Friday, February 19, 2016

Forgotten Book Friday: The Rat Bastards series: #4.

The Rat Bastards series: #4. Meat Grinder Hill, by John Mackie, Jove Books, 1984.

I’d never seen any books from this series until I was in Maine and found a small bookstore that carried volume 4. Being a sucker for war series, especially WWII series, I snapped it up, and have finally read it. The story takes place on Guadalcanal as the American forces make a last push to take the island from a starving and undersupplied Japanese army.  Here are my thoughts:

First, John Mackie is a pseudonym of Len Levinson. Here is a link to a blog called “Glorious Trash,” where there is an interview with the author about the series.  Another discussion with Levinson can be found over at the Post Modern Pulp Blog

Though I’ve only read one volume, I think I can make some general deductions about the series, which runs to at least 16 books. What we have is a kind of “Dirty Dozen” tale. The “Recon Platoon” is made up of misfits, criminals, and barroom brawlers. They don’t like to follow orders but they’re tough as hell and good in a fight. There are a number of characters who fit fairly standard molds.  Longtree is descended from Apache warriors and great at stealth. Homer Gladley is a big but not terribly bright farm boy from Nebraska. Frankie La Barbara is a handsome Italian who has a way with the ladies. Then there’s sergeant Butsko, tough as nails and no nonsense. The characters are drawn broadly and behave mostly in expected ways.

I’d firmly place the series in the Men’s Adventure category. There’s a lot of action, a lot of rough talk, and quite a bit of sex, at least in volume 4. Most of the sex comes from Frankie seducing a variety of nurses while recovering from some injuries at the military hospital. The sex is the weakest element of the story and might have better been left out. It’s often a part of the Men’s Adventure package, though,  and I imagine that’s why it’s there. It’s hard for me to tell whether the sex scenes were meant to be funny or erotic. The slang used suggests humor, and I did get some laughs at phrases like: “…touches his fingers lightly against her precious love-starved little gazoo,” or “…pressing her hand against his hairy canary.”

The action sequences were much better done, and we do get to see some of the fear and self-doubt that the characters experience. A particularly nice touch to the book was how the Japanese enemy were  treated with quite a bit of respect. Their hardships, bravery, and loyalty to their leaders was well displayed, which I found somewhat unusual for WWII series, where often the enemy is virtually faceless. I found that this aspect of the story upped my enjoyment.

All in all, I liked “Meat Grinder Hill” fairly well. It was about what I expected.  I may try another volume. I see that most of the series has been released fairly recently for the Kindle and are available on Amazon under the author’s real name. 

16 comments:

Tom Doolan said...

Interesting thoughts about the sex. Having read a fair number of MA books from various series, I find that the ones that focus too much on sex are the weakest of the lot, whereas the ones with virtually no sex (if it's there, it's implied "off screen") seem to be much better, such as in the Mack Bolan universe books. I'd wager that the authors (or more accurately, their editors) are trying to 1) appeal to what they perceive as what men want to read, and 2) add some fluff to the word count that isn't just boring exposition.

sage said...

Sounds interesting--I assume you've read Normal Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead". Another within the war genre (that also links to your home turf), is Campbell's "Glad River"

oscar case said...

Having personal experience with wounded Marines from Nam, the sex between them and nurses did happen to a real small minority with one even getting married, but I can see that throwing this into a novel in a too slangy way would not add much to the story. I've read the actual reports of the Tarawa and Saipan island battles and they contain a lot of material for novelists interested in fictionalizing war stories.

Charles Gramlich said...

Tom, Different men's adventures series clearly have different demands for the sex. I know some folks who have written for these and many have rule books saying how often you should have sexual encounters in the work.

Sage, probably my favorite war book of that area and era would be "the Thin Red line."

Oscar, I imagine those real life reports would be fascinating reading.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Interesting series. I like some erotic romance scenes in novels, but the 'gazoo' and 'hairy canary' would be difficult not to trip over while reading. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernard, it was. I'd probably enjoyed it more with those scenes left out

Cloudia said...

Glad your good feelings about writing have returned. It is cyclical as all else I suppose. This was a good useful review too, Charles

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, I like the feeling as well.

the walking man said...

“…touches his fingers lightly against her precious love-starved little gazoo,” or “…pressing her hand against his hairy canary.”

Seriously, my old man was a sailor in the pacific during WWII and I think he would have shot himself if he described sex like that or at least ripped his tongue out. I doubt recon rangers were any less vulgar than sailors, even in my time 30 years later. The thing I find about non historical accounts about the Pacific theater was there was so little to almost no sex documented (we did tend to mutilate some of the enemy dead), until after the Japanese capitulation in late '45. MacArthur wasn't going to go for that post war spoils ideal either.

Any book a novel especially, about the era should at least stick to the significant historical records to be somewhat entertaining. I am not saying one can't write a "Devil's Brigade" type of story because all of that Island hopping in the Pacific would have lent itself to that kind of a yarn, but at the same time--I am curious how many of his characters did he kill off?

That theater of war was nearly non stop until we destroyed their air and sea power. with nearly 4 million enemy dead and 110,000 allied I doubt any unit could remain in tact through 16 tales, just for realities sake.

have you seen Eastwood's "Letter's From Iwo Jima?" Highly recommend that.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Thanks for the review. Along with THE NAKED AND THE DEAD and THE THIN RED LINE, another good novel about the Marines in the South Pacific during WW2 is BATTLE CRY by Leon Uris. A Marine himself, Uris was at Guadalcanal and Tarawa. His novel has the ring of truth about it, and the boot camp chapters might remind you of Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've heard about Letters from Iwo Jima but not seen it. I've never written any WWII fiction. Have considered it a time or two.

Charles Gramlich said...

Elgin, haven't read Battle Cry. I saw Full Metal Jacket, which I liked

R.T. (Tim) Davis said...

Huh? Really? "Love starved little gazoo" and "hairy canary"? Well, at least those are original metaphors, but I cannot imagine anyone really talking that way. I spend 25+ years in the Navy and never heard that kind of banter. Perhaps the language works better within the context of the narrative. You had me interested in the book(s) until I read those phrases.

David Cranmer said...

My interest in war books has waned but there was a time when I would have consumed this in one sitting. Enjoyed reading your opinion as always.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I have heard of Len Levinson though I have never read his fiction. I enjoy reading WWII novels too but sex, I think, would put me off. To put it mildly, the series sounds like war pulp.

Charles Gramlich said...

Tim: I personally didn't think that element worked very well. I'd have preferred to have it left out.

David, I go through periods, but I was also once far more interested in war books.

Prashant, probably a good description of it.