Thursday, November 5, 2015

Kane's War #1

Kane's War #1, by Nick Stone
March, 1987  Ivy/Ballantine Books

Coming off like an ‘80s take on the Killinger series, Kane’s War ran for seven volumes and appears to have been, like that earlier series, an attempt at melding Travis McGee-style “marina mystery” with the men’s adventure genre. Unlike Killinger, though, this series, at least judging from the first volume, isn’t a snoozefest, and turned out to be a lot more enjoyable than I expected. Even if it is way too long at a bloated 260+ pages of small print.

Like Killinger, our hero Ben Kane is a studly, muscle-bound dude who lives on a fancy Chinese junk, the Wu-Li. He even has a talking parrot on board, same as Killinger. Also, Kane is a blonde bronzed giant, unlike the brown-haired character depicted on all seven covers of the series (humorously, on the last volume Kane was given a perm on the cover art). A river boat captain in ‘Nam (just like in Apocalypse Now!), Kane eventually started working for the CIA, reporting to a shady operative named Cord Weaver. Kane’s War opens with a prologue set in 1979 or so, in which Kane wants to quit but figures Weaver will have him killed, because who’s ever heard of a retired spy?

On his last mission Kane manages to stash away a million dollars, courtesy some drug dealers who try to kill him. Kane fools Weaver into thinking the money sank in the boat with the now-dead drug dealers, and then Kane says so long. Eight years later and Kane runs a charter boat business in the Virgin Islands, which he started with the stolen money. He’s now very successful, both in business and with the ladies, who come on hard and strong to the V.I.’s resident ‘Nam vet superstud. Kane’s brought along some old ‘Nam pals: Ganja, a dreadlocked Jamaican who gets his name from the copious weed he smokes and served on a boat in ‘Nam with Kane; Chief, a gruff older guy (compared to actor Victor McLaglen) who act like a mother hen or something; and Miles, a former Navy SEAL who does absolutely nothing this time out.

It must be said that Ben Kane doesn’t acquit himself very well in this introductory volume. In the course of Kane’s War he’s swindled, captured, tortured, left for dead, knocked out (many, many times), and even shot multiple times (saved only by a bulletproof vest). It’s almost comical in a way; seriously, Kane spends the first half of the novel convalescing, lying around in bed and hobbling on crutches. When he gets back to his old fighting self he still comes off like a klutz, getting knocked out by richocheting bullets, gunned down by submachine gun fire, even constantly dropping his pistol in the leadup to the novel’s climactic action sequence.

The tomfoolery begins posthaste, with Kane deciding to tuck in early one night. When he goes back to the Wu-Li, this hotstuff brunette with the greatest body Kane’s ever seen (and apparently he’s seen a bunch) is waiting for him. She claims they met once at a party (Kane is sort of a notable on the island, invited to all the VIP events) and Kane gave her an open invite to his junk; he’s forgotten all about this, but the lady does look familiar, and then there are those awesome boobs she’s got…the lady kisses Kane, who despite his excitement is still smart enough from his spy years to suspect a trap, reaching for the .32 he keeps in his pocket, concealed by a handkerchief. Then the lady digs her fingernails into the back of his neck and Kane spirals into darkness. Poisoned fingernail polish!

Here begins an overlong torture sequence, which even features ‘Nam flashbacks as Kane’s mind comes close to snapping. A group of masked men surround Kane, who is tied to a chair on his own house-boat. They electrocute him over the course of several hours, the attractive (and clearly distraught) bait still there, watching it all; at one point the Talker (as Kane refers to the only member of the group who speaks) even offers the girl to Kane for a week of mind-blowing sex. All if Kane will tell them where he keeps his money. You see, these dudes know Kane’s business is doing well, but he came out of nowhere and set himself up on the island too quickly, so he must have an in-line to major cash.

After mucho torture, the sole of Kane’s left foot (which was injured in the war and occasionally still gives him trouble) almost singed off, our hero finally gives up and tells the bastards where he’s stashed the remainder of his million bucks: in an old suitcase no one would notice onboard the ship. But the guys are certain Kane has even more money and that he’s working with drug runners; they want him to work for them. Kane tells them where he got the money but they don’t believe him. They give him a few days to think about it and leave. When Kane comes too he’s in the hospital, near death and with an almost-ruined foot, but meanwhile the hot busty nurse keeps checking him out and vice versa.

Kane receives an assortment of visitors, chief among them his sometimes-girlfriend Michelle Mullhaney, hotstuff twenty-something daughter of Mike Mullhaney, who owns a shipyard or something and is a business associate of Kane’s; we’re treated to some flashback sex as Kane reminisces about the time Michelle, whom he’s known since she was a gawky kid, came to him as a now-gorgeous young adult and announced, “I want to get fucked!” Also, given the publication date, the sex scenes in Kane’s War are stronger than what you’d read in earlier examples of the men’s adventure genre; not total hardcore, but certainly explicit. Michelle begs Kane to come stay with her when he’s discharged, so she can nurse him back to help; he accepts.

But then Kane’s visited by yet another father-daughter combo, and again it’s a case where Kane’s been boffing the daughter without the father’s knowledge (curiously, that Kane’s sleeping with two daughters of wealth isn’t much explored): Lord Philip Carlisle, Crown Commissioner of the British Virgin Islands, and his hotstuff blonde daughter Jessica. Lord Philip invites Kane over to his mansion on B.V.I., saying that he’s set Kane up with some prospective clients, as Kane’s been wanting to branch out into the lucrative British Virgin Islands for a long time. More importantly, judging by the way she’s batting those eyelashes at him, Kane figures it’ll also make for a perfect opportunity to screw Jessica again.

And we get another explicit sexual event, as Jessica visits a still-weak Kane in his room in the mansion that night; poor old Michelle’s pretty much forgotten. And meanwhile she’s abducted, spirited away in a helicopter by another group of drug smugglers who want to find out where Ben Kane gets his stuff. Poor Michelle will be taken to a yacht, stripped, pawed by the overweight lecher who has kidnapped her, and even licked all over the place by the lecher’s female sidekick. Meanwhile Ben Kane keeps on boffing Jessica over on the British side of the islands, oblivious to the fact that at least three criminal factions are looking for him, let alone Cord Weaver, who has shown back up and wants Kane to work for him again.

Action is for the most part sporadic. First a fake doctor tries to kill Kane while in the hospital, but Kane breaks the dude’s neck, instantly spotting him as a would-be hitman. Later Kane and Jessica are shot at by a sniper, who is taken out by one of Weaver’s men – the goofily-codenamed Waiting Fox, who works with Kane a few more times in the novel. Things don’t pick up until Kane, recovered enough (and having engaged Jessica in a few more sex scenes), teams back up with Weaver for “one last mission.” Here Kane is informed that Michelle’s been kidnapped and is being held on a yacht. Kane’s eager to go kick ass.

Despite all the text given over to Kane’s horribly-injured left foot, he’s suddenly able to parachute over the Caribbean in the pre-dawn hours with a Weaver commando team, landing on the drug kingpin’s yacht. A brief action scene ensues with submachine guns blazing. Kane proves again his ineptitude, knocked out like a second after he lands on the deck. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. His bacon is saved by a pair of Weaver agents who pose as father and daughter. After reuniting ever so briefly with Michelle, Kane’s informed by Weaver that there are two more drug factions out there, still gunning for him; plus Weaver knows, has known all along, who captured and tortured Kane back in the beginning of the book.

This takes us into the homestretch, as Weaver instructs Kane to pretend as if he’s going to cater to the drugger demands, after all, and hook them up with his (fictional) drug contacts. In particular these druggers, revealed to be new-style Mafioso, are looking for designer drugs, similar to what that brick shithouse-bodied gal used on Kane at the beginning of the book. Speaking of whom, the gal’s name is Pammy, Weaver reveals, and she’s a notorious Virgin Islands whore who serves as a honey trap for various criminal factions, though Pammy herself is an innocent little lamb…she just likes to screw a whole bunch.

And Kane finally gets to do her, two hundred pages after they first met, Pammy taking him back to her mirror-ceilinged bedroom, and another fairly-explicit sex scene ensuing. Unfortunately the climactic action scene is perfunctory; Kane, with Ganja and Waiting Fox, choppers in to a remote destination to trade drugs for money with the mafioso. But Kane instantly realizes he’s been handed a suitcase of counterfeit and his chopper has likely been wired to explode. So he whips out the Czech machine pistol hidden in his briefcase (that is, after klutzy Kane has tripped and fallen into an empty swimming pool) and blows away a few of ‘em. But meanwhile the boss turns out to be a lookalike and the real one’s back in the States, safe from any prosecution.

Kane swears that’s it, but Cord Weaver is certain Kane will again work for him, what with all the drug-runners and Commie agents moving into the Caribbean these days. Guess who’s right? An unusual thing about Kane’s War, at least so far as this first one goes, is that it doesn’t really capitalize on the Virgin Islands setting. I see that cover art and I expect cigarette boat chases and underwater scuba battles, but nothing of the sort happens. One of the villains lives on a yacht, but that’s about it. Otherwise the locale isn’t much captured.

The writing though is pretty good throughout, better than I expected it to be. POV-hopping is kept to a minimum and so is the ‘80s-mandatory gun porn. Dialog is pretty good, and the characters come off as more than just cardboard cutouts. The sex and violence are both graphically depicted, which as far as I’m conerned is a hardcore pulp fiction requirement. If I had any complaint it would be that some of the action scenes are a little confusing, given how they’re written, and the author relies a bit too much on dialog modifiers. Characters are always “quipping” or “retorting” or etc, instead of just plain “saying.”

So who was Nick Stone? The book’s copyright Ivy/Ballantine, so likely it’s a pseudonym. Unfortunately the name isn’t listed in Hawk’s Authors’s Pseudonyms, and I can find no listings of the Kane’s War books in the Catalog of Copyright Entries. But according to Martin O’Hearn, posting on Thomas McNulty’s blog, “Nick Stone” was actually Nicholas Cain, a prolific ‘Nam action series writer in the ‘80s, most known for his Saigon Commandos series, which he published under the name “Jonathan Cain.” I’m willing to bet that Martin is correct and that Kane’s War is indeed the work of Cain.

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