It was always a tactical advantage to know the enemy’s intended route of march, in addition to his identity. The Penetrator knew the Shadowmen were moving their operations into the Dodge City area. After the pasting they had taken near Liberal, the Penetrator was certain they wouldn’t make any further attacks until they had regrouped.
But who were the Shadowmen? Those who had seen them described them as younger Hell’s Angels without the bikes, unsavory clothing, and bizarre rituals. But they were every bit as violent—and ambitious for anything that could make money. The big question was who was behind their vicious swath of destruction, and why?
Only the Penetrator had the guts and cunning to get to the heart of the terrorist gang and ruthlessly wrench it out.
Folks, after last week’s failed attempt at a thinking person’s science fiction novel, I knew that it was going to be time for another Penetrator novel. I can only take so much mind-numbing pointless weirdness before it’s time to turn off the brain and get into something that I can’t help but enjoy despite its many flaws.
I went from something impenetrable to a man who can’t help but penetrate.
New developments in this book include, of all things, footnotes. So far it’s been pretty standard for Penetrator novels to include a “What’s come before”-type prologue chapter, but this is the only one that’s included footnotes directing you to the exact book that’s being referenced. I wonder if that was a conscious decision on the part of the author or the editor, but I’ve read books both before and after this one so it doesn’t look like it was a lasting thing.
As with the other books, the prologue begins with Mark Hardin, The Penetrator, recuperating from his previous battle. In this case, it’s the battle against crooked cops in Northwest Contract. This is the first time I’ve read one of these novels after having read its immediate predecessor. This prologue was shorter on background detail than other books, but way heavier on what I certainly imagine was purely unintentional homoeroticism. Rippling chest muscles, biceps, mustache—we got it all. In a sweat lodge, no less.
After the prologue we cut right to the action. I love this about these books. There’s hardly any buildup, just mindless violence from the onset. It turns out that some hoodlums are doing major damage throughout America’s breadbasket. All across the Midwest we see farms being burned down, silos being exploded, fields being torched, and livestock slaughtered. The Penetrator ambushes some of the guys doing the dirty work and dispatches them with a gratuitous amount of brutality. Even more than I’ve come to expect from these books. I mean, we get some really detailed descriptions all throughout this book about bullets ripping out eyeballs and heads being smashed open like melons. It would put me off my lunch if it weren’t so damned amusing.
Mark Hardin learns from the last survivor (moments before he dies, of course) just who these guys are. It turns out that they’re members of THE SHADOWMEN, a group of terrorists who don’t actually seem to be doing anything in particular. Most terrorists at least seem to have a goal in mind. These guys are just out to cause destruction. They seem to have a really vague political agenda, something about “the establishment, man, you know, like I mean, oppression, man, we gotta stop the oppression, like, people are being oppressed, I guess, you know, by the establishment, you know?” One presumes epic doobies are involved. One presumes correctly.
Of course, once the real plot is revealed, it goes completely against this whole vague political ideology. I’ll get to that here in a minute.
Mark goes back and forth between investigating the real reasons behind the terrorism and causing massive amounts of blood and brain to stain the state of Kansas.
We get a point of view flash cut to the main guy of the Shadowmen, a guy named Jack Boland who, despite my imagination, is not the guy from T. Rex. He’s not even the least bit glam. His girlfriend, Marla, is easily the most sadistic person in the book and does a lot of the really dirty work. She’s also really busty. I feel the need to mention that because the book felt the need to mention it. Let’s just say I’ve mentioned it about a tenth as many times as Lionel Derrick did.
She’s not glam either.
They’re in the process of blowing up a farm. The farmer notices something going on and goes down to confront them, whereupon Marla shoots him (“turned his brain into jelly”) and they proceed to blow up the grain silos. Mark just happens to be fairly close by and notices the explosions. He gives chase and takes out some more Shadowmen by infiltrating their hideout. This part was actually kind of clever. He sets up some loudspeakers and claims that the cops are here and the jig is up. As you probably expect, the Shadowmen all burst out, guns blazing in exactly the wrong direction. The Penetrator does what he does best.
There’s a twist in this book that didn’t really show up in the others I’ve read. It seems that the law is after Mark, too. See, they think he’s the one doing the terrorism, because whenever he kills the bad guys there he leaves his trademark blue arrowheads. The FBI has its very own tactical unit devoted entirely to dealing with him. Local authorities are on patrol. Newspapers are alerted.
This makes things difficult for Mark, as you might expect, but it’s even more difficult because The Penetrator has a solemn vow never to kill or harm an honest cop. He’s got his code, you see. It’s what sets him apart from other ruthless vigilantes.
In a lot of ways I see The Penetrator as a sort of nationwide Batman, except Batman doesn’t kill anybody and The Penetrator kills everybody minus a few percent.
So with this in mind, Mark calls up a local radio station to give his side of the story. Of course, he doesn’t reveal his real name, just that he’s The Penetrator. Only three people in the world know The Penetrator’s real name, and they ain’t talkin’.
Mark tells the deejay to put him on a live feed right the hell now, and of course that happens. I actually laughed at the bit where the deejay asks him why he chose this particular radio station. Mark’s response? It was the first one in the phone book. That’s gold.
Mark gives his side of the story to the nation and heads to the farm that got blowed up to investigate. He meets the farmer’s widow, Nancy, and they immediately start flirting. Woman, your husband’s not even cold at this point. Give it a minute. I mean, sure, he’s The Penetrator and you can’t help yourself for falling for him on sight, I get that. Just show a little decorum, for heaven’s sake. They talk and Mark doesn’t really find out all that much in the way of information, but it turns out that the Jack and Marla are just outside. They wait for Mark to leave and then barge into the house. This is where things started to get crazy.
They interrogate Nancy to find out what this Penetrator guy is trying to find out. She refuses to talk, so in response they go and fetch one of Nancy’s children. He’s about three. They say they’re going to torture him until she talks.
That’s pretty cold, right? But wait, it gets better. We’ve all seen threats of torture against children getting women to talk. It’s all over the place in fiction. She breaks down and they let the kid go, right?
NOPE. She basically says they don’t have the guts to torture a child. What Nancy doesn’t know is that Marla is in charge of the tortures, and she’s freaking insane. She gets a pair of hedgeclippers and
A THREE YEAR OLD’S
Jesus Christ I did not see that coming!
Nancy talks after that.
If there’s any better way to establish how sick, twisted, and sadistic your villain is than actually having them torture a toddler, I’m not sure I actually want to know about it. I have limits.
The Shadowmen leave and Mark returns. He finds out what happens and then it’s personal. For some reason. He barely knows these people.
First he takes Nancy and her children (there’s three children. Old Ninefingers is the youngest) to a place out of town. The whole way there, Nancy is flirting with Mark. Mere moments after her child is maimed for the rest of his life, both physically and psychologically, she’s flirting with this dude.
Spoiler: They never actually do the Horizontal Lean wit It Rock wit It. I’m surprised too.
Mark comes back with a vengeance and is described, with what is probably the greatest single line of dialogue in the history of action-adventure novels, as a “one man murder plague.”
He does finally figure out what’s going on behind the scenes and why the Shadowmen are blowing up the Heartland. Remember how they’re sort of extremist hippies who hate the establishment and stuff? Well, let’s get kooky.
See, the people who hired the Shadowmen are causing all this trouble so they can make a profit off the stock market. What’s their game? Buy up a whole bunch of corn and feed and cattle and stuff, knock off a huge amount of the nation’s supply, and make a killing. That’s all. That’s it. Starve America, raise price of food, sell stockpiled food.
They’re trying to get rich and the anti-establishment hippies are more than happy to help them do that.
The villain plots in these books are always so stupid. This one’s not the worst I’ve read, but still, it’s pretty awful. Here’s my question, when the news breaks that there’s not enough food in America because it all got blowed up by Doobie Jack and the Child Torturers, and then you show up and say “Oh hey, we’ve got food and we’re willing to sell it for a heavily inflated price! Isn’t that grand?”, do they fully expect America not to, I dunno, go completely bugnuts insane with the rioting and the looting and the dying children who can’t get bread? They expect that to work? Really? Do they not expect people to start asking questions about, say, why their food escaped unscathed?
Thing is, I have such a low opinion of business-people these days that I could totally see somebody thinking just that. Maybe I am that cynical by this point.
So The Penetrator finds all this out, tracks down Jack and Marla, and dispatches them. In fact, he closes Jack’s head in the door of a railroad car that, for some reason, had a razor sharp edge. It was lovingly described as a simultaneous crushing and slicing. Beautiful. Marla went down a bit more conventionally. She got shot in the eye and half her head exploded.
I’m glad that my life has taken me in a direction where I can neither deny or confirm that any of that would ever happen.
The Penetrator isn’t quite done yet, of course. There’s still the scumbag capitalists to deal with. There’s a chase scene, and it’s great.
The three moneymen see Mark coming and immediately steal the nearest vehicle, a Winnebago. Mark then gives chase with the nearest vehicle to him, a horse and buggy.
I kid you not, people. This is amazing. I want this to be a film. Just this scene. I want to see this happen.
Mark follows them to their own fully-stocked silos and quickly dispatches the first two guys. One dies in the Winnebago, the other dies on the way out. The other guy gets chased a bit and slips. He reaches up to stop his fall and, uh oh, the first thing he reaches is THE ON SWITCH for a HARVESTER…thing. I don’t even know what this piece of farm equipment was supposed to be.
Okay I looked it up. It was a “combination chopper-blower.” I don’t know if this is in fact a thing, but whether it is or not, it’s not probably something you want to accidentally turn on in your face.
And that’s the book.
Oh boy, that was fun.
Okay so this book definitely had a lot more brutality than the other books, at least as far as I remember, but on the whole I feel like the plot wasn’t as strong as the later books in the series. It was better than #8, for sure, but not as good as the two I’ve read in the latter half of the series. The later books were just so much weirder, and I liked that. This book’s plot, while particularly stupid, just didn’t feel as wild and crazy as I’d come to expect. It was just sort of mundane businessman greed coupled with those damn Weatherman SDS barkeater flower children. It doesn’t compare with submarine mafia pirates.
Another thing I realized regards Mark’s tendency to get shot at least once every book. I understand that, in a way. You have to show that the hero is actually vulnerable and thus build some tension. Standard issue action situation. The problem is that with a hero as overpowered as The Penetrator, you can’t actually incapacitate him for very long, so your option is to have him take a flesh wound every book, get healed up by the female lead, and then go back into action. It’s a very fine line to walk, and that line is seen, from a great distance, in all of these books. In this one, Mark gets shot in the thigh during one of the fights at about the middle of the book, and I started to realize that there are only so many places you can have your hero get shot and not suffer any permanent damage. It’s never commented upon, but I’m going to assume that The Penetrator’s thighs are just horrific ruins by this point. By the end of the series, he’s just left with femurs surrounded by bullets and bandages.
Dude should just invest in thigh armor. It’d be all he needs.
So there you go. Mark Hardin, The Penetrator, solves another mystery, kind of. He solves it with guns and violence and sheer bloody-mindedness. And I’m okay with that.