Book Reviews: Don Pendleton’s The Executioner: Leviathan
Today’s Blog Post has been brought to you by the subgenre of Men’s Adventure. Do you like men? Wait, no, not that way (though that’s perfectly fine, if off subject). Let’s try this again. Do you like adventures? Do you like reading about men having adventures? Then hot damn, Men’s Adventure is the obscure sub-genre for you.
With roots reaching back to the pulp magazines of the 30’s, Men’s Adventure novels are slim, straightforward affairs that center around some square-jawed dude going around and killing lots of bad guys. They’re violent, formulaic, and there’s a lot of them- the Men’s Adventure genre has a lot in common with cheesy Romance novels- to the point where most of the notable Men’s Adventure series are published by a sub-department of Harlequin books. Yes, that Harlequin. Which brings us to The Executioner. These books are centered around a dude named Mack Bolan, who is exactly what you would envision a dude named Mack Bolan to be like.
Mack Bolan is pretty much the Punisher without the skull logo (or, it should really be said that the Punisher is Mack Bolan with a skull logo- Bolan came first back in 1969). He’s been featured in a metric ass ton of cheap little novels- not only The Executioner series, but also in spinoffs with names like Stony Man or Phoenix Force. That last bit came as a surprise, as I previously didn’t know all these series were related. As Hollywood gobbles up new properties to blockbusterize, I rather hope they pass Mack Bolan over- not out of any loyalty to the character, but rather because the time to make a Mack Bolan movie has passed. The only company that could’ve done Mack Bolan justice is Cannon Films, and the only medium that could contain such a film is direct-to-rental VHS.
I don’t normally read Men’s Adventure novels, but I made an exception for Leviathan, based on a recommendation some random person on the RPG.net forums. What made this one different from the 275 Executioner novels that had come before it, you may ask? A simple premise: “Mack Bolan fights Cthulhu.” I have to wonder how that went over in the writer’s meeting or whatever.
“We’ve already written 275 Mack Bolan novels, in which he’s shot bad guys in every country on the planet, plus that one we wrote where he blew up a cocaine factory on the moon. What’s next?”
“BRILLIANT!Get me a first draft by Monday.”
I suppose it’s fitting, given Lovecraft’s connection to the pulps, but it’s not exactly something one would expect from a book like this. Makes me wonder if there’s some squeebly Lovecraftian Harlequin novel on the Romance side of the aisle to match.
Anyway, the plot of Leviathan is somewhat arbitrary, in which Mack Bolan is sent in to investigate/blow up an abandoned oil rig that’s been taken over by The Mob (The Mob is always capitalized in Mack Bolan novels) and turned into a drug factory/tourist destination. Oh, and there’s a crooked CIA agent in there, too, because the CIA likes to get their hands on that sweet, sweet drug money.
Again, this is standard 80’s action movie plot…until you get to the swarm of giant squid that have decided to set up shop in the waters surrounding the drug-platform. At first, I thought the book would be kind of subtle on the lovecraft thing, but I should’ve known better than to expect subtlety from an Executioner novel. Seriously, within a few chapters, they’re recruiting a Professor West from Miskatonic University to go help them deal with the squid problem.
Anyway, things inevitably go to hell, and Mack Bolan shoots some bad guys, and more guys get eaten by giant squids. There’s some business with squid-worshipping cultists, too, but it almost feels kind of tacked on. The problem with a character like Mack Bolan (and whatever books he stars in) is that he’s too hypercompetent. Mack and his buddies have pretty much no trouble killing whatever bad guys they run into. Heck, there’s even a part where one of Bolan’s teammates gets out of a tight fix by using combat hypnosis, which is like juuuust this short of being something from an Axe Cop comic.
And while there’s a time and place for a nigh unstoppable protagonist (like, say, Axe Cop), things never get quite as crazily gonzo entertaining as they could be (like in, say, Axe Cop). The whole cultitst thing seems a bit tacked on- and the chapter where Mack Bolan and a team of Navy SEALS raid the non-euclidian temple of the not-cthulhu cultists just comes off as a bit too matter-of-fact. There’s not any tension or question if Mack & company will win, and there’s not the crazy-ass “wait, what?” entertainment that comes from something that truly goes off the rails into gonzoville.
This said, there are occasional turns of phrase that stuck out at me for unintentional hilarity. The term “gore-lubed” is used, which struck me a reminder of lost grindhousey potential. A few chapters later, the book takes time to describe what a “blunt,” means in street terms, in case the 50-something Men’s Adventure Reader was unaware of the slang.
Leviathan is only 220 pages long- given how easily Mack Bolan wins, I don’t know how they would’ve been able to keep it going for any longer than that. The book was a mildly amusing read, but it hasn’t got me clamoring to go back and read the 275 Executioner Novels that came before it.
But hey, at least the book has a nuclear submarine using its torpedoes to explode a giant killer squid. Not even Jules Verne thought of that.