Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: Rat Bastards #1: Hit the Beach!

As I pointed out a couple of posts ago, Len Levinson (writing as John Mackie) has managed to publish his infamous Rat Bastards series of WW 2 Pacific Theater war novels as Kindle E-Books. Although the covers are identical and somewhat uninspiring, the books themselves are priced very competitively and the digital conversion is done well. I've had a hard copy of Hit the Beach! for about a year and never bothered to read it, but now that I've got access to these on the Kindle, I'm going to begin plowing through the series.

In Hit the Beach!, we're introduced to Corporal Bannon on his first day of combat, as a member of the ficticious Twenty-Third Infantry Regiment during the invasion of Guadalcanal. This landing is taking place a few weeks after the Marines landed, so the battle for the island has been taking place for some time. Bannon actually starts off as a Private First Class, but when he manages to keep his head about him during the landing, Bannon is promoted to Corporal and takes over command of his squad.

Unfortunately for Bannon and his other platoon-mates, the platoon loses its Lieutenant, and they are assigned the indomitable Sergeant Butsko, who has been recently knocked down to Buck Sergeant from Master Sergeant for killing a man in a barroom brawl while on R&R in Australia.  Butsko is some kind of massive, scarred, Ajax-like figure who keeps him men in line through a winning combination of extreme profanity bellowed at the top of his lungs, and the constant threat of physical violence. But as much as his men hate him, when the chips are down, Sgt. Butsko is the one guy you want on your side, especially when the fighting turns into close combat with bayonets and rifle butts.

The close combat is, of course, where Levinson's work really shines. While the shooting and exploding parts of the action are serviceable for the genre, when Butsko, Bannon, and the rest start stabbing and hacking and bashing the Japanese, things go from entertaining to jaw-droppingly gratuitous. At one point in the various close-combat battles, Butsko is running about the battlefield with some kind of pickaxe, slaying Japanese soldiers like he's Conan on a Red Bull-fueled rampage. Heads get hacked off, entrails get spilled, limbs are severed and fly through the air - it is a blood-splattering gorefest.  This was also a trademark of Levinson's other series, The Sergeant, but there it was somewhat out of place, as this sort of hand-to-hand wasn't as common in Europe. But in the Pacific Islands campaign, the dense jungle and Banzai tactics of the Japanese brought them toe-to-toe with the Americans on a much more frequent basis.

All that aside, Hit the Beach! covers just one day of combat - the first day of the 23rd's deployment - and by the end of it, Bannon and Butsko's platoon have distinguished themselves far above the call of duty. Theyve paid a heavy price for this achievement, but since they're all a bunch of tough "rat bastards", it's all just a day in the life of a soldier in the Pacific.  And, like all soldiers throughout history, performing your duty well just means you're going to get picked for the next dangerous and important mission that comes along...


Hank Brown said...

Actually never read this first one. Interesting that Levinson began with his focus more on Bannon, because it seems to have shifted to Butsko just a few books later in the series.

Also, in the books I've read, the 23rd was a regiment, not a division. A couple times the division the 23rd was a part of got mentioned, but I can't remember it now.

Jack Badelaire said...

Thanks for catching that error Hank - fixed now.