Monday, April 2, 2012

The Sharpshooter #6: Muzzle Blast

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."

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