The Penetrator series was a Mack Bolan knock-off written by Chet Cunningham (even numbered installments) and Mark K. Roberts (the odd ones) under the house name of Lionel Derrick. The books are generally mind-numbing, escapist fun of varying quality. The cover of the 24th installment, “Cryogenic Nightmare,” promises a Florida setting, and who doesn’t like some fun in the sun to fight the winter blues?
The Penetrator is Mark Hardin, an American Vietnam vet action hero with Native American blood, a fat bankroll, a fortress of solitude and a passion for wasting bad guys. His vigilante missions have made him a fugitive, and the FBI likens him to Robin Hood in the paperback’s prologue. His target selection and assignments are managed through a college professor who also provides analytical support to Hardin on his missions.
In this installment, The Penetrator’s target is Preacher Mann, an organized crime figure with tentacles stretching into all sorts of badness, but pimping seems to be his true passion. Cunningham gets right to the point by describing Mann as a “vegetarian negroid” and shows off the pimp’s opulent lifestyle by explaining that Mann owns a Betamax hooked up to a 48-inch TV screen. Even in today’s world, one would have to control a substantial criminal empire to achieve such entertainment-system decadence.
After receiving his assignment from the professor, The Penetrator heads down to West Palm Beach, Florida and begins a lot of pretty standard gumshoe work investigating Mann’s business interests and shell companies. These scenes have some decent gunfights but go on much too long. Readers want to see the sexy, frozen babes we were promised on the cover art and synopsis.
It’s not until well into the second half of the paperback that Hardin learns of Mann’s diabolical plan to kidnap super-hot chicks and cryogenically freeze them for future consumption as high-price call girls. Hardin eventually penetrates Mann’s hidden island lair where the villain is kind enough to fully explain his creative and moronic plan in painstaking detail to our hero.
“Cryogenic Nightmare” is really a prose comic book with fun action set pieces building towards a final showdown between The Penetrator and the evil Preacher Mann. The novel owes a lot to corny, 1930s-style pulp fiction where bad guys experiment on damsels in distress in underground island hideouts until the swashbuckling hero can save the day. The pacing of this installment wasn’t great, but you don’t read The Penetrator for literary greatness. Mostly, it’s a fun read as long as your expectations are under control.
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