Following the success of Ian Fleming’s James Bond paperbacks, espionage novels with sophisticated and debonair heroes became all the rage. Over time, this morphed into a glut of spy novels starring sexy, female protagonists. Most of these were tongue-in-cheek affairs that parodied the espionage genre as much as they honored it. 'The Baroness', 'The Lady from L.U.S.T.', and 'Modesty Blaise' were some of the more popular titles of this literary fad.
British Author and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster threw his hat into the lady spy arms race with his 'Touchfeather' books, a series that lasted a mere two novels in 1968 and 1970. Thankfully, Lee Goldberg’s Brash Books imprint has brought these books back to life in paperback, ebook, and audio formats.
Katy Touchfeather is a sexy, undercover British operative for an unnamed government agency run by the mysterious Mr. Blaser. The gimmick is that Katy was recruited from her job as a stewardess (or air hostess, if you prefer), and she maintains this cover as it gives her access to foreign nations and horny male targets who fancy chatting up a comely member of the flight crew.
When we meet Katy - she’s our narrator - we learn she’s a seasoned operative who has been doing this awhile with great success. A fascinating flashback gives us her origin story and explains how a foxy, young stewardess with a robust sex drive becomes an international woman of mystery.
The current assignment has Katy traveling to Bombay as a flight attendant for Air India with the goal of attracting the attention of a technology professor who may or may not be stealing trade secrets and providing them to couriers working for foreign adversaries. Following a well-described lovemaking session, Katy catches feelings for the guy and becomes conflicted about her covert assignment. How can a man who rogers her so adeptly be an intellectual property thief? From there, the action bounces between several exotic and domestic locales.
Sangster was a notch above his cohorts in this sub-genre, and "Touchfeather" is surprisingly well-written. Thankfully, it never descended into silliness or parody. It wasn’t perfect - there were padded sections and the plot meandered a bit - even over the course of the lean 200 pages. However, all the novel’s shortcomings are redeemed by Katy Touchfeather herself. Sangster created a heroine so fun, charming and beguiling that it’s hard not to enjoy the imperfect story he gave her.
This was a good novel but not a masterpiece. I enjoyed it well enough that I’m promising myself to one day check out the sequel, “Touchfeather, Too.” I’ll keep you posted.