Friday, April 17, 2020

Counterspy #01 - Apostles of Violence

Beginning in 1955, French author Maurice Gabriel Brault (1912-1984) began writing espionage novels under the pseudonym M.G. Braun starring French Secret Service Agent Al Glenne. The series was wildly popular and went on for around 75 installments over the next 24 years. Between 1962 and 1966, four books from the series were translated into English and released by Berkley as the Counterspy series. So, while 1962’s ApĂ´tres De La Violence is the 25th installment in the French Al Glenne novels, Apostles of Violence is #1 in the English language Counterspy series.

As the novel opens, our hero and narrator, Al Glenne, is in Caracas, Venezuela visiting another French special agent named Theo who is stationed there with sexy Latinas serving his every need. However, this is no vacation. A satellite equipped with a deadly laser weapon belonging to either the Americans or the Russians (the French aren’t certain) has crashed in the Venezuelan jungle. Al and Theo need to recover the space weapon before it falls into the wrong hands. Theo sent for Al because if his experience in jungle fighting, and also because Al is the star of the book series.

Theo explains to Al (and the reader) that it’s important for France to find out whether the satellite belongs to the Americans or Russians. Meanwhile, French scientists are 15 years behind in the field of laser technology. If Al and Theo can bring back the laser, the French will be able to catch up within a few short months. The presumption is that the Americans, the Russians, and the Brits are all aware of the fallen satellite’s location, and the race is on to find it first.

After reading a lot of American and British spy novels, it’s interesting to read one in which the hero is looking after the self-interest of a completely other country. The French team of Al and Theo parachute into the jungle, find the
satellite crash site, and begin their dangerous journey back to safety. The gunfire in the distance gives them no sense of comfort that it’s going to be a simple trip. Even scarier, are the Venezuelan Indians living in the woods shooting arrows at everything that moves.

As you might expect, the French team encounters a voluptuous Brazilian girl to be their guide through the jungle to the crash site. As they encounter teams from other countries, it’s the Americans who behave like aggressive jackasses. This may bother some American readers, but I found it very interesting and allowed for the idea that not every American behaves in a righteous and honorable manner at all times. As the multi-national group begins being murdered one-by-one, it’s up to Al to get to the bottom of the situation, so he’ll be alive to star in future series installments.

American readers will be tempted to compare Counterpsy to another long-running, popular French series with limited English paperback reprints: the Malko books by Gerard de Villiers. While Malko books are more cloak and dagger espionage adventures, Braun’s Apostles of Violence is a much simpler jungle combat story with a genuine mystery woven into the plot. The Counterspy books are narrated by Al Glenne, and that first person combat-based mission recalled Peter McCurtin’s Soldier of Fortune series. I’d also favorably compare the series to Edward Aarons’ Assignment series starring Sam Durrell.

At 143 big-font pages, Apostles of Violence wasn’t a heavy lift. It was an action-packed, very straightforward, and linear paperback with very little character development or emotional flab. The translation was so smooth that you’d never know it was originally written in French. The heroes were plenty heroic and the villains were heels, and the novel was a lot of fun to read. Best of all, the paperback had a killer twist ending that no one will ever see coming. Overall, I liked it quite a bit, I intend to acquire and read the three other English reprints in the series. Recommended.

Fun Fact:

The English translations of the Counterspy novels are credited to Ralph Hackett, but this is a pseudonym for the real translator, Lowell Blair. In the middle of the 20th century, Blair was a busy guy translating important works of French literature into English, including The Count of Monte Cristo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’m guessing that he regarded the Counterspy paperbacks as beneath his austere talents, so he performed the translation under a fake name? The actual rationale for this decision is a secret lost to the ages.


Thanks to the always excellent Spy Guys and Gals website for providing the background on this series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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