Journeyman Chet Cunningham authored a four book series from 1987-1988 titled 'The Avenger'. It's an odd title because the series was released by Warner Books, a publisher that already had another 'Avenger' title in their catalog. Warner published reprints and new titles of pulp hero 'Avenger' (released under the house name Kenneth Robeson) from 1972-1975, totaling 42 books. There's no connection otherwise between the two series, but it's nevertheless confusing.
The Avenger's second installment, “Houston Hellground”, was published in April 1988. I enjoyed the eponymous debut and this series does have a sense of continuity (unlike high-numbered titles like 'The Butcher'). The first novel introduced us to Matt Hawke, a San Diego DEA agent who finds his wife brutally murdered by drug cartels. Strained by the chains of bureaucracy, Hawke breaks free by quitting the DEA and running his own brand of unsanctioned justice. After annihilating West Coast drug distributors, he sets gun-sights on a Houston kingpin named Lopez.
Cunningham is the quintessential “meat and potatoes” author, simplifying the story and lacing it with high-caliber action. Hawke's mission is two-fold: Rescue a DEA agent from Lopez's grip and cut the distribution lines in and out of the nearby port city. Teaming with a beautiful ex-cop named Carmelita, the two become a destructive force under Cunningham's skilled hands.
“Houston Hellground” delivers a ton of gunplay, increasing the violence a notch or two to properly satisfy seasoned (read that as bloodthirsty) men's action readers. Remember, this is a late entry published in 1988. There's a brutal torture scene that involves sexual assault – not for queasy stomachs. Further, Hawke and Lopez (who's fighting a rival) collectively waste every adversary in vivid detail. Surprisingly, I was lucky enough to be one of the few survivors. “Houston Hellground” is another solid entry in an entertaining, yet neglected series.
Fun Fact – Artist Greg Olanoff did the covers for the entire series. His model was Jason Savas, the same model he used for the first five 'M.I.A. Hunter' books.
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