Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Doughnut Legion by Joe R. Lansdale and MIA Hunter #4: Moutain Massacre by Joe R. Lansdale and Stephen Mertz

I've long been on record with my love of the work of Joe R. Lansdale, like here and here. He's incredibly influential to me as a writer of various things from screenplays right down to blog posts and probably even the occasional text message. I found his work early in life when my brain hadn't gotten all of its little squiggles and his stuff expanded and warped those little squiggles. Thank God, am I right? I'm bad about reading new books though, those fresh off the printing press books kind of novels. But I did this time when I found the newest Lansdale opus The Doughnut Legion at my local library. Gee, that helps 'ol Joe out doesn't? I promise I'll buy it when it comes out in softcovers. Promise. 

Any which way, The Doughnut Legion is one I've been looking forward to once I heard its slightly off-center premise which involves a UFO-loving cult, spooky encounters, evil killers and even a face-stealing chimp which is usually dressed in a little outfit. All of that is solid gold, my friends. 

Our main hero is Charlie Garner an ex-cop and an ex-private eye turned writer who is visited one night by the ghost (or projection or hallucination) of his ex-wife indicting that she's in danger. She is a flighty woman who's gotten mixed up with The Saucer People, a cult that all but runs a small Texas town and does in fact, run the local doughnut chain. I mean it's a mystery novel, so Charlie drags his brother Felix, the strongman ex-therapist turned private eye into the mess. Felix drags his main squeeze the lawyer Cherry into the fray as well and we're off to the races. Like always, the characters shine so bright that you can barely read the page it's so bright. Besides are main crew we get the wonderful wannabe reporter Scrappy, the bored chief of police and his awesome dog Tag. Hopefully this a start of a series to get to spend more time with these people because they deserve it.

It's a book chock full of murders, tough talk, tragedy, shootings, punching's, chimp-related dismemberment, fun banter and a solid mystery with a nicely evil thug of a villain at the top of the heap. I read the book in two-sittings which is common when I crack a Lansdale, the book is so smooth the pages glide on by. It reminded me of the works of Fredric Brown, especially the Ed and Am Hunter books with its quasi-supernatural/sci-fi bits which is something not a lot of folks do then or now. It's more than just a fun read, so don't be like me and go buy it and give Joe some cash. 

I was still in the mood for Lansdale, so I decided to trek back to the earlier and pseudonym years. Back in the day the always readable Stephen Mertz had a series he created called M.I.A. Hunter where Mark Stone went back over to 'Nam and had some action and adventure. In the style at the time, he filled out the ranks with some other writers, like Joe and fellow Texan and awesome writer Bill Crider. Some years later Subterrain Press put out a big thick fancy numbered hardcover of the three novels Stephen and Joe worked on together. It's long out of print and I've long wanted it. So, about mid-way through The Doughnut Legion I decided to treat myself and picked up a copy. Even though I have the whole run in paperback. That's the life of a book-nerd, folks. And I didn't help Joe or Stephen either, since I bought it second-hand. I'm a terrible fan. 

#4 Moutain Massacre is the one I chose to read, mostly cause it had ninjas. I'm a sucker for dogs, ninjas, cold beer and hot ladies. The M.I.A. Hunter books are an off-shot of the 80's in general, Mack Bolan, Chuck Norris, Rambo and the lot. Missing POW's where a big thing back then, hell Stephen kinda kicked off the craze with The Executioner #43 Return to Vietnam. In the intro Joe makes it clear that he, while respected the kind of writer that could work quickly and efficiently within the Men's Adventure field, that he was always uncomfortable writing within the set confines of about anything. But like most authors could use the cash it would generate. He bought a Plymouth Horizon that was then referred to as "the MIA Hunter Car." 

Joes got nothing to be embarrassed about Mountain Massacre reads like an author (or authors) having a lot of fun. Working from an awesome and tight Mertz outline Joe lets hisownself seep into the book in the right measure. Stone and his buddies Terrence and Hog Wiley are over in 'Nam rescuing folks when they get mixed up with some mystical bandits that live in the hills and act all ninja-y. They are shocked to find out that some of the bandits are American ex-GI's. Later they get a gig to the tune of a cool million to find a rich man's son who's a POW and since that'll help save a lot of guys and Stone's a cool dude, they take the gig, and they get mixed up with the bandit/ninjas again in obviously action-packed ways. 

Hog Wiley is the stand-out "Lansdale character" here. He's an East Texas giant of a man who could exist in a lot of other Joe books. What I'm saying is he's a hoot and a half. The banter of with the team foreshadows stuff like Hap and Leonard and even Charlie and Felix from The Doughnut Legion. The action of course is fast and furious, and Joe's martial arts skill come in handy. The ninja stuff also seems to run alongside The Doughnut Legion, the fringe-touches of the supernatural that run through Joe's work. 

All in all, both books rock and roll for different reasons and they both show that Joe is Joe no matter what. The Doughnut Legion is out now, and the M.I.A. Hunter books are all available as nice eBooks, so really there's no excuse for missing out on some quality entertainment. 

And sorry for the lengthy time between reviews, I'm about neck-deep in pre-production of a feature-length film called Arrive Alive, that starts shooting in less than two weeks. I wrote and am producing the picture, which is a throwback to 70's crime films and Gold Medal paperbacks. This might mean a slow-down in the book reviews in the next couple of months, but I'll certainly be trying to get some book time.