Review: "The Revenger" by Jon Messmann
men’s fiction market was rotten with revenge tales populated by veterans of America’s
unpopular war in Vietnam. These isolated, disaffected, and angry men brought a
new war of vigilante justice to the crime ridden streets of America’s cities. The
literary movement began with Don Pendleton’s multi-million copy selling War
Against the Mafia [Pinnacle, 1969] featuring Mack Bolan, an Army sniper, home from the war to bury his family: father, mother, and sister. Their
deaths were ruled as murder-suicide, which was true since Mack’s dad had pulled
the trigger, but Bolan knew the context of his father’s violence. After losing
his job, he had borrowed money from the mafia and their pressure for repayment
drove him to murder. Bolan is a righteous hero, never doubting his mission, losing
focus (even to look at a beautiful woman), or showing regret for his actions.
Of the many copycat series released over the following decades, most were unremarkable, some terrible and a small number were good. A series in the latter column is Jon Messmann’s The Revenger, starring a character similar to, but also different from, Pendleton’s Mack Bolan. In the series’ first entry, simply titled The Revenger [Signet, 1973], Ben Martin is content with life. He is married to an intelligent and beautiful woman, he has a happy toddler-age son, Ben Jr., and his New York City business – Ben Martin – Produce - Wholesale – is thriving. But everything changes when the mafia begins pressuring Ben for money in a protection racket. Ben stands-up to the criminals, using the skills he learned as a special forces’ operator in Vietnam, but the mafia’s violent retaliation against Ben drives him into a frenzy of violent revenge.
The Revenger is a violent, dark, and even thought-provoking thriller. Ben Martin is as uncompromising as Pendleton’s Bolan – as his wife notes early in the narrative, “That’s your strength, but sometimes it’s a weakness” – but unlike Bolan, Ben has moments of doubt and even regret. The story’s pacing is relentless, the prose simple, hardboiled, and strong. The violence is raw and vivid, and the plot is littered with explicit sex, which is easily skimmed or skipped if the reader wishes. The Revenger is a marvelous story of vengeance – an example of the subgenre’s best – and it owes as much to Brian Garfield’s exemplary Death Wish [David McKay, 1972], including its emotional drive and characterization, as it does to Mack Bolan.
a little more about The Revenger and Jon Messmann…
· The Revenger was published as a paperback original by Signet in 1973. There were five additional Ben Martin titles, all published by Signet: Fire in the Streets ; The Vendetta Contract ; The Stiletto Signature ; City for Sale ; and A Promise for Death . The entire Revenger series has been republished this year – 2022 – by Brash Books, with an excellent Afterword by Eric Compton, in both e-book and trade paperback editions. [Go to the Amazon page for The Revenger]
· Jon Messmann is best known as the creator of The Trailsman Adult Western series, as by Jon Sharpe, published by Berkley. Messmann wrote more than half of the nearly four hundred titles in the series.
· Messmann was born as John Joseph Messmann in Manhattan on April 29, 1920, to Joseph George Messmann and Marie Groh. Marie was a German immigrant and Joseph was born in New York. Jon married Helen E. Bliss on December 11, 1950, and spent his life as a resident of Manhattan, New York City, New York. He died, at the age of 84, on November 3, 2004. It doesn’t appear Messmann served in World War 2 – although I could be wrong – but my research did uncover his WW2 draft card, which identifies his occupation as “writer and musician” and includes an example of both his handwriting and signature: