“Excellent financial rewards await young man, physically fit, reasonably intelligent, naturally non-conformist and totally devoid of any undue respect for the law. Write to box 503.” The ad appealed to London door-to-door encyclopedia salesman John Gail, and it became his door into the world of international espionage. That’s the premise of the 'John Gail' series by Stephen Frances. A consortium of millionaires has a well-funded secret spy agency working outside the boundaries of bureaucrats to save the world, and John finds himself suddenly on their payroll.
The first book in the series, “This Woman is Death” (1965) introduces us to John, an every-man guided by his unused education in philosophy who solves problems through logic and reason. Unlike most spies, he has deep moral problems with killing, which is the central driving conflict of this novel. John is paired with an impossibly sexy assassin named Vanda (the book’s best character) and given an assignment to kill - putting his pacifism to the test. The secret agency employing John is also fascinating and leaves the reader wanting to know more. John’s agency controller, George, is wise and shrewd. He is the adult in the room nudging John in the right direction.
This wasn’t a perfect novel - it was chatty and a bit slow - until the blood-soaked final set-piece where the author paints a mural of extreme violence with some excellent writing. John’s confrontation with the enemy - and his own ethics - was worth the wait.
There were seven books in this series. I’m dying to find out what happens next. Highly recommended.