Monday, September 2, 2019

Foreign Exchange

The 'John Smith' spy novels were created by British author Jimmy Sangster (1927-2011) in the late 1960s. Influenced by Ian Fleming's James Bond, Sangster's espionage flair propelled "Private I" to be published in 1967 and later adapted for film. That novel featured British secret agent John Smith's exploits in a China-Russia crossover that was funny, entertaining and engaging. NY Times bestselling authors Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman reprinted the novel as "The Spy Killer" this year under their Brash Books imprint.

"The Spy Killer" finale left our spy hero in dire circumstances. Thankfully, Sangster revisited the book just a year later, publishing the sequel, "Foreign Exchange," in 1968. It was also treated to a film adaptation, and Brash Books reprinted the novel for a new generation to experience this excellent duo of espionage thrillers.

Without an immediate answer to the events that occurred in the prior book, “Foreign Exchange” begins in similar fashion as it's predecessor – John Smith working as a destitute private investigator in London. In a hilarious sequence of events, Smith agrees to assist Harvey, his office neighbor and talent agent, in a pregnancy blackmail case. A young singer named Anne has accused Harvey of knocking her up, a problem she can solve if Harvey pays her some cash. Harvey claims he didn't have relations with her, only a business relationship. This leads Smith to the club circuit where he eventually locates Anne (who is smokin' hot/isn't pregnant) and attempts to sleep with her many times. Unfortunately, Anne claims Smith just isn't her type. This sequence only absorbs 30-pages but I would have been delighted if it consumed the whole book. But this is a spy thriller, so on with the show.

Smith's financial distress is explained as a reference back to the closing pages of the prior book. With Smith flat broke (and rejected by a sultry sex-pot), it's just a matter of time before he accepts another assignment from his former boss Max, the head of the Secret Service. The Service has a Russian double-agent that they have been utilizing for years to spill false intelligence back to the Russians. For many reasons, this agent is no longer useful and they want Russia to take him off of their hands (in lieu of a public trial and prison). To do this, they want Smith to be a planted spy to be captured and imprisoned in Russia. Then, Max will wheel and deal and trade the double-agent back to Russia in exchange for Smith. For Smith, it is a month vacation in Russia and the promise of a cool $10K for doing the job. But, can Max be trusted? What if Smith is abandoned and condemned to the salt mines?

We covered David Morrell's short story “The Interrogator” (2011) [LINK] and praised it's effective, fascinating interrogation scenes. “Foreign Exchange” is boiling over with that gripping realism, with a lot of the narrative dedicated to interrogation scenes between Smith and his jailer Borensko. There's so much that Sangster builds into this fast-paced narrative. His conversational tone, dense with witty sarcasm and funny quips from Smith, enhances what is a rather dense plot. Thankfully, the author keeps the story moving well enough to allow brisk page turns - unlike, say, a technical espionage thriller that requires exhaustive notes and a deep knowledge of global alliances.

With sexy foreplay and an intriguing plot, “Foreign Exchange” is one of the best kept secrets of the spy genre. Thankfully, Brash Books has unearthed this treasure and is sharing it with the literary world.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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