Monday, December 29, 2014

The Hard Corps #2: Beirut Contract

The Hard Corps #2: Beirut Contract, by Chuck Bainbridge
March, 1987  Jove Books

In this second adventure of The Hard Corps, our four mercenaries are hired to rescue a group of peacekeepers who have been abducted by Palestinian terrorists in Beirut. And you know what that means, my friends – a whole bunch of terrorists are going to die!

William Fieldhouse returns under the awesome pseudonym “Chuck Bainbridge,” in an installment that is wisely much shorter than the first. But unfortunately Beirut Contract isn’t as fun as that first volume, and comes off for the most part like an average slice of gung-ho ‘80s men’s adventure, typical of the sort of thing Gold Eagle would’ve published. While it’s all capably done, it just lacks the goofy spark of the first book.

This one stays pretty serious throughout, other than the banter between the members of the Hard Corps, which comes off as very Able Team-esque. They are hired by famous business tycoon Malcolm Banks to rescue his daughter, Georgette, and the peace-keeping group of college kids who were abducted with her in Beirut. This abduction takes up the opening pages, with Georgette first almost getting killed by masked gunmen who attack her and her security guard on the streets of Beirut.

Georgette is saved by a handsome Arab named Abdul, who leads her off to safety. Soon though we learn that Abul is actually the leader of the terrorists who just tried to abduct her; he has spirited Georgette away so as to win her graces and get an even bigger coup: all the members of Georgette’s peacekeeping group. Another bloody setpiece follows, as Abdul and his terrorists attack the bus the peacekeepers ride to a rally in Beirut.

These terrorists, while loathsome and cruel, are nowhwere as sadistic as the real-life terrorists of the modern day; Abdul and his group are overly concerned with how they will look in the eyes of the world, and constantly try to gain favor with the “liberal media” of the west. However the female member of the group, Fatimah, is chomping at the bit to kill all of them, and even goes before the news cameras without a mask to announce that they have abducted the kids. Their demands are a few million dollars and the release of various prisoners. Oh, and they also want a nuclear bomb. It never hurts to ask, I guess.

When he’s stymied by political red tape, Malcolm Banks hires the Hard Corps. We learn that they’re still rebuilding their compound in the woods, which was almost destroyed in the first volume. Also, Fieldhouse introduces his “heroes” in a pretty unsettling way: having Steve “Rambo” Caine murder a pair of redneck poachers who have wandered onto their land. These bumbling drunks, while despicable, really are not deserving of the violent deaths they’re given, but then, the Hard Corps are a bit sadistic this time out.

For example, Banks should know he’s in for trouble when, during his first meeting with the Corps at a bar, Joe Fannelli instigates a fight with someone, just because the dude complains when Fannelli turns the TV channel. This develops into a brawl in which the Hard Corps make mincemeat of hapless barroom drunks. What’s comical is that it all happens right after team leader William O’Neal specifies that they’ll need to be “subtle” on this Beirut job.

Once they get to Lebanon the Hard Corps are met by the leader of the security force that was hired by Banks. Our heroes continue to be contrary, basically blaming this dude for the abduction of the peace rally kids and the deaths of his own men. Then they start demanding a bunch of weapons. We’re also informed via egregious gun-porn dialog of why 9mm pistols aren’t as good as .45s or etc, and how exactly various guns can be modified.

Meanwhile Fieldhouse cuts over to the terrorists, who turn out to be a fractious bunch who may have traitors within their ranks. For example Abdul is certain one of them is working for the KGB. There’s also Fatimah, who comes off as a wildcat ready to bust caps in the hostages at a moment’s notice. Given her own self-outing on TV, the Hard Carps – thanks to their CIA contact Saintly – are able to track down Fatimah’s sister, Amalah, who lives outside of Beirut.

This leads to the novel’s first big action scene, as the Hard Corps first attempt to pass themselves off as locals, thanks to their old ‘Nam pal who has tagged along on this mission, Frank Haperstein. An American expat who may work for Mossad, Haperstein is able to pass himself off as a Palestinian, but the terrorists who surround Amalah’s home become suspicious. Sure enough, a massive-scale gunfight ensues. Fieldhouse does not shy on the details, with brains erupting and blood geysering.

All this is sort of rendered moot, because Amalah has no idea where her terrorist sibling Fatimah might be…and meanwhile, the friggin’ terrorists themselves end up killing off Fatimah! Once again a pulpy female villain is shuffled out of the narrative much too quickly; Abdul shoots Fatimah point-blank in the head when she threatens to make real on her promises to kill off the hostages. In a sad “how the times have changed” angle, the terrorists you see are determined to treat their captives well, so that the terrorists and their cause will look good in the eyes of “the liberal media.”

Some pulp writers deliver anticlimactic finales, but Fieldhouse isn’t one of them. Beirut Contract, as you’d expects, ends with a huge battle, in which the Hard Corps stage an assault on the remote location in wich the terrorists are keeping the hostages. Steve Caine once again comes off like a one-man army, sneaking past guards and slitting throats with his survival knife, and then hopping down into the house through a hole in the roof and blowing away the men surrounding the hostages.

Fieldhouse in all the action scenes hops from character to character, so you can see how Joe Fanelli kills people and how James Wentworth kills people. Brains erupt and blood geysers. The gore level is through the roof! And speaking of Wentworth, the samurai fiend manages to pick up a blade, appropriating some dude’s scimitar so he can hack and slash. In fact there is a preponderence of handfighting this time out; it seems like someone’s always getting the gun knocked out of their hand and thus must resort to their fists or feet.

Anyway, it all wraps up with no surprises – the Hard Corps kill everyone and rescue the hostages. Plus, they are happy that they’ll now have a few million bucks with which to repair their home base. Fieldhouse ends the novel with the contract fulfilled and the Corps heading for the airport, and while it is at times entertaining, Beirut Contract ultimately comes off as forgettable.

1 comment:

Grant said...

"Once again a female pulp villain is shuffled out of the narrative much too quickly."

Obviously I sympathize with that complaint. Once again I'm reminded of the difference between the "sexless" men's adventure books (as you yourself call them) and ones like the early DESTROYER books (I'm sure there are other ones with their attitude, but they're nearly the only ones I know firsthand). In one of THOSE, not only would the Fatima character be incredibly exotic, but Remo would almost definitely "hit that" in a very big scene.
He'd also probably be the one to put her out of the way (as opposed to some angry partner of hers). In his case of course it would be bare-handed, but in a way that's as "unsettling" as anything done with an actual gun might be!
(Since I'm not a gun person to speak of - in or out of fiction - I can't help preferring those "out-there" violent scenes that largely do without them.)