Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy the John Eagle Expeditor series? It’s probably my favorite series of all, just a perfect mix of escapist entertainment, adventure fiction, and the lurid elements ‘70s pulp demanded. The series was written by three authors: Manning Lee Stokes, Robert Lory, and Paul Eiden. Stokes passed away in 1976, and Paul Eiden is practically a cipher; the only
John Eagle Expeditor #9: The Deadly Cyborgs, by Paul Edwards February, 1975 Pyramid Books Paul Eiden returns to the John Eagle Expeditor series and more than makes up for his unfortunately-padded and boring previous installment, #7: The Ice Goddess. As we’ll recall, that volume had all kinds of potential for being a trashy, lurid masterpiece, with John Eagle venturing into an “Amazon
John Eagle Expeditor #8: The Death Devils, by Paul Edwards
October, 1974 Pyramid Books
This volume of the Expeditor is courtesy Robert Lory, who salvages the series after the bore that was the previous volume. The Death Devils is sort of like the Expeditor equivalent of a “cozy,” as it delivers everything the series is known for: an exotic setting, a pulpy threat, a foreign damsel in distress who speaks in overly-florid English, and all of John Eagle’s fancy gadgets, from his chameleon suit to his exploding arrows.
One difference is that this volume isn’t overly padded with minor characters and their subplots, as earlier installments were; Eagle comes into the tale early and carries it throughout. The titular “Death Devils” are insects created by the Red Chinese to destroy American crops, and the intimation is that further strains might be created that will go after human flesh. The bugs are the handiwork of a group of Chinese scientists who visited US soil a year ago, checking out the work of their American counterparts. The insects created by the Americans were for the purpose of eating crop-damaging insects, but of course the Commies took the project into more nefarious realms.
Merlin, Eagle’s wheelchair-bound codger of a boss, is informed by the Secretary of State that these Death Devils might soon be set loose on US soil. Word has come from Yang, head of the Chinese group of scientists who created the insects; Yang and his fellows were trying to replicate the American strain of the bugs, but the wily Colonel Chou took over the project and turned it into the crop-destroying, flesh-eating mess it currently is. Yang, knowing his end was near, wrote the president of the US, asking him that he send someone to China to rescue Yang’s daughter, Orchid, and bring her back to the States – Yang being sure that he would soon be dead, so his daughter would be able to let the Americans know everything about the Death Devil project.
Anyway it boils down to this – there’s a hot (and virginal) chick in mainland China and Eagle has to infiltrate the country and rescue her. Plus he’s got to destroy those goddam bugs. The first quarter of The Death Devils plays out on more of a suspense and espionage bent, with Eagle taking over the identity of a fobbish chemicals salesman so he can replace the man on his already-approved trip into China. Merlin’s plan has Eagle killing some guards on a train and fooling people into thinking he’s a Russian, so as to confuse the Chinese into who exactly has snuck into their country.
After that though the book settles into the pulpier territory the series is known for. Orchid Yang, grieving over the recent death (ie murder) of her father, staves off the advances of Colonel Chou (ie, the bastard who killed Pops Yang, or whatever Orchid’s dad’s name was). So then Orchid’s very happy to meet Eagle, who has snuck into this high-security compound in his invisible chameleon suit, killing a few guards in quite novel ways. For once Eagle’s brought along a spare suit – previous volumes have seen him comfy in his weatherproof and temperature-regulated suit while the women with him have had to endure the elements. Here though Orchid gets her own chameleon suit, and she proves to be a regular Sue Shiomi, taking advantage of being invisible as she wipes out Chinese soldiers with her kung-fu skills.
Eagle leaves behind a ton of corpses after setting his explosives about the compound, and he and Orchid make their escape on a sampan. This sequence is very similar to an earlier Lory entry, #3: The Laughing Death, which Lory slyly admits in the narrative, for once having Eagle reflecting back on a previous mission. And to continue with the paralells, Eagle once again gets lucky while riding on a sampan – Orchid you see is so friggin’ hot for Eagle that she demands they have sex, here and now.
The Death Devils actually has the longest and most explicit sex scene yet in this series, but again it’s Lory we’re talking about here, so the scene features descriptive phrases like “love weapon” and sentences like, “What she was feeling was the growth of that part of him which was placed at her entrance.” I mean, I’ve seen hotter stuff in Loeb Library translations of the classics. At any rate, Orchid, despite being a virgin, has read up on a lot of banned sex-book material, to the point where she’s taught herself expert control of her “inner muscles,” shall we say, really working Eagle over good and proper. But to continue with the “man’s conquest” theme of the series, Eagle doesn’t just lay there for long, soon showing her what it’s like when a man takes charge.
This escape sequence goes on for a while, and is made up of the duo sneaking rides on various water crafts and running through the jungle – not to mention taking the occasional sex break. Seriously, Lory informs us that Eagle and Orchid stop to have sex about every other paragraph. Orchid though is the best female character in the series yet, able to fight alongside Eagle, but of course she (like all other female characters in the series) is prone to making stupid mistakes. Plus her dialog is grating; like sex Orchid has learned English from books, and despite only recently beginning her studies, she’s capable of saying words like “preclude.” And yet for all that she pronounces Eagle’s first name as “Chon.” But then, this sort of thing is typical of Lory.
The Death Devils themselves barely appear in the novel – they’d already been moved from the compound when Eagle arrived to rescue Orchid. We learn that Chou, who survived Eagle’s assault, has moved them to Panama, where they are being watched by a rebel army lead by a towering sadist named Snake. Upon getting Orchid onto US soil (after a nice scene involving a sub that shows up to escort them away), Eagle is given his second mission: go to Panama and destroy the Death Devils. Of course, Orchid manages to convince Merlin and Eagle to allow her to go along.
Lory works in a bit of lurid stuff when we see that Snake keeps a shack full of poisonous lizards and snakes, which he uses to torture people; all the more reason to be worried when Orchid, due to her (female) stupidity, gets captured – this despite the fact that she was wearing an invisible, blade and bullet-proof chameleon suit! (Again, women are incapable of doing anything right in the Expeditor series.) Eagle of course comes to the rescue, culminating in a nice scene where he must fight Snake, who has appropriated Orchid’s chameleon suit. So in other words, for once Eagle himself must confront someone who has taken an item from Eagle’s own bag of tricks, compounded by the fact that Snake pulls off Eagle’s special goggles so that Eagle is unable to see Snake during the fight.
Anyway, this one really does have it all, and might just be my favorite volume yet, despite Lory’s ponderous and lofty writing style. It doesn’t have the lurid excess of my other favorite in the series, #5: Valley of Vultures, but The Death Devils has more of the series trappings you’d expect of the Expeditor (the chameleon suit and etc barely even appeared in Valley of Vultures). The novel’s a lot of fun, and another example of why I enjoy this series so much.
John Eagle Expeditor #7: The Ice Goddess, by Paul Edwards
August, 1974 Pyramid Books
This volume of the Expeditor series marks the debut of Paul Eiden, the third author to serve under the “Paul Edwards” house name. Eiden’s writing is very similar to the other series authors (Manning Lee Stokes and Robert Lory), so it’s easy to see why series honcho Lyle Kenyon Engle gave him the gig. But man…Eiden takes an awesome and lurid plot and turns it into what is by far the most padded and boring installment yet.
What makes it so frustrating is that the last 50 or so pages of The Ice Goddess are so twisted and lurid. But to get there the reader must endure a snoozer of an opening 110 pages; this is the only book I know of where you could skip the first hundred pages and it wouldn’t make a difference. What makes it more sad is that the novel is only 172 pages long.
Anyway, this time John “Expeditor” Eagle is called in by his boss Merlin because Merlin’s people have detected something unusual going on in the Arctic…something about polar caps melting away, the possible eventual calamity that might ensue…something like that. Honestly, the threat here is so vague that you wonder why Eagle is even called in. There’s also the possibly-related detail that scientists are going missing; over the course of the past two years several top ones have just disappeared. (This is almost a retread of the inciting incident in #2: The Brain Scavengers.)
So Merlin sends his one-and-only Expeditor up into the Arctic on some vague wild goose chase…oh, and he puts Eagle in “the weasel,” a mega-expensive and mega-dangerous prototype snow-tank-vehicle sort of thing. Pages and pages ensue of Eagle driving the thing around; we’re endlessly reminded how dangerous it is, giving its inability to stop quickly on the ice and snow. Then Eagle spots a wayward Eskimo, being chased by a bear, and goes to help, destroying the weasel in the process.
Now Eagle is stuck with the Eskimo, who turns out to be a 14 year-old girl. She lives in an igloo with her husband, an 18 year-old with a bear-mauled leg. After dinner the husband offers his wife to Eagle, and Eagle accepts! My friends, you know it’s ‘70s pulp when the hero has sex with a 14 year-old girl. Eiden tries to play it up that the girl looks and acts much older than her years, and how Eagle has difficulty even thinking of her as being so young, but still…
That same night a bear attacks and Eagle kills it with an axe, but not after the husband has been killed. Now ensues like fifty pages where Eagle just sort of dicks around with the Eskimos, building igloos, fishing with the men, and living with the young widow! You could honestly cut out pages 40-96 because they ultimately have nothing at all to do with the story itself…just endless detail about life among the Eskimos.
Eventually Eagle comes upon an American-owned trading post not far from the Eskimo village, but even here Eiden spins wheels. I shit you not, there are endless pages in which Eagle just plays chess with the store owners! Have I mentioned that by this point a hundred pages have elapsed and Eagle hasn’t yet gotten into a single fight?
Anyway, after a full month Eagle is able to get back in touch with Merlin’s people, who send in an airplane to pick him up – cue more page-filling banality. Now, finally, around page 110 the novel begins. Eagle is given a one-man atomic-powered submarine (!) and sent into the Arctic Ocean, to research the area Merlin’s people have deemed suspicious. (Humorously, Eagle’s destruction of the expensive weasel – all to save some Eskimo’s life – goes unmentioned.)
Eiden fills up more pages as Eagle zooms around the freezing depths. Finally though he finds the culprit behind the shrinking Arctic crust – a city built beneath a dome of ice, a city filled with jumpsuit-wearing women who plot the destruction of all men! Now this is trash fiction gold, and it boggles my mind that Eiden took so damn long to get to it. But what’s even worse is that he rushes through it – Eagle scouts out the place in his chameleon suit, trying to figure out who these women are. How much better it would’ve been if Eagle had scouted the place early on, been captured or something, and then spent the entirety of the narrative here in this depraved place.
For it truly is depraved – dubbed the “Amazon Queendom” by its ruler, a gorgeous and statuesque blonde of Scandanavian descent named Julianna, the place is an all-female compound in which men are forbidden; those few men who are here have all been (willfully) castrated, or have had sex-change operations, or are gay.
Not that this stops our ruler from having fun; as Eagle watches from a closet, Julianna lounges on her massive bed with a few transsexuals and castrated men who take turns orally pleasing her, before she has full-on sex with a gay male (one of the few men here who hasn't had "the operation"), encouraging him with a bit of cocaine. Actually the coke flows freely throughout this scene, and it’s only after Eiden has described the proceedings in full that he has Eagle turn away in disgust!
It’s all so crazy, especially coming after so many, many pages of banality. This section is the most lurid yet in the Expeditor series, even moreso than anything in #5: Valley of Vultures. I guess the only thing missing in this one is the fact that Eagle himself, for once, doesn’t have sex while on the mission, even after running into a pretty kidnapped scientist named Irene, who helps him escape in exchange for her own freedom. (Eagle’s only bit of hanky-panky this time is before the mission, and interestingly enough it’s with his American Indian girlfriend Ruth, whom we’ve heard of before but never actually seen – and it turns out Eagle treats the poor girl like shit, screwing her, leaving her to cry when he says he “might not return” from this mission, then wondering about what “real woman” he’ll someday marry, and then screwing Ruth again once she’s stoped crying!)
But still, Eiden does little to build up this Amazon Queendom. He pours on the action at the end, with hordes of jumpsuit-clad women coming after Eagle with assault rifles. Eiden doesn’t get much into the violence factor, though Eagle takes out a bunch of these women, doling out clean kills with his ever-present dart gun. (And also, I have to admit being a bit unsettled with the image of our hero blowing away a bunch of women, but then again the guy did sleep with a 14 year-old earlier in the book, so what the hell.)
The expected confronation with Julianna is underwhelming; whereas the other two series authors likely would have played up some sort of lurid relationship between Eagle and the “Ice Goddess,” Eiden instead merely has the woman threaten Eagle and run away from him. I mean, the potential was there, dammit…that lurid scene with Julianna and her consorts proves she was looking for a “real man,” and per Eagle’s past exploits we know he has no problems with getting busy while on a mission.
But then, the entirety of The Ice Goddess is really just missed opportunity after missed opportunity. Even the ending is stupid; after blowing up the Queendom (giving the women a chance to escape beforehand), Eagle gets in a fight with a few of Julianna’s (male) martial arts champions, kills them, and then tells Julianna that her empire is over. Instead of fighting she just shrugs and blows herself up with her handy grenade! Eagle takes off with Irene in his one-man sub and that’s it.
Eiden’s next contribution, #9: The Deadly Cyborgs, sounds like another pulpy plot, something about android Yetis(!), so let’s hope in that one he gets a better grip on how to write a men’s adventure novel. As it is, the endless padding and inessential detail really overwhelmed the lurid quotient of The Ice Goddess, turning what should’ve been a phenomenal installment into a total bore.
John Eagle Expeditor #6: The Glyphs of Gold, by Paul Edwards
February, 1974 Pyramid Books
Robert Lory returns as "Paul Edwards" for another installment of the Expeditor series, and, like Lory's previous two offerings, The Glyphs of Gold is a bit too padded, a bit too rushed, a bit too unfinished. But then, practically anything would pale in comparison to the previous volume in the series, Valley of Vultures, by Manning Lee Stokes.
The Glyphs of Gold also displays this series' lack of continuity. In that previous volume, our hero John Eagle traveled to South America where he took on neo-Nazis and also "jungle savages." In this installment Eagle does the same thing -- heading into uncharted regions of Mexico to find a lost Mayan city filled with gold, going up against Nazis and "jungle savages"...and for some inexplicable reason it never occurs to Eagle that it's all so similar to his previous mission.
But then, that's one of the drawbacks of having more than one author handle a series. Really though, the Expeditor lacks much continuity at all. That's not to say I don't enjoy the series, though. As I've said before, this is one of my favorites. It really captures a "pulp for the '70s" feel, with Eagle the alpha male of alpha males, his high-tech costume and gadgetry putting him in a sort of superheroic realm. And, as I've also mentioned before, the Expeditor recaptures the macho/misogynist feel of the old sweat mags of the '50s and '60s, with Eagle flung about to exotic locales around the world while conquering anything that stands in his way.
The narrative starts off a bit involved, but as it plays out The Glyphs of Gold is the simplest offering yet. It develops that three centuries ago a band of Mayan priests and warriors escaped with a cache of gold, taking it into the jungle to hide it from the invading Spaniards. Over the years a legend has developed, that there's a "lost city" somewhere in the Mexican jungles, a lost city teeming with all of that gold. The Tikal Zero codex, left behind by some anonymous Mayan scribe, serves up vague clues on where the city might be. A German scholar believes he has cracked the code...but then he is captured and murdered by his insane (and Nazi) brother, a callous fellow given to grandiose speeches of pristine grammar who travels about with an electric cane and a hunchbacked henchman.
A small circle of Mayan scholars were also on the path to cracking the code, and one by one each of them are turning up dead, murdered by the Nazi. Eventually the story makes its way to Merlin, wheelchair-bound boss of John Eagle. Merlin has a meeting with the Secretary of State; if there is a city of gold in Mexico, and if the Chinese or Russians are also attempting to locate the place, then it would behoove the US to send someone in there, find the gold, and get it out before some enemy power could take it. (Of course, that the gold doesn't even belong to the US is brought up -- by Eagle, of course -- but Merlin brushes it off.)
All of this is setup, and soon enough Eagle is on the scene, posing as a scholar in a crime-ridden hovel of a city in Mexico. Nevertheless he manages to meet a gorgeous gal: Juanita, raven-haired daughter of another of the murdered scholars. It's another of the goofy joys of this genre that Juanita, prompty after meeting Eagle, lets him know that she plans to have sex with him. What makes it even more goofy -- and again displays the chaveunist tone of this series -- is that Eagle treats Juanita like shit for the rest of the book...and she loves it, still coming to his bed every night on the trail as they make their way into the jungle.
And really, that's the brunt of the story. Eagle, safe and cozy in his bullet and weather-proof chameleon suit, travels through the jungle with a local guide and Juanita, who has forced her way into Eagle's party due to her connections with the local police. Along the way they encounter bandits and even a Russian party, one which Eagle quickly disposes of. The Glyphs of Gold follows its predecessor in another way: Eagle makes little use of that chameleon suit and his fancy gadgetry, coming off like a regular men's adventure protagonist rather than the super hero-esque character he was in the first installments.
Once they arrive in the lost city, Lory sort of drops the narrative ball. All along our impression has been that Eagle is hurrying to find the lost city before the murderous German and his hunchback can get there, but once Eagle arrives in the city the story instead becomes a drawn-out deal where Eagle is challenged by the war chief. Why? Because the war chief has the instant hots for Juanita, and so challenges Eagle for "his woman." Again the series displays its leanings as Juanita doesn't have a single line of dialog throughout this sequence, as if her opinion on the situation (or its outcome!) doesn't matter. Which of course it doesn't.
So we have this long fight scene where a nude Eagle must balance himself on a narrow platform, suspended high above sharpened stakes, as he battles against a well-trained foe who basically grew up doing this sort of crap. I kept wondering if the Nazi and his hunchback had taken a wrong turn or something. Even the finale, when it finally arrives, sees a still-nude Eagle fighting against the hunchback as he tries to climb up a pyramid to get Eagle. In other words, the climax too lacks the thrill of its predecessors.
Lory's writing is a bit too fussy for me, at least as far as the genre is concerned. He has a tendency to over-explain things and to go on for too long, sort of like I do in these reviews. It's also strange in that reading his books I get the impression Lory is British, which actually isn't the case. But the way he writes, the way his characters speak, it all reminds me of more of a British approach to pulp fiction than an American one. At any rate, there were many sequences where the narrative could've been pretty fun, if Lory would've just gotten out of his own way.
All told, this was an underwhelming installment, with little of the lurid or "cool" factor of previous books. About the only memorable thing was the consistent and frequent usage of the "male mystique" which has been central to the series since the first volume. Other than that, The Glyphs of Gold was a significant dip in quality, especially after the previous volume. I'm looking forward to the next installment, though, which features the debut of Paul Eiden, third and final of the three "Paul Edwards."
John Eagle Expeditor #5: Valley of Vultures, by Paul Edwards
December, 1973 Pyramid Books
Author Manning Lee Stokes returns to the Expeditor series with what is by far the best volume yet. Stokes's previous volumes came off as a bit too padded, wheel-spinning until the trademark finale where hero John Eagle would don his fancy chameleon suit and, armed with his dart gun, would launch an assault on some enemy fortress.
Stokes here dispenses with the repetitive nature of the previous four volumes of the series and turns in an incredibly lurid tale about a former Nazi concentration camp doctor who now runs a place in Ecuador where he hacks off the testicles of "jungle Indians" and surgically transfers them onto the bodies of rich old men! And there's more lurid stuff besides...lesbian porno movies that are filmed while John Eagle watches, a nymphomaniac German lady who "services" Eagle moments after meeting him and thereafter wants him all of the time, flashbacks to bizarre concentration camp sex experiments, even an Israeli secret agent who hides a metal tube in a certain part of her anatomy, and needs Eagle's assistance to get it out!
The only thing missing from Valley of Vultures is the expected tropes of the series: John Eagle wears his chameleon suit for only a page or two toward the very end of the novel and then buries it, and he doesn't even fire his dart gun once. Plus he has none of the fancy gimmicry of previous volumes; no exploding shoes, explosive arrows, mini-bike, anything. Indeed Eagle goes on this mission completely unarmed, and so must survive solely with his hands, feet, and wits.
Eagle's boss is Merlin, wheelchair-bound codger who lives in a high-tech fortress built into a Hawaii island. Merlin has a "double" who poses as him, living under Merlin's real name in Scotland. The double receives a sales-pitch from a clinic on a remote island in Ecuador which promises to give the old man new balls, literally. Merlin expects it's a joke but strange reports are coming out of Ecuador, including the deaths of various Israeli agents. Merlin also suspects that it has something to do with oil, as Merlin -- via his double -- owns a large portion of Ecuadorian oil interests. In other words, he figures this company is playing on the lustful minds of rich old men, offering them a chance to be young again but in reality luring them down to Ecuador so they can get control of them.
Merlin also knows that many Nazis escaped to Ecuador after the war, and he suspects their involvement in the scheme. Stokes here reveals a bit of a left-wing slant, which is unusual given the genre. While mulling over the increasing fascism of the world (with even a veiled dig at Nixon), Merlin delivers the following comment, which is especially ironic when you consider US foreign policy over this past decade:
There is little we can do about it in the large scale -- we are hoist by our own petard of democracy and can hardly send in an expeditionary force to enforce democracy on those who do not want it.
Ha! Safe to say, Merlin wouldn't have gotten much consulting work from the Dubya Bush administration.
Merlin sends in John Eagle, who appears very early in the tale, again a departure from previous volumes, where he didn't show up until midway through. He heads to Ecuador, posing as the young assistant of Merlin's double. Eagle decides to play his role as a smart-ass cynic, and he doesn't fail to piss off the Germans who run the place. (But as stated, he also succeeds in turning on the nymphomaniac, and how.) The place is run by the creepy Doctor Six, an old lecher who we learn was once a concentration camp doctor. Six's testicle-replacement operation actually works, and Eagle meets a wealthy old former Senator who is the only patient currently at the clinic; the man's undergone the surgery and can't wait to try out the improved equipment, so to speak.
A third of Valley of Vultures plays out more like a lurid and trashy novel, with hardly any action, yet it's still pretty engrossing. Stokes is a fine writer, too, never once POV-jumping and doling out a host of ten-dollar words. He has a great ability to set a scene and delivers several taut sequences, in particular when Eagle learns that Merlin's double has actually died (of natural causes), and so now Eagle must escape the island.
This whole sequence is the best in the novel, starting off with Eagle getting in a mortal-combat boxing match with a former Hitler Youth commander, later slitting the throat of another German, then getting intel from the female Israeli agent (who is posing as a whore on the island -- kept there by the staff to film movies to test the new equipment of patients before they engage in full-on sex), then watching as a porno is filmed, before finally making his escape! Certainly an eventful day in the life of John Eagle.
What's strange is, the last quarter of the novel seems to come from a different manuscript. Returning to headquarters in Hawaii, Eagle delivers the intel he received from the Israeli agent; Merlin reads it and it appears that Hitler has a son, one who now lives in a small German-only village in the jungles of Ecuador. Eagle is sent back to Ecuador, his assignment to assisnate Hitler's son. Doctor Six disappears, despite being set up as the villain of the piece -- in fact we learn of his death only later in the book. Now the novel appropriates the adventure-writing feel of previous novels, with lots and lots of jungle description and Eagle living off the land.
What's even stranger is that Eagle drops into the jungle with all of his equipment, including his bullet-proof chameleon suit, but quickly disposes of it. For some reason I didn't quite get, Eagle instead treks through a few hundred miles of jungle while posing as one of the natives. Why he couldn't just keep his suit and gadgets is beyond me; I suspect though it had more to do with filling pages (as with previous novels, Valley of Vultures is around 230 pages, well over the men's adventure norm).
During his jungle trek Eagle of course runs into more native Indians, as well as a pretty female Indian who latches onto him. This character, Chikka, is actually pretty fun in that she speaks in a patois of jive-talking English. But all things considered, this last quarter of the novel just seems like more of the same stuff we read in previous Expeditor novels from Stokes. It's to his credit then that he ends the novel with a literal bang, Eagle finally arriving at the German village, watching it from afar with a sniper rifle, and only seeing Hitler's son in the final two pages of the book.
For the record, this series is one of my favorites, despite its occasionally repetitive nature. Also as I've mentioned before, the Expeditor series is quite similar to The Baroness -- the same sort of literary style, the same sort of pulpish plots, even the same creator (Lyle Kenyon Engel). The difference, of course, being that Eagle is a guy, but also that he works alone whereas the Baroness needs a team. The biggest difference, for me at least, is how much better the Expeditor series is, in comparison; all those who enjoy the Baroness are heartily encouraged to give the Expeditor series a try.