Thursday, June 23, 2016

John Eagle Expeditor #13: Operation Weatherkill

John Eagle Expeditor #13: Operation Weatherkill, by Paul Edwards
October, 1975  Pyramid Books

The penultimate volume of my favorite men’s adventure series, John Eagle Expeditor, is courtesy Paul Eiden, a hit-or-miss writer if ever there was one. While his prose is good, Eiden’s plotting is often lazy, with some of his books, like #7: The Ice Goddess, given over to inordinate padding. But then sometimes he’s capable of greatness, as in #9: The Deadly Cyborgs.

Fortunately, Operation Weatherkill is Eiden on a good day. He keeps the action moving and the padding to a minimum. Sure, there’s stuff that could’ve been cut, but that’s typical for this series. Even at 159 pages (of small print), Operation Weatherkill seems longer than it really is. However it’s greatly improved by the fact that it’s the first installment since #10: The Holocaust Auction to return to the series formula of the earliest volumes: eschewing the tepid espionage plot of #11: Poppies Of Death, Eiden gets back to the series’s roots with John Eagle employing all of his sci-fi gadgetry as he takes on a world-threatening plot.

“Operation Weatherkill” is the name of a shadowy organization that’s blackmailing countries around the world with the threat of “climatic interference.” Somehow these bastards are toying with the jet stream and wreaking havoc with freak weather. America has been duly warned but the CIA, as ever, ignored the threat, and now, as the Weatherkill people are enacting their threats, it’s up to Mr. Merlin to handle things. Thus Eagle – for once described, stated as being 6’ 2”, two hundred pounds of muscle, with black hair, blue eyes, and “almost as tan as the Apache people he loved” – is sent to Stamford, Connecticut, where it rains for three straight days, flooding the city. Next he’s sent to Chicago, where the same thing happens.

The situation is explained to Eagle when he’s called back to Merlin’s HQ on Makaluha island in Hawaii. Operation Weatherkill is demanding a monthly payment of a ton of gold from the US, and possibly from the other countries as well – Merlin mentions that both Russia and Japan have also been suffering from freak weather and flooding. It was interesting reading this book when I did, as South Texas was experiencing torrential rains and heavy flooding, and even the bottom floor of the Louvre was being emptied out due to potential flooding!

Eagle heads for Madrid, where he’s to shadow the US destroyer that’s dropping off the first gold payment somewhere in the Mediterranean sea. Here Eagle becomes reacquainted with the Dolphin, his atomic-powered one-man sub, last seen in The Ice Goddess. Not sure about last time, but this time it’s specified that the Dolphin is painted bright yellow; perhaps its inventor was a Beatles fan. And while Eagle spends a few pages learning how to use a fancy new tracking gizmo on the sub, it’s nowhere in the realm of padding Eiden delivered in that earlier volume, to the point that Operation Weatherkill positively zips along in comparison. Indeed Eagle even brushes off more training, claiming how short time is.

Tracking the dropped-off gold to the island of Svete Hvar, off the coast of Yugoslavia, Eagle and the Dolphin are almost destroyed by depth charges dropped by enemy ships. Eventually Eagle will learn that the island is owned by Turkish billionaire Ferit Sunay, the man behind Operation Weatherkill. First though Eagle is almost arrested by secret police, only to be saved by a “beautiful blond” in a string bikini who acts like she knows him. Her name is Julie Anders and she claims to be Canadian, of Yugo-Ukranian heritage, but Eagle is certain she’s KGB . She also claims to be a nymphomaniac; “I want some sex when we get back to the hotel,” she instructs Eagle while they’re out on her catamaran – not that Eagle obeys her (more of which below).

Julie catches Eagle up on Ferit Sunay and the citadel he rules the island from; for her part, Julie suspects Eagle of being CIA. Like a regular pseudo-Bond villain Sunay stocks his ancient castle with legions of armed henchmen and guard dogs. Eagle, armed only with a knife, tries to survey the place one night, only to nearly get killed by the dogs; he’s saved by Julie, who appears brandishing a bow and arrow. After an interminable escape (the novel is filled with scenes of Eagle and Julie sneaking through the woods as they try to evade Sunay’s men), Eagle and Julie kill off a few more goons, Eagle slicing throats and Julie scoring kills with her arrows; she compares herself to Diana of the hunt. After this it’s time to get back to the hotel for some of that much-delayed sex.

Eiden as ever delivers the most explicit sex scenes in the series, yet this time it takes him a while to get to the good stuff. For some strange reason Eagle isn’t as prone to mixing business with pleasure in Operation Weatherkill, to the point that he even turns down sex from a sexy Spanish maid who slips nude into his bed one night in Madrid, offering herself. Eagle politely turns her down, not wanting to cause any “sexual jealousies” in the small Madrid-based group he’s working with, given that she’s the only girl there, and all the men are clearly lusting after her. And when Julie Anders first gets Eagle into to her hotel room and eagerly strips off both their clothes, Eagle kicks her in the ass(!) and tells her, “Next time, wait until you’re asked,” before storming off!

However when Eiden gets to the novel’s one and only sex scene he spares no details, with a two-page sequence featuring almost textbook documentation of each and every act: “Eagle slid the head of his shaft between the lips of her vagina and placed himself in her.” The same goes for the immediately-following round two: “She began the pulsing contractions of her vagina which would harden his shaft a second time.” (Hey, those are my favorite kind of contractions!) Eiden is also fond of exploiting the ample charms of his female characters; Julie for example must be nicely stacked, as within the first half-page of her introduction her breasts are described as “heavy,” “meaty,” and “bulging.” Julie is probably the best female character in the series yet (well, either her or the Sue Shiomi-esque Orchid Yang in #8: The Death Devils), and not just due to her breastesses; one can’t complain about a sexy KGB agent who enjoys killing her prey with bow and arrow.

She’s also handy with a submachine gun, carrying one in a big leather purse. Having admitted she’s KGB, Julie also acknowledges that the two men shadowing Eagle in the hotel are her comrades. The three decide to join forces to stop Sunay; Julie and team have come to Svete Hvar because the KGB was tracking the Yugoslavian climatologist Sunay is now using for the Operation Weatherkill satellite. The final sixty pages are mostly action, starting with Eagle, having gotten his plastic suit, dart gun, and explosives from the submerged Dolphin, getting in a fight with a pair of frogmen. Here we learn that Eagle’s C02 gun apparently works underwater, as does his suit’s chameleon device – as mentioned, this volume sees the return of all the gadgets that have been denied us in the past few installments.

Eiden doesn’t exploit the violence factor as much, though we do get occasional mention of the backs of heads getting blown off by Eagle’s darts; as ever in Eiden’s hands, the Expeditor goes for head shots. Eagle and Julie kill a slew of Sunay’s men here, as Eagle, chameleon unit activated, slips like a regular Predator onto Sunay’s boat and begins killing off the men who have surrounded Julie’s catamaran. Meanwhile Julie pulls out that subgun and blows off the heads of unarmed men, her “legs spread” as she wields the weapon. (Someone at Pyramid liked this phrase so much that they even used it to describe Julie’s fighting stance on the back cover!)

The climax becomes a bit muddled, as is Eiden’s wont. After some more action and chasing, Eagle and Julie spend too many pages foraging through the woods in the pre-dawn hours, trying in vain to meet up with Julie’s two comrades on the slopes of the cliff upon which Sunay’s castle looms. It goes on and on, not helped by the fact that Eagle watches through field glasses as the two KGB men get in a running battle with Sunay’s forces. Things finally kick in gear when Eagle and Julie storm the castle grounds. The “steel-vaned flechettes” fly fast and furious from Eagle’s C02 pistol as he kills a bunch of henchmen, Julie blasting them apart with her submachine gun – Eagle certain now the girl is a “thrill killer,” clearly enjoying herself too much.

Sunay is given a perfunctory sendoff; after killing several random soldiers Eagle and Julie break into Sunay’s private quarters and Julie guns him down just as he’s gotten out of bed with his mistress! More focus is placed on the climatologist Sunay’s used to create the Operation Weatherkill satellite; Julie wants to take him back to Russia to work for the Soviets, whereas Eagle argues that they don’t have the time or the resources to drag the old man back down the mountain. (The scientist takes care of the problem for them, offing himself with a handy cyanide pill.)

Julie’s thrill-killing reaches absurd proportions in the finale, with the KGB agent acting out of character as she suddenly runs around shooting down everyone, arguing with Eagle that “this is war.” As expected her own thrill-killing proves to be her undoing, shot down by a machine gun crew as she lobs some of Eagle’s “new purple grenades” down at them. I love the fact that Mr. Merlin has equipped his Expeditor with purple grenades, but one wonders what happened to the explosive vials Eagle used in the earliest installment. Ultimately it’s of no concern, as Eiden quickly wraps up Operation Weatherkill, with Eagle, having blown up Sunay’s entire citadel, safely escaping to the still-submerged Dolphin.

Speaking of Mr. Merlin, Eagle’s mysterious employer, he appears only briefly in the opening pages, per series formula, yet he is as memorable as ever in those few pages. Strangely though, these pages feature a clueless Merlin asking his honcho Samson a bunch of questions, whereas typically it’s vice versa. Eagle too is slightly different in Eiden’s hands. While he’s aggressively macho in the installments of Manning Lee Stokes and almost a monosyballic assassin in those of Robert Lory, in Eiden’s hands Eagle is more prone to self-doubt and concern. He also lacks the casual misogyny of Stokes’s version; when Julie is worried about her missing comrades and keeps looking to Eagle for guidance, our hero patiently consoles her. It would be hard to see Stokes’s version of Eagle showing such compassion. And Eiden’s John Eagle is more merciful; when Julie gleefully guns down those unarmed men on her catamaran, Eagle tries in vain to stop her, arguing that killing them would be meaningless.

And that was it for Eiden on John Eagle Expedtior, but then, there was only one more volume of the series to go, anyway. Eiden only wrote four installments (Stokes and Lory wrote five each), and they’re wildly disparate: The Ice Goddess had awesomely lurid potential but squandered it with a few hundred pages of padding until things sleazed up for a great but rushed finale; The Deadly Cyborgs, with its crazy plot of biomechanical yetis, was one of my favorite volumes in the entire series; Poppies Of Death seemed to be an installment of another series and came off like a boring espionage drama with little action; and finally Operation Weatherkill, which sort of melded the sci-fi plots of Eiden’s first two installments with the espionage fare of Poppies of Death.

As another overlong review will attest, I’m a total geek for the John Eagle Expeditor series. I’m having a hard time accepting the fact that the next volume is the last one.

No comments: