“After the success of “I Killed Stalin”, Sterling Noel (1903-1984) settled into a niche of writing international espionage and crime-noir fiction with a distinct emphasis on atomic energy and its protection from various Communist regimes. “Few Die Well”, published in 1953 by Dell, continues that same trend.
The book introduces Jeff English, an American spy who's employed by a defense contractor named Bureau X, the same agency Noel utilized in his “I Killed Stalin” narrative. English's leash is long when it comes to not only defending US intellectual property, but seeking and destroying Communist cells throughout the world. In one unfortunate mix-up in Teheran, English, posing as a Frenchman, kills two Soviet agents and is placed on a hit list by the Russians. The assassin is a man named Constantine Bardor, a determined Russian who never forgives or forgets.
English's most recent assignment is to assume the identity of a U.S. Army Captain named Randall McCarey and infiltrate an atomic laboratory in New Jersey. His mission is to kill a scientist who is collaborating with the Russians and spilling state secrets. To do this, he must contend with a number of Russian informants who have been implanted among the facility's 900 residential laborers. Noel's harrowing narrative has English essentially living with the enemy while locating the leaks and attempting to make the facility more impenetrable in the future. Once Bardor appears to settle the old score, English and a few allies are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. It's a fun position for the readers, but a rough ride for the good guys.
“Few Die Well” is an absolute treasure. Without giving away too many spoilers, Noel's slower character development regarding a love interest is effective. It's this element that adds a personal touch to what is otherwise a violently cold, calculated mission to fight Russian agents and Communist sympathizers. It's certainly a period piece, explicitly reflecting the heightened Cold War era in a methodical, action-oriented way. Noel knows his audience, loves this style of writing and delivers another top-notch spy entry.
Note – In one humorous parody of Noel's newfound success, he describes English reading a “rip-snorting and impossible spy-chiller called ‘I Killed Stalin’ by somebody by the name of Sterling Noel.” It's enjoyable to see authors have fun with their fans.
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