Monday, October 22, 2007

The "H" Bomb!

Wow. I just read #10 in the long-running series of Death Merchant men's adventure paperbacks, and if the rest of them are anything like this, I'll have trouble putting them down, which will be bad, since I normally read just before bed. I have six or seven more already that I'm looking forward to getting into.

As in the previous nine novels, also published by Pinnacle Books, home of the legendary Mack Bolan "The Executioner" novels that inspired the Death Merchant series, 1974's THE MAINLINE PLOT finds antihero Richard Camellion battling a three-way drug cartel with branches in Marseilles, North Korea and New York City, where the Mafia plans to distribute a powerful new strain of heroin that addicts its user after just one shot. Camellion, better known as "The Death Merchant," is a freelance mercenary and master of disguise who takes on tough jobs for the U.S. government (or, presumably, anyone else who can afford him) for a pricey fee of $100,000 per mission. Judging from his modus operandi in THE MAINLINE PLOT, that appears to work out to well under $1000 per kill.

Author Joseph Rosenberger, who is credited with all 71 Death Merchant novels (and may actually have written them all), may not be much for characterization or elaborate plotting, but he sure knows pacing. Of THE MAINLINE PLOT's 184 pages, I'd estimate that 125 of them are action setpieces, as Camellion busts caps into bad guys in his hotel room, a Hong Kong restaurant, a French mobster's country estate and wine cellar, a Brooklyn wrecking yard and a hospital supply building used as a front for Italian-American mobsters (Camellion disguises himself as a black mailman to gain entry, including "cocoa brown" face mask, "kinky" hairpiece and gloves that resemble skin). Many of these locations house dozens of armed men who are slaughtered by the Death Merchant in spectacularly bloody fashion. For the climax, the Death Merchant arms himself with a special CIA-created submachine gun called the "Blaster," which uses a clip that holds over 3000 (!) bullets that explode on contact, so that Camellion's enemies are not only shot dead, but also missing hands, legs, faces, heads...

I can't believe nobody ever made a Death Merchant movie (or an Executioner movie, for that matter). In the '70s when these novels were at their height (Pinnacle released about four per year), Joe Don Baker would have been great casting for a taut, gritty, succinct potboiler directed by Phil Karlson or John Flynn, who directed Baker in the very good WALKING TALL and THE OUTFIT, respectively.

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