TNT #7: Kingdom Of Death, by Doug Masters
August, 1986 Charter Books
(French publication, 1978)
Sadly, this was the final volume of the English translation of the marvelous TNT series, but in another odd move by Charter, it was actually volume #2 of the original French publication, where it was titled Le Grand Congelateur (aka The Large Freezer, cover below). But it somehow works, as the first half of Kingdom of Death retains the psychotic drive of the earliest TNT novels.
The opening alone is a throwback to the grim tone of TNT #1, as a team of surgical-garbed terrorists break in on a newly-married couple's honeymoon night, force them to have sex, then take the wife and hang her upside down from meathooks as they drain every drop of her blood. More atrocities follow; duplicate blood-draining killings occur around the world, which of course make the news, but it's only Arnold Benedict and his intelligence chief Corrie Corlington who deduce that all of the victims shared one thing in common: they all had a super rare blood type known as "Bombay Blood."
It turns out that these terrorists -- lead by a mysterious figure known only as "Cancer" -- have killed every known person who posesses this blood type. All save one: the sickly great-grandson of mega-wealthy Aldai Mayflower, an industrialist who has basically run the US from behind the scenes for the past few decades. The boy is hemophilic, among other things, and the slightest cut could kill him; Cancer threatens to destroy all of the remaining vials of Bombay Blood unless Aldai Mayflower pays him an incredible amount. Mayflower, as we know from previous installments, is Arnold Benedict's hero, so Benedict is quick to come to the old man's aid. And Benedict does what he's done in similar circumstances throughout this series: he calls in Tony Nicholas Twin.
Twin however is in the middle of his own investigation -- this is one of the few times in the series in which we see him going about his ostensible "job" as a photo-journalist. Using his connections, Twin has gotten a meeting with a splinter cell of terrorists in French Canada, a distrustful group of murderers who have only met with Twin because he's known as one of the few journalists who won't give away his sources. This leads to one of the funniest moments in the series, as Benedict telephones Twin right in the middle of this high-security meeting; even Twin, lead through the streets of Montreal blindfolded, has no idea where he is, and yet Benedict has found him as simply as that. After an escape with the help of the busty Margo, a gorgeous acquaintance of these terrorists via her imprisoned husband, Twin decides to help Benedict stop Cancer.
Things pick up as Twin is sent to Budapest, where he again meets Margo; she's one of Corrie Corlington's "girls," she informs him, and she's here to assist. Corrie herself is busy putting together a team for a chaotic sidejob Benedict has devised; part of Corrie's team is Valka the Titan, the Russian powerlifter so memorable from previous volumes. (However this leads to a big question about Kingdom of Death, which I will get to below.) In Budapest, Twin discovers that there is one final person who posesses Bombay Blood, the only person Cancer hasn't gotten to; a schoolteacher named Sandra Gyarmati who lives behind the Iron Curtain (remember that?). Twin's mission is simple, then; he must sneak across the border into the USSR, grab the woman, and sneak back across -- and then evade the worldwide network of spys who will be coming after him.
As usual things are a bit more complicated. It turns out that Sandra Gyarmati has just recently died. But her body has been frozen and sent into "The Kingdom of Death," a high-security compound in which the important dead are stored, to be unfrozen and returned to life at some future date, a la Walt Disney. Twin's second female accomplice is Fedora Karon, a doctor in the center which freezes the bodies; after a little sex she "kills" Twin and places him in a coffin which is bound for the Kingdom.
Here the novel becomes like the TNT we know and love. Coming back to himself within the freezing Kingdom, Twin must open the massive doors so a commando squad can enter and steal away Sandra Gyarmati's coffin. But in his daze Twin rips up the wrong controls and the coffins about him begin to defreeze, leading to a crazed moment in which "zombies" stagger to life and come after him. One of the zombies is Stalin himself, who emerges from his VIP section in the Kingdom and staggers toward a panicking Twin. But the commandos enter and blast away, and Twin escapes with Gyarmati's coffin; now he must get it across Hungary and back into the West while evading Communist agents, the CIA, and Cancer's men, who have discovered this ruse.
Sadly, the rest of the novel fizzles, becoming an overdone Eurospy comedy of confused agents and elaborate ruses. There are some colorful moments -- Twin escapes under the guise of a travelling European circus, complete with Valka as an elephant-riding "bearded lady" -- but after the creepy "Kingdom of Death" section and the truly grisly opening pages it all comes off as rather flat (the super-detailed lesbian scene between Margo and Fedora notwithstanding). In fact, this is my least favorite of the TNT series, which is all the more of a shame since it was the final volume.
But this leads me to the "problem" I mentioned earlier. This installment was published second in the original French series, and Valka is a main character here, familiar with Twin and already working for Benedict. However, Valka didn't meet Twin or Benedict until The Beast, which was published third in the original French series. So I can only assume that in the French version of the series, TNT #3 actually took place after TNT #2. Either that or for the English publication Charter Books and translator Victoria Reitter changed things around between the two novels.
At any rate, here is the cover for the original French publication, Le Grand Congelateur: