Coalville, Summit County, Utah…a peaceful, law-abiding community until the Aryan Brotherhood creates havoc. The streets are swarming with swastika-tattooed ex-cons lusting for blood and flesh, loot and power. As these swaggering arrogant bullies take over the town, the local citizens, for some strange reason, act as if nothing is happening.
The Penetrator thinks it’s all pretty weird. Until he discovers the brotherhood is polluting the town’s water supply with a mind-controlling drug, then brainwashing the people with programmed subliminal messages broadcast over TV. Under this facade of normalcy, they are manipulated, raped, and degraded into slavery by the storm troopers.
But this is only the beginning of the organization’s evil conspiracy. Unless stopped, they will establish a neo-Nazi order, using dangerous drugs to overpower the unsuspecting. It’s a mind-blowing situation…even for the Penetrator.
I’ve broken away from science fiction this week to bring you a bit of that ever-so-popular late 70s and early 80s genre, The Man Fantasy. These are the kinds of books with larger-than-life heroes with guns making love to soft ladies and saving the day through incredible violence. If the shelves devoted to “Action/Adventure” at my local used bookstore are any indication, this genre was either hugely popular or they sold a lot of books as a joke and they all wound up back there forever.
In a way I wonder if this genre owes some credit to John D. MacDonald, whose Travis McGee would often find himself in bed with a lovely lady before he went off to solve some mystery. If so, then these books are a degenerate form, seeing as how the great thing about Travis McGee was his subtlety and the fact that, despite his muscles, he was really smart and had real emotional resonance. The Penetrator, on the other hand, isn’t and doesn’t.
The Penetrator (yes, I picked up this book because I have the sense of humor of a fifteen-year-old), AKA Mark Hardin, is a real man’s man. Yeah, he has access to lots of crazy weaponry, but he also has a secret hideout called The Stronghold, where he has allies in a professor and a “Cheyenne Medicine Chief” who teaches him all sorts of advanced Native American techniques and philosophy. He also has a pencil mustache (we’re told this multiple times) and big feet (a bit of detail I’m not exactly sure was necessary).
When the book opens, we see Mark recuperating from his last adventure just before he gets summoned back to The Stronghold because of some weird happenings in Utah. Despite injuries earned in his last campaign, both physical and psychological, Mark heads right back into action. The book goes a long way in describing how injured he is from all his previous adventures, just so you know how tough he is since he keeps on keepin’ on. He has a code, you see, and part of that code is to never stop ridding the world of evildoers.
Mark gets to Coalville and just immediately starts murdering people. He flushes out a guard post manned by three Aryan Brotherhood dudes named Ace, Slick, and Steve. These are the kinds of names I wish I could come up with in my own writing. The Penetrator just cold kills two of them before they know what’s going on, then captures the third and tortures him until he gives up what’s going on and who’s actually behind it. His method is to douse the guy in water and leave him in the sub-zero temperature outside until the guy is ready to give up the goods. Pretty brutal. Once the guy tells him what he knows, he makes the fatal mistake of trying to stop Mark from heading into town, so he too gets killed. The Penetrator leaves his calling card, a flint arrowhead, at the scene, because that’s part of his code.
The plan, as it is, is one of the stupidest I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Due to some kind of overcrowding in prison situation, a whole bunch of members of the Aryan Brotherhood have been released. The text seems to suggest that this is due to some kind of Civil Rights activists, and characters often refer to these people as “Snivel Rights Activists.” I’m not exactly sure what to make of this. The book at times seems extremely right-wing, but these right-wing opinions are held by both good guys and bad.
Anyway, the leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood have a plan. A dude named Big Toby is leading them here in town, but he’s under orders from higher-ups that are still in prison. His mission is to drug this town into submission using Datura in the drinking water, which will make them suggestible enough to follow orders subliminally implanted into the television signals. With me so far? Okay, the point of all this is to bloodlessly take over this town and then spread out from there, taking over neighboring areas until they have enough land under their control to petition the government to make them a state. Then, having achieved statehood, they will secede from the Union and have their very own little Nazi country right in the middle of the United States.
I don’t even know where to start with that. For one, a petition for statehood, especially from ex-con Nazis, will probably result in a little attention from the government, which will start to wonder why there are drugs in the water supply and subliminal messages on the TV. The bad guys seem to think that all of their plans will work because the government can’t do anything to stop them. It’s their right as Americans to do whatever they want. What I can’t figure out is whether they believe this plan will work because they, the characters, are complete morons, or because the author actually believes that would work. I know there’s a separation of author-ideas and character-ideas, something that really tends to be missed by a lot of readers, but sometimes there’s not, especially if the author isn’t especially good at what he’s doing.
All of this is revealed by the bad guys to the other bad guys, so The Penetrator doesn’t know about any of it yet. All he knows is that there’s something very definitely up. People are staggering around town talking about how great it is for members of the Aryan Brotherhood to be running the town. Finally, he meets somebody who isn’t completely stoned, and it turns out she’s holding a shotgun to his belly.
Enter Angie. She’s an ex-cop, and almost as tall and tough as The Penetrator. She’s got two kids, twins, and her husband is dead. Her gruff exterior hides a woman who, deep down, has missed having a man around. Of course.
So The Penetrator talks her down by pointing out that he’s not exactly Nazi material (he’s part Cheyenne, so he’s not the Aryan ideal). She warms up to him (rather too quickly, in my opinion) and invites him in to meet the twins. It turns out that not only is she gruff and tough, she’s trying to instill that into the kids, too, who have also managed not to be taken over by the Nazis. Turns out they’re on well water and don’t watch TV, so the Datura and subliminal messages have missed them. They have family workout time and family karate time. Angie’s a black belt of some variety, and of course it turns out that The Penetrator is also a black belt of some higher variety than hers, so there’s this whole “Oh wow it’s an honor to have you here sensei” deal from her and the kids.
After the workout and supper the kids go to bed, and so do The Penetrator and Angie, if you catch my meaning there.
In the meantime, Big Toby has caught on to the fact that The Penetrator is in town. Everybody knows about The Penetrator, incidentally, so it’s obvious that he’s kind of a big deal, which just makes Big Toby look even dumber because he’s always screaming about how he’s just one guy and why can’t we just find and kill him. Big Toby calls in some reinforcements, hired assassins. The Penetrator learns about it and kills them all before they even get into town. Just blows up the side of a mountain and avalanches them. Problem solved.
Mark sets out to fix the Datura problem and, of course, does so handily, but then it turns out there’s a snag. The ABs have figured out where he’s been hiding out this whole time, so they head over to Angie’s and kidnap the kids. The Penetrator must now stage a daring rescue before the Aryan Brotherhood murders two ten-year-old children on live television.
See, that’s the kind of behavior that will really interfere with your application for statehood, Nazis.
The Penetrator does what he does best, infiltrating the TV studio and cold murdering dudes, until he comes across Big Toby and the kids. There’s a brief firefight where The Penetrator gets hit in the thigh and it looks like it might all be over, but then a stray bullet leads to a Rube Goldberg situation where a rope gets hit and that sends a sandbag over that knocks over some lighting and dominos into a TV camera which in 1979 was of course huge and it falls right on top of Big Toby, leaving him just enough time to point out that this whole shebang was just one of many plots that the Aryan Brotherhood has planned and that even The Penetrator won’t be able to stop them all.
Mark takes the kids back to Angie and he has visions of finally quitting this business and settling down to help raise the kids. I get the feeling he has this sort of deal at the end of every book. Before he makes up his mind for good, though, he has to head back to The Stronghold to debrief the Professor and the Medicine Man, which I hope in a parallel universe is a nonfiction book by Simon Winchester.
At this point, I fully expected the book to end. Mark has saved the day and has returned to his starting point. Everything was winding down, and we had a hook left over for future books to take on, i.e. the greater plans of the Aryan Brotherhood. By all rights this book should be done, but it turns out there’s a coda.
The Penetrator leaves and infiltrates the prison where the big three bosses of the AB are incarcerated. Turns out he has a deadline, because they’re all scheduled to be released that day. In a thoroughly un-satisfying conclusion, Mark disguises himself as a guard, meets the bad guy leaders in the check-out room, and cold murders them with a knife. And that’s the end.
Okay, so yeah, this book was thoroughly ridiculous. Over-the-top violence, a villain with a brutal yet stupid-as-hell plan that results in all sorts of nasty things happening, and a hero with big feet and a lot of guns swooping in to save the day. Also he has Cheyenne Indian superpowers. Did I mention those? The Penetrator, you see, can turn off his own ability to feel pain, and also he can see in the dark. That comes in handy a few times. Also, guns. His guns are described in great detail every time he uses them. He can’t just pull out a .22 and shoot a dude. The book has to tell us the caliber, the muzzle velocity, how many bullets a clip can hold, whether or not it’s silenced, who made it, what it was originally made for, and how The Penetrator got ahold of it.
And then, as bonus material, we get The Penetrator’s Combat Catalog. This book features part three of the continuing feature. It’s basically drawings and descriptions of all The Penetrator’s guns. Much of the description you might recognize from the text of the book, but not all of it. It even cross-references issues of Soldier of Fortune magazine in case you want more information. Also, it’s all in a monospaced typewriter font, kind of like The Penetrator is providing this information direct to you in his downtime between murder and sex.
As dumb as this book was, and boy was it stupid, I’m going to call it a success as a novel. After all, you can’t expect this kind of thing to be high literature. I knew what I was getting into. And despite the over-the-top nature of it and the complete nonsense of a plan these Nazis where trying to carry out, the book was clear and concise and easy to follow. The prose didn’t exactly sparkle, but it was certainly competently done. A little research leads me to believe that “Lionel Derrick” is a house name for several authors, but if I find any more Penetrator novels, and I certainly intend to look, I hope that they’re by this same guy, because this book was highly entertaining in all the best and worst ways.