Friday, March 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA by Don Pendleton

Reading this book again was like reuniting with a long-lost friend. I read all 37 of Don Pendleton’s Executioner books sometime in the ‘70s, and again in the ‘80s (he wrote books 1 thru 15 and 17-38, with number 16, Sicilian Slaughter, written by “Jim Peterson,” aka William Crawford).

When Gold Eagle took over the series with new authors in 1980, I read the first, judged it far below par, and gave it up. Only years later did I discover Steve Mertz had written a handful for the Gold Eagle line, and done Pendleton proud.

On this reading, I was struck once again by Mack Bolan’s strength of conviction. I can’t think of another character, fictional or not, who is so damn sure of his role in life. It isn’t cockiness, or even self-confidence. He’s always well aware his next mission could be his last. He just knows what needs doing, and if he doesn’t do it, no one will. So off he goes. No doubts, and damn sure no fear.

At this point, just beginning his long paperback career, Bolan is a little like Don Quixote. The Mafia is a mighty big windmill, and he has no expectation of winning this war. He’s simply determined to fight it, and keep on fighting it for as long as he can.
Pendleton’s prose here is good, tight and tough, but stylistically, Pendleton is just getting warmed up. By the time he really gets going - later in the series - he gives the “poetry of violence” ascribed to Raymond Chandler a whole new meaning.

At one point, in discussing Bolan, a couple of mobsters make reference to the Phantom and The Shadow. And whenever Bolan stages a hit, he leaves a calling card in the form of a marksman's medal, hugely reminiscent of The Spider. Makes me wonder: Was Pendleton a pulp fan?

Last time I read the series, I felt the first three books (this one, along with Death Squad and Battle Mask) formed a sort of trilogy, setting the stage for the series proper. Once those three housekeeping books were out of the way, Bolan was off on his rampage around the country, and that’s when Pendleton’s style really began to pop.

At this stage, had someone told Mack Bolan he’d need only thirty-eight books to cripple the mob and divert his attentions to terrorists instead, he’d have scoffed at the notion. And Don Pendleton, no doubt, would have been astounded to hear there would be well over six hundred Mack Bolan novels, plus the spin-off series Able Team, Phoenix Force and Stony Man. The series was officially cancelled last year, after 47 years of continuous publication, but I’ll be mighty surprised if it doesn’t charge back from the dead. Especially if we finally get a movie.

Over the years, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Vin Diesel have all been slated to play Bolan on screen, but all four projects fell through. In 2014, Warner Brothers got the rights, planning to star Bradley Cooper, but I’ve heard nothing about it since. Will it happen before I croak? Jeez, I hope so. 

First published by Pinnacle in 1969, War Against the Mafia has been given new life by Open Road Media. They have now reissued the first three volumes in trade paperback, and the all 37 Pendleton volumes as eBooks. I found those first three books recently at the public library. The Executioner in the library. Who'd a thunk it?

P.S. Last week, Ben Boulden posted a piece by Steve Mertz discussing Don Pendleton's pre-Bolan work - a series of sleaze books featuring private eye Stewart Mann, written as by "Stephan Gregory." Those books (minus the sleaze) need reprinting! That post is HERE, and is extremely worthy of your attention.


Unknown said...

I need to reread some of these, too, and soon.

It should be "Gold Eagle" instead of "Gold Medal" when you talk about the publishers.

Graham Powell said...

I read ad many of these in my younger years. I did think Pendleton was just getting warmed up here, though Death Squad is my personal favorite.

George said...

I read the first dozen EXECUTIONER novels back in the 1970s. Then I moved on to THE DESTORYER series. But Pendleton should get credit for creating the genre.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks Bill. Guess I had a Golden brain fart.

Death Squad is a great one, Graham, but also left me depressed. Twice.

True, George. The Destroyer probably needs rereading, too.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I continue to read and collect Mack Bolan, Able Team, and Phoenix Force novels. I have never read Stony Man, though. I find them all very entertaining. I have also read about the Bradley Cooper project. There was a time when I thought someone like Tom Berenger would make the ideal Mack Bolan.

TC said...

Pendleton was interviewed in Marvel Comics' magazine Marvel Preview #2 in the 1970's. He said that The Executioner (and other paperback adventure series, like The Destroyer and Death Merchant) had been compared to the "hero" pulp magazines, and that the suggestion had been made that he had revived the genre in a new format. But he said that the pulps were "before my time," and that he didn't remember much about them.

Lohr McKinstry said...

I read the original series in the 1970s and '80s (donated them to a library book sale in the 1990s) and liked them. Bolan does have too-easy access to heavy machine-guns and rocket launchers, against which the Mafia is pretty helpless. After Pendleton left (and later died) I tried a few and decided to pass. They all said "Don Pendleton's The Executioner" and no author's name I could find.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks for the no-pulp info, TC.

The early Gold Eagles sometimes had a line that said, "Special thanks and acknowledgements to so-and-so for his contributions to this work." Which meant he flat-out wrote it. I don't have any of the more recent volumes.

Mathew Paust said...

Been a long long while since I read any Pendleton (or his "contributors"). Got an itch now to dig those paperbacks out and look them over again,