Mack Bolan is the daddy of them all. Without the Executioner, there would have been no Penetrator, no Marksman, no Sharpshooter, no Death Merchant, no Expeditor, no Butcher. My copy of Don Pendleton's second Executioner novel, 1969's DEATH SQUAD, is actually Pinnacle's 15th printing, and the cover blurb claims more than 20 million Mack Bolan novels sold (by 1978).
In Bolan's first adventure, WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA, Mack was a Vietnam War hero who returned to the United States to learn that the Mafia had been instrumental in the violent deaths of his parents and brother and had lured his younger sister into prostitution. Out of revenge, he fought back, killing dozens of mobsters in brutal, stylized fashion. Pendleton wrote the first 38 Executioner novels, all of which pitted Bolan against organized crime. Beginning with #39, ghostwriters took over and widened the scale, sending Bolan after all kinds of global villains, usually terrorists. The Executioner is also the only men's adventure hero still out there killing bad guys; including spinoffs, nearly 500 Executioner novels exist.
Bolan continues his vengeful killing spree in DEATH SQUAD, this time recruiting nine former 'Nam buddies to help, all with colorful nicknames like Gadgets, Deadeye, Politician, Boom Boom and Chopper. None of the supporting characters are particularly fleshed out. In 182 action-filled pages, characterization isn't of the utmost importance, and Pendleton's use of nicknames and ethnicities helps the reader draw a bead on each of the cast without expending a lot of pages on backstory. Oddly, Bolan is the biggest cipher of the bunch, though his backstory may have been covered in WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA.
Pendleton's taut pacing and vivid action scenes make DEATH SQUAD a fun read. If all of his Executioner novels are this good, it's no wonder it became "America's best-selling series." For some reason, this is my first Executioner novel, even though I grew up with them. My mother read many of them, and used to trade them with my cousin, who was my age. My brother may also have read some, but I didn't. I guess I got a late start, but better late than never.