Sunday, March 7, 2010

Soldato! by Al Conroy

Soldato! by Al Conroy
Magnum Book #75370

Copyright 1972

Al Conroy was just one name used by Marvin Albert during his brilliant writing career. I was quickly hooked on the author's work when I started reading his early Gold Medal books, especially the Private eye Jake Barrow novels written under the pseudo Nick Quarry. In the 70s, I was blown away by the four high adventure novels published by Fawcett that he wrote as Ian MacAlister. Around that same time he created the Soldato! series, which had it's run in a total of five books. (two of the later ones were written by the author Gil Brewer) I guess you would put them in the "vengeance against the Mob" category which was popular during that period. I held off reading the series because I never had a copy of the first book. Well, I finally got a hold of one and as expected, (Hey, it is written by Marvin Albert) this one is damn good.

Johnny did not intend to go back to just waiting for it to happen. Which left only one thing to do. Something that came to him naturally, out of his past. The answer was in his upbringing, his heritage, his blood.

There was a man who was trying to kill him. He had to get that man first.
The law of fang and claw, city slum style.

Private eye Charlie Moran is an ex-cop and he specializes in finding people who don't want to be found. A year ago, Brooklyn Mafia boss Renzo Cappellani hired him to find Johnny Morini and now Moran is closing in. Loyal Johnny Morini worked his way up in the Mafia and was a high ranking soldato or soldier. After two members of Morini's adopted family were murdered, Morini turned rat and testified against Don Cappellani. The Federal witness protection program gave him a new identity and a new life in a small quiet Utah town. After spotting the stranger Moran, the little hairs on the back of Morini's neck start springing up. But it's too late, Moran makes the call and two professional hired killers arrive to payback Morini for what he did to Don Cappellani.

Along with his new wife, who knows nothing about his criminal past, Morini is chased into the high canyons of Utah. Outgunned, he is forced to take a stand. He knows the terrain and after an action-filled sequence of events, he eliminates the two killers. But he knows there will be no end to it, if they found him once they will find him again. With his wife in tow, he heads east to settle it back in NYC. And there is only one way he knows how to do it. He has to get the boss of the Brooklyn Mafia, Don Renzo Cappellani.

The first half of the book takes place in Utah and it's terrific. It starts immediately with the Private eye Moran finally finding his quarry in the placid town. No stopping for rest, the story explodes in the next enthralling chapters. These involve the chase in the canyons, as Morini is hunted by the killers who are armed with long distance hunting rifles. Not to take anything away from the rousing ending, but this was the best part of the novel for me. It was so good that I thought I was reading one of Marvin Albert's Ian MacAlister adventure thrillers. The second half takes place in the Big City where Morini knows the streets. We get the essence of his past criminal personality here, how he got started and what made him tick in those days. It's in this half of the novel that we discover the dark and solitary Johnny Morini. The story has a good dose of violence and bloodshed, and it is definitely clicking on all cylinders.

Besides the strong character of Johnny Morini, I really enjoyed Albert's depiction of the antagonist Renzo Cappellani and P.I. Moran. Though not in the novel as much as the other two, Moran is quite compelling and likable. He even shows up in the end, and it's like putting a stamp on the novel. As for Morini's wife and the others in the story, they are insignificant. Morini, Cappellani, and Moran make this one standout and it's good stuff all around.

After finishing this one, the well-written ending didn't leave me with the feeling that the exploits of Johnny Morini would be continuing. But of course, the publishers had plans and they spat out more. Here are the titles of the five in the series:

Soldato! 1972
Death Grip! 1972
Strangle Hold! 1973
Murder Mission! 1973
Blood Run! 1973


mybillcrider said...

Albert was great at those chase scenes. I read all of these back in the '70s, when I didn't know that Brewer wrote a couple of them. I don't remember any differences between his books and Albert's, so maybe one day I'll go back and see if I can spot them.

David Cranmer said...

I've read a few myself. Forgot the plots but remember them being very entertaining.

OlmanFeelyus said...

The plot sounds a bit like A History of Violence. The family man with the dark, violent past is always compelling.

Marty McKee said...

I wrote about all the Soldato novels here:

It's one of the better men's adventure series out there, though the fifth and last is something of a letdown.

August West said...

Marty, Thanks for the link. I just pulled out "Death Grip!" after reading your review. Morini hunted in the mountains is enough for me to tackle the second book.