Monday, December 19, 2011
The Penetrator #11: Terror In Taos
The Penetrator #11: Terror In Taos, by Lionel Derrick
October, 1975 Pinnacle Books
Finally the Penetrator series gets back on track with the best volume in a long time. Mark Roberts in my estimation had been slacking off a bit in his last few contributions to the adventures of Mark "Penetrator" Hardin, but this time out he comes back with a renewed vigor, delivering a breezy, action-filled tale filled with the violence and in-jokery one has come to expect from this author.
With a nod to Wounded Knee and the American Indian rights movements of the early '70s, Terror In Taos concerns a militant uprising of American Indians in Taos; they've taken over the city in their demands for equality while meanwhile the mafia is murdering their holy men and stealing their priceless jewelry. Hardin, who we are reminded every volume is half-Cheyenne, infiltrates the police barrier and gets involved with the militants, proclaiming himself as one of them. Here Roberts serves up some in-jokes, as Hardin "proves" he is a member of the tribe by reading passages from Sapir and Murphy's The Destroyer series in the Cheyenne language.
Hardin finds an old comrade among the militants: Gil Otero, who went through Intelligence training with Hardin years before. Hardin tells Gil that he is in fact the infamous Penetrator -- which is never a smart thing for a men's adventure protagonist to do, because the reader knows well what will eventually happen to the person he has just told. (It's sort of like when Charles Bronson tells a lady he loves her in the Death Wish films -- expect a funeral soon.)
The mafia thugs make for an enjoyable cast. There's Snuffer Weiss, a little fellow given to Yiddish outbursts, Il Lupare, a hulking brute who learned English from sleazy paperbacks, and most importantly Rammer Norton, a thug whose name has been mentioned throughout the series. Norton was the guy who inadvertently sent Hardin on the path to becoming the Penetrator; a decade ago Norton was the bastard who set Hardin up for a tumble, ending a promising football career. As soon as Hardin discovers that Norton is behind the shaman-killing, jewel-stealing activities in Taos, he is even more determined to see the mission through to its bloody end.
Roberts provides a lot of nice setpieces. There's an actual New Agey mystical trip (which was the style of the time) as Hardin drops peyote with his Cheyenne "brothers." This otherwise-unrelated scene is well done, with Hardin preparing to go through the mystical rites of becoming a full-on "son" of the head shaman, but Roberts drops this storyline. Even better is Hardin's infiltration into a mob-ruled medieval castle in the middle of the desert, built there a century before by an oil tycoon (shades of TNT #6: Ritual Of Blood).
There's even a bit of "sweat mag" stuff when Gil's fiance, a Cheyenne beauty, is captured by the mobsters and taken to a secret dungeon within that castle, where she's stripped down and put on a torture rack. Here a group of "turkey doctors" (Roberts borrowing a phrase coined by Don Pendleton) prepare to make mutilated "Indian turkey" out of the girl, before Hardin of course shows up with his combat shotgun.
All told, this is just an enjoyable, well-rendered installment. Hardin is back to his likeable self, even indulging in his previously-abandoned penchant for disguise. This is another goofy but fun scene where Hardin dresses up like an old Indian so he can berate some government reps who have come to Taos to speak with the militants; one of the reps happens to be the head agent in charge of tracking down Hardin himself.
The novel ends with some unintentional humor as Hardin, flying away from Taos in his personal plane after another successful mission, already begins to plan his next mission! It's a nice way I guess to remind readers that the series will continue with more and more adventures, but it has the unfortunate effect of making Hardin appear like some vengeance-programmed android.