Friday, September 10, 2010

The Sharpshooter #2: Blood Oath

The Sharpshooter #2: Blood Oath, by Bruno Rossi
October, 1973 Leisure Books

Confirming the freeflowing nature of this series, The Sharpshooter #2 makes no mention of the events in Sharpshooter #1: The Killing Machine, and indeed appears to take place long after, with protagonist Johnny Rock now a veritable legend, a bogey man for mafia families far and wide. He's also a wanted man by the police and the Feds, and pulpy detective magazines constantly run features on him.

It's also very obvious that this volume was not written by Peter McCurtin, author of The Killing Machine. Blood Oath lacks most of the subtleties of that previous volume and further confirms the slapdash nature in which these lurid novels were churned out: several times the narrative mistakenly refers to Rock as "Magellan," ie the protagonist of the Marksman series. However Blood Oath is more lurid, violent, and exploitative than the entirety of The Killing Machine, and that's a good thing!

At 154 pages of big print, Blood Oath is more of a novella. Rock comes to the tiny New York hamlet of Xenia, where he hopes to rest for a few weeks before launching a campaign against the European mafia in France. But as these things go, Xenia isn't as relaxing as Rock had hoped, for a powerful mobster named Fanzoni just happens to live in a high-security fortress right across the way from the farmhouse Rock has rented. (It would've made more sense if Rock had known this and had come to Xenia for the express purpose of wasting Fanzoni, but no matter.)

Fanzoni runs a global emporium of goods; no matter what item a person might want, Fanzoni will have it in one of his many warehouses. These goods are all black market items, but it must be stressed that Fanzoni doesn't trade in heroin or prostitution or anything of the such. As far as mafia dons go, he's pretty harmless, and he sells his goods like a regular businessman. I only mention this so we can get a bit of perspective on the psychopathic mind of our hero, Johnny Rock. For once again Rock comes off as more twisted and cruel than the "villains" he has dedicated his life to fighting.

Rock becomes friends with kindly old Milly Bice, who runs Xenia's little country store. Bice's store is on the crossroad which leads into Fanzoni's gated estate; several times a day truck-driving mobsters will use Milly's phone to have some stooge open the gates so they can haul their loads onto Fanzoni's estate. Rock instantly suspects something's up with Fanzoni. So to investigate, Rock basically murders a few of the truckdrivers in cold blood, shooting them in the throats and heads. (Always in the heads; headshots appear to be Rock's calling card, though I wonder if this is a carryover from the Marksman series -- which I have many volumes of but haven't yet read.)

There are other wild goings-on; a local "gypsy" girl named Carla has the hots for Rock, throwing herself at him -- but it turns out Carla knows who Rock is, being as she is a dedicated reader of those aformentioned detective magazines. Carla's dropped a dime to the mag and now a male and female pair of reporters are staked out in the dense forest surrounding Rock's rented farm, ready to snap photos of him. And in addition to this there's Jane, a gorgeous gal who was Rock's friend in high school; a former hippie who has run back to her rich daddy, Jane repeatedly makes advances on Rock, but he gives her nothing but Jim "Slaughter" Brown-type dismissals (ie, "You'll get yours soon enough, baby.").

This is a simple-minded novel with limited scope and vision...but it's a hell of a lot of fun. The dialog is pretty good, with this version of Rossi deftly handling the homespun country chatter of Milly and other Xenia locals, and he nails the dimestore tough-guy patter of the goons in Fanzoni's employ. In fact, the tone of this novel (and the violent nihilism) reminds me very much of Gannon, so I wonder if Dean Ballenger served as "Bruno Rossi" this time out. Rock himself is the personification of the stoic tough-guy: in addition to the numerous mobsters he wastes, he also takes the time to soundly beat an innocent bartender who has the audacity to take umbrage at Rock's smart mouth. I mean, Rock pounds this guy into burger...for no reason.

But then, that's our hero. Rock is such a nutjob in Blood Oath that I laughed out loud many times while reading. He kills everyone, even the guys driving Fanzoni's trucks, most of whom when you think about it probably aren't even "real" mobsters. And he's not just a nutjob, he's a twisted nutjob. When Rock discovers Carla's betrayal and the presence of the detective mag photographers, first he calls Carla over, meets her nude on the porch, has her strip down (after which she "practically rapes" him), and then has an also-nude Jane come out on the porch to stir things up! All of this to "distract" the photographers and to trap Carla. It all ends with the two photographers and Carla chained to a bed up in the farmhouse attic, all three of them nude and zonked out on drugs. Rock then has Jane take several photos of the naked and chained trio, but sadly we never learn what his "plans" are for these photos, even though he states that he has something in mind for them.

Astride a horse Rock launches his campaign on Fanzoni's estate, galloping through the forest and blasting away goons with his Mossberg rifle and an Uzi. After this Jane is kidnapped by the surving mobsters; once Rock discovers this he kills a few more truckdrivers and then steals one of their rigs so he can infiltrate the estate. (Why he doesn't just gallop right back over there again is a mystery...and I should mention that throughout all of this those three people are still bound and naked up in the farmhouse attic, completely forgotten!)

Rossi saves the most lurid stuff for the final pages: Jane is gang-raped by twenty or so goons and Rock doesn't arrive until the final goon is taking his turn. But since Rock only has 9 bullets in his Beretta, he has to wait until most of the mobsters leave to "go have a few drinks"! After this the novel rushes headlong to its conclusion, relating most of the incidents in synopsis. Rock finally does free the chained trio from his attic, and he gives the raped and beaten Jane a few aspirin (!) for her suffering. Rock's just a caring guy after all. Blood Oath ends with Rock and Jane on their way to JFK airport, where we assume Rock's about to depart for his European campaign.

This is a fast-moving tale, mostly well-written despite the occasional "Rock/Magellan" gaffe. As always, Johnny Rock's psychosis is entertaining in itself; once again we read in disbelief as the people in his life suffer solely due to their friendship with him, while Rock himself emerges unscathed.

3/9/12 UPDATE: I've determined that this novel was actually written by Russell Smith, and was originally intended to be an installment of the Marksman series. In fact, Blood Oath appears to take place directly before Marksman #8: Stone Killer, in which Magellan travels to Paris to take on the European mob; note how "Rock" mentions throughout Blood Oath his intent to go to France for that very purpose, and indeed how the novel itself ends with our hero heading to JFK airport to catch the next flight to Paris!

1 comment:

Allez said...

wow, Blood Oath. What a classy tome. I read it and Worst Way to Die about 14 years ago while on a sleazy action novel jag. I was so blown away by the bad writing and unmitigated violence of the Sharpshooter series that I adapted one of the bar fight scenes to film for my AP English class final exam. My pals and I gathered at the restaurant in which we held kitchen jobs and filmed the scene after closing time. I can still recall the cutting dialogue (you louse!). I picked up a bunch on Sharpshooters from ebay a few years ago (along with some Nick Carters) but haven't been able to bring myself to read 'em again.