THE ASSASSIN / THE MARKSMAN / THE SHARPSHOOTER

After emulating bestselling novels like THE GODFATHER and PAPILLON, Shorten and McCurtin's next project capitalized on the success of a bestselling series called THE EXECUTIONER by Don Pendleton. The concept was simple: one vengeful man with sharpshooting skills sets out to destroy as many members of the Mafia as he can. With his much-copied character The Executioner, Pendleton proved there was a market for mayhem. There were several Executioner clones, but McCurtin's was the most fun.

McCurtin edited the series and wrote the first book, MANHATTAN MASSACRE, as a template. It appears he brought in his ghost writer George Harmon Smith to write the second book, NEW ORLEANS HOLOCAUST. The old cliché says “write what you know” and McCurtin's first book and his third, BOSTON BUST-OUT, are set in neighborhoods he knew well. The second book is set down in George Harmon Smith country, Louisiana.

For reasons now lost to us, Belmont Tower employee McCurtin then sold this series to Dell, another publisher.  Somebody, and we have to figure it must have been publisher Harry Shorten, objected, and from the fourth book on Belmont Tower is the publisher. Since Dell now had the series title The Assassin and the character Robert Briganti, these names were changed for the BT editions. The Marksman is Philip Magellan, and anyone who has read the books can tell you: Robert Briganti and Philip Magellan are exactly 100% the same person in every single biographical respect except name. Briganti's wife and son were murdered by the Mafia, so were Magellan's. Both men were carnival sharpshooters who had worked for a weapons manufacturer. They are clearly the same person. So The Marksman #1 is actually the fourth book in the overall saga, and when you read it you notice there is not a word of introduction to the character. His wife and son have already been killed and he is already killing Mafioso in revenge as soon Marksman #1 begins. That's because the first chapter has already been told in MANHATTAN MASSACRE.

I wish Shorten and McCurtin were around to tell us how the first three books wound up published by Dell instead. Due to the varied turnaround periods from submission to publication, the first Marksman books actually have earlier publication dates than the three Dell editions that were written before them – Belmont Tower was much faster to publish than Dell. This is only the first in a long list of mysteries, crossovers and surprises anyone attempting to read the whole series encounters. Since we now have the hindsight of forty years' time, I can step back and attempt to make sense of these books in two ways; first in the order they were published. The other way to read them is in the order they were written and seem to take place. I recommend the second list for any novice readers. Because if you decide to read the Marksman books in order and start with #1, you are reading the fourth chapter of the story. The three later-dated Assassin books from Dell are where this story really starts.

The first two Marksman books from BT appeared under the same byline as the three Assassin books: Peter McCurtin. Then somebody, whether Shorten or McCurtin is now unknown, decided that what this series about one tough Italian-American killing a whole lot of other Italian-Americans needed was a tough Italian-sounding byline on the books. And so the fictitious house name Frank Scarpetta was invented. Around the time The Marksman #4 was being published, Shorten and McCurtin decided to clone the series for their other publishing line, Leisure Books. (They had done this several times before with other successful series. One example is Tower's THE LADY FROM LUST, which was copied as Leisure's THE SEXECUTIONER: CHERRY DELIGHT series.)

The Sharpshooter series from Leisure appeared under the house name Bruno Rossi. Only an Italiano like Mr. Rossi could do this story justice. The Sharpshooter is Johnny Rock (nee Rocetti). Like Briganti/Magellan, Rock and Magellan are the same guy, except Magellan's wife and son have been killed by the Mafia, while Rock's whole family – his mother and father, brother and sister and sister-in-law – have all been massacred. Otherwise Rock and Magellan were almost totally interchangeable (another difference is Magellan has few friends and Rock is constantly calling on old family friends and relatives for huge favors).  McCurtin, as editor of both series, was free to place the books where he wished. So a writer would create a Marksman book and submit it and when it was published it would come out as a Sharpshooter book, with Magellan's name changed to Rock. Since the two characters were basically the same guy, this almost worked. There were a couple problems with this plan. The editors were not using very good proofreaders, and Rock gets called Magellan a lot in the books. And one of the ghost writers was writing his books as a continuing serial, which the editor then completely screwed up by publishing out of order. And that's why – as we will detail here – The Sharpshooter #2 is not a sequel to #1 as you might reasonably expect. It was supposed to be The Marksman!  

The Marksman / Sharpshooter books are of a bygone era. They are wild and bloody action adventures, not for the pacifist, not for the feminist, not for the pure of heart. The books are a blast and you are welcome to read them in any order you wish. They just don't make much logical sense when read in numerical order.

Usually when you read a book with one author's name on the cover, you are reading the work of one writer. That's not always the case with The Marksman / Sharpshooter books. Some of them read as if they were written by two people, a couple seem to have three or more hands in the mix. Sometimes McCurtin would get a manuscript, often by a novice, and have a different person rewrite it or expand it. We know George Harmon Smith was one of the writers used as the rewrite man. We may never know all of the authors behind these pen names, but thanks to copyright records and a couple author interviews, we know many of them. We know that the following authors contributed to the series: Peter McCurtin, George Harmon Smith, Russell Smith, Paul Hofrichter, Leonard Levinson, John Stevenson, Dan Reardon, Michael Harris, J.W. O'Dell, Steve Sherman and Aaron Fletcher. Fletcher seems to be another real person who may have become a house name.

No matter who is writing, all of the books rely on an unbelievable series of unending coincidences. One man (not a superhero) comes to town, checks into a hotel, dines at restaurants, travels about freely killing dozens of Mafioso. The entire Mafia organization is out looking just for this one man, but he kills all of them every time and is rarely wounded. The only way this would make any sense would be if he was invisible. Instead he relies on a series of clever disguises. In the unintentionally hilarious DEATH TO THE MAFIA, set in Los Angeles, he disguises himself in Watts as an African-American with only a wig and some spray paint. And somehow this completely fools everyone he meets, even the street-smart waitress at the local diner. It must have been one fantastic disguise.

Any series character can change a little in different writer's hands, but Magellan and Rock change drastically. And when the editor changes a Marksman book to a Sharpshooter book, the changes become painfully obvious. Johnny Rock is vengeful but sane in Sharpshooter #1, suddenly in #2 and #3 he is as psychotic as Magellan, the Marksman. That's because he is the Marksman in the author's mind. Then, in book 4, calm sane methodical Johnny is suddenly back. How could Rock be so much like Magellan? More than one blogger has suggested that the only possible way the books make sense is if Rock and Magellan are really both the same clever guy.

For first time readers though, the sudden shifts can be confusing. Nowhere is it more noticeable than in SLAUGHTERHOUSE, the seventh book in the Marksman series. In an experiment that fails, two authors with widely differing styles traded chapters back and forth. The result is schizophrenic. Magellan comes off as two different men in the same book. Author #1 wrote the first chapter in a maniacal, bloody style, lovingly detailing all the damage done to the Mafia thugs. He is vulgar and crass and his Magellan never wastes a word. Author #2 arrives in Chapter Two with a Magellan who talks all the time (once too much), is very pensive and methodical when alone. This author does not care about ballistics or meticulously describing what damage has been done to the bodies of the victims. His fight scenes are orderly with no swearing.  On page 91, author #1 stops the story to spend most of an entire page gruesomely detailing how a character drowns in her own blood after being shot in the lungs. It's just too graphic, besides being completely gratuitous and massively unimportant. The fast-moving story suddenly screeches to a halt.  Author #2 describes a similar shootout in Chapter Four, but calmly, with no gore. Can't be the same writer.

The two writers normally trade chapters, but they crash into each other in the middle of Chapter Eight on p. 118.  Author #1 writes “They parked a block away from the Morelli building. “ Then Author #2 takes over, and they are suddenly back in the car looking for a parking place: “The drive passed in silence… It took nearly forty minutes before they were finally parked.” This is just terrible editing. I know Author #2 has taken control because the rest of Chapter Eight is a shootout with no gore. Author #1 is back in Chapter Nine, author #2 does Chapter Ten and Eleven. Author #1 returns with sickening graphic overkill in Chapter Twelve: “The back of Lupi Morelli's head seemed to pop like a ripe melon. Grey hair vanished. Pieces of skin, hair and bone flew out in all directions. … Brains, gray, green and greasy slithered, slid and oozed down from the huge cavity, slopping down over his neck.” This is how Author #2 described a similar moment on p. 126: “The thug slammed face first into the floor. Magellan could see blood begin to form two pools around him.”  The difference is like night and day. I think Author #2's description is sufficient, but Author #1 really wants us to ride along as the bullet hits the bone.

Author #1's style matches other books copyrighted by Russell Smith. Author #2 is unidentified. George Harmon Smith said he wrote as Scarpetta. There is not one single Scarpetta copyrighted by George Harmon Smith. He was McCurtin's silent ghost, and he is a strong candidate for Author #2 of SLAUGHTERHOUSE.

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Italian Marksman (VENDETTA and DEATH HUNT). Apparently they called him Philip Colombo in Italy. I guess they knew Magellan was Portuguese, while Columbus was a true Italiano.

 

The Writers

GEORGE HARMON SMITH

A lifelong professional author with countless books under his own name and others, George Harmon Smith was born in Spearsville Louisiana in 1920. George lived in Arkansas and Louisiana and those locales show up in many of his books. He was a principal, a guidance counselor and coach who also served as the Mayor of both Marion LA and Junction City AR. He died in Marion in 2004.

The first challenge we encounter when studying his work is that too-common name. He used George H. Smith as his byline. The problem is there were three or four other writers working at the same time all using that same name. Worst of all, one of the others, George Henry Smith, wrote the same kinds of paperback originals. This led to unending confusion between the two. Many paperback scholars have mixed them up, and I'm one of them. It helps that they usually wrote for different publishers, but I can show you 1969 Midwoods by each one of them, and we have now confirmed they were both writing for Brandon House in the mid-60s.  I talked to George Henry Smith at the Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Book Show once, and he told me one way to tell them apart: “The other George H. Smith, George Harmon Smith, wrote swamp stories. If you get one set down south, that's not me.” 

George Harmon Smith wrote paperbacks and hardcovers, both young adult (his BAYOU BOY was filmed for Walt Disney's television program), and sexy paperbacks for adult audiences.  His family tells a story that he received an emergency request from his editor one Friday to meet an immediate deadline. He wrote all weekend and the manuscript was at the delivery service Monday morning.

George's name never appears on any Marksman copyright records, but he told both interviewers and his family that one of his pseudonyms was Frank Scarpetta.  In 1993, James A. Corrick's “The Paperbacks of George Harmon Smith” appeared in Gary Lovisi's PAPERBACK PARADE #36. This issue included a welcome attempt to differentiate between George Henry Smith and George Harmon Smith. From Corrick's list, “The Paperbacks of George Harmon Smith:

“As Peter McCurtin, titles unknown: House pseudonym used on a number of adventure and Western series by Belmont-Tower, Dell and Leisure, also at least one adult novel, SEX SERVICE, Midwood #35-214…

As Frank Scarpetta, titles unknown: House pseudonym used by Belmont-Tower for the Marksman series, some of which were written by Aaron Fletcher…”

I suspect that my generation's belief that Peter McCurtin was just a house name like Frank Scarpetta originated right there. The mention of Dell verifies that George wrote at least one of The Assassin titles. Certainly George had to know which titles were his. Maybe he entered into a non-disclosure agreement with his editor Peter McCurtin.  For CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS, George identified himself as “Author of about fifty adult adventure and suspense novels, occasionally under pseudonyms Peter McCurtin and Frank Scarpetta, for Belmont-Tower and other publishers.” Since he wrote around thirty paperbacks in his own name, this leaves about twenty as McCurtin and Scarpetta. We will try to list those books on this checklist.

Several members of George Harmon Smith's family agreed to talk to me for this project, and their assistance was invaluable. Unfortunately, the Smith family copies of his Scarpetta and McCurtin books were lost in a fire some years ago. Everyone agreed the family member who is carrying on his story is his nephew, Sohn Enis. Sohn was kind enough to take the time to assist me with my research. He remembered his Uncle George told him that the publisher of the Frank Scarpetta books “loved the name because it seemed so tough and appropriate for crime/Mafia books”.

 George's nephew told me George had once said to him the reason he liked to write under house names like Frank Scarpetta was because he “did not want to be remembered as the author of ICEPICK IN THE SPINE.”

That's one of the reasons I believe George wrote that series entry, even though it is copyrighted Aaron Fletcher.  The other reason is it is written in his style.  After the publisher's interest in Scarpetta and the series seemed to wane, ICEPICK IN THE SPINE was reprinted by Leisure seven years later as ICEPICK by Aaron Fletcher. By then, Fletcher was a bestselling author of sprawling epics like OUTBACK. He appears to have been a real person (always the first question with books from this publisher), at least there is a photograph of him on the Fantastic Fiction website. But OUTBACK and ICEPICK are quite different, and I suspect that George Harmon Smith really wrote (or re-wrote and finished) ICEPICK. His statement to his nephew is a strong clue. At the end of the Marksman series at least four books came out as by Aaron Fletcher.  In a 1986 interview George said he had to learn about the Mafia and study Italian to write the Scarpetta books.  Perhaps when the series wound down they still had a couple Marksman manuscripts, either by George or Aaron Fletcher, on hand. Since Frank Scarpetta was no longer a best seller but Aaron Fletcher now was, they brought them out as by Aaron Fletcher.

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For many years, the pen name Jeremy August has been linked to George Henry Smith, the other George H. Smith.  But George Harmon Smith had the Jeremy August books on his library shelf alongside a Playtime called G-STRING GIRL, #760S. There is another Playtime with the same subject matter, STRIP ARTIST #681 that has been credited to George Henry Smith. So either two different people were writing books on the same subject and with the same name, or STRIP ARTIST has been incorrectly attributed to the wrong George H. Smith.  A similar stripper is one of the main characters in NIGHT SCHOOL, the Jeremy August Midwood.

NIGHT SCHOOL by Jeremy August, Midwood 33-786, 1967. Pseudonym of George Harmon Smith. As August he also wrote two for Brandon House (FOUR BED WILDCAT and NOVICE SEX QUEEN). Playtime 659 is BEDROOM PAYOFF (1964) by Jerry August. That seems a safe bet to be the same author, and it is - the family of George Harmon Smith has it in their collection.

George Harmon Smith's family divided up his library after his passing. His nephew now has his copies of the Jeremy August books.   

In 1960 two books were published with the same plot. George Harmon Smith was accused of plagiarizing Gil Brewer's BACKWOODS TEASER, (Gold Medal 950, Jan 1960) shown here, in his Novel Book BAYOU BABE. And he might have. My own theory is it was his publisher who was not averse to plagiarism. I suspect George thought he was fixing some novice's unworkable manuscript. He was asked to do that other times and he was good at it. Brewer's manuscript had been around for two years. In 1958 it was planned for a Midwood book called BACKWOODS BIKINI by Zack Holland. Paul Rader's notebooks show he painted a cover for it. Rader called it TILDY, the first

name of the Backwoods Teaser in the book. Why TILDY never got published is unknown, and Midwood used the Rader cover for a different 1958 book called CARLA by Lawrence Block. In January 1960, Gold Medal published Gil Brewer's book as BACKWOODS TEASER under the author's real byline, with cover art by Robert McGinnis.

George's version borrows the same plot, but it is more of a rewrite than a straight swipe. The setting is changed from the Florida backwoods to the Louisiana bayou. All the character's names are changed. For example, Tildy becomes Lea and Buck-Eye Crawford becomes Single-Eye McMath.  But a key character in BAYOU BABE never appears in BACKWOODS TEASER. And most of all, the two books have a different ending. Brewer's ending is a happy one that doesn't quite work. Without spoiling too much, suffice it to say it's like one of those “oh it was all just a dream” endings. George's ending is completely different. The logical conclusions follow events Brewer set in motion in the original, and murderers get arrested instead of the “What, that murder? Didn't actually happen” ending of BACKWOODS TEASER.

So, if you are just plagiarizing a book, why add a key character and write a better ending? If you have the talent to write and sell 100 books, why is only one a plagiarism? My contention is that straight-arrow Mayor & Principal Smith would never knowingly plagiarize another writer's work. But he would re-write another writer's manuscript if he believed he had the permission to do so. It was his publisher who would be sued in court for plagiarizing somebody else's books. The men who ran Novel Books were taken to court by Richard S. Prather for plagiarisms by Jerry Goff Jr. They lost that case.  I suspect they might have been the ones responsible for this case.

So sure, the record books will always show that Smith plagiarized Brewer. And you are welcome to believe it if you wish. I just suspect there might be more to the story. In the final analysis, now that both the writers are gone, I would say that both books are fun reads and both books are collectibles, thanks in no small part to their cover artists.

From page five of BACKWOODS TEASER: “Harker Brauns chased his wife down the hallways of the old mansion house on the river. She headed for the kitchen, running as fast as she could. He watched the way her body moved under the tight cotton dress, and that only made matters worse.”

From page five of BAYOU BABE: “Lucien Ducote had come home drunk, full of shine and mad desire. He chased his wife down the steps of the old Ante Bellum mansion, which wasn't unusual except for the fact that she was completely nude and headed in the general direction of the river. He watched the way her taut little derriere gyrated as she ran, and that only made him run faster.”

BAYOU BABE by George H. Smith, Novel Book 5010, June 1960. Cover art by Bill Ward.

 

 

RUSSELL SMITH

Russell Smith's Magellan was an absolute wild man.  His Marksman & Sharpshooter books are among my favorites because they are unlike the other Marksman writers' entries. Come to think of it, they are also unlike ANY other writer's efforts. Russell Smith's books are fantastic, existing in his own private universe. They may not make any logical sense (at the end of a long open gunfight the Mafia hit men have failed to kill Magellan, but he has killed all of them), but they are so much bloody fun to live through IF we suspend disbelief.

Much of what I know about Russell Smith comes from the highly recommended Glorious Trash website by Joe Kenney. I also talked to a fellow bookman who once had lunch with Russell Smith. My friend described him as an “older New York City alcoholic”. That lunch is important to us because some later researchers have suggested Russell Smith was just a pen name. He was a real person.

Two unrelated writers with a common last name, Russell Smith and George Harmon Smith both wrote for the same series using two different styles. Both were seasoned professionals, but Russell wrote like a breathless crazy man. Russell's early Marksman books read like someone wanted to see what would happen if you let a psychopathic serial killer jot down his fantasies. I have a theory you can tell George Harmon Smith and Russell Smith's books apart simply by how they look on the printed page. Russell's words and sentences are always short, lots and lots of dialogue, explosive punctuation with lots of exclamation points, plenty of gratuitous vulgarity and blood and guts, no careful settings or description. His style is closely aligned to McCurtin's, just more manic. George Harmon's sentences are dense with descriptive layering, methodical, solid, often utilizing an interior monologue, with limited vulgarity and bloodshed, very few exclamation marks needed. Compare the way these two examples look; the first is from COUNTERATTACK, which I have attributed to George Harmon Smith, the second is from BLOOD OATH by Russell Smith.

George Harmon's pages will always have longer sentences.

   In the Marksman books by McCurtin and George Harmon Smith, Magellan kills Mafioso with bloody glee. But Russell Smith's Magellan will kill them and then play with their corpses. (This is why I say he reminds me of a serial killer.) Sometimes he cuts out their hearts or cuts off their heads, another time he sits them all around a dining table in a sick tableau.  He strips them and moves them to other rooms. Russell's style is primitive and unique. Not content with rules like waiting until the end of the sentence for the exclamation point, Russell Smith drops them in wherever he wants them, like in this sentence from The Marksman #1, VENDETTA:

“Firing from the hip, Magellan zipped a slug right into the startled hood's open mouth. His head exploded! showering Donofrio with flying blood and brains.”  

The most outrageous of all Russell Smith's books is The Sharpshooter #3, BLOOD BATH. Joe Kenney sums it all up for us: “a crazed, lurid, exploitative descent into sadism”. Here is a just one sample moment from BLOOD BATH:

“Back down in the cellar, he cut the half-eaten corpse down. It was bloody, disgusting work but it had to be done.”

There is a line between violent hardboiled action and torture porn, and the appropriately titled BLOOD BATH leaves that line far behind in the dust.  And then goes back to dismember it.

The only logical conclusion after reading Russell's books is the whole thing has driven Magellan / Rock insane. He's taken leave of his senses.

Russell Smith took the assignment to write The Marksman to heart, and created a series of carefully interlocked novels that flow in a logical progressive order. If Magellan is on the island of St. Thomas, in his next book it says “he was safely out of St. Thomas”. It is an impressive saga, but editor McCurtin sabotaged it by publishing the books haphazardly out of order. Some would get turned into Sharpshooter books, supposedly an unrelated different character.  So it would then say “his friend from Xenia” when Magellan had never been to Xenia. Rock was the one in Xenia. Many of the interlocking books were separated by entries from other writers that do nothing but confuse the reader and muddy the waters. Important characters disappear or change. Johnny Rock gets called Magellan. When read in Russell Smith's intended order, and allowing the theory that Johnny Rock is one of Magellan's many alter egos, the books then actually flow from one to the next. They even make sense.

This is the order Russell Smith wrote these in:

RUSSELL SMITH'S MARKSMAN BOOKS

1. VENDETTA – The Marksman #1 – Set in San Francisco and Santa Cruz CA, this is written as a follow-up to the Peter McCurtin books about The Assassin. Starting here he is now Philip Magellan, the Marksman. The story begins in media res, the events of MANHATTAN MASSACRE have already taken place.  In Sausalito, Magellan uses a Chris Craft boat owned by the old Scotsman.

2. BLOOD BATH – The Sharpshooter #3 – written to be The Marksman #2 but published not only out of order but out of the proper series, BLOOD BATH has Russell Smith exploring the depths of the insanity of Philip Magellan's quest for vengeance. He is all but unhinged as he massacres Mafioso. Our first clue that something is amiss here comes on page 19, when Rock is called Magellan in the middle of a conversation. Set in Newark, Hoboken & Jersey City, New Jersey and Greenwich Village in New York City, BLOOD BATH features a “hero” who kidnaps men and women, tortures people to death, kills like a sociopath.

3. KILL THEM ALL – The Marksman #3 – Set in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Russell Smith did write this to be Marksman #3, but it was supposed to closely follow his Marksman #2, BLOOD BATH, which would not be published until later that year and then in the wrong series.  Magellan remembers “Luci Sordi on Fish House Road” which makes no sense at all to anyone reading these in numerical order. Luci Sordi was a character in BLOOD BATH. On page 32, Magellan meets a “young hippie girl” named Terri White. She joins Magellan on this adventure and leaves with him when he escapes to Puerto Rico at the end. Page 150: “the nightmare Philip Magellan was personally responsible for in San Francisco not long ago” is a reference to VENDETTA.

4. HEADHUNTER – The Marksman #5 – Written to be The Marksman #4, HEADHUNTER begins at the moment KILL THEM ALL ends, as Magellan and Terri White are flying from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico. The editor wrecks this smooth flow by publishing it out of order, sticking a different Marksman #4 – MAFIA WIPE-OUT - by a different writer in between. The horribly written MAFIA WIPE-OUT is set in Chicago, and how Magellan got there and then right back on the plane to Puerto Rico for HEADHUNTER is a mystery.  (Just how terrible is MAFIA WIPE-OUT? Well, on page 147, a mosquito beats up a mouse. You are not hallucinating. To demonstrate a super-strength wonder drug, a Mafia scientist (?) gives the drug to a mosquito, who proceeds to pulverize a mouse.) In HEADHUNTER, Terri White reads about Magellan's past exploits in “New Jersey, New York, California – before he came to St. Thomas”.  At the end, Magellan and Terri fly to Miami.

5. Since DEATH TO THE MAFIA, The Marksman #6, begins in New Mexico, the editor has tacked on an introduction explaining Magellan left Terri in Miami.  DEATH TO THE MAFIA was copyrighted Russell Smith but I find very little to suggest he wrote the published book. Either his version (Magellan & Terri in Miami meet his old friend Mark Harvester) was thrown out and replaced with this, or he wrote a first draft of this wacky story that was rewritten by other writers.  

6. BLOOD OATH – The Sharpshooter #2 – Set in the small town of Xenia NY, Johnny Rock (“who once had been John Roccoletti”, a name never found in any other Sharpshooter book) calls in his girlfriend, Terri White. What the hell is Rock doing with Magellan's girlfriend? She gets called Terri White twice (p. 70 & 72) before somebody wakes up and realizes her name needs to be changed just like Magellan's has been changed to Rock. So on page 77 Terri is suddenly Jane Taylor, “friends since high school” with Johnny Rock. She remains “Jane Taylor” for the rest of the book. Rock plans to go to France next, and the books ends with Rock and Jane heading for JFK. Oddly enough, Johnny Rock is not in France in the next book. But Philip Magellan is.  With Terri White.

7. STONE KILLER – The Marksman #8 – Magellan arrives in Paris from New York. Page 26 offers a recap of the Russell Smith books, as if other writer's stories never happened.  “Since Santa Cruz, since San Francisco, Newark, Hoboken, Jersey City, Greenwich Village; St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and lastly, some hick town up in New York State…”  This list flows perfectly as Russell Smith is telling the stories, describing in order VENDETTA, BLOOD BATH, KILL THEM ALL, HEADHUNTER, and the hick town Xenia in BLOOD OATH. But it confused the hell out of anyone trying to understand the Marksman books in the order published.  Page 93 finds Terri White, “Magellan's friend from St. Thomas, from Xenia, from San Juan”, joining him in Paris. As the book ends, they are off to the South of France to find a Mafia - owned circus run by Dante Monza.

8. BODY COUNT – The Marksman #9 – Magellan in the South of France vs Circus Dante Monza.  Finally, the next installment is published in the right order. The mystery this time is that the writing style is a much calmer, saner Russell Smith. We are sure he plotted this next story, but his manic style has been replaced. We now know that McCurtin would have manuscripts punched up or overhauled by other writers.  This story is told in a logical, straightforward and sophisticated style, maybe assisted by McCurtin if not by one of his ghosts like George Harmon Smith. Russell Smith's Terri White has disappeared, she is never even mentioned here. Magellan dallies with a hot English maid, Sarah Wilson. 

9. SLAUGHTERHOUSE – The Marksman #7 - (Dec 1973) It seems that at this point Russell Smith realized his continuing story was not being published in any semblance of order. Most of his remaining books are unconnected stand-alone episodes. In this one, Magellan is in St. Louis. As we have detailed above, this book reads like a collaboration between Russell Smith and another writer. I realize it seems incongruous to list Marksman #7 here after #8 and #9 instead of before them, but those books flow one to the next and this one is set outside that timeline.

10. MUZZLE BLAST – The Sharpshooter #6 – Rock (who is called Magellan, proving this was originally a Marksman) is out on Cape Cod in Provincetown. This is Peter McCurtin territory, and the book reads like a collaboration between McCurtin and Russell Smith.  There are a couple ties to Russell Smith's MONTEGO including a character named Smeet.

11. MAFIA MASSACRE – The Marksman #12 – This is a follow-up to MUZZLE BLAST.  Magellan is in Miami “while resting from his experiences in Provincetown Mass”. That's just fine except it was Johnny Rock in Provincetown, not Magellan. A reference is made to “His recent thrust at the Massachusetts Mafia”, and the writing matches the two-author feel of MUZZLE BLAST. The sedate Chapter Four has not a single swear word and shows no evidence of Russell Smith's unique style. Chapter Five is pure Russell Smith, with five “F bombs” in one paragraph and gratuitous exclamation points! 

12. NO QUARTER GIVEN – The Sharpshooter #8 - Johnny Rock in Norfolk Virginia. Most of this feels like another writer, but certain passages have the Russell Smith touch. Looks like a collaboration. The “other writer” could be McCurtin, could be someone else. Rock gets called Magellan on p. 38. (There are no Russell Smith Sharpshooters where Rock is NOT called Magellan.)

13. KILL! – The Marksman #14 – Written in the same collaborative style of NO QUARTER GIVEN, KILL! mentions that Magellan's previous adventure was in Norfolk Virginia. Of course that was Johnny Rock in Norfolk, but by now we ignore such minor inconsistencies.  It's just another clue supporting our theory that Magellan and Rock must be the same guy.

14. TRIGGERMAN – The Sharpshooter #11 – Copyright Russell Smith. Rock gets called Magellan, Mr. M, and even Philip Rock, so we know this was written as a Marksman.  Johnny Rock checks into the Hotel Irwin in Manhattan and begins to massacre his neighbors. The next two books on this list read like collaborations, but this is the raw zany Johnny Rock from BLOOD BATH and BLOOD OATH. Unadulterated Russell Smith.

15. DIE KILLER DIE!  - The Marksman #15 – Copyright Russell Smith. Magellan returns to France a year after the events told in STONE KILLER and BODY COUNT. This is Russell Smith's Magellan, it is even copyrighted by Russell Smith, but another author, perhaps Peter McCurtin, has apparently worked to clean everything up and solidify the story.  But nobody can drop an exclamation point in at the most inappropriate places like Russell Smith: “As he went downstairs he was trying to make up his mind whether he wanted his lobster broiled, barbecued or raw!”

16. A DIRTY WAY TO DIE – The Sharpshooter #15 – Copyright J.W. O'Dell, a Peter McCurtin pen name, but McCurtin only wrote the first chapter. The rest of the book has different characters and is actually a different story, changed ever so slightly to tie it to Chapter One. The later part of the book features sudden porn like MURDER MACHINE, the next book on this list. It is also a sequel to VENDETTA, Russell Smith's first Marksman, as Johnny Rock returns to Sausalito to once again borrow the old Scotsman's Chris Craft. Of course it was Magellan who used it before, but by now we understand they have to be the same guy.

17. MURDER MACHINE – The Marksman #20 – Copyright application author: Tower Publications Inc.  A collaboration, difficult to pinpoint the writers but Russell's crazy quilt storytelling shines through at times, most noticeably on the first page:

“There was a sharp, withering flash of fiery orange flame!                                     

Danny Russo's head, bloody, smashed, his eyes burned out, had been torn off by the ferocious blast. The hairless skull rolled to a stop near the base of a fire hydrant…   It was an obscene, grisly sight!”

Then a different writer steps in, but then some later chapters are the most pornographic of any Marksman book. I believe Russell Smith, who was writing porn at the same time, wrote those later chapters as well.

MONTEGO by Robert Dupont, Manor 15171, Nov 1975. Pseudonym of Russell Smith. Pity the poor editors at Manor, who had to categorize this wacky romp. They noted the badguys were slavers so they called it “a modern-day MANDINGO”.  It is not. It's a MAN FROM UNCLE – style spy story, but instead of UNCLE our heroes work for SMEET. Set on the island of St. Thomas, the setting of Marksman #3: KILL THEM ALL, MONTEGO features fearless superspy G. Bayer (“Bayer was responsible for creating more headaches than aspirin is supposed to cure”), his intrepid Asian sidekick Wangti and their shapely assistant Ching-sha, sometimes called Melody.

Their doppelganger enemies are fearless super-criminal Grimes, his intrepid Polish sidekick Jakowleff and their shapely assistant Ming-lan.

“The island heat had literally glued her panties to her loins.”


“The FBI men were one thousand percent certain they were dealing with a narcotics ring.”

With a 707 full of Chinese corpses and all kinds of silly spy stuff (when they are about to be jumped, Bayer and Wangti communicate by winking Morse code at each other. How long would that take?), MONTEGO is one of a kind.

YUMA

I am not entirely sure what to make of YUMA by Russell Smith, a 1978 Western published by Leisure. Is it plagiarism? Homage? A failed sequel? An experiment that went horribly wrong? Whatever it was, it was incomplete - but then published in that incomplete form. And as if to tell us they really didn't give a damn about that, Leisure republished it five years later with all the same glaring mistakes intact.

It starts out innocently enough, a Western adventure about an Apache named Yuma who has been hired by a Chinese cook, Tong Foo, to escort him safely back to San Francisco where a fortune awaits him. But on page 51, Yuma remembers the first time they met. We flash back to another time and place, where Yuma rescues Tong Foo from a racist teamster with a bullwhip. Yuma is now described as a Cheyenne half-breed with yellow hair. Anyone who has ever read a Sundance book instantly recognizes this as a description of Jim Sundance, the iconic character created by Ben Haas writing as John Benteen, in a series of books from Leisure, the same publisher. When Ben Haas died, a call went out for new Sundance stories. Dudley Dean McGaughy writing as Jack Slade wrote a couple and then Peter McCurtin took over the series. Perhaps this book was an attempt to create a new Sundance story. Perhaps it was an attempt to take Russell's existing YUMA story and change it into a Sundance.  For the next five pages, a word-for-word cutting from chapter one of THE WILD STALLIONS by John Benteen is grafted into the Yuma story. Sundance's name gets changed to Yuma, everything else is verbatim. Was this an editor's guideline that was supposed to have been rewritten or changed to fit the Yuma story? After five pages from Sundance it's back to the Apache Yuma until page 86, when five pages from the beginning of chapter one of TAPS AT LITTLE BIG HORN by John Benteen are lifted, a word-for-word borrowing, and shoehorned into the Yuma story. Again on page 117, three pages from THE BRONCO TRAIL by John Benteen suddenly pop in. The end effect is unsettling. Yuma is described as an Apache on page 115 and a Cheyenne on page 118. He has yellow hair on page 51 and black hair on page 132. In the most jarring mashup, Yuma strings his bow and checks his steel arrowheads on page 116. On page 117, that's the next page, Yuma unpacks his bow and checks his stone arrowheads. So this is how YUMA was published:

p. 1-50 new Yuma story by Russell Smith

p. 51-58 are pages 6-13 from THE WILD STALLIONS, SUNDANCE #7 by Ben Haas.

p. 59-85 Yuma

p. 86-90 are pages 5-10 from TAPS AT LITTLE BIG HORN, SUNDANCE #9 by Ben Haas.

P. 91-116 Yuma

p. 117-120 are pages 33-35 from THE BRONCO TRAIL, SUNDANCE #6 by Ben Haas.

P. 121- 171 Yuma

How could this have been released for publication in this form?  One insider suggested to me that it was the result of a collision between an alcoholic editor and his even drunker author.  The book is an exercise in schizophrenia as Yuma morphs from a dark-haired Apache to a yellow-haired half-Cheyenne and back again depending on what page you're reading.

YUMA 2 seems to be all Yuma, no Sundance. Once the decision was made not to edit Yuma into a Sundance, Russell Smith was able to tell the story his way.  It is well-told but we do notice the plot matches the Yuma portions of the first Yuma. In YUMA, the Apache guides his employer across the wilderness to San Francisco. They encounter a murderous fake preacher. In RENEGADE GOLD, the Apache guides his employer from San Francisco across the wilderness in search of a lost gold mine. They encounter a fake magician with an evil monkey. In the third and final Yuma story, SAVAGE TRAIL. Yuma joins a man named Yocum Slang to guide a gold shipment from the Mississippi to San Francisco.

YUMA by Russell Smith, Leisure 603DK, 1978. The blurb calls Yuma a “full-blooded Indian”, but on page 51 we learn he is actually a half breed: “It was  a Cheyenne's countenance, with prominent cheekbones, great nose like an eagle's beak, wide mouth, strong chin, and skin the color of  weathered copper. But, in startling contrast, the hair that spilled from beneath his battered sombrero… was a silky yellow the color of fresh-minted gold.” That is Sundance. And then, on p. 55, he calls his stallion Eagle.

This is all lifted word for word from WILD STALLIONS by John Benteen. Later Yuma is an Apache with a pony.

YUMA, Leisure 1079, (1982). Second printing. The measured and carefully reasoned prose of YUMA is quite a shock after reading Russell's Marksman books. We realize it's because Yuma is sane. The maniac style of his Marksman books was not because Russell Smith was crazy after all, it's because Magellan was crazy. Much like the gonzo journalists such as Hunter S. Thompson, Russell immersed himself full tilt in his subject matter, allowing Magellan's personality to overtake and mirror the storytelling style. It's a genius modern writing concept used by such brilliant authors as Tom Wolfe and Nick Tosches, and it is exciting to realize Russell Smith wrote like that too.

YUMA 2: RENEGADE GOLD – Leisure 660, 1979. 

Yuma comfortably remains a black-haired Apache throughout RENEGADE GOLD. As I mentioned above there are definite similarities to the characters of the first YUMA, but there is one character with no counterpart in YUMA: the opium-eating, man-killing dyed-white monkey named Lesinge.

YUMA III: SAVAGE TRAIL – Leisure 797, 1980.

We know that Russell's editors were Peter McCurtin & John Littell. This is the story of two scoundrels named Peter Snodgrass & John Crabtree.  Another bizarre character is Ninth Cavalry Captain E.T. Lizard Jr.: “Because he was so tanned from the desert and mountain sun and rode a white steed he was known in the foothills of the massive, almost impenetrable Sierra Nevada as Golden Monkey.”

I love that, Golden Monkey, because it is so random. He never mentions it again.

Russell Smith wrote 70s porn for many publishers including Pleasure Books, Tortura Press, Venus Library, Olympia Press and Midwood. According to Patrick J. Kearney's Olympia Press bibliography, Russell Smith also wrote as I. Smithson. Smithson's books include a Midwood (TEMPTING DADDY, Midwood 61046) that suggests this is the same Russell Smith who wrote the Marksman books. It also explains the sudden porn scenes that surprisingly pop up in books like A DIRTY WAY TO DIE, MURDER MACHINE & MONTEGO.

ANGELA – Midwood 60471, 1974.

“I was 1000 percent more substantial”.

VOODOO NIGHTS – Midwood 60388, 1978.

I have been told that the NR stamped on these covers means Not Released.

Other Midwoods (not seen): BEDEVILED (60413, 1974) & THE HUNGRY MOUTH (60520, 1975).

In the early 90s Masquerade Books published several “adults only” books by Russell Smith writing as Anonymous or Mary Love. One of them, ANGELA, reprints the unreleased 1974 Midwood.

LEONARD LEVINSON

Thanks to Joe Kenney's highly recommended interviews with Leonard Levinson in Justin Marriott's PAPERBACK FANATIC (2012) and on Joe's Glorious Trash website, we got confirmation that Peter McCurtin was editor of both the Marksman series from Belmont Tower and the Sharpshooter series from Leisure. Levinson also verifies that McCurtin wrote some as well as edited them. And we have Levinson's confirmation which series entries he himself wrote, always the best source. Levinson was a New York City writer who went to college in Michigan, just like Johnny Rock says he did in HEADCRUSHER.

His first was The Sharpshooter #4, THE WORST WAY TO DIE.   Len Levinson wrote 83 paperbacks under 22 pseudonyms, his Sharpshooter books are at the very beginning of his long career. THE WORST WAY TO DIE was the second of his books. His Rock is more introspective and brooding than the character in the previous Sharpshooter books. After Rock kills a Mafia figure in THE WORST WAY TO DIE, he waits six days before killing the next one. Russell Smith's Rock would have trouble waiting six seconds.  Russell Smith will begin with Rock on a motorcycle blasting a guy. Levinson will first describe where and how Rock selects the clothes he will wear as well as the white motorcycle helmet and goggles he will need.  I'm not suggesting Levinson's style is wrong, just that it is a noticeably different storytelling style than McCurtin and Russell Smith's pared down, shoot-first style.

NIGHT OF THE ASSASSINS, The Sharpshooter #5, is in the same meticulous style. Levinson would write a lot of good books later, he is just getting his start here.

HEADCRUSHER is a great title for a Johnny Rock book, and this is set in the sleazy Times Square of the 1970s with its porn shops and massage parlor/brothels. Levinson paints this world brilliantly, you feel like you are there.  

In the interview by Joe Kenny, Len Levinson tells us Peter McCurtin wrote the first 30 pages of THE CAMP, published under the pseudonym Jonathan Trask, and had Levinson write the rest. I am sure McCurtin did the same thing with other writers for some of the Marksman novels; and with other Belmont Tower paperbacks.

THE LAST BUFFOON by Leonard Jordan, BT 51535, 1980. Pseudonym of Leonard Levinson. The author as cover model.

In THE LAST BUFFOON, the paperback writer has a book about Times Square in the TRIGGERMAN series. This is a nod to HEADCRUSHER, a Levinson Sharpshooter story set in Times Square. 

Below: two by Leonard Levinson: THE BAR STUDS (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1976) and HAMMERHEAD (Bantam, 1981).

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PAUL HOFRICHTER

Peter McCurtin, Russell Smith and George Harmon Smith are no longer living, but Paul Hofrichter is still with us, writing in New York. When I contacted him he told me something about The Marksman that rocked my naïve little world.

I always believed copyright records were sacrosanct. Since you were reporting this info to the government, it had to be accurate. And pseudonym sleuths like me would then use the copyright applications to uncover the real writer behind the pen name. That's how Steve Brown confirmed his theory that Richard Bachman was really Stephen King. The author's address on the application matched.

I was working with my friend Robert Speray once, going through his vintage sleaze collection looking for books written pseudonymously by a famous horror writer. “How do you know he wrote these?” Robert asked me. “Because his name is on the copyright application,” I replied. “So what?” he said. “What if he had an unscrupulous editor who actually wrote them or heavily re-wrote them and just left the name on the application?” I looked at Robert like he was talking crazy, but it turned out he was right.

When I asked Paul Hofrichter about THIS ANIMAL MUST DIE, The Marksman #16, copyright author Paul Hofrichter, he said “I did not write THIS ANIMAL MUST DIE.”

Per Paul Hofrichter, he wrote #9, STILETTO, his first; and #12, SCARFACED KILLER. He says he definitely did not write two books linked to his name for the past 40 years: THIS ANIMAL MUST DIE and SAVAGE SLAUGHTER, The Sharpshooter #13.

Editor McCurtin played fast and loose, switching pen names, changing a Marksman to a Sharpshooter, assigning a writer to complete or punch up another writer's book. And here is proof he would also change things around even after the copyright application had been mailed in. Although copyright records are usually reliable, they cannot always be counted on with this publisher.

THIS ANIMAL MUST DIE, The Marksman #16, copyrighted to Paul Hofrichter, is written in the style of George Harmon Smith.

Paul Hofrichter: “I did not write THIS ANIMAL MUST DIE. Wish I had. The style, sophistication, crispness of the text, were above what I could achieve at the time.

“I wrote five books for Belmont-Tower; 2 Sharpshooters, 1 Marksman and 2 Rykers. (Note: the Ryker series had been started by Nelson De Mille. Later titles are credited to Edson T. Hamill. Two of those – THE CHILD KILLER and THE SADIST – were Hofrichter. Leonard Levinson has said that he also wrote a book for the Ryker series.)

“I was contracted to do SAVAGE SLAUGHTER in the Sharpshooter series, sent it in under that title, got paid for it (note:  the copyright records have Paul Hofrichter as the author of SAVAGE SLAUGHTER) but then the manuscript became a Marksman. Someone else, don't know who, did SAVAGE SLAUGHTER.”

I showed Hofrichter another book with his name on the copyright application, KILLER ON THE PROWL, The Marksman #17, published two months later in May 1975. The funny thing is, Hofrichter only recognizes some of it as his own.

“The story begins with anti-tank missiles, a subject I was interested in…. I recall reading Dick Francis and later writing about a jockey racing a horse through fields on Long Island. This happens on pages 162-165 of the book.

“A lot of the action takes place on Long Island, a place I was eager to write about at the time. On page 15 there is the personal history of Vito Narducci. Not only does the personal history seem too sophisticated for me to have written at the time, I don't recall writing it.

“While writing this and other books I had a ton of titles I wouldn't get to use. I used some for the names of the horses on pages 29 and 30: Valley of the Providers, Rotton Luck, Satin Fury.  On page 37 Magellan picks a Japanese knee mortar, which I was doing research on at that time.  On page 68 Narducci's son is on Sinequan, a strong anti-depressant. Someone I knew was on that drug so I added it to the story.   On page 93 there are some mildly sophisticated interactions between Mafia lieutenants that I cannot recall writing and which seemed more aware than I was at the time. “

Hofrichter's SAVAGE SLAUGHTER manuscript was rewritten by a second writer, probably George Harmon Smith, and then retitled and published as KILLER ON THE PROWL. It seems a safe bet that there were other books in this series written by two different writers in exactly the same fashion.

Paul Hofrichter: “They never returned manuscripts or sent galleys for me to proofread, just 6 free author's copies of each title. They sent me 6 copies of SAVAGE SLAUGHTER since I got paid for it. I got 4 additional copies of my first book, STILETTO, The Sharpshooter #9.  I recall my father gave a copy of my book to a friend who said it needed a little more salt and pepper, a faint way of criticizing the book.  My experiences with Peter McCurtin were not good and started me off on the wrong foot in this business. He hated my style and couldn't imagine anyone liking my stuff, though I sold better than average. There was another editor, John Littell, who gave me my first contract. Later, at Dorchester (the successor to Leisure) John got me the ROADBLASTER series, but only three books came out.” (Note: this was a decade later, 1987–88. The first book in that series is shown here.)

So Hofrichter's “2 Sharpshooters” are STILETTO, The Sharpshooter #9, and KILLER ON THE PROWL, The Marksman #17, which he wrote for the Sharpshooter series. Usually Marksman manuscripts got turned into Sharpshooters, but this proves they could go either way.  Hofrichter's “1 Marksman” was published as SCARFACED KILLER, The Sharpshooter #12, in which Rock gets called Magellan four different times.  I imagine Hofrichter's experience with the series was par for the course and explains why the writers have remained as confused as readers and scholars about who wrote what.

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Don Pendleton's THE EXECUTIONER was so popular it spawned several more series including PHOENIX FORCE and ABLE TEAM. Shown here is ABLE TEAM #5: CAIRO COUNTDOWN by Dick Stivers, a house name used this time by Paul Hofrichter.

In 1985 Paul Hofrichter was asked to write a novel for Peter McCurtin's Soldier of Fortune series. That book, SOMALI SMASHOUT, is shown below in the Soldier of Fortune checklist.

JOHN STEVENSON

Very little is known today about John Stevenson. He was born in 1926 and died in 1994. He was a mystery writer and he also edited Mystery Magazine in 1982.  His bibliography includes seven books under the pen name Mark Denning, five of which make up the John Marshall series. He also wrote three books in the Nick Carter series (THE DAY OF THE DINGO, THE Q-MAN and THE GOLDEN BULL) and two Sharpshooter books as Bruno Rossi: HIT MAN and LAS VEGAS VENGEANCE. 

He is not same person as the British author John Stevenson who wrote erotica as Marcus Van Heller.  Two of his Mark Denning books are shown here.

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AARON FLETCHER

There are too many writers we know nothing about in this group, and Aaron Fletcher is another one of them.  By all accounts he must have been a real person, not a house name. It is always possible he was a writer who became a house name, like Peter McCurtin. Fletcher's pseudonyms include Nancy Fairweather, Elizabeth Hanley and Nicholas Brady, a pen name he shared with Leonard Levinson. In 1980, four years after the last Scarpetta, Philip Magellan returned to print in four books by Aaron Fletcher. Two of them are reprints of Scarpettas, ICEPICK and BLOODY SUNDAY, and the other two are paperback originals. ICEPICK is the same book as The Marksman #18, ICEPICK IN THE SPINE by Frank Scarpetta. That book was originally copyrighted by Aaron Fletcher in 1975. The date is significant because that was Fletcher's first appearance, it preceded all of his own books like BOUNTY HUNTER (1977) and OUTBACK (1978).

So he may have been a new hire back in 1975, and editor McCurtin must have looked at his first effort and sent it to his re-write man, George Harmon Smith. When I talked to George's family I asked them what other names he had written under. In addition to Peter McCurtin and Frank Scarpetta, they had Aaron Fletcher on the list.  In the densely plotted and well-written BLOODY SUNDAY, Magellan remembers his childhood in Louisiana. At the end of THE CARD GAME (1980), Magellan says “There's a turkey named Ricco who's opened up a freeway delivery system of smack across the border between Texas and Mexico, and I want to get down there and take a look at it to see what I can do about it.” The next book, THE RECKONING (1981), should be that sequel, but instead finds Magellan elsewhere, fleeing a job in Kansas City. He meets a woman on a bus in Ohio who has witnessed a mob execution in Las Vegas. But then in 1982 they reprinted ICEPICK, where Magellan is hunting “a turkey named Bello” who runs prostitutes and drugs across the border between Texas and Mexico. This fits the caper Magellan describes at the end of THE CARD GAME. But THE CARD GAME was published five years after ICEPICK IN THE SPINE (1975). Could THE CARD GAME have been written right before ICEPICK IN THE SPINE but never published until 1980? 

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Why should the men have all the fun? Men's Adventure was a successful venture, and there were several popular genres aimed at women readers. In 1976, Leisure Books tried an experiment: Women's Adventure. It must not have taken off, as I can't recall ever seeing this genre again. It was just an idea ahead of its time.

TREASURE OF THE LOST CITY by Aaron Fletcher, Leisure 391ZK, 1976.

BOUNTY HUNTER – Leisure 461ZK, 1977. Cover art by John Duillo.

A selection of other books by Aaron Fletcher. OUTBACK sold over two million copies for Leisure and spawned a series of its own. Fletcher also wrote The New Zealanders series published by Dell.

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UK Mayflower cover for THE ASSASSIN #1 – image courtesy of Justin Marriott

THE ASSASSIN

#1: MANHATTAN MASSACRE – Peter McCurtin, Dell 5191, Nov 1973.

Robert Briganti, a third generation Italian-American born in New Orleans, joins Wild Bill Brady's carnival at sixteen, becomes a sharpshooter, then goes to work for the Marston Arms Company. He gets married, they have a son, and he opens a sporting goods store in Connecticut. When the Mafia pressures him to supply them with guns, he says no. They plan to kill him, but by mistake his wife and son are murdered instead. Briganti vows to hunt down and destroy the Mafia. 

#2: NEW ORLEANS HOLOCAUST – Dell 6731, Nov 1973. Briganti travels to his home town to kill mobsters with colorful names like Lippy, Happy Harry and Benny the Dick. George Harmon Smith said he wrote as McCurtin for Dell. This reads like a McCurtin – George H. Smith collaboration.

The psychiatrists say the shock of seeing his wife and son slaughtered had driven him into madness. “Maybe he was going crazy, and maybe that was what he needed to become – a crazy man with all useless emotion flattened out and locked away in some dark place in his skull.”

#3: BOSTON BUST-OUT – Dell 2108, Dec 1973.

Briganti in Maine and Massachusetts, McCurtin's home turf.  He goes to a John Wayne Western: “Big John was advancing on a passel of baddies, twirling a Winchester the way smaller men spun sixguns, on one finger.”

As he begins to list John Wayne Westerns he had seen with his son, we are sure we are in the hands of life-long movie buff Peter McCurtin, who wrote about old movies in many of his books.

When Briganti leaves town, the Boston branch of the Mafia has ceased to exist. If they rebuild it, he figures, he will come back.

book cover of 

Boston Bust Out

THE MARKSMAN

#1: VENDETTA – Peter McCurtin, BT 50527, Apr 1973. Copyright author: Russell Smith.

Robert Briganti the Assassin is now Philip Magellan the Marksman as the series switches publishers to Belmont Tower. Russell Smith tackles his first entry for the series with gusto. His style is unique and he favors unnecessary exclamation points: “He snapped off his brain and went to sleep!”

The cover blurb sums it up: “Magellan is not a nice man by any stretch of the imagination.”

#2: DEATH HUNT – Peter McCurtin, BT 50541, May 1973.  Peter McCurtin has long been identified as the author, but the copyright goes to “Midwood Books, employer for hire”. This suggests another writer, probably George Harmon Smith, is using Peter McCurtin this time as a house name.

#3: KILL THEM ALL – Frank Scarpetta, BT 50554, 1973. Copyright Russell Smith. House name Scarpetta is now used on all Marksman books through 1976.

This is Russell Smith's sequel to BLOOD BATH, which should have been Marksman #2 but was changed by series editor McCurtin into Sharpshooter #3.

KILL THEM ALL takes place on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas, the same setting as Russell Smith's MONTEGO.

#4: MAFIA WIPE-OUT – BT 50578, Aug 1973. Copyright application says Michael Harris. I can find no other books by this author. One of the worst books I have ever read, this reads like a try-out from a novice they decided never to use again. The mystery is why did they go ahead and publish this. For example, Magellan blows up a car full of hoods at a toll booth and then hitchhikes a ride to safety. Wouldn't somebody try to detain him? Maybe the toll booth attendant? More of a fantasy than a crime novel, MAFIA WIPE-OUT exists in its own illogical unrecognizable world.

#5: HEADHUNTER – BT 50603, Oct 1973. Author: Russell Smith.  Taking place immediately after Marksman #3, this is Russell Smith's sequel to KILL THEM ALL. Editor McCurtin screws up the series by publishing 4 & 5 out of order.

Marksman #3: Magellan and Terri White flee St. Thomas, fly to Puerto Rico.

Marksman #4: Magellan in Chicago

Marksman #5: Magellan and Terri White arrive in Puerto Rico.

#6: DEATH TO THE MAFIA – BT 50611, Nov 1973.  Cover art by Robert Maguire. Copyrighted by Russell Smith.

I suspect this is another example of a copyrighted completed manuscript being moved and retitled. If not, then this is heavily revised. The published book reads like Peter McCurtin or Russell Smith collaborating with George H. Smith, An introductory page is added to explain how Magellan got here after the events in HEADHUNTER.  George Harmon Smith's nephew remembers seeing this book when he visited his uncle.

P. 123: “Magellan ripped down their pants, then cut off their flatulent penises.” I don't think that word means what he thinks it does. Perhaps he meant to say “flaccid penises”?

#7: SLAUGHTERHOUSE – BT 50626, Dec 1973. Cover art by Ken Barr. Appears to be a collaboration with George Harmon Smith fleshing out a Russell Smith story.  Setting: St. Louis.

This is the book I described above where the two writers trade chapters back and forth.

#8: STONE KILLER – BT 60635, Jan 1974. Cover by Ken Barr.

Russell Smith.

P. 26: “Since Santa Cruz, since San Francisco, Newark, Hoboken, Jersey City, Greenwich Village, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and lastly, some hick town up in New York State, the price on the head of one Philip Magellan was phenomenal!”  That's Russell Smith listing the places he's taken Magellan in order. HIS order, not the published series order. The hick town is Xenia, setting of BLOOD OATH, The Sharpshooter #2.  STONE KILLER is set in Paris a week after Xenia. 

#9: BODY COUNT – BT 50645, Feb 1974. Cover by Ken Barr. This reads like some poor ghostwriter has been asked to rewrite, and make sense out of, a Russell Smith Marksman story. This takes place immediately after STONE KILLER. Magellan in Monte Carlo. 

P. 27: The Marksman meets a French woman named Fifi. “Half her lovely breasts were exposed.... Magellan noticed (her nipples) expanding and contracting.”

What?  

#10: OPEN CONTRACT – BT 50657, Mar 1974. Cover by Ken Barr.

Magellan in Houston Texas. At the start, it reads like a McCurtin.  George Harmon Smith's nephew remembers this title in his uncle's library. I believe George wrote this one from McCurtin's outline, finishing the book McCurtin had started.

#11: COUNTER ATTACK – BT 50666, Apr 1974. Cover by Ken Barr. Because this is set in New Orleans and told in a straight sophisticated style with no heads getting chopped off, I believe this to be written by George Harmon Smith.

#12: MAFIA MASSACRE – BT 50686, June 1974. Cover by Ken Barr. This is the sequel to The Sharpshooter #6, MUZZLE BLAST. I believe it is a collaboration by the authors of MUZZLE BLAST: Peter McCurtin and Russell Smith.  It's really a shame they chose not to publish them in the correct order. I think it shows an editorial disdain for the reading audience. 

#13: KISS OF DEATH – BT 50720, Sept 1974. Peter McCurtin and George Harmon Smith.

Both covers tell us about a killer police lieutenant named Frank Smith hired by the Mob to whack Magellan. Unfortunately, these is no such character in this book.

Or any other Marksman book.

George Harmon Smith's grandson and nephew both remember this book from his library.

#14: KILL! – BT 50754, Dec 1974. Cover by Gil Cohen.  Peter McCurtin and Russell Smith. There is a New Jersey cop here named McCarthy. Reference is made to Magellan's previous caper in Norfolk VA, a story told in NO QUARTER GIVEN, Russell Smith's Sharpshooter #8. KILL! takes place in the mobbed-up university town of New Brunswick, New Jersey.

“The murder of Nick Corsico's wife changed the plans of many people, including her own.”

#15: DIE KILLER DIE! – BT 50774, Feb 1975. Cover by Bob Larkin. Copyright Russell Smith.  Magellan returns to Monte Carlo a year after BODY COUNT. The Russell Smith manuscript has been heavily edited, most probably by George Harmon Smith.

#16: THIS ANIMAL MUST DIE – BT 50784, Mar 1975. Cover by Ken Barr. Copyright author: Paul Hofrichter.

Probable author: George Harmon Smith.

Hofrichter: “I did not write THIS ANIMAL MUST DIE.” Magellan is a Southerner from New Orleans in this story.  Really a different genre from previous Marksman books, this is a spy thriller in which Magellan teams with the CIA to fight the Mafia and Red Chinese.

When I showed some Marksman books to George Harmon Smith's family, they told me they remember seeing this book in his collection.

#17: KILLER ON THE PROWL – BT 50806, May 1975. Cover by Bob Larkin.

Paul Hofrichter wrote this as The Sharpshooter #13, later found his book - with unfamiliar passages added by another writer- at the heart of KILLER ON THE PROWL.

#18: ICEPICK IN THE SPINE – BT 50815, June 1975. Copyright: Aaron Fletcher. A collaboration finished by George Harmon Smith. Reprinted by Leisure in 1982 as ICEPICK by Aaron Fletcher. 

This is the book that George Harmon Smith's nephew remembers his uncle talking about: “The reason I write under a pseudonym is because I don't want to be remembered as the author of ICEPICK IN THE SPINE”.

As ICEPICK by Aaron Fletcher, Leisure 1026, no date (1982). “Formerly ICEPICK IN THE SPINE”.

Aaron Fletcher was a best seller in Australia and all four of his Marksman books, including this edition of ICEPICK, were also printed in Australian paperbacks by Bucks Books.

Published after the reprint of BLOODY SUNDAY shown below, this is chronologically the final Marksman book.

#19: THE TORTURE CONTRACT – BT 50828, July 1975. Copyright author: Steve Sherman. No number on the cover, but it says The Marksman #18 on the title page.  Perhaps the #18 was yanked off the cover when the editor realized he already had a Marksman #18. For whatever reason, there are no more numbered Marksman books.

This is a bizarre entry, not much like any other Marksman book. It takes place in a dungeon in the castle of The Professor in Palos Verde CA.  Magellan gets hired by a high society woman to find out who sold her a forged Renoir. He has suddenly turned into a different kind of character, a private detective.

#20: MURDER MACHINE – BT 50879, December 1975. Cover by Ken Barr.

This one reads like an unholy alliance between the most primitive Scarpetta, Russell Smith, the most sophisticated, George Harmon Smith, and who knows who else. Chapter one is full of Russell's tells – overused! exclamation! points!, endlessly repeated vulgarity, raw style.  By chapter 3, everything is sedate and prim and proper, all is calm. And then some very odd chapters suddenly seem grafted in from some porn novel about nympho Mafia queen Leah Castellano, who gets called Lily for several pages apparently written by somebody else. A schizoid read.

#21: BLOODY SUNDAY – BT 50909, March 1976. Cover by Greg Theakston.

George Harmon Smith, perhaps in collaboration with Aaron Fletcher.  Reprinted by Leisure in 1981 as by Aaron Fletcher.

No number, no “Marksman” on the covers or title page.

My attribution of this to George Harmon Smith is based on two things. 1. This book is not copyrighted by Aaron Fletcher (20+ other books are.) It is copyrighted by “Tower Publications”.

2.  The sense of style is a match to other books we have identified.

As BLOODY SUNDAY by Aaron Fletcher, Leisure 1014, no date (1981).  Reprints BT 50909 with new byline.

The cover artist has hijacked Clint Eastwood to help sell the book.

An Australian edition with this cover from Bucks Books (Horwitz) has been seen on eBay. It matches this book except no Leisure logo and book number on the front cover.  The distributor's name, Horwitz, is at the base of the spine.

#22: THE TIMES SQUARE CONNECTION – BT 50919, May 1976. Peter McCurtin collaboration.

No number or mention of The Marksman on the cover. Copyright application author is “Tower Publications Inc.”.

Two years after KISS OF DEATH and they are still talking about Frank Smith in the back pages ad for it in this book. There is a crooked police lieutenant here, but he's not a killer and his name is not Frank Smith. He comes up with a plan to get rid of Magellan.

The final Scarpetta. Nothing like this cover art happens in the book.

#23. THE CARD GAME by Aaron Fletcher, BT 51456, 1980. Not copyrighted. Four years after the last Scarpetta, Philip Magellan returns from a different author. No mention of The Marksman here. There are four of these Fletchers, three from Leisure and this BT. Two of the four books, ICEPICK and BLOODY SUNDAY, reprint Scarpettas. This one and the next one are originals. The style has nothing in common with the sprawling historical epics by Aaron Fletcher that were bestsellers for Leisure. Horwitz published an Australian edition of this book.

Same author as ICEPICK.

#24. THE RECKONING by Aaron Fletcher, Leisure 963, 1981. No copyright. Front: “Bestselling author of OUTBACK”. Back cover: “Magellan is Back.” Followed by the reprint of BLOODY SUNDAY (1981). The 1982 reprint ICEPICK then becomes the final volume published in the Marksman series.

The cover shown here does not have the Leisure logo and book number on the cover or “Leisure Books” on the title page. This is an overseas edition much like the Australian BLOODY SUNDAY described above.

Really terrible photo cover.

THE SHARPSHOOTER

#1: THE KILLING MACHINE by Bruno Rossi, Leisure 134NK, Aug 1973. Peter McCurtin.

John Rocetti's family are massacred by the Mafia. He teams up with mob widow Iris Toscano and becomes Johnny Rock, The Enforcer. Since the series title The Enforcer is already in use at Lancer, he quickly becomes The Sharpshooter.

#2: BLOOD OATH – Leisure 144NK, Oct 1973. Russell Smith.

When Rock got called Magellan four times, readers knew something was up. This was not written as a Sharpshooter and is not a sequel to THE KILLING MACHINE. This is one of Russell Smith's Marksman books published out of order. The editor can (try to) change his name to Rock, but Russell Smith's Magellan is a very different man.

#3: BLOOD BATH – Leisure 152NK, Nov 1973. Russell Smith.

That dynamic cover art is by Ken Barr. A Marksman book hijacked for the Sharpshooter series, the unforgettably gory BLOOD BATH is actually followed by Marksman #3 when read in the order written. See Russell Smith in order, above. 

#4: THE WORST WAY TO DIE – Leisure 156NK, 1974. Leonard Levinson.

This is a “real” Johnny Rock story, the first true sequel to THE KILLING MACHINE and the first from Leonard Levinson.

#5: NIGHT OF THE ASSASSINS – Leisure 163NK, Mar 1974. Leonard Levinson. Cover by Ken Barr.

The return of the slowly methodical Rock from THE WORST WAY TO DIE.

Johnny Rock in Miami.

#6: MUZZLE BLAST – Leisure 170NK, Apr 1974. Russell Smith and Peter McCurtin.

Rock is called Magellan on pages 32, 57 and 59. This is a Marksman book with Russell's style but lots of McCurtin tells too. Perhaps editor McCurtin gave Russell his outline or incomplete manuscript and asked him to turn it into a completed novel.

McCurtin would use the title MUZZLE BLAST again.

#7: HEADCRUSHER – Leisure 176NK, June 1974.  Leonard Levinson. 

Cover art by Bob Larkin.

One of Rock's aliases is Leonard Carter. Another one is from New York, but he went to college in Michigan, just like the author.

The internet blog Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot reviewed this book: “Tightly written and grimy as hell, HEADCRUSHER hits the spot if you are looking for violent urban thrills…”

#8: NO QUARTER GIVEN – Leisure 187NK, July 1974. Russell Smith.

Rock is called Magellan on p. 126, confirming this is one of Russell's Marksman series.

This book contains one of my favorite Russell Smith sentences: “He (was) one thousand percent conscious of every detail.”

#9: STILETTO – Leisure 196NK, Aug 1974. Paul Hofrichter.

Cover art by Gil Cohen. Hofrichter would become a seasoned pro, but this one is obviously a novice writer's first effort. McCurtin gave him THE KILLING MACHINE and said “Write one like this”, so he took him literally. A direct sequel to THE KILLING MACHINE, STILETTO tells us what happened to Iris Toscano, who promised to be the “leading lady” of the series but disappeared after the first book. 

#10: HIT MAN – Leisure 216NK, Nov 1974. John Stevenson.

Cover art by Gil Cohen. Johnny Rock in Los Angeles.

Stevenson is a pro. His Sharpshooters fit right into the saga and are well-written. He knows what his readers – and his editor – want and there is plenty of explosive violence with scenes of sudden shocking sexuality.

Both of his Sharpshooters are adults-only stuff.

#11: TRIGGERMAN – Leisure 229ZK, Jan 1975. Copyright Russell Smith.

Cover by Ken Barr. Written for The Marksman series, Johnny Rock gets called Magellan, Mr.  M, and – in a low point of editorial incompetence – Philip Rock (p. 126). Page 17 is also worthy of special attention: “the Mafia killed his mother, father and family.” And later on the same page: “He had promised to destroy the Mafia at the sight of his dead, mutilated wife and child”.  !

#12: SCARFACED KILLER – Leisure 235ZK, Feb 1975. Copyright Paul Hofrichter.

Cover art by Ken Barr.

Paul Hofrichter wrote this as a Marksman. When they changed Magellan's name to Rock to make this a Sharpshooter they made at least four mistakes: Rock is called Magellan on pages 63, 64, 87 and 123. 

#13: SAVAGE SLAUGHTER – Leisure 244ZK, Mar 1975. Copyright Paul Hofrichter. “Not mine”, says Hofrichter. He wrote a Sharpshooter book but later found it published as KILLER ON THE PROWL, The Marksman #17. The Sharpshooter is called Johnny Rock inside, but Johnny Rocco on the covers.  He is never called Rocco, not once, in the 16 Sharpshooter books.  This book has several similarities to THIS ANIMAL MUST DIE – Rock / Magellan teams up with the CIA in both – suggesting they were written by the same writer.  George Harmon Smith never listed Bruno Rossi as one of his pen names. He may not have been aware this was turned into a Sharpshooter.

#14: LAS VEGAS VENGEANCE – Leisure 261ZK, May 1975. John Stevenson.

Copyright John Stevens, which is either a typo or another editorial screw-up. Cover art by Ken Barr.

Rock: “I have a friend in New York who keeps score. He tells me so far I have killed two hundred and seventy eight of them.”

#15. A DIRTY WAY TO DIE – Leisure 276ZK, July 1975. Copyright J.W. O'Dell.

Pseudonym of Peter McCurtin, collaborating here with Russell Smith.

Cover by Bob Larkin. The last two books in the series do not have a number on the cover.

“You sound like that kill-crazy Robin Hood… what's his name… the schizoid-paranoid who loves to see his name in the papers. This guy's got an ax to grind that epitomizes abnormality… He's out to execute every Mafia guy he can find.”

#16: MAFIA DEATH WATCH – Leisure 286ZK, Aug 1975. Copyright Dan Reardon.

Reardon's name also appears on the list of writers who wrote as Nick Carter with one book, TARANTULA STRIKE, in 1980.

Cover by Bob Larkin.

Johnny Rock in Detroit.  In chapter one, a Mafia boss kills a woman in a horrible way. As retaliation, Johnny Rock later kills a Mafia hooker in a worse way. So who is the villain in this dark and misogynistic final installment?

Most of the players in this story, including Peter McCurtin and Harry Shorten, are gone now. One still with us is assistant editor John S. Littell. I interviewed him late in 2015. Littell went to work at Tower Publications in 1973. He was there until 1980, then went to work at Manor Books. Later he was an editor at Kensington, the company founded by Walter Zacharius that took over Leisure.

Littell: “Peter was a good writer. His material was always far superior to the other writers. After he went freelance, I would hire him whenever I could. He did a book for me at Manor (THE EXTERMINATOR). He got a little crazy late in his life, he would really dig deep into the Irish material… But editors prefer writers who could be counted on to deliver. Another writer may not have always been as good a writer as Peter, but we used the other guy more because he could be counted on. Consistency. Peter was not always able to complete his assignments.

“When I went to work for Peter he told me his previous job had been at the National Enquirer. Everything he wrote there came out under a pseudonym, and he said that was where he learned to juggle different pseudonyms, a trick that served him well at Tower.”

I asked Mr. Littell why McCurtin wrote those books for Dell, a different publisher. “Because Dell paid twice as much as Tower. He would get a check for four or five thousand dollars for each book.

“We created series. We would start a series and kill them if sales weren't good. Some of the Midwestern writers he hired were not well versed in sophisticated James Bond-type storytelling. But we were good at Westerns.  They sold consistently. We learned that our Western readers were mostly older adults. I think that is still the case with Western readers to this day. Peter loved Fargo and Sundance. And he liked to be copyrighted. He had some kind of deal with the publisher to make sure his books got copyrighted.

“I do not remember ever meeting George Harmon Smith.

“I gave Nelson DeMille his first writing job. He came in and said he could write so I said, “OK, show me”, and he did. He created the Ryker series. Later he went on to fame and fortune, all of it richly deserved.

“I remember Aaron Fletcher, he was a real guy, not a house name. He wrote those books about Australia and New Zealand and my memory is he was maybe Australian.

“Norman Rubington worked for us in the 70s. He had written some dirty books in Paris. He wrote books for Peter while he was working with us, Gothic romances (as Leslie Paige) and a Sundance.  He was a legend there because every year he would get drunk at the company Christmas party and walk up to the publisher and tell him off, yell and swear at him until he got fired. Along about February or so, Harry Shorten would need him and so then he would re-hire him. And at the next Christmas party Norman would get drunk and it would all happen all over again.

“Sometimes a writer would not deliver a manuscript on time, and there would be a scramble and somebody else would write it. I got fed up with the way they did business and left, went over to Manor. I think Peter was gone by then too.”

When I asked John Littell if it was becoming an alcoholic that had killed McCurtin he replied, “No. He was always an alcoholic.”

Go to Peter McCurtin Checklist

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