Thursday, October 7, 2021

Kane‘s War #5: Depth Charge

Kanes War #5: Depth Charge, by Nick Stone
November, 1987  Ivy/Ballantine Books

When I began collecting Kane's War years ago I really looked forward to getting to this fifth volume; the plot, about an underwater luxury resort only accessible via scuba or submarine, really appealed to me. I could just see the Burt Hirschfeld-esque trash fiction yarn this setting might entail, with a bunch of jet-setters congregating in a plush locale beneath the waves for some wholesome sin. But one thing I’ve learned from reading so many men’s adventure novels is that the contents of the books often differ from the stories promised on the back covers, and such is the case with Depth Charge

While there is an underwater resort here, it’s largely unexploited and indeed the entire novel – up to the series’ usual unwieldy length of 280+ pages – takes place before the resort even opens! The resort, Neptune’s Palace, only opens to its guests in the final quarter of the book, but instead of the glitzy beach read I’d hoped for it instead turns into a Die Hard prototype, with terrorists attacking (and destroying!) the place before the festivities can even begin. Rather, the majority of Depth Charge is given over to the usual Kane’s War formula, with our hero getting in frequent waterborne scrapes with a variety of foes, while finding the opportunity to enjoy some explicity-rendered sex with his two female companions. 

One thing this fifth volume seems to confirm for me is that there really were two authors on Kane’s War, maybe more. Some of them, like the previous volume, are a bit more “straight” and feature small print, the author fully invested in capturing the “marina mystery” vibe. The odd-numbered volumes, like this one, are much more crude, especially in the sex scenes, and feature big print. In fact the closest comparison I could make would be to prolific men’s adventure writer J.C. Conaway, but there’s too much plot here for one of his works, not to mention too much action. Otherwise whoever served as this particular “Nick Stone” writes like he’s working for Leisure Books or Belmont-Tower in the ‘70s; he could care less about “realism” and instead wants to serve up a bunch of sex and action. The only caveat is the page length, which again makes the series a bit of a chore; if a hundred pages were cut out, Depth Charge would be a lot more fun. 

Anyway the story follows on from the previous four: hero Ben Kane is minding his own business in the Caribbean when all hell breaks loose. The opening is memorable; Ben and his “favorite playmate,” Michelle, are deep-sea diving and checking out Neptune’s Palace, which is soon to open. Someone cuts their air lines, but luckily Neptune Palace owner Paul Kavouris happens to be scuba diving nearby and gets Kane and Michelle into the resort before they drown. Here we get our first – and only, really – look at Neptune’s Palace. It’s a two-storey structure that looks like “a twenty-first century spaceship.” Kane’s charter line has gotten the contract to ferry guests to the resort, and he and Michelle wanted to come by this Sunday morning to see how the development was going. When they get topside they find Kane’s skipper out cold, courtesy a dart to the neck; we readers know that an assassin’s in the vicinity, his sights on Kane. This cutting of the air lines was just his first assault. 

But really this setup becomes unintentionally humorous; there will be multiple attempts on Kane’s life as he’s just tooling around the ocean, lending the novel the slapstick tone of The Naked Gun or somesuch. I’m certain the author had his tongue in cheek, though; I mean, Kane will be out cruising the waves with erstwhile colleagues Ganja and Miles, and some boat will come out of nowhere and start shooting at them, and pretty soon Miles will be blasting back at it with an M-16 he takes from the bulkhead or whatever. Reading this series you get the idea that firefights frequently occur in the Caribbean. The author tries to make it all somewhat believable, with a hapless cop at least making the pretense of trying to maintain law and order – and chastising Kane for his violent “American ways.” 

An interesting thing about this series is that it has the ‘80s-mandatory “team” focus, even though Kane is the titular character. While Kane is the main character, Ganja and Miles are part of his team and have their own subplots. Miles continues to be a cipher, and the author doesn’t do much to bring him to life; he’s monosyllabic and likes knives. There’s a definite “hmm” factor at work, too; Neptune’s Resort features two “mermaids” at the entrance, twin blondes (“they were natural blondes, too”), clad only in scuba gear, who welcome all visitors. Well, one of them (or both, the author doesn’t clarify) takes a shine to Miles…who goes out of his way to ignore her. Otherwise the mermaid bit is wholly unexploited by the author; as I say, the entire “Neptune’s Palace” setup comes off like an afterthought, with more focus on Kane’s waterborne firefights and the lame mystery of who hired the assassin that’s after him. 

This “mystery” angle is what makes me suspect J.C. Conaway was this volume’s “Nick Stone,” but as usual I could be wrong. Conaway always had a mystery angle in his books, and there’s one here, complete with even a Conaway-esque bit at the end where Kane assembles all the suspects and starts grilling them with full-bore exposition. But as I say, there’s a lot more focus on action here than any Conaway novel I’ve ever read, though the firearms detail is minimized. In other words, you certainly couldn’t confuse Kane’s War with the average Gold Eagle offering of the era. Nor is the violence much exploited; gunfights are frequent, but blood and gore is minimized. The same, happily, cannot be said about the frequent sex. As mentioned, this particular author is quite crude in that regard – enjoyably so. 

So the previous volumes have established the template which appears again here: each novel opens with Kane having explicit sex with either Michelle or his other “playmate,” British beauty Jessica, and then shortly after this escapade we’ll have Kane conjugating with the other playmate. So this time it opens with a graphic bang of Michelle, then that night Kane goes to a lavish party of the elite and has sex with Jessica. This will be repeated throughout the book, and as with previous books a third babe will gradually be introduced into the mix. But the sex in this volume is much more crude than previously – and I’m sorry to keep using that word, but it really is the best description:

 But this is just the tip of the veritable iceberg. Later on we have a bit where Paul Kavouris has sex with his mistress Rachel, a stacked redheaded widow who becomes manager of Neptune’s Palace (and ultimately will become the “third babe” Kane himself enjoys in the novel). This part is so randomly bonkers that I just had to share it: 

As mentioned Kane gets his turn at the wheel with Rachel, leading to even more bonkers filth: 

And this crude vibe extends to the entire book, complete with random exclamation points in the narrative. Again, the feel is very much of a Leisure offering from the decade before. But the sleaze can’t save the book, because too much of it is given over to egregious page-filling. Through Max’s somnambulic mumbling, Kane learns of an infamous assassin nicknamed “Feathers” due to his favored method of kills – feather-tipped darts. Ultimately this has Kane constantly cornering a local gaddabout named Sir Max and accusing him of being Feathers, or of hiring him. And yeah, that’s “Sir Max;” rather than the Hirschfeld-esque potboiler beneath the sea I was hoping for, Depth Charge instead concerns itself with stuffy upper-crust British types, like a notoriously “fabulous” old lady named Adelle. 

After the interminable attacks on Kane – I mean he’s even shot at while merely fishing with Kavouris – we get back to Neptune’s Palace, which soon will open to its first round of tourists…who happen to be those stuffy upper-crust Brits. The author brings the recurring characters here, with Michelle getting a job – it’s implied so she can ensure Kane doesn’t get too cozy with either of the “mermaids” – and Ganja also working in the place. But as mentioned any chance to exploit this exotic setting is squandered. Promptly upon Neptune Palace’s opening it’s hit by those titular “depth charges,” and pretty much the entire place is destroyed! I mean there’s no part where we see the various characters interacting with this plush underwater resort, complete with its view of the sea and its nude mermaids. 

Even the proto-Die Hard connotations are squandered, as the underwater action’s over quick and things go topside, with Kane and comrades blasting away at the villains. But this only leads us to that ultra-lame “climax” I mentioned earlier, with Kane assembling all the various one-off characters and grilling them to discover who would want to destroy Kavouris’s underwater resort. It’s all incredibly lame and almost reminds the reader of the climax of the average episode of Scooby-Doo. Even worse is this “Nick Stone” has no feel for drama; one of the new one-off characters is killed in the action at Neptune’s Palace, and the death is treated like an afterthought. 

That said, Depth Charge moves incredibly fast for a 281-page book. I’d love to know who the authors were who worked on this series; maybe it really was J.C. Conaway who wrote this one. I guess we’ll never know.


-Alan D Hopewell said...

I have a question about a piece of"glorious trash",a Sixties crime novel about a male/female crime team that the cover blurbs compare to Steed and Mrs.Peel gone bad; I don't remember her name, but the man's name was Michael Bliss.
Any information would be welcome.

Unknown said...

(Zwolf again)

Hmm... "dirgelike rhythm," "damp whinny," "leering grimace," "bubbling froth"...

Don't mind me, I'm just writing down some notes on terms NEVER to use if I ever decide to write a sex scene. :)

Not that they aren't descriptive! I'm pretty sure I'm going to bolt wide awake at night from now on having dreams about a vagina uttering a "damp whinny." Good lord. If Ramsey Campbell ever wanted to write porn...

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Alan, I'd love to be able to help out with that series, but it's not one I've heard of. My first thought was of Archie O'Neil's Jeff Pride series, as that had a sort of Avengers motif with the narrator hero and his Peel-esque assistant, but his name of course was "Jeff Pride" and it was a series from the '70s. Maybe someone else out there might know?

Zwolf, you're correct, definitely has the vibe of some sort of '80s splatterpunk. The icing on the cake is the typo in the first excerpt ("...he savord her salty sweetness..."), which just makes it seem even more bonkers.

-Alan D Hopewell said...

The novel was Seventies, I think, and was a standalone.