December 31, 2014

Death Merchant #32: Deadly Manhunt

After thwarting a potential roadside ambush upon his return from South Korea, Richard Camellion is back at Memento Mori, his ranch in the Big Thicket region of Texas, where his handyman, Jesus Sontoya, was recently murdered. Sontoya's death was meant as a warning to the Death Merchant. Someone is gunning for him.

Camellion enters his house through a secret entrance to make sure there is no one waiting inside. He searches the house before going into several well-protected underground rooms, in which he stores his disguises and weapons arsenal ... and shoeboxes full of $100 bills. (The DM receives $100,000 cash (tax-free!) for each of his missions for the U.S. government.)

Camellion heads to Langley, Virginia, to meet with the CIA's Deputy Director of Operations and get the lowdown on this new threat. Camellion is convinced someone with the CIA has ratted him out. On a hunch, he asks for the files of agents who have resigned or retired in the last five years - and finds that two men ended up working security for the same metal company in New Jersey. It turns out that this company happens to be (ultimately) owned by the Silvestter family. It was Cleveland Winston Silvestter - the self-proclaimed son of Satan - that the Death Merchant battled and killed back in Billionaire Mission (#8). Plus, Camellion recognizes the face of Silvestter's 25-year-old son as the man who escaped from the ambush that began the book!

After the meeting, Camellion drives back to his hotel. The motion detection transmitters he placed in his room tell him that there are people awaiting his return. The Death Merchant sets off the hotel's fire alarms to create confusion before storming into the hotel room and wasting most of the waiting gunmen. Silvestter and an associate escape out the fire escape, but they leave behind an attache case containing a strange device with many knobs, wires, and a small screen. From the labels on the various knobs - which include Hypothalamic Read-In, Limbic Adjustment, Pons Inset, Thalamic Coordinator, and Aura Pattern & Adjustment - Camellion deduces that the machine can detect a particular person's aura and that this is how they have been able to pinpoint Camellion's exact location. Rosenberger does not explain how the Auraic Transfinder can differentiate Camellion's aura from the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of others in its range (and why did they bring it with them on the attempted hit?), but Camellion nevertheless believes the machine works - and he believes in the existence of auras.
Aura? That's something right out of occultism. The aura is a luminous appearance seen surrounding the human body. I'm convinced it exists and that it's made up of numerous elements of the human forcefield, including perhaps heat radiation, electromagnetic fields, and many other things unknown to modern science.
Camellion first tries to invade Silvestter's mansion near Hyannis on Cape Cod. A CIA boat takes him close and he scuba dives to the shore and makes his move. He manuvers and shoots his way through the fences and patrolling guards and gets into the mansion, only to be pinned down in a room by six armed thugs. Using some grenades and his usual quick thinking, he ices them and escapes. But fires have started and the house is burning down, and Camellion has to get out before he can kill Silvestter.

The Death Merchant then travels to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with the idea of hiding in the Sangre de Dios mountains. I'm not sure why he chooses this location, beyond the fact that there is a CIA station in Santa Fe. Perhaps it is to see if Silvestter's thugs can track his aura (if they have a second machine) across the country. After catching up with an old friend, Norberto Martinez, Camellion sets off into the mountains, making his base of operations in a small cave. Camellion spends 18 days getting a good feel for the layout of the area, while also setting up electronic detection transmitters and burying packs of explosives. On the 19th day, he hears a helicopter, which was sent by Silvestter to fly over the area and draw the Death Merchant's fire, thus revealing his position. Camellion, wisely using a silencer, succeeds in damaging the copter with his trusty Auto Mags, and it crashes.

Silvestter had spent the past three weeks on the west coast hiring a team of 80 gunmen to track and kill Camellion in the mountains. With groups of men advancing, the Death Merchant detonates the buried explosives and nearly all of Silvestter's goons are obliterated. Only 17 men are left. Camellion uses his recently-acquired knowledge of the terrain to help him hide and sneak up on various shooters. He picks them off in groups of two and three. Naturally, he ends up in a martial arts showdown with Silvestter after everyone else has been killed.

Deadly Manhunt is a fairly perfunctory story. It's missing a lot of Rosenberger's usual silliness. The recent volumes have not been nearly as goofy as the early books. Plus, Rosenberger/Camellion have been making references to religion that seem wholly inconsistent with the Death Merchant's supposedly virulent anti-religion stance. In #32, Camellion mentions "the murder of Jesus" early in the book, and someone is described as looking as forlorn as Joseph trying to find a manger. At one point, Camellion thinks, "No man is infallible. Except the Pope!" And Rosenberger writes: "With his back facing Silvestter, Camellion didn't have time to say any Our Fathers."

Finally, Rosenberger has Camellion show an interest in women and sex, something absent from most of the books:
The second part of the surprise was that the agent was not a he. It was a she - an attractive woman of about thirty, with well-rounded curves in just the right places of her off-white pants suit ...

[Camellion] tilted the cup to his mouth, watching her over the rim, wondering how she would look wearing nothing but a wristwatch and a smile. She was crisp, cool, and all business. He had met dozens like her, and everyone of them had been fire and ice in bed - at least those he had bedded down for the night. Or the weekend. Or, occasionally, for the entire week.
If you came up with 100 nouns or adjectives to describe Camellion, I don't think "horndog" would be among them. But we did learn in an earlier volume that the Death Merchant is "a leg man", so maybe he gets a lot of action outside the confines of the books.

December 27, 2014

Death Merchant #31: Operation Thunderbolt

Operation Thunderbolt was the 12th Death Merchant book published by Pinnacle during the years 1977 and 1978. Joseph Rosenberger turned in one manuscript every other month, like clockwork, for two years! That's a tremendous workload, even by the grind-'em-out standards of the men's adventure pulps field. (And it looks like his pace continued into 1979.)

In #31, the CIA sends Richard "Death Merchant" Camellion to North Korea to rescue Dr. Douglas Hausheer and his wife, two of the 37 survivors of a plane that was forced to make an emergency landing. (The plane was "blown off course during a severe storm"; is that possible?) Unbeknowst to the North Koreans, Dr. Hausheer is a scientist working on a top secret ultrasonic bomb for the U.S. Camellion's mission: Get the Hausheers out of North Korea or, failing that, kill them. Either way, Hausheer's scientific knowledge must not fall into the hands of the enemy.

Camellion pretends to be a journalist from Australia, and the book opens with him getting a tour of various sites, including the Sinch'on Atrocity Museum, which was "the most vicious and ridiculous example of black propaganda the Death Merchant had ever seen". Back at his hotel, Camellion receives a message that a CIA contact wants to meet. But before Camellion can do anything, four Korean officers are at his hotel door, accusing him of being a spy. The Death Merchant uses martial arts to disable all four, taking one man with him down through the lobby (killing a few more Koreans along the way) and into an alley where they take a car to the contact's address. There, Camellion is introduced to Kang Ban Sok, and they discuss where the airline passengers are being held, how heavily they are being guarded, and how possible is it to break them out. The Death Merchant is highly skeptical: "The whole scheme has got more kinks than a two-dollar garden hose. ... This strike was the biggest gamble he had ever undertaken."

But Camellion - who is in disguise for most of the book as a 70-year-old Korean going by the name "Kim Cho Wang" - formulates a plan to get the Hausheers and the other passengers safely across the DMZ and into South Korea. (The pilot of the downed plane exclaims: "My God! Your plan is so crazy it might even work!"*) The multi-part escape takes up most of the second half of the book. The action is all right - at one point, Camellion notes "what we're doing beats bone testing in a ladies'-corset factory" - but it was somewhat confusing as the three-part Korean names all ran together. It was sometimes difficult to remember who was on which side. (I think even Rosenberger got confused, with one character apparently fighting for both sides.)

* The pilot, Dennis Wilburn, is impressed with this "Wang" character. He remarks that "Wang could spend six months in a cave and come out with a suntan." ... Earlier in the book, someone else exclaims about Camellion: "A strange and weird person. A first-rate killer with the education of a philosopher! Incredible!" (The DM quote that prompts this description is "Mankind is a victim of collective amnesia." Not all that deep, philosophically.)

Here are a few of the men fighting with the Death Merchant: Kang Ban Sok, Bong Yi Choy, Jo Go Pugchi, Lin Bi Wubok, Chu Ji Su, Pok Shi Pom, Pog Li Sibki, Chub P'o'do, Pong Do Chamko, Tita Sum Kida, and Map Gap Win.

Among the bad guys we have: Chim Ki Wu, Gin Ki Ping, Sasip Wong Yong-ri, Obu Hu Dang, Cho Ip-Poon, Lee Jwa-ye-t'anh, Yon Gip Kajang, and Bigiru Kowdow, among others. (There is also a weapon called a Hanko-ji'gok and the NK police force is known as the Ju-sun-kyong.) Thankfully, Rosenberger does not fully indulge his habit of identifying every single man fighting (and then dying) against the Death Merchant this time around.

The Death Merchant engages in martial arts at several points, so we also get the names of various moves, like ken tsui, shuto, ura ken, teishi, fumikomi, chungdan pandae, yon hon nukite, yoko kekomou, hiraken, empi, heiko zuki, soku-to, and ashi kubi.

After the copious anti-Asian slurs that littered the last book, The Shambhala Strike, I was intrigued to see Rosenberger's author's note at the front of Operation Thunderbolt:
In this book I used the word "gook" in referring to the North Koreans. Certain liberals object to this word.

By "gook" I mean precisely an uncivilized Asiatic Communist. I see no reason for anyone who doesn't fit this definition to object to the way I use it.
Because, hey, why be bothered or concerned about anything if it doesn't affect you personally?

It turns out Rosenberger doesn't use the term "gook" nearly as many times as I was expecting (I counted only 40 or so instances). There are also a few references to riceballs, rice-eaters, and Nips.

In the epilogue, Camellion expresses his serious interest Nostradamus's alleged predictions of world events.
"By 1990 there will not be a United States. There won't be any civilization. ... 'The world shall be put into trouble by three brothers. Their enemies will seize the New City by the water, hunger, fire, blood, plague, and all evils doubled.'"

A serious look crossed [CIA agent Geoffrey] McKenna's face. "I've read Nostradamus, too. I've got to admit that his prophecies, down through the centuries, have been very accurate."

"According to him, World War III will start in Red China, and the entire U.S. will be destroyed by nuclear weapons," Camellion said. "As he wrote in one Quatrain, 'The Sky of the New Land will burn, its cities a new ash to form.'"
At the very end of the book, Camellion gets some horrible news: Jesus Sontoya, the handyman at his ranch in Texas, has been murdered. McKenna says: "The consensus is that someone is out to neutralize you. There's a deadly manhunt going on and you're the target..."

December 20, 2014

Death Merchant #30: The Shambhala Strike

In Hell in Hindu Land (DM #20), it is mentioned that alien beings, having traveled to Earth millions of years ago, established three bases on our planet. One installation was beneath a monastery in the mountains of India (Hell in Hindu Land), a second was located under the North Pole (The Pole Star Secret; DM #21). A third base was constructed off the U.S. coast, near the Bermuda Triangle.

Well, author Joseph Rosenberger either changed his mind about where these alien bases are located or he created a fourth base, because in The Shambhala Strike, Richard Camellion (aka the Death Merchant) heads to the Middle East in search of the fabled subterranean metropolis - and meets up with (and chats with (!), via telepathy)) one of the aliens mentioned in the previous two volumes. Camellion and his fellow fighters (including CIA man Vallie West, a recurring character in the series) also get to use some cool alien technology to defeat a force of 450+ Chinese soldiers who are also intent on reaching the alien city for nefarious purposes.

Rosenberger writes of a gigantic system of caves and tunnels underneath the countries of Tibet, Bhutan, Manchuria, Mongolia, Kurdistan, and Afghanistan. A sentence that claims this underground city contains "miraculous inventions" and a history of the human race going back 17 million years is footnoted with the statement: "The legend of Shambhala is genuine; we did not invent it for the sake of this story." ... See the legend of Agharta (also).

After trekking through the Himalayas, Camellion and his party of 13 others come to the entrance of the tunnel. As they go deeper into the tunnel, it gets wider and taller. They come to a huge barrier, blocking further passage. the barrier is glowing, the same kind of glow Camellion witnessed at the other two alien bases. A door opens in the barrier and they pass through.

After they walk several more miles, the tunnel opens up into "another world". They are stunned by a "fantastic panorama stretching out before them". As far as the eye can see, there are "rock-covered hills and outlandish vegetation" as far as the eye can see. "None of them could see the northern end or the east and west sides of the cavern". The ceiling is roughly one mile above their heads.

They meet three aliens, called Goros, who are able to communicate with Camellion and the others telepathically. They also know everything about each of the people in the DM's party, including the Merchant of Death himself. Camellion gets a telepathic message from one of the Goros (who also make reference to the "Cosmic Lord of Death") meant solely for him:
"You are also the man of death, the Death Merchant. Your secret is safe. No one else can hear me."
There are a total of 40 Goros in this world, taken from the surface world 18,000 years ago by the Inelqu, the aliens who first came to earth. The Goros, for reasons that are not clearly stated, want the Death Merchant's party to kill the Chinese soldiers, who are advancing on the cavern from another tunnel, one large enough to drive tanks and armoured carriers through.

After the first battle with the Chinese, one character figures the odds now stand at "ten of us against a couple of hundred chopsticks!" (More on Rosenberger's racism below.)

Camellion and his team are taken inside a huge dome, where one of the Inelqu is awakened. Inside this room - which is similar to the room of aliens Camellion saw in India - are "such abysms of hideous impossibility, such grotesque contradictions of universal order, "something horribly remote and distinct from mankind" and "something frightfully suggestive of ancient and unhallowed cycles of life in which earth and human concepts had no part, no existence". Camellion takes all of this in stride, of course, and Rosenberger doesn't really have any of the others freak out all that much, even after the Inelqu explains mankind's origins, reveals the aliens' original planet and means of traveling to earth, and the existence of another group of aliens, the Flimmms, which warred with the Inelqu, and led to the establishment of many of the world's myths and religions.

To ensure the Death Merchant's victory over the Chinese, the Goros allow them to use a bullet-proof flying craft (constructed out of "kkokro metal") that allows them to soar over the Chinese soldiers and drop five-pound packets of explosives on them. Before they take off, though, Camellion and West have a totally believable conversation (complete with a footnote!) about setting the timers:
"Rick," [West] had said, "the height we use will determine the number of seconds we click off on the timers. I suppose you know that for purposes of standardization, the acceleration due to gravity is g equals 998.665 cm/sec. to the second power?"

"I know, Val. It's also a matter of dynes*. Since the Earth rotates, the weight of a body is somewhat less than the Earth's attraction for it, because of the centrifugal force, and in general is not directed toward the Earth's center. You take a plumb line ten feet long in the latitude of New York. Okay, this line departs about a quarter inch to the south, from a line in the direction of the Earth's geometrical center."

"Which adds up to what?" Vallie had asked.

"Well, this same influence accounts for the oblateness of the Earth, and these two facts together account for the variation of gravity from equator to poles - a fact few people realize. At the equator the weight of a gram mass is 977.99 dynes. At the poles it exceeds 983 dynes."

*: The dyne is the unit of force in the C.G.S. - centimeter-gram-second system of physical units. It is such a great force that, under its influence, a body whose mass is one gram would experience an acceleration of one centimeter per second per second - yes, two "per seconds.
What this has to do with setting the timers for approximately 18 seconds - while flying around in a huge cave miles beneath the Earth's surface - is anyone's guess. Anyway, this attack is merely a prelude to the climatic battle, most of it hand-to-hand combat, which is recounted over 16 (!) pages.

The DM and his crew emerge victorious and the book ends abruptly. The Goros tell Camellion that after he and his group are back on the surface, the entrances to the three tunnels will be sealed up forever and no one will stumble upon this underground world again. Camellion's reaction is pretty much, "Okay, cool. See ya." before heading back with the others ... in fact, he's already thinking about his next mission. And so Rosenberger, like he did in the previous two books, attempts to mix in a little science fiction, but then once the fighting is done and the enemies are dead, he completely drops the aliens subplot.

Rosenberger also goes wild throughout the book with racial slurs (especially during that big end-of-book fight), often referring to the Chinese soldiers as riceballs, chinnies, and gooks. Also "chopstick chaps", "Chopstick Charlies", and "the chopstick stupids" - which sounds like the name of a punk band). Individual soldiers are called "wonton weirdo", "Peking pervert", "Mao moron", and "'ah-so' dummy". Rosenberger even has one of the Chinese military officers asks a peer: "Aren't you letting your imagination run wild and unchecked through the rice paddies?"

Some amusing lines that makes you know you are reading Rosenberger:
"Camellion, you're talking like a man with a retarded wisdom tooth."

"... and Commie scouts and soldiers from the main body were being killed faster than a fruit jar full of moonshine at a Kentucky hoedown."

"...perpetually amazed, somewhat like a man who had bought a pair of water skis and was disappointed because he could not find a lake with a hill."

"The intelligence service of India was as useless as snowshoes on an Arab."
While spending several pages recounting the unnecessary back story of Helen Banya, a Soviet defector who (for reasons not worth explaining) is part of the expedition, Rosenberger refers to her "ample lacteal endowments". What a romantic!

In all of the DM books, Camellion does not curse. (I guess Rosenberger didn't want his main character setting a bad example - while slaughtering scores of people - for any youngsters who might be reading.) Instead, Camellion says/thinks things like, "Hammer my hamhocks!" and "Go suck stale ding-dongs, you dumb dodos!"

Note: I first learned about the existence of the Death Merchant earlier this year from Joe Kenney's always-entertaining blog, Glorious Trash. If I recall, reading Donald Westlake's Richard Stark novels (and looking for information online) led me to Max Allan Collins and his Nolan series, which pointed me towards Don Pendleton's The Executioner, which led me to Joe's blog. He reviewed this volume of the Death Merchant here.

December 18, 2014

Death Merchant #29: Fatal Formula

Richard "Death Merchant" Camellion is tasked with the job of organizing the kidnapping Dr. Anna Trofimov, a Russian biochemist specializing in bacteriology. She has been working on germ warfare and may have hit on something known as the Voltec Formula, a potentially deadly strain of flu virus.

The United States is worried that the Russians may not be able to contain the killer virus. If it leaks, it could destroy the human race in two months! (Of course, the Americans prove no better at keeping killer viruses under wraps. A similar type virus got loose in a secret U.S. lab in Utah and killed 15 scientists, but (naturally) no one suggests that the Americans are as incapable as the Russians.)

After a different kidnapping goes awry in the opening of the book, the DM and two members of the Banderists, an anti-KGB group, escape and hide in an attic two floors about a cafe before being smuggled out in the bottom of a garbage truck. We next join Camellion on board a nuclear submarine where he is told about his real mission. Camellion - along with CIA man Sidney Dormar and two Turkish intel agents, Turhan Paksu and Nurettin Sevik - travel from submarine to fishing boat to truck on their way to another hiding place in a farmhouse. There's no real reason to include the initial kidnapping attempt (it is supposedly to throw the KGB off the trail of the real mission) or for the men to do so much traveling. It just seems like a way for author Joseph Rosenberger to fill pages.

The obvious endpoint of the book is when Camellion stages an assault on the secret Russian laboratory in which Torfimov has been conducting her experiments. The preparation for, and the pre-dawn approach of, the lab is quite drawn out, as is the big battle throughout the complex. But Camellion comes out on top, taking Torfimov and two other scientists captive while destroying the lab and all strains of the the virus. ("His agreement with the Cosmic Lord of Death was intact, the seal unbroken.")

Once again, Rosenberger doesn't disappoint with his pseudo-intellectual asides:
Cooped up in the underground room [at the farmhouse], the men found the waiting intolerable, each hour a day, each day a year. Every man except Richard Camellion, who knew that time is an illusion, who knew that while we remember the past, we plan the future but act now. The "now" is a single instant of time. each instant of time becomes the "now" when it happens. The year 2000 is in the future. In the year 2000 it will be "now." One day, in 2001, it will be in the past. The past, the present, the future are linguistic. But they are not physical. And the Death Merchant knew it. In any case, even an "eternity" must end and the final second enlarge, by a single second, the "past."
Elsewhere, Rosenberger offers what he calls a "coincedence-generating principle":
While the existence of Fate is pure philosophical speculation, there is a synchronism, a meaningful linkage of facts, that transcends the space-time-cause universe.
Once the Russian lab is destroyed, the Death Merchant and the others make their way through a rain/wind storm to meet the Banderists' boat. Rosenberger goes all out describing the weather conditions:
As yet the wind had not risen to full fury; the storm was still building. However, the wind was strong enough to shape the rain into twisting sheets, contorted walls of water that impeded progress with a malice, with a malevolence from which there was no escape. Booted feet slipped on rain-wet rocks and sank into sand-mush. Whips of rain furiously slapped faces while long, jagged streaks of blue-white lightning stabbed out of the angry clouds, each thunderbolt seeking - seemingly - the pathetic little group fighting for existence.
Camellion, whose birth date is given as July 14, is described as being "clever enough to sleep on a greased corkscrew". ... And then there is this sentence: "The CIA man had the nervous system of an armadillo: There wasn't any danger of his getting a hole in his bag of marbles." Whaaa?

Lee E. Jurras gets several mentions, including Camellion saying at the end of the book that he is going to visit Jurras in New Mexico because the gunsmith has some "new goodies" for the Death Merchant. Rosenberger has mentioned Jurras a couple of times in every one of the last 8-10 books. I'm just about convinced Jurras paid him for the plugs!

The saying "Fool me once - shame on you. Fool me twice - shame on me!" is identified as "an old Russian proverb". I found this online, but do not know if it is reliable:
Among the old sources mentioned for this proverb in The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs by Jennifer Speake (ed.), Oxford University Press (2008) is this quote from The Court and Character of King James by Anthony Weldon (1650), page 52: "The Italians having a Proverb, He that deceives me Once, it's his Fault; but Twice it is my fault.

December 13, 2014

Death Merchant #28: Nipponese Nightmare

The United Red Army (Rengo Sekigun), a Communist terrorist organization operating in Japan, is planning several assassinations around the world in the hopes of starting a planet-wide revolution. Obviously, these "commie crackpots" - who may be getting some help from North Korea - must be stopped.

Nipponese Nightmare begins with Richard Camellion attending a strategy meeting at the house of Amida Chogomiga, a member of Kompei, the Japanese version of the CIA. The house is in a wealthy neighbourhood ("Chogomiga certainly doesn't have to eat rice every day", the Death Merchant muses). While Camellion and the various Kompei agents discuss what to do, the house is attacked by the URA and the first of several shootouts is underway.

Camellion and Shiki Brown team up to invade a strip club run by Kato Honjuji, who is suspected of being a URA sympathizer and using his club for meetings and as a place to store weapons. The two men actually interrupt a URA meeting in the basement. A fierce gun fight follows, with the DM discovering afterwards that Honjuji was killed by the URA ahead of Camellion's arrival.

Left with no real leads on the URA, Camellion proposes invading the North Korean embassy and kidnapping someone important, assuming he or she will possess some information on the URA. Everyone says attacking the "self-contained fortress" is a suicide mission, but the Death Merchant chides them all for a "lack of imagination".

A doorman at the NK embassy has been feeding the Kompei information and from him they learn about two employees who leave each Friday afternoon to shop for food for the embassy staff. Camellion uses his masterful skills at disguise and makeup to make two agents look like these two workers - and they are able to drive into the embassy grounds (with Camellion hidden in the car). The three agents storm inside and a wild battle takes place. Killing everything that moves, they race through the building floor by floor, eventually reaching the roof. It turns out that there are three survivors on the roof who surrender: a man, woman, and child. The man is Ho Ick Chang - amazingly, the man the Death Merchant had hoped to kidnap. What luck!

From Chang, they learn about a big meeting at a castle owned by Baron Okumiya. Camellion plans a four-man attack on the huge, nine-floor castle. (This is either the third or fourth castle that Camellion has decimated in the series already.) Towards the end of the book, Camellion battles Kiyoshi Zuikaku, the head of the URA:
A high-pitched scream of rage rolled from Zuikaku's mouth and he streaked toward Camellion, the sword raised high above his head. At the very last moment, the Death Merchant ducked, jumped forward, and swept his right hand toward the floor as the deadly blade swooshed over him. Very fast, Zuikaku raised the sword, spun around, and brought it down in a two-handed chopping motion.

Clang! The blade found not Camellion but the blade of the o-dachi that the Death Merchant had scooped up from the floor. Astonished, Zuikaku drew back. The Death Merchant jumped to his feet, smiling and saying, "Don't let a star fall on you, stupid!"

Desperate now, Zuikaku attempted another maneuver, but again the Death Merchant blocked the stroke, the two blades ringing loudly together. However, the thrust had brought Zuikaku closer to the Death Merchant, who expertly smashed him in the belly with a right-leg sokuto geri sword foot-kick. Zuikaku screamed in the worst pain he had ever known in his life.

He saw the blade in Camellion's hands coming his way but he was powerless to do anything about it. He never knew it when the sharp steel cut threw [sic] his neck and his head bounced off. The eyes kept right on blinking as the head fell to the floor. Headless, the stump of neck pumping blood, the corpse sagged to the floor.
One of Rosenberger's trademarks is his minute descriptions of the trajectory of, and the damage done by, seemingly every bullet fired by the Death Merchant. Here, he actually describes the path of several pellets from a shotgun!
The shotgun blast had done its work on the two men twenty feet away. All the Double 00 buckshot had missed, except three pellets. One pellet had struck a man in the eye, blinding him and coming to a halt in the front lower portion of his brain. A second pellet struck the second man in the mouth. The third pellet sliced into the hollow of his throat, the entrance wound the size of a penny, the tiny ball of lead lodged in the windpipe. Choking to death, the Japanese clawed at this throat, sank to his knees, and was 99 percent dead by the time Brown leaped over his jerking body and pumped a new shell into the shotgun.

Rosenberger indulges in his usual level of casual racism throughout the book. Enemy gunfighters are referred to as "slant-eyes", "slopeheads", and "rice eaters". Even Shiki Brown, the Japanese-American CIA agent, uses the term "Nips".

I'm surprised to report that some of Rosenberger/Camellion's deep thoughts and pontifications actually make a little sense:
"I have found there is always a grain of fact to any myth."

"Happiness is nothing more than health and a poor memory."

"Human history is nothing more than one long boring tale of a slaughterhouse."
In many other cases, however, Rosenberger's writing either does not make sense or is just plain silly:
"Always expecting the worst, Camellion would not have been surprised if Adolf Hitler, carrying Joe Stalin on his back, had hopped into the kitchen on a pogo stick!"

"He flopped flat on the table, looking stupid, looking very dead."

"Get set to run faster than an Israeli trapped in the middle of Syria."

"His short scream died away on a coagulated mishmash of drowning agony."

"[Naruse's] glance held the contempt of a film critic looking at Popeye the sailor."

"You funky frankenberry!" (spoken in anger during a shootout)
Finally, we get a couple of new facts about the mysterious past (and mind) of the Death Merchant.

A Kompei agent mentions to Camellion: "I am told you used to teach on the junior college level." (In previous books, Rosenberger had hinted that Camellion used to be a high school teacher in St. Louis.) At a Kompei safe house, Camellion asks for a glass of vegetable juice, and someone cracks, "Don't tell me you're a health nut? If you are, you're certainly in an odd business!"
The Death Merchant had a pet hate list that would fill all of the New York City telephone books, even the Yellow Pages! Near the top of the list were people who invaded his personal privacy, big mouths who probed into his habits.
Naturally, in the previous 27 books, we've never received even a hint of the things on Camellion's alleged lengthy "hate list" (besides religion). If anything, the Death Merchant seems to do his own thing and not be overly bothered by much around him, since he's usually on assignment or at his Texas ranch.

December 5, 2014

Death Merchant #27: The Surinam Affair

Only two months after his last adventure, Richard Camellion is on his way to South America. (The DM is paid $100,000 (tax-free!) for each mission, but he doesn't seem to have much downtime to enjoy his spoils.) A U.S. spy satellite, which was supposed to photograph Soviet missile installations, somehow went off course and took photos of the U.S. missile sites instead before crashing into the jungles of Surinam.

Obviously, the Russians would love to get the information from WINK-EYE-1's data banks. The Americans need to get there first - and they have hired the Death Merchant to head an expedition. The Surinam Affair is a race against time as the Americans and the Russian "pig farmers" attempt to be the first to reach the downed satellite.

The Russians try to ice Camellion out several times before he can even start the expedition - the book opens with a shootout in a public square - but of course he escapes every time. The NSA has pinpointed the location of the crashed satellite within several miles, and the DM and his crew rappel from a helicopter and, once on the ground, prepare for an arduous hike. They are almost immediately ambushed by Brazilian bandits, whom they proceed to slaughter. Later, they watch two groups of Russians parachute out of a plane - mere preface to the book's climatic battle. Upon reaching the satellite, they discover that the tapes were destroyed during the crash, and there is nothing to salvage.

This is the first Death Merchant paperback in which author Joseph Rosenberger uses the footnotes which became somewhat infamous (relatively speaking, of course) in the later volumes. In #27, he uses about two dozen, most often to translate a foreign phase, something Rosenberger usually just works (awkwardly) into the text. In one case, a British agent refers to the CIA as "you pickle factory boys". The footnote states: "It has never been made clear why British Intelligence sometimes refers to the CIA as 'the Pickle factory'."

As per usual, the Death Merchant's blue eyes are described at various times as "icy", "strange", and "odd". At one point, the Death Merchant stares directly at someone, and he "was suddenly afraid, suddenly conscious of a terror that was nameless". No more than fifteen pages after that, another character "had detected an unfathomable quality in Richard Camellion which had warned him that he was in the presence of a very unusual individual, almost as if this man named Camellion were a member of some alien species". We learn that the Death Merchant is "one of those rare individuals who had total recall". He also uses various breathing techniques as he leads the expedition through the Surinam jungles (Bhastrika, Kapalabhtai, and Ujjayi).

The Surinam Affair also contains numerous examples of Rosenberger's one-of-a-kind writing style:
"He's about as cheerful as a sponge!"

"There are 52 bones in the human foot and Richard's pile driver stomp broke 41 of them in the Russkie's foot."

"Caught with their vodka bottles turned upside down, the Soviet force was at a deadly disadvantage."

"As dead as Joe Stalin, the GRU major flopped to the moist ground ..."

"A foot in the door is worth two on the desk."

Camellion "was so unnervingly calm that he might have been going to Sunday dinner with the Waltons!" [FYI: The book was published in March 1978]

"... like an atheist cursing out loud at a Christmas mass being celebrated by the Pope."

"The man had that rare quality of basic honesty, hypocrisy being as alien to him as truth was to the communists."

"They despised communism, considering it just another form of slavery, which it is."

"Maxim's head had exploded like a watermelon."

Death Merchant #26: The Mexican Hit

The Mexican Hit opens with Richard Camellion, travelling undercover in Mexico as an English tourist named Justin Alfred Lawrence, being apprehended for drug trafficking, as a big brick of cocaine is "found" in his hotel room by federal policemen.

When Camellion suddenly attacks, he takes the eight men by surprise and eventually guns them all down. One "Mex Fed's skull came apart like a jigsaw puzzle hit by a hand grenade". The Death Merchant also wipes out a half-dozen policemen in the stairwell and a few more in the lobby - doomed, they "might as well have tried to win a maracas-playing contest with a rattlesnake" - before escaping into the street.

The main plot is that Mexican revolutionaries are arranging a huge deal with portions of the American Mafia, trading 640 kilos of heroin ("Mexican Brown") for a shit-ton of anti-tank weapons, heavy machine guns, etc. for their anti-government activities. After the opening shootout, we get two chapters of exposition, one from each side, laying out the plot and what everyone knows. By the start of Chapter 4, the actual story can begin!

This was a pretty straight-forward narrative. Camellion gets a couple of tips on the location of the revolutionary leaders, and he checks them out, engaging in wild gunfire both times. Then he hears about the boat/copter plan with the heroin/weapons, and figures that if the drugs are destroyed, the mob will take the guns back to the U.S., and so he heads off to sink the big yacht on which part of the exchange will take place. Everything comes off like clockwork. Camellion even lays a trap for a double agent.

Some examples of Joseph Rosenberger's odd ramblings on life/death and general philosophy:
The Death Merchant was past being shocked at anything, especially death, which he considered as natural as living. What people really feared was the when and the how. Unlike the man eight feet ahead of Camellion who very suddenly knew when and how! Camellion blew apart his head with a four-round burst of 9mm slugs and watched the yo-yo's hate-twisted features and skull part company, explode, and vanish into the rest of the bloody surroundings. Camellion laughed - We are such stuff as dreams are made of; and our little life is rounded with a sleep! Bull excrement! I wonder what Shakespeare would have said about a mess like this?
Camellion pursed his lips ... Hmmmm. Either heaven is on our side, or else hell has stopped helping the terrorists. The eight of us are still alive. Not one man is wounded. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, what's the difference whether we die now or do it a day at a time. Karma? The Hindus and the Buddhists would call it that. We in the West might say Destiny. Yeah, Destiny shapes our ends. So do rich foods. But we're still free to go on reducing diets!
Camellion never gets even slightly wounded in any of these books. Reading how streams of machine-gun slugs narrowly miss him - because he is so intuitive so as to leap out of the way just before the enemy fires - is always hilarious. This segment is nearly a parody:
He was halfway to the wall when an automatic rifle began its vicious coughing to his right - It has to be from the barn! Sounds like a CETME! - and he heard the zip-zip-zip of high velocity slugs slicing into the grass all around him.

He felt a tug along his left hip, but the bullet had not touched the skin. Then two savage pulls on both sides of his right leg, one on the outside, by the ankle, the other on the inside, by his thigh. There were pulls across both shoulders. He felt the air by his right cheek disturbed. A bullet ripped downward through the long bill of his field cap and twisted the cap to the left, proving that the firing was coming from the upper level of the barn.
At another point, a slug is noted to have missed the Death Merchant by only ".16 centimeters", the exact distance noted for another errant slug in the previous book! Camellion's "special relationship" with the Cosmic Lord of Death must give him some sort of immunity from being riddled with slugs. The bad guys - always given names by Rosenberger - are never so lucky:
One .44 JSP cut into [Vinnie] Aiuppa's belly, blew apart his bladder, broke his spine, then tore out his back. The impact was pitching Vinnie against [Sammy] Piletroto, who had caught a .44 bullet in the right bronchus, when another .44 smacked him in the deltoid muscle and ripped off most of his left shoulder. The fourth .44 projectile, sounding like an egg breaking, chopped into Piletroto's right side. The lead sent tiny pieces of shirt flying, tore all the way through Piletroto's longs, shot out his left side, and stuck in the throat of Aiuppa, who was falling.
Also: "Korse is the type of jerk whose hobby would be collecting used echoes!" ... There is an ashtray so full "it resembled a crooked model of the Tower of Babel". ... No one's head explodes like a fruit or a vegetable this time, though one dummy's face is likened to "a pushed-in melon". ... And Camellion retorts at one point: "I've seen better heads on cabbages!"

Rosenberger (and/or his characters) refer to various Mexicans as "chili bean", "hot tamale", "chili pepper" and "bowl of chili sauce". Mexico is referred to as "chili-land". ... An overweight Mexican is referred to as "a tub of Latin lard". ... One of the Mexican revolutionaries, a woman, is described as being "as queer as a four-buck bill printed in Eskimo". ... The few Russians who appear in the book are either "pig farmers" or "Ivans".

The expression "Good God Gerty!" - which has appeared in some of the previous volumes - is uttered no less than four times in the book, though not by Camellion. He often exclaims (to himself) "Oh Fudge!" when things are not going his way.