Monday, October 13, 2014

John Eagle Expeditor #10: The Holocaust Auction

John Eagle Expeditor #10: The Holocaust Auction, by Paul Edwards
April, 1975  Pyramid Books

Robert Lory turns in his final contribution to the John Eagle Expeditor series, and in his interview with me the other month Lory rated this installment as his personal favorite. At 158 pages, not only is The Holocaust Auction shorter than other volumes in the series, but it also features some notable differences.

For one is the way in which the novel is told. The traditional Expeditor forumla has followed the same outline: an inciting incident; a long scene with Mr. Merlin in Hawaii assessing the situation; an introduction of John Eagle; a Merlin-Eagle briefing in Hawaii; and then on to the mission itself, which takes up the rest of the narrative. Lory dispenses with this formula and instead tells the first half of the novel in a sort of out-of-sequence format.

The inciting incident remains in the opening, though, per tradition, as in a long but well-done sequnce we meet Dr. Hamlin Goddard, an American weapons specialist who is currently under heavy guard in a secret base near Washington, DC. Eventually we learn that Goddard has created a new smart bomb, but when we meet him he’s a virtual prisoner here, “for his own protection.” But then a small group, lead by a “round Chinese man,” breaks into the base and kills everyone, leading to the unsettling denoument in which the “round” leader decapitates Goddard. Interestingly, the assassins are armed with dart-firing gas guns very similar to John Eagle’s.

Eagle, who for once is in New York, has his briefing with Mr. Merlin in a Wall Street office building, one of Merlin’s many secret locations. Lory telescopes through the traditional briefing sequence, instead cutting in the next chapter to days later, and Eagle’s already on location in Nepal. Lory backfills us from here on, with Eagle getting in scrapes in the “present” and then flashing back to what he was briefed on a few days before. In some ways this is similar to how Andrew Sugar wrote the Enforcer books.

Of the three authors who worked on this series, it seems to me that Lory took the most care in making it all seem to be the work of one writer, ie “Paul Edwards.” Per his comments in his interview here on the blog, Lory tried to ensure some sort of consistency in the books. Here he refers to previous Eagle adventures, and not just the ones he wrote; for example, in this volume we get references to #1: Needles Of Death (Eagle journeys to Base Camp One, Nepal, which he visited in that first volume, even meeting the same people), #4: The Fist Of Fatima (in particular how Merlin gifted Eagle with a lifetime’s worth of good brandy for a job well done!) and #5: Valley Of Vultures (a reference to the “Neo Nazis” Eagle once fought).  But as I expected, there is no mention of the thumb injury Eagle suffered in the crazy previous volume.

Eagle, in Nepal, first must fend off the whores offered him by the staff of Base One(!) and then he makes his way on foot through Nepal and on into India, tracking a beacon signal. But John Eagle must have his native booty, and sure enough it turns out that one of those Nepalese whores follows after him – cue a pretty explicit sex scene, where the gal, Veena, shows off her oral skills for a very impressed John Eagle. Eagle’s all business, though, and once they’re finished he tells Veena to scram so he can get back to tracking the beacon that’s leading him into India – a beacon which Lory tantalizes us as being “in the belly of a whore.”

Yes, whores are pretty prevalent in The Holocaust Auction. As it develops, again via backstory flashback, Mr. Merlin employs a high-class pimp in India for intelligence-gathering purposes, as the pimp provides entertainment for all manner of people. It just so happens that this guy has retained an order for a few high-class girls to entertain someone in the middle of nowhere, India, and figuring this might be the site where Goddard’s appropriated smart bomb tech will be displayed, Mr. Merlin has one of the whores outfitted with a secret tracking beacon device.

The titular auction is being held in Meerut, India, which we’re informed is 50 miles northeast of New Delhi. It’s being put together by Chirundhar, Dr. Goddard’s former assistant, and three people have been invited to the auction to purchase the weapons tech: Colonel Dyuzhev of Russia, Colonel Wu of China (a woman, by the way), and none other than Father Tan, wily Triad ruler who first appeared in #3: The Laughing Death (which fittingly enough was the first volume of the series Lory wrote). The whores have been purchased to provide entertainment, and the prettiest of them, Flavia, a young Indian woman with “perfect breasts,” is the one who wears the tracking beacon, hidden in a belt of diamonds.

Again per tradition, Eagle has to make his way through lots of tough terrain, as usual clad in his plastic suit with chameleon device. Unlike fellow series authors Manning Lee Stokes and Paul Eiden, Lory has Eagle’s outfit featuring a more-believable “hood and face mask,” whereas the other two authors provide him with a motorcycle-style helmet (which makes one wonder how “chameleon” the suit could actually be). This time Lory adds more touches, like a pair of “flat, non-reflective googles” Eagle can snap into place over the hood, allowing him to see in infrared. But this is strange, as in previous Lory volumes Eagle didn’t have to go to such lengths; the infrared feature was apparently already built into the mask’s lenses.

John Eagle himself is a bit different this time. The back cover describes him as a “hired assassin extraordinaire,” and I thought that was mere copywriter hyperbole, but Eagle really does come off this way in The Holocaust Auction. Several times he refers to himself as “Death,” and he appears to relish in killing off the superstitious Gurkha mercenaries employed by Tan, taunting them before killing them. Eagle here also relishes in the act of killing itself, particularly when Tan’s mercenaries murder Veena, the Nepalese whore who stupidly follows after Eagle; he spends pages fantasizing over how he’s going to kill all of Tan’s mercenaries. In a way Eagle’s kill-lust in this novel is almost a callback to Lory’s first Expeditor novel, The Laughing Death, where Eagle worried that he might one day become a “thrill-killer.”

Father Tan turns out to just be posing as a potential bidder, and Chirundhar is merely his employee. Eagle, listening in on the conversation thanks to a high-tech “listening tube,” is first shocked to discover that Tan, a man Eagle thought he had killed, is still alive – and immediately swears to correct his mistake. (It’s also stated in the text that the events of The Laughing Death occurred in 1973.) Eagle also figures out how Goddard’s smart bomb is about to be tested. He sneaks aboard a DC-3 from which it will be dropped for the viewing bidders below, the entire proceedings broadcast for them via a TV camera installed in the plane.

In his interview Lory specifically mentioned “a happily drunken ex-RAF DC-3 pilot” who stood out in his memory of this novel; as it turns out, this character, Captain Ashley Struthers, only appears for a few pages, but he is memorable. Eagle kills off the men in the back of the plane and then orders Struthers to circle back around to the secret bidding location, so Eagle can drop the smart bomb on it, and Struthers eagerly obliges. Eagle almost kills him, too, but then decides to let him live; one because Eagle knows the pilot is harmless, and two because, in a humorous moment, Struthers has misheard Eagle and Tan’s conversation on the radio and thinks Eagle’s name is “Regal.”

The finale goes by pretty quickly; Eagle commandeers the plane, drops the smart bomb, parachutes out, and mops up the Gurkha survivors on the ground. Heeding Merlin’s request that he “spare the whores,” Eagle also ensures that they all get out on a minibus, which leads to a nice martial arts fight where the “round” Chinese henchman poses as one of the whores(!) and gets in a savage brawl with Eagle. As for Father Tan, Eagle achieves his goal of ensuring the Triad ruler is really dead this time, but it’s a little anticlimactic, with Eagle blowing up the plane the old bastard attempts to escape on.

In fact the shortened length of the novel and the quick wrapup prevents another scene I figured would be coming: the Eagle/Flavia shagging that you’d expect would be mandatory. While it does happen – indeed, Eagle gets all seven of the whores – it’s only intimated in the narrative, with a brandy-drinking Mr. Merlin back in Hawaii being presented with a bill from the Indian pimp, due to Eagle and Captain Struthers having absconding with all of the man’s whores for a full week. Also we learn that Eagle’s recommended that Struthers be given a job in Merlin’s organization, which hints that the character might have reappeared if Lory had written another installment.

But this was it for Lory, and the series from here on out bounced back and forth between Stokes and Eiden. While The Holocaust Auction was entertaining, I wouldn’t rank it as my favorite of Lory’s volumes; here’s how I would in fact rank them: The Death Devils (probably my favorite volume yet in the series), The Laughing DeathThe Fist Of Fatima, The Holocaust Auction, and The Glyphs Of Gold.

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