Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Executioner #8: Chicago Wipe-Out

The Executioner #8: Chicago Wipe-Out, by Don Pendleton
September, 1971  Pinnacle Books

Can’t believe I let so much time pass before I returned to The Executioner. Not reaching the same heights as the previous volume, Chicago Wipe-Out is nonetheless mostly entertaining and a good reminder of the pulp-writing skills of Don Pendleton. The dude was on a different level than most other men’s adventure author of the time; like every other Executioner novel Pendleton wrote, this one practically speeds by, with none of the stalling common of many other series novels.

Proof in point, Chicago Wipe-Out opens with hero Mack Bolan already in the titular city and beginning his “wipe-out.” It’s some unspecified time after the New York-based events of the previous book, though Bolan still has the same Beretta and his arm is still giving him trouble due to the injury he sustained there. And while Bolan is still a flesh-and-blood character (for the most part, at least), he has attained mythic proportions by now; gone is the very human protagonist of the first few volumes. Like some hero of fantasy, Bolan is not here in Chicago due to any personal reasons, it’s just because he’s figured it’s the right place to attack, given its mob-heavy history.

The events of this book play out over a twenty-four hour period, nicely ramping up the tension. The first half is undoubtedly the most entertaining. We reconnect with Bolan just as he’s begun his hit on a mob stronghold; a blizzard is moving in on the city and Bolan plans to use it to his advantage. The ensuing action scene is sparse but effective; be forewarned that Chicago Wipe-Out is not only the least violent entry yet, but also lacks much action at all. Throughout Bolan more so uses chaos and confusion in his war against the Mafia rather than good ol’ guns and bombs.

Bolan picks up an unexpected surprise after the hit – unexpected for him but mandatory pre the genre – “a mind-blowing blonde with [a] million-dollar wiggle.” Her name is Jimi James and she’s a Foxy Lady, working at one of the Foxy Lair Clubs and perhaps also a modelling in Foxy Magazine (none of which should be confused with the Playboy franchise, naturally). She was brought here to this mob meeting against her will, as a sort of half-nude showpiece for the event. She runs from the melee during Bolan’s attack and puts herself at his mercy. The fact that she’s wearing a revealing costume that could fit in Bolan’s palm only helps her cause; he takes her with him.

Believe it or not, Bolan actually scores with the gal; she comes to him in the shower later that night in their hotel. He’s decided she has to stay with him, you see, because the Mafia will no doubt figure she rushed from the hit because she was working with the Executioner. If he lets her go they will find her and torture her for information she doesn’t have. This is the first time Bolan’s gotten lucky since with the pseudo-Bardot in #5: Continental Contract, I believe, though unlike in the first volume Pendleton doesn’t even write any of the naughty stuff; he just fades immediately to black as Jimi offers herself to Bolan. Bummer!

We are informed at great length that Chicago is mob city and indeed is the template through which the Mafia will extend its power into the US itself; this is known as “Cosa di tutti Cosi,” aka the “Thing of all Things” or “the Great Thing.” It’s my understanding that future volumes will greatly expand upon this, with a whole government-Mafia conspiracy thing thrown into the works. But here in this eighth volume it’s more of a problem that Bolan is concerned with squashing at the outset, but as the novel elaborates Pendleton works in more of a ‘70s-madatory vibe of pessimism where Bolan realizes that there’s only so much a guy can do when the place he’s trying to protect is already rotten to the core.

Pendleton also spends a lot more time in the heads of his mobsters in this one. They’re an interchangeable bunch and none of them really capture the attention save for a veteran “Turkey Doctor” who goes by the name of Larry Turk, the nickname gamed for his sadism in that field. Turk heads up the soldiers who are put on a sort of Executioner task force, combing the city during the blizzard and seeking out their prey. Bolan meanwhile gives Jimi some pointers on how to survive in his “jungle” (a recurring joke where he yells “Down!” and expects her to drop instantly), and out they go into the snow-heavy night, just as one of those squads converges on their hotel.

The ensuing action scene is again brief and also plays out in pitch-darkness and from Jimi’s confused perspective. Bolan hits hard and fast, though, and realizes he needs to get rid of his excess baggage so he can strike without fear of collateral damage. Enter the most interesting new character in the novel: Leopold “Leo” Stein, a Mafia-fighting lawyer who for his troubles has been crippled and also had acid thrown in his face. He now operates in a Chicago office under a different name, but given his omniscience about all things Mafia-related, Bolan tracks him down. He leaves Jimi with him and gains Leo’s mob intel, a little leather book with names and addresses in it. This will become Bolan’s warbook in Chicago Wipe-Out.

Jimi in safe hands, Bolan straps on a white thermal commando suit, gears up, and heads out into the blizzard. The reader expects a rousing second half in which our hero will blow away scores of Mafia scum on the snow-swept streets of Chicago. Instead we are treated to endless phone conversations, lots of expository dialog, and many scenes of Bolan practicing “role camouflage” as he infiltrates the Mafia positions, posing as some hapless city worker, and thus exploiting the mob’s stupidity. All of which is to say Chicago Wipe-Out is pretty much a letdown after the relentless pace of Nightmare In New York.

Bolan, posing as a telephone repairman, gets into one of the Mafia meeting places – a posh nightclub – and splices its line. Through this means he gradually sets up an internecine war between Don Giovanni and Joliet Jake Vecci. Mind you, all this occurs over the course of a single night. But by its end both these men will think the other is planning a war against him, yet somehow neither of them manages to realize that it all might be the work of the Executioner, even though they both know he’s here in Chicago. (Later a mobster will make the off-hand yet ridiculous comment that Bolan has probably “taken off” and isn’t even there anymore.)

Our hero sort of slips into the shadows and a slew of Mafia characters take his place, all of them with confusing names and all of them practically the same character. The action angle promised in the first half is eclipsed by fears of a war among the family, and Bolan drifts like a wraith across the darkened streets, usually pretending to be a phone repairman. He even hobknobs with soldiers standing out in the freezing weather, guarding Don Gio’s “hardsite” in the woods. Bolan through his chicanery has gotten both sides to converge here, both of them preparing for a war.

Along the way Bolan also learns more of the corruption which controls this city and here he realizes that, even without the Mafia, it would still be corrupt. His goal by novel’s end is to kill as many mobsters as he can, but he knows he can’t touch the most powerful: there’s a mysterious character named “City Jake” who pulls the strings, and Pendleton leaves his identity a secret. All we learn is he’s nationally famous and is known for his good deeds, yet Bolan has discovered he’s rotten to the core and mobbed-up. Presumably he will appear in later volumes; Bolan has a face-to-face with him at the end, but for some reason lets him live.

Even the finale is muted. Joliet Jake and army converge on Don Gio’s hardsite in the middle of the night, and Bolan, hiding in a tree, blasts away a few of them. Jake’s boys assume the shots came from Gio’s house and open fire. Bolan slips away, breaks into Gio’s villa, and guns down a few more soldiers. Then he gets knocked down a flight of stairs! It’s none other than Larry Turk, who has completely gotten the drop on our hero – I mentioned Bolan was more human in these early volumes, didn’t I? But it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth as our hero spends the last pages standing around with his hands in the air while Don Gio and Larry Turk plan how to kill him.

Even worse, Bolan’s only saved by the appearance of an underboss who hauls in a captured Joliet Jake – and Bolan uses the underboss as a human shield in the ensuing fireworks. After quickly dispatching the others with his Beretta, Bolan heads off just as the cops converge. It’s then back to Leo Stein’s place to say thanks and so long to Jimi, and that’s that; Bolan hops in his warwagon (officially named thus in this eighth volume, though it’s the same Ford Econoline van he got in the previous book) and hits the road.

Chicago Wipe-Out displays all of Pendleton’s many strengths, but at the same time it’s a disappointment because it promises so much but ultimately delivers so little. One is certain a better story existed here. Fortunately, Pendleton delivered thirty-some more installments, so doubtless he had many chances to redeem himself. At any rate I can’t give this one a sterling endorsement, but given the continuity-heavy basis of Pendleton’s Executioner books, that could hardly matter; you need to read it, anyway!

And I love that cover – looks like Bolan’s strangling a carnival barker!


chris haynes said...

I agree that the action was quite a let down. Since he was there mainly to kill as many mobsters as he could, he certainly didn't kill as many as he could have. Although, I did like the shoot out at the motel in the snow, that was pretty cool.

I believe this is the first book where the female lead character (in this case Jimi James) did not get shot, tortured, beat up or killed. I think she gave Bolan a chance to unwind and feel human least for a while. I thought Bolan yelling "Down" all the time was pretty funny and showed a rare sense of humor in the series.

While the War Wagon was first mentioned toward the end of Nightmare in New York (The Executioner #7), here is where he outfits it to truly be a machine of war and he uses it quite a bit.

While this book wasn't as good as it could have been, I enjoyed it.

David Hanson said...

Hey, been reading and enjoying your blog for a while, don't know if any of my other comments ever made it through (couldn't get past captcha on a tablet, for some reason) but i assure you they were pithy and amusing.
Wondering if you've had the time or the inclination to check out Mack Bolan's ersatz cousin Frank Castle on Netflix's Daredevil series? I think it's BY FAR the best on screen Punisher yet-not a super high bar, by any means, but still.

chris haynes said...

I've heard a lot of great things about Daredevil and this version of The Punisher but I haven't had a chance to see it yet. I don't understand why no one has been able to make a good Punisher movie yet.

Have you watched the Cinemax series Strike Back? They had 4 seasons and I've been watching it on Amazon video. Great show with decent writing and acting and great action. It puts me in mind of Phoenix Force or Able Team.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks guys for the comments. David, sorry you've been having captcha issues. I haven't seen the Daredevil series, that's interesting to hear the Punisher shows up in it. I did see Punisher War Zone which I thought at times came close to capturing the Executioner, but more along the lines of the Gold Eagle version and not as much the Pendleton original. Anyway, thanks for the comment and I'm glad you are enjoying the blog.

Chris, I haven't seen Strike Back, but Andy Decker once mentioned it to me in an email...if it puts you in the mind of PF or AT, then I should certainly check it out sometime. And I appreciated your thoughts on Executioner #8; good point on Jimi James being one of the few female characters to remain unscathed! I'm going to move on to #9 fairly soon.

Steve Scarbeck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Scarbeck said...

Dear sir,are you familiar with a don pendleton gold eagle ghostwriters series bible. Your blog has inspired me to perform feats of mens action adventure formulaics in my free time,i know i stumbled upon this via an interview or comment on your vast sprawling site and was hoping you would be able to lead me in the right direction as google has stumped me thank you, Steven