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Q&A: The classic paperback series 'The Executioner'

Series creator Don Pendleton; photo provided by Linda Pendleton

Pulp Pulpit August 16, 2017

(Editor's note: in the previous Pulp Pulpit column this writer made reference to Mack Bolan as a Marine -- the character was in fact a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. This writer regrets the error)

The Mack Bolan series (AKA The Executioner) was definitely ahead of its time when it began in the late 60s' -- it not only presaged several characters in the action genre but is credited with starting the Men's Action paperback trend of the 70s' and 80s'. Although series creator Don Pendleton passed away in 1995, his wife Linda has carried the torch for the series. We had a chat with her regarding how the series began and where it may be heading.

Q: Where did Don Pendleton get the inspiration for the series? Did his own military background provide some groundwork?

Linda: It was 1968, a time in America of civil unrest, love and flower power, psychedelic streets of Height Ashbury and Berkeley, the horrors of the Vietnam War, and the iniquities of the Mafia, when Mack Bolan, the Executioner was conceived in the mind of Don Pendleton. Don was greatly moved by the situation of returning veterans from the Vietnam War and wrote the first novel in the series, "War Against the Mafia" out of his desire to express his discomfort with the reaction of many Americans to our soldiers who were dying for our country in the jungles of Vietnam and those coming home to outrageous verbal and physical abuse. So Mack Bolan became Don's symbolic statement. He also became every soldier's voice. Don created a heroic character in Bolan, a true hero who was dedicated to justice. The enemy that Bolan had to fight was no longer on the battlefields of Vietnam but right here on American soil, and that enemy was the Mafia. Don Pendleton stated, "When I wrote War Against the Mafia as a Vietnam statement, I didn't expect much to come of it-but quite a bit came and it captured me. I continued the books to feed the obvious hunger that was there for heroic


And yes, Don's service in the Navy during World War Two and the Korean Conflict gave him a foundation. He also had a son serving in Vietnam, Special Forces.

Q: When did he start writing War Against the Mafia?

Linda: 1968

Q: When did Pinnacle publish it? How many editions did they release?

Linda: BeeLine/Pinnacle published War Against the Mafia in March, 1969. We’ve lost count of the many printings. By 1972, there were already over 8 million books in print of War Against the Mafia, and in addition many foreign translations. And somewhere around 30 countries soon after. In 1988, when the new Pinnacle published 'War Against the Mafia,' the printing numbers were not accurate. The new Pinnacle edition stated 15 printings which is way, way off. I have a copy of 'War Against the Mafia' that shows 11th printing in January 1974. In December 2014, Open Road Media brought the original series to ebooks, and the first three Executioners have now returned to print. I did not reissue book 16 as Don did not write the book and did not like it. I honored that.

Q: When did Gold Eagle take over publishing the series? Why the switch?

Linda: Don was ending the series in 1980 with book 38, Satan's Sabbath. Harlequin came to him as they wanted to get into men's action adventure. Don franchised his Mack Bolan characters to Harlequin and the series and spin-offs, Phoenix Force, Able Team, Stony Man, and Super Bolan, carried on. This year, 2017, and next year, Harlequin is publishing four Executioners a year. The number of Bolan books published is just under 900 books.

Q: I always enjoyed the one chapter in each book where Mack Bolan enters philosophical musings in his journal that attempt to put the current adventure in perspective. What influenced that touch?

Linda: Don was a metaphysican at heart. He considered his Executioner books to be a study in the metaphysics of violence. In other words, the reasons for violence. What he brought to the page with his Mack Bolan character was a true heroic figure and a man with a deep spiritual commitment. He always believed his Mack Bolan books had an underlying theme of a higher morality that Bolan follows. The use of the journal was one way for Don to explore the inner-feelings of his hero and share them with readers. In that way, readers understand, as you did, the deeper meaning to the stories. I believe it is that essence of his hero that has kept

Mack Bolan going for nearly 50 years.

Q: I always found it interesting that Mack Bolan switched from being a vigilante to more of a secret agent. What prompted the change?

Linda: Apparently the movement of Bolan's war.

Q: Did many people or critics accuse the series of essentially condoning violence?

Linda: Now and then. I was with Don during a radio interview on the East Coast, and the emcee started out more in an "attack" mode about the violence, but within a few minutes Don soothed the man into a new understanding of the Mack Bolan character.

Q: There is no ignoring it --- the Marvel Comics character the Punisher seems patterned after Mack Bolan. Did your husband ever consider calling Marvel on that?

Linda: No, Don did not call Marvel on that, and he had mentioned that in various interviews he did, including an interview by David Anthony Kraft that was in the 1975 Marvel Preview Presents Punisher.

Q: Where there any particular supporting characters or villains that emerged as fan favorites?

Linda: Yes, there are. And a couple of the characters have continued on. Fans could answer that better. I like Leo Turrin and Mack's gang in Death Squad. I really enjoyed adapting and scripting the Death Squad graphic comic—a great cast of characters.

Q: Hollywood seems to have been considering an Executioner movie since the


Linda: Yes, they have. Time and again over the years. It is currently under option for film with Story Factory and Shane Salerno. We do hope it will move forward soon.

Q: I once heard a rumor that real-life Mafioso were a little less than pleased with

the series for obvious reasons.

Linda: In the early days, Don had heard that some of the Mafia liked the books. After all, Don did give some depth to many of his Mafia characters. Don's other series, (six books each) with hard-boiled detective Joe Copp also reflects a man with high ideals. And Don was able to explore and present more of his metaphysical ideas through his fictional character, Ashton Ford, who had the gift of psychic abilities, and even more so, in his later nonfiction books. I have written these words on my Don Pendleton website: "When you read Don Pendleton you feel his multilayer reach for his reader's mind. That was his goal, his hope, that when a reader finished the last page and closed one of his books not only would the reader feel entertained, but would be left with something to think about, some new idea to ponder. A meeting of the minds: a meeting of his, the author, with each and every one of his millions of readers around the world."

(Linda Pendleton has written in a variety of genres: mystery novels, nonfiction, e-courses, comic

scripting, and screenplays. She coauthored books with her late husband, Don Pendleton,

including the popular nonfiction books, To Dance With Angels, and Whispers From the Soul,

along with the crime novel, Roulette: The Search for the Sunrise Killer.)

See for more details.

Linda Pendleton's interview answers, Copyright 2017 Linda Pendleton.

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