CriminOlly thinks: Predictable but highly entertaining start to the long running series, with more of a hardboiled vibe than I expected. 4/5
Title: War Against the Mafia | Author: Don Pendleton | Series: The Executioner #1 | Publisher: Pinnacle | Pages: 170 | Publication date: 1969 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: Yes
Published in 1969, War Against the Mafia is the first book in arguably the most important and successful Men’s Adventure series, The Executioner. It introduced the character of Mack Bolan and spawned literally hundreds of sequels as well as several spin off series.
If you’re not familiar with Men’s Adventure books, think of them as like Mills & Boone or Harlequin Romances for a stereotypical male audience. They were churned out, often at a rate of one a month, and featured square jawed all American heroes going up against terrorists, drug dealers, gangsters and other nefarious characters.
I first read the Executioner books in the late 80s, when the series had already been going for 2 decades. At that point, reflecting the political obsessions of the day, Bolan was mostly taking down Middle Eastern terrorists. I don’t think I’d ever read the earlier entries and it was interesting to go back and see how it all started.
Befitting its 1969 publication, the book starts with super sniper Mack Bolan coming back from the Vietnam war where he has earned the nickname The Executioner for his skill at despatching the enemy. He is returning to America to bury his parents and sister, his heavily indebted father having killed his wife and daughter before turning the gun on himself after being pressurised by mafia loan sharks. The dark nature of the deaths surprised me. I knew the Bolan story was all about revenge, but I was expecting a cleaner Batman or Punisher style back story.
The plot progresses in a fairly predictable fashion, with Bolan infiltrating the local mafia before taking them out in suitably violent fashion. There is a tonne of tension and action, a fair amount of sex (more than I expected in fact) and an enjoyably swinging retro vibe at times. It feels much more like a hardboiled crime novel than the kind of 80s action movie on the page that I was expecting and I enjoyed that side of it. The dialogue is snappy and there’s even a romantic sub-plot that feels slightly out of place but is actually kind of sweet. Pendleton also throws in a cop on Bolan’s tail, torn between his need to uphold the law and his desire to see the Mob pay for their crimes.
War Against the Mafia was a better and more balanced read than I was expecting. It’s certainly not deep, but it is a lot of fun. Bolan is an enjoyably determined hero and his mission of violence is gripping even though the outcome is never in doubt.
To avenge his family, a soldier brings home the Vietnam War
In the jungles of Southeast Asia, no sniper was more ruthless than Mack Bolan. After twelve years in-country, with ninety-five confirmed kills, he comes home to the United States only to find that his father has gone berserk, slaughtering his family before taking his own life. But Mack knows his father was no killer. He was under pressure from a gang of Mafia thugs who were after his money and were willing to destroy his life to get it. For the sake of his old man, Bolan declares war on the men who drove him mad.
Five loan sharks are getting into their car when a bullet slams one of them to the ground. Before the others can draw their guns, four more shots ring out, leaving them as the first casualties in the Executioner’s war. From his hometown to every city in America, Mack Bolan will deliver justice from the barrel of a gun.
Content Warning: Forced prostitution, sexual violence
Tolerance Warning: Sexism