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
Some Choose Hell is the 9th Soldiers of Barrabas story, and takes the SOBs to South Africa. South Africa in 1985, when apartheid is alive and well. This time, they are hired to protect Bishop Toto, the new black Bishop of Johannesburg. What they don’t know is that they’re intended to be patsies. The South Africans are intent on assassinating the bishop, even as they’ve invited the SOBs in to protect him. It gets more complicated than that; by the time Barrabas, Nanos, Hatton, and Bishop arrive in South Africa, the real Bishop Toto has already been imprisoned by BOSS (the Bureau of State Security), and an impostor put in his place. The impostor immediately begins making all sorts of concessions to the white government, sowing discontent, which will peak with his assassination, after which the real Bishop Toto is to be quietly eliminated. Needless to say, the SOBs interfere, finding themselves at odds with their “employers.” There’s a significant side plot in this one, namely that of Claude Hayes. It had been revealed in earlier books that Hayes spent some time in Africa after Vietnam, though in more of a revolutionary role than the more common anti-Communist mercenary role
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.
I was initially a bit leery about this one, noticing on MackBolan.com that it was written by Robin Hardy. My last go-round with Hardy was Show No Mercy, which was really, really poorly written. But, a weird, double-entendre back cover notwithstanding (a double-entendre which has no bearing whatsoever on the story), River of Flesh turned out to be surprisingly solid. Hardy still has some odd descriptive flourishes in this one (not to mention an overly high opinion of the lethality of 5.56mm), but the writing is generally a tier above what came in his last standalone SOBs title.
Since there’s a lot of inspiration from the SOBs series behind Brannigan’s Blackhearts, I’ve been slowly working my way through the series, in part as research to see how Gold Eagle ran a long-running action series. I slowed down a bit, due to missing a few volumes in the middle, but since those gaps have been filled, I’ll be getting back to it. Red Hammer Down is SOBs #6, following directly on from Gulag War. In a very real sense, they form a two-parter; Red Hammer Down goes into the backlash from the mission to Siberia in Gulag War.
It’s been a while for one of these, but I’ve slowed down a bit, since I have yet to get my hands on #7, River of Flesh, and #8, Eye of the Fire. I’ve admittedly been a bit reluctant to continue with #7, given that Robin Hardy wrote it, and my last outing with Hardy, Show No Mercy was…less than thrilling. But Michael Mercy, over on the SOBs Fan group on Facebook, assures me that the problems with Show No Mercy were corrected with River of Flesh, so I’ll be getting back in the swing of things soon(ish).
Been a bit behind on these posts; it’s been a busy couple months. While I don’t have the complete series, I have a good chunk of the Soldiers of Barrabas, and I’ve been working through them. While Stony Man was kind of my gateway drug to the Gold Eagle paperback scene, the SOBs series is generally, in my opinion, slightly better (in no small part because it becomes evident early on that none of the team members–except maybe Nile Barrabas himself–have plot armor). There are a number of influences in the Brannigan’s Blackhearts series, but the SOBs are a big one, in large part because I’ve adopted some of the storytelling tricks of a short, team-based, fast-paced action adventure story from them. (Introducing each of the team members in the first couple chapters as the team gets rounded up is one of the main points I’ve adopted, as opposed to the in media res, on-the-fly intros we got in the Praetorian series.) So, let’s get started.
This was my first SOBs novel. And at the time, I was simply interested in the premise. Iran goes nuclear. It was a pretty high-profile concern a few years ago, and has been simmering in the background ever since. There was even a documentary made about it, Iranium. With Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an avowed “Twelver” as President of Iran, the likelihood of Iranian nukes soon being used against the US and Israel seemed to be pretty high. So imagine my curiosity when I found out that an obscure, 1984 Gold Eagle pulp mercenary story had been written about just that: stopping Iran from launching a nuclear attack.
Part of my “creative process” (damn, I hate that term) often involves reading in the genre I’m going to be working in. Call it “setting the tone.” I’ve had a few standbys for the shooter genre, ranging from Larry Correia’s and Mike Kupari’s Dead Six series, to Jack Murphy’s Deckard series, to Jack Silkstone’s PRIMAL series, among others. Brad Taylor’s Pike Logan series has been pretty good (though I’m way behind on that one), along with Dalton Fury’s Kolt Raynor series. I’ve also gone with some of the older books, such as Forsyth’s The Dogs of War, which I reviewed last week. Part of the inspiration for the upcoming Brannigan’s Bastards has been the old Pinnacle/Gold Eagle Action-Adventure series, such as The Executioner, Phoenix Force, Able Team, and Stony Man. But a larger part, among those old pulp shoot-em-ups, has been the Soldiers of Barrabas, or SOBs.