Thursday, June 9, 2011
Able Team #8: Army of Devils
Able Team #8: Army of Devils, by Dick Stivers
October, 1983 Gold Eagle Books
Without a doubt, this is the most insane, brutal, sadistic, over-the-top gory book I've yet reviewed on this blog. It's great!! It goes beyond even the lunacy of Gannon or Blood Bath, which is shocking enough, but even more shocking is that Army of Devils comes from a most unexpected source: Gold Eagle Books. If more of their novels had been like this rather than generic, status quo terrorist-of-the-month stuff, then they'd be as hotly-collected as the earlier, more lurid examples of the genre. Because in reality Army of Devils is more like something Manor Books would've published a decade earlier.
"Dick Stivers" was a house name for the series; this novel was actually written by GH Frost, a man who wrote a dozen or so Able Team books, many of which are supposedly as insane as this one. When I was a kid in the mid-'80s I subscribed to Gold Eagle; every other month I'd receive a box of books. Able Team was always included, but I never read any of them. (They sure looked good lined up on my bookshelf, though!) Being such a fan of the publisher I knew all about them, though: a three-man commando team who usually responded to domestic terrorism threats, but would occasionally go abroad.
The Team is comprised of Carl Lyons, the leader and general alpha male, Pol Blancanales, and Gadgets Schwarz. It doesn't really matter though, as Lyons is the star of the book; the other two don't even show up until over halfway through, and even then mostly serve as back-up. This isn't a problem for me, as it allows Frost to concentrate on a protagonist and really build up the novel. Because quite honestly, Army of Devils is superbly written, with a level of character depth usually unseen in this genre; the action scenes are sadistic and brutal and insanely gory, but amid all of that Frost is still able to dole out exceptional dialog, narrative, and quiet moments of reflection.
But first the carnage. The novel opens with some of the most over-the-top stuff I've ever read, as Frost details the murderous rampage of a gang of punks one summer night in LA. Out of their minds on a variant of PCP which turns them into zombies, their only thought is to kill whitey. Yes, this novel preys on the fears of the conservative white male even moreso than the earlier Hijacking Manhattan.
These opening pages give the tone of a horror novel more than action, as the punks -- black and Chicano the lot of them, as Frost often reminds us -- kill with abandon, often in the most brutal of ways. And they truly do become zombies under the influence of the mysterious drug; unable to reason or talk, unable to feel pain. And the only way to kill them is to blow off their heads or sever their spinal columns! Just when you think this opening section has attained the peak of brutality, it goes even further, ending with another gang of punks killing the occupants of a broken-down car and then playing a quick game of ball with their baby...before finally tossing it out the window of their speeding car.
LA is set into a panic and Carl Lyons just happens to be on the scene, in town to provide a demonstration of an automatic shotgun to the LAPD. He's here with his girlfriend Flor, a pretty DEA agent who happens to be a sort of liason with Stony Man, the shady ensemble for which Able Team works. And who would believe that here we get an actual sex scene in a Gold Eagle novel?? Again, it's as if Frost has no idea who he is writing for, and more power to him. Beyond the shenanigans this is another well-crafted scene, with great dialog and introspection for the two characters. And Lyons himself comes off like a throwback to those earlier men's adventure protagonists, a hothead who's always about to blow a fuse.
Lyons hears all about the horror that was the previous night, and vows to find out what's up. He calls in his teammates and here the gory fun begins. The whole middle section of this novel concerns Able Team infiltrating a building filled with these drugged-up zombies, all of them armed and ready to kill. It's one hell of a gory ride, with the Team blasting apart wave after wave of zombie-punks, even hacking them up with machetes when they run out of ammo. In fact it gets to be so gory that eventually the Team finds themselves standing in ankle-deep blood!
Army of Devils comes off like Dawn of the Dead meets Assault on Precinct 13...or even like an NC-17 version of Death Wish 3 or Stallone's Cobra. If you have a fondness for those '80s action movies where middle-aged protagonists spend the entire film blowing away punks, then you owe it to yourself to check out Army of Devils. Just when you think he's topped himself, Frost rises to another peak and shocks you all over again. And again, it's not just a case of ultraviolence -- the man can truly write, even delivering some dark humor.
Every time I read one of these OTT novels I wonder how seriously we're to take the author. This is especially important when one is reading a Gold Eagle novel, a notoriously right-wing publisher. And Army of Devils does go out of its way to bash the "liberal media," the hippies of the '60s, the Black Panthers, and on and on. There's even a Geraldo Rivera-type who works for a "communist" public access show who suffers perhaps the goriest fate in the book, literally hacked to pieces by frothing, drugged-up punks -- Frosts's commentary on what the liberals deserve? There are also many instances where Lyons and his friends lambaste the liberal, tree-hugging attitudes of both the public and the media.
We learn early in the novel that the drug has been dispersed by a former Black Panther (of course, right?) who works with the CEO of a non-profit Hispanic American company. This non-profit guy is secretly a Communist agent and works to destroy the government (of course, right?). These two have amassed a veritable army of punks -- all of them black and Chicano, remember -- and juiced them with the drug, working them up into anti-white fits of rage. The idea is to foster a race war which will destroy the US. But the question is, where did they get this drug? The Team discovers there's more to the story than they first expected, and it all ends with a climatic battle with the Team in a helicopter going after a van which might be driven by CIA agents...a battle which ends in personal disaster for one of the Team.
Anyway, you can consider me impressed with the work of GH Frost. I'm definitely going to seek out more of his Able Team novels one of these days. This one comes highly recommended to all who want to see just how extreme the men's adventure genre can get.