When a counter-piracy mission goes bad, the SOBs find themselves hunting a secret society of pirates–the Red Vengeance.
This was probably one of the best of the SOBs books I’ve read recently. While it has some connection with the real world (mainly through the Vietnamese Boat People), it’s a pretty self-contained adventure, with the SOBs going toe-to-toe with some of the most evil antagonists they’ve faced yet.
Published in 1986, this book touches on a rarely-mentioned part of the aftermath of the Vietnam War–the boat people. Between 1975 and 1992, almost two million Vietnamese fled what had been the Republic of Vietnam, braving the South China Sea in rickety, overloaded boats rather than endure the new Communist regime. And where there are refugees, there are those who would prey on them. Red Vengeance sees the SOBs go after some of those predators–just turned up to 11.
The book starts with a mission for the Thai Royal Navy going bad. It’s not the SOBs’ fault–it had already gone bad before they went in. But it puts them in a rough spot. They failed, whether it’s their fault or not. And that puts them off contract and pissed off. But one of their liaison partners got a lead on the pirates–the Red Vengeance. And when he gets them a Thai Navy helicopter to hunt with, they go out after revenge.
The Red Vengeance is clearly Robin Hardy’s invention, and they are just about the perfect pulp mercenary action-adventure antagonists. They are the most sadistic, irredeemably evil enemies that I think have been featured in the series thus far. While it never gets too graphic, just the bit of what they do to their prisoners that is described will let your imagination go the rest of the way, and will probably turn your stomach a bit.
There’s no regret when they finally go down.
There’s some character development among the team, too. Nanos has gotten to be more and more of a loose cannon as the series has progressed, and it finally comes down to Barrabas needing to put his foot down. Billy Two just gets weirder–the aftermath of his torture at the hands of Russian Spetsnaz in Red Hammer Down.
I read Red Vengeance cover to cover while editing War to the Knife. That’s how quick some of these old Gold Eagle paperbacks go. Considering they had a pretty hard 50,000-word limit, that makes some sense. But this one was also tight, fast-paced, and well put together.