Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Red Menace 4 - A Red Letter Day - by James Mullaney

A Red Letter Day
Red Menace 4
by James Mullaney

As I mentioned in my review of the first installment, the Red Menace series has signifiers of genres it doesn't really deliver in, such as pulp and comic heroes.  I enjoyed this installment much more because my expectations were better tempered, and because this one has more "stuff happening", something the first book was light on.

The series reads better as straightforward action/espionage with light sci-fi and alternate history elements.  The Red Menace is a secret agent from the 1950s that wore a cloak with special fabric that allows him to disappear into the shadows.  He is assisted by the crotchety and mysterious Dr. Wainwright.  The series has the retired Menace coming back into action in the early 70s.

This book starts with the Red Menace hassling a transvestite Muammar Gaddafi before returning to the states.  The late Edgar Hoover's safe is discovered at a construction site and promptly stolen.  This time Wainwright gets a bit more focus, as he was the designer of the safe and is being consulted on how to open it.

This entry does better in the "stuff happening" department because of the players.  We've got the Red Menace and company, the mafia, a crackpot environmentalist, and the enigmatic billionaire recluse Claudius Long and his ghastly, unkillable henchman.  More action than the first one, and a decent showdown at the UN Plaza at the end, but the series would benefit from being turned up a notch.

The humor isn't really my style, but at least it doesn't rely so much on picking on third world countries in this one.  I remember the kind of crackpot claims that were around in the 70s, calling for new ice ages or that all trees will run out in two years, but there was a particularly groan-worthy satire on energy efficient bulbs.  In case you already forgot, the banning of incandescent bulbs was treated like Kristallnacht by some folk, yet less than a year later it's completely blown over.

I do take a little exception at one of the series' premises.  The Red Menace receives serum treatments from Dr. Wainwright for him to remain active at such an advanced age, but I don't think having a 42 year old skulk around and occasionally jump over something requires a sci-fi explanation.

The satire and arrogant mentor figure reminded me of the Destroyer series, and sure enough I forgot that Mullaney wrote several later installments of that series.  He is also named to co-write the script to the Destroyer film by Shane Black, according to always accurate internet reports, so let's hope that works out for him.

Please note that this review was based on a free review copy.  We have the highest ethical standards here at Trash Menace, but if anyone wants to send us to Tokyo Disneyland, we'd be willing to reconsider our review of the Astro Orbiter queue.

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