The publishing industry for men's action-adventure paperbacks in the 1970s was a fertile ground to create house names, marketable characters and engaging series titles in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Marketing these books became a cash grab for whomever depicted the best guns and chests on the cover. That wild west mentality created one universal problem for publishers – time. As the production schedule moved at light speed, deadlines and quality became real antagonists. Nothing exemplifies that problem more than Belmont Tower's 1970s series trio 'The Assassin', 'The Sharpshooter' and 'The Marksman'.
Ignoring some very positive reviews from other critics, I've managed to avoid these three titles for a very specific reason. Literary critic and scribe Lynn Munroe outlines the entire history of these three titles HERE and explains that these books weren't published in the correct sequence. Shockingly, some of the books weren't even published under the correct series name. You may find
“The Sharpshooter Johnny Rock” starring as “The Marksman” or vice versa. You'll conjure up a headache of epic proportions by simply attempting to make sense of it all.
In order to provide insightful commentary here at Paperback Warrior, I've decided to read these books and offer individual reviews solely on the book itself. I may loosely mention continuity, but my main emphasis is story content (as it should be). My first endeavor is the 'Sharpshooter' debut novel “The Killing Machine”, authored by Peter McCurtin ('Soldier of Fortune', 'Sundance') and published by Belmont Tower in 1973.
The novel explains that the owners of Rocetti Designs were killed by a grenade after refusing to cooperate with the mob. In the book's prologue, their son Johnny, now heir to the company, miraculously survives a drive-by shooting that kills Johnny's brother and sister-in-law. In a thirst for vengeance, Johnny Rocetti is now “The Sharpshooter” known as Johnny Rock. By procuring enough wealth from the family business, Johnny now vows to hunt and kill the mobsters that murdered his family.
By 1973, every author and publisher wanted to recreate the success of Don Pendleton's 'The Executioner'. Essentially, “The Killing Machine” is a Mack Bolan clone - but an enjoyable one. Johnny's marksman ability in Vietnam is utilized to crush a northeastern Mob family. Like Pendleton's strategy with Mack Bolan, McCurtin has Johnny pitting two rival factions against each other. With the two warring families consistently mired in chaos and paranoia, Johnny's guerrilla snipe and run tactic is successful. Assisting Johnny is the voluptuous Iris, a widow in black who is wielding her own revenge against the mob.
While certainly not original or particularly clever, McCurtin's writing is an enjoyable, fast-paced blend of violence, mob politics and sexual foreplay. The heated chemistry between Iris and Johnny was a welcome addition, and I particularly enjoyed the rural landscape of Vermont as a unique backdrop for a mob-vigilante story. Overall, those of you who loved the pre-Gold Eagle era of Mack Bolan should find plenty to enjoy with “The Killing Machine”.
Buy a copy of this book HERE