Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Marksman #8: Stone Killer

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 another “lost” Marksman novel – and in fact that it took place right before Stone Killer.

As we’ll recall, that Sharpshooter novel featured “Johnny Rock” in the hamlet of Xenia, New York, sadistically murdering various mobsters before hurrying to JFK airport to catch a flight to Paris. Not only does Stone Killer open with “hero” Philip Magellan on a flight to Paris, but later in the book he actually reflects back on “his adventures in Xenia, New York” (not to mention also reflecting on his weird war in New Jersey, in the almighty Sharpshooter #3: Blood Bath).

So then one can see, like a regular Q source, the hidden, continuous storyline Russell Smith carefully worked out in his Marksman novels, all of which was lost when either McCurtin or the publisher haphazardly changed his manuscripts into installments of The Sharpshooter. It appears to me that the correct reading order for Smith’s storyline would actually be: Marksman #1: Vendetta, Sharpshooter #3: Blood Bath, Marksman #3: Kill Them All, Marksman #5: Headhunter, Sharpshooter #2: Blood Oath, and Marksman #8: Stone Killer.  Doutbless Sharpshooter #6: Muzzle Blast will eventually be uncovered as another part of the continuous storyline.

In the first few pages Magellan is even talking about Terri White, ie the hippie girl who practically served as a co-star in Kill Them All and Headhunter, before being carelessly removed from the narrative in the McCurtin-penned Marksman #6: Death To The Mafia, who opened his book with the mention that Terri was staying with some “friends” of Magellan. Despite which, Terri once again returns to the narrative here, and you kind of feel bad for author Smith, whose storyline was obliterated by careless management that was more interested in getting product out quickly.

Smith opens the novel on a scene of horror, as Magellan’s flight encounters horrific weather conditions during the arrival into Paris. It’s a flight from hell, and Smith keeps writing about it over and over, even after Magellan has walked inside the terminal. Smith also amps up the gross-out material, with copious description of the vomit-laden airliner cabin. But anyhoo, Magellan happened to be on a flight filled with nuns, on their way from New York to Paris and thence Rome for some nun thing, and one of them, unbeknownst to Magellan, is in fact an undercover mobster.

Any fears of Magellan being ambushed and killed are quickly evaporated; due to the stupidty of the mob, another mainstay in Smith’s installments, Magellan without even meaning to discovers that he’s being tailed. In fact, he even sees them checking into his very hotel on the outskirts of Paris. Here the Terri White mentions begin, as we are informed that she loved this hotel, which is more known for the hookers that frequent it. The concierge even helpfully informs Magellan of the back entrance, which runs through a courtyard, and the “stone tool house” there. If you know Russell Smith’s Magellan, you know what that tool house will soon be used for.

Getting the scoop on the local mob from an American expatriate (who makes his living as a children’s book writer) named Tim Talus, Magellan instantly sets his sights on Hilda Raus, an attractive blonde dominatrix-type from Germany who serves as a facilitator for the Parisian mob. People come to her when they have certain sadomasochistic needs, and Hilda hooks them up with the proper dominatrix or what-have-you. Magellan, who of course notes the woman’s beauty, merely goes over to her and tells her to come with him immediately or he’ll kill her!

And sure enough, before she knows it Hilda is stripped (she thinks she’s going to be raped by Magellan, the thought of which isn’t very unappealing to her!) and tossed in that stone tool house. Using Hilda’s little black book, Magellan begins his usual war of sadism upon the Parisian Mafia. His first victim he kills with a pistol butt to the head, and then per the usual Smith insanity, saws the bastard’s head off…and puts the “skull” in the tool house with Hilda, complete with a candle atop it! Yes, it’s all just like the ghastly stuff from Blood Bath, only with more of a macabre touch.

Telling Hilda she “needs company,” Magellan then goes back to his hotel and, again per Smith’s usual motif, drugs and strips the pretty young girl who also tailed him secretly from New York. She too is tossed inside the tool house, Magellan as usual building up a collection of nude captives. For once though the captives get free, though Smith does nothing with this…Magellan just comes back one day to find them gone, including the severed head (which is constantly referred to as a “skull”), and he’s like, “huh, how about that.” He suspects the hotel’s concierge is behind it, but the novel is so clearly banged out by an author hurrying to reach his deadline that it’s not really explained.

In fact, Stone Killer exhibits even less of a hold on reality than others in the Russell Smith canon. Despite knowing Magellan is here and killing their comrades, the Parisian mobsters still drag their heels and discuss “capturing” him, or “waiting” to kill him, and they go about it in the most laughably-avoidable ways possible. And Hilda Rau, despite escaping Magellan, just waltzes right back into a bar she knows he frequents, and gets captured again!

Smith develops a very unsettling dynamic between these two. Magellan constantly obsesses over Hilda’s boyfriend, circus owner/mob chieftan Dante Monza, who runs a circus out of Monaco. Hilda was a lion tamer with the circus, and Magellan in Monza’s Paris apartment finds framed photos of a nude Hilda holding a whip, and later he finds photos of Hilda and Monza nude together, with Smith even going to the lenght of mentioning how Monza is “more than adequately equipped.” Not that it’s outright stated, but there’s this weird vibe that Magellan wants Hilda but is stymied by the fact that she has a boyfriend.(?!)

Muddying up things is the return of Terri White, who by the way was also in Blood Oath, but her name was changed, likely by McCurtin, to “Jane.” As we’ll recall, “Jane” was raped by like ten guys in the denoument of that “Sharpshooter” novel (with the comical outcome of “Johnny Rock” giving her a few aspirin for her troubles), not that it’s mentioned here. She just arrives in the narrative with little setup or explanation, and though she and Magellan make frequent references to their “adventures” in the past, Smith obviously is getting sick of Terri, because she and Magellan are at constant odds this time out.

Hilda is the (half-assed) cause of this; Magellan, for reasons I didn’t catch, decides to stage a big battle at an old stone farmhouse called Four Winds outside of Paris. As is his customary approach, he sadistically murders the stooges who are there waiting to ambush him, then arranges their corpses in garish displays. Despite being in a handful of novels already, Terri only now gets disgusted by this, particularly how Magellan seats two of the corpses inside a large stone hearth, complete with bottles of wine, so that it looks like they’re having dinner.

But Hilda’s there, stripped and bound of course, and starts sowing a wedge between the two. She asks Terri how far she will allow Magellan to push her, and also if Magellan’s yet asked Terri to kill anyone. Apparently this gets the cogs in Terri’s head to start moving, for when Magellan does later ask her to take a gun, she tells him to go to hell. (Magellan’s gentlemanly response is “Get fucked.”) In the climactic gunfight, which for once isn’t hastily rendered, Terri scampers for cover and screams that she wants out of this, once and for all.

Smith in fact puts more focus on this than the actual plot; the Parisian mobsters are perfunctorily disposed of, and more light is shed on Terri and Magellan’s breakup. He gives her some money, jokingly tells her “See you in St. Thomas, mon,” and then waits until she has driven off…and then he “sadistically tortures” Hilda Rau into telling him everything she knows about Dante Monza. Hilda is still alive at novel’s end, which sees an eager Magellan rushing off for Monaco, where he’s quite excited to take on Monza.

The novel is written in the usual Russell Smith style, with abrupt scene-changes, rampant POV-hopping (ie character perspectives changing between paragraphs), and little regard for grammatical or storytelling rules. Shit just happens, with no rhyme or reason, and Magellan is in a more sadistic mood than normal. Given how many volumes this author had churned out in such little time, one can be a little forgiving for this, but still. Here’s hoping the next Smith installment not only picks up from here, but is a little more cohesive.


RJR said...

What an invaluable, insightful review, showing a lot of loving research. No one should ever question the value of your special "trash" reviews.


Joe Kenney said...

RJR, thanks a lot for the comment!