Showing posts with label Spy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spy. Show all posts

Friday, November 10, 2023

Joe Gall #11 - The Fer-De-Lance Contract

James Atlee Philips (1915-1991) authored 22 novels in the Joe Gall espionage adventure series between 1963 and 1976 under the name Philip Atlee. Much of the series has been reprinted by Mysterious Press, so you won’t have to do much digging to score a copy. The Fer-De-Lance Contract is the 11th Joe Gall adventure from 1970.

Grouchy CIA assassin Joe Gall is our narrator, and the novel opens with his arrival on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua, which Gall hilariously describes as a “sunbaked poorhouse.” He’s a politically-incorrect curmudgeon and no fan of the Caribbean islands or their native people. He’s also rather hilarious in his narration leaving me surprised at the quality of Philips' prose. He really was a delightful writer.

The mission involves a group of black rebels planning to seize all transportation and communication facilities throughout the Caribbean islands. This includes cruise ships, freighters and private yachts as well as radar and weather stations. The only nations exempt from this plan are, of course, Haiti and Cuba. The Black Militant mastermind behind this planned regional disruption of the public order is employed as the purser on a cruise ship, and Gall needs to be on-board to stop the scheme.

The plot is interesting and easy to follow as the story bounces from the Caribbean island of Antigua to Dominica to St. Lucia. However, halfway through the paperwork, a nemesis from the previous installment, The Trembling Earth Contract (1969) — in which Gall famously goes undercover as a black man by dying his skin — returns to continue the fight. The author does a nice job of getting the reader up-to-speed, but in a perfect world, one would read them in order (I didn’t).

The Joe Gall series has a reputation among Men’s Adventure Paperback connoisseurs as having plotting problems. The stories either make no sense or go off the rails midway through the novel. This one was pretty straightforward. The action scenes were solid. The social commentary involving the black power movement of the era wouldn’t fly in today’s world, but that’s part of the fun of reading paperbacks from 53 years ago. Overall, The Fer-De-Lance Contract was fun adventure novel and an easy recommendation.

Friday, September 22, 2023

The Spy Who Sat and Waited

Robert Wright Campbell (1927–2000) was a television writer who crafted teleplays for many shows in the 1950s and 1960s, including Maverick and Marcus Welby M.D. He later became a novelist and achieved commercial success with his mystery titles such as The Junkyard Dog and In La-La Land We Trust, both from 1986. His first book was a spy novel from 1975 called The Spy Who Sat and Waited, available today from Kindle Unlimited.

Here’s the premise: During World War I, Germany stationed sleeper agents around the world, and as Germany’s surrender became imminent in 1918, the Krauts told their spies to remain undercover awaiting the inevitable rebirth of the Reich. It’s pretty much the premise of the 2013 TV show, The Americans, where Soviet spies walk among us living as normal Americans for decades. In this case, it’s a German spy chilling in Scotland awaiting instructions while living a shadow life.

The novel begins immediately following WWI when a German sleeper spy, who adopts the name named Will Hartz, relocates from Switzerland to Scotland’s Orkney Islands, a useful port in both world wars. The water surrounding the islands was the site of a dramatic series of events in 1919 where the Germans intentionally sunk and abandoned 52 of their own ships rather than have them captured and redistributed to enemy forces at the war’s conclusion.

Upon settling there, Will buys a pub frequented by fishermen and settles in for a quiet life awaiting tasking from Germany. The author perfectly captures the combination of stress, boredom and loneliness that long-term undercover agents experience. This is exacerbated by the ambiguity of the mission in peacetime and the lack of directions from his superiors back in the Fatherland.

It’s a long wait for Wilhelm, but the author keeps things moving for the reader. Wilhelm follows the developments in Germany via the news from afar, including the rise of a Nationalist party comprised of disgruntled war veterans, led by a man named Adolf Hitler.

The reader is also treated to flashbacks from Will’s life to give us a better understanding of how this mild-mannered fellow became a spy embedded in a small Scottish fishing village. It’s a slow burn more about a man forced to live in a small community with a big secret rather than a typical spy yarn of the era. Nevertheless, the paperback was plenty entertaining for a literary novel about a small man with a big secret.

The first half of the paperback is a character-driven novel about a dormant spy, and the second half has some elements of a spy novel coinciding with the rise of Hitler, if that makes sense. Hitler’s ascendance pushes Will in some uncomfortable directions, and the novel’s central tension is his willingness to go along with orders from the Fatherland after assimilating quite nicely into Scottish island culture for 20 years.

I enjoyed this novel, but it was about twice as long as it should have been. It was not action-packed, but it was very well-written. Will’s journey through the early 20th century made for some good reading, but the reader shouldn’t confuse the book with a fast-moving spy thriller. If “recommended with reservations” is a thing, that’s probably where I land. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Paul Chavasse #02 - The Year of the Tiger

Using the name Martin Fallon, Jack Higgins (real name Henry Patterson), authored a six-book series of espionage novels starring British spy Paul Chavasse. I've read and enjoyed the first, third, and fourth installments of the series – The Testament of Caspar Schultz (1962), The Keys of Hell (1965), and Midnight Never Comes (1966). The backstory on the second series novel is interesting.

Year of the Tiger was originally published in 1963 by Abeland Shulman as a hardcover in the U.K using the Martin Fallon pseudonym. Soon after publication, the book simply left the market and was never reprinted as a paperback like the other series installments (which all capitalized on Higgins' enormous household popularity). Like his other novels, Higgins and his agent decided these early books needed a freshening up. Higgins added additional details to Year of the Tiger (see below) and the book was published in paperback by Berkley in 1996 using the same title and the Higgins name. Simultaneously, it was also published in hardcover by Michael Joseph in the U.K.

What's really cool about Year of the Tiger's re-imagining is that Paul Chavasse is presented in the modern day. The book opens in London in 1995 and has Chavasse experiencing a nightmare from a previous adventure. When he awakens, readers are brought up to speed on Chavasse's life and career since 1969's A Fine Night for Dying, the series last installment. Readers learn that Chavasse has spent forty years in the British Secret Intelligence, twenty as a field operative, another twenty as Bureau Chief. Now, Chavasse is on the cusp of becoming the Prime Minister.

In a surprise meeting, Chavasse is approached by a Tibetan man who is inquiring about one of Chavasse's prior assignments – assistance to the CIA of getting the Dali Lama into India in 1959. This mini-adventure is presented as a flashback section condensed to about 17 pages. My assumption is that Higgins' original novel began here, void of the entire 1995 events. There's a brief present day London thing, and then the book takes readers to the bulk of the narrative, featuring Chavasse on a 1962 mission into Chinese-controlled Tibet to free a scientist. These Cold War thrillers from the likes of Higgins and his contemporaries seemed to consistently feature missions to free or kill scientists. As I alluded to earlier, the whole 1962 adventure, prefaced by the short 1959 stint, was probably the bulk of the 1963 hardcover. 

While Chavasse doesn't have the passion or flair of James Bond, or the clever satire of Matt Helm, I still really enjoy the character's down-to-business approach. Some readers of the series complain that Chavasse never completes the assignment efficiently. I'd like to think we are just reading about the assignments that didn't work out so well. The other 200+ adventures were probably tedious and dull. 

In this novel, Chavasse is captured, brutally tortured, and placed before a firing squad. In the middle, he makes a romantic connection, weeds out the traitor, contends with a brilliant villain, and befriends the scientist he's sworn to retrieve. The book's closing section wraps up the story quite nicely with a far-reaching present-day side-story that blends all of the narrative's pieces together. The end result makes this my favorite Chavasse novel to date and an easy re-read. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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. 

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. 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Six Days of the Condor

James Grady wrote Six Days of the Condor when he was 21 years-old and sold it to a publisher in 1974. Thereafter, it was adapted into the film Three Days of the Condor (Confession: Haven’t seen it) in 1975, and the book has remained popular ever since.

Ronald Malcolm is a CIA researcher in a boring desk-jockey job with an insanely-stupid purpose (it’s too embarrassing to recount here) in a Washington, DC undercover off-site. One day while picking up lunch, he returns to his office and finds that all of his co-workers have been slaughtered. It was only dumb luck that the assassins failed to hit Malcolm, whose code-name is Condor. Now, Malcolm is on-the-run in DC trying to get to safety and into the arms of the CIA Good Guys.

Grady writes the novel in a fun “third-person with a personality” voice borrowed straight from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. It’s an omniscient narrator with a distinctive voice who goes on tangents to give background and context to events that occurs. This fuels a really enjoyable read.

As the novel opens, Malcolm is a pretty inept operative — completely unlike James Bond, Jason Bourne or Nick Carter. He’s a bookish fellow unsuited to real fieldwork, but he’s also a rebel and iconoclast among his office peers. These instincts play into his favor during the novel’s extended cat-and-mouse game with the assassins. He takes to killing quite well as the story unfolds.

The author certainly knows how to write a bloody and violent action scene, and there are plenty to enjoy here. The novel is fast moving and exciting. However, the solution to the central mystery of the mass-killing at the CIA off-site left me cold. There were some logical fallacies large enough to drive a bus through in the bad guys’ rationale.

Overall, this is an enjoyable paperback and certainly worth reading. 21st-century reprints contain an interesting introduction by the author discussing how the book came to be and its societal impact following the hit movie. The book also spawned several sequels, including one short story collection starring the hero. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Modesty Blaise - Pieces of Modesty

Pieces of Modesty is a collection of six Modesty Blaise short stories by Peter O’Donnell written in the 1960s and compiled into one paperback volume published in 1972. The book remains available today as a paperback reprint and ebook.

For the uninitiated, Modesty Blaise is a former Baltic organized crime boss who retired and now works as a British spy along with her hyper-competent sidekick, Willie Garvin. The series began as a comic strip and evolved into a popular series of novels. Pieces of Modesty is the first of two short story collections written by O’Donnell.

“A Better Day to Die”

Modesty and Willie are traveling through a Latin American Banana Republic, so Modesty can say goodbye to an old member of her criminal network who is now dying at the ancient age of 60. A mishap with their car leaves Modesty bumming a ride in a school bus with a missionary preacher and his students. On the ride, Modesty has to endure the pacifist reverend’s diatribe against the violence Modesty has deployed throughout her life.

The excitement heats up with the bus is forced off the road by guerrillas who take the passengers hostage. Will the preacher change his stance when Modesty does her thing to save their collective hides? This story is pure awesomeness and made me wish straight-up action-adventure short stories were more of a phenomena outside the pulps.

“The Giggle-Wrecker”

The British government wants a wannabe defector scientist out of East Berlin and working in London for the Good Guys. However, bringing a valuable human asset from the other side of the Iron Curtain is no easy feat. The solution? Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin.

This reminds me of a heist story where a team of professionals needs to smuggle contraband out of a secured area and everything goes to holy hell in the process. Tack on a very clever twist ending and we have some very fun reading, indeed.

“I Had a Date with Lady Janet”

This story is noteworthy in the Modesty Blaise universe because it’s the only one narrated in the first person by Modesty’s badass, Cockney sidekick, Willie Garvin,. When not running missions with “The Princess,” Willie runs a pub 25 miles from London called The Treadmill.

In the story, Willie is involved in a casual dating situation with a one-legged gentry gal named Lady Janet. One night before a date with Janet, Willie learns that Modesty has been kidnapped by an old nemesis looking to exact revenge. Will Willie break his date with Lady Janet to rescue Modesty? You betcha.

This is another great story, and having Willie as a narrator was a lot of fun. It really was his adventure - like a Sherlock story featuring an adventure of Watson. Don’t skip this one. Savor it.

“A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck”

Modesty and Willie are enjoying catching up with some old friends over dinner in France. As they're leaving the restaurant, the group is attacked by knife-wielding thugs. Why on earth would someone mount an attack so ham-handed and lacking finesse? The mystery deepens as the attacks keep coming in different venues.

I had trouble connecting with this story or even understanding the stakes and character motivations. You may have better luck. Alternatively, it can safely be skipped altogether.

“Salamander Four”

Modesty Blaise is working a side-hustle as a model for a sculptor in Finland, because, well, of course she is. And during the weeks of modeling for the artist, a lovemaking relationship ensues. One night during the sexual afterglow, a severely-wounded man comes to the house after having been pursued by gunmen through the night. Modesty and her sculptor provide the man sanctuary in the house.

The adventure thrusts Modesty into the world of industrial espionage and gentlemen thieves. Bonus points for some cool knife work from Willie Garvin. This story is another winner.

“The Soo Girl Charity”

The final story of the collection has an oddly comical set-up. A wealthy industrialist jerk pinches Modesty’s ass on the street, and she decides that he owes her $5,000 for the pleasure. She and Willie plan a complicated operation to collect the money through a safecracking burglary heist.

During the burglary itself, the duo stumbles upon indicators that the target is into something way more sinister than pinching bottoms, and the story unfolds from there. This is a great heist story with a clever plan for revenge and a handful of surprises along the way. Whatever you do, don’t skip this one.

Paperback Warrior Assessment

Pieces of Modesty is one of the finest single-author, recurring-character, short story collections I’ve ever read. There just aren’t enough short story collections from the action-adventure paperback era, so savor this one. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Monty Nash #01 - The Bloody Medallion

According to Spy Guys and Gals, Richard Telfair was a pseudonym used by Richard Jessup (1925-1982). Jessup authored westerns, pulp stories, and espionage, but was mostly known for his novel The Cincinnati Kid, which was adapted to film starring Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson. My first experience with Jessup is The Bloody Medallion. It was the first of five spy-fiction novels starring Montgomery Nash, a U.S. operative working for the Department of Counter Intelligence. The Bloody Medallion was originally published in 1959 by Fawcett Gold Medal and has since been reprinted in both digital and paperback versions. 

It is explained to readers that Nash works in the European section of the DCI and has a background as an attorney and WW2 veteran. This European section is made up of two-man teams that blanket the continent taking the war to the people who would make war with the US. His partner is a guy named Paul Austin. In the early pages, Nash receives a cryptic phone call from Austin with map coordinates and an odd message. Later, the DCI pulls Nash in and explains to him that Austin has changed sides and defected to the Soviet Union. As Nash digests this shocking news, he discovers that the agency has targeted him as a possible collaborator in Austin's defection. Grabbing a gun and a hostage, Nash escapes the agency to clear his name while also attempting to learn more about Austin's betrayal.

Nash tracks Austin's last known whereabouts to a mistress named Helga. With her, Nash learns of a secret society that fought the Nazis in Poland with the help of the Russian army. Each member of the society wears a special medallion that contains a piece of cloth that was dipped in the blood of their fallen comrades in a fateful battle. This secret society now fights international enemies of Russia, with America and other European allies being their chief targets. Just like Austin, Nash falls for Helga and decides to infiltrate the society to learn more about Austin's fate. Jessup's narrative is captivating as Nash learns the society's secrets while also agreeing to assist them in a plot to destroy a drug czar. But, to accomplish the mission he needs to dodge the DCI hitmen and place trust in Helga, a woman who holds a number of valuable secrets. 

I really enjoyed my first experience with Monty Nash. He writes in a hard-boiled, pulpy way which is unusual considering this is a spy-fiction novel. Nash is extremely violent, and I was left awe-inspired when he obliterated a maid's skull with a .45 bullet. His methods are heavy-handed, and not far removed from some of the savage tenacity possessed by Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm. If you love espionage thrillers with double-crosses, dastardly villains, sexy women, and Cold War hysteria, then the Monty Nash series is a mandatory read. I'm anxious to read the next installment. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Pursuit of Agent M

DeWitt Samuel Copp (1919-1999) authored fiction and nonfiction books with themes relating to military history, aviation, the Cold War, and espionage. His experience in the Army Air Corps during WWII, and role as a flight instructor pilot provides a unique realism to his writing. Copp also served in the Central Intelligence Agency and taught history and civics at St. Luke's School in Connecticut. 

Copp's literary work includes Notebooks, a three-book series of action-adventure novels written under a pseudonym of Sam Picard. As Nick Carter, Copp authored two novels in the Nick Carter: Killmaster series. The talented writer penned a screenplay for an episode of One Step Beyond, a Twilight Zone-esque anthology show on ABC and scripted episodes for other television programs like Three Musketeers, Kraft Theatre, and Lux Video Theatre

His spy-thriller The Pursuit of Agent M has been recently released in a new edition by Cutting Edge in digital and physical formats. The book was originally published as a hardcover in 1961 by Hammond and in paperback by Popular Library a year later. It has remained out of print until now. 

Agent M is Mark Costain, an American spy working for the CIA under the name Mark Vorak. His cover is that he is an engineering director at a Czechoslovakian company that manufactures rockets and missiles. In the time-period of the book's release, Czechoslovakia was a communist country controlled entirely by the very red Soviet Union. 

When readers first meet Costain, he is desperately struggling through the cold, harsh landscape of Czechoslovakia attempting to reach the freedom of the Austrian border. In close pursuit is the Czech military, who have positioned Costain as Public Enemy #1. Considering the novel is a man-on-the-run suspense-thriller, the book's simplistic title is perfectly fitting. 

The Pursuit of Agent M is presented in four acts that feature Czech characters aiding Costain's escape. In the first act, Costain meets an old man tending to his sheep. The brief relationship examines Costain's confession that he was stealing government secrets. The wise old man, who hides Costain from the military, doesn't chastise Costain over killing a police officer. Instead, the old man is infuriated over Costain's “theft” of government intelligence. This surprising response to theft versus murder is an intriguing debate. 

Costain's second meeting is with a poet-philosopher that lives in a one room apartment. The poet insists that he isn't Costain's enemy and allows him safe harbor with food and rest. The only repayment requirement is for Costain to hesitantly listen to the poet's readings asking for praise. When the poet risks death for Costain's getaway, Copp's narrative is morally uplifting, showing readers a most basic human principal. 

The third act, and arguably the most exciting, features Costain's hostage, a woman that is revealed to be the mistress to Krupina, a Czech official coincidentally leading the manhunt to find Costain. This sequence is a fevered, tight-laced portion of Copp's narrative that focuses on the woman's relationship with Krupina, and her efforts to assist Costain as a way to extract revenge on her lover. These events are central to a rural farmhouse with plenty of cat-and-mouse tactics between Costain, Krupina, and the mistress that they both are relying on. It's a brilliant premise that leads to Costain's retrieval of an aircraft, that eventually leads to disaster. 

The book's final act is a resounding resolution that introduces key characters that are paramount to Costain's original mission in Czechoslovakia. The characters include a young woman, Lisa, that shares a romantic chemistry with Costain. It's this satisfying conclusion that breathes a new life into the story, revealing Costain's experiences during WWII, both as a pilot and a prisoner-of-war. The circle becomes complete as Copp presents a roaring sequence of events that spring from a treacherous doctor and his association with the communist government. It's a unique twist on the story relevant to Costain's employer and the horrifying atrocities committed while serving as an undercover agent in the German Gestapo. 

The Los Angels Times said, “The writing and style of the book are superior”, when reviewing The Pursuit of Agent M. I would wholeheartedly agree with their praise as Copp's writing was certainly unique, charismatic, and often endearing. The book, rightfully categorized as a spy-thriller, contains a remarkable amount of emotion - human endurance, philosophy, the consequences of war, moralistic thinking, and personal indebtedness. It's a mature approach to the old-fashioned Cold War, espionage thriller that leaves a strong, noticeable effect on readers. 

As a casual, man-on-the-run story, the novel can be enjoyed as pure escapism, but it would be a travesty to ignore Copp's fundamental, underlining messages sprinkled throughout his work. It really sets him apart from his other military-fiction and espionage contemporaries of that era in a Hemingway style – invigorating circumstances propelling human need and suffering. Whether there is a happy ending is in the eye of the beholder. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Strike Terror

Hy Steirman (1921-2009) was born in Canada and settled in New York City, where he became an editor for the publisher Street and Smith during the twilight of the pulp era and later served as chairman of publishing at Warner Books. He wrote a few himself, including a spy series starring an ex-FBI man named Zachary Jones that only lasted two installments, the first being Strike Terror from 1968.

Zach Jones is a former FBI agent and widower doing his best to be a single father to a young son. He is pressed back into service by his former boss when a woman he used to know is injured in an accident while possessing deadly weapons and bombs. The KGB has dispatched five trained assassins to blend in with American culture to assassinate a U.S. Counterintelligence chief. Could this woman from Zach’s past be part of this deadly conspiracy?

Zach is a very interesting three-dimensional character that isn't often seen in men’s adventure paperbacks, and the novel’s villains are completely awesome in their originality. The Soviet assassins are sleeper agents born and raised in the U.S. with skills cultivated literally from the womb awaiting activation from Mother Russia.

The author toggles between Zach’s third-person perspective and the perspective of his Soviet-controlled adversaries. While this takes a bit of the mystery away from the plot, it certainly enhances the cat-and-mouse game at play throughout the fast-moving paperback. The plotting is more pulpy than a John LeCarre espionage thriller, but it’s way smarter than a Nick Carter: Killmaster disposable paperback.

The novel plays with many of the tropes one often sees in the genre, including a female partner who is not entirely trustworthy but oozes sex appeal. Watching Zach and his FBI friends thwart one assassination attempt after another made for some fun reading - even when the traps set for them veer into the kind of silliness often seen in The Destroyer series. To be sure, you’ll need to repeatedly suspend your disbelief as the novel progresses, but that’s part of the enjoyment of a men’s adventure series paperback.

Overall, Strike Terror is a winner with some outstanding action scenes, and I look forward to diving into the sequel, Cry of the Hawk, from 1970. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

George Smiley #01 - Call for the Dead

John Le Carre’s real name was David John Moore Cornwell (1931-2020), and he is regarded as one of the fathers of British espionage fiction. His first novel, Call for the Dead (1961), was also the debut of his iconic series character, George Smiley. 

The opening chapter is “A Brief History of George Smiley” in which the novel’s hero is said to resemble a poorly-dressed bullfrog. He’s a British Intelligence Officer with the Secret Service and a keen interest in academic incursions into the mysteries of human behavior. He served admirably in Germany during the run up to WW2, recruiting human assets, and now he’s back at the Home Office in London handling administrative tasks including conducting security interviews of employees. In fact, it’s one of those security interviews that kicks off the paperback’s action. 

The Service receives an anonymous letter accusing an operative named Samuel Fenman of being part of a Marxist student organization decades ago at Oxford during the 1930s. Smiley handles the security interview and finds no reason to be concerned with Fenman’s adulthood loyalty to the British Crown. The entire conversation is cordial, and Smiley is satisfied that his Foreign Office colleague isn’t a security threat. 

For this reason, Smiley is shocked a few days later when Fenman is found dead by suicide. The note he left behind cites Smiley’s benign security interview as the spark that triggered him to blow his brains out. None of this makes much sense to Smiley, who is called into the office by his concerned and confused supervisors. They send Smiley to Fenman’s hometown to visit the widow and determine exactly what occurred. 

Smiley quickly comes to the conclusion that Fenman’s death was no suicide, and we have a real mystery on our hands with unknown parties working in the shadows to ensure Smiley fails in his quest to learn the truth. There’s some violence, deceit, and spy tradecraft along the way. 

I’d always steered away from LeCarre’s works under the assumption that his writing was dense, slow and hard to follow. It’s certainly British and written with a level of sophistication beyond a Killmaster paperback, but there was nothing impenetrable about this debut novel. It was a perfectly straightforward murder mystery told with the backdrop of Britain’s premier spy agency. While the motivations of many characters involve espionage, the paperback doesn’t particularly read as a spy novel. 

Worth reading? I suppose so. Le Carre was a good writer, but there was nothing really special about this debut. It was good enough to make me want to read a pure Smiley espionage classic such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Others have recommended reading Call for the Dead as a prequel after enjoying the author’s superior spy novels. That strikes me as a good idea. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Operation Destruct

Christopher Robin Nicole (born: 1930), author of over 200 books, was born in Guyana and settled in the Channel Islands nestled between England and France. He wrote a three-book espionage series starring Jonathan Anders — all currently available as affordable ebooks — with the first installment being Operation Destruct from 1969. 

Jonathan is a 23 year-old chess prodigy and skin-diving enthusiast in southern England. He works for an antiquarian book dealer that is actually a front for a secret counter-espionage agency of the British government. He’s a rookie operative who, as the paperback opens, hasn’t really been tested in the field. This is his first assignment. 

The Ludmilla is a boat — a Russian trawler — that recently sunk in the English Channel in 30 feet of water with no recovered survivors. The intelligence service tasks young Jonathan with traveling to the island of Guernsey near the shipwreck to determine why a Russian fishing boat was there in the first place and what contributed to its sinking. 

There’s a good likelihood that a British sleeper agent posing as a Soviet marine biologist was aboard the Ludmilla. The boat clearly contained Soviet secrets that sparked the shipwreck, and Jonathan’s assignment is to quietly learn the score. The setup for this one is a total pleasure, and the writing quality far surpasses a normal 180-page 1969 spy paperback. 

Guernsey is an interesting setting for much of the novel. The island is located in the British territorial waters of the English Channel between England and France. It was German-occupied during WW2 and is filled with underground bunkers and fortifications like a honeycomb across the island’s eight-mile length. During the war, the Germans were expecting Guernsey to be the site of an allied invasion, but we opted to hold the D-Day festivities in Normandy, instead. The residents are known as Guernseymen, but that was 1969 — I’m sure there’s another term, now. 

In a world filled with paperbacks starring self-assured, confident spies, Jonathan is a pleasure precisely because he is green, uncertain of himself, and wet behind the ears. He’s thrust into his first field assignment alone with only his wits guiding him to sink or swim (sometimes literally). 

The book’s opening scenes and exciting conclusion are both awesome. However, there’s a good bit in the middle that was rather dumb and at times almost descended into parody. I’d still recommend the novel because the ending is so interesting and unlike other books you will read in the genre. Overall, Operation Destruct is an easy recommendation, and I look forward to the next book in the trilogy. 

Buy a copy of the eBook HERE.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Paperback Warrior Primer - Howard Hunt

There is already a lot that can be said about Howard Hunt. He was both a WW2 veteran, a spy, a Hollywood screenwriter, war correspondent, and a criminal. His life has been fictionalized by the film industry, his exploits chronicled by numerous non-fiction books about the infamous Watergate incident, and his possible involvement in the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Even Hunt himself wrote non-fiction books about his own life. While all of these things are fascinating, the purpose of this Paperback Warrior Primer is to examine some of his literary highlights. You can dig the hole deeper through any number of other resources. He authored at least 88 novels, most featuring lurid covers that we appreciate.

Everette Howard Hunt Jr. (1918-2007) was born in Hamburg, New York. He attended the prestigious Brown University and later began writing for Life as a war correspondent. Later, Hunt joined the Navy, serving on the USS Mayo during the early days of WWII. After, he went to the Army Air Corps and then finished his military stint with the OSS, the nation's wartime precursor to what is now known as the CIA. Beginning in 1949, Hunt was an officer for the CIA, performing 21 years of international counter-intelligence until 1970. During this entire time, Hunt was writing novels.

His first book was East of Farewell, published in hardcover by Alfred Knopf in 1942. The book reads like a true biography as Hunt recounts the day-to-day life upon a Fletcher-class destroyer. Hunt also used his Army Air Corps experience to write his second novel, Limit of Darkness. It covers a single 24-hour period in the "life" of a Navy torpedo bomber squadron on Guadalcanal in 1943. With the success of these two novels, Hunt won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, which provided him a grant to help fund his writing career and provide blocks of time where he can pursue his art form. 

During the 1950s, paperback original novels became extremely marketable by publishers. Hunt was in the perfect position to take advantage of this publishing craze by writing and selling a lot of books under his name and various pseudonyms. 

As John Baxter, Hunt authored the two novels A Foreign Affair and Unfaithful in the mid-1950s. 

Using the name Robert Dietrich, Hunt authored 12 total novels, but 9 of these make up the Steve Bentley series. Hunt produced nine series installments between 1957 through 1962 as Dietrich. He revisited the series in 1999 under his own name with one additional installment featuring the titular hero at an advanced age. In the novels, Bentley is a Washington D.C. accountant that stumbles into a lot of crime inside the Nation's Capital. Mostly, these crimes are solved by doing favors for clients or business associates. But often, they just conveniently appear in strip clubs, bars, and even by the roadside. Bentley is easily likable and shares a lot of stereotypical genre tropes with the popular private-eyes of the era - he drinks a lot of alcohol, engages in various relationships with women, owns a boat, former military, and can fight, shoot straight, and speak the truth. Paperback Warrior has a number of reviews about the series HERE. Some of the Steve Bentley books have been released in brand new editions by Cutting Edge Books, including an ebook omnibus containing a majority of the series. Cutting Edge also offers the stand-alone Dietrich novels One for the Road, Be My Victim, and The Cheat

1. Murder on the Rocks (1957)
2. End of a Stripper (1959)
3. House on Q Street (1959)
4. Mistress to Murder (1960)
5. Murder on her Mind (1960)
6. Angel Eyes (1961)
7. Curtains for a Lover (1961)
8. Calypso Caper (1961)
9. My Body (1962)
10. Guilty Knowledge (1999, as Howard Hunt)

As David St. John, Hunt authored a nine-book series starring CIA operative Peter Ward. These books were published between 1965 through 1971, and then later were reprinted under Hunt's own name in the 1970s to capitalize on his newfound fame connected with Watergate. In this series, Ward is helping Soviet scientists defect, dodging enemy assassins, chasing sensational cults, and investigating assassinations of foreign leaders. It's stereotypical spy-fiction of the era, but enjoyable nonetheless. Hunt also used the David St. John pseudonym to author the 1972 novel The Coven, a stand-alone thriller about a Washington D.C. attorney navigating witchcraft and murder. 

1. On Hazardous Duty (1965)
2. Return from Vorkuta (1965)
3. The Towers of Silence (1966)
4. Festival for Spies (1966)
5. The Venus Probe (1966)
6. One of our Agents is Missing (1967)
7. The Mongol Mask (1968)
8. The Sorcerers (1969)
9. Diabolus (1971)

Hunt's Gordon Davis works are all stand-alone novels. Paperback Warrior reviewed Where Murder Waits HERE and Hard Case Crime reprinted House Dick in 2009 using the name E. Howard Hunt. A majority of the Gordon Davis paperbacks were reprinted by various publishers under Hunt's name, once again to capitalize on Watergate.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon was running for re-election. A group of men beholden to the President was caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee headquarters – President Nixon’s opposition party – at a hotel called The Watergate in Washington, DC. One of the burglars caught was Howard Hunt. It became known as the Watergate Scandal and one of the central questions was: What did the President know about this burglary and when did he know it? The burglary led to the resignation of President Nixon. Howard Hunt, among others, was incarcerated for his part in the burglary and served 33 total months in federal prisons in Pennsylvania and Florida. While in prison, Hunt suffered a minor stroke. 

The prison stint did not dampen Hunt's literary career. If anything, it improved his sales. Publishers were able to list a front-cover blurb that connected the author's name with one of the greatest scandals in U.S. history. Once he was released from prison, Hunt began writing consistently, but also realized that his prior pseudonyms were being converted to his real name.

In 1985, Hunt created an action-adventure series starring Jack Novak, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency. The series ran seven total novels from 1985 through 2000. 

1. Cozumel (1985)
2. Guadalajara (1990)
3. Mazatlan (1993)
4. Ixtapa (1994)
5. Islamorada (1995)
6. Izmir (1996)
7. Sonora (2000)

While he was authoring the Novak series, he also authored three-stand alone action-adventure novels using the pseudonym P.S. Donoghue from 1988-1992 - Dublin Affair, Sarkov Confession, and Evil Time.

On January 23, 2007, Howard Hunt died from pneumonia in Miami. He is buried in Prospect Lawn Cemetery in Hamburg, New York.

You can read all of our Howard Hunt reviews and listen to a podcast episode dedicated to the author HERE.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

A Night for Treason

Before John Jakes struck gold with his Civil War epic North and South, he was a paperback author for dudes like us. A Night for Treason was a 1956 spy thriller that was released as an Ace Double with many subsequent reprints over the years. 

Our hero is an American secret agent named Max Ryan. The novel begins with an exciting action set-piece with Max hijacking a truck filled with military supplies. It’s a violent and fast-paced opening that sets the tone for this short, peppy paperback. 

We are quickly introduced to our villains: a shadowy European-based organized crime and intelligence cabal known only as The Combine seeking to steal American industrial secrets for its own profit and benefit. The focal point for this showdown between The Combine and Max’s agency is an Atomic energy conference hosted on the estate of an Air Force colonel. It’s up to Max to figure out who the technology thieving Combine spies are among the guests and neutralize them without getting whacked himself. 

The Air Force colonel has a sexy, 26 year-old niece named April who is the hostess of the conference and a pivotal player in the weekend’s intrigue. John Jakes keeps the narrative exciting with well-crafted action scenes every few pages. His plotting is basic but serviceable. 

Overall, this early work from a future famous author is about as good as one of the better Nick Carter: Killmaster installments. If you can score a cheap copy of A Night for Treason, you won’t regret reading it. However, it’s unlikely you’ll remember it for long after you’ve moved onto the next paperback in your stack. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Matt Helm #05 - Murderer's Row

Murderer's Row, the fifth installment in Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series of spy-fiction, was published in 1962 by Fawcett Gold Medal. The novel was loosely adapted into a film of the same name in 1966. I've mostly enjoyed the series and Hamilton's writing, so I'm continuing in proper order with this installment.

Like the last entry, The Silencers, the next dangerous mission involves a female agent working for the same three-lettered, clandestine organization as Helm. Mac, Helm's boss, explains that the coast of Virginia – Chesapeake Bay – is experiencing an elevated amount of foreign vessels. The theory is that the area is hosting a trafficking operation with foreign powers extracting key personnel from the U.S., including a top-rated scientist with important knowledge regarding American security. The agency wants to locate the scientist and either retrieve or kill him.

A female agent has been inserted into the operation to gain intelligence, however, her perceived credibility has been compromised. Mac, and the agency, need her to regain credibility through nefarious means. Helm is to travel to her hotel room and dish out a scolding punishment from the agency, a savage, violent beating to whip her into shape. The room is bugged by the bad guys, so they will hear and see the beating and realize that this agent does in fact work for the U.S. and is being reprimanded for her poor performance. Mac's last agent, a young rookie sensation, failed miserably on the assignment. Helm is pulled from a Texas vacation to do the job right. Mostly, it all goes accordingly until the female agent unexpectedly dies during the beating.

Helm “killing” a fellow agent creates a tidal wave of issues for him and the agency. Mac attempts a retrieval, and at one point Helm is set-up in an attempt to bring him back to Washington. Helm wants to complete the mission, his superiors feel he is unable to. Against orders, and without support, Helm eventually finds the scientist's daughter, and gets tangled in a wild set of circumstances where he pretends to be a mob hitman named Petroni. There's a dense, complicated family affair between the woman, the scientist, and a bitter married couple. Individually, they each want to pay Helm/Petroni to kill another family member. Surprisingly, Helm accepts the jobs.

Hamilton really threw a curveball into this series installment by creating a unique, nearly comedic approach to the typical spy formula. The female agent dying during the beating was shocking, but where Helm goes after that opening event was just so bizarre and entertaining. Helm's insertion into a high-level, deadly family dispute was amazing, especially considering he agrees to kill two family members for money. It's all for show, of course, but the means to an end is an exciting chain of events that eventually leads from hotels to back-roads, then jail to a boat, then a massive hurricane that bounces the characters around during the book's rousing finale. It was superb pacing and plot development. 

Murderer's Row is probably a high-point in the Matt Helm series. It has a really clever storyline, a plausible sequence of extraordinary events, and a deep character study of the family dynamic and the strenuous ties that bind. This one is just fantastic and highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Counter-Terror #01 - Hour of the Wolf

The Counter-Terror series, authored by Robert Leader under the pseudonym Robert Charles, was published between 1974 through 1980. The eight-book series was released by Robert Hale in England  and by Pinnacle in the U.S. I enjoyed Leader's stand-alone novel Sea Vengeance, so I was anxious to try this Counter-Terror series debut, Hour of the Wolf. It's compared to the fiction of authors like Eric Ambler and Frederick Forsyth.

After the deadly terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics in 1972, lots of authors began writing “counter terrorist” series and novels. Hour of the Wolf is spawned from that horrific act as a group of Palestinian refugees are banded together in an international terrorist plot. The Wolf is Abdel Rahmin Marani, a veteran of war during Black September in 1970. His quest for bloodshed is an effort to bring attention to Palestine's refugee camps and the atrocities he feels are committed there. 

To combat worldwide terror, a Counter-Terror team is created by the British military. It is coordinated through international channels that involves French and Italian Intelligence, West German State Police, the British military and features the series star, Detective Inspector Mark Nicolson in New Scotland Yard. Collectively, this team will work within their own agencies and divisions, but will also share intelligence on terrorism. The goal is to lower the walls of their own respective authority in an advancement of security, preparation, and planning. 

Hour of the Wolf is less than 200 pages, but divided into three separate parts to fit the trilogy narrative. The first part is the Wolf's recruitment and planning, the second is set in Japan, and the final part situated in London. The operation is rather simple. 

Due to the IRA's frequency of attacks to liberate Northern Ireland, the British population has become desensitized. Shootings, bombings, and senseless murder is so common that the attacks aren't creating the desired impact or reinforcing the message. A small cell of the IRA agrees to detonate a bomb in Japan to gain notoriety in another part of the world. In return, the Japanese terrorist group The Red Army will attack a large population of Jews at an Israeli airport. To complete this nightmare trifecta, the Palestine Liberation Army will attack London. 

The first thing to know is that Hour of the Wolf is pretty darn good. It isn't your rudimentary team-commando series. There's a great deal of intelligence, inner-workings, and networking that takes place over the course of the narrative. It isn't necessarily a slow-burn, but it's not a standard Phoenix Force shoot 'em up. Like Sea Vengeance, the author provides a lot of historical data to cement each character's position. These history lessons were informative, bringing to light the refugee camps, the displacement of non-Jews in that region post-WW2, and the Middle East struggles that still affect the modern world today. 

As a compelling espionage thriller, Hour of the Wolf delivers the goods. While the team members will change, I'm interested in learning more about Mark Nicolson and his ordeals and trials as this series further explores international terrorism. It's a series I'm really excited about, so I'll be searching for the other installments.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 5, 2022

James Bond #04 - Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever is the fourth installment of Ian Fleming's wildly successful James Bond series of spy-thrillers. It was originally published by Jonathan Cape in the U.K. in 1956. The novel's central theme is diamond smuggling, a criminal operation that intrigued Fleming enough to not only use it as a plot, but also a non-fiction book he wrote in 1957, The Dimaond Smugglers. In 1971, the novel was adapted into the seventh James Bond film. 

In the book's opening chapters, Bond and his superior M engage in a deep discussion about the diamond industry. At the time, England was importing diamonds from Africa and then selling large amounts to various international companies and countries. It made up a large percentage of the country's income and represented what would ultimately be one of the largest diamond exporting operations. One of the largest buyers, House of Diamonds, has reduced their purchases of English diamonds, creating a financial gap in the Brits lucrative business. 

It's explained that House of Diamonds is a legitimate business owned and controlled by an American mob family named The Spangs. M, and the Special Branch, suspect that a criminal element has been introduced which is creating the rift. House of Diamonds surely must be obtaining their diamonds by smuggling them in at a cheaper price. M wants Bond to investigate the operation by infiltrating the smuggling ring into New York and Las Vegas under the disguise of a common burglar named Peter Franks. He wants Bond to engage in the job and then converse with a woman named Tiffany Case, one of the gang members involved in the smuggling.  

Bond's journey is quite epic, first beginning in New York to retrieve the smuggling money owed on the latest smuggle. His payer is a gang leader named Shady Tree. He explains that their operation doesn't just pay out the full payment for security reasons. To fulfill his payout to Bond, aka Peter Franks, he orchestrates a number of rigged gambling ventures that will produce fragmented payments. The first payout is an exciting stretch at a rigged horse race in Saratoga. Then, a rigged blackjack game in Las Vegas dealt by Tiffany. But, Bond flips the score and pays off the jockey to disrupt the payoff and then wins too much money at blackjack.

If I provide anything else pertaining to the story, it's going to provoke you to skip Ian Fleming and just read me. I'd never forgive myself. Here's the thing, read Diamonds Are Forever if you want to see Bond deeply entrenched in hardboiled danger. Fleming throws everything but the kitchen sink at readers: intrigue on a ship, danger in the desert, a train-car chase, torture, romance, and gunplay. The chemistry between Tiffany and Bond was perfect with both needing something from each other. Former American CIA agent Felix Leiter returns to this book and I found his addition to the story effective. My only real complaint is the “cowboy” appearance of one of the Spangs and the longer than necessary ending. Otherwise, Bond absolutely wins again. Recommended. 

Buy the book HERE.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

James Bond #03 - Moonraker

James Bond's third series installment, Moonraker, was first published in the U.K. as a hardcover by Cape on April 5, 1955. Macmillan published the U.S. edition on September 20, 1955, followed by Pan Books publishing a paperback edition in the U.K. a month later. In December of 1955, Permabooks published a paperback version in the U.S. under the title Too Hot to Handle. In 1979, the book's title was used for the eleventh James Bond film and the fourth appearance of Roger Moore as the Secret Service hero and heartthrob. The film's production company, Eon Productions, authorized Christopher Wood to write a novelization of the film, which was published under the title James Bond and Moonraker (a bestseller that I've heard is quite terrible). 

In Moonraker, Fleming begins by providing a more intimate look at Bond's day-to-day activities. Readers gain a peek into his home, his routines, and his official desk assignments when he isn't globetrotting to extinguish international fires. It's shown that Bond is having affairs with three married women, works a desk schedule of 10 to 6, and likes to play cards in the evenings with friends. 

Fleming reveals that Bond uses a stimulant known as Benzedrine to stay awake and alert, and even combines the amphetamine with champagne. It was also,interesting to watch his habit of sprinkling black pepper on the surface of vodka. 

It is all of these things that further connected me to the character. I also found it fascinating that Bond was contemplating how many more assignments he has to complete before he can retire. He even fathoms how many will introduce the real possibility of his own death. It was written in such a poignant way that made me sympathize with him. Personally, I felt that his characteristics from Casino Royale were further enhanced by this novel. The idea that he wants to move on and have a normal existence is re-visited at the beginning and ending of Moonraker, leaving an emotional impact on readers.

Down to business, M approaches Bond about a personal favor, sort of an “off the record” assignment. He wants Bond to join him at an exclusive gentleman's club called Blades to play poker with a wealthy entrepreneur named Hugo Drax. M suspects Drax is cheating, but wants Bond to discover his method. This segment of the novel includes intense rounds of bridge as Bond verifies Drax's cheating and beats him with a stacked deck of cards, winning seven times his annual salary. All of this is important because the narrative focuses on Bond and Drax's working relationship later.

Bond's official assignment comes to fruition when a Ministry of Supply security officer is fatally shot in a facility housing England's first nuclear missile. This missile has been created by Drax's company and is to take flight as a demo version for England and foreign powers. Bond is assigned as the security officer's replacement in an effort to determine what's going on. I found his investigation hard-boiled and edgy, culminating in a high-speed chase between Bond and Drax's crew from the town of Deal to London. Of course, it wouldn't be a Bond novel without the inclusion of a beautiful co-worker named Brand. 

Moonraker is rather unique due to its settings. The entire novel takes place in and around London, with a focus on atmosphere as Bond is centralized on the sprawling White Cliffs of Dover, the countryside, and the battering of the North Sea and the English Channel. There's a sense of isolation as Bond gazes at the ocean at night, listening for the ship's foghorns and spotting a beacon. I felt that this, combined with Bond's lonely position in the book's last pages, added a sense of solitude to the story. 

Drax's backstory of his rise to criminality, war atrocities, and his fevered attempts to destroy London paired nicely with Bond's “do or die” mission. There's violence, sexiness, thrills, car chases, shootouts, and the pesky Russians to keep the pages moving at a brisk pace. The storytelling improved drastically from the rather average prior installment, Live and Let Die. While that book was action-packed, it came  across a bit campy when compared to the series debut in Casino Royale. Ian Fleming is all business in Moonraker, making it a fan favorite among James Bond fans. Recommended! 

Get the book HERE.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Hugh North 18 - Two Tickets for Tangier

Francis Van Wyck Mason (1901-1978) was a renowned international traveler and author with 78 books to his credit. He began his career writing stories for the pulps where he developed his signature character, U.S. Army Intelligence Colonel Hugh North (7 stories, 25 novels) in 1930. The stories began as mysteries, but shifted into spy adventures with the advent of paperback original novels. My first taste was the character’s 18th novel, Two Tickets for Tangier, from 1955. 

North, who works for a U.S. spy agency called G-2, is on vacation in London romancing a sexy babe named Lady Angela Forester. He’s known Angela for awhile, but he’s not initially aware that she’s a British MI-2 spy. Their romantic time together is cut short when North is summoned into his boss’ office in London, and Angela has to fly to Tangier for something or other. 

Don’t be embarrassed if you know nothing about Tangier. I’m here for you. It’s a port city located in Morocco on the northern coast of Africa — across from the Strait of Gibraltar from the southern tip of Spain. In 1955, Tangier was still an international city largely operating independently as a free trade zone beyond the control of much oversight from Morocco. As a result, Tangier was a multi-cultural, freewheeling city — an “anything goes” kinda place. 

As luck would have it — the paperback’s title gives it away — North’s new assignment is also to Tangier. The mission involves a gas called Thulium-X that creates intense cold temperatures similar to those of outer space. The gas was perfected by a former Nazi scientist named Dr. Vogel, who had been enslaved by the Ruskies since 1945. Somehow the scientist escaped and is hiding in Tangier. North needs to find him and buy the formula before the Soviets can make the grab. 

The plotting in Two Tickets to Tangier was good, but not remarkable. The writing, however, was a slog. The author went to such pains to portray North as a debonair man of the world that he really came off as a foppish snob. He peppers his language with French phrases and seems like the last guy I’d ever send into a critical mission. Painstaking descriptions of locations abound and offhand references to obscure characters from previous novels litter every scene. 

I was really optimistic about this series, but this first foray into the world of The Man From G-2 really left me cold. If there’s a good installment in this series, please hit me up. I assure you that Two Tickets to Tangier isn’t the one. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE