Since I’m working on Brannigan’s Blackhearts #7 – Kill or Capture, I’ve been back to the SOBs series for some reading. Which is when I realized that I haven’t written up the last few I’ve read. So, here is Eye of the Fire.
Eye of the Fire has a couple of things going on. The mission is an assassination in Cuba. But the target isn’t a Communist official or guerrilla leader. He’s an Argentinian known only as “Colonel D,” a torturer-for-hire who has spent decades finding inventive ways of making Communists die in agony throughout Latin America. And, coincidentally, he’s also been employed by the CIA.
This makes him valuable to several people. Jessup, “The Fixer” hires the SOBs to take him out in order to keep him from burning his contacts with the Agency. Barrabas isn’t having any of it to start with; he says he’s a soldier, not an executioner.
But the mission isn’t the only thread in this book. There are a couple of others, that make things much more interesting.
Emilio Lopez was one of the original SOBs, and was killed in Show No Mercy. In Eye of the Fire, we meet his little brother, Tony. Tony’s an idealistic kid who looked up to his brother, and now wants to follow in his footsteps. This gets him into a lot of trouble, because he’s trying to push his way into a world he knows nothing about.
Furthermore, there’s another plan working in the background. The unnamed, thoroughly corrupt senator who has been pulling many of the strings–and who hates Barrabas’ guts–has a backup plan. Another group of mercenaries is also gunning for Colonel D, only they’re out to rescue him and eliminate the SOBs in the process. And Tony Lopez becomes the linchpin that will bring all the draw them all together.
There’s a real theme of mirror-images in this book. Braun’s mercenaries are the mirror image of the SOBs; they’re very similar in many ways, but without the SOBs’ scruples. Tony Lopez and “The Kid,” a psychotic teenager recruited by Braun, are also mirror-images; Tony wants to be a merc like his brother, and The Kid does as well, only for different reasons.
Colonel D is less a character than he is a MacGuffin in this story. The quest to either kill him or rescue him (to be employed in his usual line of work later on) is only the framing device for this battle between those on either side of a fine line concerning the use of violence.
Colonel D is also a bit of a commentary on the occasional loss of scruples when dealing with unscrupulous enemies. As Tom Kratman once said, in the Carreraverse books, “Be careful who you make your enemy, because he’s going to become just like you.” Colonel D and his usefulness to American anti-Communist efforts is an example of this, and a further exploration of theme of a fine line separating the good guys from the bad guys.
This was a Robin Hardy book. My initial exposure to Hardy working on his own was Show No Mercy, and that one was rough. It has become clear as the series has progressed, though, that Show No Mercy was as poor as it was because of a rushed deadline. (Gulag War was supposed to be #4, but got delayed for some unknown reason.) So far, Hardy’s later books have been considerably better.