Book Review: The Penetrator #14

The Most Penetrative Game

By Jimmy Callaway


Anyone who’s spent even a few moments browsing in a used bookstore has seen them: rack upon shelf upon rack of men’s adventure novels.  Most prominent is The Executioner, created in 1969 by Don Pendleton.  Pendleton’s protagonist, Mack Bolan, an Army vet who takes the law into his own hands, is the star of hundreds of novels.


Can you even imagine?  I mean, I am an avowed comic book nerd, and the big name superheroes I so adore have probably each had a comparable number of adventures.  But there’s something about these adventure novels that boggles my mind.  Maybe it’s because there are no pictures or something, I dunno.

Anyways, we’re not here to talk about the Executioner series, but its progeny.  In the 1970s, when the backlash to the hippie counterculture was at its highest, there were many, many Executioner knock-offs to be found in the spinner racks at your local A&P.  The Destroyer was a series of kung-fu novels; The Butcher was another vigilante who moonlighted at a deli.  Or maybe not, there’s not a whole lot written about these lesser Bolans, aside from a few largely unreadable fan sites.  One of the more popular series of the ’70s was The Penetrator, who starred in over fifty novels between the years of 1973 and 1984.  The fourteenth Penetrator novel was a little ditty with the delightful title, Mankill Sport.

It rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?  Mankill Sport.  I dunno, I love it.  Unfortunately, the title is the best part of this book, although I have certainly read a lot worse in my time.

Mark Hardin (any similarity to Mack Bolan here is, if not intentional, surely not accidental) is a Vietnam veteran who has come home from the war only to find the freedoms he fought so hard for in Southeast Asia to be taken for granted.  Hardin becomes a one-man army, just like Bob McKenzie in Strange Brew.  Or I guess a two- or three-man army, since he has backing his war Professor Willard Haskins, in charge of intel, and Hadin’s trusty Cheyenne sidekick/mentor, David Red Eagle, also in charge of intel, but in a much more spiritual sense.  But nothing sissy, y’know, more like a Bruce Lee spiritual.

Mankill Sport, of course, needs a villain, and it has a doozy with the perfectly named Johnny Utah, drug overlord of Detroit, MI.  The book opens with Utah brazenly executing two police officers.  Granted, they’re crooked police officers, but still.  Pretty ballsy, Utah.  Utah’s M.O. is he runs Detroit, but since he technically lives out in the ‘burbs, the city cops can’t bust him since he’s bought off the soft, doughy Bloomfield Hills P.D.  This seems a bit flimsy on the face of it, but having lived in suburbia all my life and dealing with the fat, mustachioed cops therein, I can believe it.

After this brash display of cop-icide, the Penetrator makes Johnny Utah his next project.  Hardin (any similarity to “hard-on” here is, if not intentional, surely really creepy and gross) tracks Utah up into the great white north, which is apparently a beauty way to go (Boom! Two McKenzie brothers references!  I’m on fire, don’t put me out!)(Okay, you can put me out now).  The suspense builds, but if you’ve been paying any kind of attention and slept through less than two-thirds of freshman English, then you’ll likely guess that we’re gonna get a rehash of Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Sure enough, the Penetrator angles it so he’s captured and held for Utah’s most private game reserve, where the eating is good and the hunting is for humans.  Naturally, Utah figures he’s got the Penetrator right where he wants him, and naturally, he’s never been more wrong.  The Penetrator overtakes and kills all of Utah’s customers on the Bloodlust Ranch, freeing the other captives, and doling out justice to Johnny Utah…Penetrator-style!

All in all, this is a little ring-a-ding dose of post-‘Nam soldier-of-fortune fantasy, written most likely with guys like your dad in mind.  It’s a fun way to kill an afternoon, and at the very least read it for the unintentionally hilarious sub-plot with the Penetrator and his lady love, ex-model Joanna Tabler, as they discuss marriage and the possibility of a future together in a world that still needs so much justice.  It’s a lot of laughs trying to wedge some kinda feminist commentary into the series.  Well, for me, anyways.

Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, CA, where he edits and writes for Criminal Complex among other things.

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