Sunday, October 19, 2008

Combat In The Caribbean

Fans of classic television may remember Paul Petersen as a Meeska-Mooska-Mouseketeer on the original MICKEY MOUSE CLUB or as Shelley Fabares' younger brother Jeff Stone on THE DONNA REED SHOW. After DONNA left ABC in 1966, Petersen, like many child actors, found himself typecast and struggled to find work. Jumping ahead a few years, the mod Petersen discovered a talent for writing. After first publishing a non-fiction book about auto racing, Petersen co-created Eric Saveman, whom he dubbed the Smuggler. Pocket Books paid Petersen $75,000 to write eight books about the Smuggler in 1973, and FOOLS OF THE TRADE was the second.

Not having read the first book of the series, I'm not certain how Saveman came to work for the ZED organization, but he is one of the agency's best operatives. From ZED's secret headquarters located below Patton Enterprises, an international conglomerate, General Victor Velasco sends Saveman on a mission to the Caribbean island of Inagua, where the brutal security chief, M'Bhutto, is torturing three ZED agents in his oceanside prison. The only one left alive is Joshua Kane, whom Eric is to rescue, as well as find out why the other agents were killed.

After the initial few chapters, which feel randomly slapped together with little purpose but to stretch the story to 160 pages, FOOLS OF THE TRADE comes together quite nicely as a swift little adventure. Early chapters appear to set up supporting characters and a red herring plot that are quickly disposed of, in favor of Saveman's trip to Inagua, where the island's only source of industry, a salt mine, is being sabotaged by mysterious foes who are killing the mine's executives.

Along the way, Saveman participates in two rather graphic sex scenes and a gold heist ripped off from an episode of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. More eye-raising than the sex are Petersen's shockingly gory torture scenes that are among the most brutal acts of violence I've ever read. At least they're imaginative, and they do establish M'Bhutto as a real bastard that earns his nasty death in the next-to-last chapter.

Joe Marchetti's cover is a nice touch, as it's obvious that author Petersen modeled his creation for the painting.

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