Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Penetrator #5: Mardi Gras Massacre

The Penetrator #5: Mardi Gras Massacre, by Lionel Derrick
June, 1974 Pinnacle Books

Given the plot I figured this entry of the The Penetrator would be a wash-out: a Bayou fisherman contacts Mark Hardin and asks for his help, as the fisherman is certain he's being paid in counterfeit bills. However this bare plot is just an excuse for author Mark Roberts to have Hardin kick all kinds of ass. This is without a doubt the most action-packed installment yet in the series.

In my review of the previous volume I claimed that even-numbered volume author Chet Cunningham presented a crueler version of the Penetrator, but I might have to retract that. Mark Roberts proves that his version of Hardin can be just as merciless, though with the caveat that at least Roberts's version only goes after the "wicked;" ie, unlike Cunningham's version he doesn't torture and maim the innocent. But if you happen to be a "bad guy," then god help you...

Hardin arrives in New Orleans in the opening pages, only to discover that the fisherman who wrote him has been murdered. Instead Hardin's contact is Angelique, the fisherman's beautiful (of course she is) daughter. Hardin notes her resemblance to his dead girlfriend Donna Morgan and so instantly has feelings for the girl. A consortium of businessmen have taken over the fisherman's union here in New Orleans, with grander plans to dominate business around the country; Angelique's father accidentally discovered that they were paying their employees with counterfeit bills, fake money with which they plan to cripple the US economy. Angelique's father apperently left evidence somewhere, but he didn't leave behind any clues. Regardless, the consortium is certain Angelique must know about it (she is the man's only living relative and was with him when he was murdered) and so send wave after wave of hitmen after her. But when Hardin enters the fray, things of course change.

It all goes down during Mardi Gras, and Roberts weaves the festival into the action, with a long sequence with Hardin wearing a mask to blend in with others on the street that ends with Angelique and Hardin escaping on a float. Finding one fisherman family empathetic to Angelique and her father's cause, Hardin leaves the girl with them and launches a one-man war on the consortium. This is where the novel really picks up; Hardin gets pissed that since he's arrived in New Orleans he's been attacked again and again. Now he will go on the offensive. And boy does he.

There follows many scenes of laugh-out-loud barbarity in which Hardin shows how merciless he can be. He sneaks into consortium-owned buildings, kidnaps upper management, tortures them, kills them. In a prefigure of Arnold's infamous line from Commando, Hardin promises one poor sap that he won't kill him if the sap gives him the info he wants. The sap gives the info, and as Hardin begins to string up a noose he squeals that Hardin promised he wouldn't kill him. "Sometimes I lie a lot," says Hardin, who then hangs the sap -- later boasting to Angelique that he strung the man up and watched him die. During the funeral for Angelique's dad, Hardin spots three gunmen hiding in the cemetery. He surprises them at gunpoint and ushers them into a windowless masoleum, handing the last guy in an unpinned frag grenade. Hardin bars the door and walks away, then laughs aloud when he hears the grenade go off.

But once again Hardin himself takes a lot of damage. This seems to be a "thing" with this series; whereas the typical men's adventure protagonist gets through each novel without a scratch, like some comic book superhero, Hardin usually finds himself at death's door. This time out it happens early on, with Hardin sliced up badly in an endless fight scene with a friggin night watchman, of all things. Limping back to his hotel Hardin shoots himself up with penicilin, but the antibiotic is expired and Hardin double-doses.

He spirals into delusion, during which he finds himself having sex again with Donna Morgan, calling out her name. When he comes to he finds Angelique there with him; it turns out that Hardin phoned her in the midst of his delirium and the girl came to nurse him, during which one thing lead to another and the two had sex -- that sexual fever dream was real. Angelique further informs Hardin that the whole time he kept calling her "Donna," but Angelique claims she was so happy to be with him that she didn't mind being called by the wrong name. I can't think of a single woman who would actually say that.

It culminates in another well-done setpiece in which Hardin and a new friend wage war on the consortium in the sea, also going up against a detachment of Cuban soldiers -- the suppliers of that counterfeit money. In a way, Mardi Gras Massacre is like an '80s action movie, with one extended action sequence after another. There is also the mystery of where Angelique's father left his evidence, and Hardin goes into detective mode to solve it. However doing so necessitates that Hardin eradicate the girl's feelings for him; during a crying jag about her father's death, Hardin yells at her to snap out of it, a desperate gambit to jolt her senses from grief to fury. It works, with the after-effect that Angelique now looks at Hardin with hatred. It's basically just a drawn-out way for Roberts to get the girl out of the picture so Hardin can go on to meet more willing gals in future installments.

Roberts again serves up some in-jokes: that night watchman who nearly kills Hardin chastises himself for "reading too many of those Executioner books," and later, as Hardin watches the news, the anchorman's name is Chet Cunningham -- aka the other author of the series. There are also some funny parts where a kid spouts lines from Sanford and Son in Red Foxx's voice; all the more funny when Hardin has no idea what the kid's doing and it has to be explained to him that he's only quoting a popular TV show. But then who has time for TV when you're launching a one-man war against crime and having delusional sex with a nubile fisherman's daughter?


James Reasoner said...

"But then who has time for TV when you're launching a one-man war against crime and having delusional sex with a nubile fisherman's daughter?"

That's a classic line. Bravo.

I read some of the Penetrator books back when they were new but never warmed up to the series for some reason.

Joe Kenney said...

James, thanks for the comment! I know what you mean...I'd heard of the series but only bothered to check it out last year. What I'm curious about is how it holds up to Pendleton's Exectioner novels. I know those were the trendsetters, but it's been a good 25 years since I've read one -- and I didn't even like them. Of course, I was like 11 or so at the time and was more interested in the "new" Gold Eagle Bolan books, the terrorist warfare stuff. I found Pendleton's mafia books boring. But it does seem that the Pentrator series had more outlandish plots. And with the two different authors, who each have their own spin on the character, it's like reading two different series.

Felicity Walker said...

A good parody name for “The Penetrator” would be “The Erexecutioner.” ☻

chris haynes said...

I just finished the book and didn't think it was as good as #4, Hijacking Manhattan. I read #4 and #5 back to back and I thought this one started out kind of slow. It seems to me that Mark Roberts's take on The Penetrator is more of a thriller and Chet Cunningham's is more of the traditional 60s & 70s men's action/adventure.

The level of violence between the two novels was about the same but Cunningham's descriptions are a lot more graphic. Not to say Roberts didn't have his share in this novel. Disemboweling the longshoreman with the big hook, piling the dead bodies into the refrigerated truck and delivering them to Bouchet, slowly hanging the guy with the makeshift noose, handing the guy a primed grenade and locking them in a mausoleum. Both authors paint Mark Hardin as a pretty sadistic guy but Cunningham's descriptions of torture in Hijacking Manhattan were more graphic than anything in this book.

Now, I'm no prude and reading these types of novels with the sex and ultra violence should be a testament to that. But, I have to say I had a hard time with the delusional sex scene. The text itself says that Mark basically raped Angelique. "It made no difference if he had all but raped Angelique Rubidaux - albeit with her eager cooperation - as a result of fever and delirium...". So, the author is saying that raping her was OK since she was eager and she willingly had sex with him again afterward? I don't know if it is the mentality of the times in which the book was written or the author's own opinion but I have to say that I don't agree with it. Another line from the book that points out the very male-centric sentimentality of the times was "He would have to learn how to handle his mission and his women, if he was to have any life of his own". I'm sure I've come across this level of male chauvinism in other novels but for some reason it really stood out here.

I did like the call outs to The Executioner, Chet Cunningham and Sanford and Son in the novel. The line "Sometimes I lie a lot" is a classic.