I remember reading a smattering of Executioner novels as a youngster, and--reminiscing about how much I enjoyed them--I recently bought a bunch of oldI remember reading a smattering of Executioner novels as a youngster, and--reminiscing about how much I enjoyed them--I recently bought a bunch of old Pendleton titles. Of the first several novels in the series, War Against the Mafia still stands out as my clear favorite. The action is hard-hitting, and the story moves quickly while still taking the time to establish the characters and settings.
Another thing that struck me while reading this is how morally murky The Executioner's beginnings are. By that, I don't mean that Bolan himself comes across as confused or morally conflicted. Rather, the series of events that leads to him becoming The Executioner are realistically tangled. The mob doesn't kill his family--they drive his father to commit a terrible act of murder and suicide. His sister isn't forced to become a prostitute, she does so because she thinks she's helping her father and her family. And once Bolan infiltrates the Pittsfield syndicate, he grows to like and respect the man whom he originally most wanted to kill--Leo Turrin, who first ushered his sister into the mob's prostitution ring.
All these moral ambiguities aside, what stands out most strongly in this novel is the savage purity of Bolan's warrior code, and his committment to eradicating the cancerous element of organized crime in the United States. Still, I like the little bits of depth and complexity that Pendleton gives to a story that mostly exists on a comic-book level. Also, there's still an element of tension in this novel as far as Bolan being a "wanted man" goes. In subsequent novels, he's able to avoid massive, nationwide police dragnets without breaking a sweat, but in War Against the Mafia, there's the sense that he's very close to being captured at any moment, which adds a great deal of suspense.
For my money, this book is really about as good as pulp adventure writing gets....more
A lot of people seem to prefer this novel to its predecessor, but I find this unfathomable. While Death Squad was an enjoyable read, it measured up poA lot of people seem to prefer this novel to its predecessor, but I find this unfathomable. While Death Squad was an enjoyable read, it measured up poorly against War Against the Mafia. After the grit and realism of that first novel, its sequel often seems almost cartoonish. The biggest stumbling block to my enjoyment of Death Squad, however, is the speed and ease with which Bolan is able to assemble his squad of fellow Vietnam veterans. Every single ex-serviceman he contacts is eager to join his war, and at no point does even one of them contemplate giving up. After the lengths that Pendleton went to in his first novel to paint a believable picture of a man who is driven to the edge by the deaths of his parents and sister, the introduction of nine new characters, most of whom are barely two-dimensional, seems somewhat ridiculous. Perhaps I would have had an easier time swallowing the action in Death Squad if Bolan had only recruited three or four old war buddies, and we had gotten more of a chance to know them. I liked "Chopper" Fontenelli, "Dead-Eye" Washington, "Pol" Blancanales, and "Gadgets" Schwarz, but didn’t feel as if Pendleton gave himself enough time to properly flesh out their characters. They emerge as dedicated and likeable soldiers, but that’s about it. The remaining members of Bolan’s hastily assembled squad are either total ciphers (like George "Whispering Death" Zitka), or gimmicky caricatures instead of real people. (Did we really need The Cowboy, The Indian, and The Hippy?) Aside from that, however, Death Squad was a fun read. The action is abundant, fast-paced, and well-written, especially the final pair of assaults on the Mafia. I liked the introduction of Carl Lyons’s character, and thought both scenes in which he meets Bolan face-to-face were tense and full of portent. Overall, Death Squad is enjoyable (at least by crummy pulp novels standards), and a nice backbone to the "trilogy" formed by the first three Executioner novels....more
After his miraculous escape at the end of Death Squad (aided in part by Carl Lyons), Bolan is back on the trail of Mob boss Julian "Deej" DiGeorge. UnAfter his miraculous escape at the end of Death Squad (aided in part by Carl Lyons), Bolan is back on the trail of Mob boss Julian "Deej" DiGeorge. Unlike Death Squad, however, Bolan is on his own in Battle Mask. Although Pendleton’s third Executioner novel isn’t quite as good as War Against the Mafia, I think it’s a slight improvement over Death Squad. I prefer to see Bolan working alone, perhaps occasionally receiving assistance from sympathetic parties, but nothing more. Battle Mask is also quite graphic in its depiction of the fate that so often befalls Bolan’s friends. Dr. Brantzen, his old war buddy who gives him the plastic surgery necessary to infiltrate the DiGeorge family, undergoes the most disturbing and graphic torture seen in the series so far, getting himself sliced up into "turkey" meat. Sure, Bolan exacts swift and violent revenge (as shown on the cover of the novel), but nothing can change the fact that a good friend of his was brutalized, or the fact that the friendly old man who drives Bolan to safety at the beginning of the novel pays for his kindness with a gut full of shotgun slugs. This book shows, as so many subsequent others do, that being Bolan’s friend is a dangerous job. Beside the return to the gritty and hard-boiled style of his first Executioner novel, Pendleton offers more suspense and tension in Battle Mask than he did with the continual shoot-outs and frontal assaults of Death Squad, which I consider a plus....more