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 previous volume.
It’s strange, because Body Count was published a mere month after Stone Killer. But for the most part the rough and hurried feel of the preceding volume is gone, this time out, with Smith taking a little more care with his story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still messy as hell, with Smith’s typical disdain for grammatical and storytelling rules, but at least it isn’t as messy as Stone Killer.
However, anyone expecting a direct pick-up from that previous installment will be in for a bummer. Terri White, Magellan’s one-time sidekick, is so gone for good that she isn’t even mentioned. And Hilda Rau, the sexy German dominatrix who Magellan sort of lusted after in Stone Killer (that is, while he was abducting her and “sadistically torturing” her), is apparently dead. (This point in particular is indication of Smith’s lazy writing – early Magellan regrets that he left Hilda tied up, but still alive, in her room, but later in the novel it’s clearly stated by Dante Monza that she’s dead, having been “blown up.” Of course, this could just be a misconception of Monza’s, but at any rate Smith doesn’t bother letting us know what the actual truth is.)
Even Magellan’s burning drive to kill Dante Monza is sort of lost; Magellan arrives in Beausoleil, by the Riviera, driving back and forth to nearby Nice, and scopes out the circuses that have been set up in the two towns. Monza owns the bigger one, and here we learn that it’s a traveling disguise for his mobile heroin lab, or something. As usual Smith shoehorns in lots of expository information about the mob’s operational methods, and here we learn how much money they make from refining and selling heroin.
And also per Smith’s customary coincidental plotting, Magellan just happens to discover that the two guys staying above his room in the hotel in Beausoleil are Interpol agents. There’s also Anna Nessi, this volume’s version of Hilda Rau, a brunette mistress of Dante Monza’s who is determined to make Monza fall in love with her. For reasons Smith doesn’t make clear, she flies to Paris to check out the destruction Magellan wrought in the previous volume, then flies back to Nice and books the room beside Magellan’s, without telling Monza what she’s doing.
Then the girl strips for Magellan and offers herself to him, to which Magellan responds by slapping her and telling her to get dressed! Apparently the girl’s plan is to seduce Magellan and then entrap him, so that she can serve him up for Dante Monza…or something. Smith doesn’t bother informing us, and he further disappoints with this storyline by straight-out killing off Anna Nessi with no warning or even forethought! Magellan comes back to his hotel room to find the girl nude and slashed to death; we learn that it was Monza himself who killed her, driven to a fury when the girl told him she’d tried to sleep with Magellan, or something.
Magellan captures Monza, drugging and stripping him per his normal style, though Magellan isn’t sure it’s Monza...even though we readers know it is?! Sometimes I like to imagine Russell Smith banging out his manuscripts while chain-smoking joints, and parts of Body Count only serve to give credence to that theory. But anyway, Monza gets free, because, uh, Magellan just left him naked and chained in his hotel room, and Magellan comes back to find the man gone…not that much really comes of this, because Magellan eventually just captures him again!
Oh, and meanwhile Magellan has picked up some fancy “karate” tricks between volumes. I’m going to wager that Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon had recently come out when Smith was writing this installment, or at the very least the early ‘70s kung-fu craze was in full gear. Because in a goofy action scene midway through, where Magellan takes on some toughs in a circus food tent, our hero is “somersaulting” around his opponents and launching devastating punches and kicks. This scene also further serves to display how Smith’s installments of The Marksman are intentional camp, as, after killing everyone, Magellan leaves payment for his meal on the table and walks out.
Speaking of time between volumes, we’re also here informed that The Sharpshooter #3: Blood Bath was “months before.” Time is sort of eclipsed, anyway, as Magellan was shot in the thigh by Hilda Rau in the final pages of Stone Killer, but he has apparently walked it off. He gets shot again in Body Count, taking one in the shoulder, and reflects that he’s getting hurt more here in Europe than he ever did in America! But instead of heading back home, Magellan instead hooks up with a new female sidekick, a British gal named Sarah Wilson who is 23 and works as a cleaning lady in Magellan’s hotel.
Sarah’s just as fucked up as Magellan, for, in between calling him “sir” all of the time, she invites Magellan back to her home (where Magellan again turns down a woman’s offer of sex, which Sarah takes in stride) and is only momentarily shocked to discover a bound and beaten Dante Monza in the trunk of Magellan’s car. But then, when she learns who the guy is, Sarah goes all batshit, saying how her girlfriend got hooked on heroin from Monza’s circus, and before you know it she strips down, breaks out a whip, and starts lashing the shit out of the guy!
In fact Monza’s a bloody pulp by novel’s end, though still alive, and apparently gives Magellan enough info to topple the European mob. This makes the second installment in a row in which Magellan has whipped a captive until he or she has spilled the beans. But major mob figures introduced in the previous volume, like Luigi Perrone, are still alive, and it would appear Smith intends to play this out in yet another volume that will see Magellan waging his weird war in Europe.
I guess we’ll just have to find out!