The Penetrator #21: The Supergun Mission by Lionel Derrick
Pinnacle Books, 1977
Price I paid: $1.50
It started with the smuggling of Mexican “wetbacks” for slave labor in the U.S. They were brought to an island in Lake Texoma, north of Dallas, to work on a top-secret operation directed by H.H. Christiansen…and were forbidden to leave. But it wasn’t until twenty-five Mexicans died in a mysterious tank truck fire that the Penetrator was called in. That’s when this simple smuggling assignment turned into a national security threat.
The project is the development of a sonic gun—the ultimate weapon—which causes the human body to explode from internal pressure, turning flesh and bone to jelly. The Cubans, the Albanians, and the Red Chinese are in on the buy. But the scientists working on the project are in need of a guinea pig—and Mark Hardin, the Penetrator, is just what the doctors ordered…
He has only one shot—to destroy the supergun before it annihilates him and all of the free world.
I think I mentioned last week that my roommate found a big stack of Penetrator books for all of us to bask in, and here’s my first review from that stack. I picked it at random by rolling a d10, and while there were books in that stack that I was hoping for, I was not disappointed by The Supergun Mission.
It had a lot of opportunity to be offensive and, all told, it managed to avoid most of it. While the book does use the word “wetback” a lot more than I would have liked, I have to concede that the word was used either by people who were already pegged as bad guys or by Mark Hardin himself while undercover in the company of said bad guys.
Like a lot of Penetrator books, this one had a theme that was ripped right out of the headlines. No, I don’t mean the titular supergun, but rather the topic of immigration, and more specifically, illegal immigration.
You might be delighted to know that the Penetrator’s thoughts on the matter are actually pretty level-headed, at least in my opinion. I don’t like to get political in these reviews but I want to say I agreed with him on several key points when the action stopped and we got this long bit of internal monologue that told us exactly what Mark thinks about immigration. Key points include
- Immigrants do work that Americans themselves won’t deign to do and
- If there are any villains, it’s the businesspeople who hire undocumented immigrants and pay them very little, while
- Politicians pay lip service to “solving the illegal immigrant problem” and never do anything about it, mainly because
- Undocumented immigrants are the backbone of America’s agricultural industry, and since, as we’ve already established, other Americans won’t do that job, the economy would collapse without them.
How far we’ve come since 1977.
It’s also worth noting that Mark gets involved after the deaths of twenty-five undocumented immigrants who were left in a tanker truck near the border to die horribly in a fire. On one hand that’s nice. It shows that Mark thinks of these people are real-life human beings who deserve to be avenged. On the other hand it’s one of those deals where the narrative doesn’t think of them as real-life people but rather instruments that get the Penetrator up and running so that he can stop the real plot, which is to build an ultimate weapon and sell it to the Communists.
The narrative jumps back and forth between Mark’s investigation and the dastardly plans of our antagonist, a guy named H.H. Christiansen. Christiansen isn’t much of an original villain; he’s just a rich guy who wants to be richer. He’s hired this woman named Frances Graybar, your typical beautiful but sexually-repressed Nobel laureate, to build for him a sonic weapon that, among other things, will reduce concrete to dust and a human being to goo. Frances starts off thinking that Christiansen will put her device to positive uses, such as in the mining industry or something, but as it becomes clearer that he’s a standard capitalist she turns on him.
Mark, meanwhile, goes to Mexico. He’s investigating the coyoteros who transport Mexican citizens across the border for a fee. As usual, nobody wants to tell him anything about the truck fire, but they also send goons after him when he asks so it’s clear he’s on the right track. Surprisingly, the goons do their job and beat the living crap out of Mark, leaving him in the street for dead.
This Penetrator book lacked a lot of the trademarks I’ve come to expect. Never once does Mark get shot in the thigh, and we don’t get any of those wonderful passages where we learn a dude’s life story before Mark pulls out his eyeballs through his junk, and most remarkably, Mark actually gets ambushed and injured without knowing about it hours in advance and setting up a counter-ambush. The Penetrator actually felt almost human.
He wakes up under the care of a young woman named Consuelo. At first I thought this was a hilarious mistake. I figured surely, if anything, the author (Mark Roberts this time) meant Consuela. I was just under the impression that Hispanic names worked that way. I looked it up for some reason and sure enough, it turns out that I’m in the wrong here. Consuelo is a legitimate name in Spanish. The internet even went so far as to say a lot of gringos like me try to correct it to Consuela when they see it, but that they’re wrong, so take that, cabrón.
This book uses a lot of Spanish, most of it untranslated. The author either thought we’d figure out what was going on via context or by looking it up, and I like that kind of trust.
Consuelo is, of course, beautiful, and after the Penetrator is all patched up, she sleeps with him, and then she tells Mark about her hermano, who is missing after going norte to look for work. Mark promises to find out what he can. Consuelo offers to come with him and help with the search, but he says no. After he leaves she goes out on her own and he has to rescue her.
Mark goes back to Dallas to check on some leads. For one, there’s a “legitimate transport company” that he wants to look into called Diversified Investments Exchange, which is such a generic name that it just screams that it’s a front for a villain somewhere. Also its acronym is DIE and it’s right across America’s most infamous plaza from a certain schoolbook depository with which you may be familiar.
Lionel Derrick doesn’t have time for such pleasantries as subtlety.
It’s while he’s in Dallas that there’s this section where Mark returns to his truck to check on his supplies and finds it being stripped by some gang members. He dispatches them and then gets jumped by two of the youngest members of the gang, who are the spotters. He throws one of them into the grille of his truck before realizing that the kid is fourteen years old. He goes into a fugue over this, thinking that he just killed a kid, and then gets jumped by the other kid, who is twelve. Mark’s response to this kid is to throw him across his knee and give him the spanking his parents should have given him a long time ago before turning him loose. It was weird but funny. It made for a strange tonal shift.
Mark then meets with a guy named Dawse, who runs DIE on behalf of Christiansen. Mark gets in well with him after proving that he can fly airplanes. Dawse, it should be mentioned, is one of the more unfortunately characterized villains in the book, being that he is a predatory gay pederast, a detail that really wasn’t necessary, especially considering that it’s only supposed to serve to make him even more villainous. Ick.
So Mark can fly planes full of immigrants now, and that’s good, because his first delivery is to Christiansen’s secret base on an island in Lake Texoma. Like many of the guns that Mark uses, there’s a lot of attention given to the airplane that Mark flies, most of which didn’t really push the plot along. It’s brought up that Mark already knows how to fly planes, but that a pilot’s license doesn’t necessarily mean that every plane is the same, so Mark has to train on this particular plane before he’s allowed to use it. I thought that was a neat touch of realism, especially since it establishes that Mark isn’t already brilliantly skilled at everything, but it also seemed to drag on a little bit.
And then, of course, he proves that even on his first flight he’s super-skilled at everything anyway by avoiding US Immigration agents with some super-cool airplane moves.
Mark arrives at the island and scouts it out. It was interesting to me that during this part he wasn’t as over-prepared as he usually is in these situations. He doesn’t have his gadgetry on him, seeing as how bringing it along might have raised some red flags. At one point he regrets not bringing along his through-the-wall-listening-device and instead has to improvise by using a paper cup.
He does have his special Indian powers to fall back on, though. He makes extensive use of “wind-walking,” which basically just means he can sneak around really well and be almost invisible. It’s notable that the beginning of the book has an author’s note attesting to the validity of this ability and how it shows up as a skill in many cultures. His citation is a book called Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, which you’ll be delighted to know is currently available on Amazon and the reviews are just gold if you, like me, think idiots are funny.
Anyway, Mark wind-walks around, does some spy stuff, causes some distractions (it turns out that the answer to the musical question posed by the Baha Men is, in fact, Mark Hardin, the Penetrator), and learns what he needs to know to put a stop to this mad scheme. Also, he discovers that Consuelo is here, having decided that she’s going to find her brother all by herself. This gets important in the climax.
Remember how all this got started? With 25 plot devices dying horribly in a truck fire? Mark discovers how it happened from a guy named Syd. Syd was transporting them when some immigration agents showed up, so he set the truck on fire to destroy the evidence and then ran for it. So that mystery is solved over the course of a page, after which Mark throws Syd out of an airplane.
There’s a bit here that is so typically great of this series. Syd hits the ground and splatters all over the desert. There’s then a paragraph or so about how his bodily fluids will seep into the sand, causing a small bloom of flowers on that spot before they dry out.
This isn’t great writing but I sure do love it.
Mark takes that plane back to Dallas, retrieves his weaponry, and heads to the island by boat to do what he does best. First off he finds a bunch of workers and gives them grenades and dynamite and stuff. They blow up things. He uses that distraction to sneak into the compound and try to find the supergun and destroy it. It turns out that this is the very day that Christiansen was to show off the supergun to the communists who want to buy it. There are “dignitaries” from Cuba, Albania, and China on the premises, so not only does Mark brutally murder this Christiansen guy, he also embarrases him in front of his commie buddies.
The brutal murder is exactly how you’d expect it to happen. Mark finds the group standing around the sonic gun waiting for a demonstration. Despite what the back of the book says, Mark is never the intended subject of the demonstration. He really just shows up at the last minute. Instead, it turns out to be Consuelo and her brother who are about to be pulped. Mark rushes in to save them. Christiansen rushes in to stop him. The gun is ready to fire automatically and can’t be stopped. Christiansen is directly in the path of the sonic blast and explodes into a fine mist and the day is saved.
The epilogue to the book takes place in Mexico. Mark is kicking back with a beautiful lady. I expected this beautiful lady to be Consuelo again, but I was disappointed to see that it was in fact Frances, the sexually repressed Nobel laureate. Turns out that she’s not sexually repressed anymore, and all it took was Mark Hardin to change her mind.
Actually, I fib a little here. There was this one point earlier in the book where she had this extended internal monologue where she regretted choosing never to have a man in her life for some reason.
Mark gets a call from Professor Haskins telling him about a situation out in Oregon that needs his attention, and Mark sets off for another adventure.
This particular Penetrator was pretty fun to read. Like all of them, it was a quick one, but this one seemed quicker than most. It was only about 150 pages and ripped right along, although at times it actually felt like there was some padding to get up to a specified word count. There was this out of place bit near the end where Mark remembered a situation back when he was in ‘Nam that was supposed to be similar to the one he was currently in, although I didn’t see much of a connection. And the bit where Mark dealt with the gang members in Dallas also felt somewhat out of place, although having the most dangerous man in the world administer a spanking was just marvelous.
There was a lot of stuff in this book that came off as seriously insensitive in terms of race and poverty and made me very uncomfortable, even if it did all come from the mouths and minds of characters who were otherwise completely unsympathetic anyway.
I seemed to catch more typos in this book than I usually do in Lionel Derrick outings, which struck me as odd. While none of the books have been completely devoid of misspellings or other such errors of typography, this one had more than I’m used to. One that really stands out is actually on the back cover. The bottom of the cover is a little synopsis of the series as a whole, pointing out that, and I quote with hilarious typo intact:
This is the twenty-first book in the Penertator series.
All told, this book was a pretty standard Penetrator novel. Really dumb (although less dumb than some of them) and really entertaining. This is an odd-numbered one, which means Mark Roberts wrote it, and I’m starting to think he’s the one I prefer reading, no offense to Chet Cunningham. Roberts just seems to have the goofier plots and I like those.
I’ve got nine more of these on the stack and while I want to read them all over the next two months or so, I’m going to resist that urge.