Thursday, March 17, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: HAWKER #1 Florida Firefight by Randy Wayne White

Full disclosure: I was offered a free copy of this ebook by the publisher in exchange for a review. You can buy Florida Firefight on Amazon by following this link.

I'd never read any of the HAWKER novels back in the day, so the new ebook version was my first exposure to the series, which starts from a premise well-known to anyone who likes vigilante fiction from the '60s through the '80s. Courts are soft on crime, lawyers are all scumbags, and cops are either incompetent administrators gunning for a run on a political ticket in the future, or tough, hard-bitten streetwise crusaders trying to keep the criminal element in check, while constantly being undermined by "the system". Meanwhile, gangs of violent psychopaths and drug dealers roam the city streets like some kind of Tolkien-esque invasion of orcs and goblins.

Enter Hawker, a cop who doesn't play by the rules, blah blah blah. He kills a bad guy against orders and winds up resigning from the force, only to be hired by a reclusive millionaire to become a one-man vigilante army. You know the deal - the Punisher, but with better financing. To start the series off, Hawker goes to Mahogany Bay, a south Florida town where some Colombian drug-running bad guys are pushing around the townsfolk while using their land for smuggling purposes.

Hawker goes down there and purports to be the new owner of the Tarpon Inn, a formerly successful tourist spot which has definitely seen better days. He immediately gets into a fight with some of the Colombians and gets his butt kicked, but then beats up their leader and pulls a gun on them. He soon hooks up with a Native American woman named Winnie Tiger who is a biologist working in Mahogany Bay, and the only one who helps Hawker when he first encounters the Colombians. There is sexual tension from the get-go, and eventually they have sex. Of course.

I don't really need to give the shot-by-shot plot structure of the book - that's easy enough to find and it's a short book anyway, with a quick enough tempo that ensures an engaged reader will zip through it in a couple of evenings or a lazy Sunday. There's a good amount of gun porn and the violence is suitably visceral, with people getting shot, stabbed, punched, blown up, set on fire...even violated with an air tank and inflated to death (more on that later). While the body count isn't extreme, it is substantial enough to satisfy those whose primary reason for reading such fare is the satisfaction of punks and thugs getting their comeuppance.

And, to be fair, the plot did take me a bit by surprise. Hawker doesn't just go to Mahogany Bay and start slaughtering Colombians. Instead, he actually spends a couple of months in the town, working with the locals to bolster both their pride, and the town's economy. One of the more satisfying scenes in the book involves the townsfolk attacking the Colombians' stronghold and giving them a thorough whupping - sans killing, for the most part. Hawker had cautioned the locals against turning into killers, and there is an impressive amount of restraint and moral obligation there. Of course, even in the few moments where Hawker himself tries non-lethal means to deal with his foes, circumstances conveniently force him to proceed otherwise, and he does the lion's share of the killing in the book, aided by the Tarpon Inn's cook and bartender, both of whom are more than they appear.

I also really enjoyed Hawker using a (in 1984 terms) advanced computer system to track down information about the various players in the situation and gain an information advantage over them. Most of the protagonists in these books, if they do computerized information gathering at all, outsource that to some nerdish ally who is a "computer genius". While Hawker was trained by such a genius on how to do this, he does do it all himself, employing some convenient hacking software and an old-school phone modem to search various databases, even planting a false identity at one point to establish his cover. I hope this is something that continues throughout the series.

Unfortunately for readers in 2016, there are a lot of cringe-worthy parts in the book. Without exception, all of the "good guys" are white, while all of the "bad guys" are minorities. Even the alluring ("mystical" of course) Winnie Tiger is secretly in cahoots with the bad guys. There's one white German bodyguard of a bad guy, but Hawker hints that he thinks the guy is gay, calling him "...a candidate for AIDS disease.", a line that was so stunning, it took me a moment to even grasp its full, historical, implications. There's also a "hulking mulatto" named Simio (...really...?), given all the usual apelike descriptive portraiture, who likes to inflict pain as a strongman for the Big Bad Guy of the novel. Hawker kills him in a horrible fashion when Simio's pants split at the backseam during a fight, exposing his buttocks, and Hawker rams the nozzle of an air tank in Simio's backdoor and turns the valve, inflicting horrific trauma upon Simio's insides. I'm sure a Freudian could write a paper on that scene alone.

Setting aside racial and homophobic issues for gendered ones, there are four female characters in the book. Winnie Tiger, the mystical Indian woman who has sex with and then tries to kill Hawker, two large-breasted blondes who both die only after their shirts are ripped open to expose their assets in death, and Hawker's ex-wife, with whom he has dinner with before going to Florida, and who he almost, but I think does not, has sex with. She factors into about three or four pages of the book and is then completely irrelevant, making me wonder why she's even included except as a possible means to make Hawker seem more three-dimensional. Police Sergeant Dee Dee McCall (HUNTER television series, debuting the same year - 1984 - as this book) would not be impressed with the gender politics of Florida Firefight.

If you can get past these usual, rather uncomfortable artifacts (and if you made it past the first chapter, I'm sure you can), this is still a satisfying read for fans of such "serial vigilante" books. The ebook edition is well-formatted and there aren't any OCR typos that I noticed, typical for Open Road Media's products, which are usually very well done.


FreeLiverFree said...

You know I rather doubt a Native American would be named Tiger. Tigers have to do with the other Indians, the ones that live on a sub-continent in Asia.

Edgar Rice Burroughs famously had Tarzan kill a tigers until someone wrote to him and explain that tigers don't live in Africa.

Jack Badelaire said...

Also, it turns out she's not really (?) an American Indian at all...or who knows. The twist with her at the end is just moronic.

FreeLiverFree said...

So the bad guys in the novel didn't bother to do any research? Or was that the writer?

Jack Badelaire said...

I'm thinking the odds are 50/50.

Charles Gramlich said...

I started one of his books once and couldn't really get past the first few pages. I'm sure for some folks he's just right, but that book at least didn't work for me.

FreeLiverFree said...

While talking about this type of character. Comic Book Resources polled the "best" Punisher stories

englishteacherx said...

That's interesting that those are back in print after all this time, it seemed like Randy Wayne White had "disowned" them for a while. He reprinted his early Dusty Morgan paperbacks, but never mentioned the Hawker books on his website. Maybe it was some kind of rights tie-up. They're products of their time, of course, but nothing to be (overly) ashamed of. DETROIT COMBAT is the best one, where Hawker takes on an obese porno queen who makes snuff films.

Some of his Doc Ford books are pretty over the top, also. In one, the lead character ends up living in the jungle in Brazil with a female teenage cannibal while waiting for a chance to catch the two bad guys and kill them -- something he only does with his bare hands, as a matter of principal.