Paramilitary Plot marks the first occasion that legendary pulp fiction character, Mack Bolan – The Executioner, has graced the pages of Permission to Kill. Needless to say it wont be his last. However, Mack Bolan’s early adventures, written by Don Pendleton were not particularly espionage based. That Mack Bolan operated outside the law, and his enemy were the Mafia. However, from book 39 in the series – The New War – after Pendleton sold the rights to his creation, Bolan was different, and I guess, depending on your definition of spy fiction – mine is very loose – that’s where The Executioner stories move into a counter-terrorist, espionage realm, and become worthy of examination of these pages.
In these stories, Bolan has been awarded a Presidential pardon, given plastic surgery, and rechristened ‘John Phoenix’. Bolan/Phoenix is a counter-terrorism operative codenamed Stony Man. Here’s an overview of the Bolan we are dealing with here; from pages 15-16:
When Mack Bolan retired from his private war against the Mafia, he did so with a purpose. The thought of rest and relaxation, so alluring to a battle-weary warrior, never seriously crossed his mind. Instead he resigned his role in one conflict to join another – a new war, against a threat more insidious than any offered by the mob.
Terror was a chief target in Bolan’s newest phase of war everlasting. In a world divided on the lines of race, ideology, religion, the firebrands and fanatics found fertile breeding ground. For too many years, small bands of savages, often acting without coherent thought or guiding policy, had held the world at bay. Free nations often seemed powerless to stem the violent tide.
Time for Mack Bolan.
Or rather, time for ‘John Phoenix’, a full colonel in America’s sub rosa war against the terrorists.
The Bolan identity had for all intents and purposes been shed in the final hours of his ‘last mile’ against the Mafia. As a fugitive and public figure, the Executioner was ‘dead’.
Also by this time Mack Bolan, and the Bolan universe was on the verge of breaking out into other pulp fiction series. First their was Mack Bolan’s Able Team – this book promotes the first entitled Tower of Terror. Then their was Mack Bolan’s Phoenix Force – the first title being Argentine Deadline. There were also the Stony Man series and the Super Bolans and War Books. So I think that it’s fair to say that Bolan and his hard hitting companions were (and still are) a marketing juggernaut, with over six-hundred books in the market place.
Paramilitary Plot begins with Bolan being briefed about his next assignment, which will take him to the Everglades. A biochemist, working for a company named Warco has gone missing – or so his daughter, Holly Bruce, suspects. However, when she enquires about his whereabouts, Warco insist that he is merely on leave. She doesn’t believe them and contacts the department of justice. They send a man out, who later turns up in Florida, dead – his skin blackened – from a virulent disease, much like the dreaded Bubonic Plague.
Bolan is assigned to follow up the investigation, and immediately is thrown into the action when he finds a paramilitary compound set up deep within the Everglades. This compound is under the control of Colonel Charles Rosky, and old seasoned campaign soldier, who now works as a mercenary – for hire to the the highest bidder. The man paying the bills is Thurston Ward, the head of Warco, and also a man with ties to the Mafia. He also has a mad scheme to take over the island of Grenada, using Professor Bruce’s research, and making himself the sole, omnipotent ruler.
Of course, Mack Bolan has other ideas – which involves a lot of shooting and explosions.
There were a few of things that irked me about this novel. Firstly was the filler in between action scenes – and unfortunately it was the same filler chapter after chapter – that being the repetition of Mack Bolan / John Phoenix manifesto which outlines his ‘everlasting war’ or ‘war everlasting’ against terrorism. That’s all good and well, because it is nice to know what drives and motivates the characters in a story. But after you’ve read it four or five times, it wears a bit thin.
The second irksome story trait was the use of the word ‘yeah’. I have no problem with ‘yeah’ used as dialogue, but in this novel it is used to reaffirm Mack Bolan’s actions. So there are passages like (p. 157): … Laying charges, yeah, making ready to blow their bridges behind them as they left. I guess it gives the story a comfortable immediacy, like some old guy telling relating an action packed tale in a pub – but once again, after twenty or so ‘yeah’s, it had worn out its welcome.
And my final gripe – and before I go any further, if you are offended by foul language, I’d skip ahead two paragraphs, because my my problem is with the swearing in this book – which is hard to discuss without swearing. Now am not prudish when it comes to swearing. I have a mouth like a sewer, and Australians have a reputation for swearing more than practically any other country. Apparently there is a language usage dictionary that credits an Australian in war time with the most varied usage of the same swear word in one sentence. That being a young Aussie soldier explaining to his senior officer that his jeep won’t start. His words were, ‘The fucking fuck won’t fucking fuck, sir!’ Feel free to correct me, but I believe there’s an adjective, a noun, an adverb and a verb in that simple statement. Australian English at its very best!
So I like swearing, and am not offended to read it or hear it. If it’s in the dialogue, great. But, I don’t believe it is an effective literary device for describing an action scene. Once again, this is not dialogue, but the description in a passage of action. So when Mack Bolan blows up the enemies airboats, the description reads (p. 120): … All four of those fucking boats went to hell at the same time, in one huge mushroom of explosive flame.
Have the characters swear their heads off when all hell breaks loose, but swearing in the descriptions actually does nothing to create atmosphere or heighten the tension. Once again, it is like the story is being narrated by some fellow sitting in the corner of a bar. I almost wonder, if the story was narrated into a cassette recorder, and somebody later typed it up into book format (I think I once read that Peter Cheyney used to do that).
This are minor gripes to be sure, but when added up, it results in a pretty poor book that plods in sections and lacks tension. At the end of the day, I am a guy who likes to read lurid pulp fiction spy novels – and as such I will cut them more slack than most people. So if I am disappointed, then I guess it’s fair to say, that this novel is crap. I realise the Bolan books were written quickly to meet short deadlines, and there is a rough and tough formula to adhere to. At the back of The Executioner No. 60 – Sold for Slaughter, there’s a brief overview of author Mike Newton and it suggests that he had forty-four books published in seven years (I am sure they were not all Mack Bolan) – and maybe therein lies the problem with this book. Pumping out five books a year is a big ask for any author – even the most prolific writer – and this book just seems stale and lazy.
From the back:
Warning: Black Death!
The disappearance of a leading U.S. biochemist was handled routinely by the Department of Justice… until their agent on the case was found dead in Florida, his body ravaged by a plague bacillus.
Enter Mack Bolan. The murky world of the Everglades was ominous enough without the unknown variables – a strange secret fortress, the bio-chemist’s strong-willed daughter, and a mad billionaire’s private army bent on territorial expansion way beyond the confines of the Sunshine State.
The Executioner’s search-and-rescue suddenly became a blistering search-and-destroy. In this lush steaming swampland, the man in black would spare no quarter to bring a defenseless world back into balance.
Picking on a Mack Bolan story is fairly pointless. The books are short and sweet and the cover art fully discloses the type of story contained in the pages. If people running around with guns, and airboats blowing up – as depicted on this particular cover – doesn’t appeal to you pictorially, then let me assure you, then literarily this book too will have little to offer. And even if the story isn’t quite up to par, well at least it is fast paced, and can be finished quickly, allowing the reader to move on to the next in the series.