Nov 142013
 
Ashton Ford #6


It started in Hollywood, but soon became the story more astounding than the most incredible movie scenario. Ashton Ford's assignment seemed at first uninviting, even mundane. The tennis playing husband of an aging, though still beautiful, star needed some help with his wife's "unnatural compulsions and obsessions with UFO's and the occult." The lovely actress was convinced that someone, somewhere in space was calling her. At first skeptical, Ashton was to find that everything she believed was true. Because soon the unseen beings in contact with one earthly woman would make themselves know to him in the most surprising ways. Creating an encounter of the closest  kind the earth has known in years. And taking Ashton on an awe inspiring journey through the farthest reaches of both time and space.

Printing History
Written by Don Pendleton (1927-1995)

Warner Books, Inc
Popular Library
ISBN 445 20260 (USA)
March 1988
ISBN 445 20261 (Canada)
March 1988

 Posted by at 4:51 am
Oct 212013
 

A big thanks to Stephen Mertz for doing this interview – Stephen should need no introduction, as he’s had a huge impact on the men’s adventure genre over the years. In this interview he discusses his early days working with Don Pendleton, his years with Gold Eagle, the creation of the MIA Hunter series and others…and the promising tidbit that there might be more Mark Stone adventures on the way!


Tell us about yourself – how did you get into writing, and what were you doing before?

I was born a writer. Started scribbling stories when I was 13 and never stopped. Broke away from the 9-to-5 day job world 40 years ago and have been living by my wits on back roads ever since. I’m a musician, so I’ve fronted blues bands. Managed a resort for a summer, owned a secondhand bookshop in a small mountain town and ran a used record shop in a big city. Spent much of the ‘70s and ‘80s on the road just to see what was around the next bend. Settled in Arizona. Always writing.

What was your first published work?

First pro sale was a short story in 1975. First novel was Some Die Hard, four years later. A private eye story. Rock Dugan's first and only appearance. Funny how many writers of my generation (Reasoner, Lansdale, Randisi, Shiner, etc) first emerged as private eye writers in the tradition handed down from Hammett, Chandler and Spillane. There's just something about that sort of poetic hardboiled stuff that got us, I guess. If you've never read Spillane, you must sample One Lonely Night; the first chapter of that one makes for a brilliant noir short story, and the novel itself vividly shows the literary (?!) roots of action/adventure.

How did you become involved with working with Don Pendleton?

I wrote Don a fan letter out of the blue after discovering the Executioner series in 1973. I received in return a most gracious and down to earth letter that invited a response. I revealed that I was an aspiring writer and Don offered to read the manuscript I was working on, which became Some Die Hard. He kept it for about a month, and then sent back a 6-page single-spaced critique, pointing out trouble areas in character, plot and pacing, and suggestions on how to remedy its considerable shortcomings. When the book appeared, I dedicated it to Don and in fact used a couple of his “suggestions” word-for-word.

What was the working relationship like with Don – what was an average day like working with him?

At first, not long after we connected, Don was looking for someone to help him with his 4-book-per year production schedule, which he found daunting. Don was a craftsman, not a human word machine, and in retrospect there seems in his career to be periods of high productivity and then times when he had to cool down and step back; of course, contractual deadlines have no respect for such artistic foibles. Don paid me to write a draft of Colorado Kill Zone to the best of my then-ability. I was still living in Denver at the time. When the job was done, he dutifully paid me, and then threw away everything I’d written and rewrote an entirely new novel, which is the one that was published, naturally. My only contribution to that book is its first sentence.

A few years later I was on one of my open-ended road trips and took Don up on his invitation to visit and hang out for a spell at Pendle Hill, his home in the rolling hills of Brown Country, Indiana. We got to know each other and became friends. That trip also later took me to Bakersfield, California (I did say those trips were open-ended), where Don had requested that I meet up with Mike Newton, another Bolan fan who had made contact with Don. Mike and I hit it off and not long after that, Don invited us both to resettle in Brown County where the plan was to produce Executioner novels as a team for Pinnacle. Mike and I plotted and wrote a draft of Cleveland Pipeline. We’d have weekly story conferences with Don, then Mike would go and write these scenes and I’d go write those scenes. Don then took what we’d written for the Cleveland book, used it as an outline, holed up in the A-frame he used for an office on Pendle Hill and rewrote the book word-for-word in about a week.

That was the coldest winter in Indiana since God was born, so come the first sign of spring, Mertz hightailed it back out west. Mike stayed on to write Arizona Ambush and Tennessee Smash, after which Don regained his stride and, on his own, wrote the remainder of the Pinnacle Executioner series.

What can you tell us about Don Pendleton the man? I’ve often read that he would “act out” scenes from his manuscripts in an effort to ensure realism; is this true?

Naw, that’s PR guff. He might have paced off positions to block out an action scene now and then, but most writers do that. I’ve heard the term Renaissance man bandied about often but hands down, Don Pendleton is the only true Renaissance man I ever knew. He was my mentor. A warm Arkansas drawl and chuckle offset eyes that glinted with steely Bolan resolve. A thinker of the first magnitude; a dynamic man, embodying all that word implies. A disciplined free spirit who could discuss Copernicus or the craft of writing and marketing commercial fiction with equal ease and enthusiasm. WWII and Korean War veteran, musician, philosopher, metaphysician, lover of life in all its many manifestations, and a gifted writer who created a genre, Don Pendleton was one hell of a guy. Anyone interested in Don or in his work will learn much about both from his book on writing, The Metaphysics of the Novel.

How did you become involved with Gold Eagle?

Don hooked me up with Harlequin’s Bolan program on the ground floor. I wrote 12 Bolan novels and one Mack Bolan short story.

What was it like, working with Gold Eagle?

It was fun at first. In the beginning Gold Eagle was concerned with sustaining the readership Don had built up to that time and so I saw myself in a sort of caretaker status, trying to preserve what Don had created. I worked hard on those Bolan books and one of them, Day of Mourning, is still ranked by the hardcore fans at mackbolan.com as one of the top ten Bolan novels ever written (over the hundreds of other titles), thirty years after I wrote it.

It’s my understanding that Sylvester Stallone bought the rights to The Executioner #43: Return to Vietnam (July, 1982), which you wrote. Three years later, Rambo: First Blood Part II came out, bearing a similar storyline of Rambo freeing American POWs in Vietnam, yet you and Gold Eagle were not credited. Do you have anymore information on this situation, and did you ever hear what drew Stallone to this particular volume of the series?

Ahem, its quality, I would presume. At the time, Stallone owned screen rights to the entire series. At first everyone thought it was because he was going to make a Bolan movie but as it turned out, he just didn’t want anyone else making a Bolan movie that would compete with his Rambo interpretation; screen rights also allowed him to dip into the GE novels for source material. Given my respect for the guy, and especially that second Rambo film which I feel is the best of the movies, I’ve always been proud that they chose one of my novels to draw from.

I’ve heard that when Don Pendleton was having trouble with Gold Eagle, you came to his defense. Could you shed some light on this situation, and what all was going on?

I’m no lawyer and you’re talking 30 years ago but off the top of my head, it went like this. When Don sold the Bolan franchise to Gold Eagle, apparently the contract included a non-competition clause; i.e., Don could not write action adventure novels for anyone else. Well, Don was a writer and writers write, so sometime in the mid 1980s, his agent placed the Ashton Ford, Psychic Detective series with a competing publisher. The pinheads at Harlequin decided this was a breech of the non-competition clause and took Don to court. In truth, for anyone out there who hasn’t read one, the Ashton Ford novels are paranormal New Age allegories involving flying saucers, time travel, metaphysics, and stuff like that. There aren’t even action scenes in the books! But as I recall it, GE’s position was that there are only two types of fiction, romance and adventure, and since the Ford books weren’t romance novels, they were obviously adventure novels and therefore violated the terms of the contract. It was a greedy, nasty thing for a publisher to do. They were basically trying to keep Don from ever writing and selling again. Anyway, he needed a wingman and I was privileged to join the team. I flew back to NYC and testified in court as to the specific elements of action adventure, which clearly did not apply to the Ashton Ford books. Long story short, Don won what was essentially a nuisance suit. Naturally, my participation lowered the curtain on my work for GE but I was glad to go. I’m a restless sort. I’d gone into the program promising myself that I’d write no more than ten of the things and I ended up writing twelve because the money was good. In those days, Mack Bolan authors received a cut of the royalties, unlike today. But I’d grown bored being someone else’s product.

Please share some insight into the origins of the MIA Hunter series. It was always my assumption that it was intended to capitalize on the “POW-rescue” aspect of First Blood Part II, but it would seem that the series was already planned and being written a year or so before that film even came out.

That Bolan novel, Return to Vietnam, pretty much knocked people out when it first appeared. The book was a tremendous success and made several trade bestseller lists. An editor at Berkley saw the potential and asked me to sketch the MIA concept as the basis for a series. They liked Mark Stone, Terrance Loughlin and Hog Wiley, and so The MIA Hunter was born. By the way, those books ended up resonating with a broad audience of readers beyond the general men’s series readership. In the 1980s, there was a genuine concern among many that there were living American MIA/POWs left behind after the end of the Vietnam War. Anecdotal evidence kept filtering out that we’d left men behind who were still alive, though nothing ever materialized to the best of my knowledge. You can still see the black MIA/POW flags flying.

MIA Hunter wrapped up right around the time the genre was dying so ignobly, so I'm curious if Mark Stone's adventures ended or if you got word from the publisher that the series was over and thus never wrote a final volume?

It was the ever-changing marketplace what done in the original MIA Hunter series. This is why I’m so jazzed about the whole ebook revival of Mark Stone. He will remain at the age when he’s in his physical prime, in the time honored tradition of Mack Bolan, Mike Shayne, etc.

While The MIA Hunter was being published you were also writing the Cody’s Army series, correct? What was the background on that series?

That would be John Cody, honcho of a badass commando unit operating with White House sanction; Cody’s men are Richard Caine the Brit and big Rufe Murphy. Those boys kicked it for several books but they never did catch on like The MIA Hunter. I wrote the Cody books as “Jim Case,” and they’re all available under that name as ebooks. Cody’s my second string guy; good, but he’s no Mark Stone. With both series, I brought in co-writers to help when the deadline grind got to be, well, too much of a grind; pretty much for the same reason that Don had originally brought me into the fold. I’ve always admired, and sometimes envied, those prolific writers who seem to effortlessly turn out a dozen or more books every year, but I’ve never been able to do that. For a couple of years there I was as much a book packager as I was a writer. I was buying time, using income from the series work to subsidize development of my first “real” novel, Blood Red Sun (i.e., the first hardcover published under my own name).

What other series fiction did you work on in the ‘80s and ‘90s?

There was a two-book Vietnam deal called The Tunnel Rats, a couple of westerns in the Trailsman series, some ghost work that I can’t cop to. Contract writing paid the bills and, as I say, subsidized more ambitious, less formula-bound work efforts.

What led you to make the decision to leave series fiction/ghostwriting and to write and publish under your own name?

I hooked up with Writers Digest Magazine as an instructor in their on-line writers’ workshop program, which has really been rewarding at several levels. I’m able to share what I know about the craft with new writers, and the income that provides freed me up to get off the series treadmill. I now write mostly without those looming deadlines. This strategy has hardly made me a brand name author, but I have managed to sell everything I’ve written and for the most part I’ve been published to good reviews, so I’ll take that. Not that I’ve in any way lost my affection for pulp fiction. Since leaving the series field I’ve written a couple of short stories that are pure pulp. I mean, does it get any pulpier than “The Lizard Men of Blood River?” With my own work, the intent is to retain the vigor and immediacy of pulp fiction while delivering more than formula cliché in terms of character and plot.

Which of your own novels, both standalone and series, stand out in your own mind, and why?

The Castro Directive, my latest, is available from Crossroad Press in paper and ebook format. I suspect most writers of my generation have a Kennedy book in them and this is mine. It’s about the Bay of Pigs. A reviewer called it, “a kick-ass history lesson.” I like the sound of that. Of the others, Hank & Muddy comes straight from the heart: Hank Williams and Muddy Waters bump into each other one August night in Shreveport in 1952. Misadventures ensue. I guess that’s my favorite so far. Two others that did pretty much what I wanted them to would be Blood Red Sun, a WWII thriller, and Night Wind, a novel of dark suspense. Of the series work, an MIA Hunter novel, L.A. Gang War, is the best.

What projects are you currently working on?

Writing-wise, I’ve just finished a novel about Jimi Hendrix. As for the writing business, I’m busy promoting The Castro Directive and the resurgence of interest in the MIA Hunter, thanks to Crossroad Press republishing the series as ebooks (except for the three I wrote with Joe R. Lansdale, which will be published together as an omnibus from Subterranean Press). I’m enthused about the vibrancy of the ebook market and if the current demand keeps up, there will be new Mark Stone adventures to come. Stay tuned for details…
Jul 292013
 
Ashton Ford #5

This is the one adventure Ashton Ford never intended to tell
It started with a summons and crisp new American dollars from a man reported to have died one hundred and fifty years ago. And a mind  blowing mystery high above the sea at Laguna Beach. Here, in a magnificent mansion, Ashton Ford finds himself surrounded by comfort and the flesh and blood "ghosts" of people from the past. In the baffling confusion of time and space, Ashton's keen and awesome talents must now  pierce the secret of the house. While  his heart, at the mercy of an ageless and beautiful sculptress, following a dangerous path of its own.

Printing History
Written by Don Pendleton (1927-1995)

Warner Books, Inc
Popular Library
ISBN 445 20258 (USA)
November 1987
ISBN 445 20259 (Canada)
November 1987
 Posted by at 2:46 am
Jun 192013
 
Ashton Ford #4
Our Cosmic Future Depends On Ashton Ford
And The Birth Of One Child


She was a powerful, stunningly beautiful psychic. She gave spiritual guidance to thousands of troubled souls and was preparing to extend her ministry throughout the world. But when her family and followers began dying in mysterious, horrifying ways, she had to call on Ashton Ford to discover the truth behind their deaths. It wasn't long before Ashton found that the lovely reverend was the center of a centuries old mystical group now threatened by a malevolent and divisive force. And to over come it, Ford had to wage a cosmic battle in a shadowy realm of the unreal and the unearthly, a world that challenges all that we know.

Printing History
Written by Don Pendleton (1927-1995)

Warner Books, Inc
Popular Library
ISBN 445 20256 (USA)
July 1987
ISBN 445 20257 (Canada)
July 1987
 
 Posted by at 1:52 am
Apr 182013
 

The Executioner #5: Continental Contract, by Don Pendleton
January, 1971  Pinnacle Books

This fifth volume of the Executioner series is pretty strange; it’s not bad or anything, but the entire narrative seems to be building up toward a big finale, a big finale that never occurs. Also all of the continuity and sense of a developing theme from the previous four volumes is mostly gone, with Don Pendleton now firmly in a modern pulp sort of mode. The now-obligatory tropes of the series have still not emerged, but hero Mack Bolan is becoming more of an archetypal hero and less of the troubled loner of the first three volumes.

We meet Bolan in Dulles airport as he realizes he’s walked into a Mafia trap. Blitzing his way out, Bolan puts on a disguise and gets onboard the first plane out, which happens to be destined for Paris. This portion of Continetal Contract really shows its age, as Bolan is not only able to get on the plane by bribing an airline rep but is also able to stow his pistol away in his checked baggage. But the novel already doesn’t operate in normal reality, as in true pulp fashion another last-second passenger boards the plane, and the dude just happens to look a lot like Bolan!

This turns out to be a famous movie star named Gil Martin, not that Bolan has ever heard of him. Meanwhile the mob figures that Bolan must’ve escaped their trap via plane, and lock down Paris as one of his possible destinations. When a French contingent of mobsters crack down on Gil Martin in Orly airport, thinking he’s the Executioner, Bolan rushes to the rescue. After a pitched gunfight on the dark Paris streets he sees the potential of posing Gil Martin. However this subplot is barely played out; I was expecting a few scenes of goggle-eyed fans approaching Bolan on the Paris streets, but it never happened.

There are a few good action scenes in Continental Contract and one of them comes up pretty early in the narrative, as Bolan stages a vengeance strike on a whorehouse that doubles as an HQ for the French mob of Rudolfi. Rudolfi’s men were the ones who snatched Gil Martin at the airport, and now Bolan wants to make them pay. First he clears away the hookers and then he rushes downstairs, clad in his blacksuit, blowing away goons with a machine pistol. Bolan even gets the opportunity to take one of the hookers back to his hotel with him, a British transplant who has become a whore because she wants to be a writer(?), but Pendleton doesn’t dwell on the dirty details.

The British hooker quickly fades into the woodwork and Bolan is alone again – that is until he meets what will become the main female character in this installment, a Brigitte Bardot-type actress named Cici. Yet another internationally-famous star Bolan has never heard of, Cici appears in the hotel room Bolan has reserved under the name Gil Martin, thinking that Bolan is indeed the actor, whom Cici claims to have dated. Soon though she realizes Bolan is a “stand-in,” not that this stops her from clinging to him and providing a means for him to escape the enclosing police force.

So ensues a journey down into Southern France, Bolan and Cici growing closer. Pendleton does a great job bringing Cici to life, but the only problem is he spells out her French accent, like “Bolawn” and “stand-een” and etc, and pretty soon you start to think Bolan is hanging out with Pepe Le Pew or something. Other than that though she provides a welcome and strong female presence to this series.

As for Bolan himself, Pendleton continues to write a human character here, with Bolan often indulging in self-pity that he could never just enter “paradise” with Cici and live a normal life, forgetting about his mob vendetta. In fact Bolan quite often states that he likely doesn’t have long to live, strong words that come off a bit hollow given that he’s still going strong hundreds of volumes later.

Pendleton as expected broadens the narrative with scenes from the viewpoints of various factions aligned against Bolan. For one we have Rudolfi, whose plans for control of the European branch of the mob are crushed with this sudden appearance of the infamous Executioner. But there’s also Tony Lavingi, a mafioso who comes over to Paris to hunt down Bolan, bringing along with him an old pal of Bolan’s from the ‘Nam, a guy who plans to give Bolan the “Judas kiss” in exchange for a few hundred thousand dollars.

And as usual Pendleton’s mastery of the craft of pulp plotting makes for a very enjoyable and breezy read. My favorite sequence would have to be when Bolan issues an ultimatum to the mob, once he learns that those hookers have been sent to an African slave market as punishment for “allowing” Bolan’s attack on their whorehouse: Bolan will kill one high-ranking French mobster for every hour that the girls continue to be imprisoned. Here we see Bolan once again using his sniper skills as he carries out hits, but here too we also have a little page-filling as Pendleton provides unecessary backgrounds for each of the mobsters Bolan targets – unecessary because each of them’s dead within a few pages of their introduction into the text.

The various threads come together in a final showdown in Monaco, with Bolan once again alone up against superior forces. What’s great about these original Executioner novels is how much more power they pack than the later Gold Eagle offerings. And unlike the GE stuff, Pendleton doesn’t let gun specifics get in the way of a good story – once again he has Bolan screwing a silencer onto his revolver, an impossibility that would never pass muster in those gun-crazy Gold Eagle books. Hell, you can read entire action sequences in Continental Contract where the guns aren’t even named – they’re just called “guns!”

But as a tradeoff you get superior writing, characterization, and plotting. My only problem with this volume is that it just sort of peters out at the end…not to mention the unbelieveable aspect that Bolan not once but twice lets a rival go, only to regret it in both instances. You think he would’ve learned after the first time. And also Pendleton doesn’t really tie up all the ends, leaving the fates of some of the major mafia characters in question.

I’m figuring all of this will play out in later installments, though – and I’m really looking forward to the next volume, which apparently has a kinky bent.
Apr 142013
 
Ashton Ford tangles with a sex cult!

The Silent Beauty
What intrigued Ashton Ford about this sadistically brutal "Jane Doe" case was that there was no handles to it, except a few satanic symbols. That and the silent, mysterious beauty of the women who had no idea who she was, why someone wanted her dead, or why the entire left hemisphere of her brain had been surgically removed, leaving her mute and helpless. For Ashton it was the toughest case of his life. To reach this silent mind with his own  and combat the evils of a deadly sex cult that threatened her life.

Ashton Ford #3
Printing History
Written by Don Pendleton (1927-1995)

Warner Books, Inc
Popular Library
ISBN 445 20254 (USA)
March 1987
ISBN 445 20255 (Canada)
March 1987
 Posted by at 1:35 am
Dec 292012
 
An Unconventional Hero


Ashton Ford Psychic Detective #2
He's a government trained spy and a former naval officer. A globe hopping adventurer and an unparallelled lover. But Ashton Ford also has special powers. Powers that people sometimes call supernatural, like his ability to see the future. Now both the United States and Russia's most brilliant astronomers and space scientists have mysteriously vanished. The CIA and KGB are frantically searching for answers. Under the shadow of the world's largest telescope, tailed by agents, and with a lovely lady scientist's life in peril. Ashton Ford takes on the most baffling case of his life. One that will offer him glimpses into the world that not even he has ever seen..............

Printing History
Written by Don Pendleton (1927-1995)

Warner Books, Inc
Popular Library
ISBN 445 20252 (USA)
August 1986
ISBN 445 20253 (Canada)
August 1986
 Posted by at 7:15 pm
Nov 222012
 

The Godmakers, by Don Pendleton
February, 1974  Pinnacle Books
(Original publication November, 1970)

Don Pendleton published innumerable books before he found fame and fortune with the Executioner. The Godmakers was one of those early books, published right around the time that Miami Massacre came out. The first edition of the novel carried the “Dan Britain” by-line, a psuedonym Pendleton apparently saved for his sci-fi output. The edition shown here is the 1974 reprint, published under Pendleton’s own name and capitalizing on the mid-‘70s success of the Executioner series, which is name-dropped on the cover…right above the wangless naked dude as he floats through a sort of blacklight-esque dreamspace.

It’s interesting to note that the original 1970 edition of The Godmakers took place in the near future year of 1975…a time when things were slightly different, like “steamer” cars on the interstates and a different sort of structure to the US itself. What’s odd though is this 1974 reprint retains that “near future” 1975 setting. Couldn’t some junior editor have at least gone into the manuscript and changed each instance of “1975” to say “1980” or something?

I’m not sure about the original edition, but the back cover of this reprint does a poor job summing up the novel, making it sound more like a “political intrique meets ESP” sort of thing. In reality, The Godmakers is more of an assault on conservative morality, fundamentalist religion, and the modern world. Indeed it’s almost gnostic in its disavowal of Christianity, even equating the god of the Christians with the devil. And it’s positively Carpocratian in its mindset that sex, sex, and nothing but sex is the only means to salvation. Not at all what you’d expect from the creator of Mack Bolan!

But man, if only the novel lived up to its gnostic promise. It seems to me that Pendleton tried to mirror (or at least was inspired by) Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land, with his know-it-all protagonist who blithely goes about laying waste to all the sentiments modern man holds dear. And while The Godmakers starts off strong, veering into psychedelic realms, it soon becomes an overbearing exercise in semantics, given over to pages and pages of explanatory dialog, our hero Patrick Honor info-dumping on anyone and everyone. And though there is sex (indeed, the action scenes are sex scenes), it’s all metaphysical, with prose more ornate than purple.

Anyway, Patrick Honor is a federal agent who works for a CIA-type agency, his office right beside the White House. His boss is a guy named Clinton, which proves ironic in the later scenes with the President; every time Pendleton would mention Clinton, I would think he was the President. The novel opens with Clinton giving Honor his newest task; to look into the sudden insanity of Wenssler, a scientist who is helming a government-funded research of PPS (psychic power sources).

The Godmakers bridles with a pre-PC mindset; when Honor meets Wenssler’s gorgeous female assistant, Barbara Thompson, he’s instantly checking out her “female form” and hitting on her. We learn that Wenssler has voyaged to such inner reaches that he’s lost his mind. Now all he can do is scream about “the Nines.” Barbara also has a list of dates and names, transcribed from Wenssler’s rants; these dates prove to be recent dates on which various important people have died. Many of the dates are in the future. The President’s name is on the list, with a date coming up in a month or so. Honor’s name is also on the list.

You’re prepared for a conspiracy-laden excursion into politcal intrigue, but Pendleton switches gears fast. Over breakfast Barbara starts hitting back on Honor – apparently Wenssler in one of his moments of lucidity claimed Honor might be “the one,” and Barbara has detected traces of PPS in Honor. Barbara herself has her own PPS powers and, as she telekinetically unbuttons Honor’s shirt, she informs him that sex combined with PPS might be the only way to voyage into the astral realm in which Wenssler’s mind is imprisoned.

The two rush upstairs to screw. Seriously! Pendleton relays the ensuing scene in dialog (Lots of “Ooooh! Patrick!” and whatnot), but it’s over soon, veering into the psychedelic as Honor suddenly finds himself in some sort of dreamscape. This will be repeated throughout the novel; anytime people have sex, they’re intsantly sent into this astral realm. Honor catches glimpses of Hadrin and Octavia, sort of personifications of the Ideal Man and Ideal Woman, I guess the original images that Plato spoke of.

Honor emerges with PPS superpowers. The session with Barbara obviously was the spur that he’d needed, but it comes off as so rushed, especially given that Honor spends the rest of the novel going around and explaining things to people, a sudden know-it-all, whereas in the opening pages he was cynical and didn’t even believe in PPS. What makes it worse is that the forward action of the narrative is also halted, and the entire book comes off as a descent into semantics, numerology, metaphysics, and Jungian philosophy.

Now, I’m interested in all of those things, but it’s just that the way Pendleton carries it off leaves you a bit dissatisfied. Everything is relayed via expository dialog, and Patrick Honor suddenly becomes a total bore. I do find it interesting that Pendleton makes the villain of the tale the god of the Christians. Honor elaborates (at great length, and several times) that our concept of god is actually “The Rogue,” man’s accumulated misconceptions and prejudices about god given amorphous form, so that it is now an actual entity, and worse yet one that has gained self-awareness and plans to take over our world.

The Rogue, as Honor makes clear, is really just the Collective Unconscious that Jung wrote about. What I find so strange about this is that Pendleton turns the typical assumption on its head and makes the Collective Unconscious evil! It’s often proposed that Jung was only re-discovering the god of the Gnostics, the “god of Plato” and etc – ie, the “True God” who has nothing to do with the Demiurge, aka the Judeo-Christian god. Anyway, here the Jungian god is evil, and Pendleton implies quite often that man himself is the true god.

Which brings me to the title: “Godmaker” is a term Hadrin gives Honor during one of their astral-realm chats. Hadrin explains that each human being has the potential to become a god, and Honor spends the rest of the novel tyring to teach that lesson to his colleagues. Soon he has Clinton and Clinton’s wife involved, and together they with Honor and Barbara are having orgies…all to combat the Rogue, of course! But again Pendleton skips over the naughty bits and instead has ‘em all getting ready to go at it, then after a few breathless exchanges of dialog they’re all in the astral realm.

Things get super goofy when the friggin President gets involved, “initiated” into the astral realm of PPS-assisted sex by Clinton’s wife and Barbara! (Goofier yet, Honor later informs us that Abraham Lincoln is still out there in the astral realm, a fellow Godmaker fighting the Rogue!) Anyway the President is very interested in PPS research, and there follows many scenes where he just sits around and listens to Honor tell him how much evil the Rogue threatens. Pretty soon he’s even calling fellow world leaders and warning them!

It’s all just hard to believe. Also problematic is the nature of the Rogue’s threats, and the way Pendleton delivers his metaphysical action scenes. Simply put, you have no idea what the hell is happening. Our heroes will disrobe, engage in group sex, instantly be transported into the astral realm, and then they’ll be yelling incomprehensible things to one another, like “Follow me into the root square!” or “Slice through the plane and into the geometer!”

I find it interesting though that Honor, even after “ascending” to his Godmaker status, still shows flashes of that pre-PC mindset, always referring to Barbara and Clinton’s wife as “the girls” and giving them the simple tasks. Or the sexual ones…there are many other goofy scenes where the ladies go about telepathically feeling out the sexual impulses of others and goosing them into public displays of sex…all to fight the Rogue, of course.
 
Also interesting is that Pendleton never once mentions homosexual sex…not that I look for such things, but it just seemed an obvious question given his position that one must have sex to fight the evil god we humans have created. Yet Pendleton never mentions what the gays are supposed to do – he makes it clear that heterosexual sex is the only way to combat the evil Rogue, that men and women are of different genders so that they can combine and achieve Godmaker status through sexual union.

Maybe the fact that the novel even caused me to think about such things is a sign of its success, that Pendleton was at least getting me to think about and question his sentiments. (The novel also promotes a healthy "question everything" attitude.) However I still feel a much better story lurked within Pendleton’s concept. Less semantics, less exposition, and a bit more understandable action would’ve made a big difference. As it is, though, I appreciated The Godmakers for its ideas and its psychedelic, sex-as-sacrament mindset.

Here’s the original edition, which sported a cool Frank Frazetta cover:

Sep 102012
 

The Executioner #4: Miami Massacre, by Don Pendleton
October, 1970 Pinnacle Books

The Executioner series continues to barrel full steam ahead as Mack Bolan, shortly after the events in the previous volume, heads down to Miami to bust up some more Mafia scum. By now Don Pendleton is working out the series details, and Bolan is becoming more of the archetypal hero and less of the three-dimensional character of the first three volumes. Don’t get me wrong, Bolan’s still a lot more “human” than most any men’s adventure protagonist (at least, in Pendleton’s hands he is), but with Miami Massacre he takes one step closer to becoming the “blacksuit”-garbed, Warwagon-driving murder machine of the later volumes.

Another Pendleton hallmark is opening action scenes, and once again he doesn’t disappoint. Bolan comes down hard on a mob stronghold in Phoenix, Arizona, closing in on the boss, who manages to escape. The guy is on his way to Miami, and Bolan also learns a Mafia summit will take place there, the main topic of discussion being the Executioner himself.

One issue with these early books is a lack of a good villain. In the previous two novels we had “Deej,” who really wasn’t all that much competition for Bolan. Miami Massacre doesn’t even feature one good main villain; the novel opens with Bolan hunting down a mafioso in Phoenix, and we assume the guy’s going to be the antagonist throughout. Instead, Bolan wastes him just a few pages later with some sniping skills. After that Pendleton switches the focus to another young mobster in Miami who is so similar to the one from Phoenix that I kept thinking it was the same guy.

However Pendleton here introduces the Talifero brothers, a pair of blonde-haired enforcers who employ their own army (the Taliferi) and who answer to no one. Pendleton doesn’t elaborate on the brothers much, doesn’t even really tell them apart, but it’s obvious he is working them up into greater threats who will return in future volumes. At any rate, the Talifero boys are called in to head up security for the mob summit meeting in Miami, and Bolan has to figure out how to get in around the heavy security and still waste a bunch of mobsters.

Pendleton continues his strange style of showing and telling. His novels open with great blockbuster action sequences, ones that just keep gaining momentum, but then he’ll go back and recap for a chapter or two, usually through the dialog of cops who arrive late on the scene. In each case, these guys just inform us of stuff we already know. And also, the cops this time out are basically rehashes of the California cops back in Death Squad; one of them is even the same as Carl Lyons, a young guy who begins to think the Executioner is the bee’s knees.

But with this volume Pendleton is getting the mythos down. Bolan introduces his “blacksuit,” which he wears on his commando raids. We still haven’t gotten to the Warwagon, nor the infamous Automag; Bolan here uses a Luger, which I found a little unusual. He employs it like it’s his most favorite weapon, and relies on it exclusively throughout the first half of the book. Later he shows off a large cache of weapons, apparently stuff lifted during previous raids on the mob; one of the weapons is an M-16/M-203 combo, which he uses to blow up tons of shit in the finale.

The villains might not be memorable, and in fact the mafia henchman all seem to be clones of one another, but Pendleton brings to life the supporting cast. After a thrilling scene where Bolan storms a hotel full of Mafia, he escapes with the bellhop, who turns out to be a Cuban exile named Toro who is an admirer of Bolan’s. Toro comes off like a proto version of Rafael Encinzo, from the much later Phoenix Force series, so I wonder why Gold Eagle just didn’t use Toro in that series instead of creating a whole new character. (Perhaps because Toro returns in a later volume and gets wasted?)

Bolan stays with the exiles, smoking plenty of cigarettes (ah, the ‘70s) and supplying them with guns and money stolen from the mob. Here he also meets Margarita, I guess the Smurfette of the Cuban revolutionary exiles, as apparently she’s the only woman in the camp. After he gives her comrades a ton of money, the initially-frosty Margarita throws herself at Bolan and our hero gets lucky for the first time since War Against the Mafia. Not that Pendleton goes into much detail.

But as Jack Sullivan could tell Bolan, romance while on a mission sometimes leads to sorrow. After returning to Miami and engaging in another thrilling combat sequence, Bolan discovers that Margarita has not only followed him, but has also been captured by a squad of Taliferi soldiers.

Here also Bolan again meets up with Hal Brognola (who I just realized I’ve always envisioned as Dabney “Jack Flack” Coleman in Cloak and Dagger…or failing that, Richard “Rambo" Crenna) and Leo Turrin (last seen in the first novel); this brief reunion appears to set up future volumes where the Executioner is going to be sent to Europe to bust up the mob over there. All of it comes off like a prefigure of the later Gold Eagle incarnation of the series, where Bolan is a globe-spanning commando.

The climax I found a bit disappointing, with a for-once injured Bolan again being saved by Toro and the Cubans; with one of Bolan’s appropriated heavy-caliber guns they launch a naval raid on a floating Mafia pleasure palace, inside which lurks a large assortment of Mafia elite. The scene wasn’t up to snuff for me because it lacked the personal, one-on-one confrontations I prefer in these books; instead, it was just Bolan strapped to a big gun and blasting away at a boat.

Pendleton again captures the late ‘60s/early ‘70s vibe with the despondent feel of the Vietnam era (one of the cops says it’s a wonder there aren’t more “kill crazy” ‘Nam vets like Bolan), but while I enjoyed it, I didn’t like Miami Massacre as much as the preceding volumes.

As a bonus note, be sure to check out The Sharpshooter #5: Night of the Assassins, which is along the same lines as Miami Massacre, only a lot more fun. But then, it is by Len Levinson.
Apr 232012
 

The Executioner #3: Battle Mask, by Don Pendleton
April, 1970 Pinnacle Books

With this volume of the Executioner, the mythos of the character finally begins to evolve. Mack Bolan is back to being the lone wolf he was in the first volume, hitting the Mafia hard and without mercy. Reading Battle Mask, you also get an understanding why Don Pendleton, several years later, had so much bitterness toward Gold Eagle Books, who had purchased the rights to his character. For the "Mack Bolan" of those Gold Eagle novels bears little resemblance to Pendleton's original.

This was also one of the "old" Executioner novels I had as a kid in the '80s. I no longer have that particular copy, but I'm sure the one I had featured a logo emblazoned across the top which stated "Soon to be a major motion picture starring Burt Reynolds." This has always stuck with me, because shortly after buying that copy of Battle Mask I saw Burt Reynolds's craptastic 1986 film Malone in the theater, and throughout I kept saying to myself, "That guy ain't no Mack Bolan." I tried reading Battle Mask a few times back then, but I just didn't get it -- I wanted Mack to fly over to Beirut or something and start wasting terrorists, as in the Gold Eagle books.

Still on the West Coast after the disastrous finale of the previous volume, Bolan realizes that no matter where he goes, people will know who he is, thanks to media coverage. He figures his best gambit is to get some facial-reconstruction work done. To this end he visits an old 'Nam pal who happens to run a plastic surgery clinic in a small Californian town. Meanwhile the cops and the Mafia are closing in. Bolan's target from the previous book, Julian DiGeorge, Los Angeles mob bigwig, sends out his enforcers in an effort to close a trap on the Executioner.

Bolan displays his bad-assness by shrugging off any drugs after the painful surgery, and in fact is escorted out of the town posthaste by the Gary Cooper-esque sherriff, who don't want no trouble in this here town. Too bad, because the mobsters spring an ambush on the men as they're leaving. This entails an elaborate action sequence where Pendleton again displays his mastery of the craft. Whereas the later Gold Eagle books would get bogged down in narrative-halting gun porn, describing the origin and firepower capabilities of each firearm used, Pendleton instead just writes an action scene, and he does so very well.

But as proven in earlier volumes, Pendleton shows and tells. After this huge battle sequence we get a chapter recapping everything we just read! Anyway the mob's presence results in the destruction of the small town, but Bolan himself is able to escape, and no one knows he's gotten a new face. LA cop Carl Lyons, from the previous novel, is still on the case, trailing Bolan despite his growing respect for the man. Like Bolan, Lyons would become a vastly different character in the Gold Eagle books.

When we meet Bolan again he's already infiltrated into DiGeorge's estate, posing as a lone wolf mob enforcer. He's also busy putting the moves on DiGeorge's pretty daughter, and though it's intimated the two are friendly -- DiGeorge meets Bolan when his topless daughter is laying on Bolan beside the pool -- Pendleton doesn't elaborate on the details as he did in the first volume of the series. Using his own moxie as a sort of Mafia badge, Bolan's able to ingratiate himself into DiGeorge's army, eventually becoming so beloved to the man that DiGeorge considers nominating Bolan for full-on Mafia membership.

During this Bolan also works as an informant, calling Lyons with information; Lyons suspects this stranger calling him with intel is none other than Mack Bolan, who everyone now believes dead. Also introduced is Hal Brognola, a Federal agent who becomes Bolan's sort of boss in the Gold Eagle books. Ironically, Pendleton doesn't even describe Brognola, and to this day I have no idea what the character is supposed to look like; I don't think I've ever seen him described.

Lurid stuff develops in the character of Pena, DiGeorge's chief enforcer, who has been tasked with bringing back Bolan's head. Lying low after the small-town battle, Pena gets wind that Bolan might've gotten some facial surgery, and so captures Bolan's old plastic surgeon friend. He tortures the man to death in the first "turkey doctor" instance that would eventually become a staple of the series -- the name derived from mob "doctors" who get "turkeys" to talk. I know the name sounds goofy, and no wonder as it's a straight-up Pendleton invention.

Once again there are some great action scenes, in particular when Bolan discovers that Pena's out there and that he's got the "blueprint" for Bolan's new face. Bolan races against the clock to kill Pena before Pena can get the blueprint to DiGeorge, and thus ruin Bolan's cover. The finale sees a climatic battle in which Bolan turns DiGeorge's own soldiers against him, leading to utter chaos on the DiGeorge estate.

Pendleton delivers another taut narrative that moves at a steady clip; I think I read this book in about a day. I've discovered that Pendleton's novels are incredibly quick reads. And again I do admire how he never delves into the nauseating gun-porn of the Gold Eagle books: guys here just shoot "guns" and etc, meaning there are no sentences and sentences of firearms description. Hell, Pendleton proves himself a bit uncertain about guns -- toward the end of the book there's a scene where Bolan puts a silencer on his revolver. This is an impossibility!

But who cares, when a book is as enjoyable as this.

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