THROWBACK THURSDAY: REVIEWING A REISSUE
Open Road Media has reissued The Executioner series in digital format and have bundled the first three titles in one digital book.
I’d already purchased books one and two and reviewed them, but for convenience sake, I’ll reprint those two reviews here.
Book One: War Against the Mafia
As a teen, I used to spend a lot of time on bookshops … okay, I still do, but back in the 1970’s I was trolling the bookshelves, looking for anything that I could get excited for. I would ALWAYS pick up one of The Executioner titles, stare at the action on the cover and wonder how much fun the books would be to read, but I also knew that books with such depicted violence would not be particularly welcomed into my household (though the sci-fi books were often much more violent … it just wasn’t so obvious). Now, decades later, as these books are being reissued by Open Road Media, I finally get to dig in past the cover.
The book is pretty much what I expected it to be, more or less. More violence, more story, less sex.
The story is pretty classic pulp fiction. A sharp-shooter in Vietnam, Mack Bolan, comes home to the States to bury members of his family. The Mafia was putting pressure on his father and did everything that they could to get a little money from him. But the deaths of his family members is only the beginning of the blood that will fill the streets. Mack is a trained, cold-blooded killer. Now he turns his skills on the Mafia, taking on this legendary nation inside a nation. Secretly, the cops are delighted to see someone taking out the trash, but even so, if they can get their hands on Mack Bolan, they’ll have to take him in for murder after a score of Mafia loan-sharks and hired guns face The Executioner’s justice.
I was surprised at how much Bolan relied on the help of a young woman – a woman he hadn’t even met until he needed her help – and how quickly the relationship developed.
There’s a lot of killing and no remorse, even from our hero. In part this is because the ‘bad guys’ are set up to be so bad that we can’t feel bad in any way. The nameless who are killed are simply bodies, in the way, working for evil, and better off dead. It was a precursor, in 1969, to the sort of drama we’d be seeing in the movies, with Dirty Harry and the like, in just a few years’ time.
This is escapist, pulp fiction and as such it reads quite well. The action moves along rapidly, and the action doesn’t stop to get gratuitous in a sex scene (the sex happens behind closed doors whereas the violence is right out on the street). And even though it’s violent, the reader is a lot like the cops in the book. We know it’s wrong, what Bolan is doing, but we also know how much he was wronged and how nobody – until now – has been willing to take the Mafia on. He’s fighting fire with fire and we love it.
Looking for a good book? Want fast, escapist adventure fiction? The first book in The Executioner series: War Against the Mafia by Don Pendleton, delivers.
Book Two: Death Squad
I continue to be surprised by this series. I had expected that each book in the Executioner series would be a unique story of Mack Bolan taking on the mob. It is, sort of, but it’s also a much more sequential book, meaning it’s very helpful to have read the first in the series to really pick up on what’s going on.
Mack Bolan is a Vietnam war hero. He’s one of the best sniper’s in the military. He is able to detach himself from the human part of his emotions when killing a human target. But Mack has to return to the United States to bury members of his family who died as a result of actions taken by the mob. Bolan then goes on a one-man-army crusade to take on the mob.
Well…except that it’s not entirely a one-man army. In this book Bolan recruits a number of vets, all who have had trouble readjusting to life in the United States in a time when Vietnam vets aren’t particularly welcomed by society. Bolan, also known as The Executioner, puts together his own “Death Squad” to take on some major mob targets. Those targets are in the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles police, aware of Bolan and his skills, prepares a special unit devoted just to the capture or otherwise stopping of The Executioner, learning, only a little too late, of all the other members of the squad who are now helping Bolan.
What makes The Executioner a little different from the ‘average’ serial killer, is that he works on a very special, moral code meaning that only the ‘bad’ guys get killed and good cops are to be avoided at all costs.
As one might expect from a book about an ‘Executioner’ – there is plenty of violence, but surprisingly very little gore. In today’s literary world of flesh-dripping zombies and blood-sucking vampires, gore is pretty common. But this book is about a man with a strong morality on the one hand and a strong drive to right wrongs even if it means stepping over the morality line. Military training.
Author Don Pendleton does hit the reader over the head with this moral code in order to drive the point home that Bolan is a nice guy, even though he’s killing people.
There is not quite as much non-stop action in this volume because we’re setting up a whole crew of new people (those on Bolan’s side, as well as the cops trying to stop him) in a new location. But once the action gets rolling it’s fast and furious, as one expects from this sort of pulp action story.
I’m enjoying this series much more than I anticipated and it’s easy to see why it has had such longevity.
Looking for a good book? If you are looking for some thrilling action with a strong central character but want the read to be quick and easy, then Death Squad, by Don Pendleton is just the ticket. But be warned … you’ll probably get hooked on the whole series.
And now finally to the third book in this adventure series…
Picking up right where the previous book left off, Mack Bolan is the only surviving member of the Death Squad. Most are dead, though some are now behind bars.
Bolan, known mostly as ‘The Execution,’ has declared war on the Mafia after the mob was responsible for the deaths of his family. His skills were honed by the United States military, where he was one of the best snipers the U.S. has had. He was cool and detached and could carry out a killing flawlessly. But now he’s put those skills to use on American soil, taking on the mob – something America’s own police force hasn’t been able to do with much success.
In the previous book, Bolan and squad took on the mob in the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles police have a task force dedicated solely to taking down The Executioner, and the mob has a $100,000 bounty on Bolan’s head. This book begins with some mob connections getting a fix on where Bolan is hiding out. Despite a careful plan of attack, Bolan manages to fight his way clear, though only just barely.
It clearly isn’t safe for Bolan, what with some friends dead and the others captured, and a price tag on his life. There’s only one thing The Executioner can do to escape the net closing in on him in Los Angeles… he needs a new face. And with that, he can once again get inside the mob, learning names and locations.
Of the three Executioner books I’ve now read, this one maybe has the least amount of action (though it’s sometimes difficult to think of it that way since it starts out with such a high-powered sequence). And it almost feels like it comes full circle with Bolan infiltrating the mob and becoming one of their best hit-men.
One thing that is becoming more and more obvious with each book is that Bolan relies on the generosity of others much more than I expected. Here, an Army surgeon agrees to give him a new face, and a local sheriff looks the other way as long as Bolan promises to take the fighting elsewhere. But because of this outside help, his status as a ruthless killer who can avoid capture becomes legendary.
This third book didn’t hold my attention quite as well as the others, but I’m still interested in reading more in this series as I find it. A recent trip to a local used book store had me surprised to find almost an entire shelf filled with Executioner series books, though none in sequence at the beginning, where I am currently reading.
The Executioner series is a thrilling read for those interested in pulse-pounding action sequences and watching the bad guys get decimated by the good guy.
Looking for a good book? Battle Mask, by Don Pendleton is the third book in the Executioner series and falls just a little short on the action as seen in the first two books, but still delivers on the quick-moving story.
Looking for a good book? The Executioner Series, Books 1-3, by Don Pendleton, is a great way to get indoctrinated into this classic, thrilling series of a vigilante taking on the mafia.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Executioner Series, Books 1-3: War Against the Mafia, Death Squad, and Battle Mask
author: Don Pendleton
publisher: Open Road Media Mystery & Thriller
Kindle Edition, 469 pages