Monday, May 30, 2011

The Penetrator #6: Tokyo Purple

The Penetrator #6: Tokyo Purple, by Lionel Derrick
October, 1974 Pinnacle Books

You know Chet Cunningham's back in the author's saddle when one of the first lines of the book is: Now he wanted a short vacation far from the smarting smell of cordite; away from the blazing guns and sudden death; far from the surrealistic display of a skull exploding three feet in front of him with brains, blood, and bone fragments splattering the nearest wall. Now that's how you start a novel!

Published the month and year I was born, Tokyo Purple finds our pal Mark Hardin, the Penetrator, taking a much-deserved vacation. As the title indicates, he settles upon Tokyo; he last visited the city during some r-n-r back in "the 'Nam." On his way there Hardin makes a brief stop in Hong Kong, sightseeing with his new girlfriend: Akemi, a genuine Groovy Stewardess. Hardin the superstud actually picked the lady up during the JAL flight; unfortunately Cunningham robs us of this scene. I would've given anything to see Hardin the pick-up artist at work.

Hardin figures he can rest a bit easy in Asia as he isn't a wanted man over here, and the mob tentacles likely don't reach this far. But this being an action novel, he's nevertheless attacked posthaste. With only his dart gun, nicknamed Ava, Hardin kills the pursuers. They appear to be Japanese and each of them carries a purple cord. A horrified Akemi informs Hardin that these men are members of the Sendai Purple, basically the Japanese mafia (Though he sprinkles the narrative with some basic Japanese, Cunningham never uses the term yakuza.)

Once he and Akemi move on to Tokyo, Hardin discovers that he's for sure being hunted. The Sendai Purple is after him, and at length he discovers why: back in the fourth volume, Hijacking Manhattan, Hardin ratted out on his Japanese arms supplier in exchange for some needed intel. It turns out the supplier has now sicked the Japanese mob on Hardin in retaliation. This is enough plot for a men's adventure novel, but Cunningham muddles it with a subplot: Hardin's benefactor, Professor Haskins, calls Hardin to tell him that an American girl named Melissa Broadhurst has gone missing in Sendai, and wants Hardin to try to find her. And guess who kidnapped the girl? Yep, the Sendai Purple. It's a bit too pat, but what can you do.

Melissa, despite being a brick-shithouse blonde, is a nuclear scientist, and the boss of the Sendai Purple wants her to build some triggers for atomic bombs he plans to sell to the highest bidder. This boss is named Kamisori, aka the Razor, and he runs his show from a fortress in Sendai, surrounded by armed guards. The novel's more lurid stuff occurs early on: Melissa refuses to work for Kamisori, who then strips the girl nude and locks her in a room, telling her he will come back to rape her in three days if she doesn't change her mind. And he carries through on the threat, even going so far as to torture her a bit.

Meanwhile Hardin, who has left Akemi back in Tokyo, drives across rural Japan searching out clues in Melissa's disappearance. Vast stretches of Tokyo Purple come off like a travelogue, which makes sense...Hardin is on vacation, after all. And after the action onslaught of the previous volume, it's good for the guy and the reader to get a little breather. Cunningham also takes the opportunity to butcher the language as the native Japanese speak in overdone pidgin English.

But to be sure Cunningham does provide the occasional action sequence, including a nice one early on where Hardin is trapped in a pulping plant, hurtling down a tube to be pulped with old newspapers and junked books: a fitting end for a pulp hero. There's also a funny scene where Hardin visits a steam bath, but can't handle the lava-heated water. I spent a semester of college in Japan and fell in love with these things (onsens), but then, when I was in one armed thugs weren't coming after me.

After hooking up with a group of anti-nuke students who have aligned themselves with a high-tiered member of Sendai Purple -- who is against Kamisori's plans to use atomic weapons -- Hardin infiltrates the fortress headquarters and goes into action. This is another action-packed sequence with Hardin again taking a massive beating, not to mention ruptured eardrums after one guy fires a howitzer within an enclosed space. During the battle Hardin finds Melissa, who helps the injured Penetrator get out of the burning building; Cunningham builds up some romantic tension between the two but then quickly drops it.

One thing I enjoy about this series is that authors Roberts and Cunningham always provide a novelty death for the main villain. A lot of these books usually suffer from anticlimatic endings, with the boss bad guy either just getting shot or blown up or done away with in an offhand manner. The Penetrator series however delivers climatic final fights that are more satisfying for the reader. In the case of Tokyo Purple it's Hardin going up against Kamisori in the bowels of the Sendai Purple headquarters, fighting each other with an array of vintage handheld weaponry.

And by the way this volume features my favorite cover art yet in the series, with its groovy psychedelic pattern and foxy nude lady (who appears to lack nipples, but you can't win 'em all).

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