The Penetrator #12: Bloody Boston by Chet Cunningham
Book Margins, Inc., 1976
Price I paid: $1.50
The Penetrator wanted nothing more than to destroy the Mafia. But when his college roommate Tony Rossi, the son of Boston’s most powerful Don, asked him for help, Hardin couldn’t refuse. Somebody was masquerading as Mark’s buddy, trying to take over the drug trade in Boston, and if the fake didn’t succeed, Rossi’s wife and son would lose their lives. Whatever it took, the Penetrator swore he would save the innocent—and make sure the corrupt could never harm anyone again.
Happy New Year, everybody! I hope everyone’s 2015 is off to a good start. Here’s to 52 more reviews of books that no one would ever care about otherwise.
Can you believe I’ve been at this for two years? In my first review of 2014 I talked about how surprising it was that I was able to keep this up for so long. Sure, a book a week isn’t all that impressive. I read more than that anyway. But I’ve never been good at sticking to projects. Either I get bored or I decide there’s something else to do that would be more worth my time. And yet here I am, saying the same thing yet another year later.
I owe it all to you, my readers! I’m glad that I’m entertaining and educating at least a few people. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Last week, for the last review of 2014, I did the first of two Penetrator novels that had been compiled into an omnibus edition under the actual name of the guy who wrote them, as opposed to the house name, Lionel Derrick, to whom the Pinnacle paperbacks are attributed. This week, for my first review of 2015, I’m doing the other half of the edition, the unfortunately named Bloody Boston.
I’ve had this set sitting around for a while looking for a way to do it. My roommate suggested I do them back-to-back for something like this, which was a good idea. I was hesitant to do them earlier just because of the title of this particular book. I picked up this Double Penetrator set not too long before the tragic incident at the Boston Marathon in April 2013. Or maybe I picked them up a little after. Either way, it was a bit too close for comfort, and I hesitated. I still feel like it’s a little tasteless, but I guess we have to pick ourselves up and move on in whatever way we can. In my case it’s reviewing a book about a vigilante that kills people. Eek.
This one had a lot of surprises in store for me. This series manages to do that, which is a point in its favor. It would have been easy for the authors to rely on a formula for the books, just change the names and places and items around a bit to make a new book, but they did a pretty good job of making the books have a variety of plots and circumstances. This book, in a manner similar to Northwest Contract, was on a much smaller scale than the usual. These books usually involve some kind of grandiose plan, but every so often the story is more personal. The stakes might even be a little lower in terms of sheer numbers of people threatened, but the villains still manage to be pretty villainous. Probably more so, since they aren’t cartoons.
The plot revolves around one of Mark’s old buddies, because I’m pretty sure they all do, but in this case it’s a little more complicated. Tony Rossi was Mark’s college roommate and they were fast friends. I think they went to UCLA. At some point in their tenure as Bruins Tony found out that his dad was one of the most powerful mob bosses in the nation. He was not happy with that discovery. While Mark finished up his degree and then went to Vietnam, Tony dropped out and joined up with what I think was supposed to be the Peace Corps. Whatever the case, he ventured around the world and got captured by some natives in New Guinea, where he was presumed dead. Before heading out like that, though, he got married to a lady named Monica and had a kid named Little Tony. They are important to the story at some point.
It also makes him sound like a bit of a jerk, really. Marrying some girl, getting her pregnant, and then heading out to wild untamed lands to meet the natives? Putting himself in danger like that? Not cool.
While everybody thought he was dead, the Mafia did something dastardly. Is anyone surprised by that? I mean, it’s the Mafia. Dastardly is what they do on a pretty regular basis. Sometimes they use submarines for piracy. Just saying.
Well, this particular brand of dastardly is a bit more insulting just because it’s so personal. See, the local Mafiosos decided that the best thing to do would be to find a guy who looks a lot like Tony and say that he showed up some time ago and now he’s in charge of the local Mafia. What’s really going on, though, is that this fake-Tony is a figurehead for Big Mike Sollozzo, a guy with some ambition. Tony’s dad is still alive, but not by much. He’s got terminal cancer and he’s being kept up in some facility that the Mafia bought for just that purpose.
The real Tony shows up looking like Act V of King Lear and begs Mark for help. He wants his family back, he wants his dad free, and he wants out of all this Mafia business once and for all.
You might remember last week when I was talking about the cover to this book. I was amazed at the fact that the car on the cover had a vanity licence plate on the front that looked a lot like it said “ANGIE X.” I was surprised by it because Mark’s steadiest girl, Angie, isn’t introduced until book 29. Well, I was plenty surprised when I found out why this book’s cover had that bit of detail.
There are TWO ANGIES
Bloody Boston has an Angie all its own. She and Mark hit it off immediately. She’s also Tony’s sister. She’s beautiful, in her twenties, and not altogether dumb, although she doesn’t do an awful lot to move the plot along. Perhaps most surprisingly, Tony doesn’t seem to mind that Mark Hardin, The Penetrator, is shacking up with her for a good portion of the book. I don’t have any sisters, so I suppose my attitude toward my friends hooking up with my hypothetical female siblings is based on pop culture, but still, it seems odd. There’s more awkwardness and anger.
Angie’s main purpose, aside from being pretty, seems to be that she’s a pretty good source of exposition. She knows a lot about what’s been going on since, after all, she’s been in town for most of it. She fills us all in on it in between trying to get Mark in bed. He’s quite slow to respond in the way that she wants (they don’t go all the way until the epilogue), but it’s not out of any kind of honor or whatever, it’s just because he doesn’t have the time for all that foolishness while there are Mafia types walking around being evil.
We already knew from other books just how much The Penetrator hates the Mafia, but this one takes it to a new level. He has soliloquies in this one about how human parasites like Mafiosos, who feed off of the death and pain of others, don’t even have a right to live. Putting them down isn’t strictly killing people, in his book, it’s more like taking some medicine to get rid of a case of worms.
Part of me wonders if any actual Mafia guys have ever read this book or the host of others from the time period that used them as the chief domestic evil in America. I wonder how it made them feel to know that they were so vilified.
There’s somebody else I need to mention in this book. She came up as I was describing it to some friends of mine. She’s in every book I’ve read thus far and, embarrassingly, I have failed to mention her at all up to this point. I’m ashamed of myself. She’s such an important element to the series that I just feel like I’ve let you all down. Her name is Ava.
Ava is The Penetrator’s specially crafted CO2 powered dart gun. He uses her as a silent takedown weapon, and by that I mean she’s probably his most-used gun. She was invented by Professor Haskins at some point in the backstory and she’s being constantly refined and upgraded. Mark loads her with either knockout darts or ones that are so poisonous that the person he shoots with them dies within six seconds or so. She gets a lot of screen time in this book, since a great deal of it involves sneaking around more than outright action.
The last thing that set this book apart from its colleagues is the fact that the entire thing takes place from Mark’s point of view. Never once do we get a PoV shot from some goon while he guards a door, thinking about his mama’s spaghetti sauce and how, after he gets paid, he’s going to get his teaching certificate and do his papa proud. Nope, this book subverts that. Part of me thinks it’s so that we never get a chance to humanize these villains, but if that’s the case then that reasoning fell off somewhere in the future books.
This book is pretty easy to sum up. There’s more backstory than current-story, but it worked out okay. Mark and Tony and Angie do some separate things where they figure out what grand scheme the Mafia is up to. It’s not all that impressive. It turns out to be called something like “Operation White Coffin” and, well, that’s it. It’s a white coffin, supposedly for Tony’s dying dad, but the trick is that they ordered it from Mexico or something and it’s lined in DRUGS
I expected it to be a coffin full of drugs but I was wrong. It was the lining that was full of drugs, I guess so customs couldn’t just open it up and see that there wasn’t a body in there after all. Would customs even open up a coffin in the first place? I feel like they should, just so this kind of thing couldn’t happen, but I don’t know.
Mark Hardin of course hates drugs, but when he finds out that the drug in this case is cocaine, he gets extra mad. Cocaine is a rich snob drug, in his mind, and that makes it bad. Not as evil as something like heroin (he deals with some heroin pushers pretty violently at one point), but offensive because it’s a sign of rich people doing stupid rich things. I like this character more and more with every book.
This book is easier to summarize than most. The story is straightforward and is just Mark and Tony doing bad things to Mafia guys until they learn a little more information that leads them to the next Mafia guys. Things are pretty gruesome, but the worst bit is at the end, and it’s not even Mark doing it. Tony is supposed to be a kindly soul, but once they catch up to the dude who perpetrated this whole scheme, Tony goes nuts on him. Pops his eyeball out, kicks him a few times, takes a huge knife and disembowels him, and then shoots him in the head seven times. It was so over-the-top that I couldn’t help but picture Mark Hardin standing there shaking his head at amateur hour. “There could have been more torture. You didn’t do anything to his knees,” I hear him saying.
Oh, at some point in there Mark got shot in the thigh.
And that was about it. Mark goes back to Angie’s hotel room and they talk a bit and start to get undressed and then the phone rings. It’s Professor Haskins! It seems there’s some kind of thing going down in Atlanta and Mark needs to check it out for the thirteenth book, Dixie Death Squad. Mark says he needs to let his thigh rest for a day or two and then he’ll be right on it. In the meantime, he’s got some funtimes planned…
This book was different enough from the rest of the books in the series that I enjoyed reading it. I was interested in seeing just where it would go and how it might otherwise surprise me. It laid down a personal story of vengeance and deceit that I thought made for a good change in the tone of the series. Mark didn’t do much of anything ridiculous—his magic Cheyenne powers weren’t even mentioned—and the most ludicrous weapon he used was Ava. I think he also used some C-5 explosive, which I’m pretty sure is fictional but has cropped up in other Penetrator novels. It’s apparently a few times more powerful than C-4.
There was plenty of violence but it was at least remarked upon by Mark or somebody else. Somebody would say something like “Oh my God you killed that guy” and Mark would respond with “I stepped on a bug” or something like that. Dude cold hates the Mafia.
So if you’re looking at Penetrator novels and wanting one with a bonkers villain plot, you can skip this one. But if you want one that was a pretty good stab at a book about human beings, maybe give this one a try. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an interesting change in direction.
2 thoughts on “The Penetrator #12: Bloody Boston”
I’m sorry, but these Penetrator covers look like they belong to a Saturday Night Live spoof. I can’t help but laugh at them!
It’s good to know that someone else out there has read some of these books. I came across them a few months back at a local book store. I never bothered with “men’s adventure” series’ before, but the title, “The Penetrator”, and the phallic arrow logo made me laugh out loud(also the fact that the hero was named “Hardin”). I couldn’t resist, and I’m so glad I took the plunge. I love these books. I bought all 30 or so that this bookstore had(all brand new!!), and filled in the gaps through Amazon, so I have them all now. I pull one out for a quick read now and again. Finished Bloody Boston last night and was pleased to come across your review of it afterwards. I’m surprised I ended up loving these books as much as I do. Horror is my genre of choice, and I’m a bit surprised by just how violent these books are. Sure, I expected a lot of shooting of bad guys, but the gruesomeness was a bit of a surprise. Also quite welcome as it makes it all the more schlocky and entertaining to me. Based on this series I have done a bit of research on other similar series’ from the same time period. Some interesting stuff out there, but there’s only one Penetrator.