Wednesday, August 22, 2018

John Gail #04 - Hate is for the Hunted

Stephen Frances apparently sold over 10 million copies of his popular “Hank Janson” series, but his “John Gail” spy novels never gained much sales traction during their seven-book run. This is a particular shame as the novels were a gritty and human take on the James Bond spy craze that dominated men’s adventure fiction in the 1960s.

John Gail is an operative for PLEADON, a shadowy, private spy organization financed by a group of benevolent millionaires seeking greater justice and security around the world. As “Hate is for the Hunted” opens, Gail is growing bored and restless in London living the life of a millionaire on his benefactor’s dime. He is itching for more assassin work and wants his next clandestine assignment. This is particularly fascinating since he started the series as a broke, pacifist, Philosophy major selling encyclopedias door-to-door in London.

The new assignment involves locating and rescuing a sexy female PLEADON operative who has fallen off the grid during an undercover assignment as a prostitute in a high-end brothel. Could the female agent’s disappearance somehow tie into the recent death of another operative who was involved with exclusive and secretive hedonist society?

While the first three John Gail books were espionage and political adventures, this one is more of a straightforward undercover investigation novel. The secret society penetrated by Gail is pretty interesting - think “Eyes Wide Shut” meets “Django Unchained” - until the story evolves into “The Most Dangerous Game” territory. Frances’ plotting and pacing are superb. My only quibble with his writing style is his instinctive pulp author habit of using exclamation points to build excitement in the narrative! This was a practice that action writers should have outgrown by 1968! Although it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, it was definitely hard to ignore!

Overall, this was a decent paperback for the genre and era, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as books 1-3 of the series. This one stands alone as its own story more so than the first three novels, but the overall quality is diminished a tad. It’s still a good, action-filled story with plenty of kinky sexual situations and shocking violence - as well as an excellent final 50 pages. Recommended.

Postscript - Series Order Controversy:

There is some confusion regarding the proper numbering of the John Gail books. According to Stephen Frances’ biographer, Steve Holland (author of “The Trials of Hank Janson”), the John Gail series was originally released by U.K.’s Mayflower Books in the following order:

    This Woman Is Death
    To Love and Yet to Die
    The Sad and Tender Flesh (The Ambassador’s Plot)
    Hate is for The Hunted
    The Sweet Shame of Fury
    The Caress of Conquest
    Cry for my Lovely

However, Award Books only released volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 in the United States. You’ll need to find British editions of books 5 and 7 to be a completist. Moreover, none of the paperbacks have been digitized into eBooks, and my sources in contact with the author’s estate tell me there are no plans to give the John Gail books a new life in the 21st Century. And that’s a shame.