The Penetrator #11: Terror in Taos

The Penetrator #11: Terror in Taos by Lionel DerrickThe Penetrator 11 front
Pinnacle Books, 1975
Price I paid: 60¢

Mark Hardin is known to his enemies as The Penetrator. He penetrates in several ways: by fighting his way in, by easing in…or by dropping in via parachute.

He’s half-Cheyenne and half-Welsh. In quest of his warrior heritage, Mark Hardin has learned Indian skills: to track a man, but to not leave tracks; to use a crossbow, a garrote, a spear, a knife; to live on the land; to speak his native tongue.

As a child he grew up in orphanages, boarding schools, and foster homes. He’s seen all sides of life. He knows it is too often evil, and it has become his mission to eradicate crime and lawlessness in any way he can. His ancestors bequeathed him special knowledge in these things.

Now, as he dropped through the air, scanning the desert for David Red Eagle’s smoke signal, his mind flashed back to similar jumps in Vietnam. Another time, another enemy. In the fetid rice paddies and rubbled hamlets the enemy had a yellow skin and slanted eyes. Today Hardin would be fighting foes of his own kind, men of white skin and red skin.

It all started with the theft of some valuable turquoise and silver relics and the murder of an Indian holy man. It would accelerate with the entry of militant young indians, State Troopers, the National Guard…and the Mafia.

It would climax in a desert bloodbath!

Man, it feels good to finally read another Penetrator novel. I hadn’t seen any for a while even though I check my used book store every so often. My roommate happened to stop by the branch of that same book store in Chattanooga this past week and found not one but three of these things. Don’t worry, science fiction fans, I won’t do them all in a row. These books are meant to be savored.

So this is another earlier entry into the series. It definitely seems like the villains’ schemes got a lot more madcap and ridiculous as the series went on. Terror in Taos had a plot that, while pretty stupid, was actually somewhat plausible. Physically plausible, I guess. Within the bounds of physics.

The book begins with The Penetrator killing someone. Specifically a someone who looks just a little bit like himself. See, this guy is a pimp who likes to hit girls, but by a striking coincidence he’s big and brawny and hawk-nosed like our hero. The Penetrator has decided that he needs to get rid of the identity he’s been using for a few books now, so he’s putting this pimp guy in an airplane and crashing it so that everyone will think that “Bill Hansen” is dead. “John Savage” steps into his place.

This book features him hanging around with a lot of Indians, incidentally. Is the name a coincidence? I think it could be construed as something potentially offensive.

The book cuts to a crime in progress. Two mafioso types are seeking to rob a Taos Pueblo medicine man named Blueraven Matt because they want his silver and turquoise jewelry. Apparently the Mafia has some kind of plan to use the stuff to make some money. Truth is, that part of the plot didn’t really come into play much, nor did it make an awful lot of sense. All I can really piece together is

  1. The Mafia are in a place
  2. The Penetrator hates the Mafia
  3. The Penetrator goes to that place and kills the Mafia

That’s really the whole shebang for this book.

Well, there’s actually a bit more to it than that. Because some white guys killed a Pueblo and took his sacred jewelry, the other Pueblo in the area are getting really mad about it.

See, this book was RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES…sort of.

About two years before this book was written and released there was a situation at Wounded Knee. Basically, a bunch of Indians got really mad about the fact that they have been systematically shafted by the White Man since 1492 so they took over a town and held it hostage until they got what they wanted. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that, but either way, they held the town for 71 days. This is a thing that actually happened in 1973.

So now it’s 1975 and something topical needs to be made into a Man Fantasy novel. Is two years still topical? I’m not sure.

The thing about the book’s version of events, though, is that the Mafia is involved and they are doing things in a castle.

Is there actually a castle near Taos, New Mexico? I tried looking it up and I asked somebody whose been there, but I can’t get any straight answers. It just seems to me that a castle is something too big to just throw into your fictional plot because it’s neat. It feels like it’s something neat that is actually there and is being used. Either way, Castle Mafia.

The reason there’s a castle there is actually pretty mundane and is what makes me think that maybe there is or was an actual castle there. It’s not like it was built by adventurers from Medieval France who landed in the Midwestern United States in 1211 or anything. It’s just that some guy made a lot of money off the railroads or coal or steel or something in the 19th century and decided, as I’m sure most people would, to build a castle in New Mexico. And now the Mafia are using it to melt down silver jewelry and forge Indian artifacts by using stolen Indian artifacts as a guide. Or something like that. I’m still not really sure.

Okay, I think the actual plot did go something like that, but why did it have to be so complicated? I’m told that in that part of the world you can throw something shiny and green in a store for $500 and claim it’s a holy Indian artifact and some white schmuck will buy it sight unseen. There’s certainly no reason for the Mafia to start killing and robbing people to horn in on that business, is there?

So The Penetrator shows up and he just starts sneaking around. The back of the book made it sound like he parachuted in, but honestly I have no memory of that. If it did happen, it wasn’t actually much of a big deal in the text. Take a drink, I guess.

Mark poses as a newspaper reporter with sympathy for the Pueblos’ cause. They don’t believe him at first and there’s this whole bit where he has to convince these Indians that he’s an Indian too. They hand him a paperback book and tell him to translate a page of it into Cheyenne. There’s a description of what he ends up reading that sounds a lot like it could be part of another series that is quite a bit like this one. Possibly The Executioner or one of those. Seeing as how the bad guy in Dodge City Bombers was named Jack Boland, which sounds a lot like Mack Bolan (The Executioner), I’m thinking that dropping these little references is a common thread throughout this series. I sort of want to go back and read the old ones and see what I missed…

The Penetrator convinces the Indians that he’s on their side and in the meantime gets to know a dude named Gil Otero. Mark and Gil apparently knew each other in the army—meeting somebody from his army days seems to be par for the course in a Penetrator novel—and they get to talking. Gil finds out about Mark’s secret mission and offers to help in any way he can.

Also, Gil has a beautiful fiancée. I predicted three things when this was revealed:

  • She will be kidnapped or something
  • Gil will die
  • The Penetrator will penetrate her

I was two for three!

The Penetrator spends a lot of time killing people in this book, as you would probably expect, but it actually seems like he does less killing in this one. Besides the one in the prologue, Mark doesn’t kill anybody until page 74, which is almost halfway through the book. When he does, though, it’s pretty spectacular. I believe a “fountain of gore” is mentioned.

The guy running this whole operation is named Rammer Norton. The whole reason he’s doing whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing is because he thinks it’ll impress some higher-ups in the Mafia and get him some respect. Since he’s not actually Sicilian, or even Italian, it’s been an uphill battle for him every day that he’s been in the Mafia. Really it’s like a Horatio Alger story with murder.

After The Penetrator kills his first goons in an attempt to discover what’s going on around here (I wish he’d find out because I certainly never did), Rammer sends some top agents after him in a sort of scene that has started to get a little bit predictable in these books.

In every book, it seems, the bad guys send some elite goons after Mark. Or assassins. Or whatever. Something that’s supposed to be scary and dangerous.

In every case they are dispatched in an efficient and quick manner before they even get a shot off.

Seriously, in one book he just knocked their car off the road before they even got into town. In this one he at least lets them arrive before he starts shooting them all dead. Still, it’s a matter of about two pages before all but one or two members of this elite Mafia hit squad are dispatched with brutal rapidity.

The leader of this elite hit squad is named Faviatore Giggligno, but he usually goes by Il Lupare because his name is so difficult to pronounce. Il Lupare apparently learned English by reading pornography and thus says a lot of things that are so offensive that even his Mafia buddies don’t want to hear it. Here’s the thing, this comes across in the text as him saying things like “We’re gonna get those [expletive deleted]!” Now this series, this book, and even this very character often say things that are not [expletive deleted]. To wit, the f-bomb is dropped. A lot. As are other words. So what could he be saying that is so bad that it has to be censored in a man’s action fantasy book?

What I think, dear reader, is that it’s meant to be taken as a joke. It’s just hard to tell that because it’s not funny.

So Gil’s beautiful wife-to-be is kidnapped by the Mafia at some point in an effort to bring The Penetrator out of hiding. It works and a lot of Mafiosi die. In one particular incident we get a weird little glimpse into the mind of a guy who is about to torture this lady. He’s prepared to do a lot of really nasty things, up to and including anesthetic-free mastectomies, because apparently they think they’re taking away the only part of a woman that matters. Either way, this weird little point-of-view switchup—actually something that happens a lot in this book and it always bothers me—establishes that this guy really loves torture. Just absolutely gets off on it. But it then goes on to state that afterward he often gets nightmares and flashbacks to the terrible things he’s done to a human being.

It’s a bit of character development that is really out of place in these books. In a way it seems kind of inappropriate?

But the thing is, not two pages after we learn this factoid about this faceless goon, his head is blown off by one of The Penetrator’s well-described guns.

It was weird.

The wind-down of the plot is pretty standard. Gil decides to wreak his revenge on the Mafia himself for what they did to his future wife. The prediction I made that did not come true was as to whether Mark would get with her after her boyfriend died. Oddly enough, he does not.

You know, you’d think there’d be a lot more gratuitous sex in these novels. And in fact the first one I read had quite an awful lot. But since then, I just haven’t seen much of any. Could it be that that element of the Man Fantasy is, dare I say it, downplayed in this series? Time will tell.

The plot starts to run down at this point. Actually there’s a lot, and I mean a lot a lot, of stuff about Pueblo Indians in this book. Like, after Gil dies, the tribe decides to induct Mark in as his brother-in-arms or something Indian-y like that. Mark actually declines, saying that the initiation ceremony would take time away from his UNSTOPPABLE THIRST FOR VENGEANCE, but maybe give him a call someday and see if he changes his mind.

The only other noteworthy aspect of this book is that it turns out, apropos of nothing, that Mark and the leader of this Mafia outfit, Rammer Norton, have a history! See, they knew each other in college. They played football together. Rammer, however, was getting in with the Mafia at the time, and decided to throw a few games to help them win some bets. As a part of this, Rammer arranged for Mark to have his back hurt so he couldn’t help win The Big Game. The plan failed, mainly on the grounds that it is impossible to hurt The Penetrator in any way that matters, but the two of them remember each other.

This bit of history comes back to haunt Rammer as the climax of the story approaches, though. See, part of the Mafia plan was to have an all-out uprising happen in Taos. Full scale warfare between the White Man and the Red Man. This would distract attention away from the fact that the Mafia is leaving with a whole bunch of silver.

Seriously, guys, you’re in the middle of nowhere. You don’t have to sneak. Much less make a war as a distraction.

Still, Mark happens to help the Indians strike a peaceful accord with the Federal Government and that throws a wrench in the Mafia’s plans, so Rammer tries to make a break for it along with big bags of purloined silver. I mention the silver because it gets to be important here in a bit.

So The Penetrator is chasing Rammer through the Pueblo area of Taos, where the Indians have lived for something like 1500 years. There’s some gunplay but they both run out of bullets.

Oh, at some point The Penetrator gets shot in the thigh, because he gets shot in the thigh in EVERY BOOK.

Mark has to use his special Cheyenne powers to turn off his pain receptors and give himself a burst of energy to chase Rammer down. We actually learn that there’s a downside to Mark using his magic Cheyenne abilities: they exhaust him mentally. So that’s why he can’t just go around seeing in the dark all the time (an established power of his in an earlier book). That honestly does explain a lot of scenes with flashlights that bugged me.

The fight comes to the tops of the Pueblo dwellings (these things). Since the Indians in this book have a sort of syncretic religious system, there are some crosses out front along with native religious symbols. Mark knocks Rammer off a roof, whereupon Rammer lands, back first, on top of a GIANT STONE CRUCIFIX


Thing is, you’d expect it to, like, puncture through him or something, right? Nope. Dude’s still alive.

Actually the text wasn’t very clear on whether he landed on top of the cross or along one of the arms of it. What it does say is that it bends him like an upside-down U.

The cops are coming and Rammer starts freaking out, insamuch as he can with a shattered spine. So Mark decides what the heck, lets start throwing silver at him. I’m not sure where this came from, actually. All I know is that the silver that was stolen by the Mafia is now in the hands of The Penetrator, and said Penetrator wants to throw it at a man with a broken spine. One of the pieces of silver hits Rammer which allows just enough weight to compress his spine even more, severing his spinal cord and killing him with what I believe was described as a “squawk.”

I don’t think that was actually necessary.

The book pretty much ends there.

So yeah, another Penetrator down! I still love these books, but this one wasn’t my favorite. I think the later books in the series get a lot more weird, as I’ve stated, and those are the ones I like. The more ridiculous, the better.

One thing I’ve noticed in my research is that “Lionel Derrick” was two authors, Chet Cunningham and Mark K. Roberts. Cunningham did the even-numbered books while Roberts did the odd numbers. It seems that all of the books I’ve read, with the exception of one, have been odd-numbered. I have another Cunningham sitting here, so I want to read it next time I do a Penetrator novel to see if I can get a feel for the differences in the two authors’ styles.

Also of note is the fact that The Penetrator actually seems a little less all-powerful in this book. Once or twice the Mafia guys actually get the jump on him. Sure, he dispatches them really quickly after that, but still, it’s nice to see that he can be surprised. Maybe that’s something that goes away as the series goes on. You can’t have it happen too often or the character loses a little bit of what makes him so ridiculously powerful.

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