The Penetrator #38: Hawaiian Trackdown by Lionel Derrick
Pinnacle Books, 1980
Price I paid: 60¢
Big men are making big money off little children, and the Penetrator has found an explosive new cause!
From the sleepy suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, to the smut-ridden streets of Hollywood, and over to the island paradise of Hawaii, Mark Hardin draws his deadly leash tighter and tighter around a vicious pornography ring bent on the sexploitation of innocent children.
That’s right, folks, it’s time for another Penetrator novel. I’ve had this one sitting around for a bit and since it’s been a few months since my last Penetrator review, I figured it was a pretty good time. Plus I’m celebrating getting a new job, and a new Mark Hardin adventure is just icing on the cake for me.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be, by far, the worst Penetrator novel I’ve read thus far. It’s still got some good bits, but on the whole, this one left a bad taste in my mouth. I am not happy.
For one, maybe I ought to put a trigger warning on this post. The plot of this book revolves around pedophilia and child pornography. That’s enough to make even me uncomfortable, but really it’s worse than that. See, the book itself doesn’t deal with the inherent issues that are faced by the victims of child molestation and so forth. It’s just there to show us how evil the villain is. We don’t see anything about the lives these children have to face now that they’ve been exploited, the trust issues they’ll face, the self-esteem problems, the psychological trauma and everything that comes of it. Nope, we don’t see or discuss any of it. All we know is that a bad guy is using children for pornography and he’s evil. Why is he evil? Because of child pornography, duh. It’s just a quick and efficient way of establishing that this bad guy is not to be thought of as anything but.
Isn’t that kind of exploitative, too?
You know, this has a lot in common with John’s complaint regarding the rape scene in Cybernarc.
The book also doesn’t have near as much crazy action sequences and gun-fu as other Penetrator novels, so there’s that. All around, a disappointing read.
The plot is pretty much all over the place. It starts with Mark randomly choosing a file to investigate because he’s got nothing more personal to take care of at the moment, I guess. Oddly enough, the Professor has to explain to him what pedophilia means, which immediately struck me as a bit out of character. Usually Mark Hardin is pretty smart about stuff along with his guns and his brutality. Throughout this book he just comes across as really dumb.
There’s this one point where he’s starting his investigation. He begins by going to pornography shops and looking to see if they have any child pornography, because surely a place that people already think is amoral is going to have that kind of thing just sitting on the shelves, right?
Well, here’s the thing, they do. Mark visits something like a half a dozen porno shops in his investigation and every last one of them have child pornography just sitting on the shelves in plain view. I’m willing to bet that this kind of thing was just as illegal then as it is now, so what the hell, author? It’s not a question of “Well it’s not like I go into pornography stores all the time so it’s not like I’d know that.” It’s more like “DON’T PUT ILLEGAL THINGS IN PLAIN VIEW.”
Even head shops have to put up signs that say “FOR TOBACCO USE ONLY.” It’s not like you’re going to go in there and look at the selection of marijuanas from many lands.
At least not in 48 states.
I guess the implication here is that people who enjoy pornography are themselves so depraved that they won’t be shocked and offended if they see children being exploited? Considering the context of this kind of book, I’m going to say yeah, that’s exactly what’s being said here. After all, only sad, lonely, desperate, pitiful men are going to enjoy pornography, right? People who can’t get a real woman? People who are not in any way like Mark Hardin, the Penetrator, and the people, real men who like and fondle guns and boobs, who follow his adventures?
But anyway, Mark does this really stupid thing where he walks in, grabs a publication exploiting minors, and just yells out HEY WHERE DO I GET INTO THIS KIND OF ACTION! I SURE WANT TO BE INVOLVED WITH CHILD PORNOGRAPHY!
Mark Hardin, the subtlest man in America.
Once he starts finding some clues, the majority of the rest of the book involves going from one lead to the next up the ladder to the chief bad guy. There’s not a lot of action in this one and it just sort of drags on. One of his earliest leads is actually a very sweet old lady who nobody in their right mind would suspect. It turns out that she’s involved with this whole scheme, though, although at first I figured maybe she was being pressured into it somehow and maybe Mark would find out who is exploiting this old lady along with little kids. But it never really comes up again until the very end of the book.
Like the scene in the porno shop, a lot of the investigation in this book involves pretending to be totally into child pornography. That’s pretty much all Mark has to go on in this book. He finds someone that he thinks is involved, convinces them that he’s in on it too, pumps them for information, and then turns them in to the cops. This goes on about three or four times.
At one point, though, he meets a comely young lady named Drisana. She’s also called Drisa for short. She does a thing that always bugs me.
My friends shorten it to Drisa. That’s pronounced Dree-SAH.
Okay, um, here’s the thing. That’s dialogue. Why did she say her name out loud to someone and then tell them how to pronounce it? She pronounced it right there! You don’t have to pronounce something for someone when you’ve JUST PRONOUNCED IT.
I know that it’s for the sake of us, the readers, but still, it’s clunky and it’s dumb and I hate it and this is by no means the only book I’ve ever seen that happen in. Also, I could figure it out if I cared to, which I don’t.
Drisa is a hypersexed little thing who is constantly trying to bed The Penetrator. I suspect she succeeded at least once but it was off camera.
I think it’s funny that I refer to things as “off camera” in a book, but I can’t think of a better way of putting it? Help me out here, readers.
Most of the time, though, her affections go unsated. Mark is just interested in her because she says she knows who is behind this whole scheme. She can’t remember the name, though. She says that she will remember it, but first she has to be taken to Hawaii on Mark’s investigation, because at least she knows that much.
The book actually did pretty well here. Drisa looks and sounds like a little nymphomaniac bimbo and one gets the impression that she really doesn’t know as much as she says she does, she’s just taking advantage of Mark for a free trip to Hawaii. I was not suspicious of her at all, so when she finally turns on Mark and says that she’s been working for the bad guy the whole time, I was taken by surprise.
The guy she’s working for is named PREACHER MANN, which is just freaking fantastic. I love that name. I looked it up to see if anyone else has ever used it before.
It turns out there’s some kid using it for a rap name so that’s pretty nifty. I haven’t listened to any of his raps but he’s got one called “America’s Angel” that’s about Trayvon Martin. As an aside, I hope that if I’m ever a victim of a heinous crime and travesty of justice, I’m not memorialized by somebody whose other works include songs named “Bangin Screw” and “Phinga Phuckin.”
Back to the story, it turns out that Preacher Mann and The Penetrator have (because of course they do) a HISTORY.
And it’s GREAT.
They fought before, you see. Apparently Preacher Mann is just an insanely evil guy who has insanely evil plans. He’s a straight up Bond villain but instead of world domination he just wants to make money doing evil things. His last escapade, and I’ll have to find out what book this was, involved cryogenically freezing women so he could use them as international call girls.
That’s so insanely dumb that I love it.
His plan this time is a bit more down to earth, but far, far more evil. The thing is, how does he expect to rake in so much cash if his plan is just selling child pornography? That’s a sort of a niche market, or at least I’d certainly like to think it is. You’d think he’d make more money selling more straightforward porn with mainstream tastes. Maybe corner a niche market that’s not illegal. Furthermore, he’s been pouring money into this plan like it’s a doomsday device or something. He’s bought this insanely expensive printing equipment so that his child porn is really high quality stuff that’ll sell for a lot.
These books really do excel at having villains with really idiotic and overcomplicated plots. It’s the best thing about them. Pity that this one is just shockingly offensive for the sake of showing how evil this guy is.
Preacher Mann not only has a crazy plot, he’s also got a house that’s just full of complicated Bond villain traps. And the thing is, it’s not like he was expecting the Penetrator to show up. He was honestly surprised when he found out, although he was also pleased because he would get to rid the world of the greatest menace evil has ever had.
There’s a standard scene where some goons show up to take Mark out. He deals with them in less than a page. Three dudes with baseball bats, mind you, and Mark doesn’t even use a gun. He just brains them with their own bats. It’s pretty gruesome and great.
Mark is breaking into this guy’s house with the help of an old buddy from ‘Nam, because I’m pretty sure that every book features a temporary sidekick or informant or something that is also an old buddy from ‘Nam. I get the feeling that Mark Hardin was buddies with every soldier, sailor, and marine to take part in that “war.” This one just sort of shows up out of nowhere after recognizing Mark on the street. His name is Uchi and he’s Japanese. He’s also in a bad way because the war really did a number on him, as is often the case.
Mark and Uchi break into Preacher Mann’s house. Some guards are dealt with swiftly and efficiently, but it turns out that there’s a surprise in store! Preacher has this whole elaborate death trap laid out and Mark gets put in it. For one, there’s arrows shooting out of walls, because that’s original. It’s even explicitly stated that they’re computer controlled to fire out randomly so that Preacher gets to toy with his prey before all the arrows fire at once and turn Mark into a fine paste.
Mark’s plan for escaping is simple and, I’ll admit it, pretty disappointing. He finds some towels in the room. A whole bunch of them. He wraps himself in this crazy thick layer of towels so that the arrows can’t get him. Then he screams like he’s been killed. Preacher Mann comes into the room to gloat and, well, by that point it’s pretty much over.
Preacher’s got another trick up his sleeve, though. He grabs Drisa (remember Drisa?) and holds her up as a human shield. Not with a gun, though. He’s got a stick of dynamite. He lights it and holds it up. Mark’s got a gun, but it’s a machine gun and not terribly accurate. The narration goes out of its way to say that. If he fires, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll hit Drisa, too. Why, exactly, this is a problem is a mystery to me, because after all she did betray and try to kill him earlier in the book. It’s not like she’s an innocent.
What follows is so dumb, and not even enjoyable dumb. Preacher Mann gets his comeuppance not by wits or irony or skill or anything like that on Mark’s part. All that happens is that at one point in his monologue he almost drops the dynamite. He grabs for it with the hand he was using to hold Drisa and she gets away.
On the plus side, what follows that is great. Mark takes his shot when Drisa hops away. Instead of just shooting the guy and killing him, like you’d expect, Mark shoots
You know what’s going to happen, don’t you? I don’t even have to tell you.
And it GETS EVEN BETTER
Preacher doesn’t die immediately! His arm is torn off and he’s blasted to hell, but he’s still alive and conscious enough to realize that, like all Bond villains, one of his death traps has been used against him.
See, as a true villain, it’s important that he have a pointless tank of piranhas somewhere. It was mentioned, quite briefly, earlier in the book so it’s not like it’s a Deus ex Piscis thing, although it’s pretty damn close. So of course he gets blasted into the piranha tank.
Oh, but not entirely! He gets blasted next to it with his leg dangling into the tank, so we get to see his slow, horrible death as it happens. Hooray!
Drisana’s still alive, though, and she takes one last shot at Mark and hits him in the arm. It spins him around in a complete 360. By the time he’s facing her again he’s got his own gun up and he shoots her right between the eyes, as you’d probably expect.
Mark starts to pass out from the pain of his wound. It even says that he’s not able to use his magical Cheyenne powers this time because it hurts so bad. Uchi shows up at the last minute, though, and they escape just as the cops show up and the book ends.
Oh, one last thing though. It turns out that Preacher Mann isn’t even the highest ranking person in this whole scheme. It was the old lady at the beginning of the book! Drisa, incidentally, was her daughter or granddaughter or whatever, and she was number two!
Preacher Mann was third in command!
And so there you have it, my least favorite Penetrator novel so far. It had its redeeming bits, of course, but still, the basic plot of this book leaves me angry. It’s just a cheap use of something truly horrendous for setting up a dumb adventure novel. It’s not even like it hinged on that plot hook. It could have been anything. Drugs. Guns. Booze. Prostitutes. Pulp men’s adventure novels. It didn’t have to be child pornography.
It would have been one thing if the book had somehow dealt with the real problem and the issues that surround it. I think maybe Mark once made an offhand comment to the effect of “This is really gonna mess those kids up one day.” That’s it. No sympathy, no recognition of the real heartbreaking awfulness that these children are going to go through for the rest of their lives.
For shame, Penetrator novel.
“It’s just fiction,” someone out there might be saying. And yes, you’re right. But it’s extremely lazy fiction. I’m not saying any of these book are anything but lazy, but this one really takes the cake. It’s one thing if the Mafia is using a submarine to pirate things or the Aryan Brotherhood is using drugs to kidnap a whole town. Those are really stupid plots, too, but they’re not relying on something that traumatizes and wounds people at their very core for their entire lives to set up a two-bit Bond villain who doesn’t even cover his piranha tank when it’s not in use. And at least those plots were creative. On some level, anyway. Stupid, but original. Whereas this plot was probably thought up along the lines of “What’s terrible? Child pornography? Run with it.”
If you ever think something along those lines, please, for the love of everything, don’t run with it.
I just donated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Consider doing so yourself.