War Against The Mafia
I figured I’d go straight to the source. Don Pendleton’s War Against The Mafia is what kicked off the Mack Bolan series. This spawned hundreds and hundreds of books-by one rough calc, a Mack Bolan novel of some form or another has released every thirty days. And this isn’t even counting the even more numerous knockoffs throughout the decades, including a certain Marvel Comics character who likes wearing shirts with skulls on them.
The modern cheap thriller as we know it owes its origins, or at least its popularity, in no small part to Pendleton’s tale. So I knew I had to check it out.
Who and What
This tells the story of super-veteran Mack Bolan as he wages the conflict depicted in the title. Reading this, I feared that this would fall victim to the “seen so many imitators that the original doesn’t seem so original” effect. And in some ways it came to pass and in some it didn’t.
The stock two-dimensional cheap thriller characters I recognized instantly. This is definitely not a series that started highbrow and was cheapened by the mass market. But the prose was different, and not necessarily for the better. It feels kind of clunky, and it’s the style I’ve recognized from other books written in the 1960s.
DEEP HISTORY OF TEM
There aren’t that many extraneous infodumps here compared to a lot of later cheap thrillers. Especially not infodumps about weapons-for the most part it’s the caliber, the brand name, and not much else. At most.
There’s still plenty of infodumps, and they serve as part of the hindering style of writing mentioned above, but a lot of them are at least germane to the plot. I think the worst explanation came from telling and not showing Bolan’s exploits in Vietnam.
Whatever contrivances are needed to make an action hero occur here. Bolan in this book isn’t the absolute strongest or most capable compared with some later heroes-he feels more human and vulnerable than The Survivalist’s John Rourke, for instance-but he’s still very much a larger than life figure.
While the blurbs alone make it clear that the zombie sorceresses are a lot busier in later Bolan books (let me put it this way, you can only fight mobsters so many times), they can take it easier in his debut.
The action is not bad, and there is lots of it. But the writing style just makes it not feel as action-y as it could have been.
The Only Score That Really Matters
War Against The Mafia is worth reading if only for its influence. But it feels more like something that was just in the right place at the right time than something that could stand on its own terms. It would probably just be a middle of the road action adventure thriller like so many of its follow-ons undoubtedly were.
Still, I enjoyed reading it. It’s not a bad book by the standards of its genre, as clunky as its prose could be in places. I’m undoubtedly biased by having read so many adventure thrillers that were at least indirectly influenced by it.