The Race Against Time: Evil in Paradise
by JJ Fortune
140 pages, Armada Books 1984
By Pat Black
Not much escaped Indy's whipcracks back in the mid-1980s. Thanks to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's more child-friendly style (ripped-out hearts aside), all manner of adventure books seemed to flood the young adult market as publishers sought to slake a thirst for chapter-play style thrills and high adventure.
This book is the third in an all-but-forgotten series featuring the globe-trotting high-jinks of movie-loving youngster Stephen Lane and his Uncle Richard. The latter is a cross between Indiana Jones' treasure-hunting brawler and James Bond's smooth gadget-toting rake. He takes the young Stephen to exotic locations to do battle with strange and twisted enemies for very high stakes.
And to think that the best I got when it came to parents' siblings was Uncle Slorr - a punch in the face and intermittent screaming from the attic was the best a lad could hope for in those days. And that was on Christmas and birthdays.
Indy and Short Round's team-up from Temple of Doom does spring to mind here, with the befuddled young fantasist Stephen following his uncle's death-defying adventures and helping out when he's needed, a regular little monkey wrench. Of course, beautiful women showed up in the series, too, perhaps just to prove that Uncle Richard is 100% straight as f*ck.
The "race against time" gimmick refers to the fact that the adventures always take place during a strict timeframe to coincide with Stephen's parents being away from home. Usually, Stephen and Richard only just get back from their adventures with seconds to spare, as mum and dad return from their holidays.
It's apropos nothing, but I would like to point out that Stephen's mother runs a health food store called Oh, Nuts! which I thought was wonderful.
In this story, the duo answer a distress call from one of Richard's former squeezes, Jade Munroe, based in Hawaii. This turns out to be a ruse, but they hook up with Jade anyway and then take on the might of super-criminal The Shark, as he hatches a fiendish identity-swapping plot from a very Blofeldt-esque underground lair.
There's a great shark moment in the opening chapters when the scuba-diving pair find themselves in a heap of trouble in an undersea tunnel, and plenty of awesome fistfights that would have happily taken place in an instalment of Rocket Man. Evil In Paradise also has lots of cliff-hangers, which impressed me as a lad reading this on my summer hols. Surely every writer started their careers wanting to write a book with cliff-hangers? You wouldn't want to stop writing, never mind reading. I think I'll try that next.
The Oddjob Prize for "lead henchman" baddie goes to Arms Akimbo, a hulking brute who dukes it out several times with Uncle Richard. Think Indiana Jones vs the big baldy bastard in Raiders of the Lost Ark, minus the propeller "fail". I just love this guy's name, after all these years - maybe in sequels, his big brother, Balls Akimbo, shows up to join the fray? In an alternative porn universe, is Boobs Akimbo part of the priapic pantheon alongside Jenna Jameson et al? Or is Vibes Akimbo a highly-regarded though little-known jazz musician, only glimpsed in one or two clips posted on YouTube by goateed enthusiasts?
Anyway. Rest assured that plots are tied up, explosions are triggered, villains escape to menace another day and Stephen returns home in time for his parents to complain about being exhausted from their weekend away. Terrific little book, from a now extremely hard-to-find series - and wouldn't one of these have made a smashing movie?