Friday, August 22, 2008

He Could Do Anything And Get Away With It

Judging from the first two of Signet's eight-book series, Marc Olden's Black Samurai novels are among the best of the 1970s men's adventure books. I really liked THE GOLDEN KILL, and the Black Samurai's 1974 origin story may be even better. Surprisingly for an origin tale, it doesn't get bogged down with a lot of boring details. Olden starts off in the middle of an action sequence, and then uses logical flashbacks to two earlier periods to fill in the Black Samurai's past.

The hero is Robert Sand, and it's pretty difficult to not picture actor Jim Kelly in the role, even if he hadn't gone on to star in the disappointing BLACK SAMURAI film by director Al Adamson. On leave in Saigon, American G.I. Sand was shot by street punks while attempting to protect an elderly Japanese man. After a long convalescence, Sand is invited by the man, a great martial arts teacher named Konuma, to study at his school, where he becomes the first black samurai warrior seven years later.

Konuma doesn't last long, however, in Olden's book, which opens with a nighttime raid on Konuma's school by mercenaries in the employ of Colonel Leo Tolstoy, which leaves Sand as the lone survivor. Escaping to the ranch of William Baron Clarke, a former U.S. president who had taken an interest in the young samurai while looking for ways to use his wealth and power to make American a better place, the Black Samurai learns that Clarke's daughter is the next target of Tolstoy, who has already kidnapped Konuma's granddaughter Toki and destroyed the old man's school to prevent any of the samurai from mounting a revenge mission. Unfortunately for him, Sand survived.

Tolstoy's plan is much larger than a mere snatch for ransom, leaving the Black Samurai, who swears to avenge his beloved mentor, as the only man alive who can protect America from the colonel's evil. Bristling with action and violence, BLACK SAMURAI pops with every page and, at just 168 pages, is easy to read in a single sitting. Sand is a very sympathetic character, and the relationship between Clarke and him is distinctly drawn. While the Black Samurai respects "the Baron," he isn't his sidekick or delivery boy. It's clear that Sand is his own man, while Clarke, despite his massive wealth, treats Sand as a complete equal.

Olden wrote eight Black Samurai novels within a two-year period that partially overlooked the Narc series that he penned, as Robert Hawkes, from 1973 to 1975. I liked the first Narc book too, even though it's more realistic than the Black Samurais. Olden, who was black, penned more than forty books before his death in 2003.

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