Monday, September 10, 2012

The Executioner #4: Miami Massacre

The Executioner #4: Miami Massacre, by Don Pendleton
October, 1970 Pinnacle Books

The Executioner series continues to barrel full steam ahead as Mack Bolan, shortly after the events in the previous volume, heads down to Miami to bust up some more Mafia scum. By now Don Pendleton is working out the series details, and Bolan is becoming more of the archetypal hero and less of the three-dimensional character of the first three volumes. Don’t get me wrong, Bolan’s still a lot more “human” than most any men’s adventure protagonist (at least, in Pendleton’s hands he is), but with Miami Massacre he takes one step closer to becoming the “blacksuit”-garbed, Warwagon-driving murder machine of the later volumes.

Another Pendleton hallmark is opening action scenes, and once again he doesn’t disappoint. Bolan comes down hard on a mob stronghold in Phoenix, Arizona, closing in on the boss, who manages to escape. The guy is on his way to Miami, and Bolan also learns a Mafia summit will take place there, the main topic of discussion being the Executioner himself.

One issue with these early books is a lack of a good villain. In the previous two novels we had “Deej,” who really wasn’t all that much competition for Bolan. Miami Massacre doesn’t even feature one good main villain; the novel opens with Bolan hunting down a mafioso in Phoenix, and we assume the guy’s going to be the antagonist throughout. Instead, Bolan wastes him just a few pages later with some sniping skills. After that Pendleton switches the focus to another young mobster in Miami who is so similar to the one from Phoenix that I kept thinking it was the same guy.

However Pendleton here introduces the Talifero brothers, a pair of blonde-haired enforcers who employ their own army (the Taliferi) and who answer to no one. Pendleton doesn’t elaborate on the brothers much, doesn’t even really tell them apart, but it’s obvious he is working them up into greater threats who will return in future volumes. At any rate, the Talifero boys are called in to head up security for the mob summit meeting in Miami, and Bolan has to figure out how to get in around the heavy security and still waste a bunch of mobsters.

Pendleton continues his strange style of showing and telling. His novels open with great blockbuster action sequences, ones that just keep gaining momentum, but then he’ll go back and recap for a chapter or two, usually through the dialog of cops who arrive late on the scene. In each case, these guys just inform us of stuff we already know. And also, the cops this time out are basically rehashes of the California cops back in Death Squad; one of them is even the same as Carl Lyons, a young guy who begins to think the Executioner is the bee’s knees.

But with this volume Pendleton is getting the mythos down. Bolan introduces his “blacksuit,” which he wears on his commando raids. We still haven’t gotten to the Warwagon, nor the infamous Automag; Bolan here uses a Luger, which I found a little unusual. He employs it like it’s his most favorite weapon, and relies on it exclusively throughout the first half of the book. Later he shows off a large cache of weapons, apparently stuff lifted during previous raids on the mob; one of the weapons is an M-16/M-203 combo, which he uses to blow up tons of shit in the finale.

The villains might not be memorable, and in fact the mafia henchman all seem to be clones of one another, but Pendleton brings to life the supporting cast. After a thrilling scene where Bolan storms a hotel full of Mafia, he escapes with the bellhop, who turns out to be a Cuban exile named Toro who is an admirer of Bolan’s. Toro comes off like a proto version of Rafael Encinzo, from the much later Phoenix Force series, so I wonder why Gold Eagle just didn’t use Toro in that series instead of creating a whole new character. (Perhaps because Toro returns in a later volume and gets wasted?)

Bolan stays with the exiles, smoking plenty of cigarettes (ah, the ‘70s) and supplying them with guns and money stolen from the mob. Here he also meets Margarita, I guess the Smurfette of the Cuban revolutionary exiles, as apparently she’s the only woman in the camp. After he gives her comrades a ton of money, the initially-frosty Margarita throws herself at Bolan and our hero gets lucky for the first time since War Against the Mafia. Not that Pendleton goes into much detail.

But as Jack Sullivan could tell Bolan, romance while on a mission sometimes leads to sorrow. After returning to Miami and engaging in another thrilling combat sequence, Bolan discovers that Margarita has not only followed him, but has also been captured by a squad of Taliferi soldiers.

Here also Bolan again meets up with Hal Brognola (who I just realized I’ve always envisioned as Dabney “Jack Flack” Coleman in Cloak and Dagger…or failing that, Richard “Rambo" Crenna) and Leo Turrin (last seen in the first novel); this brief reunion appears to set up future volumes where the Executioner is going to be sent to Europe to bust up the mob over there. All of it comes off like a prefigure of the later Gold Eagle incarnation of the series, where Bolan is a globe-spanning commando.

The climax I found a bit disappointing, with a for-once injured Bolan again being saved by Toro and the Cubans; with one of Bolan’s appropriated heavy-caliber guns they launch a naval raid on a floating Mafia pleasure palace, inside which lurks a large assortment of Mafia elite. The scene wasn’t up to snuff for me because it lacked the personal, one-on-one confrontations I prefer in these books; instead, it was just Bolan strapped to a big gun and blasting away at a boat.

Pendleton again captures the late ‘60s/early ‘70s vibe with the despondent feel of the Vietnam era (one of the cops says it’s a wonder there aren’t more “kill crazy” ‘Nam vets like Bolan), but while I enjoyed it, I didn’t like Miami Massacre as much as the preceding volumes.

As a bonus note, be sure to check out The Sharpshooter #5: Night of the Assassins, which is along the same lines as Miami Massacre, only a lot more fun. But then, it is by Len Levinson.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Joe, thanks for this review. I haven't read it yet though it's pretty impossible to read all the old and new Mack Bolan, Able Team or Phoenix Force, novels I enjoy reading even now. I have been on the lookout for the original 30-odd novels by Don Pendleton (not easy in India) and recently acquired BOSTON BLITZ #12 and HEART TO HEART, #5 of the Ashton Ford series. I'm currently reading BLACK DICE #98 by Dan Schmidt who gives you a piece of history (the Cold War, for instance) and mindless violence together. Good writer, though. I checked out your Dan Schmidt links on the right. Many thanks...

Joe Kenney said...

Prashant, thanks for the comment. I bet it's not easy to find Executioner novels in India! That's great though that you have been able to find some of the books. Speaking of which I have Black Dice #98, and intend to read it one of these days. I like Dan Schmidt's work a lot, too, especially #115: Circle of Steel. His writing reminds me a little of Joseph Rosenberger, only a little more polished. And ironically enough, Mike Madonna informed me that Schmidt and Rosenberger were actually friends!

Anyway, thanks again for posting and reading the reviews, and good luck finding more of the books. #12: Boston Blitz by the way was supposedly Pendleton's own favorite in the series, so it's surely a good one.

Chris H. said...

I just finished reading Miami Massacre and liked it. I don't remember this book at all so I'm not sure I read it back in high school.

I think Bolan should be required to tell any woman he comes in contact with that they are putting themselves in grave danger if they decide to spend any time with him.

The opening action scene, the action scene at the "model's" house and the action scene at the first hotel he attacks were all pretty cool. The car chase and shootout after leaving the "model's" house was another example of "don't mess with Bolan's friends!!".

I thought the final shootout was anti-climactic and kind of boring. i.e. Bolan sneaks up to a hotel and blows everyone up with an M203 grenade launcher. He then hops on an old converted PT boat and blows up a yacht with a mounted belt-fed grenade launcher. It only takes a few pages and is very sterile.

After all of the hype leading up to their introduction, I was really hoping the Talifero brothers were going to be a serious threat to Bolan. But that also was a let down and they ended up playing a very small part in the story.

But, even with it's shortcomings I enjoyed the book.

Joe Kenney said...

Chris, thanks a lot for the comment, as well as the others you've left on the blog. I'm glad you're enjoying the Executioner books!

Chris H. said...

I'm having fun re-reading these old books. It's really nice that the original series is available on Kindle. I thought I would re-read the first 10 to re-familiarize myself with the series (plus they were only $1.99 at the time) and then skip to #32. #32 is the beginning of the end of the original series and I'll read the series through Bolan's last week of his war on the mob, #33 - #38. It should be fun.

I recently picked up Argentine Deadline (Phoenix Force #1), Guerilla Games(Phoenix Force #2) and an old Nick Carter: Killmaster book from the local used bookstore. I put Able Team #1 & #2 on my Christmas list, we'll see if my wife orders them for me. I've also recently read a few of the Ninja Master Series and I'm looking for some copies of The Survivalist and Death Merchant.

Thanks for putting up a great website. Reading your reviews of these old books has inspired me to revisit these old series and it's been a lot of fun. I'll be sure to post comments after I've read the books.

I'm currently reading The Executioner #5; I feel sorry for Gil Martin, it sucked for him to be mistaken for Bolan...