Monday, January 30, 2012
The Sharpshooter #5: Night of the Assassins
The Sharpshooter #5: Night of the Assassins, by Bruno Rossi
March, 1974 Leisure Books
Johnny "Sharpshooter" Rock thirsts for more Mafia blood in this Miami-based entry that takes place a week or so after The Worst Way to Die. With only his second contribution, author Leonard Levinson has already given the Sharpshooter series more of a sense of continuity than it's previously enjoyed. Once again Levinson delivers a fast-moving tale filled with the patented Johnny Rock sadism, while at the same time showing how boring the life of a lone wolf can get.
The novel mostly follows the pattern of Levinson's previous entry: Rock sizes up the competition, scouts the area, murders a few mobsters, wastes time between hits, and meets a few ladies. Just as in The Worst Way to Die, many parts of Night of the Assassins are composed of Rock checking out the local sights, buying supplies, hobknobbing with locals. One might complain that it's "boring" at times, but Levinson's writing is really good, and also it only serves to make the violent moments all the more shocking.
Johnny Rock, as everyone knows, is one sick bastard. Levinson's portrayal of the character might be a bit more human -- for one, he's yet to have Rock do anything as sadistic as in Blood Bath (dammit, who wrote that volume?!?) -- but Levinson leaves little room for doubt that our hero is insane. Again, Levinson's Johnny Rock thinks he's normal, when in reality he's sicker than the mobsters he kills. In this volume he shoots men in the back, guns down mobsters with a sniper rifle as they eat their pasta, murders two women in cold blood (for being "mafia whores"), and machine-guns a row of unarmed Mafia enforcers. Like an addict he gets the shakes if he goes more than a few days without "tasting Mafia blood."
After the events in the previous volume, Rock heads down to Miami to soak up some sun. He also decides to wipe out the local Mafia boss, checking into the man's hotel. Rock hobknobs with the bartender and the hotel's whore (she's on the payroll) in between mob hits. Setting himself up as a big spender, Rock gets wind of an offshore casino run on a mob pleasure boat. Hooking up with a lonely housewife (the first of three women Rock sleeps with in the novel -- as expected in a Levinson book, there's lots of sex here), Rock takes her along as camoflauge while scoping out the place.
Here we get another of those Levinson page-filling bits where Rock plans his mission, buys the equipment, and prepares himself for the next night. But again, the calm stuff is only there so that the storm will seem all the more fierce, for what follows is the best sequence in the novel. Outfitted in a wetsuit and SCUBA gear, Rock swims out to the floating casino, boards it, and blasts all of the mobsters to hell. Again though we have little "action," here; as usual with the Sharpshooter, Rock just blows away mobsters after getting them to drop their guns.
The Miami Mafia isn't as stupid as Rock expects. They get the drop on him and proceed to beat him half to death. Levinson's version of Rock gets worried and fears death, but is resolved to the fact that he won't live long. He figures this is the end, but is saved by the last-second arrival of the cops, who cart Rock off. They decide he must be a mob-hired assassin. In a bizarre bit he's allowed to leave Miami, but he quickly returns, holing up in Fort Lauderdale (where in another WTF? scene a stewardess hits on him in the hotel bar and then goes up to his room with him).
The stage is set for final payback, and Levinson doesn't disappoint. Rock buys a grease gun from a gun supplier and blitzes the Miami mob. Here we have a genuine action scene, with Rock fighting off an army of enforcers, even a helicopter. (In other words, Ken Barr's cover actually depicts a scene in the book! Too bad the same couldn't be said for his even-better cover for Blood Bath.)
Unfortunately the climax sort of spirals into nothingness; after killing his main rival, Rock finds out that one of the mobsters who beat him earlier is still around. He tracks down the dude, finding the keys to his apartment (which he gets from the two women he blows away), and paying him a visit. This is another unsettling scene as Rock beats the shit out of the guy before killing him in cold blood. Yep, that's our hero.
Levinson sat out on the next volume, which by all accounts is one of the worst in the series. I'll be reading it anyway, of course. Levinson returned for #7: Head Crusher; in fact it seems that Levinson was the closest the Sharpshooter series ever got to a main writer. I enjoy his work; as I said before, he doesn't achieve the wacked-out sicko mentality of Blood Bath, but he delivers better character, story, and prose, all with a refreshing sense of humor.