Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Executioner #10: Caribbean Kill


The Executioner #10: Caribbean Kill, by Don Pendleton
February, 1972  Pinnacle Books

Perhaps best read immediately after the previous volume, Caribbean Kill finds Mack “The Executioner” Bolan landing in Puerto Rico just a few hours after escaping from the mob in Las Vegas. And the events in this book play out over two or three days, meaning that the two volumes comprise less than a week of Bolan’s hectic mob-busting life.

His plane ride is courtesy Jack Grimaldi, ‘Nam pilot turned Mafia courier; when I first read this series in the ‘80s, when Gold Eagle was publishing it, I never got a good grasp on who Grimaldi was – he just seemed to be some dude who sporadically appeared and flew Bolan around. But here he gets a bit of the narrative; he’s not a true Mafioso, just a guy back from ‘Nam who couldn’t land a job and ended up flying mobsters around to pay the bills. But he doesn’t carry a gun and doesn’t engage in mob antics, and Pendleton skillfully builds up and plays out the growing rapport between Bolan and him.

In fact, it’s the Bolan-Grimaldi relationship that forms the emotional core of Caribbean Kill, even though this is one of the rare installments in which Bolan gets laid. This comes courtesy a hotbod Latina cop who not only reminds the reader of the Latina babe in #4: Miami Massacre but reminds Bolan of her, too. He meets her in one of those men’s adventure moments that are only possible in this genre, and one of the reasons I love it – during an assault of the local mafia hardsite which Bolan launches immediately upon his arrival in Puerto Rico. Bear in mind, the dude’s fresh from an attack just a few hours before on the Vegas mob, and he hasn’t slept in “weeks.”

Bolan makes Grimaldi jump out over the water and ditches the plane, trying to fool the mobsters here at the Glass Bay hardsite that he’s killed in the crash. Then he takes to the jungle and engages them in a running battle. Bolan is again solely armed with the Beretta pistol he’s carried since #5: Continental Contract. Speaking of that earlier volume, we have here the return of a minor character: Tony Lavagni, a soldier in the mob army Bolan hit there in France, who has since been promoted to lieutenant and now runs this site in Puerto Rico. True to series template, we get a lot of scenes from Tony’s perspective as he and his men try to hunt and finally kill “that Bolan bastard.”

As for Bolan himself, he’s full-on Superman now, despite Pendleton’s many claims that Bolan is just a regular guy. Particularly when it comes to the scenes from Grimaldi’s perspective; the pilot lives in terror of the “big guy in black” (Bolan as ever in his commando “blacksuit”), and there are many humorous moments where Bolan will seemingly materialize out of the shadows, usually when Grimaldi happens to be thinking about him. Otherwise Bolan, despite only having a Beretta with a few clips, successfully manages to elude and turn the tables on the superior Mafia forces which hunt him through the jungle. This sequence is the highlight of Caribbean Kill, but only comprises the first quarter or so.

It's here that Bolan “meets cute” the lady mentioned above; having appropriated a jeep, Bolan’s making a successful escape when he catches sight of a hotstuff brunette babe being hauled into a building on the hardsite. He goes with his gut and postpones his escape long enough to blow away the goons who were in the process of beating her up inside. She turns out to be an undercover cop named Evita Aguilar who has been in Glass Bay for a few months, sleeping with the boss as part of the job – and Bolan doesn’t mind this, we’re informed, as he’s aware that in this dirty war the usual codes of morality no longer apply.

Pendleton is very good at making Bolan’s life seem all exciting and appealing to the (largely) male readership, then he has to go and gut the fantasy with various scenes of Bolan belying his bloody fate and envying people with normal lives. Such is the brief case of the young couple Evita has them hide out with; a young Puerto Rican and his pregnant wife. These parts are meant to humanize Bolan, yet at the same time they detract from the escapism of the series and genre, which I guess is the point. Anyway he quickly brushes off any such notions of quitting, as does Evita; Pendleton establishes that the two are of a same mind, natural born warriors who not only couldn’t stop fighting but ultimately have no desire to.

This leads to the genre-mandatory boffing which Pendleton usually denies us; while there are zero sleazy details, the soap operatic dialog Bolan and Evita trade pre-shag is jaw-droppingly goofy (“Find me, Mack! Find me!”) and would probably even be rejected by Harlequin Books (later owners of the series, incidentally). Simply put, no human beings on earth speak like this, at least (or perhaps especially) before having sex with one another. But it occurs to me that goofy pre-sex dialog is sort of a Pendleton staple; The Godmakers, as I recall, is filled with it.

All this led me to the realization that, in the men’s adventure field, it’s generally the woman who initiates sex, as is the case here. If you think about it, rarely if ever do we see the hero put the moves on some babe; it’s usually the hotstuff woman he’s saved or otherwise encountered in his action-heroing who eventually comes to him and offers up the goods. Now that I think of it, Len Levinson stands mostly alone in that he does feature men’s adventure protagonists who try to put the moves on women – and sometimes fail spectacularly, as is the case with Butler. But I guess this “woman making the first move” motif is part and parcel of the escapist nature of the genre; I mean, I personally can only think of a couple dozen women who have offered themselves to me in the past few weeks.

Anyway I digress. The two go at it, off-page as usual, and post-shag Bolan discovers a group of thugs infiltrating the area. This features a memorable bit where Bolan deduces, solely on a hunch, that these guys are not in fact cops; it’s all due to how one of them reacts when Bolan slips out of the shadows and puts a gun on his back. Bolan figures the guy couldn’t be a police officer, given his jumpy reaction, and commences massacring, but in truth the dude could just be jumpy. But again I digress. And this is pretty much it for Evita and Bolan, by the way; Bolan retains the services of Grimaldi and gets a flight to Haiti.

In one of the more arbitrary late-hour subplots I’ve yet encountered in the series, Evita abruptly tells Bolan about a local Mafia bigwig: “Sir Edward,” one of those new school executive types in the mob who operates out of nearby Haiti. Bolan, figuring providence has placed him here for some reason, decides he’ll fly on over and kill the bastard. Why not? This does bring Grimaldi back into the fold, though, and features one of those humorous encounters between the two. Also here Pendleton brings Grimaldi to life, and you learn he isn’t just a dumb Mafia pilot, and one gets the impression Pendleton’s planned this reveal all along, that he now understands this series might be running for a long time and he’s busy setting up recurring characters.

Given that we’re already in the final pages when all this goes down, the hit on Sir Edward is over and done with rather quickly. Bolan, again in blacksuit, sneaks in and takes out a few guards and then goes about that “role camoflauge” stuff he carries out practically every volume; he causes a blackout in the villa and bullies his way through the mob enforcers, pretending to be a bigshot trying to retain order in the sudden chaos. It’s not a grand finale, but a memorable one, as Bolan lives up to his “executioner” title, this time bluntly telling his prey that he is here to execute him. A nice, chilling reminder of how coldblooded our hero can be in his quest to destroy the Mafia.

We get a brief goodbye for Evita, who waves to Bolan from a boat as he flies over her, Grimaldi once again escorting him, but who knows if we’ll ever see her again. As for Bolan, he ends Caribbean Kill determined to at least take a day or two off before continuing with his war. Overall I enjoyed this one, maybe a bit more than its predecessor, but the series has definitely taken on a template at this point, and I’m missing the slam-bang violence and action of such masterful volumes as #7: Nightmare In New York.

I did some research and it appears that many years later, after the series went over to Gold Eagle and was handled by various ghostwriters, Stephen Mertz brought Evita back, in #48: The Libya Connection – just long enough to torture and kill her. Jeez, Stephen, thanks a lot!!

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