Saturday, January 31, 2009

Orders to Kill!

Jonathan Trask's THE CAMP (Belmont Tower, 1977) is a patently absurd slice of post-Watergate paranoia that seems to have vanished off the cultural radar minutes after it arrived. A Google search turns up almost no information on the book or its author, who may of course have been a house name. I love the cover, however, which looks like it came from a '60s sweat mag. Maybe it did, as those companies tended to recycle art when possible. The illustration depicts an act of violence that actually occurs in THE CAMP, so maybe it was commissioned for the paperback.

Told in first person, THE CAMP is about Phil Gordon, a conservative, beer-drinking, skirt-chasing, joint-toking Vietnam vet who muckrakes as an investigative reporter for a NEWSWEEKesque weekly called TOMORROW. He enjoys taking down corrupt politicians and businessmen and is as handy with a Walther as he is with a Smith Corona.

On vacation in Maine, he visits a Native American friend, Jimmy Jacks, who tells Phil about a mysterious Army camp hidden deep in the woods where ghastly sounds emanate at night. Although the camp is surrounded by two waves of barbed wire so no one can get close enough to see anything, the moaning of what sounds like men being tortured carries past the fences. Jimmy's three sons sneaked into the forest to investigate, but none ever returned.

Phil and Jimmy pay a late-night visit to Camp Butler and discover the torn, ravaged bodies of tortured hippies tied to posts. Smelling a scoop, Phil arranges to go undercover as a recruit at Camp Butler, which he learns is operated under the radar by right-wing military extremists who are training American soldiers for an eventual government takeover, which includes a possible assassination of the U.S. President.

Trask didn't take long to pound out these 155 pages, and the plot and action don't fill out as well as they should. Gordon doesn't even face much opposition in his attempt to topple the Camp Butler bigwigs, which makes one wonder how they plan to conquer Washington if they can't even stop one out-of-shape ex-Green Beret.

A silly late-chapter twist and a pessimistic coda that indicates Trask/Gordon actually experienced THE CAMP and is hiding his facts in the form of a novel are consistent with the gloomy endings common to the 1970s. I had a good time in the hour or two it took to rip through Trask's blunt stylings, though I feel like the only man alive to have survived THE CAMP.

EDIT 2/28/2012: Big thanks to Joe Kenney at Glorious Trash for noting in the comments section that author Jonathan Trask is actually a combination of Leonard Levinson and Peter McCurtin!


Joe Kenney said...

Marty, once again your blog comes to the rescue. I'd never heard of this novel until Leonard Levinson mentioned it in an email to me -- he wrote "The Camp," though he says Peter McCurtin might have written the first 30 pages or so. I know what you mean...I did a Google search after reading his email and your blog is the only site that had a review of the book!

Marty McKee said...

Thanks for the tip, Joe!