MIA Hunter #10: Miami War Zone, by Jack Buchanan
July, 1988 Jove Books
Bill Crider turns in his first installment of MIA Hunter which sees the series reboot in full effect; at this point there isn’t much difference between MIA Hunter and pretty much any other ‘80s men’s adventure series, like The Hard Corps or whatnot. I’m really on the fence so far as this reboot goes, because even though the early “save POWs in ‘Nam” plotlines got to be a little repetitive, the angle did give the series its own unique vibe, one that’s lost in these later volumes.
Whereas the early vibe might be lost, one thing that’s remained consistent about MIA Hunter is the narrative style. As I’ve said before, series creator and editor Stephen Mertz did a great job of assembling a group of ghostwriters who all wrote in a similar style – or Stephen just did some great editing to make all the styles seem consistent. What I’m trying to say is, one could easily be fooled into believing “Jack Buchanan” is a real author. Given this, I can’t notice anything “new” Crider has brought to the table; Miami War Zone has the same tone and style as previous books, with goodly portions of firearms detail, impromptu karate battles, “back in East Texas” tall tales from Hog Wiley, and action movie-esque friendly banter between Hog and British ciper Terrance Loughlin. Well, one new thing is that Carol Jenner, main protagonist Mark Stone’s girlfriend since the earliest volumes, has now become the computer specialist of the team, and we’re also informed she’s “a fighter to equal nearly anyone.” I don’t believe this has been stated before.
While the Southeast Asian locales might have changed, the series is also consistent in that Stone, Hog, and Loughlin still operate as rescuers of captured personnel. This time though, as the cliché goes, “it’s personal;” Stone’s old ‘Nam buddy Jack Wofford, now an undercover DEA agent in Miami, has been taken captive. In a humorous disregard of reality, Stone – who is called by Jack’s worried wife – decides to head on down and save him, even though he and his team operate out of Fort Bragg and are supposedly there at the behest of the US Government. In other words, Stone just decides to take the law into his own hands, using the full resources of Fort Bragg to operate on US soil, going against not only the FBI but the local police. But I just point this out due to the ridiculousness of the situation, and I applaud Crider for saying to hell with realism, because it’s not what most readers want from the genre.
From the get-go Stone and team get in bad with the FBI agents in Miami, in particular Washington tool Williams. Crider displays his Gold Eagle background with a lot of running subplots involving all these one-off secondary characters: many pages devoted to the FBI guys, to a pair of Homicide cops, to Mafia chieftan Crazy Tony, and to drug baron Enrique Feliz. And there’s a lot of narrative devoted to Jack Wufford, who is shuttled around from one captor to another, constantly being drugged into oblivion; Crider nicely works this somewhat egregious stuff into the series’ past concept, with Wofford so drug-deluded that he thinks he’s back in ‘Nam, once again a POW. He saved Stone back in the war, as we learn in another flashback, so our hero is damn determined to find his old buddy and get him to safety.
Carol learns via the computer that the Feds are down here because there’s a drug war brewing between Feliz and Crazy Charlie, a nutcase who is infamous for feeding people to his pet alligators. Unfortunately this angle doesn’t pan out the way I expected to; Charlie is developed as such a psychotic you can’t wait to see Stone and team go up against him. But instead Charlie will be dealt with by Feliz, and Stone et al will concern themselves more with Crazy Charlie’s old father, Don Vito. This entails a nicely-done sequence where they perform a soft probe of the don’s villa, sneaking into the old man’s room while he’s being orally pleasured by a hooker. This is the closest we get to anything lurid in Miami War Zone -- Stone and Carol’s relationship basically seems to just involve discussing the mission – and Crider further adds a humorous element in that Hog recognizes the poor hooker; it’s a dancer he lusted after in a local strip joint.
Our author also understands the difference between the men’s adventure genre and your average mystery thriller; when one of the don’s hapless stooges comes upstairs to check on the boss, Loughlin grabs him by the throat from behind and strangles him. It just seemed pretty sadistic to me, as our heroes are really just here to get intel on Wofford, and Loughlin could’ve just as easily knocked the dude out, like a private eye or somesuch would. Anyway this sequence of course escalates into an action scene, with the don pulling a secret gun and Stone almost casually dispensing of him with a chop to the throat. This running action sequence builds to the memorable moment where Hog “wallows in shit” as he battles a Mafia goon nearly as big as himself in a sewer tunnel.
As ever Hog has more spark than any of the other characters; Crider gets a lot of mileage out of some dark humor concerning a new plastic knife Hog has acquired. It’s especially memorable in this part with Don Vito; first Hog threatens to castrate the old man with the knife, even Stone getting in on the act to make the old man talk, then again he uses it in the fight with the massive goon in the sewer tunnel. Loughlin as ever doesn’t resonate much with the reader; we learn – or we’re reminded, more likely – that he has red hair. Dude’s such a cipher I hadn’t known that, or had forgot. As for Stone, he too is in cipher mode this time, mostly just driven to save his old ‘Nam pal. When they aren’t out driving around Miami looking for Wofford, Stone’s pacing around their rented house, fretting over the situation.
But as mentioned our heroes are off-page for a lot of the narrative. The most egregious example of this is when Crazy Charlie is dealt with by Enrique Feliz; we readers (or at least this reader) keep waiting for Stone and team to take on the psychotic Charlie and his pet alligators. And indeed the narrative is building to this, with Stone’s team getting intel that Wofford is being held by Crazy Charlie, and getting in their car to head on over there (another recurring joke being the small white Toyota Stone has rented, which Hog hates). But while they’re driving there Feliz converges on Crazy Charlie’s place with his soldiers, and a major battle ensues, with Charlie dealt some fitting comeuppance, given his past proclivities for feeding people to gators – but unfortunately it’s Feliz who takes care of this, not our heroes. By the time Stone et al show up, the firefight’s over and they’re left wondering what happened.
Feliz thus becomes the main villain by default; Wofford is passed around like a hot potato, unconscious or drugged out most of the time, and Feliz takes him to a drug lab deep in the Everglades to use as a bargaining chip with some manufacturers for a deal or somesuch. This is where the action climax plays out; again saying to hell with reality, our heroes get hold of a helicopter and hit the place hard. Crider gives us the automatic hellfire we want from the genre, but isn’t as extreme with the gore. He works in some nigh-magic realism when Wofford, almost supernaturally empowered, gets hold of a gun and walks around the burning lab grounds, blowing away goons and somehow avoiding all the bullets that are fired at him.
Curiously though this isn’t the end of the book. Instead, Stone happens to read a newspaper in the airport and sees a story in there which clues him in that there’s a traitor in the FBI, one that’s been helping out the drug barons. It of course turns out to be one of the suits he’s been arguing with throughout the book, leading to a chase in the terminal as Stone tries to bring him to justice. It’s okay but seems to come from a different book; more fitting is the sendoff Stone delivers Enrique Feliz in the earlier action sequence, which involes the spinning blades of an air boat.
Crider definitely has the “feel” of the series down pat – as mentioned you could read this book and think it was written by the same guy who did the previous ten – but at the same time I’m still not as crazy about this new direction. Crider returned for two more volumes, one which apparently sees Stone and team heading back to ‘Nam, so that one I look forward to, just to see if it retains the vibe of the earliest books.