Catching up with action/adventure author Stephen Mertz

Stephen Mertz is a Grandmaster of action/adventure novels.

He’s penned scores of them over the past four decades under his own name and various pseudonyms – and is still going strong. Arguably, stronger than ever. 

His recent CODY’S WAR series, featuring former Navy SEAL turned special operations troubleshooter, Jack Cody, has made Mertz one of the top-selling authors in Amazon’s “Men’s Adventure Fiction” category.

I’ve been a Stephen Mertz fan since long before I knew his name or had the pleasure of connecting with him as a virtual friend.

That’s because between 1982 and 1986, he wrote a dozen of my favorite novels about Mack Bolan, “The Executioner,” under the name of the series’ creator Don Pendleton. They include: THE IRANIAN HIT, RETURN TO VIETNAM, THE LIBYA CONNECTION, TUSCANY TERROR, DAY OF MOURNING, DEAD MAN RUNNING, BEIRUT PAYBACK, APPOINTMENT IN KABUL, TEHERAN WIPEOUT, DIRTY WAR, MOSCOW MASSACRE and SAVE THE CHILDREN.

I’m a huge fan The Executioner series, and the classic cover art done for it by Gil Cohen (featured in the book I co-edited with Wyatt Doyle and Gil, ONE MAN ARMY: THE ACTION PAPERBACK ART OF GIL COHEN and in issue #3 of the MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY, which I co-edited with Bill Cunningham).

But I didn’t realize Mertz had written Executioner novels until I started hanging out in the Facebook group titled “Mack Bolan, a.k.a. The Executioner Fans,” created by Bolan expert Ed Sunday.

RETURN TO VIETNAM, one of the 12 Executioner novels written by Stephen Mertz under Don Pendleton’s name

As a result of conversations I had with Stephen in that group and in another of my favorites FB groups, “Men’s Adventure Paperbacks of the 20th Century,”

I learned about his work for the Executioner series and the broad range of other novels he’s written. And, as I read more and more of them, I became a major Stephen Mertz fanboy.

Luckily, for Mertz fans like me, Wolfpack Publishing has made him one of their featured writers and is publishing both books from his back catalog and new novels he’s been writing especially for that imprint.

Click this link to Stephen’s page on the Wolfpack website to see the treasure trove of Mertz reprints and new books that are now available in paperback, eBook and audiobook formats.

They include his gritty M.I.A. HUNTER series, the KILROY MYSTERY, series the rapidly-growing CODY’S WAR series, and a dozen standalone action/adventure, mystery, crime and horror novels.

The main character in that series is Jack Cody. He’s a former Navy SEAL who became a troubleshooting operative for the U.S. government. For reasons explained in DRAGONFIRE! — the first novel in Mertz’s CODY’S WAR series — he’s been tagged with the nickname “Suicide Cody.”

They’re all top notch, but the CODY’S WAR series is the one that’s been creating a stir in the action/adventure genre.

In DRAGONFIRE, Cody is tasked with trying to stop the Chinese from employing a shockingly dangerous new experimental weapon they stole from a scientist against the US.

There are few writers who can create a major new action/adventure hero and series that doesn’t just tread old ground. Mertz is one of those few.

DRAGONFIRE! Starts off with a mind-blowing bang and never lets up. It hooked me on the CODY’S WAR series right off the bat.

Mertz followed that auspicious beginning rapidly with four more Cody novels: CAMP DAVID HAS FALLEN!, THE FIRES OF ALLAH, DAY OF RECKONING, and THE LAST REFUGE.

Early in 2022, Mertz and Wolfpack launched the CODY’S WAR “JUSTICE TRILOGY.”

The story arc that runs through the three books in the trilogy is a wild, world-hopping action/adventure mindblower.

It pits Cody and his CIA partner Sara Durell against a long list of intertwined bad guys, including a terrorist organization armed with stolen Russian nukes, a deadly cult led by a charismatic woman who wants to rule the world, rogue Vatican assassins, a rich, evil Arab, and more.

The first two books in this trilogy – CODY’S RETURN and LETHAL ASSAULT, end with nail-biting cliffhangers. The third, FINAL STRIKE, brings the storyline to a bloody, fiery, and satisfying conclusion.

As I write this, Wolfpack just announced that the ninth book in the CODY’S WAR series will be released in on May 26, 2022, starting a whole new story arc.

I sent Stephen some questions about CODY’S WAR and he graciously responded. Here’s that mini Q&A…

BOB: It’s been a couple of years since your last Cody novel, though Wolfpack has since released your novel HOMICIDE: SAIGON, a Vietnam War era story that I loved. I just finished the CODY’S WAR “JUSTICE TRILOGY” and enjoyed the hell out of it, like I did the first four Cody novels. Those first ones were published in 2019 and I know you’re a fast writer, so why no new Cody novels until 2022?

STEPHEN: Well, Wolfpack did publish my military detective thriller HOMICIDE: SAIGON last year. But 2021 was a bear for me. Health issues mostly, since resolved, mainly dealing with dehydration. For anyone out there who hasn’t been told: drink a lot of water! Drink more water than you think you need! Anyway, three visits to the hospital during the year slowed down the work process though I’m happy to report author and process are now again back on track.

BOB: Glad to hear it. By the way, I loved HOMICIDE: SAIGON. Though it’s set during the Vietnam War, it’s really mystery novel as you said. But your descriptions of Saigon are incredibly vivid — down to the smells — and his understanding the messy politics of South Vietnam at the time are impressive. Did you serve there?

STEPHEN: You’re most kind and I may surprise you. While I was drafted in ’66 and served my time in the Army during the Vietnam era, I was not sent there and was not a combatant. So while I certainly have a feel for the time, having lived through it, much of what you cite is more the novelist’s craft than experience.

BOB: Wow! I am surprised by that. I probably shouldn’t be, since your novelist’s craft and imagination are definitely evident in the new CODY’S WAR trilogy. It features multiple locations around the world and descriptions of a lot of high tech weapons and other stuff that couldn’t all ne based on firsthand experience.

STEPHEN: When I created the first book in the trilogy, CODY’S RETURN, I decided to lighten the series up with a sort of pure action vibe like back in my Mack Bolan days. I’ve been a fan of super villains since I grew up reading about super bad guys like Dr. No and Fu Manchu. But I wanted a super villain that hadn’t been done before. I came up with Thelma Justice, a global media megastar who happens to be a crazy feminist who wants to blow up the world so she can rule what’s left. I teamed her up with a rogue Russian general who deals in black market nukes and is about to make her dream come true. They’re a match made in Hell! I’m happy with the result.

BOB: Me, too. And, obviously so are a lot of other readers. It’s currently number three in Amazon’s list of “Hot New Releases in Men’s Adventure Fiction” and has more than a hundred positive reviews. The second and third books in the trilogy are in the fifth and sixth spots. They were all released in short period of time, and the next one will be released soon. What kind of a writing process let you pull off a writing feat like that?

STEPHEN: Well, since I’m back to being healthy again, I start my day starts early. I’m an early riser. But I don’t write all day. My current morning routine includes an exercise workout, a walk, reading, and some social media posting. I usually don’t start writing until about one o’clock. But I’m one of those steady-as-she goes writers. When I’m rolling on a project it’s a thousand words per day, four or five days a week.

Writers Don Pendleton, Richard S. Prather, and Stephen Mertz, at Don’s California home in 1994

BOB: In the first CODY’S WAR novel, DRAGONFIRE!, Cody has a backstory that sets him apart from other action heroes. He’s grieving over a devastating personal loss and has what can only be described as a death wish. He only wants the toughest possible assignments that are very likely to be suicide missions. In the “Justice Trilogy” he has a new lady friend, who is a great character herself, and he is no longer hell bent on dying. Of course, he does still frequently tempt fate, starting in the first chapter with his jump from a truck onto a speeding freight train to take on a gang of well-armed Russian mercs.

STEPHEN: Yes, there have been continuing storylines in the Cody novels I’ve written since DRAGONFIRE!, and Cody works through his grief is one of them. That’s one of the things about characterization in a series that I learned in my early days of working for and with Don Pendleton. One of the many strokes of his genius in creating the narrative arc of those original Bolan novels is that, really, each book is a chapter in what is essentially a continuous biography of a fictional character. Bolan grows and evolves through his experiences just like, or almost like, the rest of us. The young Bolan of Book #1 in that series changes quite the bit by the time Don ended his tenure with the 38th novel.

BOB: As you know, Gold Eagle recently cancelled the Mack Bolan franchise after more than 400 books. I’d say Cody could now fill the gap that left in the action/adventure realm.

STEPHEN: We’ll leave that up to the readers and sales figures, but Jack Cody is certainly in a position to stand and deliver if called upon to do so. More CODY’S WAR novels are coming.

BOB: Indeed, I saw Wolfpack has already announced the release of the ninth book in the series, titled AFGHANISTAN PAYBACK. What’s next for Cody in that?

STEPHEN: He’s taking on the Taliban. They’re holding prisoner American soldiers left behind when their EVAC chopper was shot down during America’s withdrawal. It’s a mean-ass, down and dirty combat novel in the classic tradition.

BOB: I’m looking forward to it. By the way, I know you’ve been a musician for many years and play a great blues harp. And, as you know from the 5-star reviews I posted online, I really loved your music-based novels JIMI AFTER DARK, featuring Jimi Hendrix in a murder mystery in London during the Swinging Sixties, and HANK AND MUDDY, a cool mystery in which country star Hank Williams and Chicago blues legend Muddy Waters join forces in a plot that also involves murder. I also really enjoyed the fact that your second Kilroy novel, THE DEVIL’S MUSIC, involves an blues musicians and the ’70s music scene in Denver, Colorado. As a fan of blues and rock, I hope you’ll write some more novels that feature musicians and reflect you deep knowledge of the clues and rock genres.

STEPHEN: Thank you for your kind words, buddy. I really appreciate it!

BOB: Thank you, Stephen. Keep up the great work. And, stay hydrated!

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Congrats and kudos to Wolfpack Publishing, which has become the top publisher of action/adventure, Western, thriller and horror novels and anthologies in recent years. In addition to Stephen Mertz, there are many other writers in their stable I admire a lot, including: Paul Bishop, Peter Brandvold, Max Allan Collins, Chuck Dixon, Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Tony Masero, Michael Newton, Mel Odom, Richard Prosch, Robert J. Randisi, James Reasoner, and Brent Towns. If you want to keep up to date on the latest Wolfpack releases, be sure to sign up for their newsletter via the form on their home page.

Here are some more examples of books by Stephen Mertz
and other Wolfpack authors I highly recommend: