Sunday, January 18, 2015

Death Merchant #35: Massacre In Rome

The reclusive Maria Angelina Gondozatti is "one of the world's greatest mystics". Since the age of thirteen, she has been able to predict world events with 100% accuracy, and has been "an enigma to the scientific world for over fifty years". While her predictions have never been made public, they have been transmitted to the Vatican, and picked up by the CIA's "many ears".

Now Gondozatti has been kidnapped by the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse), an Italian terrorist organization demanding its imprisoned and on-trial members be released or she will be executed. The Italian government has a month to make its decision. "The CIA made its decision in fifteen minutes. It called in the world's deadliest master of controlled violence - the Death Merchant." As the back cover of Massacre In Rome explains, Richard Camellion's job is: "Find Maria Gondozatti, and settle the Red Brigade's [sic] hash once and for all - at any cost!"

The big question is why is the CIA's Scientific Division of the CIA so interested in Gondozatti. Is there another, more exciting subplot to this story? Is this an excuse for Joseph Rosenberger to explore his thoughts on the supernatural? No and no. While the reasons the Death Merchant is hired to go to extreme lengths to rescue Gondozatti are not really explained, that's the book's plot. It's a pretty thin idea.

Gondozatti seems to be the real deal. She predicted - in 1924 - the series of events that would lead to World War II and she predicted as far back as 1969 that a man named Carter would become President of the United States. Her latest prognostication? "The end of the world before the end of this century." (Note: MiR was published in August 1979. However, one character mentions that they have only about one decade's amount of time left?!?)

Camellion and his companions work step-by-step until they can rescue her. Camellion first stalks a villa outside of Rome, hoping to grab Vito Camerini, who supposedly has contacts in the Red Brigades and could provide some valuable intel. However, after icing three lookouts outside the villa, Camellion discovers that he's a bit tardy. He sees five Russian goons escorting Camerini down the stairs of his home. (Are the "pig farmers" also on the trail of Gondozatti?) In the gunfight that follows, Camellion kills all of the Russians - and Camerini, too, unfortunately - before high-tailing it back to CIA man George McAulay II, who is waiting in a getaway car. On their way back into Rome,  the men are forced to kill three cops at a roadblock.

Camellion next tries to nab Alfredo Bertini, the alleged paymaster for many of the Red Brigades cells in Rome. They wait for him in a tratorria, as per Bertini's usual schedule, but when he doesn't show, they head to his apartment. There, they find another group of goons escorting him down the stairs. Gunfire erupts, but this time, the Death Merchant leaves with Bertini - who tells Camellion that he gets the money from Angelina Moretti, wife of a dentist named Bernard Moretti.

So it's off to the Morettis' house. The DM has a cunning plan to dress as Gypsies but after buying a used car, colourful clothes and whatnot, they decided to simply storm the place without any pretense. They drive a 1968 Dodge through a big picture window and the assault is on. They eventually corner Dr. Moretti and he tells Camellion that Gondozatti is being held at a farm southwest of Anzio.

So it's off to the farm owned by Vittorio Salvi Duse. The Death Merchant and four others are dressed as priests, disguises which enable them to safely get through two roadblocks. Grenade launchers come in extremely handy as they wreck the hell out of the farm house and the barn. ("It beats pushing a plow through a turnip patch.") Gondozatti is being held in an underground room beneath the barn, but Camellion et al. are too late. It turns out she died in her sleep of a heart attack the day before the big raid. Oh, well. Camellion and his forces escape in waiting helicopters just before the cops arrive. The end.

During the final assault, the antitank grenades are flying and suddenly the action skids to a halt as Rosenberger decides to spend nearly an entire page explaining exactly how the grenades work.
The enormity of the explosion did not surprise the Death Merchant. A high explosive antitank rifle grenade, the M31 had an explosive filler of 9.92 ounces of Composition-B, and the capability of penetrating 25 centimeters (10 inches) of homogeneous steel armor or 50 centimeters (20 inches) of reinforced concrete. What made the M31 so very deadly was that the antitank grenade achieved penetration by means of the Munroe Principle of the shaped charge. The Munroe Principle is governed by the following three principles of explosive reactions: (1) An explosive force reacts against the weakest force containing it. In the M31, this containing force was a thin sheet of copper which forms an inverted cone liner. This cone gives the filler its shaped effect. The grenade's hollow nose provides the proper standoff distance for the explosive forces to converge. (2) An explosive force reacts against the force containing it at right angels. In the case of the M31, the forces reacted against the copper cone at right angels and moved toward each other. (3) Converging explosive forces combine to form a third and greater force known as the explosive jet. In the M31, the jet is a combination of heat and force which will melt a path through armor and carry pieces of molten armor through it. These molten chunks then rapidly return to solid form. In the case of an armored vehicle, the jet penetrates the vehicle's body armor and also flakes off pieces of the inner side of the armored hull. This fragmented armor ricochets about the interior of the vehicle's body, killing personnel and detonating sensitive ammunition.

When the shell burns through concrete, it is the jagged chunks of concrete that act as fragments; and since concrete is much softer than armor plate, the radius of destruction is always four to five times larger.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ....

In two footnotes, Rosenberger gives some advice on the most effective way to shoot someone in the head and describes a technique known as "fanning":
Don't believe all the nonsense that the "victim was shot between the eyes and died instantly." It is not wise to shoot between the eyes unless one is using a very powerful cartridge, such as a magnum bullet, in which case the brain will be destroyed by hydrostatic shock. A target can be shot in the head with a bullet of moderate power and still survive long enough to get off several shots. ...

This technique is very useful when you are facing several opponents at once and works best with an autoloader which has a large magazine capacity. Brace your hand against the hip and wiggle the index finger of your other hand against the trigger. the technique - also called the "Alley Broom" technique - can be mastered with practice. But it is only useful close up, as it is a very inaccurate method of shooting.
Massacre In Rome has two epigraphs: one by Boris Pasternak, the author of Doctor Zhivago, and this one from Richard J. Camellion:
Intelligent people do not try to reason with sadists who slaughter the innocent, with terrorists who murder in the name of "freedom". Intelligent people kill them!
This is an odd quote for Rosenberger to invent and highlight, since Camellion quite clearly murders innocent people - the three Italian cops at the beginning of the book being the most recent example - and he certainly does his job in the name of "freedom". At one point in Massacre in Rome, an agent named Lola Presswood, having assisted Camellion in one gunfight, is somewhat sickened by "the violent side of international intelligence operations". Still ...
She supposed that men like Richard Camellion - and even that vulgar Ferro - were necessary in a world that was only a sugar-coated slaughter house ... men who were self-contained, men who needed nothing or no one and who would always be alone, even in a crowd. Without such men - would there be a United States of America?


horrox said...

Just wanted to let you know I've been enjoying your blog - especially all these Death Merchant write ups, that's how I found you, via Glorious Trash. I've been at home fighting off a cold or flu this weekend, and took the opportunity to read all of your DM posts in one fell swoop. Good stuff! keep them coming please.

allan said...

Reading all of the posts might be almost as punishing as reading the books!

horrox said...

Ha! Doubtful. Quicker, anyway.