Thursday, November 29, 2012
The Penetrator #16: Deepsea Shootout
The Penetrator #16: Deepsea Shootout, by Lionel Derrick
September, 1976 Pinnacle Books
Man, what a misfire of a Penetrator novel. Easily the worst volume yet of the series, Deepsea Shootout comes off like a lazy first draft from Chet Cunningham, who usually delivers the more unhinged installments. This time it’s the narrative itself that’s unhinged, never certain what its plot is, hopscotching all over the place in a desperate attempt to fill pages. Most unforgiveably, it’s boring, something which can’t be said about Cunningham’s previous sadistic offerings.
Even the back cover can’t figure out what the storyline is – the blurb has you thinking Mark “Penetrator” Hardin is heading to the Caribbean to save Dr. Jamison Hutch, an archeologist who’s gone missing. Instead we open with Hardin posing as a reporter as he just sort of hangs around on the young archeologist’s boat; Hutch is down here searching for a sunken Spanish galleon from the 17th century, and has brought along his attractive colleague Beth Anne, who spends the narrative sunning in her bikini and checking out Hardin.
A group of pirates are working the area, nailing tourist boats outside the harbors of the Bahamas. This is the real reason Hardin has come here. In a brief prologue we meet the pirates: made up of radicalized natives, they’re lead by a beautiful black lady who happens to be a voodoo priestess; later in the book Hardin runs into her as she’s leading her people in a ceremony. Really though this character and her priestesshood and the entire bit is woefully underdeveloped; Cunningham introduces her and her pirates as the villains, then forgets about them, then introduces some unrelated guy as another villain, and then quickly disposes of the pirates.
I suspect Cunningham must’ve taken a well-deserved vacation to the Bahamas before penning this, as the majority of Deepsea Shootout comes off like a Caribbean travelogue. Also many pages are just recaps of sunken galleon ships which were discovered in past years, Dr. Hutch going on and on in bland exposition which again just appears like a gambit to fill pages. And no surprise, this stuff has no bearing on the story – hell, when we meet him, Hutch is going on and on about the Concepcion, the ship he’s certain is here in this area, but later in the novel he’s just like, “Oh, I was wrong – it’s not here,” and the entire subplot is dropped.
There’s absolutely no action for about 70 pages or so, a Penetrator first. That would be fine if the story was gripping, but it’s not. It’s repetitive and boring, padded to the extreme. In fact it comes off like some low-budget early-‘70s TV show, Hardin recast as Mannix or something, just hobknobbing around and doing a half-assed job picking up clues.
Even those weird plot elements of previous Cunningham installments is gone, with little of the sadism we’ve previously seen. Save, that is, for a bit at the end where Hardin blasts someone with white phosphorous, and the guy pleads with Hardin to allow him to kill himself, jumping into a shark pool! This scene is strange because Cunningham writes it that even Hardin feels sorry for the dude, when meanwhile he’s the one who doused him with WP in the first place.
I’m reading my way through this series, but I have to say Deepsea Shootout isn’t a necessary read. It’s just tepid and underwhelming, and actually doesn’t even seem to be a part of the normal Penetrator universe, more like a Travis McGee rip-off sort of thing. The highlights are few: the voodoo ceremony bit, which does flash a bit of the old Cunningham quirks when Kama, the pirate leader and priestess, offers herself to Hardin (it’s an obvious set-up, though), and the climax, where Hardin infiltrates an underwater lair straight out of a James Bond movie, one complete with that aforementioned shark pool.
Oh, and for once Hardin gets hurt badly, shot in his calf in the climatic battle, the bullet smashing the bone. This leaves him incapacitated for a bit, but in the final pages he’s already planning a detour to Miami, setting us up for the next installment. Here’s hoping it’s better than this dud.