Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sharpshooter Part Three!!!

Welcome to the third in a series of four articles exploring the sick and twisted world of Johnny Rock, the Sharpshooter! If you missed Peter's second installment of The Sharpshooter, you can read it here.

#8: No Quarter Given (July 1974)

Heading into Virginia, Rock finds corruption in the Navy spearheaded by, you guessed it, the Mafia. Drugs, booze, and other bounty heading into the local piers are given free passage thanks to the steel grip of one Joey “Niente” Barbagallo. Niente has something on several of the ranking officers (usually photos of the men in compromising positions) and their accountants. Enter the beautiful teenaged Mimi Nieholtz, a stripper forced into prostitution by Barbagallo. Mimi’s father sits rotting in prison, a victim of a set-up perpetrated by Barbagallo, and Mimi finds a sympathetic ear in the volcanic Johnny Rock. Together, the two mow down thousands in their search for truth, justice and outstanding porno clubs.

The worst of the early Sharps, No Quarter is devoid of any style, good writing (it’s our nameless “Magellan” author again), or an original plot. Rock’s adventure this time out is a patchwork of his earlier exploits. The only wrinkle added is that not only is Rock a cold-blooded, mass-murderer, he’s also into jailbait with several sex scenes with little Mimi as evidence.

GRADE: F


#9: Stiletto (August 1974)

As I was reading Stiletto, the ninth jaw-dropping chapter of Johnny Rock’s descent into genocide, the Leisure formula finally became crystal clear to me (bear with me, I’m slow sometimes). It’s obvious now that what the publisher was doing was farming these books out to several writers (perhaps three) at a time and publishing the damn things as they got them, with no thought to continuity.

This would explain why Mimi, the “one person in the world that Rock truly loved” from No Quarter Given, is nowhere to be found and instead we welcome back the long lost Iris Toscano (introduced way back in the Rock’s premiere). The mercurial Mimi probably wouldn’t be that happy if she overheard Rock say to Iris: “Nothing is going to get in the way of the thing we two have for each other.”

As for the plot this time: Johnny decides to take on two mighty tasks: destroy the one million gallons of illegal gasoline stashed on Tony Famollini’s farm and break up the distribution of machine guns by a rival Don across town. Rock’s got his hands full, so he visits his Uncle Vito to convince the older man that a life of murder and mayhem is much better than the humdrum of a happy marriage, job and household. Uncle Vito initially resists, but by the end of the cheery conversation, Vito’s wife has been shot dead by Mafia scum on the hunt for Johnny Rock. Uncle has a change of heart and joins the team.
Unfortunately, for Iris, the trio soon becomes a duo:
Iris screamed but her screams were cut short by several well placed rounds. One eyeball popped out with the pressure of tunneling bullets. Blood spurted from her mouth. Several teeth flew from the cavern her mouth had become, followed by chips of naked bone. One slug tore off her right ear and spattered her dark hair with bright blood. More blood gushed from her nostrils, ears, and eyes. She fell forward, struck the back of the front seat and slipped to the floor.
Vito and Rock escape the ambush that kills Iris, but Johnny misses Iris so much that he wonders if it’s all worth it:
“…it saddens me to think that the last time I was here, Iris was with me. And now I’m here alone. It feels strange."
“Cheer up. I know it’ll be hard at first…You were there and saw her die in a most horrible way…At first you’ll suffer. Then one day you’ll sit up and see the sun and say, hey, it’s a beautiful day. That’s the way it should be. You’re young. This is your time. Enjoy it to the full!”
With Stiletto, Dr Phil has once more been reinstated as Leisure’s Moral Compass. We read heartfelt emotion like the above or the passage in which Rock convinces Vito they should not kill a wounded Mafioso because it wouldn’t be morally right (but butchering unarmed hookers somehow makes the grade). To his credit, Vito looks sideways at Rock and, speaking for the reader, gives him a “What the Fuck?”

Stilleto has some of the earliest product placement I’ve encountered. Johnny doesn’t just smoke cigarettes, he smokes Kent 100s (whose company just happens to advertise in the Leisure men’s adventure books) In fact, the single most enjoyable paragraph in a sea of crap is when, returning from mowing down hundreds of Mafia pigs, Rock unwinds in his hotel room, not with Scotch, not with a beer, but with “a glass of chilled Boone’s Farm Apple Wine.”

To take one more swing at this dog, it’s way too long (about 50 pages more than the usual Sharpshooter), but that may be due to all the flashbacks. Well, you say, that’s for the readers just tuning into the Rock’s big blow. No, these flashbacks happen throughout the book and refer to incidents within the same novel (Vito pauses, during a fight involving cannons, to remind Rock, in minute detail, about an incident that happened fifty pages before). Maybe Leisure suddenly started paying by the word?

GRADE: D


#10: Hit Man (November 1974)

The Rock gets back from a well-deserved vacation to find a month-old letter waiting for him. The letter is from Mike Reid, an old buddy who’d saved Rocetti’s life back in his Green Beret days, now a successful businessman under pressure from the Mob. Having read of Johnny’s exploits in a true crime magazine, he begs John to come to Los Angeles to help. When John gets there, Reid tells him that it was all a mistake and that he had jumped the gun writing to him. John smells a rat and investigates, discovering that Reid’s wife Ginny and daughter Nancy have been kidnapped by one of the two local dons in an attempt to force the man to sign over his laundering business to the Mob.

The two men plan to rescue the girls family by playing the two rival syndicates against each other. While Rock is making his daring rescue attempt, Reid is kidnapped and tortured until he gives up the plan. Rock makes good his rescue and getaway but, after dropping the girls off at the airport, is unprepared for a big surprise. Turns out Ginny is just as bloodthirsty and maniacal as Rock and wants in on any revenge Johnny has planned.

Perhaps forgetting his previous adventures, Rock informs Ginny that “this will be the first time I have ever used somebody else in a raid,” and trains the woman in the use of several weapons not commonly found in the kitchen. The raid goes off without a hitch and several dozen more Mob employees are laid to waste. Ginny discovers (after killing twenty of the bad guys) that murder ain’t her bag and heads back to motherhood, leaving Rock to ponder “which town next?”

Not a lot of excitement here (but at least it’s a nice compacted bore at 156 pages) and, again, the continuity between novels is non-existent (Uncle Vito is nowhere to be seen), but there is that dialogue:
(While Rock is arming Ginny to the gills just before they hit the Mafia compound)
“Jesus,” she whispered, “I feel like a Christmas tree.” “Shut up,” he explained.
GRADE: C-


#11: Triggerman (January 1975)

After two years in the can, Mafia Don Ricardo Tattilo is released, swearing death to Johnny Rock. Coincidentally, the Rock (aka, according to this version of "Bruno Rossi,” Magellan and Philip Rock), tired of Mafia Dons being released early for good behavior, is waiting for Tattilo. Rock sets up shop in a hotel located right behind Tattilo’s den of iniquity, an old Quaker’s building where the Don can manage his drug and prostitution business. In an amusing subplot, Johnny Rock discovers a treehouse located between his hotel and the Quaker building. Rock makes the fort his dumping ground for dead mafia goons. Author Rossi literally spends chapters describing how Johnny can shimmy down the rope, blow off a henchman’s face with his Beretta, carry the corpse back up the tree, and stack him with his fellow thugs like cords of wood.
Triggerman isn’t the worst written of the Rock sagas, but it is the most boring. What’s more, the cover copy promises: “The mob’s top killer thought he could handle Johnny Rock.” Sounds like a different book than the one I read.

Want great writing? How about these examples:
Almost daily these Mafia leeches’ names could be found in the newspapers, in magazine accounts of their notoriety that almost amounted to hero worship by the countless thousands of readers who fed hungrily on tidbits of information unearthed by police reporters and assignment writers who diligently followed the pursuits of the Cosa Nostra. He returned from the refrigerator with a cold beer. He sat at a small table that faced the two windows overlooking the street. He removed his 9mm Beretta Parabellum from its holster under his left armpit. He placed the gun on the table. He stared at it a long, long time as he sipped from the can.
And my personal favorite, a new description of what a firearm sounds like:
He emptied all eight shots in the Beretta’s magazine into the three bodies, the eight successive “whoofs” of the Luger-type automatic sounding like one long fart!
GRADE: F


The Sharpshooter will return...

1 comment:

Bill Crider said...

I'm reading THE LAST BUFFON by Len Levinson. It's narrated by a writer who's turning out a series called "The Triggerman," and the excerpts sound exactly like they came from these novels. Levinson is credited by Pat Hawk with being Bruno Rossi for at least three of the books.