Monday, September 11, 2017

The Assassin #2: New Orleans Holocaust

The Assassin #2: New Orleans Holocaust, by Peter McCurtin
November, 1973  Dell Books

The Assassin, that ur-text of The Marksman and The Sharpshooter, continues with a second volume which Lynn Munroe theorizes is a collaboration between Peter McCurtin and an author named George Harmon Smith. But perhaps what is most notable about New Orleans Holocaust is that it marks the origin of the infamous “hippie disguise” that Philip Magellan wears in so many volumes of The Marksman, particularly those written by Russell Smith.

It’s now over a year after the first volume (despite this book being published in the same month) and hero Robert Briganti has become a legend in his own time; something whittled out of the Marksman books is how famous Briganti/Magellan has become due to his mob-wasting activities. We learn that psychiatrists even appear on late-night talk shows, offering their own analyses of Briganti, and newspapers offer him “free legal counsel” if he’ll just turn himself in. Another element dropped is Briganti’s constant stream of audio tapes which he sends to the FBI, which themselves only serve to further the legend about him.

A big point of difference between The Assassin and the two series that followed after it is the attempt at making Briganti seem human – at least when compared to Philip Magellan or Johnny Rock. In fact if one were to argue that the Marksman novels (and those Sharpshooters which started life as Marksmans) really are the continuing story of Briganti, only with his name changed to Magellan, the validation could be found in this book, as here Briganti a few times finds himself thinking of his happy past, with his wife and child, only to quickly cut off any emotion and shut out the past. As readers of the later books know, Magellan is practically a robot, his flashbacks to his pre-Mafia war life few and far between, and one could argue that he has become the perfect mob-killing machine that Briganti aspires to be in this origin trilogy.

Not that Briganti isn’t perfect enough already. He pulls off a series of superhuman feats in New Orleans Holocaust, like when he scales down the side of a building while people gawk up in awe at him from far below. This is explained by Briganti’s circus past, where he was taught such tricks. Another hallmark of the later Marksman books is that, while Briganti denies himself memories of his wife and child, he has no problem seeking out people he knew prior to his married life. In New Orleans Holocaust Briganti briefly meets up with Anne Brady, daughter of Wild Bill Brady, the man who taught Briganti to shoot; Wild Bill himself appears in The Marksman #7 – which ironically was published one month after this book. I wonder if anyone back then collected these two series from different publishers and noted the bizarre overlap.

Anne, who makes her living as a topless dancer named Starfire LeFevre, comes on strong to Briganti when he meets her in New Orleans; she claims to have carried a torch for him since she was a kid. But Briganti’s just as much a sexless robot as Magellan and tells the gal to shove off. She promptly disappears from the narrative. McCurtin is more concerned with action. The novel immediately displays its laissez-faire approach to reality in the opening pages; Briganti takes out two Mafia chase cars which are pursuing him in the Everglades with a handy bazooka, then goes on his merry way. His target is Benito Bonasera, in Sarasota – who is in reality Benito Coraldi, brother of Joe Coraldi, the Mafioso who was responsible for the death of Briganti’s family, and who met his own death in the first volume.

Briganti is a helluva lot more unhinged than fellow mob-buster Mack Bolan. Within the first few pages he’s screaming about “Mafia pigs” and shooting down unarmed and injured men. He is in fact “sick with killing,” as a “Mafia whore” informs him, for which she’s slapped around. But Coraldi’s in New Orleans for a big Mafia summit, so off Briganti goes to bust ‘em up. There he seeks out old friend Sam Rubi, in whose shooting gallery young “Bobby” Briganti learned how to handle a gun; Rubi’s now an old pimp, and one of his gals is sleeping with Mafioso for intel. Humorously, absolutely nothing is made of this, as if the author(s) completely forget about it, though it seems clear the intent is for Briganti to meet up with this woman, who doesn’t even appear.

Rather as mentioned the focus is on action, action, action. Posthaste Briganti’s hiring a chopper and having himself dropped off on the roof of a hotel where some mobsters have made their HQ; he guns some down, realizes he’s gotten in over his head, scales down the wall like Spider-Man, and makes his escape. Before this he’s somehow used an everday portable radio as a car bomb to take out a bunch of mobsters at the airport. He doesn’t have the “artillery case” that Magellan would use in the Russell Smith books, but his main weapons here are that bazooka, a grenade launcher, and a Browning Hi-Power, which is gushed about so much as the greatest handgun in history that you wonder why Magellan started using a Beretta in the Smith books.

In addition to Sam Rubi, Briganti’s comrade this time is old retired police captain Donofrio, who was sent to prison years ago on trumped-up charges. He’s an old cop type, very much in the William Crawford mold – indeed there is a definite Crawford vibe to this novel – and he helps Briganti blow punks away with his magnum revolver. The two get involved in this endless action scene midway through; a certain character has been killed by two Mafia hitmen, one of whose father runs a voodoo church in New Orleans(!). Calling himself “The White Zombie” (after “an old Bella[sp] Lugosi movie;” as usual with a McCurtin novels, classic movie references are rife), this guy, whose real name is Connolly, ends up siccing his armed followers on the two interlopers.

Unlike his later incarnation of Magellan, Briganti often gets in tough scrapes which he fears he won’t survive. So this shootout just goes on and on, with Briganti ducking and weaving heavy fire as he beats a retreat. The same is true when he takes on one of the hitmen: Connolly’s son, a gay bodybuilder who hangs out in a gay joint. There are all kinds of slurs here that would quickly trigger the sensitive types of today. These two get in a knockdown, dragout fight, heavy with the Crawfordisms, particularly when it comes to kicking an opponent to death. Whereas superhuman Magellan would take out this guy with no fuss, Briganti sweats and struggles and strains – not that he’s much winded afterward. And he’s just as brutal, killing people he’s promised not to. Another miss here – and perhaps indication that two authors wrote the book with little collaboration – is that Briganti doesn’t even bother telling Connolly Jr that Connolly Sr is dead.

Another humorous miss is when Briganti goes back to the home of Sam Rubi’s equally-elderly sister, where Briganti’s been staying, and finds a sleazy PI there trying to threaten the old woman in her bed for info on where Briganti is. Briganti wastes him, and Sam’s sister dies in fright. Yet old Sam doesn’t even seem to care, and in the very next scene is joking around with Briganti! Sam does help out in the climax, though – that is, after Briganti’s staged an anticlimactic (and brief) assault on the Mafia summit, which is being held in a newly-opened convention center; he tosses a few grenades in there and that’s that.

But Benny Coraldi’s still alive, given that he’s been on a boat all this time, refusing to go to the summit meeting. He’s imprisoned a bunch of hookers out there, and later we learn he tossed ‘em all overboard and ran ‘em down for sport. Sam pilots a trawler and Briganti, once again hefting that damn bazooka, metes out another dose of justice to the Coraldi family. And that’s it – we’re presented with an overlong “transcript” of Briganti’s latest audio missive to the FBI that basically goes over everything we just read. Briganti figures that it’s only a matter of time before “the best hitmen in the world” are hired to kill him, apparently setting up the events of the next volume – or perhaps a Marksman or Sharpshooter I haven’t yet read.

Overall New Orleans Holocaust is passable entertainment, filled with “Mafia pigs” getting gunned down, but Briganti isn’t as interesting as Magellan, despite being the same character. Magellan’s just more crazy and unpredictable, but admittedly I’m mostly thinking of the Russell Smith version. In McCurtin’s installments, Magellan’s basically the same as Briganti, only without the “regular audio transcripts to the FBI” bit. The writing is also good, all things considered, very spare and economical, but not as seriously presented as in the first volume – which in itself might be evidence of Lynn Munroe’s speculation, that this one was possibly ghostwritten (or just co-written) by George Harmon Smith.

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