The Sharpshooter #14: Las Vegas Vengeance, by Bruno Rossi
No month stated, 1975 Leisure Books
John Marshall, who wrote the earlier #10: Hit Man, returns to The Sharpshooter for his second and final volume. But then there were only two more volumes of the series left, anyway – I mean can you believe it?? We’re almost to the end of this twisted, disjointed, but usually-entertaining “saga.” This was also the last volume to carry a number.
Like with his previous entry, Marshall is clearly writing a “real” Sharpshooter novel, which is to say he wasn’t writing a Marksman manuscript that was magically transformed into a Sharpshooter in the “editing” stage. His Johnny Rock is the same as the one in the first volume, a guy whose parents were killed by the Mafia, and unlike Philip “The Marksman” Magellan he doesn’t have a penchant for drugging people and cutting off their heads. Marshall not only refers to that first Sharpshooter yarn but also mentions his own Hit Man. I mean it’s almost enough to make a guy weep – actual continuity in The Sharpshooter!
We learn that the first volume was “well over a year ago” and the tenth volume was ten weeks ago. “Johnny” (as Marshall refers to him) has killed 278 mobsters in the past year; when we meet him, he has just arrived in Las Vegas for a well-earned vacation. Marshall clearly has taken Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel On Her Majesy’s Secret Service (1963) as inspiration, with gaudy Vegas standing in for Casino Royale and Johnny standing in for Bond, even down to the “cruel mouth” Fleming gave Bond. Like that Bond novel, Johnny encounters an ultra-gorgeous but “galacial” brunette beauty at the tables and watches as she bets – and wins – with an almost casual disregard. When he follows her later on, he comes upon her just as she’s about to commit suicide.
And just like Tracy in OHMSS, the young lady is Italian and involved with organized crime – but here it’s not her dad who runs it, but her husband who was in it. He was the cash collector for the mob’s various Vegas interests, but was gunned down by the family when it turned out he was skimming profits. This Johnny learns in a nicely-done scene between the two; the lady turns out to be named Elisa Parendetti, and because her husband was Mafia the family now looks out for her. Thus she “can’t lose” in any of the casinos, much to her dismay – she hates “dirty money” and is about to blow her brains out in her new Maserati when Johnny comes upon her.
Johnny makes the mob widow an offer: if she listens to his story but isn’t interested in his offer, she can not only go ahead and kill herself but he’ll finish her off if necessary. He tells her he’s the infamous Sharpshooter, and proposes that together they’d make a winning team: with her mob-world contacts she could feed Johnny info and he could take out the Vegas Mafia. She of course takes him up on the offer, then insists he get in her Maserati so they can go back to her place: “You’re going to get the best tail of your life,” she promises. But all you fellow pervs out there looking for some hot ‘70s sleaze action will be disappointed, for once again Marshall is stricty an off-page kind of writer when it comes to the sex scenes…though curiously, as I’ll elaborate upon presently, he has no such qualms when it comes to the rape scenes.
The Johnny-Elisa team not only reminds the reader of the Johnny-Iris Toscado team of the first volume, but also of the Johnny-Ginny Reid team of Marshall’s own previous volume. Only here the relationship isn’t nearly as developed. In fact, Elisa ultimately provides zilch, either to Johnny’s mob-busting efforts or to the narrative itself. She’s there to trade exposition with Johnny, to cook and serve him his meals, and to have off-page sex with him. And speaking of exposition, Marshall, despite a strong opening with Johnny and Elisa’s first meeting, is soon back to the same tricks as in Hit Man, with countless scenes of Johnny sitting around and expositing on what he’s planning to do…after which Marshall will describe Johnny doing exactly that. And even worse, in each case it all goes down just as Johnny planned.
For new stuff, Johnny has a Travis Bickle-style derringer holder on his forerm; a flex of his muscle and the two-shot gun jumps into his hand. This is employed in a memorable scene where an unusually-gullible Johnny is briefly in the clutches of a dirty cop – one who claims to be taking Johnny “down to the station” but is really planning to blow his head off and collect his mob reward. Johnny’s also back to his disguise trickery, spending portions of the novel going around as a hippie. In a humorously go-nowhere subplot, Elisa occasionally dresses up like “the hippie’s wife,” but we never see what the intention of this, as she goes off on her own.
The confrontation with the dirty cop is the highlight of the novel, with Marshall doling out some nice suspense even though every single reader knows what the outcome will be. Here too he shows a nice touch with dialog. But for the majority of the novel he’s content to dole out exposition for the dialog, with Johnny lounging around after the latest Elisa-prepared meal and stating, “After this I shall…” Otherwise the “action scenes” follow the usual template of the series, with Johnny planting explosives and killing scads of villains en masse; especially lame is a “climactic sequence” where Johnny takes out practically all of the villains off-page. In fact this is so lame that Marshall has to introduce a new “main villain” in the veritable 11th hour so Johnny can have someone new to kill (and Marshall can meet the page requirement).
Instead, Marshall focuses more on the capture, rape, and rescuing of Elisa. Those dirty cops strike again, finding Elisa’s fingerprints in Johnny’s hotel, and soon enough a Mafia crew is sent out to round her up. They get her just as she’s in the shower, Johnny having just left to handle more mob-busting business; of course, Elisa has fallen in love with Johnny as expected. The creeps take her to a remote ranch and set about gang-raping her. Marshall goes into full-bore sleaze territory here, including even sodomy: “It was as though her rectal passage was being ripped apart.” As ever, the bland, meat-and-potatoes nature of the humdrum writing makes these sleazy scenes even sleazier.
By the time Johnny tracks her down, poor Elisa’s been raped so much that she’s plumb insane. Johnny kills the rapists and takes her back to a hotel, later having her doctor look at her. By novel’s end Elisa is so far gone that she’s burning mob money and babbling like a child; Johnny calls the one good cop on the force and tells him to come pick her up! And with that Johnny makes his leave from Las Vegas, having broken the local mob apart – and the dude still hasn’t even taken his vacation. This was it for Marshall on the series, and while his two stories are okay, he’s really only just a rung or two above Paul Hofrichter.
And you’ve gotta love Ken Barr’s typically-outstanding cover art. It practically screams “Cint Eastwood is…!!”