The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack

Subtitle

Action

Action/Adventure


Caribbean Kill by Don Pendleton

Mack Bolan is killing mafiosos again in this 1972 novel from the Executioner series. If you’ve read any of these early books you know that there is not a lot of deep thought required to enjoy them. The plot is always roughly the same. Mack Bolan arrives in an area where the mafia is and starts killing them. At some point in the story, innocent people will become involved and Bolan will risk life and limb to get them out of danger. Finally, things will look really dark before the dawn when Bolan walks away the last man standing.


The only real difference in Caribbean Kill is that Bolan is flying into a trap—a trap he seems amazingly unprepared for since he clearly believed it would be there. The opening chapters were a lot of fun as Bolan evades the initial efforts of the mob to bring him down, but after that the story begins to soften around the edges and blur into fairly mindless action. If you like the high-action low-thought formula, you’ll enjoy this novel, but it’s not one of the more memorable ones.


Koreatown Blues by Mark Rogers

Let me start out by saying that this book was not what I expected and that’s probably a good thing. Wes is a hardworking guy who manages a car wash during the day and goes to sing karaoke at a Korean bar each night. Then the owner of the carwash he works at gives him the opportunity to buy the business. The only problem, Wes doesn’t have the money. That’s when he’s offered a highly unusual opportunity—the money he needs for the down payment in exchange for marrying a young Korean woman. He thinks she’s an illegal immigrant looking for a green card. The truth, however, is that she’s the victim of a three-hundred-year blood feud and her family’s enemies have killed the woman’s last five husbands.


With a setup like that, I was expecting an “Executioner” style bloodbath. I figured that Wes would turn out to be an Iraqi war vet and the bad guys would discover they had picked on the wrong man—but that is not what Mark Rogers rolls out. Our hero, Wes, like most Americans, doesn’t have a lot of experience with violence and is desperate to resolve the situation in a peaceable and civilized fashion. As you might guess, that isn’t an attitude shared by the bad guys. Wes’ solution was certainly an interesting one.


Coffin Creek by Ben Bridges

Let’s face it. When you’re looking for a western with a little old-fashioned gunplay in it, a title like Coffin Creek is definitely going to catch your eye—and this novel delivers with tense action all along the way. But there’s also a tight little mystery and two great subplots—one about a lawman that may be past his prime and one about a crippled man who doesn’t know he needs to regain his self respect. Put it all together and you have a story Louis L’Amour would have enjoyed. I’m going to have to try a couple more of Ben Bridges’ tales.


Where Eagles Dare by Alister MacLean

It’s hard to read Where Eagles Dare without comparing it to the extraordinary 1968 movie starring Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood and Mary Ure (which I admittedly saw last a great many years ago). The book holds up well to the movie it gave birth to with one major exception that I will address later.


Where Eagles Dare is a high-tension action-fest set during World War II. American General George Carnaby has been shot down and captured by Nazi Germany and a thrown together crew of commandos must rescue him before the Germans wrest the secrets of the D-Day invasion from him—forcing it to be delayed at least a year. Parachuting in behind enemy lines, the rescue team must penetrate the heavily guarded Hohenwerfen Castle—accessible only by helicopter and cable car—liberate Carnaby and escape with him. It’s an impossible mission, except that what I’ve just described would be relatively easy compared to what the real mission proves to be.


With things going wrong from the moment they jump out of the plane, the hero, Major Smith, must maneuver his dwindling team of soldiers through a German town to get them up into that castle where only eagles would dare to travel. Mysterious deaths and unfortunate captures plague his team, but it’s only in the confrontation with German General Rosemeyer midway through the book that we really find out what’s going on—at least we think we do.


It’s nonstop action from that point forward—something very well suited for the movies but which MacLean pulls off just as well. In fact, the only thing I thought the movie did much better than the book was the roll of the American Schaffer. Eastwood plays him as his typically silent and deadly character, but MacLean put him forth as often whining and annoying figure. I prefer Eastwood, but that didn’t stop this from being a wonderful book.


The Noise of War by Vincent B. Davis

The Noise of War is a very realistic portrayal of a dark time in Roman history when the Germanic Cimbri had just inflicted upon Rome one of the most significant defeats the Republic ever suffered—the loss of 90,000 legionnaires. Davis does an excellent job of portraying the fear this loss generates and the personal scorn that the survivors suffer for the loss. He also succeeds in creating a genuine sense of what makes the barbarians so distinctive.


It takes a long time to get to the battles in this novel and I wish I knew more about the accounts of the actual war because a couple of the “tricks” that are used didn’t feel credible to me. For example, if the legionnaires can stand on a hilltop looking down at barbarians relaxing in the river, you would think the barbarians could see them as well and might start scrambling to arm and armor themselves while Marius makes his speech. The cavalry trick also seemed unlikely to me, but the strange thing about reality is that sometimes it is the most unlikely tricks that win the day. The novel was obviously thoroughly researched, so on balance I tend to credit the author’s portrayal over my skepticism.


And that really is the great strength of this book. This novel is so well researched that it makes you feel like you are walking the streets of Rome 2100 years ago, and that really is an amazing accomplishment.


I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.


Cut and Run by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker

I had mixed feelings regarding choosing this book as one of my two free picks from Audible this month. On the one hand, it sounded funny, but kidney thieves? Really? That sounded terrible. So I slept on what to pick and decided to give it a try. The results are mixed.


First off, this is a book filled with energy and snappy dialogue. It actually is amazingly humorous and the characters—all the characters—are likable even though many are involved in particularly dastardly professions. The action moves along at an admirable pace and I wondered the whole time how the cast was going to get out of the mess they were in.


On the other hand, this is more of an audio play then an audio book and the cast is large enough that I had trouble telling some of the characters apart based only on their voices. The production quality is high, but voice distinction is not my greatest strength. Without the normal cues in an Audiobook like “Kate said” I was often deep into a scene before I was certain who was talking.


If you’re looking for something a bit outside the normal (and let’s face it, how many books have you read about kidney thieves in love), then you’ll find a lot to like about Cut and Run.


Hotel Megalodon by Rich Chesler

I got this book because the blurb reminded me of the old disaster movies—The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno—and I was right. Hotel Megalodon is a very fancy, one of a kind, underwater hotel built on a reef in Fiji. Unfortunately, the building of the hotel right on the edge of an extremely deep underwater chasm has attracted the attention of a sixty-foot beast that the world thought had died out sixty million years ago. What follows is a sort of Jaws on steroids. Chesler had me on the edge of my seat from the very beginning as the prehistoric shark begins making its first appearances and James White, the owner of the new hotel, refuses to believe that anything is going wrong with his grand opening.


White makes a great villain for this story—in many ways much better than the megalodon who is only a force of nature—not evil. Even as disaster strikes and people start to die, White is more interested in covering up the problem than in saving people’s lives. Worse, he has no problem trying to murder, Coco, our heroine to further his schemes. Every bit of the attempt to rescue the hotel guests is complicated by White’s sociopathic nature and it adds substantially to the stress.


Coco makes a great heroine. She’s intelligent and brave if sometimes more than a bit rash and foolish. It’s easy to care what happens to her because she cares what’s happening to everyone. In fact, she over cares at a couple of points and it is my major problem with the story. After nearly dying helping several people escape to the shore, Coco herself gets free and immediately goes back to the hotel to see if she can help anyone else. By this time the hotel is cut off and underwater, so returning wasn’t easy, but that’s not my problem with her move. She makes no effort to alert people to what’s happening. Yes, there have been some reports from the guests she rescued, but one would think that a marine biologist and employee of the hotel might be more successful in raising public attention to the danger the remaining guests and staff are facing. There is never any talk about getting naval help (even if it were to say, no ships could arrive for forty-eight hours) and not nearly enough attention given to the reporters who are on scene trying to understand what’s gone wrong.


That being said, this is action-packed adventure which gives 99% of its attention to the action. The ending was also not at all what I was expecting, but I liked it very much. If you think Jaws isn’t scary enough to keep you out of the water, you might want to book a room at Hotel Megalodon.


Red Metal by Mark Greaney and Hunter Ripley Rawlings

Greaney and Rawlings have tried to write a Red Storm Rising for today’s generation when there is only one superpower left on the planet. The set up is a Chinese move to take over Taiwan. While the U.S. moves substantial forces toward Taiwan to deter China, Russia decides to take advantage of America’s distraction to seize control of three rare earth metal mines in Kenya, but first they convince the U.S. that all of Europe is in danger by launching a strong feint through Poland and into Germany.


It’s an audacious plan and the action comes fast and furious throughout the phases of the attack. At first, surprised and disoriented NATO forces, reel under the Russian assault with a few heroic units rallying to the defense of the west. The European front really heats up when Russia tries to withdraw its feint and the Poles refuse to stand down and stop fighting against them.


While this is playing out in Europe, the invasion of Africa continues full force with quickly cobbled together forces trying to bleed the attacking Russians sufficiently to stop the assault. The action in both theaters is gripping and the range of military forces is quite broad—infantry, helicopters, tanks, fighter jets, and even a submarine take center stage at various times in this novel. So despite being a little slow to get started it ends with a blaze of glory.



4 Rogue Wave by Christopher Cartwright

I’ve always been interested in rogue waves. They rise without warning and often sink vessels caught in their paths. So when I noticed that there was a Sam Reilly novel with this title I had to take a look. There are two mysteries here (in addition to the Dirk Pitt like historical mystery). On the one hand, who killed Sam’s old friend when he refused to sign onto a deal which would make him rich in exchange for burying his discovery of a new environmentally friendly energy source that could replace fossil fuels. The other is, how the bad guys were able to use a rogue wave as the murder weapon.


This is a fun novel. There’s a little bit of science fiction technology involved, but mostly it’s a tense and exciting adventure on (and beneath) the high seas. As Sam and his team come closer to the truth, it becomes apparent that a global catastrophe is about to occur and that a powerful figure in the U.S. government is responsible for the danger. There’s a sea full of tension in this one.


I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.


Polar Vortex by Matthew Mather

This is both a strange and exciting thriller. A jetliner goes down in the arctic and more than a week later still hasn’t been found. The only clue to its whereabouts is a journal found a thousand-plus miles (and more than a week) from where everyone thinks the jet crashed. So the story is told on two levels—brief chapters involving the team examining the journal bookending much longer sections chronicling the journal-writer, Mitch, and his five year old daughter as they get on to the plane and eventually crash and struggle to survive.


This is an exciting, edge-of-your-seat style, adventure that anyone can empathize with because who wouldn’t do whatever they had to in order to make certain their five-year-old child survived. There are a lot of strange people on board—enough to make you think that even coincidence can’t account for all of this—and part of the genius of the story is that coincidence isn’t the answer. This is an extremely well thought out story which I totally enjoyed.




The Tuzla Run by Robert Davidson

I like a novel in which I feel like a learn a little something in addition to the plot, and the Tuzla Run is packed full of things to learn. First there’s the chaos of the war in the Balkans with multiple states and factions fighting against each other. Add to that, the IRA is active—something I’m sure I was aware of at the time, but there is a tendency to compartmentalize historical theaters and to forget that one can affect another. Finally there is the relief convoy that is the heart of this novel which really provides a look at the problems in the Balkans region that I was totally unfamiliar with.


The plot is solid even if it depends a lot on a couple of major coincidences. On the one hand, an IRA assassin and a British soldier whom he wounded both end up as drivers in the same convoy. At the same time, the relief convoy has been coopted by gun runners to move their contraband through the region. But look past those coincidences because this is an action-packed, frankly fascinating look at a nasty ethnic struggle that will keep you on the edge of your seat as you read it.


America Falls Books 1-3 by Scott Medbury

When a Chinese bioweapon kills almost every adult in America who does not have Chinese heritage, teenager Isaac Race finds himself leading a small group of not yet adults in search of a safe haven from the invading Chinese army. I enjoyed the story quite a lot. There’s plenty of action and some very good character development, but in the end there was not quite enough world building for me to give the series a top ranking.


So let’s start with the best part of the series, the protagonist, Isaac. A victim of tragedy even before the plague, Isaac is a very sympathetic character who is faced with believable moral quandaries as he tries to navigate his way through a world that has fallen apart. Like most real human beings, he has a hard time accepting that he now exists in a dog-eat-dog world and is reluctant to use force at all, much less lethal force. He also makes some bad decisions, but they are credible bad decisions, so they enrich the character rather than sour him for the reader. His supporting cast is also likable which makes Medbury’s willingness to kill them off as the series progresses all the more painful.


The action reminded me strongly of plots that would fit in well with The Walking Dead with the Chinese army substituting for the zombies. You only have to think about Lord of the Flies to realize that other survivors would have to be treated with caution as not everyone would be altruistic in this post-apocalyptic America. These conflicts added considerably to the tension of the story and added a lot to my enjoyment of the plot. It was only in the world building that I kept finding myself asking questions that I’m not certain are fair to ask.


The biggest of those questions is: if the Chinese did succeed in creating a highly contagious virus that killed off all adults who are not of Chinese ethnicity, that suggests that North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia (plus the populations of a heck of a lot of islands) would quickly be almost completely depopulated. The world economy would then crash—including the Chinese economy. Global industry would come to a halt and it seems likely that in short order China also would be in a state of industrial collapse. So I don’t know how realistic it is to expect the Chinese to be able to sustain a prolonged invasion of the entire United States—and I’m also not certain in these circumstances how important it would be for them to invade in the first place. After all, a bunch of teenagers—even with the support of Asian-Americans—just aren’t going to be able to save the modern industrial United States from sinking into utter barbarism. China is now the world’s only super power—at least until its own industry grinds to a halt. It could afford to wait to invade.


This is the kind of concern that the reader needs to bury deep and forget about it—and for the most part I was able to do that. After all, Isaac doesn’t really know what’s going on in the rest of the world. Maybe it is collapsing. I guess I’ll have to keep reading the series to find out.


I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.


Omega Deep by Christopher Cartwright

Christopher Cartwright really knows how to put the “thrill” in “thriller”. This novel opens with a bang as we watch the submarine of the title get into a most unusual problem six weeks before the rest of the novel begins. My pulse was pounding by the end of the epilogue and I really wish the author would have taken us a few pages further into the action—but then, if he had, there really wouldn’t have been a mystery for us to work through for the rest of the book.


That mystery comes in the form of two different underwater wrecks—an airplane and a cargo ship that we, the reader, quickly come to think have to be connected. Cartwright presents a mixture of technical problems accessing the wrecks, good old fashioned mystery, and sudden pulse-pounding action. It’s a lot of fun to read and things only get more exciting as our heroes, Sam and Tom, get interested in locating the submarine that we followed into danger in the epilogue.


A lot of this novel is putting pieces in place that will clearly be important to later books in the series, but that didn’t take away from the excitement as I listened to this book for the first time. (I have not read any other works by this author.) When they finally figure out what happened to the Omega Deep and go after it, you’ll be on the edge of your seat trying to figure out how everyone will survive. If you like a fast-paced, action-packed adventure, you ought to give Omega Deep a try.


I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.


The Spider 3 Wings of the Black Death

Richard Wentworth, the adrenalin-junkie-turned-vigilante, returns once again to save New York City from its newest threat—the bubonic plague. A particularly insane criminal is blackmailing people with the threat of infecting them with the black death and he has correctly identified the Spider as the biggest danger to his nefarious scheme. So he murders a few police officers and frames the Spider for the crime. The basic plot is pretty solid. The tension of having the police get more and more enraged with the Spider and more and more determined to bring him to justice (i.e. murder him in retaliation for the deaths of their fellow officers) really ramps up the suspense in the novel, but there are a couple of problems that handicap the overall story.


First, the bad guys get the jump on Wentworth five or six times. He constantly walks into traps—suspecting the trap but deciding to trigger it anyway—and it always goes bad. It is enough to make you doubt Wentworth’s supposed genius-level intelligence. Similarly, the villain was very obvious in this book. The motivation for the villainy was weak, but is possibly the set up for future problems.


Secondary characters help save the story. Wentworth’s friend, Kirkpatrick, is well drawn and the dog, Apollo, is one of the stars of the novel. Finally, narrator, Nick Santa Maria, does a fabulous job of bringing this series to life. In addition to creating great voices to identify each character, he does an excellent job of setting the mood and keeping sometimes hokey prose from slipping into camp.

The Spider: The Wheel of Death by R.T.M. Scott

Richard Wentworth makes his second appearance as The Spider in this 1930s novel brought to audio life by narrator Nick Santa Maria. Wentworth is an adrenalin junkie who only feels alive when he is in great danger—not just mortal danger but the danger that comes from exposing his vigilante crime fighting activities. Because of this need for danger and his love of using his wits to get out of trouble, he is constantly taking rather absurd risks for the simple pleasure of forcing himself to find a way out of the resulting problems. Strangely, this need on his part succeeds in creating a fast moving and quite enjoyable adventure.


In this volume, Wentworth finds himself impulsively agreeing to help free a man on death row and in so doing discovers a blackmail scheme that has put New York City into the hands of a criminal mastermind. To make matters worse, a simple mistake early in the book allows the criminals to identify Wentworth as the Spider forcing him to use his cunning not only to expose their schemes, but to get back the evidence that can unmask him. It’s a lot of fun watching him dance his way out of trouble.


In Wheel of Death, author R.T.M. Scott goes to great length to praise the courage, loyalty and intelligence of Wentworth’s girlfriend and manservant from India, but they still come off as inferior to Wentworth specifically because they are female and Indian respectively. In this regard, the novel is very much a product of its time when the attitudes toward women and people of color can generate cringe worthy moments for the modern reader.




The Spider Strikes by R. T. M. Scott

This is the first book in a series first published back in 1933. The Spider is the crime fighter alter ego of Richard Wentworth, a criminologist who lives on the adrenalin rush that comes from putting his life, his reputation, and his freedom in peril by pursuing criminals right under the noses of the police. This sort of series is fun if you don’t think about it too much and if you can overlook the 1930s attitudes. You do have to suspend a lot of disbelief. Wentworth always goes out as himself, interacts with people, and then suddenly kills one of the bad guys and puts his spider seal on the corpse’s forehead and yet—even though Wentworth is under suspicion of being the Spider—no one seems to make the connection. But it was still fun.


Doc Savage: Python Isle by Will Murray

These new Doc Savage novels have a nostalgic appeal to me. They are written in the pulp style of the original series and are true to the characterization of those early books with Doc and his five friends solving global problems through their brilliant intellects—at least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening. Unfortunately, the only person who shows any intelligence in this novel is Doc Savage, himself. His friends go out of their way to prove they are incapable of bringing their allegedly keen minds to bear on their problems in any rational manner. They always jump into every situation with their fists, failing to think or plan ahead repeatedly even after the villains of the story have bested them multiple times. On top of this their dialogue is extraordinarily bad. It’s clearly intended to add comic relief to the story, but it succeeded only in making me cringe.


The villains are also subpar when compared to the typical Doc Savage experience. I just never understood why they were causing Doc and his men any trouble at all. And the way they finally cease to be a problem was totally unsatisfactory. There was no victory over evil—or if there was, it wasn’t Doc and his men who won the victory.


So that’s the bad part of the story, but it’s actually an enjoyable tale despite these problems. The mystery at the root of the novel—a missing civilization with interesting biblical roots—was worthy of the Doc Savage series. And the great buildup to the pythons of the title was completely satisfying. Doc Savage’s action scenes are also well done—it’s just the scenes involving the supporting cast that aren’t up to standard.


I read this book in its audio format. Narrator Michael McConnohie does a superb job of bringing the cast to life in the story. He has a range of voices that become instantly recognizable as the cast of the tale. On top of that, there are interesting interviews with author Will Murray at the end of the book that shed a lot of light on how Doc Savage was created. If you like the Doc Savage series, you’ll enjoy this book.




Bullet Rain by Robert Smartwood

If you enjoy fast-paced adventure stories with just enough mystery to keep you wondering, this is the novel for you. It opens with our hero, Nova, getting the tires shot out of his $100,000 sports car but not knowing anything has happened other than that he got two flat tires. He hikes back into town and gets himself into some trouble with the locals which he manages quite handily. It’s not until the next day when he tries to get his car towed that he begins to figure out something is wrong. His car has been stolen and he very quickly figures out that something in this extremely small desert town is very out of kilter. That’s when the action goes into high gear and it doesn’t stop until the very end of the story. There’s nothing deep in this book, but the plot holds together very well and I resented it every time life intervened and I had to stop reading. If you like a book ala the Executioner but with a much better plot and slightly more realistic action, give Bullet Rain a try.

152 Continental Divide by Warren Murphy

The Destroyer series is the story of the glorious House of Sinanju—a 5000 year old line of assassins who created the original martial art from which all others are pale derivatives. The current master and his pupil have been hired by a secret agency within the U.S. government (called CURE) to clean up crime and protect the country by working outside the constitution. Each book features ridiculous parodies of current events, politicians and celebrities. This novel focuses on a poorly defined conspiracy to destroy bridges in the U.S. to boost the air-freight industry. Since it is happening during the presidential election, parodies of Trump and Clinton, both of whom look utterly ridiculous, try to spin the events to boost their campaigns. At the same time, parodies of the Scooby Doo characters are also investigating the crimes.


I have read every book in this series, it’s spin off series, and the handful of unnumbered books associated with the series and this one did not measure up to its best standards. The thing that makes the Destroyer so interesting is the banter between Remo (current Master) and Chiun (Master Emeritus and teacher of Remo) and the frustration they cause Smith, the head of CURE. That all important personal storyline was present, but didn’t boost the book as well as it usually does. Also, the basic plot was weak and lacked a satisfying resolution. The book is saved from a poor rating because it serves as the set up for a team up of at least two prominent Destroyer villains, so the prospects for the next novel are great.



Rated R by Mike Leon

From the book blurb I expected this novel to be something like a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie—Commando or Raw Deal—and nonstop action is pretty much what you get. There is nothing deep in these pages, but they are a tremendous amount of mindless fun. The story revolves around two teenagers: Sid—who’s been trained from birth to be a killing machine—and Lily—who’s trying to escape her mother’s truly horrifying ex. Throw in secret government programs and another super soldier and you have just enough plot to justify tons of actions. Lily is the only character with any depth, but honestly the plot doesn’t need much character development. Tons of fun.




Attack of the Yetis by Eric Brown

Attack of the Yetis by Eric Brown is an all action adventure without much in the way of character development or evolving tension. The plot revolves around a secret military taskforce (with very few military personnel) who have snuck into Antarctica looking for aliens believed to have crashed there. What they find instead are yetis—presumably alien yetis—who attack on sight and apparently for no reason other than that they feel hostile. So humans and yetis kill each other in large numbers. Because the author didn’t take the time to introduce his cast before he started killing them off it is difficult to develop a lot of sympathy for the victims of this massacre.