Friday, March 25, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Executioner: War Against the Mafia -- Don Pendleton

We all know about Helen and the face that launched a thousand ships. Well, here's the book that launched a thousand rips. Or maybe it just seems that way, but after this one came out in 1969, the stands were suddenly crowded with The Sharpshooter, The Butcher, The Death Merchant, The Penetrator, The Marksman, The Enforcer, The Assassin, The Destroyer (admittedly not the same thing after the first book), and many more.

Maybe the time was right (Mack Bolan was a Vietnam war hero), or maybe it was the subject (one man against the mob). Maybe it was the graphic violence and the sex. Surely it couldn't have been the cover, which isn't exactly a powerful illustration. Whatever it was, the book struck a chord, and was followed by hundreds of sequels that continue to appear today.

The book didn't just launch dozens of imitators, though. It launched a publishing company. The cover, as you can see, says "Pinnacle Books," but the copyright page says Bee-Line Books. Bee-Line was a softcore house for which Pendleton had written in the past, and when the publisher wanted to start another line, Pendleton showed him an outline for The Executioner. You know the rest.

It's fun to look at this book now and to read it again and wonder what happened to the audience for this kind of thing. Did it move to the books on the bestseller lists? To DVDs? Computers? I suspect that some of the audience must have been the same readers who picked up the hundreds of titles of the "men's adventure magazines" that also no long exist. Take a look at one of those. Look at the large pages crammed with tiny print and long paragraphs. Many thousands of those sold on newsstands all over the country. No more. Look at The Executioner. Pages dense with print and long paragraphs. Probably wouldn't sell now, at least not without some heavy editing. I have no idea what this means. I'm just saying it and remembering a different time and a forgotten book.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder at your average "man on the street" who read The Executioner or The Death Merchant and then picked up one of the Destroyer series expecting the same.

Did his brain explode, or what?

Jeff

George said...

And, let's not forget the NICK CARTER series...

Anonymous said...

My favorite is the second book, "Death Squad." The location is L.A. and Bolan tears the city apart with this ex-Vietnam buddies. And some of them don't survive.

Augus West

PAUL BISHOP said...

I remember reading this when it came out and being blown away. But your mention of the dense type and long paragraphs is spot on. I don't know exactly what it means, but writing style / reading style has obviously changed. Pendelton was the man who ignited a genre...

James Reasoner said...

This book had been out for a year or two when I read it. I know as soon as I finished it I was able to go out and pick up the next two or three at the used bookstore without any trouble, and after that I read them as they came out all the way through the original 38. After the move to Gold Eagle and the change in the series' direction my reading of them was a lot more sporadic, although I tried to keep up with the ones written by guys I had come to know since discovering the series. Every so often I still read one by somebody I know. But I have no explanation for why I read them with such eagerness and regularity for the first few years. I guess I was the target audience, all right.

Randy Johnson said...

I remember that cover well. I was one of those eager hordes that snatched each one up as it hit the stands. I tried all the imitators as well. I wasn't at all discouraged that the DESTROYER, despite the packaging, was different. I stuck with him all the way to the end, unlike Bolan.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It always is amazing to see long paragraphs with lots of description. Not as much as dialog. Back story, interior monologues. Now a paragraph is practically a sentence.

Anonymous said...

What was odd to me was that I found piles of the original edition around England over the years. I picked up several over there.

Jeff

Graham Powell said...

When I was in high school in the 80s I had a friend who's great-uncle had all these, and he loaned them to me. I read them just as fast as I possibly could. I think DEATH SQUAD is probably my favorite, too.

When James Reasoner recently released DIAMONDBACK, I wondered where the audience for these books went, too. Were they all abducted by aliens?

Daniel said...

Thank you. I've been curious about Don Pendleton for a couple months. I never paid attention to him growing up but his name keeps coming up in blogs lately.

I downloaded Copp for Hire (PI fiction is more my interest) and it was bloody awful. There weren't scenes so much as there were summaries of scenes he hadn't bothered to write.

I wondered how this guy sold so many million books.

So I guess I hear to dig out the first few in the series. Anything else?

Bill Crider said...

I remember reading Copp for Hire and being very unimpressed.

Todd Mason said...

That cover image: Bob Hope is about to be very mean to a busty redhead, and an irked Tony Curtis is probably going to do something about that.

A Bee-Line to the Pinnacle, indeed.

You know, the men's sweat magazines were pretty much dying out by '69, even if SAGA and TRUE and (one almost wants to write Of Course) ADVENTURE and some of the others held on briefly, or became skin magazines. And I think that's were at least some of the audience for these books went...there was an ability to be very explicit and pyrotechnic in films and, eventually, video and cable tv (and to a limited extent even on broadcast tv, with the likes of S*W*A*T and then even more jokingly OTT with THE A-TEAM), and so the uniqueness of the experience was wearing down even as Worldwide and Gold Eagle and all the other imitator publishers and all the other imitator series further diluted both the quality and the enthusiasm of the marketplace.

Todd Mason said...

Or, even, This is where that audience went...to a/v. (I wrote that's where, which makes less sense...)

Ed Gorman said...

Big fan of the Destroyer, could only laugh at The Executioner. The books end with several dozen bodies scattered everywhere but ole Mac he just heads out to another killing field (i.e. American city). No questions asked. I always liked The Edge western series because it demonstrated how blood and death could make for great dark comic book fun; and the Destroyer for mocking not only the entire sub-genre but for spoofing all that Mac and his imitators held holy. A friend of mine wrote one of the recent ones. The new Mac is much more believable and so are the story lines.

Cap'n Bob said...

I bought them new for a few years and they're still sitting unread on the shelf, or in a box. Someday...

Evan Lewis said...

I remember the blood and guts in this first one was more graphic than necessary, but once the series really got rolling, I loved Pendleton's style. Read all of his, at least twice. Though I have this cover, I'm pretty sure I also have an older one.

Bill Crider said...

I think this is the first printing, but maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Bill,

I thought there was a edition published under the Bee-Line name. I remember a yellow cover with no artwork, I think, which now makes sense if they were a porn publisher.

Mike Blake

Bill Crider said...

Quite possible. I haven't seen that one, but I'd like to.

Rusty James said...

I have a PINNACLE book titled KILLER AT LARGE - rapesploitation - by Don Bannon...

wonder if anyone can help me with the 'real' author.

Trash Fiction is the best!

Rusty James said...

P.S you can find a ton of 'The Executioner' books on BOOKMOOCH.

Bill Crider said...

Don't know about Don Bannon. Could be his real name.

Bill Crider said...

According to Hawk's book, Bannon was a pen name for Lyle Kenyon Engel. I thought he packaged books rather than writing them.

Rusty James said...

That's what I got from my research.

He just holds the copyright.

Rusty James said...

And this is some talented writing.

It reads contemporary.

James Reasoner said...

Books packaged by Engel hardly ever had the author's real name on them. In the mid-Seventies he was still doing the Nick Carter series and a bunch of different people were writing them, so there's a good chance "Don Bannon" was one of those guys. If I read the book I might be able to make a guess as to the author, but that's all it would be, an educated guess.

James Reasoner said...

Rusty mentions the quality of the writing. Martin Cruz Smith, maybe? He was still doing house-name stuff then.

Rusty James said...

I'll check out Mr. Smith's work.

Here's a copy/paste of my Amazon review (still 3 books available):

Here's the opening chapter:

"The other rapists called him Superstud.
His name was Billy Starret and he was doing thirty to life for raping a policewoman.
Billy lied about it when he told the story.
"The lady cop fought like hell at first, but after I got it in her she started liking it. Hunching for it like she loved it and wanted every damn inch."
Pure fantasy, but in time he came to believe it himself.
He was a loner by nature and not too impressed by the status he achieved among the other rapists. He had actually screwed a female pig and worked her over good in the process. Billy Starret dreamed night and day and he masturbated to the phantasmagoria of a wildly struggling young woman with long, creamy, black-gartered thighs.
He was an engine - a manic and overpowering engine with an indestructible piston...

Billy Starret began to plan his escape."

End of Chapter.

*What begins at pure exploitation smoothly becomes a tight thriller about an escaped rapist and the cool character study of a squad of police officers of a new Sexual Crimes Unit.

Includes a twist ending.

Great 'movie' plotting.

And apparently Mr. Mack Bolan has his own website - MackBolan.com