The Mission Impossible TV show aired for 171 episodes starting in 1966 and spawned four paperback tie-in novels and two juvenile ones. The first of the juvenile books was a 212-page novel from 1969 called The Priceless Particle by crime fiction veteran Talmage Powell (1920-2000). Having never seen the show or the contemporary movies, it seemed like a fair place to start.
The Impossible Missions Force - or IMF - is a secret U.S. Government Agency that handles jobs way too tough for other agencies. The IMF is headed by Jim Phelps, an executive who also seems to handle a good bit of fieldwork. While in Italy, Phelps is passed a secret message (cool tradecraft, by the way) alleging that a biochemical researcher has developed a synthetic protein that could end world hunger. The scientist has been taken captive by the evil dictator in the impoverished home nation of Masacar.
Both the Americans and the Russians want to bust the doctor loose and harness his formula. If the totalitarians gain control of the key to solve world hunger, they’ll leverage it to turn the world commie. Whereas the U.S. will use the technology for nothing but benevolent good — ‘cause that’s how we roll.
The mission, if Phelps chooses to accept it (spoiler alert: he does), is to free the captive scientist before the Russians do. He puts together his core team of agents from the TV show to handle the mission. The book nicely doesn’t assume the reader is a student of the show, so each character gets an appropriate amount of exposition.
It’s interesting that this book was originally released for the juvenile market because there’s nothing childish about the writing or plot. Powell’s language is mature and the geopolitics aren’t dumbed-down. Granted, there’s no sex or profanity, but I bet there wasn’t any in the adult Mission Impossible paperbacks authored by Walter Wager using the John Tiger pseudonym. Part of me wonders if Powell was even informed this would be packaged for kids with a cardboard hardcover like a Hardy Boys novel.
The Priceless Particle is a solid rescue-the-prisoner story sprinkled with lots of cool, espionage-fiction tricks of the trade. For my money, there was a bit of over-reliance on uncanny disguises, evidently a trope of the series, but not enough to ruin the adventure. There’s no real bodycount or violence, but the author generates plenty of excitement nonetheless.
I can definitely recommend this novel without reservations. Talmage Powell wrote one other Mission Impossible juvenile novel for Whitman Books called The Money Explosion, which I’d read in a heartbeat if the price was right. Don’t spend a fortune on The Priceless Particle, but if you have it on a shelf or find a cheap copy, it’s a perfectly pleasant diversion.