Monday, April 21, 2008

Deadline Of Murder

Death is always right around the corner where the Death Merchant is concerned. The earliest book in the series I have read is #4, CHINESE CONSPIRACY, published by Pinnacle in 1973. I think I'll always have a soft spot for it, due to the fact that it opens in DuQuoin, Illinois, a very small town in the southern part of the state very close to Carbondale, where I attended Southern Illinois University.

Chapter 1 finds Richard Camellion having a beer at a bar near DuQuoin, a night after working as a carny at the DuQuoin State Fair. It's never explained why the hell the Death Merchant is undercover, running one of the games under an assumed name, but his enemies find out and ambush him in the parking lot. After kicking their asses, with some help from a friendly CIA agent, Camellion takes Route 51 to Urbana (next to where I live) to catch a plane for Canada. Although 51 doesn't go through Urbana, it does pass through Pana, St. John and some other real towns referenced in the early chapters of CHINESE CONSPIRACY, as Camellion receives exposition from his CIA pal on the late-night drive to Urbana.

The plot is simple enough. Former Nazis have teamed up with Red Chinese agents to kidnap an American rocket scientist from Cape Kennedy. The U.S. is due to launch its first space shuttle, and China's plan is to blast it out of the sky with missiles fired from a nuclear sub floating in a Canadian bay, and then force the scientist to build them a duplicate. The Death Merchant's path takes him from the Chinese embassy in Ottawa into the very bowels of the Chinese sub itself, guns and grenades blasting all the way.

As usual, Joseph Rosenberger provides a rollicking action story filled with graphic violence and barely bridled racism. Interesting that he never provides Camellion (or at least rarely) with a romantic subplot. It's fine with me, since women usually just get in the way of a straight adventure like this one, but it is unusual.

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