June 28, 2015

Death Merchant #49: Night Of The Peacock

The Death Merchant is in South Yemen, trying to stop Colonel Qahtan al Bin Shaabi (of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen) from collaborating with various Russian officials on a possible invasion and annexation of North Yemen. Richard Camellion, who claims to abhor racism of any type, is tasked to battle what he refers to as terrorist "sand crabs" in the Middle East.

Night of the Peacock opens with Camellion sneaking up on Rabadh Yahya Tabriz's desert camp. The goal is to assassinate Tabriz, the leader of the Dasni (or Yezidis), who is expected to offer military support to Shaabi. Shaabi needs the Dasni rebels on his side when he attacks North Yemen, and the Soviets need Shaabi and his Marxist goons in an ultimate move against Saudi Arabia. Author Joseph Rosenberger helpfully offers a ton of background information on Yemeni history, outlining the succession of governments, and various coups and actions.

Camellion (as a representative of the CIA) is working with members of Sons of the Falcon, an underground organization in South Yemen, and one that is virulent anti-Shaabi. However, although Camellion and his men kill a few Dasni guards, they are unable to get Tabriz. So they hot-foot it away from the village of Danikil and fly back to Riyadh to discuss their next moves.

Soon, Camellion and eight other men (and 29 camels) are walking across the desert, disguised as Bedouins. They are making their way, over the course of about 10 days, from Al-Lu-baylah (a small oasis on the edge of Rub' al Khali) to the city of Aden. Rosenberger devotes several chapters to the monotonous journey of crossing the "Empty Quarter". They meet other groups of travellers and for awhile you think some violence might break out, but nothing happens.

One thing Rosenberger does in all of these books is provide in-depth descriptions of the cities, the citizens and their customs. They often read like encyclopedia entries - he apparently relied heavily on back issues of National Geographic - and have little-to-nothing to do with the plot, but they do show his high level of research, something that was much harder to do in the early 1980s:
The Death Merchant and his small band, now mingling with a stream of traffic pouring into the city - people of the various Arab tribes riding camels, horses, donkeys; or leading packed camels, horses or donkeys - saw their first Yemeni houses on the northeast side of the city, fortresslike houses built of multicolored stone or brightly painted adobe mud brick, some three stories high. Some houses had tiny windows and crenelated roofs, others layered rows of stone slate jutting out to protect the walls against the seasonal rains.

This was the old spice route and this river of traffic would enter the Crater, the old commercial quarter of Aden. There were three other quarters - at-Tawāhī, the business section, Ma'alah, the native harbor area, and at-Wanani, a small residential section for the wealthy and the influential. ...

There were hundreds of travelers spread out along the stone-paved route, men and women from the various Middle East and African tribes - not all of them Semites as were the Arabs. There were the Hamitic Beja from the northern Sudan, with their copper-red to deep-brown skin; the tall Beraber with their colorful clothes and pretty unveiled women, the arms of the females loaded down with copper and brass bracelets; people of the Zeer, Yafelman, Zemmun and other tribes who spoke the Berber language. And many, many Arabs; the Djerba, the Filala, the kabyle, the Shammar, etc.
In Aden, they meet with Nuri Boustani and his group, Ibn'u Alib Saqr. After learning from Boustani that Shaabi will be departing from the Aden airport in two days, Camellion formulates a plan of attack at the airport. The men with him are not too keen on the idea: "Today we are fire. Tomorrow, we will be ashes."

Nevertheless, the group approaches the airport at night, kills a couple of guards patrolling the perimeters, and steals their uniforms. While wearing the uniforms, Camellion and Colonel bin Maktum are able to commandeer an armoured car, crash a hole in the protective fence and let the rest of the group through. In a repeat of the action described in at least one previous DM book, they drive two armoured cars around the airport, blasting the holy hell out of everything and everyone. With the airport in ruins - Shaabi survives, hiding in one of the hangars - they head towards a Soviet transport plane, in which Camellion aims to have everyone escape.

The action of Camellion flying the plane from takeoff to an extremely bumpy landing in the mountains is pretty suspenseful, even though the reader knows there is absolutely no way that Camellion won't land it safely. (Because this is Rosenberger, Camellion also has random thoughts flitting through his head during the flight, most notably how crime rates have risen in California because of the abolition of the death penalty.) The men meet up with Yadollah I'Zoir, who leads them through the mountains to meet Ali Sa'galli, the head of the Sons of the Falcon. Camellion and Sa'galli have a multi-page conversation about Soviet expansionism, the stupidity of the U.S. government, and the insanity of gun control. The Death Merchant also rants about having to pay five-cent deposits on beer and soda bottles! ("Instead of cracking down on people who litter, they force nonlitterers to pay deposits on beverage bottles to ensure their return.")

Later, the Death Merchant lays out the particulars of Operation Camelback, which will include Sa'galli's fighters, as well as 200 professional mercenaries - Mad Mike Quinlan and his Thunderbolt Unit: Omega. They will be transported to Aden to attack the heart of the capital: the Government House. But Camellion soon receives a message that Shaabi knows their location (his planes have been flying overhead) and is meeting with Tabriz, formulating a plan to attack with a force of 600 men. The Aden attack is aborted and the Death Merchant and Quinlan's and Sa'galli's fighters will immediately attack Tabriz's main camp instead.

Fourteen helicopters transport the men to the site of the attack. First, five of the copters fire tens of thousands of rounds into the village of Danikil. The five copters can fire a total of 36,000 rounds per minute and they lay waste to nearly everyone in the village. All of the copters land and the armed men jump out, ready to finish the attack. Shaabi, his assistant, and the three Russians have taken cover in the Temple of Melek Taus. The fighters go house to house in their slaughter and, eventually, converge on the temple. Camellion blows open the wooden doors with several blocks of RDX explosives and they charge inside. A fierce shootout ensues, with plenty of martial arts fighting. Naturally, the evil doers are killed.

Rosenberger describes the action in exquisite detail, while also telling us the name of every fighter and exactly what type of firearm and ammunition he is using:
Surprise! The atsonished [sic] Dasni were promptly cut to pieces by Manfred "Scarface" Rohde who started raking the area with a Heckler & Koch GMBH G3A4 automatic rifle. With the battered-faced West German, leaning around the broken and jagged wall stones at the south end of the rip in the east wall, were Rashid al-Khaima, firing an Igram [sic] sub-gun, and Carlos Luis Ceron, an Omega merc from Argentina, who was firing short, deadly bursts of 9mm Parabellum slugs from a Belgian Mitraillette Vigneron M2 chatter box; and while the three men saturated the area with streams of high velocity death, other Omega kill experts poured through the ugly gap and stormed forward, running in a crooked pattern. With them came the Death Merchant, ducking and darting, dodging and weaving, an AMP Alaskan in each hand. A 5.45mm AKS projectile spub by his head, only three centimeters from his left temple. Half an eyeblink later, a 9mm Vitmorkin machine pistol slug, fired by Major Vasili Tarasov, almost struck his wrist as his right arm was raised. Instead of hitting flesh and bone and almost tearing off his hand, the flatnosed slug struck the edge of his Seiko, shattered the wristwatch and sent the blown-apart mechanism to the four hot winds.

Camellion's .44 projectile bored into the left side of the Arab's chest and blew open a hole in his body large enough to permit the passage of ping-pong balls.

As happy as a drunken hillbilly with a credit card, Rashid al-Khaima began firing ...

"Well, kiss my transmission!" (this strange expression is actually used twice)

Death Merchant: "I don't want your brain to rush to your head!"

Cooked human flesh has the aroma of a good grade of pork.

Camellion prepared the explosives "all the while wishing he could hear Liszt's Les Preludes - perfect music to kill by".

June 14, 2015

Death Merchant #48: The Psionics War

I miss the goofiness of the earlier Death Merchant books. Joseph Rosenberger's later volumes, while following the same formula, are more serious. They lack the lightness and occasional silliness of, say, the first 20-25 books. But there is still enough to enjoy - and usually enough detailed violence - to keep going.

The Psionics War is a bit light on the carnage, however. Richard Camellion engages in only a couple of small skirmishes before the big finale. For most of this book, we follow the Death Merchant as he plans what he will do later in the book. Chapter after chapter of planning ...

Dr. Wayne Davis is a psionics expert whose research into mind control is of great interest to the U.S. military as a valuable new military weapon. Naturally, his knowledge is also desired by the KGB/Soviet Union. With Davis's Alpha One machine, an operator can focus in on someone miles away and kill him simply by thought. While the U.S. is ahead of the Russians in many aspects of the Cold War, psionics is not one of them. Davis's unit could give them the upperhand if he is willing to share his secrets. The U.S. appeals to his hatred of communism and he agrees. However, the doctor and his assistant (and two CIA men travelling with him) never show up to meet the Death Merchant at Kennedy Airport. Camellion suspects they were somehow kidnapped by the KGB, and it's up to him to find Dr. Davis.

While Camellion walks to his car in the airport parking garage, someone takes a shot at him. He returns fire and ends up killing three men and one woman. Camellion discovers that one of the shooters, a hood named Manny Rich, kept a veterinarian's receipt tucked into a hidden part of his wallet. Camellion plays psychologist and says that Rich kept the receipt safe because it represented his dog, and because he loved his dog, having the receipt represented "psychological comfort".

Camellion and CIA man Merle Duvane talk to the vet who notes that Rich made a strange request. After his dog's operation, he wanted the dog delivered to a different address, to an apartment building in Yonkers. Camellion and a few others go to this building (which Rosenberger calls both the Ark and the Arms at various points) and find KGB agents hustling Arnold Quincy (a friend of Rich's) through the lobby. During and after a brief shootout, Camellion has to kill nine innocent bystanders so there are no witnesses to their presence in the building and nearby alley. (Four of the dead are "black dudes" caught trying to strip their van. One remarks: "Bet they done kidnap that por man they is carryin." Camellion pronounces: "They were trash that interfered. The penalty for that is always death.")

They take Quincy and one of the unconscious Russians to a series of safe houses, including Amityville, New York. They pump the Russian for information, but he isn't cooperating. Camellion, remembering his aversion to rats when chained in the basement of one of the safe houses, devises a coffin-like structure into which the Russian is lain and several rats are let loose on his chest. He freaks out and talks. The Russians plan to take Dr. Davis and his assistant to a farm in Patten, Maine, then to St. John's, Newfoundland, on their way to a weather station on Resolution Island. There is a team of Canadian researchers at that station, but the Russians plan to overpower them.

The Russians plan to conduct an experiment with their own weapon, something called an L-Wave Disrupter, which will cause blackouts in the Canadian capital of Ottawa and also increase murder and suicide rates in the city by means of mind control. They will then take Davis back to Russia.

Camellion and a team of American and Canadian commandos attack a fish oil refinery in St. John's, where Davis was apparently being held. (The Death Merchant is not happy about the set-up: "A white blind honkey in South Chicago would have a better chance!") Nevertheless, they wipe out a lot of the Soviet enemy, and one of the wounded reveals the name of the vessel on which Davis is being transported. After considering all the angles, the Death Merchant decides that they must wait until the Russians take control of the weather station before moving in and grabbing Davis, as well as the Russians' L-Wave Disrupter.

After this decision is made, Rosenberger uses the next several chapters setting the stage. At length. What equipment will Camellion need, how will the various items function, in what order are their tasks going to be completed, what might the Soviets do, and what would each possibility mean, etc., etc. There is plenty of time for this as the men sail to the north. (I have read complaints about Rosenberger's over reliance on planning, and I finally see to what those readers must have been referring.)

The Death Merchant and his team get to Resolution Island at the perfect time - after some of the Russians have taken control of the weather station but before another group has come ashore with four scientists and the L-Wave Disrupter. On the island is "a landscape such as Milton or Dante might have imagined ... inorganic, desolate, mysterious". The Americans and Canadians hide among the rocks and when the Russians come walking along to the station, they open fire. Camellion's group also engages in a healthy amount of hand-to-hand combat. The second group storms the weather station and is able to surprise the Russians so completely that they are overwhelmed.

Having won the battle on the island, Camellion et al. notice that the Soviet submarine is moving straight towards the shore and soon begins shooting 75mm shells at the station building. The men get down to the shoreline, but realize that if they try to travel back to their ship, the submarine will likely target them. At the last minute, a wounded Dr. Davis speaks up - and offers his secret knowledge in order to destroy the submarine. It's pretty nutty resolution. Davis draws an outline of a submarine on a piece of paper and writes the name of the sub (Eugene Origen) on it. Then he asks Camellion to fire a bullet through the crude drawing of the sub. Davis then places the paper with the hole in it in the "well" of the L-Wave Disrupter and begins turning a few knobs. (Rosenberger spends two pages explaining the science behind all of this.) And sure enough, there is soon an explosion from out in the harbour - the submarine has exploded! As one of the men says, psionics "is the weapon of the future, and the future is now!"

The end.


While including a bunch of information on government mind control experiments and other parapsychological research (telepathy, precognition, telekinesis, out-of-body experiences, remote viewing), Rosenberger mentions, in a footnote on page 8, that while working as a "Security Officer", he "was forced to kill three men" and he had an out-of-body experience afterwards. He gives no other details.

"People need religion," [Camellion] said. "It gives the little morons the means by which they can halfway triumph over big bad death. The average man fears death because he fears the loss of human identity and integrity in a transient stream of atoms. He doesn't know it but his anxiety over so-called 'death' results from nothing more than the frustration of not being able to have life without death, that is, of not being able to solve a nonsensical problem. ... But the Cosmic Lord of Death gets them all in the end..."

While being held by the Russians, Dr. Davis refers to the Soviet Union as "that big pigpen" - an odd insult, yet similar to Camellion's often-used slur "pig farmers".

"Sweating more than a Black Muslim who had been caught spying at a KKK rally, Brown stopped, threw up his arms and tried to twist his gorillalike face into a friendly grin."

"Like people, neighborhoods change. While Tenth Avenue [in Yonkers, New York] was not exactly a slum area, the neighborhood was not of a type where one found the best people. ... Minority groups had moved into the area."

"Merle Duvane was busier than a one-toothed mouse in a roomful of cheddar."

"You might as well try to convince me that a doughnut is a pregnant Cheerio."

"He looked as oily as a corporate head and as scared as an Arab at a Barmitzvah!"

"I understand," Moan said, "sounding as cranky as an old maid who had discovered a man wasn't under her bed."

The Death Merchant calls out someone for making a racist remark, saying the speaker's mind is obviously not "cluttered up with facts and knowledge". However, after receiving a coded message about his next mission, Camellion muses, "I don't like the desert and I like sand crabs and their Moslem crackpotism even less."

During the final fight, a Russian yells, "Idyi zho ssat ya natyb yahachoo!" Rosenberger footnotes this (presumably nonsense) phrase: "Too vulgar to be stated in English."