Depth Force #8: Suicide Run, by Irving Greenfield
March, 1987 Zebra Books
I’m missing the seventh volume of Depth Force, but for once we get a little bit of backstory in this eighth volume; Irving Greenfield usually doesn’t tell us much about what came before, but at least this time we find out it’s “several months” after #6: Sea Of Flames and there have been a few soap-operatic changes to the characters and story. For one, hero Admiral Jack Boxer apparently suffered some sort of breakdown in the previous volume, but he’s doing fine now and he’s about to marry some lady named Francine, who made her first appearance last time.
Boxer’s also now in charge of a sub called the Barracuda, so presumably the Shark was destroyed by the nutjob who hijacked it toward the end of the sixth volume. Boxer’s also got new commanders: Tysin, his direct commander (inexplicably referred to by the nickname “Chi-Chi”), and Mason, the new director of the Navy. Humorously, not only do these guys hate Boxer but they’re actively plotting his death!! Apparently Boxer embarrassed the US last time by insisting that a bravery award be given to best bud-archenemy Borodine, the other series protagonist – and Borodine has his own continuing “As The Periscope Turns” subplot, with a new wife and his own skirmishes with commanding officers. I usually skim his parts because they bore me.
Actually the whole series is pretty boring. A weird thing about Greenfield’s style is that he always foregoes any opportunity for excitement; seriously, main characters will be killed off and it’s relayed so casually, in a humdrum narrative style, that you have to go back and re-read the section to be sure you understand what’s happened. It’s almost as if the series were catered to invalids, or people with nervous conditions – “I want a yarn about submarine commanders in some near-future Cold War setting, but for god’s sake no action or suspense – my heart couldn’t take it!”
Per series template, we meet Boxer just as he’s wrapping up the events of the previous volume; as mentioned before, every volume of Depth Force follows the same path. We’ll have the first quarter-plus devoted to wrapping up the previous book, then we’ll have the meat of the tale, which is comprised of plotting and counterplotting and other soap opera stuff, and then we’ll get to the “main” plot (ie the plot described on the back cover)…and this “main plot” will only take up about twenty pages of the book. Indeed, the back covers of Depth Force usually are more accurate at describing the next volume. So then Suicide Run (the title a perfect summation of how the reader feels when undertaking one of these books) doesn’t get to this promised plot – the Russkies attacking a section of Alaska – until page 200, and the book only runs 220+ pages.
As usual we meet Boxer while he’s dealing with Borodine and other Russian forces, fighting them and then coming to their aid, or vice versa. So this time Boxer’s just prevented the Russians from assaulting Yemen or somesuch, and he’s making off in his sub with the actual raiding party, looking to reunite them with their countrymen. Of course, his commanding officers demand that he bring them all back to the US as prisoners of war, but Boxer refuses and shuts off communication. He runs right into a trap, as Borodine’s sub has been positioned as bait by the Russians – Boxer’s objective is to drop the men off with Borodine and then head home. He manages to evade the trap and drop off the men, but unexpectedly encounters a more devastating attack in the waters outside Virginia, where the Barracuda is hit by some mysterious object. Here Boxer’s first mate, Cowley, is killed in the action…but again the reader has to go back and make sure this is what’s happened, as it isn’t much elaborated upon.
At this point the plot settles into the usual soap opera dynamic; Boxer reports to Tysin and Mason, who immediately begin plotting his death – in particular, Tysin plans to use Sanchez, Boxer’s former best buddy, to kill him. Sanchez appeared in the earlier volumes and had a falling out with Boxer, presumably in the previous volume. However this won’t pan out until the very end of the novel, when Tysin meets with Sanchez, asks if he’d be interested, and Sanchez says he won’t kill Boxer but he will abduct Boxer’s fiance Francine and hand her over to his “friends in Arabia,” who I guess must run a sex-slave ring.
Now I know what you’re thinking – it might be boring and all, but at least we can expect some random explicit sex in Depth Force right? Well friends brace yourself for this one: there’s no sex in Suicide Run! I mean the one thing that at least keeps you turning the pages, in the hopes you’ll come across some Harold Robbins-esque filth, and it’s not even there! Francine serves more in the capacity of Boxer’s confidant, more so than any previous female character, there for a shoulder to lean on and to come to his aid in unexpected moments – there’s another vague subplot about Boxer trying to get custody of some kid (I presume his son, last mentioned a few volumes ago), and the lawyer’s trying to pull a fast one on Boxer, until Francine reveals she’s got info about the lawyer’s gay frolics, which will make for a sensational news story.
It just goes on and on, with only occasional action. Boxer scuba dives with another shipmate where Barracuda was mysteriously attacked; he comes to the conclusion it was a missile, and we readers already know Tysin was behind it. Boxer gets in a skirmish with some enemy frogmen, sent here by Tysin to plant evidence so it looks like Barracuda hit a motorboat. Boxer uses an “underwater rifle” and takes them both out, but of course his friend is killed. This leads to another action scene as Boxer, a local cop, and Stark (Boxer’s former commanding officer, now retired and living with Boxer and Francine) get in a brief firefight with some men – a sequence that could’ve been much more exploited.
The “main plot” as mentioned comes up very late in the book, and has to do with the Russians closing in on some “newly-discovered oil fields” in Alaska. Boxer is put in charge of a new sub, Tiny Tim, and heads off with another assault team he’s supposed to drop off. And once again all the action happens off-page while Boxer stands in the control room, watching monitors. This time a nuke is even set off, with the last image of Suicide Run being particularly apocalyptic; a mushroom cloud in the distance, the entire assault team and Russian invading force wiped out, and, once again, Borodine and Boxer trapped in quickly-failing submarines, about to go to one another’s rescue. I’ve got the next one, at least, so will see how some of these plot threads play out.