Monday, February 15, 2021

MIA Hunter #11: Crossfire Kill

MIA Hunter #11: Crossfire Kill, by Jack Buchanan
February, 1989  Jove Books

Unforunately this eleventh volume of MIA Hunter is a definite low point for the series; it seems to have been written by an author who has no knowledge of the previous volumes and just wants to do a Robert Ludlum style Cold War thriller. The editorial hand of Stephen Mertz is only occasionally present, usually just adding clarifying points about the changing nature of Stone’s mission. This disconnect from previous books is odd, given that Arthur Moore wrote Crossfire Kill, and he wrote two earlier volumes, #8: Escape From Nicaragua and #9: Invasion U.S.S.R. Checking my reviews of those two previous books, it looks like I wasn’t very fond of either of them…but Crossfire Kill is real patience testing, and definitely my least favorite volume of the series. 

For one, some revisionism seems to have taken place; Carol Jenner, hotstuff blonde who much earlier in the series was nothing more than “Mark Stone’s girlfriend,” now comes off like the boss of the team! We’re informed that she’s “on assignment from Fort Bragg,” with the official capacity of overseeing the taskforce that is Mark Stone, Hog Wiley, and Terrence Loughlin. There’s absolutely no indication here that she is (or was?) Stone’s woman, and what’s more she now seems to have an antagonistic relationship with Hog, easily frustrated with his one-liners and ever-randy attitude. Now we know that a few volumes ago the series overall changed, with Stone and team now working directly for the US government; Carol’s role changed as well, acting mostly as “the computer girl,” giving intel and whatnot on each mission. But this time she’s not only giving intel but basically dictating what Stone and team does. She also seems to have lost the ability to use contractions when she speaks. All very, very strange, and not exactly welcomed. 

But then, the change in the series itself isn’t much welcomed. Capturing POWs was the gimmick of MIA Hunter, and with the gimmick removed the series is struggling. Particularly here, as Crossfire Kill is really just a sluggish thriller with “action scenes” that seem to be huriedly grafted on to meet a series mandate. In fact, Stone and team pretty much disappear for long portions of the narrative, Moore focusing instead on the one-off Eurotrash villains. In this regard the novel most reminded me of S-Com #1: Terror In Turin (which curiously also had a main character named Stone), another slow-moving “men’s adventure novel” that kept its heroes on the sidelines so as to focus on the annoying bickering and bantering of its too-many villains. But at least Terror In Turin had some sleazy sex to keep things interesting; we don’t even get that in Crossfire Kill. The genre has been neutered of such stuff by 1989, anyway; I mean there’s even a hooker in the book, but she’s just there to add more pseudo-suspense to the tale. In a men’s adventure novel from the ‘70s her role would’ve been entirely different. That’s progress, I guess. 

So Stone and team are now tasked with saving kidnapped people all over the world, at the behest of the US government; this time though their role is pretty muddled. The opening chapter lets us know what we’re in for: an overlong sequence in which one of the villains of the piece carries out his hit, assassinating a German official. The assassin is a “potato-faced” little man named Danzig(!). He’s just one of the many villains we have to keep up with…there’s also Neff, a terrorist leader initially presented as the main villain of the novel, until we ultimately meet Von Schiller, a former SS officer who truly runs things. But man. The majority of Crossfire Kill is comprised of these dudes fighting each other, with long portions of the narrative devoted to Danzig trying to kill Neff, or Neff trying to kill Von Schiller, or whatever. And every once in a while we’ll cut over to Stone and team in their Frankfurt apartment, where Carol Jenner bosses them around a little more. 

After this opening assassination, Stone’s team is called to Frankfurt…for something. Even Hog questions why they should give a damn if some German official has been killed. (Of course Carol doesn’t take kindly to this.) The explanation is that the murdered official was organizing a visit from the US Secretary of State or somesuch, so Stone’s here to ensure everything goes smoothly – but wait, an American General has just been adbucted right off the Army base here in Germany, so Stone’s team will indeed have someone to rescue after all. When Stone rescues the General we get our first indication that Crossfire Kill won’t have near the action quotient of previous books; as we’ll recall, some of the early volumes of MIA Hunter were nothing but long-running action scenes. Here it’s over and done with in a few pages, Stone, Hog, and Loughlin making a few bloodless kills as they storm a Euroterrorist compound and rescue the General. 

Here also we get the bizarre revelation that some chick Loughlin once had a thing with is now with Neff; we’ll eventually learn she’s a hardbitten SAS agent, thus her shocked yelp of “Terry!” when she sees Loughlin comes as a bit hard to buy. But whatever, this is the absolute most focus the cipher known as Terrence Loughlin has ever received. I mean I honestly thought the dude was gay (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”), but here we have an ex-girlfriend for him and everything. And hell, later in the book Loughlin even gets in some casual gay-bashing, putting down some dude who appears to hit on Stone in a German bar. Well anyway, the girl is named Eva Ullman, and once he gets over his shock Loughlin tells Stone and Hog that he had an affair with her many years before, when he was still with the SAS, and this is the first time he’s seen her in all these years, etc. 

But for veteran commandos, the Stone group seems easily fooled. Eva just happened to be standing right beside terrorist leader Neff when she saw Loughlin, and the two then ran away – Loughlin unable to tell if Neff was pulling Eva, like she was a captive or something, or if she was willingly running off with him. Shortly after this Loughlin receives a message at their apartment complex, presumably from Eva, asking to meet “Terry” at a certain location – a location which the team’s German contact tells them just happens to be in the middle of the friggin’ forest. “Well, let’s just go see how it plays out,” our heroes basically decide. Of course, it turns out to be a trap, leading to another bloodless action scene as Stone and Hog, lying in cover while Loughlin drives around on a dirt bike, cut down the assassins who unsurprisingly show up. 

There is such a focus on the one-off characters that we even have sections from Eva’s point of view, with the intent that we’ll be afraid that Neff will have her killed. She’s on assignment from SAS, you see, which makes her shocked yelp of “Terry!” even harder to believe. Not that she should worry about Eva’s wellbeing, as Neff is such a lame villain that he actually forgets to do anything about Eva, who might, you know, be familiar with at least one of those mysterious commandos who keep killing Neff’s men. She’s eventually taken to some countryside retreat to be interrogated, but manages to escape on her own, Stone and team luckily coming upon her before she can indeed be killed. After this though she basically disappears from the narrative; about the most we learn is that she needs to take a nap to calm her nerves and she’s determined that this will be her last SAS assignment! 

But yeah, most of the last third is composed of Von Schiller hiring Danzig to kill Neff, due to all Neff’s screwups, and then Neff trying to get the better of Danzig, and then Neff trying to get revenge on Von Schiller, and on and on. And meanwhile Stone and team stand around and try to put together the clues to figure out who is funding Neff. Occasionally we will have a super-brief action scene, Stone and his crew cutting down Neff’s seemingly endless supply of Eurotash terrorists in spectacularly bloodless fashion. Hog will occasionally make a quip or two; he has a strange fetish for talking about “tits” this time, sometimes in the most unsettling of ways, like implying that Neff is going to torture Eva by beating on her boobs. To the extent that even Loughlin and Stone wonder what the hell’s going on with Hog. That being said, there’s one goofy part where Hog merely backhands a guy and kills him! 

Even the climax is pretty unspectacular, with Stone and team racing around Germany and Holland and then back to Germany to put the hammer down on Von Schiller. Who by the way has a great track record, despite all the internal squabbling; he and his men manage to kill several more European officials during the novel. Stone seems to be especially driven to take out Von Schiller, once he learns of the man’s Nazi past, but even here the final battle is pretty quick and anticlimactic. I mean it features an exploding car, like an episode of Knight Rider or something. 

I think here in the very final pages is the only part where Stephen Mertz contributes to the tale; we get a sudden glimpse into Stone’s perspective. His was the most common perspective in earlier books, but it’s hardly present this time. He muses over “the shifting role of his team.” Here we also learn that Stone’s “main” objective is still rescuing POWs in Vietnam, but there’s been no recent “hard intel” of any. I know eventually Mertz delivers an installment which returns Stone and team to ‘Nam, and I have to say I’m looking forward to it. Like I wrote above, saving POWs was the gimmick of this series; these guys should be in the jungle, hitting Charlie in long-running action scenes. That’s their thing. Taking them out of their element hasn’t really been working out, at least not for me, so I’ll be looking forward to this eventual return to the original series template.

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