Showing posts with label Executioner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Executioner. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Executioner #104 - Devil's Horn

Remember the one where Mack Bolan becomes the star of the Chuck Norris “bring'em back” alive flick Missing in Action? Well, it never happened, but it should have based on Dan Schmidt's The Executioner installment Devil's Horn (1987), the 104th book in the series. Like a combination of Missing in Action, Rambo 2, and an installment of MIA Hunter, Devil's Horn deposits Bolan and Jack Grimaldi in a Southeast Asia Hellhole as prisoners in a drug cartel's brutal labor camp. Interested? Read on.

When Devil's Horn begins, Bolan is in The Bowery, the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island, trailing the origins of a massive amount of domestic drug imports. His trail leads to Ronny Brennan, a top-tier drug dealer with arms in various criminal factions as a Mob businessman. After Bolan destroys a drug warehouse, he pressures Brennan to reveal the source of a huge opium farm in Thailand. After a furious firefight, Bolan forces Brennan to ride shotgun as drug enforcers and low-level dealers tail the two to a local airstrip where Grimaldi is waiting. Quickly, Bolan and Brennan climb aboard as Grimaldi rockets the trio to Southeast Asia. 

With a large load of armament and equipment, Grimaldi's plane flies over the whereabouts of the drug farm. But, he gets a little too low and the plane is shot down on the outskirts of the farm. While pushing Brennan into the bush, both Grimaldi and Bolan attempt to escape the onslaught of waves of Vietnamese soldiers, hired mercenaries, prison sentries, and drug enforcers. In a scene right out of Rambo 2, Bolan and Grimaldi climb a hill to make a final stand against the invading forces. Eventually, the two are forced to surrender and are ushered into the living Hell of prison life in the jungle. 

A sadistic warlord named Torquemandan controls the Thai drug farm and has two top henchman inflicting years of punishment on the farm's prisoners. Bolan and Grimaldi discover that a large majority of the prisoners are American military prisoners-of-war that have been transported into Thailand by the Vietnamese government. Bolan also learns that there's a CIA spook imprisoned as well as many South Vietnamese prisoners that were allies to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. 

The orientation outlines what Bolan and Grimaldi will expect in their new lives. The duo will join the other prisoners as slave labor. They work from dawn until dusk scraping the sap off of poppy seeds (opium) and placing it in buckets. Their only nourishment is a handful of rice and a cup of water at dinner. Most of the prisoners are on the verge of death and are routinely beaten, whipped, tortured, and killed. Bolan is warned by the prisoners to never eat the meat that is served with the rice - it's the cooked flesh of the prisoners that are executed! After the harvest season, the prisoners will carry 100-pounds of opium on their backs and forced to march 200 miles to deliver it. Most will then be executed or die of exhaustion. 

I read Dan Schmidt's Eagle Force installment Death Camp Columbia years ago and loved it for all of the same reasons I loved Devil's Horn. I enjoy Schmidt's workmanlike writing style and his use of ultra-violent prison settings for both of these novels. Death Camp Columbia was authored just two years after Devil's Horn, and features a similar premise when the four-man mercenary team Eagle Force becomes imprisoned in a Columbian jungle Hell. It was obvious that Devil's Horn served as a template for that particular novel. 

Schmidt is an on-the-nose writer that uses a low dose of gun-porn to describe and detail the harrowing action sequences in his men's action-adventure novels. His style incorporates a violent, gory combination laced with plenty of brutal scenes of torture and dismemberment. If you need “brains bashed into pulpy matter” then Schmidt is your guy. He was an active Bolan scribe and had a great handle on the high-numbered version of the character. In Devil's Horn, Schmidt also incorporates a human element to Bolan's suffering, but also a sympathetic, endearing quality to Bolan's love of American soldiers and the overpowering need to free the prisoners-of-war. I also enjoyed both Grimaldi and Bolan's chemistry while enduring the harsh elements and horrendous torture dished out by Torquemandan's henchmen. Needless to say, good things come to those who wait. The inevitable confrontation was worth the price of admission and felt like a satisfying conclusion to one of the most violent Executioner novels I've read. Devil's Horn is an absolute must-read if you love Mack Bolan

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Executioner #12 - Boston Blitz

Don Pendleton's The Executioner storms into the American Northeast with its 12th installment, Boston Blitz. After Bolan's flourish of successful run 'n gun tactics on the West Coast, he learns of some troubling news from his old ally and undercover mobster Leo Turrin. Remember Bolan's little brother? That 14 year-old kid named Johnny from the series debut War Against the Mafia? He's been kidnapped from his secretive witness protection blanket at a prep school. Worse, Bolan's “love of his life”, Val, has been captured as well. Remember Val? I don't. But, in looking at the series order, apparently Val was one of three hotties Bolan was banging way back in the debut. I don't remember her since then, but Bolan sure does. 

In one of the strangest novels of Pendleton's early contributions, Bolan invades Boston and kills over 60 thugs over the course of 30ish hours. He guns through the strip joints, gambling dives, whore houses, bars, mobster pads, country clubs, and so forth. None of it is really told in a compelling narrative, only mentioned to the reader as past events. The reader is disconnected from the action. It's an odd book, and a bizarre way of presenting the story. My biggest problem with it is that I still don't know what the book was about as I read the last few lines. 

From what I can gather, there's a criminal named Al 88 that has risen through the underworld ranks to capture some coveted Boston territory. Harry “The Skipper” Sicilia doesn't want this Al dude to start grabbing huge swaths of prime real-estate, so he kidnaps Johnny and Val to lead Bolan to Boston to start mowing down baddies. Or, did Al 88 kidnap Johnny? None of these people are featured as actual characters in the book (that I can remember), only names dropped in fragmented dialogue. There's Al's wife thrown in the mix that loves her husband, but then helps Bolan's execution. Also added for laughs (?) is this Books Figarone, “Attorney-to-the-Mob”, fellow that Bolan saves and uses as a ploy to lead more mobsters to the chatter gun. 

Boston Blitz isn't particularly memorable, but features some old names that we haven't seen in Bolan books for a long time. There's also a mention of Hal Brognola to part the seas and guide Mack Daddy to his next destination, Washington D.C.'s Capitol Hell. Wait, that was a Penetrator novel. But, yeah, D.C. is next for Bolan.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Executioner #53 - The Invisible Assassins

Author David Wade used the pseudonym of Alan Bomack as an anagram of the fictional hero Mack Bolan. As Bomack, David Wade authored  four titles in the Executioner series (#53 The Invisible Assassins, #58 Ambush on Blood River, #82 Hammerhead Reef, #87 Hellfire Crusade). He also wrote the second Super Bolan entry, Terminal Velocity and co-authored the debut of the S.O.B.s series, Barrabus Run. After recently watching a few Asian martial-arts movies, I wanted a “Bolan vs Ninjas” sort of novel. I went with Wade/Bomack's Executioner #53 The Invisible Assassins, originally published by Gold Eagle in May, 1983.

The book begins with Bolan assisting a young government agent on a stake out involving a world renowned Japanese scientist named Ken Shinoda. Apparently, U.S. intelligence had received chatter of Shinoda meeting with an unknown party in Los Angeles. Once Shinoda appears, he is quickly assassinated by someone in the shadows. After a brief skirmish, the young agent is murdered and Bolan is injured.

After discussions with April and Hal, Bolan wants to learn if Shinoda was buying or selling intelligence. The clues lead to a series of photographs that Bolan discovers in Shinoda's apartment. These photos are of various Japanese leaders and a rival scientist named Okawa. Who are in the men in the photo? Was Shinoda killed for taking these photos? Under the guise of a U.S. Security consultant, Bolan travels to Japan to coordinate training exercise with a high-level security agent named Nakada.

Good Executioner novels typically involve a little bit of sleuth work and a lot of action. Thankfully, David Wade nails the concept and blends a high dose of action into a smooth murder investigation. Through the prescribed 185-pages, Bolan aligns himself with an American female journalist. His adventures involve a number of physical fights in restaurants and alleyways, an escape from a submerged car, and an escape from an imperial fortress called Shoki Castle. I liked the idea that the enemy was part of some grand conspiracy that dates back to ancient times, eventually connecting to a modern day faction called The Circle of the Red Sun. It's all comic book nonsense, but wildly enjoyable.

The Invisible Assassins contains all of the necessary ingredients to tell a great post-Pendleton stand-alone story. The martial-artists, throwing stars, and imperial guard was a unique blend that helped provide a more unique enemy for Bolan. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Executioner #213 - Blood Harvest

California native Mel Odom (b. 1957) was a prolific contributor to the Mack Bolan universe, penning almost 30 titles collectively in the Executioner, Super Bolan and Stony Man series. In addition, Odom has also authored a number of television and film tie-in novels such as Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, Roswell and Blade. But, my experience with Odom is strictly the Mack Bolan titles, in particular the Executioner #213 Blood Harvest, published in 1996. Why? The synopsis indicates that Mack Bolan is fighting zombies in New Orleans. 

In the 1990s, one of the urban legends for young people on the bar scene was that a potential one-night stand could end up with one of you waking in a bathtub of ice and realizing that an organ had been cut from you by black marketers. This premise is used to its full potential in Blood Harvest as readers immerse themselves in this horror story in the book's prologue.

Posing as an F.B.I. agent named Fox, Bolan infiltrates a New Orleans homicide investigation to learn more about the organ harvesting ring. Most of the book's narrative features firefights every other chapter as Bolan targets key players in the organ heist. Eventually, Bolan teams up with a female investigator as the two follow the cohorts involved.

The zombie portion of the premise is somewhat accurate. The problem with the harvesting ring obtaining these organs by torturous methods is the timing. Because of the short lifetime of the organs, removing them and transporting them to the rich buyer provides a real sense of urgency. To resolve the problem, criminals use a voodoo priest named Papa Glapion to cast spells on the victims. By placing them in an "undead" hibernation - not breathing, but still technically alive - the bodies can be easily moved to different locations and then harvested to preserve the goods. 

Those of you who know Odom's writing understand that he is a gun porn enthusiast by describing each make, model and caliber of the weapons used by the fighters. I don't typically like this style and feel that it takes me out of the scene completely. I want to feel what the characters feel, not the well oiled South African automatic shotgun with dual magazines. But Odom's writing is serviceable and Blood Harvest is high on action and short on plot. One doesn't confuse these high-numbered men's action-adventure entries for literary masterpieces. If you want Bolan executing baddies (and the undead) in bars, cemeteries, bayous and oil rigs you've come to the right place.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Executioner #59 - Crude Kill

Chet Cunningham authored six Executioner novels between 1983 and 1986 beginning with the 59th installment, Crude Kill. I have always enjoyed Cunningham's blunt writing style, and I liked his violent Executioner novel, Baltimore Trackdown, the series' 88th entry. With another exceptional Gil Cohen cover, a solid author and the promise of quality consistency, there was no hesitation behind choosing Crude Kill to read and review. 

After liberating hostages from a Milan stronghold, Bolan learns that a mastermind-terrorist named Lufti has targeted an enormous oil tanker called The Contessa. His evil plan is to dump thousands of tons of oil into the Mediterranean Sea if he doesn't obtain millions in gold and the obligatory freeing of all criminal cohorts associated with his criminal empire. Of course the ransom won't be met because Bolan arrives just in time to terminate the baddies. The real enjoyment is the journey to get there.

After working closely with series mainstay pilot Jack Grimaldi, Bolan's first target is to destroy a commandeered former German U-Boat that Lufti's forces are using as protection. Cunningham soaks 40 pages with blood and guts, propelling the narrative, along with Bolan, onto the oil tankard's deck. The remaining 150-pages is saturated with bullets, bravado and bombs. Cunningham's literary style always borders on the grotesque – brains jellied, intestines splattered, flesh searing – but it’s all just an over-the-top attempt to please his dominant male audience. The intense violence factor is probably a prerequisite to write Bolan books. Trust us, none of his fans were tipping off Tipper Gore in 1983.

Crude Kill is another enjoyable Bolan saga sure to please fans of the series. The book also features an explanation from Don Pendleton regarding why he handpicked Chet Cunningham to join his revolving carousel of Bolan authors. Based on just Crude Kill, the reason is obvious.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Executioner #11 - California Hit

After the deadpan narrative in “Vegas Vendetta”, the ninth installment of 'The Executioner' series, I was alarmed that author Don Pendleton had reached a subdued complacency. Thankfully the subsequent entry, “Caribbean Kill”, delivered what most would expect from these early installments – white-knuckle action laced with gunfire. After taking a year hiatus from Pendleton's novels, I was excited to read the series' 11th volume, “California Hit” (1972).

Bolan arrives in San Francisco to extinguish Roman DeMarco's criminal empire. Targeting the Capo Mafioso, Bolan sets his targets on DeMarco's two most loyal generals. As the book opens, there's a sense of familiarity as Bolan stakes out a mob dwelling called The China Gardens. In a blitzkrieg of explosives, Bolan eliminates dozens of enforcers before being ushered to safety by a bodacious Asian woman named Mary Ching. While on the run from a special police task force called Brushfire, Bolan roots out a Chinese criminal cell that is aligning with the mob to force a power struggle within the Mafia ranks. That's a lot to unpack for any reader.

Pendleton's narrative has a lot of forward momentum but mostly these battles have become commonplace within the series. Surprisingly, the most gripping portions were dedicated to characters from Bolan's past. For example, the novel's 10th chapter is titled “Alpha Team”. This of course is a tie-in to Bolan's firefighting team in Vietnam called Team Alpha. It is also the name of a successful spin-off series that debuted in 1982.

“California Hit” also brings to light the fact that Bolan served in some capacity during the Korean War. I'm not mathematically gifted but I think Bolan would have been too young for that campaign. Regardless, these history lessons are connected with one of Bolan's former squad members, Bill Phillips. It's Phillips that opposes Bolan's mission by attempting to quell the flames with his Brushfire team of anti-Bolan personnel. There are a number of cameos or mentions throughout the novel – Leo Turrin, Gadgets Schwarz, Rosario Blancanales and Bolan's brother Johnny.

While “California Hit” won't make any Bolan “best of” lists, it is about par for the course for the series' double-digit entries. There's a number of characters, narrative threads and series' characters to keep readers briskly flipping the pages. The book's last few paragraphs introduces the next mission – protecting Johnny in Bolan's hometown of Pittsfield. I'm excited to see how it plays out in “Boston Blitz”.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Executioner #88 - Baltimore Trackdown

“Baltimore Trackdown” is the 88th entry in the long-running 'The Executioner' series. Written by journeyman Chet Cunningham (1928-2017), the novel was released by Gold Eagle in 1986. Cunningham contributed to a number of Mack Bolan volumes including the 79th installment, “Council of Kings”, which includes characters that later appear in “Baltimore Trackdown”. A series education isn't a prerequisite as these books can still be enjoyed in any order.

Mob kingpin Carlo Nazarione has infiltrated the Baltimore Police Department. With a vast, cascading stream of money, Nazarione and his criminal cohorts have purchased plenty of badges in their quest to run a gambling empire on the East Coast. The mob are using a veteran named Captain Harley Davis to monitor the bribery channels and to solicit new members for the crooked cop brigade. However, one of Mack Bolan's oldest and most trusted confidants, Leo Turrin, has planted an informant within the ranks. It's this collaboration that allows Bolan easy access at his new targets.

For the most part, Cunningham utilizes Don Pendleton's early template to create this rousing Bolan adventure. The paperback deploys series the series trope of a young, innocent woman who's raped and murdered by the criminals as a motivating spark for The Executioner. Bolan, as if he needs more purpose, seeks to avenge her death. Gambling halls and bars are familiar landscapes for Bolan to fulfill his mission, but it's not until page 114 where things really become interesting.

In a clever tie-in with Cunningham's work on “The Executioner 79: Council of Kings”, a hitman named Vince Carboni appears. What's unique is that there is no mention of this character anywhere in the first 114 pages aside from a line stating that Carboni has been hired to finish Bolan for good after a firefight in Portland failed to eliminate the hero. In research, this recollection links to the 79th entry where Carboni is enforcing for the Canzonari's West Coast mob. None of this really matters, just a simple way to inject Carboni into 44 pages of this book.

The author shines as Carboni and Bolan do battle on a farm in rural Maryland. The cat-and-mouse tactics are some of the best scenes in my experience with 'The Executioner' books. Carboni ultimately controls the high ground, manning a 30-06 rifle from a farmhouse window. Bolan, trapped in a shed, attempts to dodge in and out of farm vehicles, buildings and eventually rooms within the house. The battle spills into cornfields, the road and back to the farm again before this side-story finally reaches its conclusion. This battle echoes David Goodis' effective farmhouse gunfight in “Down There”, also known as “Shoot the Piano Player” (1952), only more modern and quite a bit longer.

Overall, this is an exceptional Executioner entry with very engaging narrative and characters. While over the top at times, the book has a surprising sense of realism due to its more personal presentation – urban America on the take. If you are looking for a fantastic post-Pendleton Bolan work, this makes the short-list.

This novel and the entire Mack Bolan universe was discussed on the fifth episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 5, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 05

In this episode, we discuss the massive Mack Bolan universe, including the origin, spin-offs and legacy of "The Executioner". Additionally, Eric reviews the 88th "Executioner" novel, "Baltimore Trackdown", by Chet Cunningham. Tom reviews the newest adult western novel, "Gunsmith: Deadville", by Robert Randisi. Listen below or on streaming services like Apple, Google, Spreaker, YouTube, Stitcher, etc.

Listen to "Episode 05: The Executioner Mack Bolan" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Executioner #70 - Ice Cold Kill

British author Peter Leslie (1922-2007) was a talented writer who penned a number of various literary works in his lifespan. Writing five novels in the popular television tie-in series 'Man from U.N.C.L.E.', Leslie also penned a three book trilogy, 'Father Hayes', about a Catholic priest battling demonic forces. Along with a trilogy of Chicago gangster novels, 'Bruno Farrell' (as Ed Mazzaro), action fans might remember Leslie best as a heavy contributor to the 'Mack Bolan' series. Beginning with “Ice Cold Kill” (1984), Leslie went on to write seven 'The Executioner' titles as well as five giant size 'Mack Bolan' entries. 

“Ice Cold Kill” offers an interesting assignment for Bolan. The Grand Duchess Rytova, an exile from Czarist Russia, asks Bolan to penetrate the Soviet Union and rescue an esteemed scientist. The scientist, Korsun, has created a complex computer that makes deductions that mirror the human brain. In effect, it can make inspired guesses bases on a infinite number of unrelated data. In reality, none of this really matters. We want to see Bolan kill bad guys.

The interesting aspect to the assignment is that Korsun's identity hasn't been fully established. All Rytova and Bolan know is that Korsun wants to defect from the Soviet Union to China, expecting to serve the cause of communism better. Bolan must escort her out of the country but also persuade her to defect to the west. Bolan's persuasion isn't typically in verbal debate. This mission adds a deeper depth to the typical run 'n gun. 

Leslie provides a ton of fireworks through this 180-page advenute. From breaking into the Soviet Union, meeting Korsun (which turns out to be a surprise for the reader) and escaping, there is plenty of action sequences to please genre fans. Aside from the normal episodic delivery, “Ice Cold Kill” is much better than average and a firm entry in this long-running endeavor.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 15, 2019

Super Bolan #04 - Dirty War

In Don Pendleton's “Death Squad” (1969), the second of the long running vigilante series 'The Executioner', we are introduced to Mack Bolan's Vietnam colleagues - Bill Hoffower, Tom Loudelk, Angelo Fontenelli, Juan Andromede, Gadgets Schwartz, Pol Blancanales, Jim Harrington and George Zitka. While it's a short-lived cameo, this death squad assists Bolan with a Mafia hit that goes south. While the entire team is nearly wiped out, it was an interesting concept that would eventually lead to more team-based action in its affiliates like Able Team, Stony Man and Phoenix Force.

Pendleton would pen 37 of the first 38 Executioner novels before handing Gold Eagle the rights to produce the books using a myriad of authors. The stipulation that the author's name be printed on the copyright page is important, allowing fans like myself an easy peek at the book's creator without having to roll the sleeves up for a paper trail (I'm talking to you Killmaster). After 60 volumes of 'The Executioner' (titled 'Mack Bolan' at this point), Gold Eagle decided that they could increase the profits from $2.25 per book to $3.95 by increasing the size to 350+ pages under the 'Super Bolan' series. These were simultaneously released at the same time Executioners were flooding the market, providing plenty of paperback Bolans to meet reader demands.

Writer Stephen Mertz was a Pendleton prodigy and by the early 1980s was knee-deep in the Bolan universe. His resume and experience with Bolan provoked a “retcon” idea of re-imagining earlier events in Bolan's life. Thus, “Super Bolan #4 – Dirty War” is written as a time capsule piece depicting events that would happen to the character during his second tour in Vietnam. The idea of a sprite young Bolan in the hands of a veteran author like Mertz is altogether intriguing. The stars aligned to even have veteran artist Gil Cohen design the cover, the ultimate Bolan fan's dream.

The book begins in the present day as Bolan is thinking back to his Death Squad's unfortunate deaths. He's on a Mafia hit of his own and thinking back to his time in Vietnam as sergeant and the various missions that his men performed. In a unique chapter one, 30-yr old Bolan is at Pittsfield Municipal Airport in Massachusetts with his family. We know this would be the last time he would see his parents/sister and Mertz writes this into the narrative. Bolan has premonitions that he won't see his family again. Kudos to the author for also allowing some backstory on Mack's father Sam and his early fights with the mob enforcers. At one point, before Mack's departure, Sam is attacked and Mack comes to his aid. It's this aspect that I don't think was conveyed by Pendleton – that Mack knew what was happening back home prior to the first few letters arriving on his second tour. In this re-imagining, he knew all along. 

The action heats up in Vietnam as we see Bolan and his death squad liberating a young woman and child from a NVA stronghold near the Cambodian border. It's intense cat-and-mouse tactics that mirror Bolan's solo fights much later in life. But here we have Bolan as squad leader, effectively orchestrating the Hell that is unleashed on the NVA base. In a neat fan experience, Mertz provides a cameo of pilot Jack Grimaldi. Familiar readers will know that Grimaldi and Mack originally meet in Executioner #10, later to become longtime allies within the Stony Man group. Retconning that exchange, Mertz has Grimaldi rescue the Death Squad from the NVA fight and pilot the group to safety. While Grimaldi and Bolan never officially meet here, both are respectful to each other leading Grimaldi to think to himself, “I wonder if our paths will ever meet again”. This is fun stuff. 

“Dirty War” eventually tangles with plenty of firefights and escapes, building in a hot lead assault on Bolan's camp, a hunt and destroy mission and the eventual escape from enemy patrols in Cambodia. At 376-pages, it never gets too exhausting with dialogue or slow motion. This is 80s Bolan – 1,2,3,Kill at its finest. Mertz is clearly having a lot of fun with the concept and adds tremendous depth to the characters that made up that original Death Squad. Without giving away the spoilers, we know that Gadgets and Pol would survive that Mafia battle and go on to form Able Team (launched in 1982 by Gold Eagle).

Fans of the Bolan universe, this is simply mandatory reading. It's fun, indulgent and clever. It's clearly designed for the series' fans but should be considered an important part of the Bolan origin story. If you are new to the series, I would start here and then work into Executioners 1 and 2. But regardless of order, just read it.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Executioner #39 - The New War

There's no denying that Don Pendleton's 'The Executioner' (1969) was the catalyst for 70s and 80s men's action adventure fiction. The series went on to spawn hundreds of imitators with the majority fixed on the idea of “er” at the end. Thus, 'The Enforcer', 'The Butcher', 'The Punisher', 'The Avenger' brands are born. Other than one novel, the first 38 books are penned by Don Pendleton (the oddity was the 16th entry, William Crawford's “Sicilian Slaughter”). After legal battles with publisher Gold Eagle, and maybe just lack of ideas, Pendleton left the series in 1980 to focus on 'Joe Copp' and 'Ashton Ford' installments. In turn, Gold Eagle continued on without Pendleton's pen, rebranding it as 'Mack Bolan' with entry number 39, “The New War”. 

Like all great bands, there comes a time when the act either calls it quits or simply evolves into the next lineup featuring the “replacement” singer. They've all done it – AC/DC, Journey, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden...it seems to be the rite of passage. With 1981's “The New War”, Mack Bolan's life changes under new writers. The mission remains the same, but the methods vary drastically. Under writer Saul Wernick, familiar readers find Bolan fighting crazed terrorists in Central America – for the US government. 

Bolan, fugitive from justice, wanted by the F.B.I., C.I.A. and even a “Bolan Taskforce”, is now working for the US government. It would only make sense right? Can't beat them, join them. But it's the other way around here – the government is joining Bolan's fight. 

The book's opening pages is not only important to the direction of the series, but it also builds what we now consider the Bolan Universe – the series of “Able Team”, “Phoenix Force” and “Stony Man” gain a foundation here. 'The Executioner' series regulars like April Rose and Hal Brognola are now in charge as a directive of the C.I.A. (sort of). Specifically, Mack Bolan no longer exists, instead he has been created as John Macklin Phoenix, a retired Colonel. The entire Phoenix Program is now a covert operation running out of a Virginia farm called Stony Man. It's officially a C.I.A. “quiet house” spread over 160 acres. 

Behind the curtain are plenty of familiar Mack Bolan allies. Carl Lyons, Hermann “Gadgets” Schwarz and Rosario “Pol” Blancanales are at Stony Man. These three would later collaborate as Able Team (series debut in 1982). Other Stony Man players are here as well, including Jack Grimaldi and Leo Turrin, both supporting characters as far back as single-digit entries in The Executioner. Billed as “Stony People”, they are mostly just spectators in “The New War”. 

Bolan's mission is to locate an American secret agent named Laconia. He's been captured by Islamic terrorists and imprisoned on a jungle base between Colombia and Panama. After days of intense torture he's hovering between worlds and the rush is on for Bolan to capture or kill him. Bolan, understanding the sense of urgency, is battling overwhelming forces and a looming hurricane that could play havoc for any air support. 

First and foremost, Saul Wernick isn't a remarkable writer. While average at best, his prose contains plenty of exclamation marks that were outdated and unnecessary even for 1981. Pulpy hyperbole isn't typical for a Bolan novel, thus Wernick's writing style alienates fans and creates even more abrasion. However, I'm probably committing an act of treason when I say that I want Bolan fighting internationally. I prefer Bolan vs Armed Terrorist more than any mafia war. I love Pendleton, but after more than 10 novels of Mack vs Mob...I needed some liberation. “The New War” introduces a lot of interesting ideas and expands the vigilante idea into a robust and entertaining concept. Even though this novel isn't written with a distinct literary prose, it's a much-needed new Bolan that introduces me to the Stony Man universe. From here, one can use “The New War” as an “origin” story. A simple reboot for a new generation of fans. I'm one of them.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Executioner #10 - Caribbean Kill

It's no secret that I really didn't care for the ninth installment of Don Pendleton's vigilante series 'The Executioner'. “Vegas Vendetta” was a marathon of complacency, resting on the laurels of Bolan's status as the mob killer. With that novel, the narrative was one-dimensional, relying on planning and plotting The Strip's war of attrition, but Pendleton just never got to the white-knuckle action. Or, really any action. Thankfully, the author shifts gears with the tenth volume, “Caribbean Kill”. It begins and ends with a bang.

Bolan, fresh from his Vegas hit, boards a plan and haphazardly flies it smack dab into a mob mansion on Puerto Rico's southern shoreline. Bailing before impact, the flying firebomb scorches the site, scattering Glass Bay's mob army into the jungle. The tone is set as Bolan diagnoses his situation: He had two full eight-round clips of ammo, plus six rounds in the service clip. He was literally up a tree, soaked to the skin with sticky salt water. He was hungry, and he was just about physically exhausted. Less than a quarter-mile away, an army of some fifty to seventy-five guns was methodically sweeping the periphery of the bay in a determined hunt for his person – page 32.

From some brief but captivating cat and mouse tactics, Bolan begins to diminish and demoralize the ranks, eventually catching a ride into San Juan where the majority of the book's action takes place. Bolan eventually befriends a female cop named Eve. She's running a covert scheme to take down a mobster named Sir Edward. The two become a romantic item, with the author going as far as describing Eve as the Female Executioner. They hide out with farming couple named Juan and Rosalita while the mob scours the countryside for their whereabouts. 

With the help of a pilot named Grimaldi, Bolan is able to ebb the tide. Hunting both Sir Edward and Quick Tony Lavagni (had a cameo in Executioner #05), the fight takes him through the jungle, up the shoreline and into the city streets. It's this wild-ride that's bumpy, thrilling and laced with gunfire. With “Caribbean Kill”, Don Pendleton is firing on all cylinders. Place this one up there with the series debut, “Nightmare in New York” and “Chicago Wipe-out” as early standouts.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Executioner #09 - Vegas Vendetta

It was only a matter of time before author Don Pendleton placed his beloved vigilante Mack Bolan into the city of sin. “Vegas Vendetta” is the ninth entry of 'The Executioner' and was released by Pinnacle in 1971. After what I would consider to be one of the early series standouts, 'Chicago Wipe-out', the bar was set rather high for the author to deliver another quality effort. Sadly, this installment is the worst of the series thus far. 

Other than the book's beginning, featuring Bolan in the familiar high ground situation of attack, there's absolutely no action. As I slogged through it, all 180 miserable pages, I found myself consistently checking what was left, measuring the amount of pages, checking page numbers...things no author would ever want to hear about his or her work. But, it's a genuine stinker because there's a skim plot to develop devoid of any interesting characters that would otherwise make the dialogue tolerable. 

Bolan infiltrates the mob after crippling the Talifero branch between Lake Mead and Las Vegas. After a brief reunion with his old ally Carl Lyons, Bolan settles on the strip utilizing the familiar cloak and dagger routine that worked so well in prior entries. There's pages and pages of Bolan ordering around mob goons (as Mr. Vinton), moving money and participating in daily rituals that ultimately just go nowhere. The mob boss here is “Joe the Monster”, whom Bolan wants to cut-off while liberating a comedian named Tommy Anders (who has an awesome commentary on politics and entertainment for a few pages). By book's end...some money changed hands. 

“Vegas Vendetta” works better than Nyquil. Leave it, skip it and seek out better books.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Executioner #08 - Chicago Wipe-Out

Fresh off destroying New York's Gambella family, Mack heads to the mid-west for 'The Executioner #08: Chicago Wipe-Out”. Pendleton could have titled this “Chicago Whiteout” with all of the action blanketed in a heavy snowstorm that's paralyzing the city. With the usual blend of mobsters, cold steel and a beauty on the run, the author creates another stellar entry in what has become the defining series of the vigilante genre. 

The novel's prologue wisely outlines the prior seven novels with one paragraph dedicated to each book. This was a pleasant surprise that showcases Pendleton's vision of the character and Bolan's experience in the fight. The cosmically poetic closing lines of the prologue sets the tone for Chicago:

“It's going to be a wipe-out...them or me. I have lost the ability to judge the value of all this. But I'm convinced that it matters, somewhere, which side wins. It matters to the universe. I consign my fate to the needs of the universe.” 

The opening chapter is a violent exercise as Bolan sets up shop near a large house owned and operated by the Mob. As each bolt rams home the Weatherby .460, Pendleton is sure to describe the end result. One by one the bullets penetrate the Mafia's defenses before Bolan is forced to crawl from the house and move to face to face action with a Beretta. This is an intense, exhilarating opening chapter that finds Bolan rescuing the evening's entertainment, a young and beautiful girl named Jimi. The hunt is on for a safe spot to place her, but first there's an obligatory shower scene where Jimi thanks Bolan for the save. 

One of the best scenes of the first eight books is here, with Bolan and Jimi surrounded by thick snow and the Mob's gunners outside their motel room. Bolan provides quick instructions for Jimi and the two quietly creep through the darkness to escape. The action is from Jimi's point of view, blinded by darkness and fear while she hears Bolan's suppressed shots in the night. As  the bodies fall, the two flee to a nearby attorney named Leopold Stein. Stein has been put out of business by crooked Chicago politicians and Mob heads despite his outpouring of testimony and evidence citing the Mob's influence on the city. Bolan deposits Jimi here as he prepares for the final battle with Chi-Town's evil.

While the first half was all-out war, built on an incredible pace and the proverbial “all-guns-blazing”, the second half is a cat-and-mouse effort penned perfectly. Bolan dons a disguise and cleverly walks into the lion's den. Once he sets the Mob and police against each other, it's a race to the finish with Bolan's firepower in the front seat of the Warwagon. This is an effective, well-written finale that finds Bolan finishing his mission while still moving the chess pieces for his own gain. While not as fulfilling as the book's opening half, the finale left nothing on the table in its annihilation principles. This is seriously one of the best books of the genre and is just another testimony to Don Pendleton's staggering talent. This one is a mandatory read.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Executioner #77 - Hollywood Hell

“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.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Executioner #07 - Nightmare in New York

The seventh installment of ‘The Executioner’ series is 1971’s “Nightmare in New York”. Finally, the riveting action arrives both domestically and sequentially in this triumphant return to form for author Don Pendleton. After the series’ debut quartet, “War…”, “Death…”, “Battle…” and “Miami…”, which are held in high esteem by fans of the series and genre, the thrill-ride slowed as it was exported to Europe. The fifth and sixth volumes, “Continental…” and “Assault…”, were off-target for Bolan and his experienced skill-set. Humor, perverse sexcapades and a bizarre treatment of the character left plenty to be desired. With “Nightmare…”, the series experiences a revival with one of the best entries in Pendleton’s initial 38-title run.

A dark, ominous tone is set in the book’s prologue. Pendleton recaps the first six books and advises that Phase One and Phase Two of the Mafia War, which he calls “The War of Attrition”, has ended. He promises readers that Phase Three is here and it’s “The War of Destruction”. Pendleton prophesizes, “He will hit them now in their omniscience, in their omnipotence; their omnipresence, he reasons, will then fold under its own weight. Bolan is in the saddle, his mount is destiny, his target is the Kingdom of Evil – wherever its ugly head may rise”. The grim nature at the beginning spills into the book’s opening scenes of Bolan arriving stateside through Kennedy International airport. Flanking the emerging Bolan is Sam “The Bomber” Chianti and his Manhattan-based Gambella Family. In a strange, yet superbly written encounter, Bolan exits a helicopter into a hail of gunfire. He escapes - with hot lead in the shoulder and a small tear in his hip - thanks to a trio of young beauties.

The book starts to settle in as Bolan is nursed back to health by the three young women. The author takes the opportunity to establish a relationship and continue to build on Bolan’s need for love despite hopeless abandonment of normalcy. The Gambella Family is now the primary target for Bolan, particularly Chianti’s lifelines. In Bolan’s acute awareness of Mafia operations, he leisurely kills three hired hands in a hotel, stuffing them in a trunk before shaking up the mob shops and racketeering joints. In hilarious scenes, we see Bolan talk the talk and walk the walk right into the lairs of lieutenants and Mob don Freddie Gambella (snatching a cool 25K on the way out). Frequently, he kills and leaves his trademark marksman badges. This is the classic Bolan we saw in Phase One and Phase Two, that slick and violent destroyer; the swift and cold hand delivering point blank justice.

After learning of the brutal rape, torture and death of one of the trio of young girls, Bolan is the grimmest we’ve seen him since the original “War Against the Mafia”. He hits the mob hard in a meat packing plant, at one-point firing round after round into the head of a deceased enforcer. Her age, beauty and prior friendship sets Bolan on a vengeance trail. He calls a local television station and coolly warns, “I am going to destroy the Gambella Family. One by one, crew by crew, business by business – I am going to wipe them. I will not be bought off or scared off by threats against defenseless and innocent persons, and if one more sweet kid is turned to turkey because of me, then these turkeymakers are going to discover what a real nightmare is all about. There is no escape for these people. I know each of them, I know where they go and what they do, and I am going to hunt them down, all of them, and I am going to execute them.”

This book not only flashes the same gritty badge as the early part of the series, it also recalls key characters. Bolan has a verbal exchange with undercover enforcer Leo Turrin, an older ally from the opening quartet. He asks Turrin about Valentina and the status on his younger brother (whom we haven’t heard much about until now). I love how Bolan explains to Turrin in the exchange, “I’m no detective. I’m an infantryman”. No truer words have been spoken about this turbulent character. The book’s finale captures Bolan’s barbarous assault on Stoney Lodge, the Gambella headquarters. The heated exchange leaves Bolan with only one choice – go fight the next battle in a war he can’t win. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Executioner #06 - Assault on Soho

At the end of 'Continental Contract', Bolan was in a furious nighttime run 'n gun with the mob in France. He's attempting to escape Europe with a still-beating heart. The beauty queen knockout from the last book (does her name even matter) helps Bolan into the English Channel. Now, 'Assault on Soho' begins with Bolan in London, trying to punch a ticket to fly back to America. His interference is another short-skirted bombshell, Ann Franklin, who warns Bolan of goon danger and escorts him to a sex palace called The Club De Sade. Really. Why? I have no Earthly idea...and I'm not sure author Don Pendleton knows either. This is unfortunate series filler while thinking of the next good adventure for Bolan. 

After the stellar 'Continental Contract', Pendleton messy-shits the whole bed with 'Assault on Soho'. I'm not sure if his prior erotic writing was creeping in or if he was asked to insert a bunch of kinky stuff. The end result is a big poo-poo in the series and one that should probably have been better off with some sort of 70s spy jazz that was booming at the time. I'm not sure what the story was really about...other than Bolan escaping the mob by going back and forth from London's streets to the sex palace...over and over. 

There's a Major Stone involved, a leftover mobster named Danno Giliamo from 'Miami Massacre' and this Ann Franklin bimbo that has somehow fallen in love with the five minutes she's spent with Mack Daddy. There's a really good action sequence early on...and the rest of the time Bolan takes a backseat to a wacky sex mystery. Our hero is sitting front row while people mysteriously die...and none of it makes any sense. The only interesting bit is that the mob has now formed an alliance to kill Bolan...and I'm sure this will come up in future volumes. Otherwise, stay clear of this one.

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The Executioner #05 - Continental Contract

Don Pendleton's fifth book in his "Executioner" saga continues with "Continental Contract". This book will be the first of the series to export the action to Europe. It only makes sense to travel abroad after the highly intense mafia conflict fought domestically over the last three volumes. With that being said, the book's opening pages has Bolan arrive at Dulles International Airport in DC. Quickly, he realizes he's walked into mob gunners and has a furious action sequence before donning a disguise and jumping on a flight to Europe. Oddly, Bolan finds out that a celebrity passenger on the plane, Gil Martin, looks exactly like him. 

Now, the cat and mouse tactics move to Paris where Bolan assumes the identity of Martin in a clever switch-a-roo. In one of the book's key action sequences, Bolan annihilates a house ripe with whores, moving the beauty goods downstairs while he topples the upper levels with his "machine pistol". This ultimately proves to be a notoriously bad deal for the whores. But, more on that later. In vintage "Executioner" style, Bolan gets escorted to a hotel by some British writer/tramp and the two try to get undressed as quickly as possible. Later, Bolan meets a British celebrity in her own right named Cici. Early, she thinks Bolan is the Gil Martin guy but later figures out he isn't. None of this makes much sense and it's all swept under the rug.

The whole premise of the book arises when Bolan learns that the mob goons are taking their revenge by transporting all of the well-fed, pampered whores to Africa where they can be starving, throw-rug whores. Bolan doesn't like it, communicates with a news anchor and reports that he will execute a mobster every hour until the whores are placed back where they belong - on their backs in the Paris hotels making bank. In some of the best "Executioner" scenes thus far in the series, Bolan "hits" a mobster an hour before tangling with the thickest of the crew in Monaco.

Pendleton writes a ton of different angles into 'Continental Contract' - some backstory on the mobsters, the celebrity stuff, Bolan questioning his longevity - but the most under-developed is the one that peaked my curiosity the most. Early in the book the mob contracts one of Bolan's ex-Nam teammates to meet up with Bolan and betray him. There's a passionate moment when the two eventually meet at the end...but I wish more focus had been provided on this whole angle. Nevertheless, 'Continental Contract' is an early highlight of the series. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. How does Bolan get stateside again? It's coming up in 'Assault on Soho'. 

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Executioner #04 - Miami Massacre
















Don Pendleton's fourth "The Executioner" book, "Miami Massacre", is more of a chain reaction event that ultimately ties up some loose ends. Protagonist Mack Bolan's West Coast war on the DiGeorge Mafia family dominated the second and third entries and left the crime-ridden empire in a shambles. After his Palm Springs "gutting", amidst a police manhunt and a Mob kill contract, Bolan heads eastward to flush out the rest of the rats.

Despite this book's title the opening pages are set in Phoenix, AZ with Bolan targeting the offshoot sector of DiGeorge's family. Looking for Johnny"The Musician" Portocci, a DiGeorge head, Bolan ends up dismantling what little is left at the Phoenix stronghold. Equipped with his ever present Luger 9mm, Bolan knocks off a few guards before finding a prostitute that advises him the entire clan has left for Miami to attend a Mafia planning event. This sets the stage for the eventual "Miami Massacre".

What I really love about this book is that Pendleton turns the pages with a very violent presentation. This is a Mack Bolan that is driven by hatred for the Mob. It is his reason for rising and existing each day. In several scenes the author has Bolan as a reaper of death, targeting various Mafia members in their beachfront hotels and villas. In one riveting sequence, Bolan goes door to door and brings his brand of point blank justice. It's Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" in ten minutes of blood and gun-powder. The pages themselves seemed soaked with this lethal energy that consumes our hero. 

Non-spoilers for those who should be reading "The Executioner"; two prior characters show up to really create a whirlwind closure to this particular DiGeorge storyline. The book's climax comes in three exciting waves that left me surprised with each "false ending". One scene involves an ambush that turns into a front lawn skirmish between Bolan, an ally, a cop and Mafia enforcers. A second sequence near the end has Bolan hunting the Mob in an industrial park (kudos to a small piece of gun porn). The end comes on the water with a boat battle.  

"Miami Massacre" has a little romance, loads of gunplay and a calculated push to make Bolan the unstoppable killing machine that he is. In a number of ways this is the end of the four-part story. The next one picks up in Europe as Bolan's allies have a welcome addition to his Mafia war and a tempting invitation to take the fight globally. Stay tuned for "Continental Contract"!

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Monday, January 9, 2017

The Executioner #03 - Battle Mask
















Don Pendleton continues his "The Executioner" series with this third entry, "Battle Mask", released in 1970 via Pinnacle Books. In the last book, "Death Squad", we saw protagonist Mack Bolan target two Mafia families in L.A. Bolan's crew was wiped out during their attack on Julian DiGeorge and his mob family. DiGeoge somehow escaped in the book's finale and Bolan continues to be pursued by law enforcement and Mafia hitmen after bringing war to both the east and west coast families. 

"Battle Mask" begins with Bolan recounting the firefight that killed off his death squad of colleagues and friends in the last book. DiGeorge enforcers arrive being led by Lou "Screwy Looey" Pena. Bolan sees their approach and lights them up with flares and a .50 caliber before rolling out. On his way to Palm Springs he is tracked by more enforcers and manages to kill off a few with an assist from an older man. Bolan switches vehicles and arrives at New Horizons, a plastic surgery facility ran by one of his old war buddies named Brantzen. The author provides a little backstory on how the two of them used to supply medical help to villagers in Vietnam. Bolan asks Brantzen to do a new face so he can avoid the numerous detectives and hitmen that are hunting him. Brantzen agrees and Bolan gets a "battle mask".

In the meantime the search continues for Bolan via Captain Tim Braddock of the LAPD. He is one of the main characters and was featured in the last book. His investigation and pursuit deemed "Hardcase" is heating up. Sergeant Carl Lyons is in on the action and is playing a bluff on Braddock. In the last book Lyons allowed Bolan to escape and soon Braddock realizes that Lyons isn't too motivated to capture Bolan. He dismisses Lyons from the investigation and I am assuming this will eventually lead to Lyons joining Bolan's fight in later books (an early peek ahead shows Lyons as an Able Team member).


One of the more enjoyable parts of Pendleton's "The Executioner" debut in "War Against the Mafia" was that Bolan joined the ranks of the mob to kill from within. Like that book Bolan does the same here. With his new face he infiltrates DiGeorge's family by teaming up with the don's daughter Andrea. She has a dislike for her father and senses that his goons had something to do with the murder of her husband.  Bolan disguises himself as her fiance, a Mafia good from New Jersey named Frank Lambretta. Soon DiGeorge hires Lambretta to be an enforcer and pegs him as Frank Lucky. 

Once Bolan accepts the job as mob enforcer to DiGeorge he begins a careful dissection of the family and their assets. He spills important dates and deals to Carl Lyons and between Bolan and the police the DiGeorge empire is slowly dismantled. Bolan targets Pena and his crew as well as a enforcer named Marasco. In typical Pendleton fashion the reader is thrust into car chases and shootouts as the noose is placed on DiGeorge. The climax could have been a little better but I'm not complaining. 

The end result is a really good rebound from the lackluster "Death Squad". This third book in the series recaptures a lot of the high-octane action of the debut and is spread throughout the book in many different angles. Aside from the Mafia portions there are some really good side-stories that sort of break up the detective work being done by both Bolan and Braddock. Overall a great book and one that sets the series back on course. 

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