Monday, July 11, 2016

Depth Force #5: Torpedo Tomb

Depth Force #5: Torpedo Tomb, by Irving A. Greenfield
February, 1986  Zebra Books

The Depth Force series continues to come off like a soap opera in novel form; this series could’ve just as easily been titled “As The Periscope Turns.” For once again “action” is for the most part nonexistant and author Irving Greenfield is more focused on detailing the potboiler lives of his main characters. I mentioned in my review of the previous volume that I didn’t have this instalment, but the men’s adventure gods intervened and I recently came across a copy for a pittance.

However, as I’ve found with the other installments I’ve read, I could’ve indeed skipped Torpedo Tomb without missing anything pertinent. Per the usual template this one picks up from the previous volume’s cliffhanger finale, without a shred of background detail to catch up readers new to the series. Hero Captain Jack Boxer and his crew of the Shark are introduced en media res, and lord help you if you don’t know who any of them are or don’t know what happened in the previous book; Greenfield certainly doesn’t remind you. Having read that previous installment I knew that it ended with the Russian sub squad of Captain Igor Borodine, briefly housed on the Shark after their own sub’s destruction, attempting to take over the Shark – while two more Russian subs were attacking it. 

Greenfield brushes off the mutinying Russians subplot, with the riot already quelled when Torpedo Tomb opens. Rather, it’s all about the attacking Russian subs, which fire “killer darts” that almost destroy the Shark. Apparently these are like heat-seeker torpedos or something. Again the “action” is for the most part relegated to dialog as Boxer stands on the bridge and shouts orders to his crew. This time the only two Shark characters who rise out of the anonymous backdrop are Vargas, aka “The Spic,” who leads the ground assault forces, and Cowly, Boxer’s EXO who outs himself as gay in the first half of the book. Otherwise they’re all nonentities save for Boxer himself.

Borodine is also onboard; the Depth Force series is built around the dynamic between Boxer and Borodine, with the rival sub commanders respecting each other despite the Cold War (which still rages in this fictional 1997). Greenfield doesn’t spend as much time with the Russians this volume, with the sexy female Russian scientist who propositioned Boxer in the last pages of Battle Stations given short narrative shrift and Borodine himself relegated to mourning – in the usual heartless vibe of this series, he finds out via a radio dispatch from his comrades that the woman he was going to marry – plus her unborn child – has been been killed in a car wreck! By novel’s end Borodine has been promoted to Rear Admiral and is sent to D.C. on some sort of ambassadorial mission, which will certainly guarantee more soap operatic stuff in future books.

When the Shark returns to port Boxer takes care of priorities – having sex with his girlfriend Trish in one of Greenfield’s patented explicit sequences. Sadly though, Torpedo Tomb features less dirty stuff than previous books. However Trish delivers one of the greatest lines of all time, cozying up with Boxer in his quarters on the Shark for some illicit shenanigans: “Finger me, my darling.” But after the whopping mutual climaxes Boxer and Trish realize they have an audience – a shocked Cowly watching from the door. Trish freaks out, questioning Cowly’s manhood in dialog that’s hilariously un-PC in today’s world, but meanwhile Cowly does later admit to Boxer that he, Cowly, is gay, and was in fact enjoying the view while he watched ol’ Boxer hump away!!

Methinks the Boxer-Trish romance will gradually go the way of all the other Boxer romances so far; the dude’s had like four girlfriends in the three books I’ve read. But Trish is getting increasingly pissed with how Boxer is so devoted to his work and how he keeps leaving her, etc. And as for that soapy Borodine angle mentioned above; Torpedo Tomb ends with Borodine and Trish on a date in DC, kissing, announcing they want to have sex with each other(!?), and then sort of wondering what to do. At any rate Trish is Boxer’s sole bedmate this volume, with another explicit featuring the two later in the book – which is it so far as the hardcore stuff goes, this time.

Instead, Greenfield spends more time on dialog, much of it either banal or just regurgitation of stuff we’ve already read about. The novel runs to the usual exorbitant Zebra length, but it’s got big print and lots of white space; I feel bad for Greenfield, because it’s clear he was handed an unwieldy word count for this series. So as ever he takes the plot in all sorts of directions. Once he’s back in his home (and Greenfield by the way rarely if ever describes any of the surroundings – or characters, for that matter), Boxer is contacted by Sanchez, shadowy CIA dude who has offered to find the muggers who inadvertently killed Boxer’s mother in the previous volume. Here follows an arbitrary bit where Boxer heads to New York and, armed with “a .357 with silencer,” he blows the kneecaps off the three men who beat his mother into a fatal coma.

Gradually the main plot bears its head. Responding to a distress call from a monster sub called the Tecumseh, Boxer is unable to find the ship and eventually deduces that someone has hijacked the ship itself. When the corpses of the Tecumseh’s crew begin to wash up on New Jersey’s shores, Boxer’s hunch is proven correct – and here follows another very arbitrary bit where Boxer finds out he’s been willed two million or so bucks by the dead Tecumseh captain(!?), and Boxer goes into the slums of the Bronx to find the guy’s bastard son and tells him that, if he can get his shit together, the kid stands to become a millionaire when he’s 18. Again, it’s all like something off Days Of Our Lives.

It gets even more soapy when Boxer and a few of the Shark crew are placed on the experimental vehicle The Sea Turtle, which is a submarine/tank combo; it can go beneath the water, then sprout tank treads and travel overland. But also placed onboard the Turtle in an overseer capacity is none other than sexy Cynthia, Boxer’s on-again, off-again girlfriend from previous books – again, we aren’t reminded of specifics, and Cynthia’s just introduced as if we remember her as well as Boxer does. At any rate this causes a bit of friction on the bridge, with Boxer struggling to deal with the woman after their hot n’ heavy romance of yore.

And if that wasn’t soapy enough for you, the Turtle soon responds to a crashed airplane in the Atlantic, which went down in a thunderstorm. Boxer has the survivors pulled out of the stormy sea and put onboard the Turtle, and it develops that one of the passengers is eight months pregnant and has just went into labor from shock. Coincidence be damned, it turns out to be Louise, Boxer’s black girlfriend who was forced (by Boxer’s CIA boss Kincade) to break up with Boxer in the previous book (because she was black!). After delivering the baby Louise has a heart-to-heart with Boxer where she reveals that the “Dear John” letter she wrote him wasn’t her idea, and anyway she’s happy now, married to a doctor who treats her well, and etc. As The Periscope Turns!

More soapy stuff ensues with the fractional presence of Captain Bush, who apparently appeared in volumes 1 or 2, neither of which I have. Per Kincade, Bush is put in co-command of the Sea Turtle, and whereas before he was apparently “tight,” now he’s acting “loose.” In particular, Cynthia claims that he’s been sexually harrassing her. This leads to a short but bizarro section where Bush goes nuts, takes over the Turtle’s bridge and announces himself on the PA as “Captain Bligh,” and orders Cynthia onto the bridge so all the men can gang-bang her! After sending Cynthia to the bridge(?!?), Boxer gases the room and puts Bush in custody.

In the final quarter the plot promised on the back cover takes place. Again proving how small this soap opera world is, the Turtle is to pick up none other than Sanchez, ie the dude from the New York section, who will be leading Vargas and an Agency assault team on a strike upon a prison camp in Libya in which some Americans are held. Boxer is informed that the place is run by the Shushas, “an extremist Arab group” that is 500-man strong. The expected casualty rate for Sanchez’s assault force is seventy-five percent! Boxer drops ‘em off and Greenfield proves again that Depth Force is not an action series by any means; rather than read about the assault on the prison camp, we instead sit around with Boxer and crew on the Turtle bridge while they listen to radio updates and sip coffee! 

Things quickly and anticlimactically escalate to yet another cliffhanger ending, something for which this series is also known. Sanchez and his force is almost wiped out to a man and Boxer realizes the whole mission was a set-up, as the Shushas knew they were coming. When he discovers that Boxer is still alive, Boxer orders the Turtle to the attack, but meanwhile it’s been caught by an underwater steel net or something, and more forces are coming to attack them.

And that’s it – no resolution, no climax. As ever, the tale just sort of rolls along, and the next volume will pick up from this very moment with nary a word of background material. Luckily I’ve got that one, so I won’t be completely lost when I start reading it.


Stephen Mertz said...

"As the Periscope Turns." LOL. And you're going to read the next one too?!? Can't wait. I honestly don't which is more impressive: the wit and cleverness with which you exhume these epics, or the fact that you can actually read them all the way through!

Off-Topic: Anyone who thinks Austin, TX in July is fun should know about Armadillo Con. Last weekend of July. I'll be there as will other subjects of this blog such as James Reasoner, Joe R. Lansdale and Bill Crider, among many others. In fact, plan is for the 4 of us to be on a panel discussing pulp fiction of the 80s. Make it if you can!

Edward said...

Oh wow, I wish I'd known about this sooner than now (and didn't have a work trip to San Fran around then), a panel on 1980s pulp fiction sounds amazing. Any chance someone would record or stream it?