Monday, August 5, 2019

The Assassin #3: Boston Bust-Out

The Assassin #3: Boston Bust-Out, by Peter McCurtin
December, 1973  Dell Books

The Assassin comes to a close with a final chapter penned by Peter McCurtin himself. At this point there doesn’t seem to be any effort to make this a “class” crime novel a la the first volume was; Boston Bust-Out is just as rough and wild as the books McCurtin, Russell Smith, and others churned out for The Marksman and The Sharpshooter.                             

Even the schtick of Robert “The Assassin” Briganti making tape recordings and sending them to the FBI has been dropped. Briganti at this point really is Magellan; the climax of the novel even has him working out marksman trajectories, so “Marksman” was certainly a better handle for the character than “The Assassin.” But as I mentioned before, several volumes of The Marksman had already been published before this original series even hit the shelves; it seems clear that Belmont-Tower and Leisure got their product out more quickly than Dell Books (as evidenced by the plentiful typos and grammatical errors in those B-T and Leisure publications!).

I’ll tell you one thing McCurtin whittled down when he took Briganti over to Belmont Tower and changed his name to Magellan: the references to Briganti’s “dead son.” While The Marksman never had an origin story (because it was contained in the first Assassin volume), the authors who worked on the series would occasionally remind us that Magellan’s family had been killed by the Mafia. It seems to me, looking back on the blur of the volumes I’ve read, that most often it was Magellan’s wife they referred to, with his young son only seldom mentioned. I would imagine this is because a murdered child is a helluva lot more impacting than a murdered wife, comparatively speaking, and in a way adds too much “emotional content” to what is intended to be just a cheap revenge thriller series.

At least that’s my interpretation. And McCurtin would seem to agree, as in this final volume Briganti often thinks of his murdered son and these parts have more emotional resonance than anything else in the Assassin/Marksman/Sharpshooter mythos. But also Briganti reflects that he’s been able to get a handle on his wife’s murder, given that she was in her early 30s when she was killed and had been married, “borne a son,” etc. An abruptly-ended life to be sure, but at least a mostly full life. The same could not be said for Brigainti’s son. And for this reason, we learn, Briganti is often so “tortured” by memories of his son that he has to drink himself to slumber.

This is heavy stuff, and wisely was cut from the series when Briganti became Magellan (and occasionally “Johnny Rock”). In those grungier Belmont and Leisure books Magellan/Rock was more of a human killing machine, impersonal as a robot – something else McCurtin dwells on here, seemingly paving the way for the work of Russell Smith, who delivered a completely psychotic Magellan. Boston Bust-Out occasionally dwells on Briganti’s lack of emotions, how in the past year since his family was murdered he himself has killed so many mobsters he no longer keeps count, how he can so easily go into a killing frenzy with no emotional fallout afterward. He even bluntly – and truthfully – tells a beautiful young “Mafia whore” that he’ll kill her in cold blood and sleep soundly that night.

Another reason these morbid musings were likely cut was because Dell required a bigger word count, or so I’m suspecting; as with the previous two volumes, Boston Bust-Out comes in at an unwieldy 192 pages, compared to the shorter BT and Leisure publications (which had bigger print as well). But despite the extra emotional baggage, this final installment really does come off more like one of those Marksman books, as there’s no concern with realism and Briganti is occasionally so unhinged in his quest to quash “Mafia pigs” that he might as well just be referred to as “Magellan” in the text. He even takes the opportunity to tie up and drug that “Mafia whore,” just like Magellan does in so many of the Russell Smith Marksman novels.

Okay, time to rein in the review a little. We meet Briganti with no pickup from the previous volume; he’s just barrelling through Boston when some state cops come after him. Briganti reflects that he’s yet to kill a cop but likely will if he’s pushed to it. Regardless he avoids them, ditches his car (and his arsenal), and catches a bus to Maine. He spends a few months on the farm of old Lem Perkins as a hired hand. Lem’s an even better shot than Briganti and shows him a thing or two. Then one day while shooting at squirrels Lem himself is blown away – by a pair of Mafia snipers who have somehow trailed Briganti up here. Our hero dispatches them quickly, then vows to return to Boston to wipe out the only person who could’ve sent the killers: Don Franco Toriello. 

So begins Briganti’s war of attrition. One thing I found interesting is this time Briganti has to rebuild his arsenal, which comes pretty easily – he just kills a few mobsters and picks up their dropped guns. His main weapons this time are a pair of Magnum revolvers, a .44 and a .357. He also gets a machine pistol of German manufacture (don’t believe the model is specified). McCurtin is more liberal with the gore than I recall previous volumes being; we get copious detail of bullet-riddled bodies leaking blood, guts, and brains. And Briganti’s pure hardcore this time around; he hates “Mafia pigs” with such vehemence that he’s almost granted superpowers; during a hit on a Toriello whorehouse Briganti gets so pissed when two torpedos blow away an innocent girl that Briganti steps out of cover and calmly walks forward, guns raised – and neither mobster is able to hit him, their aim apparently thrown off by his heavy vibes.

Briganti’s here at the whorehouse thanks to a tip from lovely “Mafia whore” Louisa Fioretti, a redheaded beauty who is Toriello’s kept woman. She comes into the text via an assault Briganti stages on an apartment complex in a running battle that’s very well done, complete with Briganti swinging Tarzan style between buildings on a television antenna cord. Louisa is perhaps the most memorable character here, a cool beauty who trades banter with Briganti despite the corpses strewn about the place. But I’d advise against getting a copy of this book for your feminist pals, because Louisa is raked over the coals, and in a major way.

First Briganti casually tells her he’ll kill her without a second thought, all while calling her a whore and whatnot. Then he ends up giving in to her wiles, screwing her in somewhat-explicit fashion. After this he drugs her to sleep, ties her up, and later squeezes her and hits her when she won’t give him the info he wants. He even threatens to throw scalding coffee in her face, which he says will permanently disfigure her beauty. Then he lets her escape, intending to use her to set up some in-fighting in Toriello’s camp. When she reunites with Toriello things get even more extreme. The mob boss is certain she “fucked Briganti,” that she wasn’t even raped by him but wanted it. Toriello strips her and starts slapping her around in front of his underlings, all while she keeps pleading that she loves him. Then Toriello blows her away with a .38 before revealing to a stooge that he too loved her!

This and the material about Briganti’s murdered family is really the only stuff that sets Boston Bust-Out apart from the average Marksman installment, in that this material has an extra dimension of depth. In particular when Briganti, hiding out, goes to a John Wayne movie and reflects how his son was such a fan of John Wayne. McCurtin drops some unexpected emotion into this scene and it’s very refreshing after the various brutalisms Briganti has perpetrated in the previous pages, like his merciless setup of Louisa. Here we are reminded that the people he’s up against actually murder children and thus do not deserve any mercy, even the “otherwise innocent” women who sleep with the murderous scumbags.

And as mentioned the finale is fitting because it points the way to the ensuing Marksman novels, if for no other reason than, for one, the term “marksman” is actually employed, but also more importantly because Briganti goes to elaborate lengths to plot out sniper trajectories. Even down to doing math equations in the mud with his finger; he lures Toriello and a few others into the mountains of Maine, painstakingly ensuring he’ll be able to shoot accurately with his rifle. This part though goes on a little too long, with Briganti climbing the mountain, the others struggling to follow, and Briganti picking them off one by one.

And that’s it for The Assassin, so far as the original series goes, but as mentioned (way too many times now) this volume, with its focus on violence, sadism, and cold-blooded brutality, already has more in common with Briganti’s further adventures over at Belmont-Tower.

1 comment:

Johny Malone said...

Assassin on the cover has a certain resemblance to George Lazenby.