Saturday, October 11, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

Death Merchant #18: Nightmare In Algeria

Richard Camellion (the Death Merchant) is undercover in Algeria as "Christopher Landsdowe", a missle guidance expert wanted by the US for sedition. He's meeting with members of the Black Avengers, who have formed an alliance with the Blood Sons of Allah , a Palestinian terrorist organization. The groups are plotting to kill the U.S. President and Secretary of State, and the President of Egypt. The Death Merchant's mission is to wipe out both Algerian groups.

Camellion's cover is blown when he is recognized by Russian spy Irina Golbov, who has infiltrated the Avengers. (Golbov previously appeared in DM #5: Satan Strike. When she is asked later how she knew who Camellion was, she lies and says she was at the Mountains of the Moon, from DM #15: Vengeance of the Golden Hawk.) The Death Merchant escapes a wild shootout and retreats back to the house of Israeli agent Roger Chauvel and his wife.

Nightmare in Algeria is the fifth of six (!) Death Merchant books that Rosenberger published through Pinnacle in 1976. The hectic pace of banging out these adventure novels must have been exhausting, and Rosenberger makes several obvious errors. Only Dr. Umari knows Golbov's true identity; the Black Avengers know her as Leila Shukairy. However, in a strategy meeting with the Avengers, Umari calls her "Irina" four different times over two pages. Late in the book, Camellion has someone who has been quite dramatically shot to death about 12 pages earlier return to life and appear in a different scene. Rosenberger usually refers to the Sons of Allah is S.O.A., but sometimes he uses O.A.S.

Rosenberger is amusingly transparent when it comes to giving information to the reader:
"Then I'll have to go to the Casbah [dressed] as an Arab, perhaps as an old Berber," Camellion countered slyly.

"No, not as a Berber," Marie said softly, "since the name Berber is derived from the Latin barbari, which means 'barbarians.'"

"Very well, then as an Imazighen, the Berbers' own name for themselves. I believe the name means 'man of noble origin.'"
Later, Major Mohamet Arida explains "his master plan" to the terrorist group:
As all of you already know, the missles will be carried by trailer. From here, we shall proceed to the ruins of Timgad. As you already know, this ancient Roman city is on the coast, between Algiers and Oran.
Additional information is provided when various members ask Arida a few leading questions.

And when Camellion arrives at an olive oil processing plant to attack a meeting of the Sons of Allah, Rosenberger shares some of his extensive research with us:
The olive itself is a small, pretty evergreen tree. Growing between twenty-five and forty feet tall, the tree has white flowers and a small, shiny fruit that is purplish-black when ripe. But some olives are picked before they are ripe, or when they have developed a dull or yellowish green color; these olives are treated with special preparations and are sometimes pickled. To obtain the olive oil, unripe olives are pressed by a machine, the result a clear, yellowish oil that has many values. Not only is the oil used as a dressing for salads and for cooking, but many medicines contain olive oil, which is valuable as a laxative. It is also used in making soaps and dyes.
Camellion (as usual) is not shy about his anti-religion views. When a compatriot says, "God had better be with us", Camellion sneers:
God? Do you mean the Old Testament God, who garnered such an impressive list of atrocities - the God who demanded and sanctioned human sacrifices? As I recall, Jehovah himself was fond of directly exterminating large numbers of people, usually through pestilence or famine, and often for unusual offenses. ... No, my friend. We don't need the help of any cosmic Adolf Hitler!
The Death Merchant states he is fighting this mission "only for money", not to benefit Israel, which he calls "a nation of pious thieves who go about stealing Arab lands in the name of ridiculous superstition".

When asked if he is afraid of dying, Camellion says, "There is no such thing as death. Dying is only a brief illusion in a universe full of life, a universe of constant transition. Most things are illusion. What was reality only a moment ago is now obsolete." (He's deep, man.)

Odds and Ends:

Poetic, if slightly ungrammatical:
A tried red sun, preparing for sleep, chinned itself on the horizon, its feeble light falling on Algiers. In the daytime, the white buildings of the beautiful city which lay in a green amphitheater of hills, with the blue Mediterranean washing its shores, glitters [sic] in the bright sunlight. ... The Old Quarter, which centers on the Casbah, or citadel, is on a large hill and its "streets" are frequently stairs. Here are old houses with nail-studded doors and latticed balconies overlooking the narrow lanes.
A bizarre mention of Richard Nixon, whom Rosenberger/Camellion hates:
... his chances for life were less than those of Richard Nixon's being elected pope of the Hazy Hexagon Church of Homely Homosexuals!
Rosenberger name-drops Mack Bolan, Don Pendleton's action-adventure hero!
Poor Shafik Jamil had neither the reflexes nor the experience of Richard Camellion. With the exception of Mack Bolan, another deadly crime fighter known as The Executioner, very few men had.
Then, on the next page, Camellion is described as a "killmaster", the name of yet another action series (Nick Carter). Rosenberger actually wrote one of the Carter books: #125, Thunderstrike in Syria, in 1979.

One character tells another: "Don't get your balls in an uproar". According to The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, this phrase dates back to 1961 and is of Canadian military origin.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Death Merchant #17: The Zemlya Expedition

The Russians have constructed an experimental underwater "city" above the Arctic Circle. The Death Merchant's mission is to infiltrate the city (known as Zemlya II) and smuggle out Dr. Raya Dubanova, a Russian-born scientist who "has a secret so important it affects the entire planet". The Russian government does not take her claims seriously, so she has covertly alerted the CIA.

Control of the world's oceans is posited as the next battle in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Joseph Rosenberger offers a lot of mumbo jumbo about weather modification and a country's apparent ability to wipe out its enemies by altering tides and causing storms. There is not a lot of action in first 100 pages of The Zemlya Expedition, with Rosenberger offering long, in-depth descriptions of the undersea city, both what its various domes look like and how the massive structure can withstand the tremendous water pressure.

There are also long conversations. One exchange in particular is interesting. Camellion has been captured aboard a Russian vessel, but before he is sent to Moscow for execution, he is brought before General Vershenky at Zemlya II (thus taking care of the problem of how to get the DM into the underwater city). Vershensky has no desire to torture information out of Camellion and is quite amiable, sharing his vodka, for example, while assuring Camellion that the Russians will get the full truth from him on how the CIA learned of Zemlya II. After Camellion makes a crack about the Russians using inhumane "mind control" techniques - typical "pig farmer" behavior, in his mind - Vershensky opens up a file that includes piles of evidence of U.S. "mind control" experiments.

Vershensky reads directly from an article in the November 1975 issue of Argosy: "The Unsavory Business of Mind Control", by Dick Russell. "Controlling human behavior with drugs, brain surgery and electronic stimulation may sound like 'Brave New World," but it's not. It's America, 1975." The article - which mentions Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker (who acted at one time as Richard Nixon's therapist) - actually ran in the magazine.
"'But consider a Hutschnecker proposal, first outlined in a 1970 memo to Nixon's White House, which proposed mass psychological testing of all six-to-eight-year-olds "to detect the children who have violent and homicidal tendencies." On a compulsory basis, those who were found to be "severely disturbed" would then be assigned to "camps with group activities." There they would learn "more socially acceptable behavior patterns.'"

The Death Merchant shifted uncomfortably on his chair. "The plan was never implemented. The American people wouldn't have stood for it."

"Oh no!" exclaimed Vershensky, sounding as if he were congratulating himself. "Let me quote the following from the same article in the magazine known as Argosy." His eyes flashed down to the page, and he began to read.

"'Yet Hutschnecker's basic formula is now coming to pass. The Ervin Report discloses a California program, "not yet fully confirmed," to computerize files on "pre-delinquent" children, so that early behavior problems can be watched and "the individuals who exhibit these tendencies can be checked for the rest of their lives." Prepared without the consent of the parents, these files are linked up to those of various law enforcement agencies.'" ...

"There is more, Gentlemen Camellion. I quote directly: "The fact remains that Hutschnecker's plan is not unlike one proposed in Nazi Germany. A 1943 memo of the Gestapo's Crimino-Biological Institute suggests: 'The task is to identify as early as possible the criminally inclined person. Those with continual character failures who are fully capable of work will be put into a youth protection camp.' "
Hutchnecker died in 2001 at the age of 102. In his obituary, the New York Times reported: "In 1970, Dr. Hutschnecker achieved notoriety as the author of a confidential White House report on crime prevention. In news reports of the time, the report was cited as urging that all 7- and 8-year-olds be tested for violent and homicidal tendencies, and recommending that the most serious juvenile offenders be treated in camps."

Interestingly, Camellion does not respond to this information in a jingoistic manner. The Death Merchant admits (though only to himself) that Vershensky is completely correct. ("The damned pig farmer general had been right!") But at the end of the day, it is of no consequence to the Death Merchant if the United States becomes a third-rate nation. "[I]f Uncle Sam wanted to try for a police state, that was Sam's business."

The Argosy article serves no purpose in the larger story. I'm guessing Rosenberger read the article in late 1975 and wanted to spread the news to a wider audience (The Zemlya Expedition was published in July 1976).

After Dr. Dubanova - the person Camellion is supposed to bring out to the US - actually helps Camellion escape from the cell the Russians have him held in, the two of them have a quick, stilted conversation about religion.
[Camellion's] derogatory remark brought a quick but quiet condemnation from the Russian scientist, who said in a low, soft voice, "Mr. Camellion, it is a mistake to condemn a belief because you yourself have doubts. In the West, the present Christian tendency to suspect divine power as immoral and to emphasize Christ as the principle of love is partly the consequence of the decline of belief and is partly responsible for it ... I am aware that like Marx you equate religion belief with weakness. ... If religion is a crutch, it is a very necessary and stabilizing one."

"Millions of people say the same thing about alcohol, tobacco, and drugs," Camellion cut in viciously. "As far as I'm concerned, religion is the worst moral evil on the fact of the earth, next to Communism. It's an evolution towards debasement, with the survival of the unfittest! Personally, I don't give a damn if you want to worship the moon, but I don't like to think of myself as being the victim of either a sardonic joker or a whimsical tyrant; and I despise any system that forbids man to think and to reason. That's what your damned Christianity does, in all its forms; it makes man a moral slave and would deny him his right to reason!"
Later in the book, Camellion is riddled with slugs during a shootout. But this time, thankfully, he is bullet-proofed from wrists to ankles, including wearing "Kelvar-Thermacoactyl underwear". The only time in these books that Rosenberger mentions any type of protection is when Camellion gets whacked with a bullet. (Perhaps he wears it all the time and Rosenberger simply doesn't mention it. More likely is that Rosenberger feels Camellion has to catch a bullet once in a while, but he is conveniently protected whenever he does.)

Rosenberger engages in his usual name-calling silliness, having Camellion refer repeatedly to all Russians as "pig farmers", though he also uses "dumb corn pickers", "hog callers", "Commie creeps", "Lenin louses", "Stalin stupids", and "Russian fig newtons".

At one point, Vershensky tells Camellion: "Worry is nothing more than today's mouse eating tomorrow's cheese." ... Rosenberger writes: "The 9mm bullet banged into Nardrokin's skull and broke his brain." ... Late in the book, Rosenberger gives us our fruit metaphor: "His skull popped open like an overripe orange as Richard's two 9mm pieces of steel stabbed into his forehead and scattered his think-tank in assorted directions."

Friday, September 19, 2014

In Gaza, Israel's Genocide Continues ...

Omar Robert Hamilton, London Review Of Books, September 12, 2014:
On 26 August a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed, bringing a fragile end to a war that killed 2150 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 73 Israelis (mostly soldiers). Since then Hamas has not fired a single rocket, attacked an Israeli target, or done anything to break the terms of the ceasefire. Israel has done the following:

1. Annexed another 1500 acres of West Bank land

2. Seized $56 million of PA tax revenue

3. Not lifted the illegal blockade (as required by the ceasefire)

4. Broken the ceasefire by firing at fishermen on four separate occasions

5. Detained six fishermen

6. Killed a 22-year-old, Issa al Qatari, a week before his wedding

7. Killed 16-year-old Mohammed Sinokrot with a rubber bullet to the head

8. Tortured a prisoner to the point of hospitalisation

9. Refused 13 members of the European Parliament entry into Gaza

10. Detained at least 127 people across the West Bank, including a seven-year-old boy in Hebron and two children, aged seven and eight, taken from the courtyard of their house in Silwad – and tear-gassed their mother

11. Continued to hold 33 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in prison

12. Continued to hold 500 prisoners in administrative detention without charge or trial

13. Destroyed Bedouin homes in Khan al Ahmar, near Jerusalem, leaving 14 people homeless, and unveiled a plan to forcibly move thousands of Bedouin away from Jerusalem into two purpose-built townships

14. Destroyed a dairy factory in Hebron whose profits supported an orphanage

15. Destroyed a family home in Silwan, making five children homeless

16. Destroyed a house in Jerusalem where aid supplies en route to Gaza were being stored

17. Destroyed a well near Hebron

18. Set fire to an olive grove near Hebron

19. Raided a health centre and a nursery school in Nablus, causing extensive damage

20. Destroyed a swathe of farmland in Rafah by driving tanks over it

21. Ordered the dismantling of a small monument in Jerusalem to Mohamed Abu Khdeir, murdered in July by an Israeli lynch mob

22. Continued building a vast tunnel network under Jerusalem

23. Stormed the al Aqsa mosque compound with a group of far right settlers

24. Assisted hundreds of settlers in storming Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus

25. Prevented students from entering al Quds University, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets at those who tried to go in

26. Earned unknown millions on reconstruction materials for Gaza, where 100,000 people need their destroyed homes rebuilt. The total bill is estimated at $7.8 billion

Death Merchant #16: Invasion Of The Clones

Richard "Death Merchant" Camellion heads to the African nation of Korlumba for his 16th "incredible adventure". Dr. Blore-Lewellyn has perfected the science of cloning and is determined to create a super fighting force for Marswada Garbu, Korlumba's maniacal dictator. Camellion has been hired by the CIA to foil those plans.

Early on, Camellion is captured and a skin sample is taken. Dr. Blore-Lewellyn plans to create a whole regiment of Death Merchants, all of whom will have the same cunning and skill of the original. (Fortunately, for the time frame of the book, the doctor has also perfected a way for the clones to grow into adults in only three weeks!)

Invasion of the Clones is a below-average entry in the Death Merchant series. The evil doers are not very evil, the fight scenes and shootouts are pedestrian, and the climax of the adventure is perfunctory. It's Rosenberger-by-the-numbers. (The book is also littered with typos.) The promising idea of Camellion battling five clones of himself never gets off the ground, fizzling as Camellion dispatches them almost immediately upon seeing them.

But Rosenberger does let Camellion ramble on about various aspects of American society, in what I presume is an echo of the author's right-wing views. In a conversation with Dr. Mbiti of the Freedom Fighters, a group opposing Garbu, Camellion "[gives] it to Mbiti with both verbal barrels":
Many people in our government in Washington are so black-oriented that the blacks can do no wrong. The situation is often unrealistic, with white workers, holding years of seniority, being laid off in preference for blacks. Brilliant white students are being turned away from college and universities in preference for blacks with mediocre scholastic ability. All in a quest for balance. . . . You've called me a racist, Dr. Mbiti. I'm not. I'm simply a guy who believes that the concept of equality must also imply equal responsibility. But "equality" doesn't mean that in the U.S. It means handouts and preferential treatment for any person whose skin is black.
One of Garbu's henchmen, a Nazi war criminal named Gerhard Boldt, holds similar views. Boldt is described as "an extremely intelligent man" who muses about "black loafers ... and other violence-prone minority trash" and refers to the the U.S.'s "black-ape-loving government" whose civil rights programs have wrecked society. (The book was published in 1976.)

Examples of Rosenberger's goofy writing style are (sadly) minimal, but here are a few:
"[I]t is characteristic of the human self to reflect upon experience and to use its precepts as material for the construction of a concept."

"Just as no man can kill time without injuring eternity, so it is that men who do not stumble over mountains but over mole hills of unpreparedness."

"In five times the amount of time it takes to say 'The ragged rascal ran around the ragged rock', the underground resistance fighters swarmed over the machine gun nests ..."

"A truly wise man never plays leap-frog with a unicorn."
Also: During a shootout early in the book, Rosenberger stops in the middle of the action to go off on a tangent about myrrh and frankincense (both of which are exported by Korlumba). Rosenberger also describes various cuts of lumber (1½ x 8 x 12 and 1 x 3 x 6).

CIA man Vallie West (who has appeared in previous DM books) flies weapons and ammo into the jungle for Mbiti's Freedom Fighters, and at one point comments to Camellion: "You remind me of a man caught with his pecker in a meat grinder." ... I did like one of Camellion's quips: "The narrower the mind, the broader the statement".

In addition to the shootouts, Camellion also engages in some hand-to-hand combat, assaulting various goofs and boobs with martial arts: "a jabbing multiple-finger Nukite ax-stab" and a "Kaiko Ken open-knuckle strike". (Rosenberger also alludes twice to a character from one of his other action series: a Kung Fu expert named Mace, who is "half-Chinaman, half-white man".)

Monday, September 01, 2014

Books Read, Partially Read, Or Attentively Thumbed Through: August 2014

The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature, by Richard H. Smith
The Complete Calvin & Hobbes: Book One, by Bill Watterson
Computer: A History of the Information Machine, by Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray
Computing: A Concise History, by Paul E. Ceruzzi
E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation, by David Bodanis
The Devil's Snake Curve: A Fan's Notes from Left Field, by Josh Ostergaard
Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball, by Chris Lamb
Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era, by Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts
The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah, by Stephen King
The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower, by Stephen King
Death Merchant #14: The Vengeance of the Golden Hawk, by Joseph Rosenberger
Death Merchant #15: The Iron Swastika Plot, by Joseph Rosenberger
Death Wish, by Brian Garfield
Maps and Legends, by Michael Chabon
The Vast Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
Top of the Heap, by Erle Stanley Gardner (writing as A.A. Fair)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Death Merchant #15: The Iron Swastika Plot

The secret Nazi organization known as The Spider returns! Camellion had battled them in #6: The Albanian Connection.

In The Iron Swastika Plot, the Spider is searching for a German submarine that was sunk off the coast of Argentina near the end of World War II. It was carrying $2 billion in gold and diamonds, as well as some important Nazi papers. The Spider wants the jewels in order to finance its operations.

The overall plot of The Iron Swastika Plot is fairly mundane. In fact, we don't find out who excavated the sub until an "Epilog" at the end of the book. Also, Rosenberger repeats himself. As he did in #8: Billionaire Mission, Rosenberger has Camellion involved in a fierce shoot-out at sea, before the DM jumps aboard the enemy boat and raises hell. Rosenberger also packs in a ton of information on diving suits, water pressure and issues with breathing at various depths, etc., as well as the workings of an undersea camera.

The true highlight of this book is Rosenberger's unique writing style: the bits of purple prose, the bizarre turns of phrase, and the detailed descriptions of nearly every bullet's passage.

First of all, while some characters use expletives, the Death Merchant does not. In previous books, he sometimes yelled "Fudge!" when things were not going his way. Here, Camellion uses the term "Donkey dust!" no less than five times.

"[Captain Skittone] quickly looked away, thinking of how Cain had called Camellion 'Death Merchant.' To Skittone that mean that Richard Camellion was the Michelangelo of anxiety and the da Vinci of Death."

Nazi Ludwig Baber: "Who else but the Death Merchant kills with uncanny speed? What other man in the world thinks faster than lightning?"
Camellion's cold stare:
"Cain suddenly had the feeling that he was the guest of honor at a party given by a firing squad, as he stared at the two funeral processions marching in the Death Merchant's glittering blue eyes. ... The tough Lieutenant Commander [Mangrum] had heard vague rumors and whispered stories about the lean man standing before him, this quick-moving individual who talked like Western Union and in whose blue sharp-shooter eyes one could envision newly cut tombstones. Was Camellion actually the fabled Death Merchant?"
"He gave Camellion a long, penetrating look, and suddenly, not liking what he saw, felt a chill. Here was no ordinary man. There were ten thousand future funerals in the depths of those freezing blue eyes, and a resilience, an unearthly springiness that abhorred the sterility of the normal, of all equilibrium."
"One grabbed him low in the groin and put two brand new entrances in his colon. The second poker-hot 9mm bored into his midriff, mangled his pancreas, and went bye-bye through his back."

"Fish-Face got the business from the Death Merchant a tenth of a second later. His portal vein cut in two, the mesentery of his small intestine a mess from a Bushmaster .223, Fish-Face corkscrewed to the floor, unconscious and almost dead ..."

"The tall, thin Valles was only thirty years old, but the daily pursuit of women and liquor had taken its toll over the years, and he looked forty. Now he looked dead, both of the Death Merchant's slugs having torn apart his heart and lungs."

"Gunther Busch - a sawed-off Kraut-head who had the appearance of a man who took a daily bath in dishwater - had even less of a chance at life. Camellion's left Magnum exploded again and vomited a slug which was almost as huge as the end of a man's index finger. It cut through Busch's upper lip, knocked out three of his front teeth, blew out the back of his head, and kicked him into Deathland. He feel faster than overcooked sauerkraut, the Haenel submachine gun slipping from his hands."

"The hitman, his life expectancy zero, pulled the trigger of the Walther submachine gun just as Camellion's two 9mm slugs struck him in the chest and in the stomach. He cried out, danced a short waltz that wasn't the 'Blue Danube,' and fell backward ..."

"She was centered between the baby buggy and the Walther chopper, still firing her small pistol, when the Death Merchant kicked her into hell to join Hitler, putting a P-38 9mm slug into her left side. The former call girl made a noise like a chicken being plucked alive ..."

"He burned them so fast their nervous system didn't have time to register the agony generated by the .223 steel tearing through their organs and snapping their bones. The two Germans twisted like pretzels and died in a spray of blood, falling to the floor in front of Alfonso de Beche, a flat-faced Brazilian gunmen who looked like the kind of a moron who'd think an avalanche was a mountain getting its rocks off! A red-hot .223 slug tore off de Beche's left hand, and for a minimoment he stared in profound horror at the stump of his wrist jetting a thick stream of red. Another .223 bored into his gut. He crashed to the floor, made a noise like a pig snorting in mud, gave a final grunt, closed his eyes, and found out what death was all about."

"Firing short bursts to keep the opening clear, he stormed in low through the jagged hole, the Bushmaster roaring, tossing out steel annihilation in a great, wide arc. ... Diego Maximo Rubicaba, the other Spanish idiot in the room, got the big business in the belly - four slugs that made his colon think the entire universe had collapsed."

"In contrast, Camellion's Bushmaster slugs stitched Gutierrez from the base of his neck to his tail bone, each .223mm slug blasting apart his spine and making a mess of his insides. Gutierrez shriveled up like a piece of bacon in a too hot skillet and quietly began frying in hell."
"The Death Merchant was not a happy man. In fact, he felt lower than the belt buckle of a deep-digging mole."

"Walking quicker than a crippled flea tap-dancing on a hot brick, he thrust the nozzle of the extinguisher toward the doorway ..."

"The corridor was as empty as an old maid's dream ..."

"While a closed mouth gathers no foot, it can acquire a .357 Magnum slug."

"In spite of his shattered wrist, [Raul Cano] tried to reach down and retrieve the precious 9mm Llama, but his chances for success were less than those of a crippled turtle trying to outrun a bolt of summer lightning."

"Camellion finished the man off with a mule-kick to the scrotum. Looking like an idiot who had just discovered that ice cream cones are hollow, the man melted to the deck, pathetic moans coming from his throat."

"The [train] car became a madhouse, the blossoms of calm blooming into flowers of hysteria ..."
Deep Thoughts:
"Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first, the lesson afterward."

"Eternity was only a dimension in time and space and had nothing to do with the affairs of man."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Death Merchant #14: Vengeance Of The Golden Hawk

Richard Camellion (aka the Death Merchant) infiltrates a Palestinian terrorist group known as Vengeance of the Golden Hawk, in order to locate and destroy a nerve gas missile the VGH is planning to detonate over Tel Aviv. It could kill upwards of 300,000 people, and if that happens, Israel will retaliate with nuclear weapons, and that would be the start of World War III.

The book begins with Camellion and a Jordanian agent named Yassine Bahnassi being placed in an Amman jail cell that also houses three members of the VGH. Camellion engineers a breakout (when he explains his plan, one of the men says, "The scheme is so crazy it might work" (!)), and the five men stick together in a safe house on the outskirts of Jordan.

Camellion's cover story is that he is a semi-rogue US military explosives expert and is looking to sell some stolen weapons. The three VGH members are impressed with Camellion ("The organization could use a man of your unique talents") and agree to take him and Bahnassi to the Mountains of the Moon, the VGH's headquarters in Syria - which is also (handily) were the missiles are stored.

At this point, it's clear that the main action of the book will be when Camellion gets to the Mountains of the Moon and swings into action. But author Joseph Rosenberger has pages to fill, so we get a couple of shootouts as the five men, in disguise, make their way to Damascus, where they are ambushed in Mina Square. They also fight a bunch of PLO soldiers while crossing a wadi. Finally, they get to MotM, where they meet the head of VGH: Faraq al-Khatid. Some of Al-Khatid's men believe Camellion is a "Jew spy", but the story the three men tell of Camellion's bravery during their travels is convincing.

Camellion and Bahnassi are supposed to meet up with a Harquad agent who has infiltrated the VGH, but it takes six days for Assaf Budny to make himself known. Finally, the three men begin their raid on the radio control room, the first step towards destroying the arsenal. The initial shoot-out was pretty convoluted. Honestly, it would have helped if Rosenberger included a map of the cliff dwellings. There are buildings above and below - and to both sides - of the arsenal from which the DM and his two cohorts are fighting off the VGH. Since Rosenberger is intent on describing every bit of action from every angle, it gets a bit confusing.
The Death Merchant and the two Jordanian Harquad agents with him could see quite clearly by the tunnel's upper opening from the northwest window of the arsenal's rear room. While Camellion and Budny held down the fort in the front room, in the arsenal proper, Yassine Bahnassi took a position by the northwest window ...

Budny, who had taken a position by the west wall, by the center window. Assaf was watching the west side balcony of the building above the arsenal. ... Budny had a clear view not only of the east side porch but also a portion of the steps [from the east balcony to the arsenal] ...

[A] roar of gunfire from the back room and from the first house to the west of the arsenal. ... [T]he Fedayeen in the west side house had begun to toss automatic rifle and submachine gun steel at Assaf Budny. A moment later, Fedayeen in houses to the east of the arsenal opened fire. ...
Rosenberger is on clearer ground when it comes to describing the gore, as Camellion sends an assortment of VGH fanatics on a "one-way passage to deathland":
Three guerrillas, butchered by slugs, danced a quick jig of death and fell over the railing of the long balcony. A man on the steps took a slug in the gut, one in the chest, and three more in the face. Without a head, his brains flowing down ahead of him, he pitched off the steps, hit the west edge of the roof, bounced off, and kept falling, trailing a stream of blood like the red tail of a comet.
(Rosenberger often gives names to all of the bad guys, even if they get "cowboyed" in the same paragraph. I suppose since he's intent on describing the layout and how everyone is shooting, it helps to identify people if they have a name.)

After they get out of the arsenal and climb down the cliffs, the Death Merchant still has to contend with a French Panhard armoured car with a 60mm turret cannon and a Soviet BTR-40 personnel carrier. Fortunately, he's carrying some blocks of RDX explosives.

Finally, Rosenbegrer delivers his expected mention of fruit, though he waits until page 173, seven pages from the end of the book: "Kaouki died faceless and brainless. The Death Merchant's chain of 7.65mm slugs exploded his head, which flew apart like a rotten melon."