Kane's War #7: Killer Cruise, by Nick Stone
March, 1988 Ivy/Ballantine Books
The final volume of Kane’s War is notable for one thing: the friggin’ perm Kane now sports on the cover. I mean check that shit out! I remember my brother got a perm in 1985, when he was 17. I was 10 at the time and even at that young of an age I knew it was a bad idea. So by 1988 perms must have really been out of fashion. Anyway, Kane’s perm wasn’t enough to save the series, as with this installment Kane’s War came to an end.
I never did find out who served as “Nick Stone” on this series, but I stick with my theory that it was (at least) two writers who traded off on volumes. To wit, some installments of Kane’s War are 350-page doorstops of dense prose, sticking to realistic plots, with most of the sexual material occurring off-page. Other volumes are also around 350 pages, but with big print, plots that get a little more fanciful, and often quite graphic sexual material. Initially Killer Cruise seems to be one of the latter; it’s 348 pages but sports very big print, and in the first pages we’re reading all about Michelle’s Mullraney’s jigglin’ “thirty-eights” as Ben Kane checks her out.
Michelle is a recurring character in the series, one of Kane’s two bedmates, the other being prissy British socialite Jessica. A developing thread in the series is that the two women are aware of one another; there’s some genuinely funny dialog here as Michelle makes fun of Jessica to Kane – and how Jessica throws herself at Kane. (Also as an FYI, Jessica does not appear in this volume, so her final appearance in the series must’ve been in the previous volume – which I don’t have.) But when Kane and Michelle get around to their inevitable tomfoolery, the author cuts to the next scene. The same will hold true for the few other sex scenes in Killer Cruise. This is very much at odds with the sleazy a-doings of the “Nick Stone” who did the big-print volumes, a la #5: Depth Charge, which was filled with graphic banging. So could there have been a third writer on the series?
Speaking of “banging,” that word is used here as a sexual euphimism; I know it was well in use by the ‘80s but wanted to note it for any armchair etymologists. We get a lot of exploitative detail on Michelle’s ample charms (not a complaint), but when it gets down to the “banging” it’s all off-page. But as mentioned the author gets trashy in the dialog, at least, with Michelle mocking rich-bitch Jessica, pretending to call for her butler to “perfume my muff.” This sort of aggressive rivalry between the two women is new to the series…in fact I don’t believe Michelle or Jessica have ever been together in the series, but I could be wrong. Or maybe it happened in one of the volumes I don’t have.
Another thing new to the series – which also makes me suspect a new author worked on this one – is the sudden focus on Cord Weaver. Kane’s former CIA contact in ‘Nam and current annoyance here in the Caribbean, Weaver has appeared in every volume. But always as a peripheral character; here he’s almost a supporting character, with several scenes focusing on him. In other words, it’s like he’s an integral part of Kane’s War now, whereas previously he was just a foil of Kane’s. We also learn that he’s relatively good-looking, and Michelle taunts Kane about him – Michelle does a lot of taunting in the book, coming off as a more vibrant character than in previous volumes. Perhaps more indication this one was written by someone new to the series.
As usual though, Weaver is the one who brings Kane into the latest situation. The US and Cuba are looking to trade some prisoners, as a sign of thawing relations, but the USSR is not happy with the prospect. So Weaver asks Kane to consider transporting the US prisoners to the exchange point and provide necessary security. Clearly this isn’t enough plot for a 348-page book, so at the same time, in a completely unrelated plot, we learn that there’s a new cruise ship about to hit the scene, with a hotstuff Puerto Rican babe named Chita Vargas acting as the PR rep for it or somesuch. That’s her on the cover; the uncredited artist got some good direction, as Chita even sports an Uzi at one point. Ultimately the plot of Killer Cruise will be more concerned with Chita and her cruise ship, as terrorists hijack the ship while Kane is aboard, leading to a sort of nautical-themed Die Hard.
It takes a long time for this to happen, though; to be exact, the hijacking doesn’t occur until page 123. Before that Killer Cruise is page-filling of the most egregious sort, going for more of a “happenings at the marina” vibe than any previous volume. And also Kane comes off as a bit of a lothario; as soon as he sees Chita he starts hitting on her hard. “I’ll charm your ass off,” he promises her, but Chita is initially frosty. Of course she ends up giving him the goods, but once again it happens off page. Curiously though Kane falls hard for Chita – at least for the convenience of the plot. When the hijacking occurs on Chita’s ship, Kane puts himself and his erstwhile companions (who can forget Ganja? And, uh, the others?) in danger, desperate to save her. Hilariously enough, though, Chita is barely an afterthought in the finale and Kane’s back with Michelle.
The author tries to meld the two plots; the cruise ship hijacking is ostensibly by a group of Puerto Rican rebels, but the Cubans might be behind it so as to foil that prisoner exchange which is supposed to be the main plot. But it’s this nautical Die Hard that takes up the brunt of the novel’s action, with Kane and his pals going aboard the ship disguised as an emergency crew to evac the wounded. This entails Ganja carrying a stretcher with a “stretcher tube,” which apparently is a LAW rocket or somesuch. He blows up several people real good, and the main bit of gore in Killer Cruise is copious description of the blasted-up body parts on the ship. Indeed, Chita (who has come along for contrived reasons) pukes her guts out at the carnage.
Once the hijacking is cleared up, it’s as if the author realizes, “Oh shit, this novel’s supposed to be about a prisoner exchange!” So off Kane and his pals go in Kane’s new boat, and we get a lot of stuff about this boat as they speed along and get in chases with rivals who are trying to foil the exchange. But after the cruise ship action it seems underwhelming. In fact, “underwhelming” is a fair assessment of Killer Cruise. As mentioned the author even forgets about poor Chita, who seemed to be “the one” for Kane; by novel’s end he affords her nary a thought and is looking forward to more time with Michelle’s “thirty-eights.” And honestly, who could blame him.
And folks that was it for Kane’s War. Overall I found the series pretty tepid, with the novels too long for their own good. Yet at the same time there was a good attempt at melding marina mystery with men’s adventure – I mean the series was certainly better than an earlier attempt at this: Killinger.