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chrisno1

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

19 March 2017 - 12:29 AM

As promised my reviews of these late sixties spy adventures that owe a little bit to the counter-culture of the era for their entertainment...

 

The Dolly Dolly Spy

(1967)

 

“Adam Diment is twenty three,” declares the blurb on the back of my Pan paperback edition of his debut novel The Dolly Dolly Spy, “and his hero, Philip McAlpine, is based on himself. That is to say he’s tall, good looking, with a taste for fast cars, planes, girls and pot…”

 

As introductions go, it’s more hip than most sixties spy fodder, but the publicist seems to be selling Adam Diment rather than the book, which is something of a shame because the contents inside this nicely dressed 189 pages are rather good indeed – not Fleming good, mind, but good all the same.

 

McAlpine is a reluctant undercover operative. An ex-security agent for an electrical firm selling dodgy household appliances, he swaps debt collecting for spy catching under duress of a prison sentence. He’s being paid handsomely for the privilege and gets to use his flying skills in a covert role as a pilot with International Charter Inc. He’s effectively working for another dodgy business as this one ferries illegal goods and people across the globe at the behest of private individuals, crime syndicates, governments, dictators, political organisations, well, anyone with money basically. McAlpine accepts this with peculiar cheerfulness. He doesn’t seem to have much conscience about him and probably gets that from his secret service employer, a despicable, camp, establishment toff who goes under the name of Quine and is described as though he’s some frenzied midget infiltrating Snow White’s dwarfish dreams.

 

International Charter too is populated with an equally unlikeable bunch of ex-Nazis and strong arm dullards all obsessed with the mighty dollar; there’s hardly a shred of decency to anyone in this tale. Even McAlpine’s sweet squeeze, Veronica Lom, hides an unwelcome secret.

 

Half the book sets in motion first the workings of Quine’s department and then of International Charter; the second half has McAlpine transporting an SS Colonel and war criminal, Heydritch Detmann, from Egypt to the Alla Strait. For International Charter this is a synch, but McAlpine has to appease Quine’s bidding and Dept 6 (NC/NAC) creates a subtle diversion taking Detmann out of American hands and into theirs. The action picks up solidly at this point and McAlpine’s wry observations become more urgent. The tale runs fast to its furious climax on a deserted Greek isle.

 

If I have any criticism, it is that the hero is singularly unruffled by everything that happens to him. He casts disparaging comments left and right in attempts to defuse potentially awkward situations. Sometimes though, he comes across as merely being crude or rude. This doesn’t bother him one iota and I assume would not also have perturbed his chronicler, but defusing tension with humour doesn’t always succeed as a literary motif. As a writer Diment needs to learn more about sustaining intrigue and tension, for his hero never really reacts as if he’s in danger. Maybe that’s part of his cool, anti-establishment 1960’s appeal. It doesn’t quite work for me; I’m obviously still not ‘with it’ enough.

 

Even if it reeks of sixties-isms, the dialogue generally succeeds and the characters are, mostly, believable. I particularly liked Veronica, who has a turn of phrase as scanty and delicious as her outfits. Of the bad guys the nostalgic Nolander, who fronts International Charter, represents the ‘acceptable face’ for fascism, a man who dislikes what he’s caught up in and seems weary of the [then] modern world. Shooting down spitfires was far easier and more fun. Detmann meanwhile is the Nazi’s monstrous face: “A man who stank of death… as though he had just stumbled off some grotesque evolutionary production line.” Both portraits are impressionable. Likewise the authoritarian Rupert Quine, surely the true villain of the piece, is as ruthless and hard hearted as a Cold War Ops Head ought to be: “If they shot every friend he had before his eyes he’d be back to his enquiries a minute later.”

 

Towards the end of his torrid adventure, McAlpine turns a shade bitter as personal and private betrayals start to haunt him and his past begins to look less like one of his own making: he’s been groomed for the secret service for years. As our hero realises Quine has no qualms utilizing his latest asset to the full, he begins to sympathise with the cruelty of Detmann’s caged situation: “I feel a certain kinship… sold like an auction lot.”

 

The Dolly Dolly Spy could do with a little more of that sort of observation, a little more action too and a tad little less funky procrastinating, but generally it reads very well. Recommended.

 

 


Mark Girland by James Hadley Chase

15 October 2016 - 02:55 PM

THIS IS FOR REAL
1965

 

I’ve not really known anything about the author James Hadley Chase except that when I grew up in the seventies and eighties Panther Books had a whole series of his titles emblazoned with his name in gaudy colours and augmented by a photo of scantily clad dolly bird, usually against a black background. I watched the Robert Aldrich movie The Grissom Gang way-back-when and was surprised to discover it was based on his novel ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’.

 

It was with even more surprise that I recently discovered Chase is actually an Englishman, relocated to France, who wrote American crime fiction, adventure stories and even the occasional spy story. When the espionage genre was all the rage, Chase decided to embark on his own brief canon of secret agent thrillers starring the loquacious sometime spy Mark Girland. Left an inheritance after the war, American Girland has – like his creator – decamped to Paris and is eeking a living selling knock off art and doing occasional work for Rossland, an obese, lazy and incautious spymaster.

 

Rossland himself is in the employ of Dorey, the official head of US operations in Paris, a man who has contacts all over the country. Dorey has come into a snippet of information regarding Robert Carey, an agent who defected to the Soviet Union, but subsequently vanished. These two shadowy men pay Girland a pittance to trace the contact, first to a dodgy cabaret club on Boulevard de Clichy and then to the desert enclaves surrounding Dakar, Senegal. All the while he’s pursued by the sinister tycoon and counter-intelligence middle-man  Radnitz, the blonde Russian executioner Malik and the demure double agent Janine Daulnay.

 

The novel starts really well, with a swift briefing, a confrontation over the Paris rooftops and Rossland’s violent murder. There’s plenty of muscle and intrigue on display. The action is well described. The plot thickens nicely. The characters are believable if slightly stereotypical; they all seem to be more of the hardened gangster type than the archetypical espionage figure. Girland particularly interested me as he seems to neither like working for his boss nor loafing around doing nothing. He lives purely for the satisfaction of quick love and a glass or two of whisky and wine. He’s certainly an opportunist and a smooth talker. The problem wasn’t with the central character, who generally comes across well, but with the remaining cast, many of whom drop into the action without any preset.

 

While I accepted the fact Girland was an American, it began to grate that everyone else was too. And if they were not, they all talked like they were. There simply doesn’t seem to be any reason for this. If Chase wanted to write in such a fashion he ought to have simply set his story in New York instead of Paris. There may be a reason for this which is basically that Chase had never visited America for any length of time. His books were not well-received in the States, possibly because of the lack of an authentic voice. Here, while Chase is very good in the Paris scenes and the wastelands of Senegal, it’s his characters which let him down badly. They sound so very out of place.

 

For all that, the story weaves its way nicely to an acceptable climax and the obligatory twist or two rears its head. There is a particularly affecting torture scene, a smattering of sexual matters, two car chases through the desert and a last minute rescue. It’s all very satisfactory.

 

Girland features in three more novels and I’m looking forward to seeing where the author chooses to take his hero next.

 

 


Red Lotus

02 October 2016 - 03:50 PM

James Bond

OO7

 

 

 

RED LOTUS

 

 

A British sleeper agent has been killed in Hong Kong...

 

The Chinese have launched a secret observation satellite called Heavenly Master...

 

The Russians are chasing a missing scientific genius, Carlos Oracabessa...

 

In London, M faces the prospect of closing down the Double 'O' Division unless he can prove its worth...

 

In Kent, James Bond contemplates the possibility of a life beyond the Secret Intelligence Service...

 

Meanwhile there are questions to answer...

 

Who is Satori...?

Who is Mako...?

Who is Ceylon...?

Where is the Red Lotus...?

 

 

COMING SOON

 

 

 

 


Michael Jagger

06 April 2016 - 11:12 AM

OVERKILL (1966)

 

I’m not sure if author William Garner was trying to make a topical joke by naming the hero of this opus after the lead singer of the Rolling Stones, but if he was, it falls somewhat flat. The literary Jagger is nowhere near as interesting and rebellious as the 1960s popstar version. The sleeve jacket might suggest he's 'over reckless, over eager and over trained to overkill' but that's just advertising. In fact he’s quite a strait laced dude: well-moneyed due to an inheritance, idle, ex-army, ex-intelligence agent, judo expert, dull as ditchwater. I mean, he spends most of the novel in the company of a pert twenty-something secretary, but declines to bed her because she’s a virgin – which shows some decorum but is really an excuse for the author to exclude any love interest from his story – consequently cheery Bryony becomes a sort of nagging ward, which doesn’t endear her to Michael Jagger or to the reader.

 

Overkill replays one of the themes we’ve witnessed before in Bondian rip-offs: the deadly world threatening virus. This one has been developed by Professor Seeleigh-Binn, a broken man as bonkers as you could get who has inadvertently supplied the crafty Communist Chinese with a fertilizer that will infect and decimate the world’s wheat crops. The premise is okay, but its execution is all over the place, chiefly because Garner loses faith in the virus angle and turns it into a grand MacGuffin, preferring the nuclear destruction of the US Sixth Fleet as his climatic ruse.

 

When we meet Jagger, he is a man in need of adventure and he signs up with Seeleigh-Binn’s cremation service R.I.P. for some free foreign travel spreading clients ashes in far-flung locations. Yet all is not what it seems and when Jagger gets cold feet and is almost killed in a manipulated airplane disaster, he decides to uncover the shady life and business of his oddball employer. That th Professor turns out to be playing for the other team comes as no surprise.

 

Garner injects just enough action to keep the narrative interesting. For the most part the novel is set in and around London, and the early sections were quite fun as the author lists a series of streets, places and routes which I tried to picture in my head as they genuinely exist. It gets progressively dull and convoluted during trips to Cambridge, northern France and Paris – the latter of which does include a chase up the Eiffel Tower a la OO7 – and thankfully picks up dramatically in Naples for the final quarter. This features a very satisfyingly revealed murder of the femme fatale and a lot of messing about on the nameless villain’s luxury yacht. I love that Garner throws in the big boat thing – Charles Hood, Katy Touchfeather, Jason Love, Michael Hawk, Modesty Blaise et al all spend time chasing baddies on luxury yachts, it’s the most Bondian thing many of these imitators ever do.

 

So the denouement has to take place on board and it’s a good tension filled few pages, quite cinematic in many ways, and is only spoiled by the feeling that the best characters had all been killed off way before we got here. For all that, the central character is a believable, if ordinary, hero whose past life / lives often affects his present one. The occasional flashbacks to torture and incarceration allow us to inhabit his nightmares and understand why he struggles with relationships, authority and real life. Overall though, Overkill is a little disappointing. It’s a short novel and almost feels like an experiment, as if the author was testing his skills before the real examination. So, on that basis, let’s rock on, Michael Jagger…