DAN J. MARLOWE – Operation Counterpunch. Fawcett Gold Medal P3454, paperback original; 1st printing, February 1976.

   This 12th and last of Dan Marlowe’s Earl Drake “Man without a Face” series was a disappointment, starting with the front cover, where Drake appears misshapen and starting to become, dare I say it, paunchy. I also don’t care for books which finish up the action in a previous one, and this one takes some care to tidy up some loose ends from not one but two earlier ones, neither of which have I read.

   To wit: At the end of Operation Deathmaker, book #11, Hazel, Drake’s girl friend and constant companion, was hurt and in the hospital. This one starts with Drake breaking her out before she’s able to answer too many questions, using one of the most embarrassingly juvenile ways of accomplishing this that I can imagine.

   Also: the story in Operation Hammerlock, book #9, had Drake and Hazel ripping off a fabulously rich Mexican gangster. Now he wants revenge, and he doesn’t much care who gets in his way to get it.

   How Drake manages to find Don Luis Morales first and finish him off with all of his henchman is all that this story is about. Drake goes through the motions of changing his face and rest of his appearance every so often, but there’s really no reason to. No undercover espionage assignment this time around, no sneaky plot devices, no interesting characters, just a series that for whatever reason needed to be wound down, including in hindsight, a happy ending at least in sight for the pair.

   It’s a readable book, all right, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still mostly an empty and non-satisfying one.