soldiers who are led by Martinez, a nutjob who is working with Pritchard. Most of the action concerns Ben’s growing assortment of water craft, including a hydrofoil he now has which memorably features in a few sequences. There’s also a nice action scene involving Jessica, who happens to be on Wu-Li before some random Cubans attack; Ben gets her to fire off a flare so he can snipeshoot, and later Jessica also fires a machine gun.
There are a lot of nice ’80-isms, too, like Miles – the Nam SEAL, remember – using “ninja darts.” I mean you just gotta figure the guy ordered them out of an ad in Ninja Magazine (damn I loved that mag as a kid – even had a subscription to it…probably some of the greatest cover art in magazine history, too). Ganja too carries around an assortment of knives, and in one humorous bit when he’s putting together his war gear he’s also sure to grab a bag of “Jamaican herb.” Miles didn’t seem to feature much in previous books, but this time he does a lot of the heavy lifting, even putting on scuba gear and planting explosives and tracking devices on the Cuban ships. Otherwise he’s almost somnambulant, leaving all the personality to Ganja. There’s also a funny part where Ganja responds to a question with “Yo!”, and Ben replies, “Cool it, Rambo.”
While the action scenes are nicely-handled, they get to be a little repetitive, and it’s clear the author is struggling to meet his unwieldy word count. This is especially apparent when the novel seems to end around page 200, with most of the main villains dead and lovely Maria saved. But there are 70 more pages to go! The author fills this up with yet another Michelle-Jessica fight, but again Michelle doesn’t have much to get upset with, as the novel ends with her in Ben’s arms. But overall, as I think of it, this series really does have the vibe of the action movies of the day, definitely with a little Miami Vice sprinkled in, so far as the locale and boat-action goes.
It’s just the length that’s killing the series for me. Regardless I’m looking forward to the next one, and have been since I discovered Kane’s War several years ago – it’s about an “underwater resort for the wealthy,” and that sounds like a cool setup to me.