BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS: The Column at the End of the Apocalypse

bullets broads blackmail and bombsEnough of this highbrow reading! Let’s get to basics! When I say “basics,” I mean completely mindless garbage that comes from one particular publisher. Yes, folks, it’s an all-Gold Eagle column, featuring two series set in the weird world of the post-apocalyptic future these authors both thought were coming. It’s 2009 and everything stills seems to be all right — no corporate wars or giant asteroids laying destruction. In other words, these books are providing a much-needed brain enema.

SURVIVAL 2000: RENEGADE WAR by James McPhee — Two years after reading the first book in this trilogy, I finally got my hands on the other two. To bring people up to speed, which the 1991 book does really well in the first chapter, is that an asteroid has hit Earth in various locations, making the planet into a total wasteland.

In the first novel, David and Lee Rand came back from a hunting expedition after the asteroids hit, only to find David’s wife and daughters went off to what they thought was a secure area. The bulk of that book found these two making their way, only to find out that David’s wife was killed, and his daughters have been taken.

Now onto book two, which for those not paying attention comes smack-dab in the middle of a trilogy, meaning you get no closure or payoff. What you do get is a very long manhunt tale. David, Lee, Zera and their dog Melmouth are on the trial of a group of army deserters led by a mad man named Sheever. Through the whole book, they are always a day or two behind this group. We watch as they go into new towns where David flexes his gun prowess in very gruesome ways.

This installment is just a stop-gap to pad out the trilogy. Sure, you find a little bit more about everyone involved, but nothing new is really discovered. I mean, how many times in these type of books do we have to read about going into some wasteland of a town where everyone is radiation-poisoned? Or that they come across a secluded, never-touched cabin that is lived in by a cougar who is just drinking her life away until she runs out of fuel? All the while, we get glimpses of Sheever and his men, who are paranoid that they are being followed.

McPhee is not going to garner any new fans with this story, which seems very Western-like, especially since Sheever and men are on horseback for most of it. It takes all of 90 minutes to plow through. There is only one passage of gun porn, and I do mean just a passage — a nice change of pace from this type of book, because my eyes just glazed over that portion with all the terms and names. Since I have the third book, it’s only fitting I finish off this series within this column.

JAKE STRAIT: THE DEVIL KNOCKS by Frank Rich — It’s been more than two years since I first came across this series, so it was time to revisit this bounty hunter of the future. For those unfamiliar, Jake Strait is a bogeyman — a glorified skip tracer, if you will — who hunts down criminals for a price for the government.

As we find Jake at the start of this 1993 book, he is having a bit of a professional crisis, as he is in the process of capturing two killers, one of whom is a pregnant women. Jake takes care of the male with no problem and then injures the woman so when the cleanup crew shows up, she will be their problem, with Jake not having to deal with the consequences of killing a pregnant women in his mind.

But that is not the only thing making Jake rethink his life as he watches a pimp push a one-legged hooker into the street and into the path of a bus. (Ah, the future is so looking bright!) Jake kills the pimp, which is the wrong thing to do. Jake needs something in his life to escape, and when a former friend calls and promises a huge payday, he perks up.

The job in question is to overthrow Denver — yes, the whole city. It seems to be under the control of a dictator, with Jake’s former friend planning a revolution. But as soon as you can say “spaghetti Western,” it becomes quite apparent (to this reviewer) that the book seems to be a riff on the old film A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL. Things go from just bad to really worse as the story moves on, with Jake right in the middle, realizing that he might just be a very expendable pawn in this deadly game.

This one is not for everyone. It’s mindless, violent, gory and a shitload of fun — just what I was in dire need of. Rich knows the type of reader that he is talking to. There are no great speeches of how the poor need to uprise. Just shoot first and don’t cross Jake.

SURVIVAL 2000: FROZEN FIRE by James McPhee — Before we get to the final showdown that all readers are expecting, we have 200 pages to slog through — mainly two scenarios. The first encounter our intrepid group has to go through is a bizarre monastery set up after the asteroid hit. It’s made up of nothing but men who have killed off any visitors.

I made a joke when I covered the first book that it seems like it could be a rip-off of THE ROAD. Well, when our heroes finally get a chance to relax at the monastery, Dave finds a library in the compound and spots a title he finally gets to read. Yes, you guessed it: a Cormac McCarthy book! I’m not making this up and will gladly scan the passage for anyone.

Then the brothers want payment for the time spent by Dave and Lee staying as hunters and gatherers, and for Zera becoming a baby maker. Take a wild guess how things turn out. We next find our crew enter a town that seems to be pretty normal … well, except for the fact that there are gallows with some strange fruit hanging. This is a town that does not take to kindly to crime.

The main reason for these three travelers to make camp is that it’s a few days before Christmas and Dave has a serious toothache. It’s in this town that they find a hotel run by a mother and daughter who take a real shine to David and Lee. Again, you can guess where this all goes and what the expected results will be.

That is literally the first half of the 1991 finale. Then there’s a huge amount of padding until we finally move into the final showdown, with Sheever and the last remnants of his men making camp in a deserted mall. For all this buildup, you would expect some sort of huge gun battle. Nope, it ends very lackluster, and I’m guessing McPhee was a fan of a certain scene in BAD BOYS (the Sean Penn version), but replacing soda cans with a more dangerous item.

After reading over 600 pages, I wanted a kick-ass ending, not some super-lame, fizzled-out one. On the whole, the series is not the best, especially since it ended so lamely.

Next time: Bob Dylan, Captain America and Gunga Din walk into a bar … —Bruce Grossman

Buy it at Amazon.

OTHER BOOKGASM REVIEWS OF JAMES MCPHEE:
SURVIVAL 2000: BLOOD QUEST by James McPhee

OTHER BOOKGASM REVIEWS OF FRANK RICH:
JAKE STRAIT: AVENGING ANGEL by Frank Rich

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