Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Marksman #3: Kill Them All

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 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 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.

1 comment:

Zwolf said...

Great detective work! Now I'm psyched that I had a sequel to Blood Bath and didn't even know it... :)