Don Smith’s ‘Secret Mission’ books star Phil Sherman, an international businessman turned CIA operative on a variety of international assignments for 21 paperbacks spanning 1968 to 1978. It’s probably sacrilege to say this, but I think the ‘Secret Mission’ books are consistently better than Edward Aarons’ similar, but more successful, ‘Assignment’ books starring Sam Durrell.
The series can be enjoyed in any order, so I picked the 17th installment, “The Libyan Contract” from 1974 for my next adventure with Sherman. The book opens with a Swiss bank receiving a $200,000 wire transfer from Dallas into the numbered account belonging to a South African assassin who recently escaped from prison. In 1974, the JFK assassination was enough of a fresh wound that when “Dallas and assassin” are mentioned together, the banker quietly notifies Interpol.
News of this mysterious money transfer eventually makes its way to the desk of Sherman’s boss at the CIA who is appropriately worried that the assassin, a notorious racist, may be targeting a U.S. black leader. Because of the potential domestic threat, Sherman teams up with an FBI agent to investigate the situation. The disparity of the by-the-book FBI man and freewheeling Sherman is one of the many pleasures in the narrative.
The manhunt for the assassin quickly becomes international and the FBI is left behind on U.S. soil while Sherman handles the globetrotting operation. Sherman suspects that the target of the assassination is a middle-eastern leader and tracks the killer through England, Brussels, Italy, and Malta (oddly, given the title, not Libya). There’s also plenty of sex and violence along the way leading up to the climactic final confrontation between Sherman and the would-be killer.
For reasons unclear to me, the Secret Mission novels have never been reprinted or digitized since their original release. This is a shame because it’s a quality series that deserves to be remembered. However, “The Libyan Contract” just isn’t the best of the bunch. The plotting was choppy and generally imperfect leading up to a rather abrupt ending. If you’re working your way through the series, you still should read this one as it wasn’t bad. However, “Secret Mission: North Korea” was a way better installment if you want to get started.
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