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Phoenix (The Complete Action Series)
David Alexander
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Desert Stalker (Lone Wolf, #4)

Desert Stalker (Lone Wolf, #4) - Mike Barry After his fiancé is found dead of a drug overdose, NYC narcotics cop Martin Wulff decides that the system is ineffective for dealing with organized drug crime. He decides to go it alone and attack the drug cartels on his own, unfettered by the constraints of the impotent justice system. Martin Wulff isthe Lone Wolf! (dun dun dunnnnhhhh…)

This is the premise of Mike Barry's early '70s series The Lone Wolf and is not so different from other "men's adventure" type novels of the time, but this is not your average action schlock novel. It's pretty dark stuff and Wulff, the "hero," is more of a broken-beyond-repair nutcase than typical action hero. Whereas the Mack Bolans of the world are "can-do, never-say-die" type of guys, it's fair to say that Martin Wulff is suicidal and often describes himself as "already dead." The pages simply ooze with misanthropy and paranoia through long,  stream-of-conscious paragraphs (some nearly two pages long!). Thankfully, when the action arrives it's brisk and exciting, but Wulff's dysfunction is never far from the surface. As such, the overall impression is of a pretty surreal read for an action novel.

Desert Stalker, fourth in the series, begins with Martin Wulff (who is inexplicably named "Burt Wulff" on the back cover copy) in a stolen car heading for the house of his former partner David Williams, who carries a huge chip on his shoulder for being a black cop in a white man's world. Williams is a very angry man but is determined to work within the system and advance in his career, despite the racial inequality. Nevertheless, his anger is palpable. He is perfectly happy to give Wulff a tip so he can commence with extra-legal shenanigans and even though they were partners, they have a pretty strange relationship now. Williams doesn't even seem to like Wulff, but Wulff can get things done that Williams cannot working within the legal system.

Anyway, Williams tells Wulff about a NYC police lieutenant named Stone who absconded with a suitcase full of dope from the evidence room and is heading to Las Vegas to meet with a mobster who runs a casino. Wulff, who's  also an explosives expert, courtesy of the US Army and Vietnam, gets it in his head to bring a suitcase of his own, but filled with explosives instead of dope, which he plans to use to blow up the casino.

The rest of the novel we watch as Wulff heads to Vegas, tortures a mob boss, blows up a casino (packed with innocents, mind you) and carjacks a getaway car, all the while catching glimpses of Wulff's fevered descent into insanity. At one point, thinking that he might not get away from the casino in time to escape the bomb blast, Wulff gets the strong urge to talk to someone and places a phone call to a "hippie girl" named Tamara, whom he had met and slept with in a previous volume. He calls her parents' house (because she lives with her parents!) at around three in the morning and tells her that he "just wanted to talk to her." At this point you can really get a sense of Wulff's crushing loneliness and fatalistic look at life.

Beyond the genre-typical plot, Desert Stalker isn't like anything I've read so far in men's adventure. It's a weird, surreal, misanthropic, paranoid narrative and, to be honest, isn't a barrel of laughs simply because Wulff's viewpoint is so dark. It is, however, a pretty good read and I got a lot of enjoyment out of it. It shares the same demerits that others in the genre usually have (bad editing, etc.), but it wasn't too bad. Besides, Mike Barry (a pseudonym for prolific author Barry Malzberg) wrote ten of these novels in eight months! He expresses in an interesting interview with Ed Gorman that he knew exactly what he was doing in gradually making Wulff become more unhinged as the series progressed. I think that's something I'd like to see.

Desert Stalker, as well as the rest of the series (I believe there are fourteen in all), are now available in ebook format, if you are into that kind of thing. Me, I'm going to first take my chances scouring the used book stores. Either way, this is a series I definitely want to read more of. Hopefully I'll comes across them in order, since it seems to be rather continuity heavy.