Back in the '70s, The Executioner was one of my favorite series. Don Pendleton's prose was stylish and compelling. The plotting was tight, and the action came fast and furious. Mack Bolan was a new breed of pulp hero, more deadly than The Shadow, The Spider and all of his other predecessors combined. I read the first thirty-eight books (all but one by Pendleton himself) and liked them so much I read them again.
But after number 38, the magic died. Pendleton sold the series - including his own name - to a new publisher, and everything changed. Bolan's one-man war against the Mafia was over. He got a new name -John Phoenix- and was sanctioned by the government to fight terrorists and other threats to freedom around the world. I tried a couple of the new ones, but they didn't grab me, and I bid the series a fond farewell.
Then last year, after enjoying a few Steve Mertz books, I decided to hunt down his contributions to the series. And damn, I'm glad I did. Steve assisted Don Pendleton on some of the original books, and developed a great feel for the character. The Iranian Hit is the first (of twelve) that he wrote on his own, and it reads like the real thing.
This book was published in 1982. Here's yours truly
hobnobbing with the author himself at the 1982 Bouchercon.
(Photo courtesy of Sir Arthur Conan Scott)
From the title, I figured Bolan would be kicking Iranian butt over in Iran. But nope, this one takes place in the suburbs of Washington D.C., and while a lot of the kicked butts belong to Iranians, an equal number are attached to his old playmates in the Mafia. A renegade Iranian general has snubbed his nose at the Ayatollah and set up his own criminal operation in the U.S. Now Khomeini has sent a hit squad after him, and while U.S. officials would like to see the general dead, they can't let the Iranians take him out on our soil. So who they gonna call? Mack Bolan, of course.
This one brought back a lot of memories, reminding me why the original series was so great. I'll be digging into the rest of the Mertz entries, which, for the records, are numbers 43, 48, 52, 62, 64, 67, 73, 76, 92, 94 and the unnumbered opus Dirty War.
Meanwhile, The Executioner has been rolling right along. It boggles the mind to realize the original series is now up to number 435, and there have been more than 300 additional adventures published as Stony Man, Super-Bolan and plain old Mack Bolan books. Does that make Bolan the busiest fictional character of all time? Is there any other hero who has starred in more than 700 novels? Maybe you can think of one, but I sure can't. And here's an even bigger question: Is there any living human who has read all 700+ books? Yikes!