Monday, December 5, 2011

The Penetrator #10: The Hellbomb Flight

The Penetrator #10: The Hellbomb Flight, by Lionel Derrick
August, 1975 Pinnacle Books

Chet Cunningham's back in the saddle as "Lionel Derrick," casting The Penetrator, Mark Hardin, into a goofy and convoluted plot that never quite comes together.

The "villain" this time is Dr. Orlando Fitzmueller, a NASA scientist who is certain the Russians have launched a nuclear missile-firing device into space, under the guise of an innocuous weather sattelite. Fitzmueller realizes that if this weapon got into the wrong hands -- or if the US and USSR engaged in open warfare -- mankind itself would be doomed.

But when his NASA superiors refuse to heed his warnings, Fitzmueller breaks free of them and becomes a regular mad scientist, holed up in a compound in the middle of the desert. With the assistance of a sadistic right-hand man, Fitzmueller commands a group of science-type contractors who don't realize what their boss's main goal is: namely, to commandeer the Russian missile-launcher and use it to blackmail the leaders of the world into destryoing their nuclear arsenals. In other words, to threaten untold destruction in order to attain peace.

Mark Hardin enters the fray when his DC pal Dan Griggs -- who, by the way, is the man tasked by the US government to track down and capture Hardin -- gives him a call and points Hardin in the direciton of Fitzmueller. From there we have the usual method of operation as displayed in previous novels in the series: Hardin arrives on the location, scouts it out, kills a few guys, and somehow finds the time to have sex.

The lady in question this time is Joanna Tabler, Griggs's assistant; we last saw her in the Cunningham-penned Hijacking Manhattan. There Joanna and Hardin appeared to become quite serious, but in true men's adventure fashion she disappeared in the following novels. Regardless the two pick their hot affair right back up. Otherwise Joanna doesn't add much to the storyline, other than a few page-filling scenes where she talks to Griggs on the phone.

Cunningham also finally ties up a plotstrand that's been going on for the past few volumes; Sal Mitzutaki, Hardin's one-time gun supplier who tried to get Hardin killed back in Tokyo Purple, finally gets his comeuppance. This scene has nothing to do with the rest of the book, but again provides Cunningham with the opportunity to show how merciless his version of the Penetrator is.

For once again Mark Hardin is a cold son of a bitch this time out, torturing mobsters and then killing them once he's gotten his information. In one chilling scene he puts an incindiary device in the pants of a mobster -- a mobster Hardin's already been torturing for several pages -- and then runs away just before the bastard blows up. What makes it all the weirder is that the mobster doesn't believe it's really a bomb Hardin has stuck in his waistband, and so continues jabbering on as he meets his doom.

The finale is anticlimatic in that instead of a one-man raid on Fitzmueller's compound, we instead have Hardin chasing around Fitzmueller's henchmen (who have taken control of the operation from Fitzmueller; they want to blackmail the leaders of the world for money, not peace). I say "anticlimatic" because Hardin merely follows after them in a helicopter, with the ensuing air battle quite one-sided.

Cunningham also provides the expected lurid stuff; Fitzmueller has a daughter, and when Hardin tracks her down in order to get some info from her, the girl -- who's gorgeous, of course -- immediately strips down and tries to seduce him. Hardin ignores the offer; strangely, Fitzmueller's daughter then drops from the plot.

So then, it's still rocky going for this series; hard to believe that it continued on for almost another ten years. I'm assuming some good stuff must be coming along, eventually.


Marty McKee said...

I don't disagree with any of this, yet I still like this and all the Penetrator novels better than you do. I don't get this book's non-ending in which the villain is captured off-page.

Joe Kenney said...

Marty, thanks for the post. I enjoy all of your Penetrator reviews -- actually, all of your reviews period. I do really like the Penetrator series, though. I have two boxes filled with pretty much the entire run. I take a volume along with me when I go shopping with my wife. While the other jerks have their heads stuffed up their "smart phone" asses, I'm busy reading blood-soaked pulp from the '70s!

And let me tell you, you haven't gotten strange looks until you've sat in the Dillard's lounge, reading a book titled "The Penetrator: Blood on the Strip!"