Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hawker #1: Florida Firefight

Hawker #1: Florida Firefight, by Carl Ramm
May, 1985  Dell Books

One of those men’s adventure series that goes for high dollars now, thanks to the current fame of the author, Hawker ran for 11 volumes and, if this first volume is any indication, was pretty good. Unfortunately, given those inflated prices, I’ll only be reading the handful of copies I came upon last year at a Half Price Bookstore.

Randy Wayne White wrote the series as “Carl Ramm,” and I have to admit that before discovering this series I was unfamiliar with the guy’s work. But he’s actually a successful novelist these days, apparently really getting into the spotlight in 1990, when he began his Doc Ford “eco-mystery” series of books, which themselves might be worth checking out sometime (and are certainly easier to come by than the Hawker books!).

Like most other ‘80s series, Florida Firefight starts off with the hero’s origin story (it seems to me that most men’s adventure series in the ‘70s dispensed with origin stories). We meet tough Chicago cop James Hawker, a 34-year-old SWAT captain, as he’s got a Guatemalan terrorist in his crosshairs. The terrorist has abducted several rich teenagers from a local private school. But instead of blowing away the terrorist, Hawker must wait for confirmation to shoot – political red tape and all the usual stuff.

But when the terrorist starts blowing kids away, including one athletic-looking young man, Hawker cancels his ticket with a headshot. Hawker is later called out for ignoring rules, and he quits the force in disgust. This is hard for Hawker, who almost became a professional baseball player, as he was raised by a cop, his father having come to the US from Ireland (where Hawker was born) and starting up various neighborhood crime watches. (Hawker’s dad, by the way, was eventually himself killed by the criminals he was patrolling against.)

There’s a great part early in the book that lets the reader know they’re in for a good ride: coming across a group of punks who are attacking an elderly couple in a park, Hawker beats the shit out of them…and then, seeing how the old man’s dignity has been robbed, puts his hand around the throat of one of the punks and whispers to him that he’s going to let the old man kick his ass. The punk has no choice but to comply, and there follows a humorous but satisfying bit where the old man starts kicking punk ass, literally.

The novel really gets rolling when Hawker is invited to the mansion of Jacob Montgomery Hayes, one of the richest men in the city. It turns out that Hayes was the father of the boy who was killed by the Guatemalan terrorist in the opening sequence. Hawker knows this going in, having done his homework via RUSTLED, a PC program created for him by a hacker acquaintance. Florida Firefight is interesting in how prescient it is; White clearly understood how important computers and data and hacking would all soon become.

The series appears to play things mostly straight, with the only pulpish flair being Hayes himself. The millionaire, you see, wants to stab back at crime, and he wants Hawker to work for him as like his personal mercenary. Hayes offers Hawker limitless funding if he will accept his offer to wage a one-man war on crime and terrorism and whatnot – Hayes will provide the money and the armament, and Hawker will have freedom to chose what battles he wants to fight. Hawker, excited at the prospect, quickly accepts.

Hayes already has a first mission to propse to Hawker: down in Mahogany Bay, deep in the Florida Everglades, something strange appears to be going on. Hayes used to fish down there, and his old friend, the owner of the Tarpon Inn, has intimated that things have gone to hell. Long story short, the place has been taken over by Columbians, who are using the remote fishing town as a base for their drug-smuggling ventures.

I’ve read that White’s Doc Ford books take place in a fictional analogue of Mahogany Bay, but here he has Columbians overrunning the real place. It also appears that White is from this area, and is a well-known regional writer, so I’m betting there are a lot of in-jokes peppered throughout Florida Firefight. At any rate he really brings the place to life, with the small town populace living in fear of the invading Columbians. In fact, the whole thing sort of has the feel of Death Wish III, only with Columbians instead of street gangs.

White is also one of those authors who brings more of a hardboiled feel to the novel rather than an action-packed, men’s adventure-style vibe. The guy can really write, and has a gift for dialog and humorous exchanges. What you miss though is the OTT feel of the genre, with White keeping it all realistic, to a point. There’s also no gore or much violence, even though lots of people die. But when Hawker shoots someone, it’s all very PG-13, with the dude just falling down and no exploitation whatsoever of the carnage.

But of all the ‘80s action series I’ve read, I’m most surprised that Hawker was never bought for film rights, as it really comes off like something that could’ve been released by the Cannon Group. I guess maybe I’m just again thinking of Death Wish III, especially when Hawker gets in a fight with a group of Columbians immediately upon his entrance to Mahogany Bay.

Unlike ‘80s action icons like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, though, Hawker gets beaten nearly to death, and wakes up in the home of Dr. Winnie Tiger, a gorgeous American Indian with “haunting eyes” and “full breasts.” (My friends, all of the women have full breasts in the world of men’s adventure, and god bless ‘em for it!) The funny dialog really comes out here, like when Hawker says that “Winnie seems an unlikely name for an American Indian,” and Winnie responds, “Crazy Horse and Tecumseh were already taken.”

Winnie, who has only recently come to Makura as an environmental researcher or something, nurses Hawker back to health, and rather than the dirty doings we’d expect Hawker instead leaves and hooks up with his contact, an old friend of Hayes’s and the guy who, as owner of the Tarpon Inn, is the one who alerted Hayes of the problems down here. This guy takes off and Hawker, per the plan, now poses as the new owner of the Tarpon Inn.

Again White introduces memorable characters; there’s Graeme Mellor, the New Zealander bartender at the Tarpon Inn, and Logan, the monosyllabic cook who is a Vietnam vet. White also captures “coastal cuisine” so well that you want to go to Red Lobster or something; Logan cooks up lots of tasty-sounding dishes throughout the novel. But still, while the writing is excellent and the characters interesting, those expecting the blood and guts of the genre will be disappointed, as Florida Firefight is more of a slow-burning affair.

First Hawker repairs the sense of dignity that has been robbed the townspeople by starting varoius programs to rebuild the Tarpon Inn and to bring more tourists down to the once-scenic location. Things only come to a boiling point when an Inn waitress is killed, outside of Winnie’s house – the retribution Hawker knew would be coming, giving how Winnie came to his aid Hawker’s first day here. Hawker finds Logan crying over the woman’s corpse; the two were an item.

Hawker has begun to suspect someone else is down here in Makura, scouting out the Columbians, and he thinks it’s Logan. So, here begins this joke where Hawker will keep telling Logan that Hawker “knows” Logan’s with the FBI or whatever, and Logan will constantly respond with, “I’m just a cook.” Yes, exactly the same joke and setup as Steven Seagal’s later film Under Siege. And, just like Seagal’s character, Logan turns out to be an asskicker of the first order, going with Hawker on his climactic raid on the Columbians.

While there isn’t much blood or guts, White surprisingly doesn’t shirk on the sex – Winnie Tiger doesn’t have as big a part in the narrative as the reader might first expect, but she does become the genre-mandatory easy lay for our hero. White writes an ensuing scene that’s both erotic and funny, with the banter still being exchanged while the two are going down on each other. It’s a sequence that goes far but not too far – I mean, we aren’t talking William W. Johnstone sleaze, but at least it packs more of a punch than what you’d read in say a Gold Eagle publication.

White also builds up more of a threat when Hawker finally deduces that, Invasion U.S.A. style, these Columbians are not only smuggling drugs, but also using Makura Bay as a base through which they will begin to infiltrate the United States. And, just like in that film, they’re being funded by the goddamn Soviets. Still White holds back on the carnage, with Hawker first flying to DC to meet with the Columbian diplomat who is apparently funding the terrorists. Here again White proves his mastery of bringing minor characters to life.

But when the sparks do fly, they are expertly done; as the townspeople, armed with clubs, launch an attack on the Columbian stronghold, Hawker lies in shadows with a sniper rifle. Only when the Columbians begin firing does Hawker kill anyone, and from there it’s straight into that ‘80s action vibe we all so enjoy. Hawker and Logan become a two-man destruction squad, blowing away hordes of AK47-toting Columbian terrorists – the same terrorist faction, we soon learn, that the Guatemalan terrorist back in Chicago was a part of.

There isn’t much overly-detailed gore, but lots of violence as many Columbians meet their bloody ends, including a memorable bit where Hawker, holed up on a yacht, hits them with White Phosphorous. White does cop out a bit on the finale; all along we’ve been told a guy named Medelli is behind the Makura Bay infiltration, but when Hawker storms the command post of the Columbian ship he finds Medelli already dead, that Columbian diplomat there, holding a smoking gun.

Turns out this guy is the true leader, and there follows lots of action-halting exposition where we are informed that Medelli was a traitor and etc. More reveals ensue as a friend turns out to be an enemy (spoiler alert: we learn at the end that Winnie is actually the daughter of the diplomat, though she does claim she’s in love with Hawker), and we also find out that the mystery “government man” isn’t Logan after all (spoiler alert: it’s Graeme).

Speaking of Logan, the end hints that he might stick around; he’s there in Chicago with Hawker for another meeting with Hayes, where the millionaire admits that he knew these Columbians were part of the same terrorist army that the man who killed his son was part of. In other words, it was partly a revenge job. Hayes promises there will be no more subterfuge in future, and Hawker happily agrees to continue working with him.

Anyway I’ve tried to give a too-elaborate rundown of this novel because, judging from prices on Amazon, Abebooks, and etc, this book might be priced higher than the average men’s adventure fan would want to pay. And while Florida Firefight is definitely entertaining, with some of the better prose you’ll find in the genre, as well as interesting characters and humorous dialog, I wouldn’t say it justifies those inflated prices.


English Teacher X said...

Yeah! Hawker was one of my favorite series back in the day. Detroit Combat is the most pulpy one, I'd say, with a morbidly obese female snuff-film maker and sex slaver called "Queen Faith."

If the one Doc Ford novel I read is any indication, those are even pulpier and more bizarre and violent than the Hawker series. In the one I read Doc Ford goes to Columbia to catch the guys who killed a girlfriend, and he ends up shacked up with a teenage cannibal native while waiting for an opportunity to kill the bad guys with his bare hands.

David said...

Hello Joe,
Love the reviews you do. Randy White also wrote the Dusky MacMorgan books (as by Randy Striker) around the same time, before graduating to the Doc Ford series.
A very talented writer, and although I haven't read any of the Striker or Ramm books, the books under his own name I have enjoyed quite a bit.

Chris H. said...

One of the great things about e-books is that a lot of old series are being re-released as e-books and most of them are very reasonably priced. I'm currently reading the Kindle version of "The Target is "H"", Penetrator #1. The Kindle version of "Florida Firefight" was available yesterday for $1.99. Although I have heard of Randy Wayne White, I had never heard of this series but I picked it up anyway because it sounded like it was right up my alley.

I also recently picked up the Kindle versions of "Created, The Destroyer" ($0.99) and "The Day Remo Died" (free). I've also been getting Kindle versions of old Men's Western series like The Gunsmith, Gunn, Steele, Edge, Lassiter, Fargo, etc. I'm really enjoying reading these old series again...and in some cases reading them for the first time. Having them available on the Kindle saves a lot of money and storage space.

Joe Kenney said...

Chris, thanks for the comment -- didn't realize this was out as an ebook! The Hawker series definitely deserves to be digitally resurrected; those original editions are just way overpriced.

Chris H. said...

I just got around to reading Florida Firefight. I think I read it way back when because some of it seemed familiar.

It was definitely better written than most books in the genre, the characters were interesting and the dialog wasn't too cheesy. I thought the way Hawk took care of Simio at the end was very unique. Overall I thought it was a good book and will probably read the next one.

Joe Kenney said...

FYI everyone, I was just writing the review for Hawker #4, which is dated October 1984, and realized I put the wrong date for this one -- should be May, 1984. I tried to update the post, but Blogger gave me all kinds of html error messages which prevented it...probably fallout from one of the various "updates" Blogger's been graced with since I wrote that review. So I'm taking the easy way out and noting the change here...