HOT RAIL TO HELL by Robert Vardeman (2011, Cenotaph)
The first of a proposed series, Hot Rail To Hell, was published a few years ago by Robert Vardeman as an attempt to revive the mens’ action novels of the 1970’s. Vardeman heads the Baroness Yahoo group and dedicated it to her creator, Lyle Kenyon Engel. Although we haven’t been blessed with another book in this “Conversant USA” series, one can always hope. Digital publishing makes the job a lot easier these days. Vardeman lists many other books in his resume, so he has the chops to keep the ball rolling.
the action hero of Hot Rail is known as Vanessa Court, a 5-6″ 125 pound streamlined ball of energy. Known as “Nessie” to her friends and employees, she runs Conversant USA, a company dedicated to eliminating industrial espionage. The book introduces her as she goes one-on-one with a Brazilian jujitsu fighter under the guidance of her mentor, Tancredo Cardoso, AKA “Dodo”. It;s a tightly choreographed scene and Nessie ends up with her clothes ripped away, but her opponent needs an ambulance. Nothing like a naked woman introduction to grab your attention.
We soon find out that Nessie has a very desperate client. A government contractor has had the rail gun he’s contracted to develop by the US Navy to fail catastrophically in a desert test. The nano-tube powered rail gun managed to launch the package as planned, but the exploded immediately afterward. Is someone being payed to sabotage the gun? Could it be the sexist pig scientist Hugo Flynn who’s needed for the project? The Hispanic woman head technician who quit over harassment? Or might it be the chief of security? It’s up to Nessie and her crack team to find out.
The trail leads from a desert installation to Hong Kong. Along the way, Nessie has encounters with a virtual reality sex machine, being left for dead in the desert, and foreign agents. The trail ends up in China.
As with all hero pulps, Nessie has her team to assist her. Always on stand-by is Kate Li, a Chinese American computer specialist Next is Rich Blaine, a twentysomething engineer. He’s followed by an Indian cybernaut, Web Singh. Dodo, the martial artist has been mentioned. Completing the ensemble is her trusty canine friend Pascal, a specially trained German Shepard. And, naturally, she has her own satellite in orbit which communicates with her smart phone.
The book is a lot of fun and you can tell Vardeman had a blast writing it. It’s the only one of his works I’ve read, so I can’t compare it to the other books in his resume. If I have one criticism, it’s the bad guys. They sound right out of central casting, circa 1965. Check out the main Chinese spy:
“Such arrogance! The ancient Greeks called it hubris. You, a mere mortal, seek godlike power. How funny. You are the product of a decadent country but still think you control power. You are failures, you and your imperialist country, yet your precious self-esteem is overweening. You do not give orders to me!”
There’s a number of explicit sex scenes as well. As a bonus, the deluxe edition comes with a separate Vanessa Court story and an excerpt from one of Vardeman’s other novels. The postscript is a delight to read: the author talks a lot about his love for the Baroness series and 70’s action novels. This novel is recommended for fans of all those great paperback books which lined the spin racks at bus stations forty years ago.
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