Saturday, September 18, 2010

SHARPSHOOTER! Part 1

It took me two years but I finally made it back to the wonderland known as Men's Adventure. Back in the mid-70s, the paperback racks (an alien concept now, but paperbacks used to be stuffed in a spinning rack for the brave to sift through) were packed with such series titles as Death Merchant, Soldano, The Lone Wolf, The Hunter, The Penetrator, The Revenger, as well as the two titans The Destroyer and The Executioner. I'll be getting to several of these eventually but for now let's get to SHARPSHOOTER!!!

#1: The Killing Machine (August 1973)

When his entire family is murdered by the Mafia, millionaire John Rocetti becomes the one-man killing machine known as Johnny Rock. Armed with state-of-the-art weaponry, Rock drives a wedge between two Mob families, systematically eliminating key figures in each gang. Along the way, he meets up with Iris Toscano, widow of former mob figure Dominick Toscano, who desires to mete out the same justice on the scum who took her husband’s life. The two vigilantes manage to rack up an impressive number of Italian corpses on their way to the big finale, a showdown with the biggest Dons in the syndicate.

Granted, The Killing Machine is not the most original of concepts, but it never gets boring and chugs right along to its anti-climax (we’re promised by Iris and Johnny that their work can never be truly finished as long as there remains Italo-scum in the free world). Leisure Books, to my knowledge, never adapted to the 20th Century oddity known as proofreading and The Killing Machine is no exception. Commas are dropped into sentences randomly and rapidly. The Killing Machine is rough, but it gets the job done.

GRADE: B-


#2: Blood Oath (October 1973)

With the second book in the series, Rossi dispatches with such niceties as mercy and fair play (becoming the antithesis of my favorite bad/good guy, Richard Stark’s Parker, who mellowed with each new novel). Moving far beyond the “this tough guy takes no shit from the bad guys” mentality to another level I’d call “this tough guy takes NUTTIN from NOBODY,” John (The Rock) Rocetti continues his all-out war on the Mafia. Without a doubt, the change in Rock’s demeanor has a lot to do with his chronicler, not the same ghost writer responsible for writing #1: The Killing Machine who, evidently, wasn’t too impressed with his predecessor’s hanging plotlines. It would appear that this writer was juggling a few too many series characters at the time as, several times throughout the novel, Rocetti is re-named Magellan, which just happens to be the aka of another of Leisure’s Mafia Vigilante characters, The Marksman (stop me if you’re heard this one before: When his entire family is murdered by the Mafia, Philip Magellan becomes the one-man killing machine known as The Marksman).

When Blood Oath opens (and it’s a very well-written opening chapter, by the way), Rock is hiding out in the small Eastern town of Xenia (Population, at least in Chapter One, is 309) after another mob massacre forces him to head for the hills. Obviously, his latest escapade was a doozie, as his picture is now in all the true-detective rags and everyone knows him as an avenger of the people. Iris Toscano is nowhere to be found, not even a hint of her whereabouts is dropped. In fact, the author doesn’t even get Rock’s real name right (re-christening him John Roccoletti!). The biggest drawback to Rock’s second low-budget adventure is its climax, or lack thereof, actually. Johnny Rock’s temper has been pushed way past its limits and early in the book we’re treated to an incredibly graphic scene where Johnny takes out two mafia henchmen who have done nothing more than talk nasty to an old lady and possibly run stolen goods. But that’s only a warm-up to the massive carnage wrought in the last few chapters. Not that I object. We could use a few Johnny Rocks here in Arizona, as a matter of fact.

GRADE: B


#3: Blood Bath (November 1973)

Johnny Rock’s newfound love of spattered blood and shattered bone escalates in his third adventure. Taking a page from the “shudder pulps,” Rock is kidnapping important figures in the Torielly family, including the Don’s daughter and chauffeur, chaining them naked to a stone wall and letting rats have at them. With Blood Bath, Rock officially has become more of a murderous menace than the mob he fights, executing simple bar bouncers with bad manners for the hell of it. Definitely too violent and homophobic for today’s PC crowd (in one scene, the owner of a gay bar is said to “cater exclusively to the interests of sexual deviates”). By the way, Rock resembles a crazed Rod Taylor in artist Ken Barr’s blood-filled cover painting (one mobster has been shot through the pearly whites and is geysering all over his beautiful tux).

GRADE: C+


#4: The Worst Way to Die (January 1974)

By its fourth volume a series that ranged from fairly enjoyable to downright hysterical becomes downright crud. This time Rock targets the Labrizi Brothers, two particularly despicable Dons who seemingly do nothing more than eat in expensive Italian restaurants. The new wrinkle added to Rock’s repertoire with this adventure is Johnny’s newfound love for donning make-up and disguises. After Rock is beaten and almost offed by a couple of thugs, he decides that maybe his mug has become too familiar (ostensibly forgetting that, back in Blood Oath, he had become the centerfold for vigilantes worldwide) and learns the art of prosthetics and greasepaint.

The “mafia mowdown scene” of this snoozer takes place, of course, in an Italian restaurant and I kinda hoped I’d see the Bruno Rossi version of Mrs. Doubtfire: While Johnny Rock surveys the Labrizis from a corner table, he is horrified to learn that his prosthetic nose has slid into his linguine and clam sauce. By the climax of The Worst Way to Die, the reader will become convinced that Johnny Rock, The Sharpshooter, has finally plummeted from his steep precipice of sanity when he murders the father, mother, and one of the younger brothers of the Labrizis in cold blood. It’s a chilling scene, two pages that pack more punch than the 170 that precede them.

GRADE: D

6 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Those name mix-ups were apparently a feature of the BT line. They happened in a couple of their tough-cop series written by Nelson DeMille, too.

Holger Haase said...

Following your reviews I decided to start reading the handful of Sharpshooter novels I have in my collection and just finished #1. So from what I have heard Iris will not be making a lot of impact in subsequent parts? Really weird. I am also intrigued about the use of the nickname "Executioner" throughout this book as opposed to "The Sharpshooter".

Peter Enfantino said...

Holger-
It's wise not to expect anything form this series and then you may be pleasantly surprised. There are so many inconsistencies running throughout the series due, I'm sure, to the multiple writers. In one book, Rock claims his undying love ot one woman and the next book he's already in love with another. That's life in the Leisure Universe, I'm afraid!

thesilencer1969 said...

My favorite Leisure Book series is the Cherry Delight Books!! Are you familiar with those??

Peter Enfantino said...

I am familiar with Cherry Delight! I've got a few of them around here somewhere but I've never cracked them open. Tell me a little about the series.

By the way, I finally got around to finishing this Sharpshooter series overview and placed it with the British fanzine, Men of Violence #7, which is a must for any men's adventure collector. You can order copies here:
http://www.thepaperbackfanatic.com/index.htm

Thanks for reading!

thesilencer1969 said...

Cherry Delight is a voluptuous redhead who works for an anti - Mafia organization known as " Nympho . " It is like many of the Mack Bolan , The Butcher , and / or the Penetrator books . Only there is a sexual element like there is in The Lady From List , The Baroness, and / or the Coxeman books . There are twenty - four books in the first series . Then, they put out another five books starring the character . This time , Cherry investigated more Horror/ Sci - Fi series .I recommend the series .