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.


Felicity Walker said...

I first encountered the phrase “turkey doctor” in another Executioner novel (I forget which one--one of the 1980s ones with the white covers) and tried Googling the phrase, but couldn’t find any occurrence of it. I could only assume from context that it meant “torturer,” but I was hoping for more information. Where did the expression come from? Why turkeys? Etc.

Felicity Walker said...

(Forgot to check “e-mail follow-up comments”)

Joe Kenney said...

Felicity, thanks for the comments you've left. I'm not sure if Pendleton ever explained the origins of the phrase "turkey doctor" in the actual Executioner novels, but he did provide the background in an interview published in the book "A Study of Action-Adventure Fiction," by William H. Young, which I reviewed the other year:

Basically, Pendleton stated that he was thinking along the lines of "talk turkey." He was pretty vague about it, but it sounded like he was thinking these mafia "doctors" would use their sadistic skills to get someone to "talk turkey."

At any rate, I think "turkey doctor" sounds pretty cool. Thanks again for your comments!

Felicity Walker said...

Hi Joe! Thanks for the reply! Glad to know Pendleton did explain it somewhere! :-)

I also decided to re-Google “turkey doctor” and add “Bolan” to see if that helped, and it did! I found this passage from Executioner #24, Canadian Crisis, on Google Books:

Bolan [...] told the guy. “Crazy Sal sentenced her to fifty days in a turkey doctor’s chamber of horrors.”

“What?” Chebleu croaked.

“You know what a turkey doctor is?”

The guy was shaking his head, obviously hoping that he did not know.

Bolan said, “Think of Ausschwitz, Buchenwald, and the madmen who played medical games there with human meat. Then think of that sort of mentality transplanted to this time and place, give it the absolute power that is enjoyed by a mob boss, and turn it loose on a cute kid who got too cute with that same boss. You can forget names and identities now, because there’s nothing left but screaming turkey.”

chris haynes said...

Nightmare in New York has to be my favorite Executioner novel so far. I thought the writing and action sequences were a lot better than the previous books.

I would like to see what Bolan looks like dressed up like a hippie and driving around in a flowered VW minibus. I bet it would have been funny.

Poor Evie, she was just a poor love-struck young lady that did not deserve what was done to her. I liked the scene where Bolan dragged Gambella's wife out to look at Evie's body and show her some of the things her husband does for a living. Of course, when she showed no remorse and said her husband was a real man, I think Bolan should have put one in her head.

But Bolan got his revenge during the raid on the mob's hardsite, Stoney Lodge. He really let them have it and it was awesome. Since Mr. Pendelton didn't specifically say that Gambella died, I'm assuming we'll see him again.

At the end of the book it says "Then he withdrew, and got into his Ford war machine, and he shook the dust of that place from his feet." Is this the first reference to Bolan's War Wagon?

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comment, Chris. I'm with you -- this one was my favorite yet. I need to get back to the series. I'll try to read volume #8 soon. And I believe you are correct, that must've been the first War Wagon reference.