Sunday, November 11, 2007

Death On The Water

In Mark Roberts' (writing as Lionel Derrick) CRUISE INTO CHAOS, we learn a bit of the Penetrator's backstory. Orphaned at a young age (his mother was a Cheyenne), Mark Hardin grew up in a series of foster homes, one belonging to a Mafia don who was blown up on his front lawn. He played football at UCLA on a scholarship, then served two terms in 'Nam, where he was wounded three times--once by members of a lucrative black-market ring that beat him nearly to death after he exposed them.

After leaving the Army, Hardin ended up in the Stronghold, the secret dream home of a retired USC professor named Willard Haskins, which was located underground inside an abandoned borax mine. A "Batcave" of sorts, it became a headquarters from which Hardin could battle organized crime using up-to-date weaponry, vehicles and other technological gadgetry, such as the artificial fingerprints on the tips of his realistic-looking skin-tight gloves.

Hardin also got married, but his wife, Donna, was murdered in a car accident arranged by a Mafia chieftain named Pietro Scarelli. Hardin destroyed Scarellio and his operation, and the Penetrator was born. Only a handful of men knew the Penetrator's identity and headquarters, including Haskins and David Red Eagle, a Cheyenne medicine man who provided Hardin's physical and mental training.

In the Penetrator's 39th mission, published in 1980, he goes undercover to Portland, Oregon as a Detroit hitman named Dolphins Bonelli to crack a case of international piracy. Don Francello Conti has acquired an actual 1940 German U-boat, which his gang uses to prowl beneath the Pacific Ocean surface and hunt cruise ships carrying wealthy passengers. The sub surfaces, Conti's men board the ship, rob it, and then sink it using torpedoes.

Hardin blows his cover about halfway through the novel and has to beat feet across a burning desert dressed only in his briefs and a pair of fresh rabbit pelts fashioned into moccasins. Author Roberts really packs a lot of plot into CRUISE, as the Penetrator manages to rent an authentic B-25 bomber, which he uses to destroy the Mafia's Mexican U-boat pen, and then hide away on a cruise ship targeted for Conti's last score.

With new plot angles popping up every few pages, CRUISE INTO CHAOS keeps up its fast pace, while opening up Hardin's character to give him more dimension than most paperback heroes. George Wilson painted the cover.

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