Thursday, July 10, 2014
The Executioner #7: Nightmare In New York
The Executioner #7: Nightmare In New York, by Don Pendleton
July, 1971 Pinnacle Books
After a few volumes that were entertaining but seemed to be missing something, the Executioner series returns with a bang with this seventh volume, easily my favorite yet of Don Pendleton's original run. Here Pendleton is settling into the forumla that will take him through the next 30-odd books, and what an enjoyable ride it is, as Mack Bolan blitzes the Manhattan mob and leaves gory ruin in his wake.
Events pick up very soon after the previous volume, with Bolan flying into JFK airport from London. Pendleton excels at opening action scenes, and delivers another fine one here, with a group of Mafia enforcers waiting to ambush Bolan at the airport. Since he doesn’t have a gun (having checked it to avoid “the hijack-conscious air marshalls”), Bolan has to use his wits to lift one from one of the goons, and then leads them on a chase through JFK. Apparently at this time helicopters took passengers from JFK into Manhattan (?!), and there follows another memorable scene where Bolan storms out of the copter and blows away some thugs who are waiting for him at the helipad.
Bolan though gets injured, and half-dead collapses in a Manhattan office building. He wakes up in a penthouse suite, where he is being tended to by three beautiful young women: Paula, the oldest of the three, and a former nurse; Evie, the youngest and the one who seems most interested in Bolan; and Rachel, a hotbod brunette model who likes to prance around the suite naked – that is, when she isn’t meditating in the lotus position. Bolan is instantly taken with Rachel, and here again Pendleton serves up the now-familiar story of Bolan chastizing himself that it’s impossible for him to fall in love, but what could have been, and etc, etc.
The stuff with the girls goes on for a while, with them tending Bolan back to health. Apparently it was all Evie’s idea, as she instantly figured out who Bolan was, having been a fan of his from the news. However nothing ultimately comes of any of this, with Bolan keeping his hands off the girls, though there is a long-simmer deal with Rachel, who despite her beauty apparently has some significant pubic hair (but then, it was the ‘70s), with Evie twice referring to it condescendingly, first calling it a “hairy monkey” and later a “monkey’s mouth!” Now there’s an image that sticks with you.
Also worth mentioning is that Rachel is a straight-up New Ager, and she enjoys engaging Bolan in weighty conversations. However, the majority of her dialog seems to come right out of Pendleton’s earlier The Godmakers, which I found interesting; especially given Bolan’s curt and humorous responses to her mystic prattle. But Bolan can’t sit around forever, and once he’s healed enough he heads out to even up the score on the mobsters who jumped him. These turn out to be minions of Sam the Bomber Chianti, a “contractor’s contractor” who does all of the hiring for Manhattan capo Freddie Gambella.
There’s a bit of a Richard Stark feel to the opening half of this volume, as Bolan is as merciless as Parker. First he does away with some thugs who come to the girls’s apartment, making the lone survivor load up his dead pals into the trunk of his car, and then Bolan blows away the poor guy, too, tossing him in the trunk with his buddies! There’s also a Parker-style heist, actually more in line with something Westlake would’ve published under his own name, when Bolan discovers a Mafia bank hidden behind a barbershop in Harlem.
Had Nightmare In New York been a movie, this bit would’ve been accompanied by “comedy music,” as in an unbelievable but humorous sequence Bolan bluffs his way into the “secure” bank, acts like he’s a rep for Freddie Gambella, and starts yelling at everyone that the cops are about to raid the place. He makes off with twenty-five thousand dollars, not having fired a single shot. And while Bolan’s smart about stuff like this, he makes some serious mistakes in not realizing he should be protecting the three girls who tended to him.
Sure enough Gambella gets one of them, and here we have one of the series’s first “turkey doctor” scenes; in fact I think it might be the very first one. Pendleton doles out the sadism like a regular Russell Smith, detailing the poor girl’s terror-filled night in a meat-packing plan Gambella owns. When Bolan later finds the mauled, raped, and mutilated corpse, Pendleton serves up enough detail to make your flesh squirm, including the unforgettable tidbit that the girl’s eyelids have been sliced off. Bolan’s “rescue” of her corpse is yet another highlight in a book filled with them, as he blows away the goons just as they’re clearing up the mess they created.
What sets Bolan apart from the Imitation Executioners that followed in his wake is his human nature, as evidenced by his occasional tendency to let various mobsters survive his blitzes. Sometimes this is a bit too much, and Pendleton walks the line with such a moment here, as before the “turkey doctor” sequence Bolan visits Sam the Bomber at his home, ready to axe him…only to be talked out of it by the guy’s wife! What at first appears to be a maudlin bit is later played out more fully, when Bolan again visits Sam, who is heeding Bolan’s advice and packing to split town; Sam here delivers a long monologue on how his wife made him the man he is. But anyway, Sam is the one who, as “thanks” for letting him live, informs Bolan that Gambella has gotten one of the girls.
After this turning point Bolan’s pretty much in blitz mode throughout, running roughshod over the five families of New York, Gambella’s goons in particular. There’s another memorable part where he takes the mutilated corpse of the girl to Gambella’s palatial home, blows away all of the mobsters there, and then makes Gambella’s wife confront the reality of what her husband truly is by showing her the desecrated body. This is a weird scene for sure, with the woman refusing to give in to Bolan, even stating proudly that her husband has gone off with “some girls” because “He’s a real man!”
As if the whole revenge angle wasn’t enough, Pendleton works in a subplot that Gambella and the other four capos are working up some huge conspiracy, something involving the government. Bolan gets the intel from Leo Turrin, who is becoming more focal in the series; Bolan even checks in on his kid brother Johnny, the first time I think he’s even been mentioned since the first volume. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Bolan, who is on the lookout for both the cops and the Mafia, goes around in a hippie disguise, complete with a leather vest, big granny sunglasses, and even a VW Minivan.
The action becomes more fierce as the novel rolls along, with Bolan desperate to find the now-missing two girls, and of course discovering at length that Gambella has them. But this all ties in with the conspiracy angle, as Bolan has already pulled a soft probe on “Stoney Lodge,” an opulent Long Island complex the Mafia uses for executive-level discussions; Bolan quickly deduces that Gambella has taken the girls there, given that he’s scheduled to be meeting with the other four New York capos. This all leads into a taut and exciting climax in which Bolan, geared up with machine guns and a bazooka, pulls a devestating raid on Stoney Lodge. However Pendleton dangles a carrot with the unexpected survival of Freddie Gambella, who nonetheless loses an arm in the raid; certainly he’ll be back in a future installment.
In addition to the sadism level of the turkey doctor sequence, Pendleton also increases the gore factor, with Nightmare In New York the most violent entry yet. We get thorough, bloody detail as Bolan kills hordes of Mafia enforcers, including one memorable bit where he blows away a fat one with his “chattergun” and Pendleton describes how the dude’s stomach explodes. In fact the only thing missing from the novel, from a pulp perspective, is sex; we get lots of detail of how nubile and busty the three gals who rescue Bolan are, but for once the Executioner himself doesn’t get lucky.
Also I have to again say how great Pendleton’s writing is. He has an excellent grasp on pulp writing, doling out just the right balance of description, dialog, and action; in other words, one never outweighs the other. For comparison, right now I’m reading Stark #3: The Chinese Coffin, which is by Joseph Hedges (aka Terry Harknett) and was originally published in the UK in 1973 under the series title The Revenger. It’s good and all, but Harknett’s prose weighs the book down, with endless detail and description, to the point where the novel gets to be a drag.
Don Pendleton however clearly understood how to write pulp, and I mean that as a compliment – I mean the guy could’ve just as easily written a “real” novel. But I think it’s just as hard to write a pulp novel, at least if you’re going to try to do it right, and Pendleton certainly knows how. It’s like Zwolf said – Pendleton is “a Cadillac in the parking lot of action-series writers,” and Nightmare In New York is just another example of his mastery of the craft.