Monday, January 22, 2018

The Marksman #15: Die Killer Die!

The Marksman #15: Die Killer Die!, by Frank Scarpetta
February, 1975  Belmont-Tower Books

Russell Smith takes The Marksman back to France, one year after the events of #9: Body Count. Anyone expecting a continnuation of that storyline, which was unceremoniously and inexplicably dropped, will of course be disappointed. But then anyone hoping for such things has come to the wrong series. As ever Smith is more concerned with documenting “hero” Philip Magellan’s sadism, in what proves to be the exact same story outline Smith has used in all his previous Marksman books.

In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why Magellan’s even in France this time; early on it’s hinted that he was “lured” here for some reason, but I don’t think Smith ever gets around to stating what it is. And there’s no mention of the previous year’s French adventure, other than a couple arbitrary parts where Magellan reflects to himself that he was here a year ago. But despite what I know about this grungy series – namely, that these books were probably pounded out over the course of a single coke-fueled weekend – I still sorta hoped for at least some callback to that earlier French excursion…you know, like at least how the hell it ended.

But Russell Smith has a template and he’s sticking to it, so there’s no time for any of that stuff. I’ve mentioned before how James Dockery’s The Butcher is based on a strict template, each installment basically a rewrite of the one that came before. Russell Smith’s volumes of The Marskman (including of course those that were transformed into Sharpshooter novels) are the same. Each volume follows the same outline – Magellan goes somewhere new, we get lots of dithering among the mobsters he’s come here to kill; Magellan will stay at a hotel, and coincidence be damned the very same mobsters are staying there too; Magellan will murder a bunch of mobsters, usually while they’re using the restroom; Magellan will pick up a floozy, who may or may not be a traitor. The end – if we get an actual end – will feature Magellan summarily shooting everyone or blowing them up. 

So for Die Killer Die! (lord knows who that’s supposed to be on Bob Larkin’s awesome cover – surely not Magellan??), Magellan is in France, and he’s being hunted by Santi Visalli, a “creeply evil-looking mobster” who tries to blow Magellan up on the train to Monte Carlo. Smith plays some narrative tricks with time, having Magellan escape the attempt and then backtracking to show how he boarded the train in the first place. But from here the story branches off into the usual detorus and digressions we expect.

For one, there’s this hazy backstory that, back in New York, Magellan bought traveller’s checks from pretty Ana Regio, checks which turned out to be counterfeit. He also at some point hooked up with a pretty gal with “delicious breasts” named Dominique, looking forward to lots of sex with her here in France – one of the few times Smith’s otherwise-robotic Magellan has actually displayed a libido. But poor old Magellan is crestfallen when he spies not only Anna Regio but Dominique herself consorting with Santi Visalli at the very same hotel Magellan has checked into!

These three are key players in a plot devised by Mafia boss Virginio Tranquili, a bigtime mobster on the European scene; surprisingly, Magellan has never heard of him, and doesn’t even learn about him until late in the novel. As far as Magellan is concerned, his main target here is Santi Visalli, and as usual Smith delivers a few “action scenes” which are comprised of Magellan sneaking up on unsuspecting Mafia soldiers and gunning them down in cold blood. There are however a handful of genuine action scenes in this one, with some of these guys getting off a shot or two of their own before meeting their expected fates.

Magellan meanwhile is all jazzed up about the latest addition to his arsenal: a “new Italian silencer” for his “new Beretta,” which we’re informed is “a modified Luger 8” overall,” whatever the hell that is. This silencer is enthused over throughout the novel – indeed, on the level of the Bucher’s silencer in those Dockery Butcher novels. When Magellan isn’t shooting people he’s doing weird shit, like when he discovers the two girls hanging out with Visali in the hotel courtyard, and immediately breaks into each of their hotel rooms and steals their luggage(!).

Smith without question wrote his novels in a hurry, with no time for pause or reflection, however he continues to dole out some bonkers lines, like this assessment of Magellan’s in regards to the hotel’s maid: “Her mental agility and her physical adroitness was comparable to that of a grammar school dropout.” That’s almost Joseph Rosenberger level weirdness. Then there’s the page-filling, banal dialog that goes on between Tranquili and his underlings, chief among them an Onassis-type dude named Emil Phatir; most of this stuff sounds like try outs for the Jerky Boys, with the focus more on inventive ways of cursing than any actual plot or character development. But this “mobster banter” is part of the Smith template, as are the inordinate, ultimately unimportant backstories he gives us for each of the main villains.

Another Smith Marksman mainstay: our hero begins to systematically drug, strip, and imprison his enemies, this time on a level unseen since Blood Bath. And this time he gets some women, too – both Dominique and Ana, the latter whom Magellan intensely dislikes, given her over-confident and aggressive manner, traits Magellan loathes in a woman. But each gal is drugged, tossed in Magellan’s rented car, and eventually deposited in a cabin of a yacht Magellan rents, nude and chained together – weird shit here when, late in the book, Magellan sees the nude women holding each other for comfort in their sleep, and thinks of it as one of the most “touching displays” he’s ever seen. WTF??

Right on cue Magellan picks up another babe, this one who becomes his accomplice – and he actually has sex with her, though Smith leaves it all off-page. Her name is Alice, and she’s a young American nurse working in the nursery in Magellan’s hotel. This entire subplot is super weird, as Magellan decides to use Alice, subtly letting her know he’s the Marksman, and Alice being all for helping him – they even have a goofy rapport of repeating the same jokes and loading their comments with sexual innuendo. Alice’s nursing skills come in handy when Magellan’s actually hurt, a rarity in a Smith Marksman, shot in the arm during the latest firefight with Visalli’s thugs.

But most of the shootouts are one-sided, and usually at the reader’s expense – not once but a few times, Smith pads out the pages with inordinate setup concering the latest special squad of thugs hired to find and kill Magellan, and each time Magellan stumbles on them, catching them unawares, and kills them without much fuss. Like the six goons who converge on Magellan’s yacht, only to be sniped from afar on the jetty. Smith continues with his fascination with stories set on or around a body of water, with the climax consisting of Magellan setting off on his yacht, which is now filled with prisoners he has accumulated, Santi Visalli among them.

Magellan summarily dispenses with them in yet another display of his cold-bloodedness; the fate dealt Ana Regio is particularly surprising. Having “already decided her fate,” Magellan takes her up to the deck, tells her to jump off, and when she won’t he shoots her in the heart, having determined that she’s done no good for anyone and has forefeited her right to life(!). The men he merely drowns. As for Dominique, he actually lets her go. And as for Alice, after treating all of this as a game, she apparently sees the true brutality of Magellan in the climax, when he guns down Tranquili and some goons in cold blood, moments after finally meeting them.

But folks, Smith is such a sloppy writer/plotter that he plumb forgets about Santi Visalli. Magellan’s brought him along, using Visalli as bait and also wanting to tease out his assured death, and the last we see of the “creepy” mobster, Magellan’s handcuffed him and thrown him on a couch. Smith never tells us what happens to him! He just has Magellan gun down Tranquili, wave goodbye to a propery-horrified Alice, and then get in his rental car and head out of town.

All of which is to say, Die Killer Die! is just as messy, rough, and wild as all the other Russell Smith Marskman novels. At this point if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all – they only differ in the particulars of Magellan’s sadism. For Russell Smith’s Philip Magellan is a complete whackjob, one that even the mobsters fear; or, as Santi Visalli so memorably puts it, “Only a beast like Magellan would murder a man while he was vomiting in the toilet.”


Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

Double thanks, Joe! First for making me realize I don't want to buy that book (one of the most important aspects of your book reviews IMHO) and second for IDing the cover painting! That's a great Bob Larkin illustration. Your posts always remind me that your blog is one of the best on the internet for fans of action/adventure novels. Kudos!
- Bob Deis, Editor of and the Men’s Adventure Library book series

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks a lot for the comment, Bob!