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.