The Penetrator #8: Northwest Contract

The Penetrator #8: Northwest Contract by Lionel DerrickThe Penetrator 8 front
Pinnacle Books, 1975
Price I paid: 75¢


…is what a gang of crooked cops has been taking care of—big and dirty business. Seattle, that northwestern stronghold of law, order, and the American way, is the scene. Mark steps in when he finds that a former Vietnam war buddy—now a cop—has been shot to death in a robbery. But who was robbing whom? Mark doesn’t know for sure, and he has to find out…

Just which boys in blue have sold their souls to profit outside the law while pretending to uphold it? The enemy is everywhere, and they will stop at nothing. It’s a stinking whirlpool of corruption that includes grand larceny, prostitution—and murder for hire! It’s up to Mark to slice out the cancer. It’s a walk through hell, but the Penetrator has been there before…and he does what he has to do!

Another Penetrator novel! Hooray!

I’ve covered two other Penetrator books on this site and they’ve all been non-stop thrillrides of machismo and stupidity and violence. I’ve loved them.

Sadly, book number eight in the series didn’t hold up quite as well as the other two I’ve read, which came much later in the series. Maybe it took a while for the books to reach the grand scale of insane action/adventure I’ve liked, or maybe Northwest Contract was just a low point. The plot was fairly mundane, dealing with crooked cops in Seattle, and they didn’t do anything at all on par with using a U-boat to commit piracy or brainwashing a town in Utah to qualify for statehood.

The cover of the book looks rather a lot like the covers of the others I’ve read. The Penetrator is there with a gun, looking great with his moustache. There’s a picture of someone ancillary from the plot and also a half-naked girl. I thought this particular half-naked girl was interestingly portrayed, though.

For one, the other two books’ half-naked girls were pretty recognizable as the main girls from the book. This one, however, didn’t really come up. Oh, there are several girls for the Penetrator to…ahem…but none of them had red hair. The main girl, named Aila, is clearly described as blonde. There’s another girl that shows up for a few pages that is Asian, or as the book calls it, “Oriental,” but it obviously isn’t her, either, unless I’m being inadvertently racist.

The other thing about this girl is she has no legsNot even thighs. I just can’t wrap my head around it. She’s just floating there, presumably using grav thrusters implanted in her panties. What does this say about the series’s attitude toward women? That the only things that matter are above the legs? I’m surprised she had a head, to be honest, but I guess they have to show off that pretty face. And without thighs she can’t have a butt, so that’s not right. I’m just going to assume that the artist forgot to add legs.

Although something else occurs to me. The guy on the right in the wheelchair did show up in the book, and he lost his legs in Vietnam. Maybe there was a miscommunication on the matter of who does or does not have legs. Maybe the artist assumed that nobody has legs in this book. Except the Penetrator, obviously, because he somehow has to walk away from the carnage he leaves in his wake. (His legs are also guns.)

The book itself is clearly written in a brisk style that I’ve come to expect from Lionel Derrick. He doesn’t waste much time by describing anything that isn’t an instrument of murder. This means that guns, knives, darts, and Mark “The Penetrator” Hardin are all given lovingly crafted histories and descriptions, but disposable things like villains and women are left largely to the imagination.

We don’t get much more backstory on the Penetrator in this book but we do get to see some more of his Cheyenne Indian Magic Powers. He once again heightens his senses to see in the dark, and he manages to heal a gunshot wound in his arm by thinking pretty hard about it.

The plot, as I’ve said, was nothing truly exciting, unfortunately. There’s a ring of crooked cops in Seattle who are using their cop powers to rob jewelry and electronics stores and fence off the stolen goods. Because some higher-ups in the force are also in on the take, they select these same cops to investigate the crimes they themselves committed so they can’t get caught. Pretty clever, but I feel like several cop shows and Batman comics have used that plot as well.

Among the victims of the crooked cop ring is Hardin’s old ‘Nam buddy, Jim. Jim was killed in a jewelry store heist about six months before the book begins, and the Penetrator wants to know why. He investigates, using another old ‘Nam buddy, Zip, as a source on Seattle happenings, and at the same time he learns more about Jim’s death from his widow, Aila. Zip has one eye left and no legs, but a lot of contacts. Aila has both eyes and boy howdy does she have legs, if you know what I mean.

With Zip’s information, the Penetrator catches some dirty cops in the act of robbing a store that sells expensive fur coats. He kills one of the cops (an act described with loving detail as the bullet passes through his head), and forces the other to snitch under threat of death. The living cop provides some decent information for a while, but then grows a pair and sends a guy to try to kill the Penetrator. It doesn’t work.

Like most attempted ambushes on the Penetrator, it ends too quickly to be satisfying. The hired gun shows up at Mark’s hotel room and knocks on the door. Mark immediately knows something’s up and shoots the guy through the door. The guy gets a shot off, though, missing Mark and instead hitting the Asian girl he was hoping to get some information from after liberating her from a brothel being run by the ring of crooked cops. Oopie.

Mark cuts a swath of destruction through Seattle looking for more and more dirty cops to kill. Every time he gets one he leaves one of his signature arrowheads at the scene and calls the local news so they can send in a crew. His goal is to get the citizenry of Seattle totally aware of the bad cop situation so maybe they can do something about it. That plot element doesn’t really come up again much, but it does get his name in the papers so that future cops he goes after can say things like “Oh no, you’re that Penetrator guy!”

At one point the hunt goes sour and, formulaically, the Penetrator gets shot in the arm and has to use Indian magic to get back on the case.

Finally he makes his way to one of the ringleaders of the whole operation, who under threat of violence offers to lead the Penetrator to the other guys in charge. First, though, he offers the Penetrator a great deal of money to just walk away. That was a pretty big mistake. Mark Hardin might kill people, but he doesn’t take bribes. He has a code.

(Incidentally, I keep wanting to call him Mark Harmon, but that’s an actual guy. I’d like to see a movie version where Mark Harmon plays Mark Hardin, though. I think it would work.)

Most of the people in charge of the scheme show up eventually and the Penetrator does away with all but one of them. One of them is willing to talk, and tells him who the other masterminds are. Turns out, we’re in for a surprise!

Remember Jim? The guy whose murder the Penetrator came to investigate and started this whole thing? It turns out he wasn’t killed while investigating a jewelry store robbery. In fact, he was doing the robbery and was shot and killed by two clean cops who happened to be investigating the break-in themselves. Furthermore, it turns out that the real brains behind the whole operation were…wait for it…his wife Aila! The chick the Penetrator just finished gettin’ sexy with not fifty pages ago! Shocker!

Mark takes a bunch of money from the bad cops and heads over to Aila. He has a long talk with her while she’s trying to seduce him. It’s pretty obvious that she’s trying to distract him from catching on to her secret. She quickly and silently pulls out a gun from her nightstand while doing some preliminary makeout exercises, turns, and fires at the Penetrator. Turns out he had long suspected her involvement and had emptied the gun at an earlier date without telling the audience at the time. Of course.

Mark swiftly dispatches her, leaves his arrowhead, and goes to deliver the money to Zip. Zip doesn’t want the money but the Penetrator insists. Then he leaves for another adventure.

Like I said, not an especially exciting plot. Crooked cops are old hat. It would have been more interesting if the Mafia had been involved, possibly using NSA helicopters from their base at Area 51. Anything, really. The Mafia is mentioned during the investigation and quickly dismissed. Apparently the Seattle Mafia is pretty weak.

One thing I want to mention, though, is how much more riddled with typos and misprints this book was compared to the later ones I’ve read. Lots of times I saw something like this:

“Let’s go to the movies,” he said.”

It happened so often, that weird extra pair of quotation marks, that I wondered how nobody caught it in the editing process.

Another great typo was during the obligatory buildup to an unseen sex scene between Mark and Aila. Mark, this whole time, has been going by the name Bill whenever he was around Aila. She didn’t begin to suspect that he was the Penetrator until fairly late in the book, and even then she couldn’t possibly know that his real name is Mark Hardin because that is a very closely guarded secret. Nonetheless, at one point she’s like “Oh Bill, you’re so great. I’m so glad you came here to help me out, Bill. Mark, you’re so amazing! Kiss me, Bill!”

It was pretty jarring. I wondered if it was intentional, that maybe she was somehow a lot smarter than she seemed and had learned the Penetrator’s secret identity. Or maybe he’d trusted her so much he’d told her? I went back and didn’t see a thing that suggested that, and it never came up again. Just a really weird slip-up.

My favorite thing, though, was in a discussion between the Penetrator and his brief Asian girl helper. He gives her some walkin’ around money to buy new clothes and stuff. She’s hesitant about taking his money, but he tells her that it’s from the crooked cops anyway, so in a way it’s already hers. She says something about poetic justice and he says something like “It’s no Keats or Louisa May Alcott, but it’ll do.”

Seriously, Louisa May Alcott? The author of Little Women? Wikipedia says she wrote a bit of poetry, but I’ve never thought of her as a poet. Of all the people in all the world that have written poetry, you go with her, Lionel Derrick? What the crap? It took me a bit to even figure out what he was trying to say there in the first place. Just awful.

But there you have it. Another Penetrator novel under my belt. A shame it was such a disappointment compared with the later books, but it was still pretty good in that really stupid way I’ve come to love.

After I review every book in the series I’m gonna bind it together and submit it as a Master’s thesis in English literature. Your task, public, is to name this thesis.

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