“HOLLYWOOD HELL”, the 77th book in the durable Mack Bolan saga, is a transitional novel, sitting at the half-way point between Don Pendleton’s original vision and the quasi-secret agent stories we'll get later in the series.
The novel keeps it vague, but Bolan seems to be working as a hired gun this time. The assignment is to find the wayward daughter of a Senate candidate, and get her out of the porno underworld. Actually, she’s in something like the underworld beneath that underworld, where drugged-up prisoners are forced into all sorts of awful things before being killed on-camera.
That’s a pretty strong premise, but what makes it better is that Bolan is back in Mafia-busting mode, because the local crime family is running the whole scummy show. In fact, it’s the very same family Bolan took down in the third book of the series, BATTLE MASK, now re-organized with more sleaze than ever before. On the other side of the law, Bolan’s old police nemesis Captain Braddock is still on the force, and he just might be willing to play a role in the big take-down Bolan is planning.
Author Mike Newton keeps things moving pretty well, but the most interesting things aren’t the inevitable gun battles. Far more memorable are various scenes in which Bolan seeks out the kingpins of the flesh trade. There’s a great confrontation sequence in one of those ratty old Hollywood apartment buildings which escalates into a brawl involving mobsters, Mohawked punks and bikers. Another highlight comes when Bolan attends an invitation-only screening of a snuff film, and his rage against the masturbating creeps around him boils over. Scenes like these make his mission personal, and a little more meaningful than your typical Gold Eagle testosterone party.
So the book has its strengths, but I found the author’s prose to be clunky and long-winded. He also had an annoying habit of ending sentences with the word “right,” which I guess was meant to lend a conversational tone. (It works okay when you’re talking to someone in person, right? But when the narrator of a novel uses it over and over, it comes across as contrived and irritating, right?) The book’s dialogue was pretty good, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it. My final beef is with the climax. Without giving too much away, Bolan’s brother Johnny takes part in the big final showdown. Guns are still blazing when Mack is forced to leave the scene, and he takes us with him. As to whether Johnny lives or dies, who knows? He’s never mentioned again.
I’d still rather have something like “HOLLYWOOD HELL” than most of the later Mack Bolan books. For all its flaws, there’s some good stuff here. But if you haven’t read all of Don Pendleton’s original 'Executioner' novels yet (#1-15 and #17-38), get hold of those first.