Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Commander Shaw #08 - Skyprobe

United Kingdom author Philip Donald McCutchan (1920-1996) was the creator of the 22-book spy series starring British Naval Intelligence Commander Edmonde Shaw - a literary rival to Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. My first exposure to the series was the eighth installment, Skyprobe, from 1966.

I approached this series with some trepidation because of the whole “Commander” routine and my lack of interest in British Naval fiction or maritime adventures. I’m happy to report that there was no Navy stuff at all in the paperback, and Shaw may as well have been an operative for MI5, U.N.C.L.E., or The Salvation Army. He’s just a fairly generic British Spy working for The Crown.

While enjoying a beer at a pub, Shaw is approached by a man whom he immediately makes as a Polish Intel Officer. The Pole tells Shaw that there is a threat against the American spacecraft, Skyprobe IV, now in orbit. Soon thereafter, the informant is found dead in a park.

The man on the other side appears to be a Swiss mercenary who is clearly working for the dirty commies. But what harm could he cause an orbiting space mission that’s been in the sky for 13 days? The Brits care deeply about this mission because one of the astronauts on-board is a renowned British scientist, and the ship is using an experimental new fuel that will be a game-changer in the space race.

Shaw basically serves as a detective running down logical leads to learn who wishes to menace the orbiting spacecraft and why. The action cuts between Shaw on the ground and the astronauts inside Skyprobe IV blindly going about their mission while unknown forces are trying to undermine it.

I enjoyed this book and found it to be a good place to enter the series. Shaw is smart and tough, but not brimming with personality like, say, Matt Helm. You still like the guy because he’s competent and properly inquisitive. It was clearly written to be a James Bond clone, and I enjoyed the novel about as much as the Ian Fleming books I’ve read. I’d put Commander Shaw at the same quality level as Adam Hall’s Quiller series. It’s way better than Nick Carter: Killmaster, yet still inferior to Matt Helm.

Skyprobe is an easy recommendation for anyone enjoying a good spy yarn without the cartoonish conventions the genre often employs. In short, the novel made me want to explore the series further.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

1 comment:

  1. If only they had read the spy novel Beyond Enkription in TheBurlingtonFiles series earlier things might have turned out differently. TheBurlingtonFiles series of fact based spy thrillers is about Pemberton’s People in MI6 and how Bill Fairclough (MI6 codename JJ) aka Edward Burlington survived over two dozen attempted murders. There are two news articles in TheBurlingtonFiles website dated 7 August 2023 and 31 October 2022 that detail these incidents and who in MI6 helped him survive. They are must reads for espionage cognoscenti. The news was released several years after Beyond Enkription was published which makes it all the more intriguing.