Louis L'Amour's "Last of the Breed" takes place in the frigid wasteland of Siberia during the Cold War. Soviet agents sabotage Air Force Major Joseph "Joe Mack" Makatozi's plane over the Pacific ocean and take him to a secret prison camp where he will be interrogated and executed. However, Makatozi is part Sioux, part Cheyenne, part Scottish, and a total bad-ass. He escapes the prison and flees across Siberia on an impossible mission to return to America by crossing the Bering Straight. He makes friends and enemies among the natives as he struggles to survive in the unforgiving landscape and escape from the Soviet army.
This was a kick-ass novel. It was my first time reading anything by L'amour and nowI want more. His detail on surviving in the wilderness was impressive and his pacing was phenomenal. Not once did the action slow down, not even during slow parts where Makatozi philosophized about the conflict between the US and the USSR. There was always the threat of discovery and capture hanging in the background which drove the plot along at a steady pace. I appreciated these cerebral moments of the novel. There were many instances were the characters would talk of history, politics, and human nature in the shadow of nuclear war. They were refreshing and made the story more than literary junk food. Sure, there was action. Cars exploded and Russian soldiers got shot, impaled on traps, and buried under an avalanche. Makatozi even brought down a helicopter with a bow and arrow! The Cold War may be over, but this was still a great read.
What really impressed me was L'amour's background. According to the brief bio at the end of the novel, the man was a "lumberjack, elephant handler, skinner of dead cattle, assessment miner, and officer on tank destroyers during World War II." He was even shipwrecked on an island in the West Indies and stranded in the Mojave desert. Wow! Talk about writing from experience. Thankfully, I don't need such an "extensive" background in order to be published. But it helps.
The next novel will be another L'amour special called "The Haunted Mesa."
Frank G. Slaughter's novel "of seafaring adventure and royal intrigue in the ancient world" takes place in the ancient Phoenician city state of Tyre and follows the journey of Straton, sailor and major He-Man of the story, and his quest to save his city from Assyrian invaders. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Straton's story is really the story of how the love triangle between him, the daughter of a Greek merchant, and his former lover, Queen Dido, shaped the founding of Carthage.
This novel was kind of a chore to read at times. I appreciate Slaughter's attention to historic detail, but there were times when the prose read too much like a history lesson. The action did pick up halfway through the book. I liked the naval battle for the city of Arvad where Straton's massive warship plowed through the entire Assyrian fleet and was all like "BEEP-BEEP, MOTHER$&@%! I GOT A BRONZE HULL AND YOU DON'T!"
The part that made me laugh was the night before this epic sea battle. Straton is sitting alone in his room aboard his kick-ass ship thinking about the coming battle. The Greek girl he fell in love with rushes in and they start talking all lovey-dovey. Straton and the girl look into each others eyes. They could die tomorrow at the hands of the numerically superior Assyrian fleet. This could be their last night together. But what does Straton say?
"I desire you with every fiber of my body. But I also want you to be the mother of my children, the wife I will come home to at night, the strong staff I can lean upon in time of trouble and uncertainty, and the compassion of our declining years. Such a union is not built in a night of passion before sailing on a hazardous mission, Hera. It is built in marriage and a gradual understanding of each other through the years."
Sheesh. What a buzz kill.
Now, to be fair, what Straton says does establish a healthy relationship in a marriage, but COME ON!
Anyway, for a novel written in 1965 it holds up pretty well and made an interesting read. I didn't hate it, but I won't be sailing with Captain Buzz Kill again any time soon.