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.
The Barrabas Run, the first of the series, was not the first of the SOBs that I read, but I’ve gone back to it for this. Because it’s a good start, though a number of people find it a bit slow.
The book starts in Vietnam, just before the fall of Saigon. We are introduced to Colonel Nile Barrabas, and Walter Jessup, the CIA officer who will become the interlocutor for Barrabas’ later missions. Barrabas takes a chunk of shrapnel to the head, a wound that somehow turns his black hair snow white (as with all of the adventure series of the time, some things are best just put down to “rule of cool.”)
Later on, after being the last man out of the embassy in Saigon in 1975 (literally; he grabs hold of the skid on the last Huey as it lifts off), Barrabas becomes a mercenary. We next see him in prison in South America, awaiting execution.
But Jessup has a job for him, and gets the go-ahead from an unnamed Senator to bribe Barrabas’ way out of prison. The job: put together a ten-man team of mercs to go into Africa, rescue the exiled (purportedly dead) leader of the island nation of Kaluba (probably located off the coast of Forsyth’s Zangaro), and get him back to his country to take over, ousting the dictator who has been ruling it with an iron fist ever since the leader, Joseph Noboctu, disappeared.
What follows is a discount version of The Dogs of War, crossed with The Wild Geese. Barrabas must recruit his team, get them trained up, get the logistics for the operation arranged, and all under the radar.
Now, while I’ve seen a couple of reviews of this book complain about how it’s too slow for a Men’s Adventure story, it makes for an excellent introduction to the team, and binds them together into a team. (It’s also a technique that I might be utilizing in Brannigan’s Bastards, especially considering that the latest Amazon review of Kill Yuan pointed out how well the different approach I took to character development at the beginning worked, as opposed to the in media res shitstorm that characterized much of the Praetorian stories.)
The action that follows is gritty, and generally pretty believable. No Rambo III, One Man Army, tank jousting against a Hind stuff here. The team works together as a team, using fire, maneuver, misdirection, sabotage, and air support as best they can to accomplish their twofold mission: rescue Dr. Noboctu, and get him installed at the head of the government of Kaluba.
The entire book is actually somewhat surprisingly realistic for a 1983 Gold Eagle paperback. The action is believable, and there’s even a brief interlude where Barrabas muses on the political mess of Africa, being a bunch of tribal groups often lumped together inside arbitrary borders set by European powers without regard for the tribal landscape.
There are a few uneven spots in the quality. Some of that may simply because this 195-page story (not including the appendices, which take the form of reports of Barrabas’ Vietnam War exploits, and set up the enmity between him and another character, Karl Heiss, which is alluded to throughout the novel, but only explained in these reports) was written by three separate people. Mackbolan.com lists Jack Canon, Robin Hardy, and Alan Bomack as the authors of The Barrabas Run (all under the house name “Jack Hild”). Some of the more glaring hiccups actually lie in the gun porn.
It starts out right away, when the guerrillas moving in to kidnap Noboctu are armed with Cristobal carbines (obscure, but real) and AK 10s (which don’t exist). The authors wax poetic about the devastating power of the 5.56mm AR, which most of us who have used it in combat will scoff at. And the machineguns available are simply called .30s and .60s.
But, the rough spots aside, there’s a lot to like here. It’s still a good, tightly-written war story, with some hints at the global underground highly reminiscent of The Dogs of War. Like I said above, it’s a discount version of the former, mixed with a good helping of The Wild Geese.