Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Sword Of Genghis Khan (Mark Hood #7)

The Sword Of Genghis Khan, by James Dark
October, 1967  Signet Books

At this point the Mark Hood series has ventured far from its roots. While the early volumes were slow-moving espionage tales (arduosly slow, in some instances), The Sword Of Genghis Khan is straight-up pulp, a fast-moving yarn that comes in at a mere 127 pages of big print. There’s little of the time-wasting of those earlier installments; indeed, one wishes for a little more meat on the bones, as J.E. “James Dark” MacDonnell delivers what for the most part is a glorified outline.

But still, one can’t complain, especially when one compares this volume to, say, Assignment Tokyo. It starts with a bang and keeps up the pace till the very end. In fact, the opening is the most crazed yet in the series, as we read about three top satellite scientists being abducted by some mysterious organization. The abductions are all pretty unusual, with the most insane one being a French scientist taken while he’s having sex with some good-looking babe he just met in a bar! Also here we see that Dark is getting more and more explicit as the series progresses; it’s not full-on porn, but at least it’s not “fade to black” such as the earlier sex scenes were. Oh, and one of scientists is abducted by a dude on a rocket pack straight out of Thunderball.

Mark Hood doesn’t show up for a while, and when we meet him he’s already being briefed by Intertrust boss Fortescue. Hood’s usual ally Tommy Tremayne is “still in the hospital” from the wounds he received last volume, so Fortescue tells Hood he’ll be pairing him up with karate master Murimoto. As a reminder, Dark has abruptly made Murimoto an Intertrust agent, whereas the earliest volumes specified that he was nothing more than Hood’s karate trainer, and indeed didn’t even know that Hood was really a secret agent. While Murimoto is an okay sidekick (as the back cover copy refers to him), one misses the chatter of the usual Hood-Tremayne pairing; Murimoto is just a bit too laconic.

Fortescue wants Hood to head over to Russia, as it develops that the three kidnapped scientists were from three of the four contries that comprise Intertrust (ie the US, England, France, and Russia). Since “the top Russian satellite scientist” hasn’t been kidnapped yet, Foretescue wants Hood and Murimoto to go over there, work with the Russian Intertrust agent, and prevent any possible kidnapping. Hood meanwhile has a hunch he should be going to Mongolia – in another wild opening scene, we’ve seen a part of the Yellow Sea boiling, as well as half of a US destroyer. While Fortescue believes this is unrelated to the scientist abductions, Hood feels otherwise.

If you’d need a reminder that the Mark Hood series is nothing like Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, look no further. Whereas Fleming would’ve elaborated on the trip to Russia, with copious cultural details, Dark has his characters in and out of Russia within several pages. Hilariously enough, when Hood and Murimoto get to the desolate base where the Russian scientist, Drobsky, does his work, they find that he’s already been taken, his guards shot in the head! But this is indication of how streamlined The Sword Of Genghis Khan is. Very seldom does James Dark elaborate or exploit a scene, and description is kept to a minimum.

Hood gets his way and convinces Fortescue to allow him and Murimoto to head to Mongolia – on nothing more than a hunch! They ride the Trans-Siberian Express, but Dark again does little to bring the exotic setting to life. To further the pulp feel, coincidental plotting is prevalent; Hood and Murimoto just happen to ride the train out with a super-sexy Chinese babe in Western clothing who is escorting the coffin of her recently-dead uncle. A horny Hood, who didn’t bring along any books (one wonders what he’d even read – Mark Hood by the way has remained a cipher since the first volume), heads off to the bar to get her drunk.

Her name is Khan Teh Fah, and while we are informed a few times she’s quite attractive, Dark doesn’t do much to bring her to life or to exploit her ample charms. A few mentions of her clothing sticking to her nice curves and whatnot. Early on she displays some fervent Communist beliefs, but this gradually fades away. She and Hood strike up a repartee on the long, long train journey, which culminates with abrupt, unexpected violence when the train is hit by lightning or something in Mongolia. Hood and Murimoto free themselves from their cabin, which has plunged along with the rest of the train into a river, and after saving a comatose Teh Hood also rescues her uncle’s coffin, which is floating downstream.

But inside it a curious Hood finds not a dead Mongolian, but the unconscious form of Drobsky, abducted Russian scientist. (Remember I mentioned the coincidental plotting?) Hood has been suspicious of Teh and her party all along, so tries to lie that he didn’t look in the coffin. Despite which her goons surround him and Murimoto with guns drawn and force them to come along to far off Lop Nor, which Hood knows is where Red China does all its atomic bomb testing. It’s also the home of Teh’s mysterious and powerful father, General Khan.

The reader will already gauge that The Sword Of Genghis Khan is James Dark’s ‘60s updating of a Fu Manchu story. Wily General Khan is Fu Manchu and Teh is Fu’s sexy villainess of a daughter, Fah Lo Suee – even her full name, Khan Teh Fa, has a similar ring to it. But talk about that lack of meat on the bones – Dark does little to bring General Khan to life. He lives in a medieval castle in Lop Nor, surrounded by loyal soldiers, but what these people or even the place looks like is left entirely to the reader’s imagination. Khan himself is merely described as “dressed like Genghis Khan,” so let’s hope you already have that visual stored in your head, because Dark doesn’t elaborate.

General Khan, blithely revealing everything to the newly-arrived Hood, says that he discovered the fabled lost treasure of Genghis Khan, his forebear, after an atomic test here in the rugged mountains of Mongolia. But despite his massive wealth, General Khan wants power – he wants Mongolia to take over China, and to kick Russia’s ass due to the USSR’s treachery with Red China. Like a regular Bond movie villain, Khan has loyal scientists at his disposal, ones who have made for him a satellite with a large mirror on it, which directs the rays of the sun. This is the cause of the boiling Yellow Sea in the opening, as well as that light attack on Hood’s train.

But this last attack was a mistake, and because Khan’s daughter was almost injured in it, he had all of the specialists killed. Thus Dark exlains away why Khan keeps Hood and Murimoto alive; Hood has a little medical training, and is able to fool Khan into thinking he’s a specialist in sleep studies(!). So Khan figures to replace him with the recently-killed doctor he previously employed. This provides further convenient plotting, as Khan has been “cryobiologically” freezing those captured scientists, but the resuscitation method is faulty, with all of them waking up as mental incompetents. But Drobksy’s cryo process has went well, and he’s the sole scientist who comes to with all his faculties. 

Rather than a slam-bang finale, Murimoto instead informs Hood that he will need to “dishonor” Khan’s daughter, “by force if necessary.” Teh, whose name means “virtue,” is the uber-protected virginal daughter of Khan, despite her obvious burnin’ yearnin’ for Hood. So Hood does the deed…and Dark leaves it off page! Earlier I should mention we also read as Hood boffs some blonde pickup in a Moscow bar; a sex scene slightly more risque than any previous ones, but as arbitrary as you can get, as it turns out to be a blackmail scheme that goes nowhere thanks to Hood’s karate skills with the dudes who come in with the camera.

But Teh enjoys it, we’re at least informed – and then Hood guts proud Khan with the info of his dauther’s “loss of honor” moments after leaving her room! An enraged Khan yanks the titular sword of Genghis Khan from its wall mounting and we get a brief sword fight…and then Hood has a seat on the floor and watches as Murimoto fights Khan to the death!! I couldn’t believe what I was reading, friends; our “hero” literally has his “sidekick” fight the main villain, due to the reasoning that Khan’s too good at martial arts and Murimoto’s more skilled at karate than Hood is. Oh, and meanwhile Drobsky has set Khan’s satellite to blow up. So in other words Mark Hood himself does nothing in the novel other than take out a few unarmed scientists in the satellite-control center and then screw the villain’s daughter.

Dark rushes through the finale, with the plummeting rocket wiping out the castle and Hood et al escaping in a commandeered plane – flown by Murimoto, given that Hood doesn’t know how to fly(!). Anyone else think this should be re-titled the “Murimoto” series? Meanwhile Teh is bleeding to death, thanks to a sword cut from her dad, who wanted to kill her in his rage over the loss of that “virtue.” To save the poor girl the trouble of being tortured in Russia (Teh you see was the murderer of Drobsky’s guards during his abduction), Hood unties her tourniquet so she’ll bleed to death in her sleep during the flight, and then settles down for a nap! The end!! 

While it’s not perfect by any means, The Sword Of Genghis Khan at least offers plenty of that ‘60s spy pulp vibe I enjoy, and moves a helluva lot faster than earlier volumes of the series.

No comments: