Friday, June 16, 2023

Spy Hunt

Paperback Warrior features a fairly robust section for author Norman Daniels (real name Norman Danberg, 1905-1995), including a podcast feature on his life and literary work. While I enjoy a variety of his crime-noir paperbacks, I feel like he was best served as a spy-fiction writer, or at the very least, international conflicts concerning the military. His best work is probably the eight-book espionage series Man from A.P.E.starring American secret-agent John Keith. That series debut, Overkill, was published by Pyramid in 1964. But, as a template for that series, Daniels authored a stand-alone secret-agent novel called Spy Hunt. It was published in 1960 by Pyramid and now exists as an ebook by Fiction Hunter Press.

In Spy Hunt, readers are introduced to Jeff Stuart, a CIA operative working directly for Colonel Piper. In the book's riveting opener, Stuart walks into his office and discovers a man pointing a gun at him. The next chapter explains how Stuart ended up in this situation. With very little rest, Stuart was ordered to fly round-trip from Washington D.C. to Hong Kong to retrieve a document from an unnamed man. Tired from jet lag and little sleep, Stuart walks into his office, sees the man with the gun, and is ordered to give the document up. 

Stuart complies with the man's orders, surrenders the document, and then on the brink of exhaustion, hunts his enemy down to retrieve the document. He then takes his enemy back to his office to torture him for information. At the point of pulling the trigger to execute the man, Colonel Piper's people arrive and inform Stuart that this was just a training exercise. Piper wanted to be sure that Stuart could operate in a stressful/no sleep situation. Also, if he could pull the trigger. Stuart proved capable. 

Stuart's next assignment is legit. An American scientist has been captured by the Russians and the American government wants to shut him up. To avoid the scientist singing American secrets, the CIA wants Stuart to pose as a Cuban in Moscow undercover as a weapons buyer for Castro. He is to kill the scientist at the first opportunity, then escape the country with no American assistance or aid. Stuart understands that the mission will probably be suicide (complete with those deadly poison capsules on his body), but he's sworn to the agency.

The author's variables in the story make the narrative come alive with mystery, excitement, and a sense of urgency. Stuart's nemesis is a female Russian agent hoping to seduce and kill him. On the flip side, the Russians invite the scientist's wife to Moscow for a cordial face to face visit. Stuart uses her as an inside track to the prison where the scientist is being held. These two women, both on opposite ends of the spectrum, create sexual tension and deadly encounters as Stuart treads water to kill his target and escape Russia alive. 

Spy Hunt was absolutely terrific, but I do feel that Daniels' second-half narrative was way too long. Despite the book's length of a mere 150 pages, the second-half is a road trip survival adventure as Stuart drives through the countryside receiving aid from begrudged laborers. The finale was fantastic, but it was cumbersome for 35-40 pages. Regardless, Daniels voices Stuart's third-person narrative, and the story for that matter, like a solid Matt Helm installment by Donald Hamilton. Or, as I alluded to earlier, a building block for his Man of A.P.E. series. If you love a good globe-trotting Cold War affair, then Spy Hunt is highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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