Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The Penetrator #3: Capitol Hell
The Penetrator #3: Capitol Hell, by Lionel Derrick
March, 1974 Pinnacle Books
Mark Roberts returns as "Lionel Derrick," again delivering a taut narrative that plays out like one of Don Pendleton's Executioner novels. After the inept #2: Blood On The Strip, I was uncertain if I wanted to delve back into the world of Mark "Penetrator" Hardin, but this volume was just as good as the first -- which also happened to be written by Mark Roberts.
Capitol Hell picks up right after the previous volume, and this volume itself ends with tidbits which take us right into the next. I like this attempt at a serial narrative -- it's better than the freeflowing chaos of the The Sharpshooter, at least -- but it gives the unfortunate impression that Hardin is one busy s.o.b., going from one campaign to the next. Even James Bond took the occasional vacation.
The novel opens with a goofy coincidence; Hardin just happens to be driving behind a mobster who gets in a fatal crash. It would've made more sense if Hardin was tracking the guy, but whatever. Anyway, Hardin inspects the crash, finds the half-dead mobster; the mobster whispers something about "SIE" with his dying breath, and Hardin goes off, perplexed. Meanwhile, an assassin pulls an Oswald on the press secretary to the President of the United States -- a man who, coincidentally again, just happens to be friends with Hardin. The Penetrator heads for DC to investigate. He soon encounters the name "SIE" again, as it comes up in relation to his dead press secretary friend.
SIE it develops is the Societe Internationale d'Elite, a VIP club in the District which houses a secret cabal of James Bondish-supervillains who plot the takeover of the world. The SIE's club activities are open to all and so Hardin goes to a few events undercover, learning gradually that there is more afoot here than simple DC partying. In another goofy coincidence, one of the "inner chamber" members of SIE happens to be a former 'Nam commanding officer who was screwed over when Hardin exposed the black market ring back in the war. When Hardin leaves his first SIE party this guy follows after with some men; a shootout occurs in pitch darkness, and it's unintentionally hilarious because the goons keep crying out when Hardin shoots each of their comrades: "Jesus! He just shot Louie in the balls!!"
The clunkiness of Blood On The Strip returns when Hardin hooks up with a pretty District employee who invites him over to her place; the lady's roommate happens to be a former dancer at the Pink Pussy -- the Fraulein-run casino in volume #2 -- and she instantly guesses that Hardin is the Penetrator. It's another of those WTF? moments. But Capitol Hell has more going for it: the inner chamber of the SIE is a sort of Satanic coven in which the members wear red KKK-type robes and stand around chanting. The hidden level of their club is a torture chamber/orgy den; unfortunately we never see it in action, only when Hardin discovers it after it has been used. It's unfortunate Roberts didn't play up this angle a bit more; he could've easily given us a sleazefest here, but instead only hints at the Satanic insanity of the SIE.
Roberts however scores huge points by finally poking fun at both Hardin's own name and his codename: a few mobsters, re his "Penetrator" title, wonder if he's "some sort of sex freak," and another calls him "that Hard-on guy." I still say this series would've been the greatest ever if it had approrpiated more of a Baroness angle, if Hardin's name really was "Mark Hardon," his mission each volume being to "penetrate" the defenses of some beautiful enemy agent...
There are a wealth of shootouts throughout Capitol Hell, all of them well done. And again Hardin takes more damage than the average men's adventure protagonist; early on he suffers a terrible knifing which would lay up an ordinary guy. Here also Hardin comes off like John Eagle Expeditor; his "Indian" heritage is brought to the fore, with Hardin leaving behind arrow heads with his kills, and he wears a "thermal suit" which makes him look like a "space warrior." And again Hardin uses white phosphorous on his enemies, as he did in The Target Is H -- this is still the cruelest punishment I've yet seen a men's adventure protagonist inflict upon his enemies.
It all leads to a bizarre climax right out of Murphy and Sapir's Destroyer series, with Hardin and a cop friend chasing the head SIE villains through Colonial Williamsburg; Hardin even delivers the final blow with a vintage rifle. After which he hops back on his personal plane and heads back for his home base in California, already planning his next campaign; in another coincidence Hardin learns of something called "Black Gold" coming out of New York City, and now he's determined to find out what it is. This takes us right into #4: Hijacking Manhattan, but unlike Hardin I think I'll need to take a break before I get to it.