Monday, July 12, 2010

Review of Death Merchant 14: Vengeance of the Golden Hawk

I haven't read a Death Merchant novel in...well a long damn time. Probably at least three years, if not four. I read about a half dozen of them while writing for the original PMP website and burned myself out, mostly because Joseph Rosenberger's writing style is best likened to a firehose filled with acid. It's not that it's terrible; it's just that it is so jam-packed and dense that reading more than one of his novels at a time can be a pretty fatiguing. The level of detail and exactitude that fills every fight scene and every description of an exotic locale, weapon, or piece of equipment is really impressive, but it also causes the writing to become entangled; the action doesn't flow from shootout to shootout but rather from individual bullet to individual bullet.

Still and all, the level of detail is very good. Rosenberger covers language, customs, food, clothing, geography, architecture, politics and history, religion and philosophy. We in the 21st century have the world at our fingertips and any detail is just a quick internet search away, but back in the 70's you had to achieve that level of detail the hard way - good old fashioned research, analog research; journals, magazines, books, encyclopedias, maps, hours upon hours at libraries and other reference centers, finding sources and making phone calls and asking questions, jotting down notes, and compiling it all to create what you're looking for; a believable environment within which to set some seriously balls-to-the-wall action.

Anyhow, let's look at Death Merchant 14: Vengeance of the Golden Hawk.

Richard Camellion, the Death Merchant, is vacationing in Israel when he is approached by Israeli intelligence and asked to go undercover as a mercenary explosives expert to infiltrate a radical splinter group of the PLO known as the Vengeance of the Golden Hawk, or VGH. This group has acquired six Iraqi missiles and a substantial amount of nerve gas, and is planning on striking Tel Aviv, an act that would kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of Israelis and would no doubt cause nuclear retaliation on the part of Israel, possibly leading to World War III.

The Death Merchant goes undercover by getting himself locked up into a Jordanian prison with another undercover Jordanian spy and three captured members of the VGH. Escaping through the use of hidden explosives, Camellion and his cohorts fight their way free of the prison (Camellion and the undercover Jordanian making attempts to not kill the guards, who are being unwittingly sacrificed by their government for the sake of maintaining the ruse) and escape into the outskirts of Amman, where they meet up with an underground contact and begin sneaking their way into southern Iraq, where the VGH have set up a secret base.

Over the course of the novel, the Death Merchant and his compatriots get into four major battles; the prison break, an ambush in a marketplace that moves into a mosque, a battle out in a desert wadi, and finally the battle to defeat the VGH and destroy the missiles, which takes up the last fourth of the book. There is little hand-to-hand combat during these big fights, but it does crop up here and there as Camellion has to show distrusting VGH members at a couple of points in the book that he is not a man to be screwing around with. The end battle gets quite epic, with rocket launchers, explosives, incendiaries, machineguns, grenades by the bucketful, and even an armored car. All told, there's probably over a hundred kills in the novel, perhaps half directly attributed to the Death Merchant, the rest divvied up between his Jordanian spy cohort, the VGH members he hooks up with, and finally their undercover contact within the VGH.

All in all, this was a pretty good Death Merchant novel. It's still early in the series, so in places its a little rough, and I think Rosenberger is still figuring the character out a little bit, but he's definitely his own creation by this point; certainly no Mack Bolan clone by any means, just as Rosenberger is in no way attempting to pastiche Don Pendelton.

Next up, a chance of pace; I'm going to be reading a Nick Carter: Killmaster novel, so stay tuned.

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