The Marksman #13: Kiss of Death, by Frank Scarpetta
September, 1974 Belmont Tower
Philip “The Marksman” Magellan returns in another wild and wacky installment courtesy Russell Smith – and one that actually appears to pick up from a previous Smith entry, indeed the volume published directly before this one, #12: Mafia Massacre. This is a rare occurrence indeed, and the first time in a long while that a Smith manuscript has been published in order.
As we’ll recall, Mafia Massacre featured Magellan in Miami, where he was taking out some local Mafia scum. Kiss Of Death doesn’t pick up on any of the dangling cliffhangers from that book, but it does open with Magellan on an airplane – flying out of Miami. It’s a meager thread for sure, but we’ll take what we can get…I’ve said it before, but piecing together Russell Smith’s ongoing Marksman narrative from the jumble McCurtin made of it is almost like seeking out the Q Document in the Synoptic Gospels. Only with more sex and sadism!!
Lynn Munroe has this one as by McCurtin’s fix-it editor George Harmon Smith, mostly because Smith’s family recalled seeing this title in his collection, but I think if anything Harmon Smith only performed a few embellishments here and there – if that. For this is pure, unadulterated Russell Smith, written in the crazed style so familiar from Blood Bath and Vendetta, with short sentences of mundane description followed by wild violence and tons of exclamation points. There’s a single part midway through where Magellan briefly ponders his existence, and this brief part may have been the work of Harmon Smith. But even this could’ve been written by Russell Smith. At any rate Kiss Of Death features the Russell Smith version of Magellan we all know and love, taking people captive for no reason, murdering mobsters in cold blood, and arranging their corpses in garish displays.
It also features Smith’s casual flair for coincidental plotting, as the novel opens with Magellan just happening to be on the same flight as Joseph Fatima, Salvatore Curci, and Benito Fiori; “Joe Fat” has just gotten the other two men released from a notoriously-harsh prison in Rome, and they all are now on their way to Alberquerque via Miami (?!). Their weird intercontinental route took them through Miami, you see, which is where Magellan boarded the plane…and coincidence be damned again, he just happens to get a seat behind them. Thus he overhears their conversation and realizes these three are no doubt Mafia. Even readers willing to completely suspend disbelief will be muttering “yeah, right” at this.
But Smith only gets more brazen. Magellan’s going to Alberquerque to hang out with an old ‘Nam pal, A.P. “Apple” Locker, apparently a commanding officer of Magellan’s and a fellow Green Beret (even though Smith states that both of them were in the Marines…). And guess why Joe Fat got Curci and Fiori out of that notorious Rome prison? That’s right – to help him take over A.P. Locker’s ranch and various business interests!! Well anyway, this is a Marksman novel, after all, so it isn’t like we should expect careful plotting. Smith doubtless banged this one out in record time, following the same template as all the other volumes he’s written.
For, right on cue, Magellan hooks up with a pretty waitress, same as he’s casually and easily picked up other waitresses who became unwitting or witting accomplices of his in earlier Smith books. This one’s named Peggy “Tootsweet,” and she’s a hotstuff Eurasian babe (Canadian French and Chinese) who seems to like Magellan just fine – while meanwhile Magellan is busy checking out Joe Fat and his two Italian pals, who are dining at a nearby table. Tootsweet being Eurasian is another recurring bit of Smith’s; he must’ve been obsessed with them, as Montego, no doubt written around this time, even featured two of them. But Tootsweet, whether she likes it or not, becomes Magellan’s latest comrade, bringing Magellan info on what the three men are doing and telling him all she knows about Joe Fat, who lives nearby and is a known businessman in the area.
Apple Locker is a big dude who lives on a rolling ranch with his teenaged wife, an American Indian beauty named Snowbird who likes to walk around half nude – another motif from Montego. What all A.P.’s business ventures exactly are Smith doesn’t really specify, but at any rate Joe Fat does want this ranch. In addition the mob boss does heroin business with another mobster who lives by, this one accompanied by a lovely Mexican gal who packs a pistol. All this is just page-filling, though. As usual Smith just likes to pile on a bunch of characters with various plots and counterplots and then ignores it all by having Magellan blithely go around killing everyone.
In another bit of brazen self-thievery, Smith rewrites the scene from #5: Headhunter, with Magellan again hiding in a hotel bathroom and killing the occupying mobsters one by one as they come in to use the john. Hell, Magellan even muses to himself that he’s done this before. And the mobsters are just as dumb as ever, cluelessly sending one guy after another to see what the hell’s taking whatsis name so long to piss, and then Magellan just casually blowing their heads off as they walk into the bathroom. Goofy stuff for sure. But again this sort of thing is what passes for action, for the most part; Magellan will gun down mobsters in cold blood and then move their bodies around for no reason other than his own insanity.
And there’s no sex this time around, Smith once again leading up to it but then changing his mind when it comes to the actual sleaze. Tootsweet is super-horny for Magellan, even going out with him to his car (which we’re constantly informed is a six-cylinder Volvo) to mess around, but Magellan as usual is all business, putting the shenanigans to a stop so he can send the girl off on some mission or other. But when Magellan later goes up to Tootsweet’s hotel room to cash in on that long-simmer offer for sex, he’s for once surprised – Tootsweet calls “Joe?” to Magellan’s knock on her door. Thus Magellan discovers that Tootsweet is in fact another employee of Joe Fat, and has been monitoring Magellan expressly at her boss’s wishes.
Smith actually fills the novel with attractive, eager women; in addition to Snowbird, Tootsweet, and the Mexican heroin-dealing babe, there’s also Dusty Cummings, a sixteen year-old hooker Joe Fat hires to seduce A.P. Locker in a subplot that goes absolutely nowhere. Smith introduces the young whore at great word expense and then just happens to have Magellan run into her…then ends the chapter there and only bothers to inform us later that Magellan talked to the young beauty, figured there was something odd about her, and then just basically left! And meanwhile Locker has bigger problems on his hands than jailbait (apparently he only prefers very young girls, or something…), as Joe Fat’s men have kidnapped Snowbird and also murdered the poor woman’s dad and brother, all of it occurring off page.
But you don’t read Russell Smith for tight plotting and character depth. It’s more for the bizarre sadism, as Magellan initiates one of his typically-brutal wars of aggression against Joe Fat’s men. Probably the highlight of his sadism this time around is when he shoots one guy in the groin and then pistol-whips him, and then later ties his corpse to the back of his Volvo and hauls it to Joe Fat’s place, where he leaves it at the door. But sadism as ever isn’t relegated just to the mobsters. Poor Snowbird suffers a horrific fate of her own, as off-page she’s raped by six men who take turns with her in the back of a freight truck or something…and yet when Magellan sees her later, Snowbird’s just hanging out with Joe Fat and crew and indeed even seems to be getting horny for Tootsweet! Again nothing much ever makes sense in the world of Russell Smith.
Smith even follows his normal template for the “climax,” conveniently holing up all the central characters in one location so Magellan can slaughter them. This takes place in a bar, in which Joe Fat has a secret room on the top floor. Here he, Tootsweet, Dusty Cummings, Snowbird, the sexy Mexican gal, and other assorted enforcers all hide away, while Magellan tries to figure out how to get to them. Smith develops an eleventh-hour subplot that Snowbird, who remember has been raped all night, is getting all horny for Tootsweet – and indeed we’re informed that the two actually had some hot lesbian sex (between chapters!), with Joe Fat even joining them for a three-way! But again, all this occurs off-page. In fact the last we see of Joe Fat, he’s all relaxed and happy because he’s had sex with all the gals, up here in his little hideaway above the bar.
Meanwhile Magellan just sneaks around, once again in his “hippie disguise” (another Smith staple). He guns down various cronies who are dumb enough to leave the hideaway, and finally Magellan is able to get up there – the final image of Kiss Of Death is Magellan standing over a sleeping Joe Fat, about to blow his head off. And once again Smith ends the novel right there, no resolution on the subplot about Tootsweet’s treachery, or the whole deal with Dusty Cummings, or even any kind of reunion for Snowbird and Apple Locker.
It’s all just lifeless and perfunctory, poorly plotted and conceived, yet with that lovably bizarre quality so inherent in Smith’s work…reading his books is like staring at a car wreck. You know you shouldn’t look but you can’t help yourself.