Thursday, June 6, 2024

Depth Force #9: Death Cruise

Depth Force #9: Death Cruise, by Irving A. Greenfield
September, 1988  Zebra Books

How have I gone four years without reading an installment of Depth Force? The most shocking thing is I actually remembered most of what happened in the previous volume before starting Death Cruise; as we know, Irving Greenfield starts every volume en media res, picking up immediately after the previous volume, with zero in the way of background detail to catch up readers who might’ve forgotten what happened…or who might not’ve picked up the previous volume at all. 

So I wasn’t too out of sorts with the big action-rescue operation that opens this ninth installment; bearded hero Admiral Jack Boxer is on a new experimental sub and dropping off some commandos to take out a nuclear facility that’s guarded by Arabic and Russian soldiers, but as usual Greenfield writes the action scenes in outline format, with nothing in the way of the hard-hitting action one might expect from the genre. In fact, most of it is, as usual, relayed from the perspective of Boxer as he gets updates on the commlink on the bridge. But the novel opens on the same apocalyptic image that the previous one ended on, with the mushroom cloud of the destroyed facility off in the distance. 

The “rescue” portion goes on twice as long, and takes up a lot of the novel. As ever the Russians are there, under the command of Borodine, Boxer’s Russian enemy-slash-best friend. Borodine’s ship is destroyed, so Boxer follows the maritme code and rescues the Russians. There’s a lot of stuff about these guys toasting each other and etc. And meanwhile Borodine is in trouble due to hypothermia and frostbite. Then Boxer’s ship gets messed up and they’re stranded in frozen waters, sure to die. They’re rescued by an American vessel that transports cargo and is commanded by a guy named Captain Axelord, who is a “coward” and also an old enemy of Boxer’s…a real enemy, I should say, not an “enemy” like Borodine. 

Axelrod refuses to allow the Russians on his ship given that they are enemies, not even backing down when Boxer enforces his authority as an admiral and thus the true commander of Axelrod’s ship. So Boxer has to put a gun to the guy’s head, which ultimately will take us into the soap opera stuff we expect from Depth Force. Axelrod is the son-in-law of a senator who also has it in for Boxer, leading to a court martial charge. Humorously the back cover copy is as ever incorrect – I’ve long assumed the people at Zebra didn’t even read Greenfield’s manuscripts – and implies that Boxer is sent on a mission due to being court martialed. 

Rather, the soap opera stuff is central to Killer Cruise. And that’s another thing. There’s no “killer cruise” in the book! So again I think Zebra just came up with titles and back cover copy and if Irving Greenfield’s actual manuscript matched it, so much the better, but no big deal if it didn’t. So there’s a lot of stuff about Boxer getting ready for a rigged trial in a kangaroo court, orchestrated by political enemies on made-up charges for a jury that’s predisposed to find him guilty – which was real relevant and topical to read about in 2024, let me tell you – but there’s also stuff about Boxer adopting this 17 year-old kid who, we get confirmation this time, was indeed the son of one of Boxer’s men who was killed in a previous volume, and this time the adoption is made official. This was always a mystery to me because I was missing the earlier volume in which this subplot was set up. 

Oh, and there’s a fair bit about Boxer and his latest flame, an apparently hotstuff lawyer named Francine who is representing Boxer in the adoption. Francine was in previous volume so has been around for a bit, and she lives in DC with Boxer’s former commanding officer Stark, who is recuperating from a heart attack or something. Boxer and Francine get it on a few times in the book, Greenfield as ever delivering his patented explicit sex scenes (“[Boxer’s] cum exploded out of him,” etc – and yes, Greenfield spells it that way). But the veteran men’s adventure reader – or hell even the veteran Depth Force reader – will know this is not headed for a happy ending, if you’ll excuse the lame pun. Because friends, Boxer is in love with Francine, and even asks her to marry him. Hmm…what do you think might happen? I seem to recall Boxer proposed to some other chick earlier in the series, one named Trish, and she got shot in the head and then briefly turned into a vegetable, before dying off-page, and rarely mentioned again. 

Now that I think of it, the titular “death cruise” might refer to Francine’s grim fate…or I could just be reaching. Basically, Francine is abducted by a pair of Italians and eventually smuggled onto a ship in the Mediterranean (or something, I didn’t catch the geography), where she’s kept in a room beneath the deck and gang-raped and sodomized by a pair of swarthy brutes…like for days and days. So much so that, when Boxer finally finds her, Francine too has become a vegetable, raped and defiled so much that she has lost her mind. She’s sent off to a clinic at book’s end and Boxer spends about half a second hoping she’ll be okay, but is more concerned with the novel’s “main” storyline, ie the storyline promised on the back cover…which per series tradition doesn’t even come up in the book until the final quarter. 

But before we get to that, Greenfield spends most of the narrative in a political subplot, with characters who will likely feature in future volumes. For one, there’s Lori-Ann Collins, the sexy executive assistant to the head of the CIA, but secretly a deep-cover KGB agent; Greenfield clearly lays the groundwork for Boxer and Lori-Ann to “come together” in a future volume. Her subplot here sees her ensnaring various bigwig officers in US intelligence while fending off the advances of her sadistic control agent. Lori-Ann’s material was also unexpectedly topical in that it had her outing one high-ranking intelligence guy for being gay, the knowledge of which could ruin his career…! 

There’s also stuff with some rich Texans Boxer hobknobs with as part of his planning to thwart the court marial attemps, including visits with President Spooner. All this is treated with Greenfield’s usual disdain for creating drama or suspense; the president for example just appears without any setup. Greenfield does try to cater to the genre demand for action, with Boxer getting in random fistfights, some of them comically egregious…like when he’s called a “commie” for ordering vodka in a redneck bar and beats up his accusers. Then later he gets in a scrape while defending his adopted son, Chuck, from a group of racists who attack Chuck and his black friend. 

Even the finale has the feel of a soap opera as Boxer “quits” the Navy so as to go after the abducted Francine, working with a former enemy named Bruno Morelli to track her down; another old enemy, Julio Sanchez, is behind her capture (not to mention that he’s also Francine’s former boyfriend, in a confusingly unelaborated subplot). As mentioned Francine’s rescued, but in a vegetable state, and novel’s end sees Boxer commanding another sub while racing out to find out what happened to his normal sub, which has disappeared on the assignment Boxer turned down prior to quitting the Navy. 

The climax is a retread of the previous volume, with Boxer depositing a squad of SEALs somewhere and our hero standing around while newly-introduced characters handle the action. Greenfield’s action scenes are so half-assed, there’s one part where a SEAL blows away some enemy soldiers in revenge for killing a comrade, and the guy screams “Die, motherfuckers, die.” Greenfield doesn’t even give the line of dialog an exclamation point! I mean even his cipher-like characters are bored with it all. 

As usual we end here on the final scene, with the next volume inevitably picking up from this scene and then spending the rest of the narrative following up the various subplots Greenfield has introduced in Death Cruise. I’m missing that volume, as well as the volume after it, but you know what? I really don’t care. At this point I’m still just reading Depth Force to finish off the volumes I do have.

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