Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Penetrator #13: Dixie Death Squad

The Penetrator #13: Dixie Death Squad, by Lionel Derrick
March, 1976 Pinnacle Books

This volume of The Penetrator is all about action. Mark K. Roberts turns in what is certainly the most gun-blazing installment of the series yet. His version of Mark "Penetrator" Hardin still isn't as sadistic as co-writer Chet Cunningham's, meaning Roberts doesn't dole out anything as excessive as Cunningham, but for all that he certainly writes a better action sequence. There are many inventive setpieces in Dixie Death Squad. In fact there's so much action that the plot itself just seems to disappear.

The book gets our attention from the outset, opening with our hero Hardin blowing away a bunch of cops with his Mac-11. Eventually we learn that these are dirty cops, hired by the mysterious Colonel King as a sort of invading party that has taken over a small town in Georgia. These "cops" are members of a large private army controlled by Colonel King, an army composed of mean sons of bitches, many of whom spent time in prison. They are slowly infiltrating and taking over various small towns in Dixie, a sort of warm-up exercise before a larger invasion is launched against the US itself.

The novelty is that Colonel King is a woman, an attractive blonde who served in the WAC (Women's Army Corps) but was drummed out of the military due to her gender. Discharged from the real army, Linda King decided to start her own. Beyond her army of delinquents, King also has a grander scheme -- posing as a pillar of society, she runs an orphanage for wayward kids. In reality though she is training these kids in guerrilla warfare and crime. Her plan, which on the face of it is kind of brilliant, is to use these kids as an undercover army. Say a government official was assassinated, or a bank was robbed...who in their right mind would suspect a child?

King's adult army of criminals trains the young army, and upon learning of this, Hardin is both sickened and outraged. Concocting a cover story, he poses as a soldier who spent time in the brig and is able to get drafted into King's army. He of course quickly comes to the lady's attention, handling himself better than anyone during drills and practice. To test him, King sends Hardin out with a team of men on an assassination job. The target is an African dignitary and Hardin's team will attack his entourage along the freeway.

This is the first of many action scenes. Hardin of course foils the plan, taking out his "comrades" and preventing the dignitary's death. He returns to King's headquarters beaten and bruised, claiming that the mission was compromised and that he was the only member of the team who was able to escape. King is as expected overwhelmed with Hardin's bravery and soon latches on to him.

Here Roberts inserts some weird stuff where it turns out that Linda King is even more insane than expected, in that she sometimes slips into another personality where she believes she is a southern belle living in antebellum Georgia. Most surprising is that this leads to a sex scene, I think the first full-on sex scene we've yet received in the series. A sex scene that contains the unforgettable line: Linda struggled and squealed, seeking to escape the hugeness that was forcing its way inside her. Yikes!

It's also pretty funny that Hardin, after a few hours of lovin', discovers that King has sent another team out on a mission of infiltration; they're planning to take over yet another town at midnight. Hardin drugs King, sneaks out, drives 90 minutes to the town, and systematically kills each and every member of the invasion party in yet another well-done action scene. After which he drives back, sneaks in, and lays down beside the still-sleeping Colonel King!

Gradually though the plot evaporates. Rather than play out Hardin's undercover work, Roberts instead has the Penetrator launch a full-on war against King's army. Literally the last half of the novel is an ongoing action scene. It's overwhelming, but it's still pretty great, beginning with Hardin blitzing his way through the compound. Some of the kid soldiers come after him, and Hardin goes to great lengths not to kill them. He of course shows no mercy to the adult soldiers.

From there the action proceeds to downtown Atlanta where King, her army in rout, unleashes her fallback plan: she sends out a squad of snipers to blast away at civilians. Urban warfare and chaos ensues, with a Federal SWAT team taking up the fight against King's soldiers. Here a subplot gets buried; the SWAT team has been officially tasked with scouring the nation to find the Penetrator, so they just happen to be here in Atlanta, and of course the commander eventually meets Hardin face to face and realizes he's a great guy, after all.

In his previous installments Mark Roberts was sure to always include an in-joke to other novels in Pinnacle's men's adventure line. This time he doesn't, but as I thought about it, it occurred to me that he might have done something a bit more involved this time out. In short, Dixie Death Squad is all action, from first page to last. Action scene after action scene, and during the battles Roberts documents every path of every bullet and the gore which proceeds from their impact. The book is very much in the vein of another Pinnacle series, Joseph Rosenberger's Death Merchant.

So rather than peppering his book with a few minor in-jokes, is it possible that Roberts intended the entirety of Dixie Death Squad itself is an in-joke, a parody of Rosenberger's action-heavy series? Probably not, but it's fun to consider.


dazegoby said...

I love the reviews, thanks for posting. I am curious though, where do you find the books?

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comment. It just takes a lot of online searching to find most of these books. If you are interested specifically in the Penetrator, you're in luck, because the series lasted 53 volumes and had a large printing -- meaning there are a lot of copies out there.

Grant said...

Can you give me spoilers about what happens to the Colonel King character? (I don't know if you do that in the comments section.) In these kinds of stories, I'm always attached to showdown scenes between the villainess and the hero, instead of ones between her and someone else (like the heroine), so I'm always hoping for one of those.

Joe Kenney said...

Grant, I can't recall Colonel King's fate. I'm pretty sure she died...I'm thinking she might've caused her own death, something like that. The climax features a gun battle between her and Hardin in a canyon where King has rigged some explosives, and unless I am mistaken she dies in the ensuing explosion.

Grant said...

Thank you.