Friday, July 7, 2017

Forgotten Books: RED HORSE (Executioner 226) by Will Murray

I’m a big fan of Don Pendleton’s Executioner books (1-15 and 17-38) and Steve Mertz’s entries (43, 48, 52, 62, 64, 67, 73, 76, 92, 94 and the unnumbered opus Dirty War), which are very Pendletonesque, but beyond that I’ve sampled only a couple, which means there are more than 450 I haven’t read, and don’t expect to. But I’ve long been on the lookout for Red Horse (number 226), which I knew to be the one and only volume penned by our generation’s Kenneth Robeson, Mr. Will Murray. I was poking around in a Goodwill store the other day, and there it sat. It sits there no more.  

“I wrote it as a lark,” Will said in an interview in 1997, and a lark it is. The action takes place on his home turf—the Boston area—though in the downtrodden Roxbury neighborhood rather than Will’s own Quincy. Though there are enough Pendleton-flavored lines to assure you you’re reading an Executioner story, there’s no attempt to echo Pendleton’s style. The surprise was that I found no hint of Lester Dent’s style, either. This is a Will Murray I hadn’t met before. He’s grimly serious, and carries it well.

Still, I couldn’t help looking for Dent and Doc influence in the story, and believe I found some.

A series of seemingly pointless fire bombings attracts the attention of Mack Bolan, and when a Massachusetts state trooper is brutally murdered, he descends on Boston with a vengeance. Adopting the cover of a cab driver, Bolan roams the streets looking for trouble, and quickly finds it. The bad guys he encounters are all costumed alike, a common habit of henchmen in Doc Savage adventures. In this case, they wear black jump suits and matching ski masks. And in another Dent-like touch, they exhibit inexplicable behavior: they’re all furiously chewing something while performing their evil deeds.

Bolan shows us he’s still the Executioner with a couple of firefights, but when an apartment building catches fire, he shows us his Savage side. Instead of relentlessly pursuing the bombers, he takes time out to play hero, doing his best to rescue a woman and a boy from the burning building.

Later, thanks to his Stony Man crew, Bolan acquires a supercar that would have been right at home in Doc’s garage. It has heat-resistant ceramic armor like that on a NASA space shuttle. The plating also resists bullets, but is much lighter than steel. “It’ll take anything up to a tank round,” the mechanic says, “and ask for more.” It also has bulletproof glass, metal-studded flatproof tires, a NASCAR roll cage and an onboard computer, and can do zero to sixty in three point two seconds.

Knowing Will’s fondness for playing name games, I was watching for tributes around every corner. In that department, I didn’t do so hot. There’s a character named Spillane, which is pretty obvious, and one named Mcilwraith, which may be a hat tip to the Weird Tales editor of that name. I thought I’d spotted another in a reference to a Wentworth Institute, but it turns out there really is such a college in Boston (no doubt named by a Spider fan). Foley could be inspired by a dead Continental Op, Dion by he of the Belmonts, Hannibal by Lecter, and Weatherly by U.N.C.L.E., but all seem tenuous. Any of these names ring other bells?

Harry Foley
Aunt Ora
Carl Shaner
Mrs. Hawkins
Dion Hawkins
Hannibal Youngblood
Kevin Reynolds
Ray Zankowski
Sam Morgan
Lark Younglood
Kirk Weatherly
Curt Upton Weatherly
Tony Bonfiglio


George said...

I'm a fan of Will Murray's work. I'll track down a copy of RED HORSE. Thanks for the heads up!

Anonymous said...

a couple of other really good Executioner authors are Mel Odem (in 1st 200 books and Charles (Chuck) Rogers who is my favorite after Don.