Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review of Death Merchant 15: The Iron Swastika Plot

I had read this Death Merchant novel quite a while ago, back when I first started collecting them, but the details became fuzzy over time (sharks, ships, Nazis, etc.) so I gave it a re-read. Overall, this is a pretty interesting Death Merchant novel as almost all the action takes place at sea - there's ship to ship fighting, boarding actions, and even underwater fighting in shark-infested waters.

Long story short, a neo-Nazi organization known as Die Spinne (The Spider) has finally located the handful of survivors from a German U-boat that sank off the coast of the Falkland Islands near the end of World War Two. The submarine was carrying a fortune in Nazi gold, jewels, and other precious commodities, as well as a great many secret Nazi files that could reveal many of Germany's still-murky wartime secrets; something of even greater value than the treasure to the right organizations (remember that this takes place in 1974, only 29 years after WW2; many of the idealistic young Nazi officers in their 20's during the war would only be in their mid to late 50's, successful older men still vital enough to want to see their precious Reich rise up again).

Richard Camellion is brought in to find and "recruit" one of these survivors, and while he fails in getting one man out of Europe alive, he succeeds with another who knows where the submarine sank. Unfortunately, the Die Spinne agents also captured one of the survivors and got the location as well, so the rest of the novel is a race to see who can beat who to the treasure. Each side has at their disposal a yacht as a floating base of operations, and each side battles the other on the seas and below the waves, as well as ashore. Rosenberger did a fair amount of research into the capabilities of deep-sea divers during the 70's, including cutting-edge advances and discoveries into the sorts of exotic breathing gases (the 'diver's cocktails') needed to survive down hundreds of feet below the surface. This great attention to detail is one of the most positive hallmarks of the Death Merchant series, and goes to show that despite some of his other faults and quirks as a writer, Rosenberger has a great mind for detail and a knack for research.

I will also point out that this is the only Death Merchant novel I've read where Camellion gets laid. In order to provide a reasonable cover with regards to their pleasure yacht, several female CIA staff members are recruited and assigned to "lounge about" on the deck of the yacht, to give the impression to anyone who sails past that the ship is simply enjoying the sun and waters of the south Atlantic. Camellion beds one of the women, but the way in which he interacts with her is almost sociopathic; he seems to have little regard for her as a "real person", but not necessarily because she is a woman; more because Camellion has, in a sense, an almost autistic inability to relate to other people, and while he shares his bed with the female agent, in terms or real human closeness, the Death Merchant might as well be on Pluto.

Overall, this was a fun novel. Nazis, especially post-war neo-Nazis, are great villains to drop into any kind of PMP-style storyline, and Rosenberger makes good use of them in this adventure, particularly the ties between South America and Nazi Germany. True fact: I had a college roommate my freshman year for half a semester who was one-quarter German, three-quarters Argentinian. He as much as came right out to say his grandfather was a Nazi. Kinda creepy, actually, but cool in that surreal, pulpy, that-just-happened kinda way.


ReflexiveFire said...

Hey JE, just wondering what are your overall impressions of this series? I've heard such horrible things about it at that I've never gone looking for any Death Merchant novels before.

About your last comment, I had a friend who used to go out to bars and tell people he was German by way of Argentina. The girls never got it though... Still, not as cool as your story.

J. E. Badelaire said...

I have something of a love-hate relationship with the DM books. They are dense and ridiculous and pretty offensive at times, but those are also some of the reasons why I enjoy reading them every so often.

Also consider the authors. Don Pendleton seems like he was a perfectly rational, reasonable guy who liked writing cool vigilante men's adventure fiction but was otherwise a pretty stand-up guy. Joseph Rosenberger...well he seems like the sort of conspiracy-theory perpetration weirdo who'd keep a stack of Minuteman Press "How to keep the government from taking over your life and survive the nuclear winter for $20 a day" type books in his study. He was a contributing author to Fate magazine, which is definitely a fringe publication, and I'm sure he had a number of crackpot theories of his own.

This sort of difference carries over into the two characters. Mack Bolan is a righteous crusader who lives with his own ethical code of conduct and doesn't break it, period. Richard Camellion is a nihilist sociopath who'll do whatever it takes to get the job done, no matter who gets hurt along the way. Fun fact; at least in the Death Merchant novels, both characters existed within the same universe, and at least the Executioner was known to the Death Merchant, probably by reputation only. As someone once put it to me, though, "Mack Bolan would shoot the Death Merchant on site, thinking he was a murdering criminal because of how he completed his missions. Richard Camellion would ignore Mack Bolan and consider him a fool, but a useful fool as long as he didn't get in the Death Merchant's way". I'm not much of a comic book person, but it'd be like comparing the Punisher to Deadpool - both kill to accomplish their missions, but one has a code that he follows, the other does whatever it takes to get the job done.

I've found most people who really have dug the Mack Bolan books above all other PMP-type fiction abhor the Death Merchant books. I, on the other hand, am something of a PMP generalist, so I appreciate both for what I see are the merits of each. The Death Merchant books are like watching bad Exploitation movies from the 70's; offensive and entertaining, in part, because of the ridiculousness of their offensive nature.

Long story short, I can't tell you whether or not you should read one of his books; I will tell you though that if you're the sort of person who can't find humor in the profane, as a general rule, I wouldn't recommend reading the Death Merchant.

ReflexiveFire said...

Interesting breakdown of the series as well as the authors involved. Your right, Don did seem like a great guy and it came through in his writing.

On the other hand this Rosenberger guy sounds interesting if nothing else. You think he was the kind of dude who thinks the CIA steals everything in his house at night and then replaces his things with stuff that looks EXACTLY the same down to the serial numbers on his TV and VCR? I've been told that wearing a tin foil hat stops the CIA from stealing your penis while you sleep but who knows...

I will have to pick one of these books up the next time I see them at a used bookstore. Might be entertaining if nothing else.

Anonymous said...

I love this site.

It's such a shame there's not much on the net about these kinds of books.

Here in the UK they are VERY hard to come by - making sites like all the more essential.

There's very little known about Rosenberger, as far the net is concerned.

There was one article that spoke to a colleague of his. The profile, if correct, was not flattering, painting him as deeply paranoid racist who was also into the Occult - as you say, an interesting guy!

I'm sure you already know this, but there is a new Death Merchant series on the horizon, with the first novel out sometime in november.

Keep up the good work!


Jack Badelaire said...

Anon - Glad you like what I've got here. It's one of the reasons I got into this kind of research in the first place eight or nine years ago - a lot of this 60's - 80's pulp has gone by the wayside except for a few stars like the Gold Eagle titles (Mack Bolan, Able Team, Phoenix Force) and such.

Thanks again for dropping by, and yup - I'm aware of the new DM book - trying to get my hands on a review copy if at all possible.