Sunday, August 25, 2013

School For Assassins

SICILIAN SLAUGHTER is the infamous sixteenth book in the long-running (to this day) Executioner series. Don Pendleton, who created the Executioner in 1969, wrote the first 38 novels in the series. Except one.

Pendleton got into a tiff with Pinnacle Books, the publisher of the paperback series, around 1973 and refused to write any more books for them. Undeterred, Pinnacle commissioned an Executioner adventure from William Crawford, the writer of the Stryker books, and published SICILIAN SLAUGHTER under the generic name Jim Peterson.

What readers thought of this development in 1973, who knows. Did readers care that Pendleton's name wasn't on the cover or that the book was clearly written in another style? The Executioner books were enormously successful, but was anyone really paying close attention to junky men's paperbacks then?

Perhaps someone was, because Pendleton quickly came to terms with Pinnacle and churned out many more Executioners over the next few years. Today, fans of Mafia killer Mack Bolan appear outraged with SICILIAN SLAUGHTER. And it's true that it roams off-model. Bolan threatens the lives of innocents a few times, which he had never done--had, in fact, sworn not to do--in previous books, and he seduces a teenage girl who doesn't even speak English and leaves her behind to be brutalized by the hardmen chasing him.

Still, Crawford was a pro and a decent writer, and SICILIAN SLAUGHTER--character inconsistencies aside--is a decent page-turner.

It takes awhile for the plot to get moving, as Crawford opens the book by cleaning up some loose ends from PANIC IN PHILLY. He really accentuates the "man on the run" quality of the Mack Bolan character by sending him to a Mob doctor to get patched up. Some of Bolan's escapes border on Bond territory, eschewing Pendleton's more realistic spin on the character, as Bolan makes a hasty exit from a hospital and from an airplane by blasting the stewardess (actually on the Mafia's payroll) through the window!

Eventually, Mack gets to Sicily to cut the snake apart at the head. He finds that one of the Dons has built a training facility for soldiers whose sole purpose is to destroy Mack Bolan, who is estimated to have killed over a thousand mobsters! Crawford handles the action scenes fairly well, and if you can ignore that it isn't Pendleton, SICILIAN SLAUGHTER is effective.

The sad part: Crawford, perhaps not knowing whether he'd be writing the next entry too, sets up Executioner #17 by introducing a promising antagonist in the prologue. A mysterious figure referred to only as Mr. Molto is notified of Bolan's arrival in Algiers and expects him to come to Seattle. Molto is plugged in to some sort of heavy network, perhaps of a military bent. It isn't clear whether Mr. Molto is part of the Mafia, but he definitely is a guy who can take care of himself and looks forward to killing Bolan in Seattle. Of course, Pendleton chose to ignore SICILIAN SLAUGHTER in his books, so Mr. Molto was never referred to again, which is a shame.

1 comment:

Grant said...

From what little I know of the BOLAN books by Pendleton, this sounds like a real departure, just as you say. I don't guess there's a romantic scene (one of those "sex on a plane" ones) between him and the villainous stewardess, before he deals so ruthlessly with her? When it comes to romantic scenes, it seems like that would've been a MUCH better choice than that "seducing the girl who doesn't speak English and leaving her behind" one.
It would also put it into the territory of those DESTROYER books I keep bringing up, especially the early ones. It would even be a case of trying to have Bolan "out-Remo Remo" when it comes to villainess characters - in one book Remo tosses highjackers out of a plane, but the story doesn't include a villainous STEWARDESS for him to toss out!