Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hong Kong Incident (Mark Hood #3)

Hong Kong Incident, by James Dark
August, 1966  Signet Books

The third installment of Mark Hood continues with the real-world vibe of the previous two books; this series is more Sam Durell than Nick Carter. It seems to me that these ‘60s spy paperbacks were more so influenced by Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels rather than the James Bond movies. In other words, the plots rarely if ever strayed into spy-fi, though eventually the Mark Hood books would head in that direction.

But as for Hong Kong Incident, it’s very much like one of Edward Aarons’s Sam Durrell novels, with that same gritty vibe; Hood’s weapon of choice is even a .38 revolver this time out. The novel takes place in Macao and Hong Kong, and James Dark (aka J.E. MacDonnell) captures the area with the verisimilitude of someone who has been there many times. Given that MacDonnell was a veteran seaman, operating out of Australia, I’d wager he was very familiar with the ports and dives of Southeast Asia.

The action opens in Macao, where Mark Hood is competing in the Grand Prix, breaking records in his red Ferrari. But he has to fake an oil problem when a secret call comes through on his headset. It’s from his mechanic, Tommy Tremayne, a slim British dude who, like Hood, is a member of Intertrust. Made up of the “four nuclear powers” (this time we’re informed it’s the US, USSR, France, and England), Intertrust works behind the scenes to avert any potential atomic holocaust. Tremayne and Hood have been sent to Hong Kong to bring over a defecting Chinese scientist.

Hong Kong Incident occurs over one day, and despite being tuckered out from racing all morning, Hood heads over to Hong Kong to meet the defecting scientist at the China border. This is Fan Fee Koy, who only gets out because a fellow scientist, also posing as a country bumpkin merely trying to cross the border for work, sacrifices himself to the machine gun-toting Chicom guards. The whole sequence with Koy plays out tautly, heavy on the suspense, as Hood is unsure if the man’s defection has been noted and if that car behind them is filled with armed Red Chinese spies.

Turns out it is, and a positively endless foot chase ensues…like 20-some pages of small, small print as Hood and Koy are separated and Hood tries to head off the two Chicom spies in the rural hinterlands of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district. Despite the inordinate length this sequence is still gripping, and again plays very much in that real-world vibe. Whereas the movie Bond would dispense with these two Chicom agents without a second thought, Hood instead undergoes a rigorous flight over the muddy, rain-strewn hinterlands (I forgot to mention the novel takes place as a typhoon is closing in on Hong Kong).

Action hasn’t been a focus for this series, so far, but when it happens it’s not bad: Hood engages the agents in a shootout in a shit-fertilized rice paddy and later gets in a brutal karate fight with one of them. Hood is a champion karate master but finds himself up against a practicioner of the dreaded kung-fu, which in James Dark’s mind gives a person almost supernatural martial arts abilities. This fight takes place in a cemetery and features a nicely gory finale in which Hood bashes the dude’s head into a stone urn, shattering it and spilling blood and brains everywhere. When Hood accidentally puts his hand in the brain splatter, he almost pukes.

The second half of Hong Kong Incident moves back into the suspense angle, with Hood reconnecting with Tremayne and trying in vain to find Fan Fee Koy, who was supposed to meet Hood in some Hong Kong dive. Hood and Tremayne have a good working relationship, with Tremayne doling out the British wit and Hood acting as the straight man; it appears that Tremayne appears in future volumes as well. Tremayne also deduces what’s behind Koy’s sudden desire to defect: Koy, an atomic scientist, has figured out that the Chicoms intend to destroy the US Seventh Fleet during the typhoon and blame it all on the North Vietnamese.

Once again Hood’s naval background comes into play, as he realizes that this could easily be accomplished via a lone sub with atomic torpedos, running down the destroyers in the fleet as they’re dispersed in the typhoon. But Koy hasn’t shown up in the dive so Hood can’t be sure if this is the intel the man had to give to Hood’s superiors. Instead Hood and Tremaye meet Karen, a hotstuff Chinese hooker who comes on strong. When Hood returns from checking another bar, Tremayne’s unconscious in a back room, a nude Karen standing over him for some reason, while meanwhile a burly Chinese dude is beating Tremayne to a pulp. 

More brutal karate action ensues; no brain-bursting this time, but Hood messes ‘em up real good. The lovely and nude Karen even receives a judo chop to the neck as she tries to escape, and Hood’s unsure if he killed her – and doesn’t really care. Hood is a mean bastard when he wants to be, and hates “the Commies” with as much passion as Richard Camellion. But rather than “pig farmers” he calls them “soulless bastards.” Anyway, he also discovers that they’ve killed poor ol’ Koy in the meantime, though after torturing one of Chicom agents Hood learns that Koy died of a heart attack before he could reveal anything. 

The finale plays out on that naval fiction tip that doesn’t do much for me. Hood discovers to his horror that the Seventh Fleet has left port, thus if there is a Chicom sub out there the hunt will be on, now that the typhoon is raging. Hood bullshits his way onto the sole destroyer still in port and, at great length, gets the acting captain, a man named Talbot, to believe that he, Hood, is a top-secret agent and that there’s a viable threat to the fleet under the waters. The taut suspense angle goes all the way to the finale, with the two men commanding the ship in the turmoiled waters, gradually realizing they are being chased by a sub and determining how to destroy it without starting WWIII.

Overall this was another entertaining installment, but again the paperback itself is deceptively slim. While Hong Kong Incident runs to around 120 pages, it’s got some super-small print. And again MacDonnell doesn’t shirk on his word count, with dense paragraphs filling each page. His style is similar to Manning Lee Stokes, very measured and staid, only with a little less of the padding.  But I have to say, in today’s harried world, I don’t mind the methodical pacing.


Kurt Reichenbaugh said...

These Mark Hood reviews of yours have been fun to read. A couple of years ago I picked up a wrapped up 4-pack of Mark Hood novels: Spying Blind, Throne of Satan, Operation Scuba and Assignment Tokyo. I have yet to get around reading them but one of these days I will.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comment, Kurt. That's cool you got those 4 books all together. I just read Assignment Tokyo and unfortunately it was pretty dull. Those other three sound more interesting; Operation Scuba and Throne of Satan are supposedly a two-parter, by the way.