Oct 232014
 
The Marksman #10: Open Contract, by Frank Scarpetta March, 1974  Belmont Tower Books The previous volume of The Marksman ended with Philip Magellan on the French Riviera, where he was planning to continue waging his war against the Mafia in France. So then it only makes sense that this volume opens with Magellan in Houston, Texas, with absolutely no mention of the events of the preceding two
Oct 062014
 
The Marksman #9: Body Count, by Frank Scarpetta February, 1974  Belmont Tower Books Picking up immediately after the previous volume, Body Count is yet another installment in the continuous Marksman storyline author Russell Smith developed, with sicko hero Philip Magellan blitzing into the French Riveria and killing mobsters. It’s also a lot more cohesive and enjoyable than that
Oct 022014
 
Death Squad #1: Gang War, by Frank Colter January, 1975  Belmont Tower Books In 1975, Manor Books published the five-volume Kill Squad series, which was about a trio of cops who liked to bend the rules in order to take down the guilty. That same year Belmont Tower published Death Squad, a two-volume series that was about a trio of cops who liked to bend the rules in order to take down the
Sep 252014
 
The Marksman #8: Stone Killer, by Frank Scarpetta January, 1974  Belmont Tower Books Russell Smith returns for another crazy and sick volume of The Marksman, one which again is part of the continuity Smith developed for his installments but which was broken up by editor Peter McCurtin. Stone Killer proves out a theory I had a while back that The Sharpshooter #2: Blood Oath was in fact
Aug 282014
 
Deadlier Than The Male, by Jim Conaway No month stated, 1977  Belmont-Tower Books J.C. Conaway returns as “Jim” for the first of a two-volume series that comes off like a female-fronted equivalent of Conaway’s earlier Shannon series. Our hero is Jana Blake, a hotstuff blonde (despite the brunette on the cover – and Jana doesn’t wear a trenchcoat or carry a gun, by the way) who lives in
Jul 312014
 
Cabby, by Leonard Jordan No month stated, 1980  Belmont-Tower Books Predating his work on The Sharpshooter (and even the porn novel he wrote as “March Hastings”), Cabby was one of the first novels Len Levinson ever wrote. However despite being written in 1972, the novel went unpublished until 1980. Len has often mentioned this book to me, saying that it was his stab at literary greatness;
Apr 172014
 
Shark Fighter, by Nicholas Brady No date stated (1976), Belmont-Tower Books One of Len Levinson's more elusive novels, Shark Fighter was published under the pseudonym “Nicholas Brady,” which was a house name at Belmont-Tower (who couldn’t even be bothered to put a publication year on the book). According to Len, BT editor Peter McCurtin came up with the concept, of a man fighting sharks for
Oct 312013
 

Super Cop Joe Blaze #2: The Concrete Cage, by Robert Novak
March, 1974  Belmont-Tower Books

Another men’s adventure “series” in only the loosest sense, Super Cop Joe Blaze ran for three volumes and might have had a different author for each installment. Credited to house name “Robert Novak,” all that’s known for certain is that Len Levinson wrote the third volume. Content-wise the series is pretty much identical to Ryker.

Marty McKee in his review of Joe Blaze #1 complains about how bad and boring the novel is, which leads me to expect that the same Robert Novak wrote this second volume. Blaze is referred to as “Blaze” throughout (meaning there are no half-assed editorial changes to the protagonists’s name), but regardless he’s basically the same as Ryker, a hardnosed cop who doesn’t take crap and doesn’t mind bending the rules. At least, that’s how the back cover has it; as the narrative itself plays out, Blaze is just a regular cop, nothing “super” about him at all.

The back cover, with its huge logo proclaiming “WHITE SLAVERS,” also has you expecting a lurid thrill ride, but sadly The Concrete Cage doesn’t deliver on this either. In fact, the book is pretty much a routine and mundane police procedural, only sporadically sleazed up with quick descriptions of the mauled female corpses Blaze comes upon in his investigation. Other than that, it’s all very bland. I mean, Blaze doesn’t even kill anyone in the novel! There’s something I never thought I’d write about a ‘70s men’s adventure protagonist.

The Concrete Cage opens with a bang, though. An ambulance pulls up in front of a department store in busy Manhattan and a group of masked guys hop out and, at gunpoint, corral several pretty young women into the ambulance. One of the women refuses to go with them and they shoot her dead. The women taken captive, the ambulance roars off, and several minutes later the cops arrive to find a bunch of shocked witnesses stumbling around.

Blaze is on the case, assisted by his partner Ed Nuthall. Blaze gets very little background and is just presented as your typical New York cop, but really there’s nothing outrageous about him and he doesn’t fight with his superiors and fellow cops like De Mille’s version of Ryker does. In fact Blaze appears to be well-respected; there are laughable scenes here where the Commissioner will gape helplessly and ask, “Joe, what do you think we should do?”

Despite the shocking nature of the kidnapping, the crooks turn out to be pretty stupid. Blaze manages to track them down within a day, though it is pretty much a narrative cop-out; after “asking around” for several hours, Blaze ends up in a bar where some drunk claims he overheard someone asking how they could go about renting an ambulance!

From there Blaze follows an easier trail than you’d expect, getting the lockdown on the kidnappers in no time flat. Turns out they’re a small gang lead by a career con named Jack Tunney; Blaze learns this from pimp Homer Chase, who was part of the aduction. There follows a long, long sequence where Blaze and the Commissioner offer Chase immunity if he’ll rat on where the girls are being kept, but at the expense of many, many pages of repetitious dialog Chase finally refuses the offer, afraid Tunney would have him killed anyway.

Meanwhile the gang begins issuing demands to the cops: they want a few million and they’ll let the girls go. Initially their plan, according to the info Blaze unearths, was to sell the girls to hardcore sadists who wanted “fresh meat” to abuse and torture! Now that Blaze has figured out who they are, the gang instead turns to a straight kidnapping scheme, and they aren’t playing around; they begin leaving mauled and mutilated corpses around Manhattan and the Bronx, as warnings that if their demads aren’t met they will murder all of the girls.

This is where the book’s scant lurid quotient comes into play – Blaze as acting investigator is called to the locations where the corpses have been discovered, and Novak (whoever he was) provides all the gruesome details of how the poor women have been hacked up and disfigured. Other than that though the sleaze element is downplayed, without even a single sex scene. In fact the book is pretty bland and padded mostly with go-nowhere dialog exchanges.

Novak finally gets around to providing some action at the very end, when the cops find out where the gang is hiding out with the girls. Blaze convinces the Commissioner to allow him to go in solo and, as stupid as ever, the Commissioner agrees. This is a nice and tense scene where Blaze sneaks into the darkened building, but again it’s ruined in that it goes on too long and everything works out exactly per Blaze’s plan – he finds the girls, gets them out of the house, and then corners the two gang members while the rest of the cops move in on the front of the house.

The ensuing firefight is also bland and played out along the lines of a ‘70s TV cop show, with lots of ducking and running and no one getting killed. It all leads to an overlong car chase straight out of Bullit as Tunney makes off in a stolen car and Blaze pursues. And that’s that, the crooks are caught and the girls are free and everyone’s happy (everyone apparently forgetting about the ones who were mauled, mutilated, and murdered).

The most interesting thing about The Concrete Cage is where the cover art was sourced from; through a complete fluke I happened to discover that it was taken from the March 1968 issue of the men's adventure magazine Male -- and don’t you love how in the original painting this shades-wearing dude, who on the cover of The Concrete Cage is supposedly Blaze himself, is holding a pistol to the head of a cop?

Oct 142013
 

The Marksman #7: Slaughterhouse, by Frank Scarpetta
December, 1973  Belmont-Tower Books

Peter McCurtin returns as “Frank Scarpetta” for another entry in the Marksman series, another one that’s super-heavy on action but barebones on plot and character. Unusually enough this one actually has a bit of background for Philip Magellan – another indicator that editor McCurtin was behind the tale. Overall though Slaughterhouse wears you down with endless action sequences.

As revealed in the previous volume (also courtesy McCurtin), Magellan has his roots in a carnival, where he was a trickshot artist. This volume opens with Magellan in St. Louis (again there is absolutely no pickup from previous books or any sense of continuity), where on the first page he bumps into young Tommy Brady, the son of Wild Bill Brady, aka the man who taught Magellan how to shoot all those years ago.

Wild Bill’s been laid up in the hospital due to a stroke for the past few years, but Tommy and his mom now run a carnival in nearby Florissant, Missouri. And wouldn’t you know it, the friggin’ mafia has been giving them trouble! Out of a sense of obligation to the old man, Magellan tells Tommy he’ll help him out. It should be mentioned that throughout the tale Tommy Brady has no idea who Magellan is these days, and indeed appears to have never even heard of the Marksman.

The carnage begins posthaste as Magellan and Tommy come across a pair of goons as they’re trying to cut the lines that hold up the main tent of the carnival. Needless to say, Magellan blows them both away, McCurtin really going to town on the gun-porn. There’s lots and lots of firearm and ammunition detail strewn throughout Slaughterhouse, and the gore factor is there as well, with plentiful descriptions of how bullets impact bodies.

The goons work for the infamous Morelli brothers (Giorgio and Lupi), who along with their underlings Vito Guardi and Tony Mambo run St. Louis. Vito Guardi appears to have had a run-in with Magellan in the past; at least this is inferred in the narrative, but it’s done so clunkily that I couldn’t tell if McCurtin meant it happened in an earlier volume or if Guardi is speaking of something that happened earlier in this volume. Anyway Guardi’s name seems familiar, but honestly these mobster names run together after a while, so I don’t know.

Given the tie-in with Magellan’s history, I figured Slaughterhouse might have a little more character or backstory, but gradually I realized the stuff with Tommy Brady and the carnival was just a convenient framework around which McCurtin could weave a plethora of endless action scenes. There isn’t even a reunion with Wild Bill Brady, and Tommy’s mom buys it in a scene where the mob comes back to the carnival when Magellan and Tommy are gone.

Instead the novel is all about action, to the point where it gets tiresome. The plot is basically this: Magellan runs into Tommy. Magellan tells Tommy he will kill the mobsters who are troubling him. Magellan proceeds to do so. That’s pretty much it. There are several elaborate action scenes, with Magellan unfazed throughout, but after a big confrontation with Giorgio Morelli (in which the mobster gets wasted) Tommy is captured.

Rather than play out the suspense angle, McCurtin instead has Magellan instantly figure out where Tommy is being held captive, climb into a building across from where the thugs have conveniently placed him in front of a window, and then blow away the guards. After which Magellan ropes over into the building and he and Tommy proceed to blow away all of the mobsters within!

McCurtin also fills a lot of pages with meaningless dialog sequences, like one interminable chapter that’s made up of banal conversation among the Morelli brothers and their underlings. Curiously enough there’s no sleaze in Slaughterhouse, and Tommy’s mother is the sole female character. The book is almost like an ‘80s version of the men’s adventure genre, in that it’s all about gun-porn and gore.

Anyway it all resolves exactly as you’d expect, with Magellan ruthlessly blowing away the surviving Morelli brother with his .44 Magnum, and then telling Tommy “see ya” before hitting the road. Like the other installments McCurtin has written, Slaughterhouse isn’t burdened by continuity – or much of anything, other than endless gun fights. However the Ken Barr cover is awesome!!
Jul 082013
 

The Marksman #6: Death To The Mafia, by Frank Scarpetta
November, 1973  Belmont-Tower Books

This volume of The Marksman was clearly written by series creator and editor Peter McCurtin, and amid all the sleaze and violence we have, believe it or not, some actual characterization for “hero” Philip Magellan, complete with background information, something we’ve never rececived in any preceding Marksman novel. Unfortunately, the background information is for an entirely different character! But more on that later…

First we get a one-page “prologue” that informs us that Terri White, of the previous volume, is now hiding out in Florida, Magellan having gotten rid of her because she was becoming a nuissance due to her “loving him and all that.” Terri White was of course a creation of series co-writer Russell Smith, and McCurtin has no intention of making the Marksman into a continuity-heavy series. His intent is to provide one thrill after another as Magellan “kills in cold hate.”

In fact McCurtin isn’t even concerned with continuity in his own tale; Death To The Mafia opens with Magellan driving away from Dallas, where he apparently killed a few mobsters but was then ratted out by a girl he picked up in a nightclub. Now in the desert Magellan is ambushed by an army of mafia “soldiers,” tipped off by the mobsters back in Dallas. Little concern, though, as Magellan hastily dispatches them with his handy grenade launcher – though McCurtin provides plenty of battles in this novel, none of them have much spark because Magellan’s so superhuman.

Even though he’s in the middle of the desert, in a shootout no less, Magellan still meets a pretty girl – a redhead who has just left her husband. She happens to drive by during the shootout, and after her car is destroyed Magellan feels obligated to carry her along to her destination of Lubbock. But the mobsters are chasing them, and McCurtin delivers a nice scene where Magellan and the girl go into Carlsbad Caverns and Magellan takes the thugs out in the pitch-black caves, using his night vision goggles. (Magellan also causes the death of several tourists when he shoots out the lights in the caves, and people get trampled in the mass panic, but McCurtin just brushes this off!)

The novel proceeds in episodic fashion. Honestly, I had a hard time retaining half of what I read, as this book was the very definition of disposable literature. After dropping off the redhead Magellan heads for LA, where he discovers that Anselmo, the brother of the man who ordered Magellan’s family killed, is now residing. Another quick and unsatisfactory battle ensues (though one packed with gore), after which Magellan blithely continues on his way into Los Angeles, where for reasons apparently important (to him alone) he simply must create a cover story for himself as a black man!

Yes, in a move reminiscent of Mark Hardin, Magellan sprays his skin black. And we’re reminded that, having grown up in New Orleans, Magellan knows how to “talk black.” This entire sequence has no bearing on anything, but then McCurtin fills pages throughout. For example, several times in the narrative Magellan will flip through his mental notebook of the mobsters he’s currently after, and we’ll get several pages of inconsequential background data on each; how they got into crime, how they made their fortunes, etc.

McCurtin also doles out plentiful amounts of sleaze. I figured he would be more restrained than Russell Smith, but he’s about on the same level! Like for example a very long but of course unnecessary scene where Magellan scopes out his first LA target, Anselmo, at a dive where women put on erotic shows for the delight of the crowd, after which they are bid on for a night’s service. McCurtin packs on some sleazy stuff here, breaking out words and phrases I’ve never once encountered in thirty-plus years of reading, like “V-tuft” to describe the women’s pubic hair, and, brace yourself, “cuntal juices.” Good grief! (It would make for a great band name, though -- V-Tuft & the CJs!)

But our series editor is about the same as Smith when it comes to action scenes, all of which lack any tension despite being generous on the graphic violence. Even the Anselmo hit is par for the course, despite the dude being related to the man who had Magellan’s family killed. Magellan will just mow thugs down with his guns in gory splendor, or he’ll blow them up, and there’s little retaliation on the part of the goons. After dealing with Anselmo the novel hurtles on, abruptly changing plots: Now Magellan is after “The Bump,” an elderly mafioso who lives in Howard Hughes-style seclusion. Magellan sets himself up as a visiting mob torpedo, and somehow manages to pick up another girl, one named Mignon.

Throughout McCurtin will drop occasional flashbacks to Magellan’s previous life. This is a rarity in the series. We learn that Magellan has basically done everything ever known to man. From demolition stunt driving to climbing sheer walls with nothing but his hands and feet, Magellan has mastered it. This stuff is so egregious and shoehorned into the narrative to accommodate the plot that it becomes comical after a while. More importantly McCurtin writes a lot of material about Magellan’s family, how they were killed when Magellan refused to sell guns to a powerful mobster, and how Magellan “got revenge” on them in New Orleans.

The only problem is, this New Orleans vengeance tale has never been told in the Marksman. Nor have we ever heard the story behind the deaths of Magellan’s family. You see, all of the stuff McCurtin writes here is actually background material for another McCurtin series and creation: The Assassin, a three-volume Dell series from 1973 relating the first-person adventures of a New Orleans native named Robert Briganti whose family was murdered when he refused to supply a mobster with guns.

Len Levinson once told me that The Sharpshooter was “based on the Marksman series, which was based on the Assassin series.” So I guess The Assassin is the ur-text so far as the Marksman and Sharpshooter series go. Either McCurtin just confused his own characters or figured to hell with it, and guessed no one would notice. Or maybe there’s another reason…

Maybe McCurtin was just a postmodern genius, and had grander intentions. Maybe these three characters are all the same character, one who suffers from multiple personalities…let’s say when Robert Briganti goes to sleep he becomes Philip Magellan, and when Magellan goes to sleep he becomes Johnny Rock…and when Rock goes to sleep he becomes Robert Briganti, and thus the cycle continues. Hey, it works for me!