Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Marksman #2: Death Hunt

The Marksman #2: Death Hunt, by Peter McCurtin
No month stated, 1973 Belmont-Tower Books

I didn't much enjoy the first installment of the Marksman series, but I thought I'd dive right in and read the next one, because sometimes you just wanna read about mobsters getting their faces blown off. And I'm happy to report that this one is a zillion times better than the first. That's not to say it's great or anything; like the first volume this one is filled with problems and seems nothing more than the outline for a real novel.

First though I have to say that I think "Peter McCurtin" was just another house name, or perhaps we have here a prefigure of Don Pendleton's later arrangement with Gold Eagle Books -- ie, McCurtin's name is displayed on the cover when in reality a ghostwriter turned out the actual work. Because whoever wrote this did not write Vendetta. Whereas that novel was clunky as hell and poorly plotted, Death Hunt shows signs (most of the time) of being a carefully-constructed work. It isn't just a string of sequences featuring protagonist Philip Magellan blasting away mobsters, in between sawing off the heads of hippies.

Also, this time we actually get Magellan's background, something that was not mentioned in the first volume. Also we learn why he declared his one-man war upon the Mafia. Most importantly we get into his head and see what makes him tick. If Peter McCurtin was a real person, then I would suspect that Death Hunt was actually written by him, because it's near to the quality of the first Sharpshooter installment, The Killing Machine, which also was supposedly written by McCurtin.

In fact the two novels are very much the same. Just like Johnny Rock did in that novel, here Magellan gains an unlikely associate in Antonia Paoli, daughter of a mob chieftan who hates the mob and briefly joins Magellan in his war (and in bed). But this in itself is rather strange; as we meet Magellan in the first pages, he's just arrived in New York City and is looking for mobster vermin to exterminate. So it's very strange when he befriends a mob chieftan, Antonia's father...and then vows to avenge the family when Paoli, his son, and his soldiers are all murdered by a rival family. You'd figure Magellan would applaud the events, just stand back and watch the Mafia kill itself.

At the very least this proves that Magellan has a bit of hummanity about him. Really he's helping the Paolis because he's fallen for Antonia. Early in the book, after Magellan has brought her injured father home, Antonia promptly seduces Magellan and they have sex on the living room floor. I should mention that Antonia is described as looking like "Sophia Loren of the movies." But Magellan takes it all in stride; I guess this sort of thing happens to you often when you're a men's adventure protagonist.

Magellan at length discovers that a mob boss named Spazzi is behind the murders. Spazzi has a hidden fortress/mansion built in the middle of Coney Island. McCurtin explains this is so because Spazzi grew up here and wanted to live here, yet it makes little sense for such a powerful mafioso to live amid such noise and confusion; every scene inside the mansion features a moment where a passing Coney Island ride makes such noise that the windows rattle. But this provides Magellan with an easy means of infiltrating and later attacking the fortress, as the ride conveniently passes right beside and over the mansion's unguarded spots.

There are several action scenes throughout which are better rendered than those in Vendetta. And again Magellan, despite his brutality with mobsters, doesn't come off as the sort of character who would cut off the head of a hippie corpse, which again makes me figure someone else wrote that previous volume.

There's still some lurid stuff afoot; Antonia gets captured by Spazzi (in an unexpected subplot, we learn that Antonia was once married to Spazzi) and he and his men rape her. The rape is only implied and Magellan arrives to save her, though it appears two men, including Spazzi, have already been at her. And yet, Antonia never mentions what happened and indeed is joking with Magellan, mere moments after being freed, as they enjoy some drinks together at a local bar. Since we're near the end of the book, I imagine this is McCurtin realizing he's close to his word quota and saying to hell with any sort of characterization.

Even the climax is rushed, which is typical of these Imitation Exectutioners. Magellan, sitting on that ride with Antonia, merely drops a few grenades on the mansion and then guns down the escaping soldiers with a pair of Thompson submachine guns. After which he and Antonia go to a high-end apartment and stay in bed for a few days, and she gets up one morning to announce she's going to work (she's a professor -- and meanwhile McCurtin doesn't explain how exactly she could be going to work, as earlier in the novel she was wanted for arrest due to her family connections), and Magellan says "see ya," because a men's adventure protagonist has better things to do than get involved with some woman, and he packs his bags and hits the road.

This was it for the Marksman books bearing McCurtin's name. The next ones were published under the house name "Frank Scarpetta."

3/9/12 UPDATE: After some research it appears that Peter McCurtin in fact wrote Death Hunt. Thanks to Leonard Levinson I have learned that McCurtin was the editor of both the Marksman and the Sharpshooter. McCurtin traded off with author Russell Smith on the early volumes of the Marksman; Smith in fact wrote Vendetta, the first volume of the series. McCurtin's interpretation of Magellan is slightly less sadistic than Smith's.


James Reasoner said...

McCurtin was definitely a real guy. I know someone who edited his books at Leisure. But at some point, yeah, the name became a house-name as well. I've never been able to figure out exactly when that happened.

Joe Kenney said...

James, thanks for letting me know. I have McCurtin's "The Syndicate" on the way, and I'm betting this is one of his "real" books. But I know his name was also attached to the long-running "Soldier of Fortune" series, and that one probably just featured his name. It's very obvious though that these first two Marksman books weren't written by the same author -- at least, it seems so to me.