Friday, 12 December 2014

War Against the Mafia by Don Pendleton, 1969

I offer this review for my ‘First Novels’ reading challenge as well as for Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbot’s blog Pattinase.

Mack Bolan: The Executioner by Don Pendleton was the first action series I ever read, in my late teens. Since then, I have been hooked to the daring and often improbable adventures of the war veteran and one-man vigilante squad. His speciality is sniper fire and his calling card is a marksman’s medal.

Over the years I have collected over fifty original and reprinted The Executioner books as well as spinoffs like Phoenix Force and Able Team, and I read a few of those every year. In spite of the bloodshed and mayhem, I find the novels entertaining. Bolan may be a fictional character but he is like a superhero and as long as there are men like him around, there is justice on this planet and hope for humankind. You have to keep disbelief aside.

In War Against the Mafia, originally published in 1969, American author Don Pendleton introduces us to Mack Bolan and his adrenaline-pumping brand of justice and fair play, which could be described in three words—all guns blazing.

Bolan is forced to leave the jungles of a war-ravaged Vietnam and return home to bury his father, mother, and sister, and take care of his seriously-wounded kid brother. Sam Bolan, his father, has gunned down his family after loan sharks associated with the mafia make life impossible for him and his family, and force his daughter into prostitution to recover the debt. Bolan infiltrates the mafia to find out who is who and then takes revenge on the mobsters in their backyard. His only accomplices are his first sniper rifle, a Marlin, and a .44 Magnum Calibre revolver, besides a range of other arms and ammunition. 

Bolan is unrelenting as he seeks and destroys the mob, commando-style. He has the unofficial sympathy and support of the police force which realises the mafia needs its protection more than Bolan. Along the way he falls in love, waxes eloquent about good and evil, and justifies why he must fight the war closer home than in remote Vietnam. He stays back to deliver Bolan justice. 

Mack Bolan’s character is not well-developed and is somewhat unconvincing in War Against the Mafia but it gets better and even credible as you read the other novels in The Executioner series. Don Pendleton wrote thirty-eight Bolan novels ending with Satan’s Sabbath in 1980. Since then, there have been more than five hundred in the series, kept alive by a host of pseudonymous writers, many of whom write under the collective name of Gar Wilson.

Interestingly, Bradley Cooper is set to play Mack Bolan in a Warner Bros. film directed by Todd Phillips (Hangover series). Years ago, I thought Tom Berenger was the most suitable actor to portray Sergeant Bolan on screen.

18 comments:

  1. Don Pendleton created a new genre with his EXECUTIONER series. The early books are good, but after a while the formula grew a bit tired and tattered.

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    1. George, I agree, the non-Don Pendleton books were written according to a set pattern. I can see the difference between the ones he wrote and those written by others.

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  2. Looks like a good escape-type series. I know what you mean by improbable, but I'd imagine after that first suspension of disbelief, it's probably believable enough.

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    1. Elizabeth, that's what it is and that's why I like the series. It's racy and a quick read. What Mack Bolan does would be unthinkable in today's times.

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  3. I'm always quite shocked that there are so many series, and authors, and lists of books that I have never come across! This is new to me, Prashant, and I found it very interesting.

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    1. Moira, that's exactly how I feel. I came across a new western series that I wrote about today. THE EXECUTIONER series is interesting but it might not be everyone's cup of tea.

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  4. Nicely summed up. This Rambo style of justice follows on the heels of a couple of decades of comic book super heroes. Instead of possessing super powers, the hero is a one-man army, a warrior. The word "war" is already there in the title. Not sure what all this says about the culture that produced it, maybe that in 1969 there was more than a little war fever for a storyteller to draw on, not to mention civil discord in the streets.

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    1. Ron, thank you. After reading his first novel, I got the impression that Don Pendleton was making out a case against America's involvement in the Vietnam War, especially when there were other "wars" that needed to be fought at home back then, like the war against the mafia and gangland killings, drugs, prostitution, and money laundering. Mack Bolan's "Rambo style of justice" would be relevant in today's terror times.

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  5. I'm not sure if I have read any of these years ago or not. I'll keep an eye out for one in future. I don't think I would particularly want to try the lot!

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    1. Col, I hope you read a couple of these novels although, I admit, if you read a few you'll have read them all, as George alludes to above. On the whole they are fun to read.

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    2. Fun reads have a lot to commend them.

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    3. Col, my love for war and action comics like COMMANDO got me interested in the Mack Bolan and Nick Carter type of novels. I like the covers of the original Bolan series, pictured right on top, not so much the reprints.

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    4. This has appeared on Net Galley - I have requested it...fingers crossed!

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    5. Col, you should be able to find a copy in used bookstores. Don Pendleton's narrative style was very different from those of his predecessors who carried on the Mack Bolan legacy.

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  6. Prashant, there is something appealing about a series when it continues on successfully, written by so many authors. Someday I will try one of those earlier ones written by Pendleton.

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    1. Tracy, I usually don't read series novels but I have made an exception in very few cases like THE EXECUTIONER. The ones written by Don Pendleton are some of the best in the series. The Mack Bolan novels were very popular from the seventies through nineties.

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  7. Not actually tried any of these action series yet, though i did enjoy the REMO movie from the DESTROYER books - thanks Prashant, must see about getting a few though maybe not from too early on by the sound of it.

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    1. Sergio, in spite of my reservations about the first Mack Bolan novel, the early ones written by Don Pendleton himself are worth reading. I vaguely remember THE DESTROYER novels but thanks for bringing it to my attention. Remo Williams sounds like an official version of Mack Bolan.

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