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chrisno1

Member Since 01 Mar 2008
Offline Last Active Yesterday, 10:55 PM
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In Topic: Philip McAlpine by Adam Diment

Yesterday, 04:56 PM

The Bang Bang Birds

1968

 

As if to emphasise its drug induced denouement, the cover of my copy of The Bang Bang Birds has a psychedelic explosion daubed in white, blue and red and emblazoned with the naked comic-book rumps of three girls, each brandishing a machine pistol. To say this did not fill me with expectation would be an understatement.

 

Adam Diment’s third adventure to star the swinging spy Philip McAlpine is less of an espionage thriller and more of a sexy romp. While it doesn’t stoop to the literary low brow of the Virginia Boxx series [she of The Girl from H.A.R.D. – all camp Carry On daring do with a titter and a nudge towards free love and sex] the obsession with the machinations of The Aviary Club – a thinly veiled swipe at the Playboy bunny-girl phenomenon – is somewhat more unsettling.

 

Basically Diment is describing a high class and very expensive prostitution ring and he makes it all sound damn sophisticated, very exclusive and a jolly good wheeze for everyone involved, clients and ‘birds’ alike; so good the hero even considers getting his American girlfriend Marianne to enrol. Worryingly, to justify his point, McAlpine insists on describing her quite openly and with no remorse as a ‘slut’. Now you can have your female characters as bland a stereotype as you want but this sort of misogynistic claptrap really dates a novel. And horribly dates it too.

 

That’s a pity because when Diment focusses on anything other than sexual matters, he’s really rather good. The novel starts with a Russian assassin shadowing his victim and being double crossed. It’s a short chapter told in the third person. There are neat observations that make the reader sit up with due notice: “a discothèque… its fetid embrace…. A couple of bars of pop music rapidly guillotined as the door swung shut… He would have liked to have seen an analyst, but blabbing one’s troubles on a couch is not a recommended pastime for spies.” The little hints towards spy craft and the workings of Russian agents do offer an authentic ring, even if  the author has an imaginative touch; at his age I can’t believe he had much personal inside knowledge. It’s a good opening told with much clarity and no wasted words.

 

The assassin recurs throughout the story and provides most of the excitement, although he isn’t central to McAlpine’s mission which involves infiltrating the Stockholm Aviary Club disguised as the American millionaire slacker Lex Sullivan and stealing a list of blackmail targets. In fact the operation is accomplished fairly easily and wrapped up in one neat chapter as the club members get gassed with amyl nitrate and dosed with LSD while McAlpine, aided by an as good as naked Marianne, makes his move. Diment actually spends most of the novel, and a fair share of its climax [kapow!] describing beautiful women, moments of delirious coitus and the various personal histories of his protagonists.

 

The novel is nominally divided into three parts, each one prefaced by a modern fable demonstrating a moral point, e.g.: “bad training can be worse than no training at all” and my favourite “people ain’t predictable, especially about sex.” While the middle and longest section concerns the sexual moral and the shenanigans at the Aviary Club, the first and best concerns McAlpine’s training and here Diment really gets into his sardonic stride.

 

McAlpine has been outsourced to the CIA and is working for an obscure computer orientated intelligence group, Hun Sec 3. His work is dull and he fills his day spying on the rapists, muggers, joggers and lovers he can see in Central Park through his new binoculars. Excitement generally comes when he nips out for a lunchtime assignation with Marianne or when the IBM computers, cryptically named Marilyn and Brigitte, “threw electronic fits… Brigitte in true Gallic fashion once went haywire for a whole week, giving half the department ulcers.” McAlpine has swapped one dull job for another, one bubbly girlfriend for another and one swine of a boss for another.

 

The American version of Ruper Quine is called General Eastfeller, a God-fearing, hard as nails military type – “there was nothing to clutter his polished mahogany desk except three telephones” – a man not above some Quine-like blackmail. After McAlpine proves his physical prowess in a botched training exercise, he’s roped in to do Eastfeller’s dirty work and chase down the Comte de Vitconne, founder of the Aviary Club and part-time intelligence gatherer who uses his ‘birds’ to garner top secret political and industrial information from their bedfellows.

 

Vitconne is an odious creature, “one of the weirdest things you could see away from an LSD trip… freckled, dead-looking… silent as an Easter Island statue.” At the story’s end, having failed to extract anything except the weary and obvious truth from our tortured hero, he devises a single combat solution to rid himself of McAlpine’s nuisance. Here, at last, Diment cranks up the tension and provides a suitable visceral confrontation. He rather spoils it with a too simple escape and an unnecessary coda, but by this point, given all the naked copulating that’d been described, any minor moment of action would get my literary chops chewing.

 

At times I did dislike The Bang Bang Birds, cringing at the dated morality and the worse dialogue, but the thrills, intrigue and suspense, when they finally arrived, just about won me over. If you can track down a copy, I'd say it's definitely worth a look.

 

 

 


In Topic: Philip McAlpine by Adam Diment

21 March 2017 - 12:27 PM

The Great Spy Race
(1968)

 

The Great Spy Race is not as immediately accessible as Adam Diment’s initial stab at the thriller genre. It opens with his hero, Philip McAlpine, making a false passport for himself [you know, just in case]. Of course he subsequently gets to use it in the context of this rather odd adventure which involves a lot of pointless toing-and-froing between London, France and Mali, a luxury resort in the Indian Ocean. To say the last location confused me would be an understatement: it sounds as if Diment is describing Malé in the Maldives, but he’s spelt it wrong and made it read too much like a Caribbean enclave. Someone in the editing department really needed topping for that oversight.

 

Confusion aside, the novel starts at a leisurely pace with McAlpine bemoaning his lot in life, tied to his desk in 6 (NC/NAC) and at the behest of Rupert Quine. Salvation and money – it’s always money for McAlpine; he’s the least politically or conscientiously motivated spy of the sixties – comes in the form of a peculiar continent spanning competition between espionage organisations, entry by invite only from the wealthy, loathsome, sloth-like Peters – first name unknown – an ex-master spy with a grudge to grind.

 

Said invite is obtained via a spot of rough stuff in McAlpine’s apartment, a shopping expedition to Joyboy’s, a funky clothes shopped staffed by a gay KGB double, and a groovy drug fuelled party off the King’s Road, where McAlpine seduces a with-it little number called Josephine Sergeant, all bouncy tits, padded thigh, swinging ass, big hair and round eyes. 

 

The Great Spy Race has a prize: Peters has obtained a microfilm full of space-age scientific data the Americans don’t want to lose and everyone else wants to have. Hence the CIA have a competitor, as do the Russians – the afore mentioned homosexual shopkeeper – the IRA and the Japanese; even 6’s rivals 5 have entered the fray. Danger is provided by an aged butler and crack marksman, Petite (who is not), and romance by the ditsy Josy. Suspense hardly comes into it until the final chapter when an island wide pursuit by foot, car and plane is devised to test McAlpine to his limits.

 

While the mocking tone is very sixties to the modern ear, it over reaches several times and descends into bland stereotype, creating a sort of literary time capsule of slang terms and comic episodes. This does not always read well. I particularly disliked Joyboy’s and its camp sales assistant and even more a distasteful moment where McAlpine blackmails a homosexual back cashier. On the plus side I liked Diment’s use of the Chelsea Potter pub – still there and still much like it – and the scenes in the south of France have an authentic flavour to them. The nymphomaniac hostess Melanie makes a good sensual foil, far more intriguing than Josephine, who is as see-through as her dresses, and an element of black humour is leant by Samura, whose Far Eastern methods conflict with everyone.

 

It isn’t quite enough though and while The Great Spy Race isn’t all that bad it doesn’t quite draw you in like The Dolly Dolly Spy. Peters isn’t really a super-villain in the Bond mould or even the Heydritch Detmann mould, he’s just out to prove a point and isn’t defeated or confronted physically by our hero;  he’s rather anodyne in that regard, quite sophisticated and classy as baddies go, although his mental state is always in question.

 

However hats must go off to Diment for the half-blind Petite: “the etched in psychosis of the long-time killer with a hatred of the world.” McAlpine with his singularly fatalistic view and orgiastic vision of life seems to already be heading in the same direction as Petite.

 

Good; with reservations.

 


In Topic: Atomic Blonde

19 March 2017 - 12:12 AM

The swing at the end was straight out of World Is Not Enough.

Certainly is.

Looks, hmm, intriguing; did the director used to shoot pop video. Visually very good.

Fight scene (at the start of trailer) genuinely ridiculous in a Jason Stathan sort of way.

Should be fun.


In Topic: Modesty Blaise

19 January 2017 - 01:34 AM

They did A TASTE FOR DEATH last year. It was okay but you cant do much in one hour and fifteen minutes. THE SILVER MISTRESS has a very visual climax; be interesting to hear it, as it were...


In Topic: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold new production

19 January 2017 - 01:30 AM

I am always sceptical of remakes, but I thought the recent TTSS was excellent.

I watched the '65 version of TSWCIFTC over Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it. I guess it creaks a little with age and the movie condenses an intricate narrative into just about two hours of drama (which takes some doing) yet it is a solid piece of film making and I'd recommend it above most modern 'shoot 'em up!' thrillers - this is how the cold war was really fought - at least that is how it feels. Oswald Morris' b&w photography helps to instil a sense of dread and foreboding. And yes, that ending is brilliant, one of those true 'make-up-your-own-mind' moments. Suffice to say Richard Burton is in riveting form as Leamas. Burton - like those other great British actors Caine and Connery who took all the money and ran - is always worth a look and this is a top notch effort from him. Nice score too. Was it Johnny Dankworth? I can't recall.

I'm not sure I'd want an update. The story is very Cold War. The beauty of the Oldman Tinker Tailor etc, is it revisited a well known saga and condensed it dramatically and expertly. The characters, while not wholly sympathetic, were believable. TSWCIFTC is not well known. Leamas is an anti-hero and to see more of him on screen in an extended version might make us dislike his pervading doom-laden attitudes.