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Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Ratbastards #4: Meat Grinder Hill


In an earlier post, I blogged the news about Len Levinson's march to e-book immortality. A couple of his western series have been translated to digital format on Amazon, and one of his war series. After his Sergeant paperbacks (originally released under the name Gordon Davis), his Ratbastards books top my list of guilty-pleasure war fiction.

His platoon of kill-crazy Jap-stabbing GIs now reactivated for a prolonged Pacific combat deployment, I'm still hoping Levinson cuts orders for MSGT Clarence J. Mahoney to resume his gory Kraut-killing campaign in the DTO (Digital Theater of Operations). In the meantime, I am tickled slappy that his blood-splattered prose can now grace the screen of my Kindle.

In this installment, both Master Sergeant Butsko and PFC Frankie LaBarbara are hospitalized in New Caledonia, leaving Texan Buck Sergeant Bannon in charge of the 23rd Infantry's Recon Platoon (the Ratbastards of the title).

US forces are mopping up the final resistance on Guadalcanal, and the regiment is using the Recon Platoon as a screen. In the attempt to catch up to an enemy patrol, Bannon and his platoon of cutthroats stumble right into the Japanese 17th Division, dug in on the Gifu line.

The narrative switches back-and-forth between the action on the 'Canal and the erotic adventures of LaBarbara and Butsko among the nurses on New Caledonia--two completely different plot lines, related only by the fact that these wounded Casanovas are from the Recon Platoon.

There is spectacular action...and not just with the lusty nurses. And not all the combat is against the Japanese. A cheese-eating first sergeant from one of the line companies sics his men on the Ratbastards and the gang violence that ensues is better than any rumble between Crips and Bloods, Outlaws and Hell's Angels, or Jets and Sharks. When the opposing combatants are Japanese, the bloody gore is brutal without the sick, graphic obsession of some more current fiction. And true to form, Len Levinson depicts more bayonet combat in the battle for Hill 27 than probably occurred in the entire island-hopping campaign.

I first read this long ago, in a paperback with Levinson's John Mackie pseudonym on the cover. Upon a recent perusal, it surprised me how many typos I found, and other mistakes (in the space of 3 paragraphs, 1 character's rank changes from captain to lieutenant back to captain, for instance). But it is a great read if you like over-the-top war scenes (without ALL the sickening details of what combat in the Pacific was really like).

As in all his books I've read, Levinson knows how to keep a reader turning pages, sprinkles in some nicely-researched tidbits, and litters the landscape with characters you will either abhor or admire...but always be entertained by.

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