The Sharpshooter #11: Triggerman, by Bruno Rossi January, 1975 Leisure Books Russell Smith returns to the Sharpshooter series in what appears to be yet another of Smith’s Marksman manuscripts that was turned into a Sharpshooter novel. At first it’s hard to tell, as for once the editors managed to change most instances of “Magellan” into “Rock,” but as the novel progresses you can clearly
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
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
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!!
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!
The Marksman #4: Mafia Wipe-Out, by Frank Scarpetta
August, 1973 Belmont-Tower Books
Without a doubt this is the strangest volume of the Marksman yet. Coming off like a Marx Brothers movie with gore, Mafia Wipe-Out combines the mob-wasting nihilism of previous books with a lowbrow sense of humor, one that bounds right over the limits of reality and into full-on fantasy. Only problem is, it’s not very funny. And it’s not very good.
As mentioned in my review of #3: Kill Them All, this volume falls outside of the mini-storyline that started in the third volume and continued in #5: Headhunter. But then, Mafia Wipe-Out doesn’t have much to do with any Marksman novel. “Hero” Philip Magellan in this one is a superhero, famed for his Mafia vanquishing, unable to be harmed or killed. Not only that, but he’s developed a penchant for (really bad) one-liners, ones that would even make James Bond shake his head.
There isn’t much of a plot here, just a series of madcap confrontations between Magellan and a revolving door of bizarro mobsters, a new villain each chapter, each chapter ending on a lame cliffhanger. Well, there’s sort of a plot – Magellan discovers that the Mafia plans a council meeting in Elgin, Ohio, and there they will have two points of discussion: the death of Philip “Marksman” Magellan and the installation of a Mafia puppet into the White House.
Magellan, who is spurred by the memories of his slain family in this novel more than any other I’ve yet read, burns with a desire to kill all of the mobsters in Elgin and prevent their “Mafia President” idea from happening. But the Elgin summit meeting doesn’t occur until toward the very end; instead, Mafia Wipe-Out concerns itself with playing up to its own title, with Magellan wiping out mobster after mobster.
One thing I can say is that the book goes by like a rocket. In fact it moves so quickly that little sticks with you; it’s just an endless series of Magellan coming upon the latest mobster, killing him, offering a lame one-liner, and then running into the next mobster. True to the series, Magellan is so superheroic that his victory is never in doubt, even in the few instances when the mobsters get the advantage on him. There are laughably-stupid scenes where Magellan is able to muscle his way out of his bonds or even recover from significant damage and just brush it all off – that is, after he’s killed the mobster who got the jump on him.
Let me give you an idea of how goofy and stupid this novel is by examing one particular sequence. Okay, Magellan has killed a bunch of mobsters unrelated to anything in New York, and then he comes upon the info about the Elgin meeting. After a quick gunfight in a funhouse and park, he’s briefly kidnapped by a Mafia don who takes Magellan away in his car. Magellan of course manages to not only kill the guy but his henchmen as well, in a big firefight along a turnpike. As the cops swarm in, Magellan tries to figure out how to get away from them and prevent the Mafia takeover of the White House.
Then a sportscar driven by a gorgeous blonde pulls up, and the girl, whom Magellan has never seen before, says she’s here to pick him up. All of this a show for the cops…who just let Magellan hop in the car and leave the crime scene. (This is just a taste of the lack of reality in the novel.) Magellan assumes the girl, who calls herself Tina, has picked him up due to his good looks – Magellan reminsces over all the women who have flocked to him over the years, so this isn’t all that new to him!
But no, Tina reveals that she knows who Magellan is, and in fact she needs his help. At that moment some heavy trucks bear in on them, blasting away. “I wish we had some grenades or something,” says Magellan. Then he looks in the glove compartment – only to find some grenades in there. Again, it’s all like a lame Duck Soup riff or something. After Magellan kills the pursuers, Tina reveals that they were actually Feds, and further Tina is the daughter of a Mafia don – in fact, the don Magellan just killed on the turnpike, though she doesn’t know Magellan has killed her dad.
Next Tina imprisons Magellan in metal straps that come out of the carseats, and tells him that not only is she into s&m, she also wants to screw Magellan before taking him to Elgin, where the Mafia has plans for him. Magellan goes on about how disgusted he would be to even touch a member of the Mafia, and there ensues an unsettling scene where Tina tries to rape Magellan, and he bites a huge gaping hole in her mouth (!). Finally he gets the upper hand, and then debases Tina in such a way that the reader is truly unsettled…making her crawl around like a dog and say how she’s no-good slime and etc.
But wait, it gets worse. Magellan doesn’t want to kill a woman (despite the fact that earlier in the book he had no qualms with killing a 300-lbs hitwoman or the fact that he just bit off a portion of Tina’s face), and tells Tina he’ll let her go, but she manages to grab his gun and blast at him as she runs into the woods. Magellan throws one of those grenades at her and in yet another unsettling moment blown-off pieces of Tina fly out of the woods and overtop Magellan: Tina’s arms, Tina’s head. Magellan says “Bye-bye” to the pieces, but as he turns Tina’s flying severed leg hits him in the ass, and Magellan mutters that it’s just like a woman to get in the last word.
Now, I’ve had my problems with women (who hasn’t?), but blowing them up with grenades just seems a little too much, especially when it’s all played for laughs. But that’s the other thing. As you’ve no doubt registered from my little rundown, this novel just ain’t funny. It’s just stupid, mean-spirited, and scatterbrained.
Unbelievably, it only proceeds to get more inane, as when Magellan arrives in Elgin he just sort of walks around the mansion where the meeting will take place, and takes on the occasional mobster who happens to walk by, all of whom know who Magellan is and who try to dispense with him quickly, to no avail.
Then there’s another character, a rogue scientist who creates chemical warfare, and there follows a long protracted sequence where Magellan is sprayed by an experimental gas which he just happens to have read about, so he knows how to overcome its effects, only to turn it around and use it on a bunch of other mobsters. (This isn’t even mentioning the other gas, one which gives people superhuman power.)
The “climax” in the Elgin mansion is also seriously stupid, with Magellan just walking in and making all of the mobsters lay down on the floor! There’s absolutely no tension or drama or anything, just superhero Magellan doling out glib and unfunny lines as he blows away various mobsters. And more unsettling stuff besides, as you actually start to feel bad for the mobsters, in particular one who wears a leather suit and comes at Magellan with a whip: Magellan figures the guy must be a “sado-masee” gay and calls him all sorts of names as a result, toying with him before killing him.
I was under the impression that this one had been written by series editor Peter McCurtin. But reading the book made it clear that someone else was behind it. After a little research I discovered here that Mafia Wipe-Out was in fact written by someone named Michael Harris. I have no idea who he is/was, or if he wrote more volumes of the Marksman. We can only hope he did not.
Despite the irreverent spirit and Keystone Cops mindset, Mafia Wipe-Out just comes off as being a stupid waste of time, churned out by an author not taking the story, series, or character at all seriously. And if the author doesn’t care, why should you?
The Marksman #5: Headhunter, by Frank Scarpetta
October, 1973 Belmont-Tower Books
As mentioned in my review, Headhunter picks up immediately after the events in The Marksman #3: Kill Them All, which was also written by demented genius Russell Smith. (The fourth volume, Mafia Wipe-Out, meanwhile features Magellan back in the States, even though Kill Them All closes with him in St. Thomas...and Headhunter opens with him leaving St. Thomas.)
And by the way, you have to read Kill Them All for Headhunter to make any kind of sense; Smith refers back to that novel throughout the book, never once bothering to explain any of his references. It might be frustrating for someone who has never read that previous volume, but if you have read it, then it makes for probably the best example of continuity I've yet encountered in a men's adventure series.
After killing a ton of Mafia in idyllic St. Thomas, Magellan charters a private plane to fly him to Puerto Rico. Here we have an awesome instance of the pre-PC mindset when Magellan is thunderstruck to discover that the co-pilot of the plane is...a woman!! He's brought along his ever-present "artillery case" complete with drugs, disguises, and whatnot, as well as the heroin he's been lugging around for the past few volumes. Magellan arrives in Puerto Rico with a gameplan in mind: he's going to of course crack down on the local Mafia chieftan, Jacopo Morandi.
Things derail posthaste; hailing a cab, Magellan is attacked by the driver and his comrades, but of course manages to waste a few of them with his ever-ready Beretta. And again Magellan manages to take someone prisoner, in this case a kid whom Magellan drugs up, later tying the kid to a bed in his hotel room. Pretty strange stuff for sure.
But the plot changes again when Magellan discovers that he has become a wanted man, the story of his assault on the mob in St. Thomas breaking out in the local media. Sure enough the cops have figured out that Magellan is now in Puerto Rico, and not only are they most likely on their way to find him, but Magellan also discovers that the cops are busy cracking down on anyone Magellan reportedly dealt with in St. Thomas.
Magellan instantly realizes then that Terri White, his cute hippie-chick accomplice in Kill Them All, will now be in harm's way. But no worry, as she happens to already be on her own chartered flight to Puerto Rico, hoping to hide out with a fellow hippie who gives music lessons there. Magellan and Terri soon meet up again, and in a strange way it actually develops into a sweet little bond between the two (at least, as "sweet" as a blood-soaked Marksman novel can be), with Terri obviously falling in love with Magellan, and Magellan realizing that he too is developing feelings for the girl. In fact there are some very funny moments between the two, with Terri going along with Magellan's bloody plans, but constantly asking him to rethink, or at least to go somewhere else -- "Maybe some tropical island somewhere. I'm sure you can find some Mafia to kill there, too!"
From here it comes off almost like a retread of the previous book, with Magellan using Terri as bait, renting out a lavish villa and posing as a wealthy and single socialite, so as to attract the attentions of Morandi, a notorious skirt-chaser. In the meantime Magellan goes about wasting mobsters and/or taking them captive, drugging them and shackling them up in the wine cellar beneath the villa. Of course per tradition he manges to ensnare a few cops as well. This engenders bizarre but played-for-laughs scenes where Terri has to cook meals for the growing assortment of prisoners in the cellar, and Magellan taking them all out every once in a while for "latrine visits."
All sorts of lurid stuff ensues, as expected from this "gifted" author. Early in the tale, after moving into the villa and before he has started growing his collection of captives, Magellan leaves Terri with the still-captive kid, who manages to break free, rape Terri, and comes back with his fellow gangsters. By this time Magellan has arrived, and here of course is where he starts up his collection of drugged and shackled prisoners. Terri's rape though is brushed off, and the implication is that the kid didn't even know what he was doing -- Smith plays it vague on the kid's actual age, which makes it all the more strange when Magellan discovers later that the other prisoners, all of them adult mobster guys, are using the kid as jailbait in the wine cellar. At least Magellan has the dignity to take the kid away from them.
Anyway, there's all sorts of crazy and rough shenanigans throughout, but what more can you expect from the man who gave us Blood Bath? (Which by the way would actually serve as the first volume of this "trilogy," each of the volumes referring to one another.) The "action scenes" are again given over to Magellan blowing away various mobsters, though he does take a little damage here and there, moreso than in any other volume yet. Also, believe it or not, Smith works in some actual character development here, with Magellan several times questioning his motive, his choice to continue seeking his bloody fate, especially once he realizes he has developed feelings for Terri.
It's funny, because Magellan plans throughout to get rid of the girl, but she keeps sticking to him like glue. And even at the end Terri rushes off with him, the two planning to escape from Puerto Rico to Miami (once again Smith ends the tale with a rushed climax in which Magellan just casually blitzes the main villains)...and yet, it doesn't appear that Terri appears in another Marksman novel. I've only just flipped through a few future volumes, I haven't read them yet, but it doesn't appear that she shows up again. Time will tell. She makes for a fun character, though, adding a much-needed spirit to the books.
Finally, here's a scene I just had to quote, to give an idea of the twisted genius that is Russell Smith. Read on in slackjawed amazement as Magellan wastes a mobster who's visiting the restroom:
Magellan saw him walking toward him. He hugged the closet wall. He fingered the silencer on the Beretta and released the safety. Just as Micheli dropped his pants and reached for a comic book on the floor in front of the toilet, Magellan aimed and fired at his left temple.
Blood, brains and flesh splattered against the shower curtain as the body raised up and the sound of the man's noisy bowels evacuating drowned out the pressurized "whoosh" of the gun.
As the body of Micheli seemed to be trying to balance itself in death, wobbling to and fro ever so gently on the toilet seat, Magellan flushed the toilet at the same time he gripped the arm and holding it, allowed the heavy body to sink sideways onto the tiled floor now puddling with dark red blood.
Carlo Micheli's last shit was a ghastly sight!
I mean, that about says it all, doesn't it?
The Sharpshooter #6: Muzzle Blast, by Bruno Rossi
April, 1974 Leisure Books
This is by far the clunkiest and roughest installment of the Sharpshooter yet, and I don't mean in a good way. Also it is quite obviously another novel that was written by Russell Smith as a volume of the Marksman series, but changed for whatever reason by editor Peter McCurtin into a Sharpshooter novel. Only, as usual, McCurtin (or one of his junior editors) did a poor job of copyediting, with hero Johnny Rock occasionally referred to as "Magellan" throughout the narrative.
There are other giveaways. For one, the "Rock" presented here is a grim figure with a penchant for taking people captive and drugging them, eventually murdering them in some sadistic fashion. He also travels around with his trusty "artillery case" which contains his firearms, syringes, and makeup kit. In short, this is once again Philip Magellan, the Marksman, not Johnny Rock. Also Smith again works in references to other Marksman novels he has written; early in the narrative "Rock" uses some heroin as bait, heroin which he got from "the score in New Orleans." This is a direct reference to the Smith-penned Marksman #11: Counterattack.
There isn't much of a plot here, which makes me suspect that Smith banged out his manuscript in no time. Maybe that's why he turned in so many volumes of both series, he was just a fast writer who could meet his deadlines. Fast doesn't always equal good, though. And Muzzle Blast is pretty bad. It's not only the shortest novel yet in the series, but it's also jammed with a lot of characters and a bizarre plot that never makes any sense. Characters just do shit with no rhyme or reason, and Smith never bothers resolving anything.
Rock is in Boston's Chinatown looking into the local heroin trade. Here we get the tidbit that a stuffed orange cat in a Chinese antique store is an indicator that the place sells heroin. The things you learn from these novels. Rock buys the cat from the store proprietor Po Yi-Po and his sexy associate Mai-Lin, but the cat has no heroin in it. Rock then stuffs the cat with his own appropriated heroin from the New Orleans caper and takes it back to the store. The essence here, apparently, is that Rock is trying to set himself up as a Mafia bigwig looking to move into the territory, but the subplot is lost.
Instead, Mai-Lin comes on strong to Rock and insists on taking off with him. They head up into Provincetown, Maine -- Smith apparently was from the area, as many of his novels take place in New England, for example the legendary Blood Bath -- where Rock now begins scoping out the local mobsters. Meanwhile Po Yi-Po is back in Boston, somehow oblivious to the fact that Mai-Lin, who he loves, has run off with another guy.
Before that though we have another instance of Rock's sadism, by which I mean Magellan's sadism. Much as in the aforementioned Blood Bath, Russell Smith is unconcerned with "action scenes" per se, and instead doles out sequences in which Rock just murders his enemies in cold blood. In another baffling and unexplained plot development, Po Yi-Po is being blackmailed by some dirty cops. Rock jumps them and takes one prisoner. Of course he drugs the guy and, later, decides he'll have to kill him. In a loving tribute to the scene in Blood Bath, Rock makes the handcuffed bastard walk away, his back to Rock, as Rock takes out his UZI and "surgically" blasts off the man's limbs and head.
There's also another WTF? subplot about some punk who keeps trying to break into Rock's Mercedes, and Rock beats the shit out of the guy, but strangely allows him to live. Anyway, the plot moves on. Now Rock is in Provincetown with Mai-Lin; here they meet up with a friend of Rock's, a local artist named Mike. From what I could make out, a meeting of Mafia hotshots is soon to take place here, in the mansion of local Mafioso. Rock and his two friends basically sit around in a local mob-run bar and bide their time.
I really get the feeling that Smith just knocked this one out in record time, probably under the influence of cheap booze. Stuff just happens with little setup or resolution. For example, while "hiding" in the P'town bar (despite the fact that somehow everyone knows her), Mai-Lin is picked up by one of the mobsters, who takes her captive -- the word is out that she's been seen with this "handsome" stranger whom everyone now suspects is Rock.
The dude tortures Mai-Lin with a lighter, playing the flames over her stomach and such, but then he leaves to take a phone call (?), and Mai-Lin, who through sheer deus ex machina happened to steal a pair of keys on her way into the bar, is able to free herself. When she later meets up with Rock, she never mentions being captured or tortured, and indeed acts like nothing even happened. And this isn't just because she's tough, it's because Smith obviously forgot all about it!
As in the other Smith novels I've reviewed here, the finale is rushed, but in a bigger way than normal. Once again Rock launches a one-man raid on the mobster meeting, blowing up the mansion. Smith doesn't even bother showing Rock setting up the dynamite; instead he just blows up some shit, shoots a few guys (in another bizarre moment, Rock allows one of them to live!?), then hops in Mike's dune buggy and roars off.
Meanwhile Po Yi-Po, who in his own subplot has finally discovered Mai-Lin's treachery, heads to Provincetown. His lust for the girl is such that he knows he will one day kill her due to his jealousy, and Smith implies that this is Po Yi-Po's exact intention. But in the strangest cop-out I've ever encountered in a novel, Smith brushes it all over. Rock, after his assault on the mobsters -- and en route to another assault on them -- stops off at Mike's beachside shack. There he finds the corpse of Po Yi-Po, which hangs outside the shack; inside, there is a note from Mike, stating that Po tried to poison Mai-Lin and him, and so the two of them have left for the hospital.
And believe it or not, here Muzzle Blast ends. I mean, it just ends! Did Mike or Mai-Lin die? What about Rock's assault on the second Mafia hideout? None of these questions are answered. And there are so many other questions. Was Smith's manuscript accidentally published with some pages missing? Or was Leisure in such a hurry to publish another installment that they could care less that the book had so many problems? What's strange is that the last several pages of the book are given over to ads for other Leisure books, more ads than normal, which indicates that Leisure knew it had to fill up extra pages.
I guess we'll never know. Anyway, Muzzle Blast sucks for the most part. However we do get a great line, courtesy Mai-Lin. While at the bar, a drunk saunters up to her and hits on her with the cliched line: "Is it true what they say about Chinese girls?" Mai Lin's answer: "It depends on how you look at it."
The Marksman #3: Kill Them All, by Frank Scarpetta
No Month Stated, 1973 Belmont-Tower Books
Not only is this the first volume of the Marksman series to be published under the house name "Frank Scarpetta," it's also the smoking gun in the Marksman/Sharpshooter mystery. Other reviewers have noted how often Johnny "Sharpshooter" Rock is "mistakenly" referred to as "Magellan" in certain Sharpshooter novels -- ie, the writers screwing up and referring to the hero of the Marksman books. Kill Them All however proves that the writers were not at fault; those Sharpshooter novels were in fact written as volumes of the Marksman, only to later be changed by editors with poor copy-editing skills. And there would be no copyright issues involved, as Belmont-Tower and Leisure Books were one and the same.
To wit, Kill Them All is a sequel in all but name to Blood Bath -- aka the third volume of the Sharpshooter. The clue comes early on. Philip Magellan has traveled to the idyllic island of St. Thomas, the narrative informs us, to get away from the mob, the cops...as well as "Luci Sordi" and "his headquarters on Fish House Road." Luci Sordi is the name of the gorgeous mob wife who threw herself into the arms of Johnny Rock at the end of Blood Bath, and Fish House Road is the street in which "Rock" had his dank headquarters where he tortured captives with rats. The events of Blood Bath are referred to quite often in Kill Them All. Most importantly, the writing is identical -- this is the same divine madman who gave us Blood Bath, as well as Marksman #1: Vendetta (and possibly also Sharpshooter #2: Blood Oath, which I'm now certain was also originally a Marksman novel, but I'll get to that one in a future Marksman review).
It makes sense in a way. The "Rock" of Blood Bath and Blood Oath is not the same Johnny Rock of The Killing Machine or even The Worst Way To Die. The "Rock" of Blood Bath and Blood Oath drugs up mobsters, strips them down, ties them up, and then tortures them. After which he will murder them in some sadistic fashion, treating the entire sick proceedings in a cold, emotionless fashion. In short, the "Rock" of Blood Bath and Blood Oath is a sick son of a bitch, much more terrifying than the "true" Johnny Rock of The Killing Machine, The Worst Way To Die, and others -- ie, a sick bastard himself, but one more "human," at least comparatively speaking.
However, drugging up victims, stripping them, and torturing them are all part and parcel of Philip Magellan's modus operandi. As stated on the back cover of Kill Them All, "When the Mafia murdered Magellan's wife and son they drained him of all human emotion. Overnight he became a killing machine, geared to perform one function -- wipe the mafia from the face of the earth." Magellan truly is an emotionless killing machine, especially in the volumes written by this "gifted" author, whoever he is. (And I don't believe it was Peter McCurtin -- if it was, why would his name have been removed from the series with this volume?)
Anyway. I contend that Blood Bath should not only be considered part of the Marksman series, but also that it should be read before Kill Them All, for those who prefer their series fiction to be chronological. (As for why Blood Bath was changed to a Sharpshooter volume, I'm guessing it was an editorial decision, probably to fill up a publication gap between The Killing Machine and The Worst Way To Die.) I'm also happy to report that Kill Them All is just as wacked-out and sick as Blood Bath...sure, there are no rats this time, but the author more than makes up for it with his incredibly warped imagination and sense of dark, dark humor.
The author must've also recently visited St. Thomas, as the novel's filled with topical detail. Magellan's come here to kill the proverbial two birds: to get some sun and waste some scum. He sets his sights on a local mobster, in particular monitoring how the guy smuggles heroin onto the island via a gorgeous stewardess. Magellan discovers that the girl is also working with the Russians, delivering part of her shipment to a Soviet ship. Rather than investigating, Magellan blows away the Russians, takes the girl, and drugs her right up. This becomes a recurring joke in Kill Them All; Magellan spends a full third of the novel drugging the girl and stashing her away somewhere. She doesn't even become sentient until the final quarter of the book.
He looks like a psycho creep on the cover, but Magellan must be popular with the ladies, as once again he picks up a pretty hippie girl who eagerly takes part in his schemes. There isn't much of a plot here. Tetti, the mob boss of St. Thomas, tries to kill Magellan, who in turn murders an endless string of Tetti's goons. Tetti gets the drop on Magellan early on, though it's actually Magellan's fault; Tetti owns most of the island, including all of the legitimate businesses. Magellan walks into a travel agency and gives his real name; Tetti, overhearing, can't believe it, as the mob has been searching the world for Magellan, and here the guy is just a few feet away. This time Magellan is the one who gets drugged and tied up, but of course he's able to free himself.
After which Magellan becomes the sick bastard we know. Freeing himself and killing the two goons who were guarding him, Magellan chops the guards into tiny pieces, first carving out their hearts to take along with him. (Just as he sawed off that hippie's head in Vendetta and carried it around with him.) Magellan later kills another pair of goons and then loops the hearts around their necks, I guess as a sign to the world of his sickness. As with this writer's previous volumes, the focus here is on bizarre acts of violence and sadism.
More of a lurid aspect is introduced when the author reveals that Magellan's special drug also has an aphrodisiacal side effect. (This was also demonstrated in Sharpshooter #2: Blood Oath.) When Magellan finally allows the stewardess to regain consciousness, he sits by and watches as the girl "rapes" a pair of similarly-bound, drugged, and horny cops whom Magellan has also captured. After which the girl becomes a satiated comrade in Magellan's war, lying naked on his lap and purring like a cat! Weird scenes inside the goldmine.
As has become custom, the finale is rushed. Tetti calls in a group of Mafia hotshots as a special team to kill Magellan. Rather than a climatic battle scene, the author instead has Magellan rent a boat, take it out into the sea, and blast Tetti's fortress from afar with a grenade launcher. After which he says goodbye to his two female accomplices and decides to leave St. Thomas. And of course, Magellan doesn't just say "goodbye" to the girls, he also drugs them. But at least he leaves them some cash. That Magellan is very fond of his drugs.
The writing is just as skewed as the story. Some of the topical detail is picturesque, and the dialog is goofy and funny. Other scenes are rough and confused, with the awkward sentence structure familiar from Vendetta and Blood Bath; you have to read many of the sentences twice just to figure out what the hell they're saying. The closest style to this that I know of would be Dean W. Ballenger, of Gannon infamy. Both authors have the same bizarre approach to syntax and narrative, as well as a gloriously warped sense of dark humor. This author especially demonstrates his gift by following moments of sick violence with incidental detail, for example going on about how "carefully" Magellan drives...after we've just seen him chop up a few goons.
Finally, Belmont-Tower goofed in the publication order. Kill Them All is directly continued in HeadHunter, which was published fifth in the series. The fourth published volume, Mafia Wipe-Out, features Magellan back in the States, whereas Kill Them All ends with Magellan in St. Thomas and HeadHunter opens with Magellan in St. Thomas. So unless the guy discovered a teleporter on the island, it's safe to say that the volumes were published out of order.
I've written a long article that delves further into the Marksman/Sharpshooter connections which will appear in an upcoming issue of Justin Marriott's Paperback Fanatic. I'll post more information once Justin determines which issue it will appear in.
ADDENDUM: I wrote the above review a few weeks ago -- I usually write these reviews several weeks in advance and just set them to post at a future date -- and since writing it I've gotten in touch with Leonard Levinson, who of course wrote a handful of Sharpshooter novels. Levinson confirmed for me that Belmont-Tower and Leisure Books were indeed the same company; further, he told me that the same editor ran both lines -- Peter McCurtin! This only makes it all the more puzzling...it would mean, then, that McCurtin himself chose to take his name off of the Marksman series, using instead the "Frank Scarpetta" house name. Levinson isn't sure if McCurtin himself actually wrote any of the Sharpshooter or Marksman books, though.
3/9/12 UPDATE: After a lot of fruitless research, I've finally gotten confirmation (via a 1973 edition of the Catalog of Copyright Entries) that this novel was actually written by Russell Smith. It appears that Smith is the "gifted" author who gave us the more lurid volumes of the Marksman and the Sharpshooter, and I will update my previous reviews accordingly.