Mace #5: The Year Of The Horse, by Lee Chang
No month stated, 1974 Manor Books
It’s Thanksgiving, and if there’s one thing we can all be thankful for, it’s that this was the last volume of Mace written by Joseph Rosenberger. I’d sort of been dreading returning to this series, which is a wearying read to be sure; it’s about as fun as a “Shuto chop” to the crotch. But I finally went through with it, mostly so I could move on to the next volume, which is by Len Levinson…as if Manor were rewarding us for enduring five Rosenberger books.
Anyway, The Year Of The Horse is the same ol’, so far as the series goes, however Rosenberger (aka “Lee Chang”) drops the CIA stuff from previous volumes. Hero Mace, the “Kung Fu Monk Master” (as he’s constantly referred to in the narrative), is back to working for the Tongs, going up against rival gangs and whatnot. We meet him in action, in Chicago busting the heads of the local mob; gradually we’ll learn Mace is doing a job for one Tong, which is at war with another, one that’s aligned with this Chicago syndicate.
But the threadbare plot is really just a framework for Rosenberger to deluge us with endless, repetitive kung-fu battles. The back cover copy has it that a beautiful young woman has been kidnapped, thus setting off Mace’s rage, but in the text itself the girl, Mary Wah-hing, doesn’t even appear until over 100 pages in. The book’s really just about Mace beating the shit out of an endless tide of thugs with goofy nicknames. (Wee Willie, Cherry Nose, John the Greek, etc, and my favorite of them all: Hi-There-Moses.)
The CIA stuff may be gone, but The Year Of The Horse retains the template of previous books, in that it’s basically comprised of four huge action scenes. We start off posthaste with the first, as Mace “sneaks” into a warehouse owned by Gus Vogel, Chicago mob bigwig. In the melee of punches, kicks, and Shuto chops, Mace as ever flashes back for four pages to his training in the Shaolin temple (in Hong Kong, of all places), where his teacher instructed him about…the hypocrisy of Christian beliefs. Oh, and despite being a kung-fu wizard, Mace is also a ninja, let’s not forget, and uses all sorts of fancy ninja tricks to waste scads of Vogel’s thugs.
Humorously enough, the “Kung Fu Monk Master” is knocked out…by a metal stapler! Thrown by a geriatric night guard, no less! But have no fear, Rosenberger’s superheroic protagonists are never in danger, even when they’re uncoscious in the back of a van, being driven by several armed men to their place of execution. Mace is merely using yet another ninja trick, that of only pretending to be unconscious, and comes to life to kill the rest of them, as well as to extract intel from one thug he allows to live.
Rosenberger prefigures Rush Hour or the like with stoic Mace teamed up with wisecracking Chicago P.I. Lenny Kines, but he doesn’t do much with it, and mostly it’s just Kines proclaiming how he’s “the best P.I. in Chicago” and Mace uttering “wise Oriental” sayings like, “It is the duty of the future to be dangerous.” We also have Kines in awe over Mace’s “supernormal talent,” which is displayed in another overlong action scene, as this time Mace suits up in a ninja-like costume and storms yet another warehouse owned by Vogel.
I chose this action sequence to provide a few excerpts of the action onslaught that makes up Rosenberger’s Mace work:
Jack Daniels, the other trigger-boy in the library (he considered it a compliment when people kidded him for having the same name as a famous brand of whiskey), had never heard such a sound, the kind of moaning and gurgling coming from Joe “The Pole,” who staggered back into the library, acting as if he were possessed by the devil! He was possessed – by the Shinde shuriken, which by now had almost cut off his tongue! A number one wise guy, he had never been a man to know when he had bitten off more than he could chew. Now he knew he had a mouthful of razor blades and was choking to death, drowning in his own blood! Slumping against the wall, he became a wild man, trying to pry his mouth apart to dislodge the Shinde shuriken wedged in his mouth, while Daniels gaped at him in helplnessness and terror.
The second slob, using a stainless steel Smith & Wesson .38, did his best to jump back and empty the full cylinder – six slugs – in Mace. The only thing wrong with his plan was that Mace wouldn’t let him. The Kung Fu Monk Master chopped the .38 from his wrist with a shuto slice, blocked a kick with a Gedan Juji Uke downward X-block, and slammed the boob across the temple with a Gyaku Shuto reverse chop. Looking like a man whose taxes had just been raised fifty percent, the man toppled to the floor.
An ugly thug, Steve Macy always had the appearance of a guy somebody had hung in a closet overnight! Come morning, and Steve would jump out, his clothes all bunched up! Right now, he looked twice as ridiculous as he bravely attempted to swing his chopper down on Mace, who threw the Hokachai! Steve Macy howled in fear and pain and surprise, the three hardwood rods of the Hokachai tearing the Thompson submachine gun from his hands and breaking his left thumb. To compound his purgatory, he stepped back, tripped over the overturned table and fell heavily on his back. And when he looked up, there was Mace standing over him, staring down at him, his face expressionless as a blank sheet of paper, except for his eyes…two burning black coals…
Speaking of that “supernormal talent,” throughout the novel Mace dodges bullets as if he were in The Matrix, ducking and dodging with ease. He’s so superhuman and invicible that he becomes annoying, which is only worsened by his complete lack of humor. Kines offers a bit of levity, but is lost in the kung fu barrage. Eventually the two, along with a few of Kines’s colleagues, head to Mexico City, where it develops poor Mary Wah-hing (remember her?) has been taken, having been handed over to a Mexican mobster named Najera.
Sporting white makeup, a wig, and a “Hitler moustache,” Mace is now “Matthew Romanesh,” displaying the usual goofy penchant for disguise as other Rosenberger protagonists. But this element disappears as quick as one of Mace’s Shuto chops. Soon enough he’s wearing another of those ninja garbs and infiltrating Najera’s “Le Casa de Putas,” where women are kept in bondage to be enjoyed by paying clientelle. Rosenberger skips over the sleaze with more violence, and when Mary finally appears, she’s unconscious, sedated in one of the rooms, and Mace quickly frees her.
From there it’s to the Toltec pyramids, where Najera has escaped. Mace, Kines, and his colleagues engage the Mexican mobsters in another overlong fight, with Kines getting the honor of dispatching the villain. And that was it for Rosenberger’s time on Mace; he ends the tale with Mace taking a well-deserved nap.
Overall, The Year Of The Horse is standard Rosenberger, filled with action and not much else, overwritten to the point of banality, not even saved by Rosenberger’s usual off-hand weirdness. The series though does have a big injection of pre-PC racial slurring, particularly as ever when it comes to Mace himself. (“IT’S THE SLANT-EYED ONE – KILL HIM!” being one such example – and yes, it is in all caps…) Blacks again come off as monstrous proto-humans, and this time Rosenberger broadens his palette by including Mexican slurs, referring to some of Najera’s thugs as “tamale eaters.”
Anyway, now I don’t have to dread reading another of these – Len Levinson wrote the next one, and then Bruce Cassiday finished up the series as “C.K. Fong.”