A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini:


MIKE BARRY – The Lone Wolf #14: Philadelphia Blowup. Berkley, paperback original, 1975.

MIKE BARRY Philadelphia Blowup

   The success of Don Pendleton’s Executioner series in the early 1970s naturally spawned a host of imitators. Like Mack Bolan, the Executioner, these other rough, tough, and lethal heroes are one-man armies embarked on a personal crusade to destroy the Mafia, the “Communist conspiracy,” or similar organizations/ideologies in the name of justice and/or democracy, and by whatever means necessary.

   The Lone Wolf series is one such imitation, and on the surface is solidly in the conventional action/slaughter mold. The lone wolf of the title, ex-New York narcotics cop Burt Wulff, embarks on his one-man vendetta against organized drug traffic in the United States when his girlfriend, Marie Calvante, is found dead of an overdose in a Manhattan brownstone.

   His savage quest carries him through fourteen novels — each one set in a different U.S. city, each one dealing with a different arm of the vast drug network — and culminates in a bloodbath in the City of Brotherly Love.

   But there is much more to this series than meets the casual eye. “Mike Barry” is a pseudonym of Barry N. Malzberg, a writer of no small talent who specializes in stream-of-consciousness science fiction. Indeed, the Lone Wolf books are essentially plotless, make extensive use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, and are jam-packed with idiosyncratic prose much more suited to a mainstream literary novel than to a paperback paean to violence:

    “Hello, death. Pleased to meet you, death. Been with you for a long time, death, waiting in these rooms for your call, and now here you are, old friend, old bastard, and absolutely nothing to do. Have a chair, death. Warm your hands by the fire, pal, rest easy. We’ll be together for a long time so don’t feel in any hurry to start talking.”

   And Burt Wulff is anything but your standard macho hero; he is, in fact, a raving lunatic who, by the last three books in the series — Philadelphia Blowup, in particular — is knocking off people for the sheer soaring pleasure of it: a serial killer as psychotic as Gilles de Rais or Son of Sam. In this respect, then, his saga is both a mockery and a condemnation of the whole Executioner subgenre.

   The Lone Wolf novels are not without their flaws, certainly. They were written rapidly and show it; there are any number of factual and geographical errors, and the lack of cohesive plotting makes for a great deal of repetition. Nevertheless, as amazing hybrids of the literary novel and the potboiler, as a saga of one man’s breakdown into psychosis, as an implacable send-up of the Executioner and his ilk, these fourteen books are quite remarkable.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.