The Black Sun

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The Review Some time in June 1964, mercenaryIrish-born British Major Thomas Harry, better known as Major ‘Mad’ Harry, is rehiredby the Congolese in-waiting Prime Minister, Moïse Kapenda Tshombé, a wealthy man, whom he meets in his Pink Palace inthe Katanga Province for the second time in three years, supposedly to salvagethe fate of the foreign hostages, including a few Americans, in thethree-storey Hôtel du Lac, in Albertville − a town on the western shore of LakeTanganyika − already attacked and seized by the ruthless rebels who callthemselves the Simbas, and who are led by Gaston Soumialot and his ‘General’ Nicolas Olenga. But in reality Harry’spressing mission is to retrieve the secret Belgian gold cache, all in barspacked in ten crates, worth fifty million dollars, from a bank’s vault – onlyknown to four protagonists: Tshombé,the CIA station chief, the Union Minièredirector and Harry himself. Incidentally, a Belgian named Antoine van Bilsen,who happens to be the bank Director, is forced to look after the cache that isnow in the hands of the rebels who hold his wife, Beatrice, as a hostage inAlberville. Harry’s subordinates, notoriouslynamed Les Affreux, ‘the Terrible Ones’, include an Afro-American mannamed Captain Cyrille Cernuda, of ArméeNationale Congolaise, who turns a true friend, and a drunkard Irish-born Doctor,Joseph Barnes, who has hardly given up drinking since his wife’s car crash backin Dublin years before his arrival in the Congo. Reluctantly, he also takes alongtwo other men, one is the snoopy Lloyd Garrison who works as a correspondentand photojournalist for Scripps-Howard, then America’s largest chain ofnewspapers, whose flagship was The New YorkHerald Tribune, and a Ku Klux Klan leader and old-time foe of Harry’s bygonedays, an American-born Major called Lawrence ‘Mike’ Williams, on a missionbecause he needs both men: Garrison because of his knowledge of the town andthe hotel’s whereabouts, and Williams because of his band of mercenaries andhis military expertise and leadership skills. Tshombé also gives Harry and his hirlings the use of a matte blackwood-burning train, equipped with sufficient firepower, along with governmentsoldiers on board, and leaves the only train station in the southeastern cityof ?lisabethville for their doomed destination, Albertville. On the way,the train is attacked by a United Nations peacekeeping Alouette chopper pilotedby two Swedish men that forms part of the UN air force. Harry then picks up abeautiful blond Belgian missionary damsel named Maye Michels in hisBelgian-made tricycle TricycleSpankenTruppenafter the mercenaries’ train finds her running wildly along the railway line inthe midst of hills and bushes, escaping from her chasers, a Simba patroldriving in a Soviet-made jeep, part of the rebel bands that earlier attacks hersmall village church and burns it down and kills the rest of the missionaries.Meanwhile, Major Williams, who resents Harry’s leadership, begins to causetrouble because the American sneaks into one of the jeeps loaded with the goldcache. Things come to a boiling pointwhen the American makes a romantic advance, which Harry interrupts. Harry and Williamsthen fight an inconclusive duel which involves a chainsaw. First, Williamsattempts to use it on Harry who then desperately takes his turn to use thechainsaw. Harry is prepared to kill Williams but stopped by his close friend,Cernuda. But there are further complications when the mercenaries reach thetown. Firstly, the gold cache in a time-locked vault delaying the departure ofthe train, and secondly, Garrison and Cernuda attempting to have the hostagesin the hotel freed. Before travelling into the bush,Harry and Michels along with three of his men stop by the rear side of the bankand secretly carry off the cache, leaving behind Garrison and Cernuda who drivein another jeep and stop by the hotel. Using a Simba disguise, Cernuda takes inGarrison who now pretends to be his prisoner. But as Cernuda leaves, Garrison refusesto abandon the hostages in the hotel, with its rooms full of sickening scenesof rape, murder, drunkenness and torture, and agrees to stay behind to help themto escape through a safe passage. Just as Garrison leads the hostagesstealthily to a safe haven in the midst of low-ling hills around the town, he istold by one of the Belgian hostages that her son is left behind. Garrison prepares to take therisk and treks back to the hotel to save the little boy in the hotel. But as heattempts to save the last hostage, the Simbas manage to capture Garrison and showno mercy and have him tied up to two trees in the town centre. With Garrison atthe mercy of the Simbas, Harry reluctantly agrees to let one of his marksmen onthe train to shoot Garrison to stop him from further torture in the hands ofthe Simbas who are now cutting him alive with machetes. Back in the townprecious minutes tick by as the train hurriedly picks up the hostages. The delays in the bank and thehotel eventually allow the other Simba force, loaded in Soviet-made jeeps and truckstravelling on a dirt track, to catch up and begin attacking the train and Harry’smen. Finally the heavily-laden train, which is loaded with the gold cache concealedin a jeep and the residents, slowly leaves the station under small arms fire.But just as it is nearly out of range, a mortar round destroys the couplingbetween the last two carriages. Agonisingly, as the rest of the train picks upspeed and steams away, the last coach with most of the hostages on board slowlycomes to a stop before rolling downhill back into the Simba-held town. Before the train leaves off, Harryloses Bilsen and his wife and some of his men to the waves of the wild Simbaswho now attack the train on foot from the rear. And as the Simba army leads araid to retrieve the gold from Harry and his men, the train eventually leaves.Following a rail line diversion involving two purloined trucks by the Simbas,the train stops halfway in the middle of nowhere and by the time Cernuda’s menattempt to have the rail cleared off, the second wave of the Simbas suddenly launchesattacks in three fronts. Harry and his men are too few to face the wrath of thespear-waving Simbas who manage to kill many, including Doctor Barnes. In the end, the train leaves tosafety. When the train runs low on fuel, Harry and one of his men, SergeantRolf Steiner, once a member of the Hitler Youth, leave in a jeep to get hold ofarmy trucks from a nearby Congolese military camp to carry off the rest of thehostages and a few men he is left with. Little does Harry himself know aboutthe gold cache loaded in his jeep by Cernuda who always mistrusts Williams. Inhis absence, Williams kills Cernuda with his long knife and now takes onMichels, slapping her in the face several times, in the mistaken belief thatboth know about the whereabouts of the gold cache. Empty handed, Williams drivesinto the bush in one of the jeeps. When Harry returns to find his friend dead,he is filled with murderous revenge. He pursues Williams in his favouritetricycle and after a vicious brawl Harry kills him with the same knife withwhich Williams strikes Cernuda. Harry then returns to the truck convoy. Withhis job done, Harry reflects on himself, feeling the guilt of vengeance, andturns himself in for a court-martial for his action.

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