In the 1980s and early-1990s men’s adventure fiction was in style. There were more action-thriller series than you could count with all twenty digits. My local bookstore even had a small section devoted to them—a section I went directly to upon entrance and then again on my way out.
I spent many hours reading the exploits of Mack Bolan, Barrabas, Casca, Remo Williams and so many others it would take me days to remember them all. I loved them as a teenager, and they—the books and the writers—have a fond place in my memory, so when I saw Forge’s reprint of Barry Sadler’s 1987 novel The Shooter I couldn’t help myself. I picked it up and read it, and it was the best two hours I’ve spent this week.
The Shooter is the story of Rossen and Tommy, two Vietnam veterans now working as mercenaries across the globe. They pick the jobs, love the action, and want nothing more than another day of the exhilaration that comes with the lifestyle. Then they get a visit from an old friend who tells them he has proof that U.S. troops are alive and still being held captive in Laos. It doesn’t take a genius to guess the rest of the story, but the journey is fun, exciting and extremely enjoyable.
The Vietnam MIA / POW storyline was common in the 1980s—it started, as far as I know, with J.C. Pollock’s Mission MIA, and then found itself in Hollywood with the film Uncommon Valor. After that there were several more novels and films with the same premise including Rambo 2, and even an episode of Magnum, P.I.
The Shooter holds its own against these tales: The writing is quick, the characters are trustworthy and noble without being self-righteous bores, and the action is top-notch. I don’t remember being overly impressed with Barry Sadler’s prose before, but with The Shooter I am. It is simple and smooth with subtle textures of both cynicism and melancholy that manifest themselves throughout, but are particularly visible at the height of the climax. Mr. Sadler also describes the jungles of Laos very well:
This was a deluge where a man could drown if he looked up, where the skyflood beat so hard that it could knock animals to their knees. And with the rains came the winds whipping the storm into a blinding sheet.
The Shooter isn’t for everyone, but if you like this kind of fiction, you won’t be disappointed. It represents everything good about those old action novels, with very little of the downside. It will never be deemed high literature, but it is definitely a fun and worthy read.
An Additional Note: Barry Sadler penned and sang the song The Ballad of the Green Berets, and he was murdered in 1989. I can still remember the short segment about his death on A Current Affair. In my memory he died suspiciously at his home in Mexico City, but the bio in the back of Forge's new edition of The Shooter says: Sadler died tragically in 1989, the victim of a brutal robbery in Guatamala City.
Wikipedia has an article that confirms he died in Guatamala City, but apperantly there is some controversy about his death. He was shot in the head while in a taxi. According to the article: It has been claimed that he committed suicide, that he shot himself accidentally while showing off to a female companion, and that he was assassinated for allegedly training and arming the Contras. It is also possible that he was simply a victim of random violence.
Interesting. It sounds like his life may have been more interesting than his fiction.
To read the Wikipedia article click Here.