Monday, June 20, 2011
The Penetrator #7: Baja Bandidos
The Penetrator #7: Baja Bandidos, by Lionel Derrick
December, 1974 Pinnacle Books
All told, this is a rum entry in the Penetrator saga. After the action-packed fifth volume and the trip to Japan in the sixth volume, this one comes off as rather uneventful. Mark Roberts, who penned this installment, also wrote several Westerns; I wouldn't be surprised if the plot of Baja Bandidos was a leftover from one of them.
All the standards of a pulp Western are in place: there are Mexican bandits, a damsel in distress, plucky peasants, and an Indian-trained hero who fashions his own arrows from flint. Other than a few bows to the modern age, it's as if the entire novel takes place in 1874 rather than 1974. El Baron, bandit leader and self-proclaimed future ruler of Mexico, is kidnapping people in the Mexican desert, all of them rich or influential. His latest captives are an Israeli woman and a professor who is an associate of William Haskins, ie Hardin's benefactor.
Even though several people have gone missing in Mexico, the Penetrator is the only one who puts it all together and assumes it's the work of one person. His brilliant plan is to go undercover as a millionaire playboy. Flashforward a few weeks and Hardin's cover identity has been firmly implanted in the public conscious. He tools around Mexican resorts in his sportscar, accompanied by two gorgeous Hispanic women, one a glamorous socilaite, the other her "minder." Hardin scopes out the place, trying to get himself captured. It's all kind of dumb.
And it gets dumber, for when Hardin is captured he doesn't even have a fallback plan; I figured he would've smuggled in some weapons hidden on his person or something. Instead, he's taken to a smelting plant in the Mexican desert in which the other captives are held. Here he meets El Baron, who takes the time to announce his grand plans before taking off, leaving his second-in-command, a black American named Clyde, in charge. Clyde comes off as the worst of the two, hateful of whites and women; another of those oddly-displaced scenes occur amid the otherwise light nature of the book, where Clyde and the bandits get drunk and gang-rape the Israeli woman. Meanwile all Hardin can do is seethe and plan his escape.
At length he does, killing a guard and escaping into the merciless desert heat. Again Hardin proves his lack of planning; I mean, who in their right mind would just allow himself to be captured and hope for an eventual opportunity to escape? Hardin here is accompanied by Jose, a young peasant boy who soon acts as his surrogate son. This is the most affecting part of Baja Bandidos and really sets the reader up to be gutted at the end.
Weaponless, Hardin makes use of the training he received from David Red Eagle and fashions arrows in the Cheyenne way. After a few raids he assembles a rag-tag band of peasantry and forms them into an army, employing the same training he did with the Montagnards back in Vietnam. This is a neat sequence in which the men train in guerrilla warfare, creating weapons from anything at their disposal, including "beercan grenades."
It all culminates with a final raid, including an out-of-left-field bit where Hardin "appropriates" a Mexican Army fighter plane and hammers the shit out of El Baron's forces. What's funny is that amid all the carnage the captors, so central to the plot, are pretty much forgotten; even when Hardin frees them Roberts gives them only a cursory mention and gets back to the fireworks. Again we get a novelty death for the main villain, as Hardin takes on El Baron in the style of the bullfighters. But I'd say this is a miss, as El Baron is absent for the majority of Baja Bandidos; the true villain is Clyde, whom Hardin dispatches with a casual shot.
So this was a muddled installment. Given that the series continued on for another 46 volumes, I'm assuming it was a momentary lapse.