Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Book Of Bond (or Every Man His Own 007)


The Book Of Bond (or Every Man His Own 007), by Lt.-Col. William (Bill) Tanner  
No month stated, 1966  Pan Books

In 1965, the same year he published the awesome and highly-recommended The James Bond Dossier, Kinglsey Amis posed as William “Bill” Tanner and published this separate look at the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming, but this one in a more humorous vein (and it’s even more scarce on the second-hand market). Not that the Dossier wasn’t humorous, but whereas it was an overview/study of the Bond novels, The Book Of Bond is more of a satirical how-to manual for “would-be Bonds,” taking instructions directly from Fleming’s books, but filtered through Amis’s sense of humor. And I have to stress again, this dude is very funny.

Tanner of course is a character within the Bond novels; he’s M’s Chief of Staff and supposedly Bond’s best friend. Amis starts off the jokery posthaste by mentioning this in the brief bio at the start of the book, stating that Bond took Tanner out to dinner “at least once.” As Amis himself noted in the Dossier, it’s hard to imagine James Bond having “friends,” so this is actually an in-joke for those who have read both books. And as Amis also stated in the Dossier, readers themselves don’t want to be friends with Bond – they want to be Bond. Clearly then The Book Of Bond picks up from this idea and shows the reader how to go about it.

This slim Pan paperback (there doesn’t appear to have been a US paperback edition) is almost like the 007 version of a study Bible; Amis will mention such and such elements from the series, and to the left of the text we’ll have a reference to the work in question via book title and chapter. So we’ll have say “DN 9” for Doctor No chapter 9. The short stories from For Your Eyes Only (Octopussy And The Living Daylights not being published yet) are referred to by the book’s title followed by the number of the story within; ie, the title story of that book is “FYEO 1.” There are also photo-realistic ink drawings throughout the text.

The first chapter is devoted to “Drink,” and Amis briefly outlines the various spirits Bond has consumed, advising would-be Bonds that drinking is very important if you want to be your own Bond. “Your daily intake should stay around half a bottle of spirits.” But avoid beer whenever you’re in England: “To be seen with a pint of beer in your hand would be instant death to all your hopes of 007ship.” Beer is okay when out of the country, though; whiskey is more along the lines of what you want, in particular bourbon. As for gin, you want Beefeater’s or Gordon’s, and for vodka, you insist on Russian, “neat and ice cold.” Brandy though is “essentially a medicinal drink for certain emergencies or ordeals.” Next we come to cocktails: “you don’t do the making, of course, but you should know how.” As for champagne, you’ll drink anything well-known, but table wines really aren’t your thing. Same for liquers. As for soda? “None.”

Throughout Amis subtly pokes fun at the source material, illustrating the appearance of each drink via sly references to the novels – not in a snarky way, but in a way that makes clear his love of Fleming’s work. For example, in the “cocktails” section Amis details a few of the mixed drinks Bond has consumed, one of them of course the Vesper, from Casino Royale; Amis goes on to suggest that, upon drinking this concoction, you should compliment the bartender (whom of course you had to tell how to make the drink in the first place) and say that, while good, it would’ve been better with Russian vodka instead of potato vodka – all, of course, the same as Bond in Casino Royale. Amis specifies though that you must hope the bartender is particularly dense, as potato vodka is practically “bath-tub water,” and you’d be hard-pressed to find any establisment that serves it, even behind the Iron Curtain.

Chapter two is all about “Food.” “Your position here is being gourmet while pretending not to be.” Under General Principles, Amis stresses, “Never invite anybody, least of all a girl, to a meal at your flat.” This means you would have to chose the course and also oversee the preparation of the meal, which goes against another 007 dictum: “Show no knowledge whatever of how food is actually prepared.” Finally, “a cheap way of asserting your individuality” is to always complain about the service and the fare in the various restaurants you frequent, particularly when on a date.

“Smoke” is the subject of chapter three: “The two basic points are to smoke hard and to enjoy it.” As we all know, Bond smokes a whole bunch of cigarettes in the novels: “Your basic consumption is sixty a day” if you want to be your own 007. However, be sure to “Treat it as a pleasure, not a habit.” We also get some details on Bond’s “specially-made” cigarettes, which in fact are available for anyone to purchase at certain tobacco shops. Also handy tips on how to exhale – only either as a hissing sound between your teeth, or through your nose.

Next we come to “Looks” in chapter four: “Those under four foot six and over seven foot would be better to model themselves on one of the original 007’s enemies.” As for your age, “You should be, or should aim at seeming to be, between about thirty-seven and thirty-nine,” and your hair must be black, even if you have to dye it. Amis frets over those suffering from baldness; “Sean Connery can carry off a toupee,” but for the average guy this might prove to be troublesome. As for your weight, “A paunchy 007 cannot exist.” Hardly anyone notices eye color, fortunately, but you should have a tan – though if you have to resort to a tanning bed, you must hide the fact. Amis jokes that you can hide it along with your spare toupee, dentures, etc.

Chapter five is all about “Excercise” and goes over what few physical activities we’ve seen Bond endure in the series. You should Golf on weekends; “Your handicap has risen to nine.” Skiing is also important, and here Amis relies heavily on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Swimming gets most of its details from Live And Let Die. Unarmed Combat leans heavily on Goldfinger: it’s probably best not to tell your female companion gory stories about past battles; just leave it at, “I only know five ways of killing a man with a single blow.” As for Keeping Fit, we get the morning routine from From Russia With Love, which is hilariously simple: “twenty slow press-ups” and some toe-touching, etc. 

“Clothes” are the topic of chapter six, with a brief rundown of “the original 007’s” standard wardrobe, from his suits to what he wears to the beach. You can find all of this stuff, along with images, over at the Clothing Of James Bond website. But Amis stresses that you must avoid anything “gaudy” or “obviously expensive” in your wardrobe. He also says not to get a 007-mandatory gun, as the holster will mess up the line of your coat and will get in the way of your golf swing. Instead, go with a knife hidden in a compartment above the heel of your shoe.

Next up is “Accessories,” chapter seven: here too Amis advises against “unnecesary ornament,” ie things like gold watches and whatnot. He says to focus on only three items: Luggage (using the tricked-out one in From Russia With Love as an example), Writswatch (a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer – which by the way makes for a handy “knuckle-duster”), and Saftey Razors (you want an old Gillette). In chapter eight we go over “Cars:” You tell people your car is a 1954 Continental Bentley, even if you don’t actually own one, but you’ve also been known to drive an Aston Martin DB III with reinforced bumpers and hidden compartments within. Your first car, a classic Bentley, was destroyed by an insane former Nazi.

Chapter nine is about “Places:” You don’t pretend to have been everywhere, despite the amount of traveling you’ve done, but you know what you like – and it isn’t Paris. “You have cordially disliked Paris since the war.” Amis briefly goes over Venice, Istanbul, New York, and places outside New York, relying as ever on material from the novels. Chapter ten is “Chat,” where Amis says that, despite all the vague remarks you make, the time will come when you will have to actually talk to someone. He says to stick to generalizations and thrown-off remarks, and in a humorous sequence provides conversation scenarios based around events in the novels.

Chapter eleven is “Culture,” where Amis says you should only have a “modest” library, as having a lot of books is more typical of a villain(!). We get a list of all the books Bond is noted as having read in the series, with the note that “you aren’t an author of note,” providing an example of the “original 007’s” attempt at haiku in You Only Live Twice So I take this to mean Amis considers Fleming’s poetry subpar. You can also claim that one day you’ll write a book on Unarmed Combat, to be titled “Stay Alive!,” but of course never actually do it, just like Bond in Goldfinger. We have a very brief overview of the theater, music, and cinema mentions in the series – Amis wraps up by saying that Bond is really more interested in trains, fast cars, and of course women.

Chapter twelve is focused on “the most important” part of the 007 character: “Gambling.” Amis says you can’t hope to gamble in the amounts Bond himself does, but to go through elaborate schemes to fool people into thinking you’re a famous high-roller. This incurs visiting the casino early, tipping the various employees and making yourself known, then returning soon after and exploiting the image you’ve just created. While you yourself never actually gamble, you pick out someone at a table who looks “sinister” and stare at him all night, calmly exhaling smoke through your nostrils. Explain to your female companion – you of course have picked one up if only due to the image you’ve created – that you aren’t gambling because you’re “after bigger fish.” Then continue to stare meaningfully at your pretend target.

Chapter thirteen is “M (for the older reader)”: “When 007ship begins to strike you as too expensive, too strenuous, and (above all) too juvenile a pursuit, the time has come to make the switch to Mship.” As we’ll recall from The James Bond Dossier, Amis is no fan of M, and this brief snapshot of the crusty old bastard is a hilarious piece of character assassination. Basically, dress however you want and always be testy with others, but of course you’re doing all this yourself, as M himself appears to be sexless. You of course have “damnably clear” eyes. You smoke a pipe, but limit yourself to two cheroots a day; it “must be coincidence” that cheroots are normally smoked by “very bad people” in the Bond novels.

Chapter fourteen is dedicated to “Girls (for the 007-chaser),” and is a guide for women on how to pick up their own 007. Using the various Bondgirls as illustrative examples, Amis breaks it down to Clothes (“near the top of the price range” but “unlikely to look good on anybody over thirty-five”), Looks (“ideally you need to be a blonde” with “blue or possibly grey eyes” and, of course, “beautiful firm breasts”), and also the type of car you should drive to get any 007 panting with lust. Amis mostly leans on Domino from Thunderball, Vesper from Casino Royale, and Solitaire from Live And Let Die; I was surprised that Honeychile Rider of Doctor No is only mentioned so far as her “outdoors” clothing goes (ie leather belt, snorkel mask, and nothing else). Amis rated Honey as his favorite Bondgirl in the Dossier, so I expected to see more about her here.

The final chapter is “Research” and returns to the role-playing antics in the Gambling chapter. Here Amis dispenses with the Bible study-esque book references in the left column and instead comes up with scenarios for the more advanced would-be Bond to attempt, once he’s gotten the hang of the material presented in the previous 14 chapters. This entails Excercises (go around your hotel room searching for bugs in the presences of your latest female companion, etc), Experiments (mail yourself a clock and immediately dunk it in water upon opening it, again in front of your latest female companion, etc), and Teamwork (try to contact other would-be Bonds, using the recognition code from From Russia, With Love; ie I use a lighter,” etc).

And that’s it, just barely over a hundred pages in this Pan edition, The Book Of Bond is a humorous look into Fleming’s work, at least filtered through Kinglsey Amis’s own perception of it. It’s not nearly as insightful or entertaining as The James Bond Dossier, but I’d say it too is highly recommended for the Bond fan, and also should be mandatory reading for any modern-day continuation author looking to set their Bond novel in Fleming’s day – which is to say, as with the Dossier, you aren’t going to find any watered-down modern sentiments here. And I think Fleming himself would’ve enjoyed this one, but then he was always self-deprecating about his work.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Waters Of Death


Waters Of Death, by Irving A. Greenfield
No month stated, 1967  Lancer Books

It appears that Irving A. Greenfield started off as a sleaze writer, one of the many authors serving as Vin Fields, before branching out into sci-fi under his own name, then moving into trash fiction in the ‘70s, and finally writing the many-volumed Depth Force series in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Greenfield’s writing though appears to remain consistent no matter the genre or year – slightly melodramatic, at least when concerning the torrid love lives of his characters, yet curiously threadbare in the description and plot departments, with major events (and the deaths of major characters) occurring off-page.

While Waters Of Death suffers from these same things – and more – it did well enough with the sci-fi readers of the day to warrant a few printings. The year is 2167, and Greenfield only gives us the trimmings of this hellish future society; basically, the Earth is overpopulated and undernourished, and all food is harvested from the sea. Society has broken down into rigid, progressivised hierarchies very much along the lines of that seen in the vastly superior After The Good War. But it’s sort of the same thing – there’s a single global government (the horror, the horror), independent thought is prevented at all costs, and any infraction against the government is dealt with quickly and mercilessly.

This is something our hero of sorts discovered two years ago: Dr. Robert Wilde, 35, of the Institute of Oceanography and Marine Biology. We get some vagueries about “independent research” he conducted a few years ago on underwater harvests or something; when the ruling party discovered this, Wilde was drummed out and cast in a loserville sort of purgatory. But in this hellish future society, being a government outcast is akin to being a social leper; Wilde was not only ridiculed, but his wife turned on him and began openly sleeping around. Wilde only stays with her so as to be with his son, because apparently – Greenfield doesn’t elaborate – children are only raised by married parents. Otherwise they are sent to government foster homes to be raised in a hive mentality setting. 

Not that Wilde, as he’s presented to us in the novel itself, appears to give two shits about his son. Greenfield’s characters are as a norm incredibly self-involved; I think my own son, who is only 14 months old now, is more aware of the feelings of others. Rather, Greenfield sort of goes through the motions that Wilde wants to see his son, yadda yadda, but the kid’s in like three pages of the book and, humorously enough, rarely even referred to again. There isn’t even any regret on Wilde’s part when his wife announces she’s to become a government whore of sorts at the local “sex center” – another vaguery of Greenfield’s, that there are veritable temple prostitutes in this future society – and thus the kid will have to go to a foster center, after all. Oh, and Wilde’s wife is pregnant with another man’s child!

But Wilde’s thoughts are more on the new job he’s been tasked with, one that might bring him back into the prominence he once enjoyed. His old boss at the Marine Institute has called him in and offered Wilde the opportunity to redeem himself; the sea farmers in the Caribbean are apparently revolting, as crops are dying and being destroyed by mysterious means. Leading the revolutionaries is Jessup Coombs, Wilde’s old friend; we’re briefly informed that, fifteen years ago, Wilde spent a tenure with these very same sea farmers. After a big blowout with wife Marion (“If you were a real man you’d hit me”) and son John (who screams “I hate you!” when he catches Wilde finally taking Marion up on her offer of hitting her), Wilde says to hell with it and heads off for the Caribbean.

First though he bangs the secretary of his old Institute boss – there’s a lot of secretary banging in Waters Of Death, in fact. As with most sci-fi, this novel is more about the era in which it was written, thus this 2167 is run by straight white males who drink and smoke and keep leggy secretaries in their office, mostly for sexual services. But curiously Greenfield keeps the sex off-page, and even the expected exploitation of the female characters is kept to a minimum; at least, it’s nowhere as explicit as the material he wrote in Depth Force, or another books of his I have from 1973 titled The Pleasure Hunters, which is filled with graphic screwing.

As mentioned, Wilde and Jessup were friends back in the day, but anyone expecting some “how’ve you been, you old so and so?” camaraderie between the two has never read an Irving Greenfield novel. Indeed, Jessup barely even remembers Wilde, and the fact that Wilde once worked beside these sea farmers is a simple plot contrivance that is never expanded upon. Jessup himself fades into insignificance; he’s built up as a revolutionary firebrand, but instead he’s more interested in picking up the wallflower secretary of the local government official. Yes, here’s another secretary prime for the exploiting, though Greenfield builds up a growing love between the two…then doesn’t do much of anything with it.

In fact Wilde’s time with the sea farmers itself is glossed over. What exactly he’s doing here isn’t much detailed, nor is the daily life and tools of the sea farmers. We do learn they are at the lowest strata of society, with precious few rights, something adding to their growing hostility. Jessup claims the farmers are not destroying the crops, and we readers know he speaks the truth, as we’ve seen the perpetrators: a shadowy cabal of government officials who have banded together in the hopes of starving the populace, killing off a large portion of it, and then swooping in to take control of the entire world. They are led by Zahn, global government Security Chief; one of the plotters is named Ahura Mazda, and whether it’s the ancient Zoroastrian god come to life Greenfield doesn’t say. I liked to pretend it was.

So much stuff is unexplored. Before leaving for the Caribbean, Wilde is given this proto-cyberpunk data dump into his brain, the government not only feeding him sea farming data but also secretly implanting pro-government propaganda. This doesn’t go much anyplace. Instead, we have yet another spawning romantic subplot, as Greenfield realizes that Loraine, the young brunette daughter of a sea farmer widow, is a mega babe, with “full breasts” and everything, though again Greenfield curiously leaves the sleazy a-doings off-page.

Action scenes are as outline-esque as those in Depth Force; a bunch of “renegade sharks” attack the crops late in the novel, and Jessup rounds up some sea farmers to hop in their underwater vessels to go fight them, armed with “high-intensity sonic beams.” Here Greenfield proves the sloppy execution he’s sometimes known for, as Jessup is killed – just like that, folks. He goes down to save a comrade, radios to the others that he can’t make it out, and that’s it. I kept expecting him to show up again, sharkbitten but alive, or for Wilde to go to his rescue, but it doesn’t happen. He’s dead, Jim, and that’s that. For that matter, Wilde thereafter leaves the sea farmer community, and we aren’t even properly informed of the fact until he’s already back at the Institute, doing studies on his findings underwater (whatever the hell they were).

The climax is particularly rushed. The shadowy cabal gets their hooks on the new leader of the sea farmers, spurring him to start a revolution, and soon scads of people are dying off-page. In fact, this new leader himself is perfuntorily killed off-page, us readers only informed of the event in passing. This after we’ve gotten a few scenes from his viewpoint which imply he’s going to be a major character. Jessup’s secretary girlfriend is never mentioned again, and we learn, again in passing yet mercilessly so, that Loraine too has been killed (and probably even raped) in the rioting.

Not that Wilde bats so much as an eye. Instead he takes his “findings” to his old Institute boss; he’s learned that man himself is causing the destruction of the sea harvests, due to chemicals being put in the ocean and scaring the aquatic life or somesuch. But he’s again branded a rebel and this time he’s thrown in a government prison. Soon he learns of the rioting going on around the world. And only here, like over a hundred pages later, does Wilde even bother to think of his son again, wondering what happened to him. Dad of the year, folks!

Greenfield goes for one of those downbeat endings that would be all the rage in the ‘70s; the rioters, now that the sea crops have all been destroyed, have turned to cannibalism, and Wilde, thinking he’s being freed from prison by a group of rioters, discovers instead that they’ve come here to eat him. And here Greenfield ends the tale, Wilde getting his “throat ripped open” by the very same government secretary he was having an affair with, early in the novel.

This one was lifeless, folks, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Greenfield was capable of better and one sees why he eventually moved out of the sci-fi field. But you’ve gotta love the cover art on this second edition: “Waters Of Death – starring Drew Carey!!”

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Spy In Bangkok (Joaquin Hawks #3)


The Spy In Bangkok, by Bill S. Ballinger
December, 1965  Signet Books

The third volume of Joaquin Hawks is an exercise in patience, a galacially-paced “thriller” in which hardly anything at all happens. When you consider that the book is 142 pages of incredibly small, dense print, this makes for one hell of an uphill struggle for the reader – unless that is you want to read an interminable travelogue about Thailand, circa 1965. While the previous two volumes were methodically-paced at best, this one makes them seem like rollercoaster thrill-rides.

It starts off memorably, at least; Ballinger dispenses with the formula of the previous two books, of “intrepid agent” Joaquin Hawks (codename “Swinger!!) getting briefed by his CIA boss on the latest assignent. Ballinger instead starts the book with a sort of “cold open:” Hawks, sitting in some desolate jail on an Indonesian island, awaiting his execution. It won’t be for many pages until we even learn why Hawks is here, but ultimately we’ll find out that his assignment has him trailing US millionaire Eli Turlock, who is plying across the Pacific in his large yacht, perhaps to sell some old atomic warheads to the Reds.

But we don’t know any of that for the time being. Ballinger throws us in cold and we’re left trying to figure out what the hell is going on as Hawks wonders if his time is really up; in an effective scene he’s led out before the firing line. But he’s saved by the last-second arrival of his comrades, a group of “Moros,” ie Muslim pirates; they’re led by Dak, who drinks wine and calls it “grape juice” so as to fool Allah. Here Ballinger makes a curious mistake, claiming that Hawks first retained the services of Dak “several years ago” during another assignment here in the east, whereas the first volume stated, I’m pretty certain, that Hawks had never worked in Asia before.

Dak and his pirates live on a converted US PT boat, and the novel is filled with lots of “maritime adventures” stuff, as Hawks basically uses Dak as his chaffeur. Upon being freed Hawks directs them to Bangkok, where it appears Eli Turlock has temporarily docked. Hawks has chased him across the Pacific, trying to figure out his destination and where the atomic missiles are. Turlock made his fortunes after the war buying up military surplus, and now has a greater arsenal than many countries. He even retains two henchmen and a sexpot babe (Theda Ray), but while he sounds like your standard Bond villain, don’t get your hopes up; as ever Ballinger is unwilling to exploit his villains (or is just incapable of it), thus Eli Turlock remains off-page for the majority of the text – and indeed even meets his expected fate off-page.

The focus is instead on rampant travelogue and detail about Thailand, rather than the spy fiction you might be expecting. Also the chameleon-like gift for disguise Hawks has; upon arrival in Bangkok he assumes not one but two identities: a sandy-haired American professor who stays at a swank hotel, and a poor Mexican guitar player. The latter identity is practically thrust on us with no setup or explanation; only later do we understand that Hawks has opted for this guise because he’s learned that Turlock frequents one particular nightclub in Bangkok; otherwise he’s always on his yacht. So the “Mexican guitar player” identity is to give Hawks a cover for being in this club.

Really though it’s just a means to an end – namely, material that Ballinger can pad out the pages with. Indeed, this ruse leads to a major early subplot (that ultimately goes nowhere); Hawks gets the guitar-playing job at the club because the sexy Eurasian dancer there, Maggi, takes a shine to him. She invites him back to her place and even asks him to live with her, mostly so as to ward off the advances of a local Chinese stalker. Hawks goes along with it, of course having the (off-page) sex with Maggi the genre demands. But man this stuff has nothing to do with anything; lots of tedious description of Maggi’s apartment and her life, culminating in a brutal scuffle with the Chinese stalker and his pal. Even the end of the subplot is clumsy; Hawks’s guise is compromised, and last he sees Maggi she thinks he’s being taken off to be arrested. Instead Hawks gets the drop on the cops and escapes.

Hawks has already compromised his disguise in another fashion; the nightclub band has been invited to perform at a party on Turlock’s yacht, and Hawks uses the opportunity to snoop around. He discovers the mold of an ancient Chinese cannon in a locked storage area, but no missiles. He’s discovered snooping and beats up the guy who found him, after which upon his arrival at Maggi’s place he gets in the fight with the Chinese stalker and the cops. So his cover is doubly blown on the same night, and what’s more he learns next morning that Turlock’s yacht has left port, no doubt because Turlock realizes someone is snooping on him. As fr that cannon mold, gradually we’ll learn that Turlock has used it to create fake antique cannons which really disguise the gold he’s been paid for the atomic missiles.

We come now to the most grueling part of the novel; pages 71-89 are comrpised of an endless trek Hawks makes across Thailand, trying to get to the next dock not too long after Turlock will. Boy does it go on and on, just copious, overwhelming description of flora, fauna, and various peasants and farmers Hawks encounters. This sort of stuff occurs throughout the novel; when Hawks gets to his destination, which turns out to be a little island wholly owned by Turlock himself, he scuba dives in the ocean to figure out what Turlock’s hidden down there. Even in this part, which should be tense and dramatic, we get several paragraphs about the various fish and reefs Hawks sees underwater. I mean the book is almost deadening in how static it is.

Joaquin Hawks is constantly coming up with convoluted plans, and here he hires the services of corrupt local cop Racon, telling him to round up a few thugs. The plan is to hijack Turlock’s yacht in the dead of night. Hawks has reservations about Racon from the beginning, but decides to go through with it; unsurprisingly, Racon doesn’t follow orders and attacks the yacht before he’s supposed to. This leads to what will turn out to be the “climactic action scene,” as Hawks grabs a .45 revolver and leads Dak and crew on an assault; Hawks only kills one guy here, one of Turlock’s two henchmen. The fight’s already ended, for the most part, and arriving on the yacht Hawks finds that Eli Turlock is dead, killed by an increasingly-crazy Racon.

So basically, we’ve just read like several pages of planning on this whole hijack scenario, and none of it even happens. Racon goes rogue just as Hawks figured he would, but at least we get another memorable appearance of Hawks’s belt buckle gun. Saving Theda Ray from the yacht – the clear implication that she’ll be Hawks’s next sexual conquest, shortly after novel’s end – Hawks next aims to take out the Chinese junk which is carrying the missiles; it seems that Turlock sold the atomic weapons to North Korea, as that’s where the junk hails from.

The cover incident occurs on page 134, just as depicted; Hawks gears up and swims across the murky depths to plant a few bombs on the junk. Speaking of which, I think this volume has the best cover of the series; I just wish the contents of the book lived up to it. But Hawks plants his bombs and then the finale continues on the bland vibe with Hawks waiting on Dak’s boat for the junk to explode, after which he sends a few messages to his CIA control via shortwave radio. And mercifully we come to the end of this staggeringly-boring novel.

I think I’m starting to see why Joaquin Hawks only lasted five volumes; while Ballinger’s writing is good, he really needs to cut back on the arbitrary travelogue stuff and feature some actual pulp espionage thrills. Because I’ve gotta say, such thrills are few and far between in this series in general and The Spy In Bangkok in particular.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Nomad #1


Nomad, by David Alexander
March, 1992  Gold Eagle Books

After writing the almighty Phoenix, the slightly-less almighty Z-Comm, and finishing off the C.A.D.S. series (still haven’t read his volumes yet, though), David Alexander briefly served at Gold Eagle, where he turned out this 4-volume series which is now available for free download at his website. Nomad takes place in the then-future of 2010, and while unsurprisingly some of Alexander’s predictions didn’t pan out into the real 2010, it’s pretty crazy how much he did predict correctly.

If this first volume is any indication, then the series is basically Neuromancer if William Gibson had been influenced by The Executioner instead of hardboiled crime. The plot of this one even follows Neuromancer, climaxing on a space station. However, there’s a lot more action than anything you’ll find in Gibson; in fact, Nomad #1 (Alexander’s original title being The Skyfire Kills) suffers from an onslaught of action, coming off as one action scene after another. This would be fine, but these scenes lack the spectacular gore and dark humor of similar scenes in Phoenix; one might say Nomad is “Casual Friday” David Alexander whereas Phoenix is “bedecked in the blood and guts of my enemies” David Alexander.

The hero of the series is Quinn, no first name, a former CIA badass in a special unit, where his codename was Nomad – a name he rejects now. This makes it humorous, then, because Alexander arbitrarily refers to Quinn as “Nomad” throughout. It’s pretty damn bad when you can’t even catch a break from your creator. Anyway we meet Quinn in action – stashing a mini-atom bomb in an installation as part of a test for his one-man security company. We see here that Quinn’s action suit is along the lines of that Metal Gear Solid video game: a blacksuit with night vision goggles and Virtual Reality headgear.

Meanwhile, the specialists who worked on the Star Wars-esque (ie the orbital missile platform, not the movie) Skyfire project are committing suicide in spectacular ways, their faces blank when doing so. Early on in Nomad #1 it becomes very clear that Alexander is attempting to write a James Bond-esque thriller, complete with scene-setting across the globe, lots of spytrade lingo, and even a secret terrorist organization with Nazi roots that’s looking to take over the world – an organization which, by the way, is run by a dude whose face is never seen. So that even the most dense of readers will get it, Alexander names one of this organization’s special machine guns a “Spectre.” For those readers who still don’t get it, the name of this evil organization turns out to be “Scepter.” Hell, there’s even a Thunderball riff where a Scepter agent who failed is killed in front of the others as an example. The only thing missing is a white cat.

Quinn is contacted by his former boss in that special unit, Bruckner, who still works in the shadowy intelligence realm and who keeps referring to Quinn as “kemo sabe.” Quinn’s skills are needed because he helped program the Skyfire tech, and even designed the “automatic kill zone” perimeter defenses which guard the Skyfire control plant. Now various technicians who worked on the secret project are killing themselves – we get to witness several of these suicides, which take place around the world, further giving the novel a sort of blockbuster vibe – and Bruckner wants Quinn to find out what’s going on. In particular, Bruckner wants to ensure the head honcho on the project, William Koenig, a famous pacifist, doesn’t end up offing himself.

A funny thing about Nomad #1 is that it starts off relatively quiet on the action front; indeed, it occurred to me that Alexander was writing for the most part a modern-day thriller, the sort of thing you’d see on the shelves at Wal-Mart with a bland Photoshop cover and way too many pages. This though turns out to be a ruse; while Quinn is in investigator mode for the first quarter, after this the novel goes hard into “nonstop action” territory, to the point that you almost wanna wave a white flag. The book also picks up an unintentional (or perhaps it's intentional) comedic vibe, in that Quinn and his female companion keep coming upon Skyfire techs after they’ve just been killed. If only the duo had left like ten seconds earlier!

As for that female companion, her name is Ramsey and she’s a comrade in the spycraft trade, one of Bruckner’s minions and a hotstuff blonde with a kickass bod. Quinn’s first stop is Rome, and here he meets Ramsey, whom he initially sees as cold and aloof – not that this prevents them from having the expected (yet mostly off-page, this being Gold Eagle and all) sex. Here begins the protracted comedy-esque action scenes, with Ramsey and Quinn constantly one step behind the Zodiac-named mercenary squads employed by the shadowy organization which is killing the Skyfire techs, an organization which is run by a never-seen individual who goes by the name Alpha.

The first big action sequence takes place on the nighttime streets of Rome, which are humorlously empty at the time; Quinn and Ramsey are hounded by a group of mercs in night vision goggles in a game of cat and mouse. Luckily Quinn just happened to bring along his handy submachine gun: don’t leave home without it, folks. Alexander sort of treads the line between straight-up men’s adventure pulp and tech-savy military fiction, with copious firearms and VR tech details; acronyms run rampant. While the action is nonstop and the bullets seldom stop flying, it must be said again that the outrageous gore of Phoenix is sorely missed. This isn’t to say that Alexander doesn’t occasionally throw us a bone:

Quinn never gave [the merc] the chance to pull the trigger. 

This time Quinn’s accurate fire tattooed a jagged pattern of bloody red tatters across the Scorpio merc’s upper chest. Pulverized bone and organ tissue spewed in dark crimson pulses from the exit wounds punched in the merc’s back. Reflex action triggered a panic burst that went wild and high, hammering holes in the ceiling. 

Badly shot up by the Spectre fire, the merc did a spastic two-step and crashed into the wall behind him. His knees buckled and he slid slowly down the wall to a praying position before keeling over to one side. Hitting bottom with a thunk he shuddered for a few seconds then gave up the ghost. 

Grabbing a funeral wreath that said “Rest In Piece” he’d noticed nearby, Quinn dropped it on top of the dusted merc as he and Ramsey pushed past him toward the alleyway.

So as you see, there’s not only a gun called a “Spectre,” but Quinn himself is prone to Bond-esque quips and actions; I mean the bit with the wreath could come right out of a Roger Moore picture. The action moves across Europe, with a protracted stopover in Brussels in which another extended action scene occurs during a bizarre-sounding local parade. Each stop follows the same template: a hit squad is already here and has just taken out the latest Skyfire tech, and Quinn and Ramsey come upon the scene too late. A massive firefight ensues. By the time the action moves to Hong Kong you already know where it’s headed when Quinn and Ramsey get on a boat and Alexander notes the heavy weaponry onboard. Sure enough, yet another Zodiac-named strike force is on the way, this one garbed in “black tactical face masks.” A massive firefight ensues.

But Quinn isn’t just the typical meatheaded action hero. Despite being a hulking bulk of muscle, he’s computer savy too, which of course brings to mind the current crop of action protagonists, just as home behind a computer as a machine gun. So we get lots of “computer stuff” as Quinn tries to access various databanks in his quest to find out who is behind this plot. Along the way he finds out about something called “Castle.” When the action repairs to Germany and Quinn meets Skyfire director Koening, the plot is almost unveiled; Koenig starts at Quinn’s mention of “Castle,” implying that he has much to speak with Quinn about in private. But wouldn’t you guess it – a shadowy assassin appears at just that moment and takes Koenig out.

“Castle” turns out to be the codename of an experimental space station which is hidden in Earth’s orbit; so experimental that even the President is unaware that it’s operational. It’s been taken over by Alpha and his minions, and in the final stretch Nomad #1 continues with the Bond vibe, coming off like a gorier take on Moonraker (the film, not the book!). This is the highlight of the novel, if really it’s just yet another endless action scene. Quinn heads up there – this after various turnarounds and reveals, including Quinn faking his own death – and we finally meet the mysterious Alpha.

While he doesn’t have a bald head, scarred face, or white cat, he does at least wear a black jumpsuit (his minions wear gray ones so there can be no question who’s in charge, I guess). Most interestingly he has this “neural disrupter chip under his skin” that “distort[s] visual and audial perception of his face and voice.” This means that Alpha’s face is a blur, his voice scrambled. It’s a cool mental image, and Alexander does make the big villain pretty memorable, if Quinn is for the most part more focused on taking out Alpha’s chief henchman (whose identity is supposed to be a surprise, but really isn’t). Alexander takes advantage of the space station setting, with Quinn about to be sucked out of an air dock into space (like Bond, the villains can’t just friggin’ shoot the guy), but thanks to a special shirt that hides explosives, he escapes. A massive firefight ensues. There’s also an Aliens-esque finale in which Quinn takes on that chief henchman, who happens to be wearing powered armor. 

After all this, the actual climax is kinda bland. Quinn sets off a nuclear explosion on Castle, just managing to escape back to earth (and it’s heavily implied Alpha has survived – as well as that annoying Energizer Bunny of a henchman). But whereas the novel should end here, Quinn still has to deactivate the Skyfire program, which is about to run amok thanks to a worm Alpha has implanted in it. This necessitates Quinn suiting up and taking on the automatic kill zone of machine gun implacements he himself arranged in the central command center. So it’s mostly Quinn blowing up robots and automated weapons.

The novel ends with Quinn now apparently reporting directly to the President, and as mentioned the reveal that the henchman is still alive and gunning for Quinn’s blood. A glance at future volumes shows that he doesn’t appear again until the third volume. Overall I enjoyed Nomad #1, but the constant action got a bit repetitive and wearying. However the Scepter villains were cool, Alpha in particular, and it was kind of neat to see “the Phoenix guy” writing James Bond.  

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hanoi (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #15)


Hanoi, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1966  Award Books

One of the last volumes of Nick Carter: Killmaster to be written by Valerie Moolman, who may or may not have been the actual author of the first volume of the series, Run, Spy, Run, Hanoi unfortunately once again proves my sexist theory that women authors just can’t write men’s adventure novels. I’m not saying it’s bad or anything. I’m just saying it lacks much bite and it comes off as an exercise in padding until the rushed finale. And while “Nick” scores with some babes and kills a slew of bad guys, it’s all delivered in a rather restrained manner.

The opening is effective; the sergeant of a Green Beret squad, deep in the jungles of ‘Nam, employs some fancy technology to spy on a recently-discovered camp outside of Hanoi. What’s strange is that the camp is guarded by Chinese soldiers, but appears to be populated by German men in lab coats. There’s also a woman with them – a total blonde babe the sergeant just can’t stop gawking at through his binocs. Something nefarious no doubt is afoot, but what?

Cut to DC, AXE headquarters, which Moolman depicts as a crowded office. Whereas all the other volumes I’ve read usually just feature Nick and AXE chief Hawk in these scenes, Moolman has an entire roomful of agents taking part in the brief, and goofily enough they all have code numbers – like B-5, a guy who has an “inevitable stick of chewing gum” in his mouth, or Q-7, aka sexy Ellie Harmon, whose “willowy form” is constantly being checked out by our boy Nick. Ellie though seems to be Hawk’s version of Moneypenny; she’s just there to run the projector while the boys listen to the briefing and forumate their separate plans of action.

Hawk relates that this secret jungle station near Hanoi is sending out mysterious radio signals, and intelligence has gotten word that a scientist named Erich Burgdorf is about to make his way there, though it’s unknown how. The various AXE agents must come up with their theories of how he’ll arrive, present them to Hawk, and then get the approval to move forward or not. Nick’s, of course, is the only correct one: that Burgdorf will secretly fly directly to Hanoi. Hawk per the template doesn’t believe it – and in Moolman’s hands, by the way, these two have more of a bickering, stern-teacher-and-smartass-student vibe to their relationship. In fact one gets the opinion that Hawk doesn’t much like Nick. 

The Killmaster parachutes into ‘Nam and promptly disguises himself as a native peasant. These early volumes are big on Nick’s chameleon-like ability for disguise; upon arriving in Hanoi, he switches identities again, this time disguising himself as a Czech agent who is a notorious spy in the area. Sure enough here comes Burgdorf, flying into Hanoi airport in a disguise of his own; in a scene that seems clearly inspired by the finale of Thunderball, Nick exfiltrates both himself and a captured Burgdorf, hooking a harness to a plane that flies by. Burgdorf is then drugged, revealing that his goal was to deliver something to Krutch, brutish ruler of the secret Hanoi compound.

So Nick goes into disguise number three; he’ll boldy venture to the camp as none other than Erich Burdgorf himself. Carrying the plans the real Burgdorf worked up for Krutch, Nick hopes to bluff his way long enough to figure out what the goal of these Germans is, operating under the assumption that he will be outed quickly. But Moolman really stretches it all out; the novel is devoid of action until the finale, and for the most part is comprised of Nick hobknobbing with the German scientists and trying to determine what they’re up to. He’s suspected from the start, though; in particular Krutch and Ah Choy, the Red Chinese backer of this whole scene, doubt “Bergdorf’s” story.

At least Moolman delivers in another regard – the naughty stuff. Both Krutch and Ah Choy plan to distract “Bergdorf” with willing gals, in the hopes that the women, getting as close as possible, will learn if it’s really Bergdorf or someone posing as him. So Krutch sends hotstuff Ilse, that blonde babe the Green Beret lusted after in the opening chapter, and Ah Choy sends Lin Suy, an ever-horny Chinese sexpot. Nick gets back-to-back busy with both of them, on the same night, but Moolman isn’t too graphic; here, for example, is how it goes down with Ilse: “Her legs went around [Nick’s] and locked him close to her, and he felt as though he were driving into a deep, quiet pool that bubbled with turbulence far below its surface.” 

After all this torridness, Nick goes back to his room to relax…only to find Lin Suy waiting for him, she of the “small, delectable breasts” and insatiable sex drive. This one goes on all night…and then, the very next day, Nick’s right back at it with Ilse. Of course Nick realizes that he’s being “pumped” (sorry) for info by both women, but he’s mostly amused by how openly Ilse in particular goes through with it, asking him blunt questions in between the rampant boffing. But this is what passes for action for the most part, Nick trying and failing to discover what secrecy Krutch and his lab-coated German scientists are up to here in the camp.

The violence doesn’t kick in until over halfway through, and it too is of a muted nature. One of the Germans is in love with Ilse, bridles that she’s been having all that sex with “Bergdorf,” and in the hopes of outing him succeeds in discovering some of Nick’s hidden AXE gadgets. Nick, having just boffed Ilse yet again a few minutes before, finds this guy snooping in his room and wastes him. Right on cue Lin Suy shows up yet again, wanting more good lovin.’ “You gorgeous bitch,” Nick greets her, then proceeds to have sex with her yet again, having hidden the fresh corpse nearby. “He brutalized her and she reveled in it.” The Killmaster is particularly indefatigable in this installment, to say the least.

This takes us to the climax; almost perfunctorily – and hastily – Krutch and Ah Choy have decided that Nick really is an imposter and the order is out to capture him. The Killmaster finally lives up to his AXE title in a running action sequence. And Nick really kills a slew of ‘em, probably more than in any other Killmaster I’ve yet read. It’s not gory in the least, but it’s high in the number of fatalities. What tips Nick off that he’s been outed is when Ilse, again obeying Krutch’s orders, slips him a drug, one that turns out to be poisonous – something Ilse herself was unaware of. Nick knocks her out…then proceeds to puke endlessly, trying to get the poison out. From there he breaks out his killing gadgets.

Chief among them is a laser pistol disguised as a pair of binoculars. Nick fries a bunch of Chinese guards, vaporizing them. He also takes out a whole roomful of guards with poison gas bomb Pierre. But as opposed to the more brutal version of Nick Carter you’ll encounter in the installments written by Manning Lee Stokes, Moolman’s version of Nick ensures that “innocents” don’t die. Despite being trapped in the mess hall with the guards he’s just gassed to death, Nick holds his breath and bars the door until an impatiently-knocking Lin Suy finally goes away. Another dude Nick merely knocks out with a non-fatal dart. Stokes’s Nick Carter would’ve killed ‘em all.

And even when Moolman’s Nick is particularly bloodthirsty, he kills in a somewhat goofy and contrived fashion: like going around, still disguised as Bergdorf, and handing out free cigars to all the Chinese soldiers. Cigars which have timed explosives hidden in them! It’s like something out of a Loony Tunes cartoon as the Chinese guards suddenly start blowing up, and in the melee Nick starts running around and zapping them with his handy laser pistol. After all this, Nick’s climactic brawl with Krutch is a bit underwhelming – particularly when Krutch actually gets the upper hand. It’s only thanks to the miraculous appearance of that Green Beret sergeant, returning from the first chapter, that the Killmaster survives the tale.

Moolman ends the tale on the same sex-focused tone as the middle portion of the narrative; it’s a bit later, we’re in New York, and Nick’s about to have some hot and heavy sex with Ilse yet again, having used his clout to get her out of any and all charges in Krutch’s plot. She was an unwitting dupe all along, not aware of Krutch’s ultimate plan – which by the way was something about shooting metal ball bearings into space to jack up US and USSR space launches or somesuch.

Overall though Hanoi was mostly interesting as a display of how different authors approach Nick Carter. Otherwise I didn’t enjoy it very much – Moolman’s narrative comes off as tired and disinterested, and it’s clear why she only wrote one more volume of the series.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Mistress Book


The Mistress Book, by Jim Deane
August, 1972  Pinnacle Books

Check it out, everyone: a book on the “fine art of picking up girls” by the guy who wrote the boob-obsessed Decoy series! I’ve wanted to read The Mistress Book for a while, as it promised to be one of those sleazy ‘70s “sex guides” I enjoy so much. One word of warning, though: the book really has nothing at all to do with “mistresses,” and in fact I’d wager that Pinnacle Books came up with this title, as Deane’s book is not actually a guide for married men to score a little extra on the side.

Rather, this is your basic average “how to meet chicks” book; Deane defines a “mistress” as “any girl who balls you regularly.” And Deane would be the expert on such things, as per his statements at the start of the book he’s “had several hundred women in the past twenty or so years.” Describing himself as 40 years old, “relatively old” but “highly sexual,” Deane further states that he’s not even the most handsome guy on the planet, and at one point implies he’s balding to boot. He’s not fat, though: one of the central edicts of The Mistress Book for guys who want to pick up chicks is that “YOU MUST NOT BE FAT,” written in capital letters and everything.

Deane’s goal is to share his experience as a “superior cocksman” so that others may reap the benefits of the things he’s learned in his many conquests. Not that he’s hanging up his hat or anything. Deane, who reminds us throughout that he’s never been married and never plans to be, intends to keep picking up the chicks: “I figure I have at least another thirty good years of sexing ahead of me.” His goal is also to have guys help guys, like a network of “cocksmen;” for example, if you meet a woman who is one of those types who just use guys and never give any sort of sexual reward, it’s your duty to drop her cold – and warn every other guy you know about her.

Speaking of types, this proves to be one of the main subjects at the start of the book. Deane has broken women down to a variety of types – like the “always on the go” girl, ie the type who is always jetsetting around with a different guy or group of people. Deane advises to avoid this type of girl like the plague, as more than likely she isn’t screwing any of those guys and is just using them for a free ride. We’re also informed that quiet-natured girls usually turn out to be tigers in bed, at least the ones Deane has known, and he also tells us that career-oriented women usually make for great lays, too, particularly because they “think like men” in regards to business, thus this viewpoint extends to their sexual activities. Deane also treats us to a three-page breakdown of statitics pertaining to the women he’s banged over the years – the number of “stewardesses” (by far his favorite playmates on earth), models, teachers, married women, etc.

Deane then goes on to let the would-be “cocksmen” out there know which cities around the world are the best – and worst – spots for picking up chicks. It struck a chord with me when he listed Dallas, and Texas in general, as one of the latter – bad flashbacks to my own experiences in that regard. I mean, I’m no Jim Deane, but I dated various girls prior to my move to Dallas…where I might’ve just as well been invisible, so far as the local ladies were concerned. As Deane notes, Texan women seem to only like Texan men. He states that he struck out constantly down here, and advises “cocksmen” to go elsewhere in their pursuits, unless of course they’re Texans. I mean consider it – I moved to Texas and my wife is from Malaysia! Actually most of the people I know are transplants (Dallas has changed drastically since the era in which Deane wrote his book)…in fact, one of the few real Texans I know is my son!! (It threw me for a loop when I got his social security card and the letter with it said, “Congratulations on your little Texan…”)

But how does one pick up chicks, exactly? Deane advises that the prospective cocksman must be an “expert” in something, as girls are drawn to men who give off an aura of confidence and knowledge. Deane further states that women really get off on guys who make them think – even if it’s some ultra-liberal women’s libber you’re pissing off with your “reactionary” views (the book by the way is filled with leftist bashing). Deane also suggets that you listen a lot, and try to understand the woman in question. Admitedly a lot of this stuff sounds kind of heartless – basically Deane tells you to make the gal think you are on the same wavelength as her, or at least are as devoted to your own causes as she is to hers, so you can ultimately bang her and then move on to the next conquest.

In the style of these sleazy how-to books of the day, The Mistress Book features periodic ruminations on the author’s part regarding past lays. For example we learn of a foreign babe who “subtly” let lucky boy Deane know she was sexually interested in him; she excused herself to the restroom, and when she came back she was clearly no longer wearing a bra beneath her sweater, showing off her “extraordinary breasts” for Deane’s viewing enjoyment. Oh and she was a fantastic lay, of course – Deane will often tell us how so and so of a gal just screwed him phenomenally, though he never gets into details.

When it comes to making the first steps in picking up these chicks, Deane advises to just ask for their phone number – and that’s it. Don’t offer to take them out, even for coffee, or to say something like, “I have an extra ticket for a show/game/etc; want to come along?” Deane makes the valid point that the chick might just take advantage of this offer to get a free meal or night on the town, while she in fact has no sexual interest in you. Deane rather advises to just call her, that’s it, and play it from there. 

But when it comes to the banging – well, how can you tell if the chick you’ve picked up is into it? No worries, as Deane rolls out a few tidbits he’s learned in this regard, though he stresses that it’s mostly a “hunch” sort of thing that he can’t put into words. But say you do get the gal into bed…what then??? No worries again, as Deane next doles out some sex tips, including some positions he favors. This part I admit was a bit off-putting…I mean the guy who wrote Decoy is suddenly instructing you how to orally please a gal! Later he also advises how you can nicely get rid of them, once you’ve banged them to your heart’s content; a prime way to do so, Deane says, is to introduce the gal to some of your swinger friends. “Pay her forward,” I guess you could say.

There are always going to be setbacks, though; Deane relates the story of the one woman he fell in love with, the one he actually planned to marry. She ended up hurting him badly, and Deane got revenge by stranding her at an airport, fooling her into thinking they’d take a vacation together – he says she called him countless times afterwards, but Deane ignored her. “Women need to be dumped on,” Deane informs us – if you treat them like princesses, as he did this particular gal, they’ll take advantage of you. But if you are emotionless with them, they will come running to you. From this Deane learned to never show his hand again – now, if he feels very strongly about a certain girl, he treats her the same as any other girl he happens to be casually banging.

For that matter, Deane states that, before sex, the woman has the power. But afterwards, the man has the power. This is to say the girl can hold off the man from what he wants, but once she’s given it to him, the man is in the dominant position. Because, having gotten to this point, the girl has let down her defenses and clearly wants to be with the man. So it’s up to you as a superior cocksman to keep her in line – Deane says the main reason he broke it off with the girl above was because he couldn’t go back to her and still keep his dignity; he says he will only go so far in allowing a woman to take advantage of him. So clearly the dude has never been married.

Speaking of which, Deane provides a chapter for the married men out there, consulting a few of his married pals: “all three of these guys are superior cocksmen, each with sexual production well into three figures.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but mostly we get recaps from a few of these dudes on the extracurricular banging they’ve accomplished. Mostly we are told how to avoid a wife’s suspicions; Deane stresses that you must never give out your address and phone number, as it will only lead to trouble. He actually repeats this a few times, in all caps. Here we get the sole part in the book that actually is about “mistresses,” at least in the classical sense – Deane talks about how a wealthy man might want to provide room and board for his mistress, as in olden times, but says this sort of thing isn’t much necessary anymore. You know, just bang ‘em wherever.

The book closes out with a few odds and ends, like one humdinger of an admission on Deane’s part that he once paid a seventeen year old girl a hundred dollars to have sex(!). This was at a resort in Aspen and the girl was cock-teasing him, and when Deane later overheard that she was sorely in need of some money, he capitalized on it – offering her a hundred bucks in exchange for “you know what.” This is what Deane calls “the fake prostitute ploy.” (She too was a phenomenal lay, he informs us.) However, Deane advises against ploys to get chicks in bed; despite which, he still outlines a few ideas, like setting up a phony “modeling agency” and banging all the would-be models who come to the casting call; because, Deane assures us from personal experience, models bang would-be employers at casting calls.

Oh, and a special thanks to Amazon reviewer Observer, who recently posted a review of Deane’s 1974 followup, The Fine Art Of Picking Up Girls. He confirms what I suspected in my review of Decoy #1, that this 1974 Pinnacle paperback is a retitled reprint of The Mistress Book, with just a little new stuff. And that appears to be all Deane published, at least under this name – he states in this book that he’s authored countless articles, particularly in sports magazines, and he even implies that he was the ghostwriter of a well-known sex manual. Otherwise “Jim Deane” disappeared from the paperback world at this point; here’s hoping he went on to enjoy those “thirty good years of sexing.”

But who knows, maybe there’s an 86 year-old Jim Deane still out there, practicing the fine art of picking up girls…

Bonus note: The front cover was “designed” by Tony “Mondo” Destefano, who around this time was also doing the covers for Pinnacle’s Richard Blade reprints.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond #4)


Diamonds Are Forever, by Ian Fleming
No month stated, 1965  Signet Books
(Original UK edition 1956)

The last of the early James Bond novels I never got to read as a kid, Diamonds Are Forver sort of melds the previous three books: it’s got the uneventful lassitude of Casino Royale and Moonraker in spots, but in other spots it’s a pulpy actioner along the lines of Live And Let Die. Unfortunately it’s saddled with way too much arbitrary travelogue sort of stuff, with page-filling detours about horse races and Vegas casinos and the like. But on the plus side, Bond himself has apparently taken a course in bad-assery, and you wonder where the hell this guy’s been.

It doesn’t appear to be too long after Moonraker; Bond has recently returned from a vacation, presumably the one he was headed for at the climax of that book. M calls him in for a new assignment, which again sees the Service dipping into affairs not normally its business: diamond smuggling. Bond is to pose as real criminal Peter Franks and infiltrate the global diamond-smuggling operation of the so-called “Spangled Mob,” apprently run by American brothers Serrafimo and Jack Spang. Even Bond is becoming annoyed that M keeps sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, but of course he eagerly takes on the job despite M’s assistance how hard it will be, not to mention how dangerous the villains are.

This though turns out to be pretty humorous, as Bond constantly mocks the villains of Diamonds Are Forever, considering them small time stuff when compared to the foes he usually goes up against. The problem is, Fleming does little to contradict this opinion, meaning that we readers are left with the same sentiments as Bond. It’s never a good idea to flat-out gut the threat potential of your villain at the friggin’ start of the novel, folks. I mean Fleming could’ve spent just a little more time making his Spangled Mob slightly more sadistic and dangerous. Or maybe toned down on Bond’s frequent mockery of them.

Bond also banters a bit with his “friend” Bill Tanner, M’s Chief of Staff; even Tanner tries to convince Bond this will be a tough one. But as mentioned Bond has experienced a bit of an overhaul, and he’s prime for some action. Thus, Diamonds Are Forever contains more of the stuff you think of when you think of “James Bond,” ie shootouts and fistfights and even a car chase, but bear in mind you have to endure a lot of arbitrary travelogue and elaborate plot digressions to get there.

Fleming is one of “those” writers – you know, the ones who go on vacation or travel somewhere and basically just write about it verbatim and pass it off as fiction. Fleming prided himself on the accuracy of the location description in his novels, and that’s all well and good, but see, the thing is, stuff like that only matters if it advances the plot. In Fleming’s case, at least as demonstrated here, it does not. It comes off more like Fleming slummed around in America for a bit…did some gambling, watched a horse race, visited a mud bath…and just flat-out wrote about his experiences, replacing himself with Bond. In practically ever instance Bond just becomes a silent spectator of these events, and the narrative thrust stops cold.

I’m probably the only person in the world who would mention Manning Lee Stokes in the same sentence as Ian Fleming, but to me (and only me, no doubt) there’s a sort of similarity between their styles, and of the two I prefer Stokes. Sure he had a lot of padding, and couldn’t really do good climaxes, but he always seemed invested in his tales and he always featured at least a few memorably-bonkers parts. And Stokes too did books that featured a lot of globe-trotting, with local detail peppering the narrative, but in the case of Stokes I never get the impression he's been to any of the places he’s writing about. Indeed, I get the impression Stokes is in some book-lined study he seldom leaves, one that has a well-frequented dry bar over in the corner. And yet while his “country details” lacks the realism, the you-are-there of Fleming’s work…well, at least stuff happens in a Stokes novel. I’ll take excitement over travelogue any day.

The Bond books are of course most known for their escapism but Fleming’s prose shines just as much, if not more so, in the quiter, more introspective sections. There is a bravura bit here where Bond boards a BOAC bound for America – this being before the jet era, they make several stops along the way – and Fleming captures not only the elegant scene of that long-gone era (stewardesses with martini trays and caviar, anyone?) but also the poetic image of the cabin “bathed in blood” by the dawning sun. Interestingly, Bond’s own fear of flying, most notably displayed in Live And Let Die, is here transferred to another passenger, a portly businessman whom Bond watches and pities (“He is suffering the same fears he had as a small child – the fears of noise and the fear of falling”). The entire sequence could easily be cut, and no doubt would be in a thriller of today, so as to keep the action moving, but I for one am glad it’s there. There’s also a nicely-done reveal, late in the novel, of who this portly passenger actually is, but I won’t blow the surprise.

While probably not too many Bond fans would deem Diamonds Are Forever as their favorite book in the series, probably all of them would agree that it features one of the best Bondgirls. This is Tiffany Case, ruined in the film version, here a ballsy, sarcastic, hotstuff blonde babe whose bravado of course is a mask for the horrors she endured as a teenager. I liked her a lot, probably my favorite Bondgirl of the first four books, but I had a hard time picturing her as a blonde. The way Fleming brings her to life she seems more like a brassy redhead. But as everyone knows, Fleming preferred blondes, so a blonde she is – and, humorously, her first appearance is in the nude, right on cue with the “Bondgirl introduction” template Kingsley Amis defined in The James Bond Dossier. In fact, this scene – Bond coming in on Tiffany as she sits topless in front of a vanity mirror – is what artist Barye Phillips depicts on the cover of this Signet edition.

Curious editing alert: When Bond first meets Tiffany, he asks her if she minds if he smokes. “So long as it’s tobacco,” Tiffany retorts in this Signet edition, and apparently in all other US editions prior to the most recent reprints, in which her line is changed to, “If that’s the way you want to die.” They even used the “want to die” line in the BBC radio adaptation with Toby Stephens (and Stacy Keach!!) a few years ago. I initially assumed this was some bit of modern tinkering, but it turns out the “tobacco” line was an American edit to Fleming’s text; all others use the “want to die” line, which is how Fleming wrote it. Who knows what led to this edit in the old American editions, but truth be told I think this response makes more sense than Fleming’s original; Tiffany herself smokes cigarettes, as we see later in the book, so her saying “If that’s the way you want to die” is a bit hypocritical.

Tiffany is a vivacious character, particularly when compared to the Bondgirls who came before. She is usually referred to as “neurotic,” and she certainly is – going from happy to sad in a heartbeat, abruptly coming-on to Bond and just as abruptly giving him the cold shoulder. In other words she’s about as realistic a woman as you can get in the world of Bond. Again, I see her more as a brassy 1940s ballbuster along the lines of Lauren Bacall, but she’s supposed to be a young blonde babe – one who, granted, was raised by a mom who ran a whorehouse and who was gang-raped as a teen due to an infraction her mom made with the local mob. The only problem is, Tiffany disappears for quite a bit; she meets Bond, goes on a date with him later on (and kisses him – but that’s it), and then appears again until the climax.

Instead, much of Diamonds Are Forever is comprised of Bond going around America in some of the most belabored plot detours I’ve ever encountered. The Spangled Mob comes off as the most bungling, inept “crime organization” ever in the annals of fiction. They don’t just pay you off for a job – no, they have to come up with elaborate schemes to give you the dough you’ve earned. So for smuggling over some diamonds (hidden in golf balls), Bond’s payment is to be masked as the windfall from a horse race he gambles on – a race which itself is going to be fixed. Later on he’ll have to go to Vegas to earn more payment by “winning” on the tables (featuring yet another of Tiffany’s appearances, this time as a table dealer). It’s all really ridiculous, yet it’s contagious – there’s even a part where Bond himself pays off someone via convoluted scheme, doing so in a mud bath.

Even more damning, some of the Spangled Mobsters are more interesting than any of this stuff, yet Fleming basically ignores them. In particular there’s grouchy hunchback Shady Tree, who seems to be a prefigure of the superdeformed mobsters of James Dockery’s volumes of The Butcher. But he only appears once and that’s that – it’s on to the travelogue stuff. Fleming is a good writer, which makes his occasional missteps all the more apparent. In particular there’s a grating, arbitrary bit where Bond reads a newspaper clipping about Saratoga Springs, where the horse race Shady Tree has fixed for him is located; it’s the polar opposite of the plane trip sequence, just a pointless digression that fills pages and doesn’t amount to much. The same goes for an interminable sequence of horse racing. But we do get more scenes of Bond eating – he seems to eat a lot this time – with Fleming’s typical mouth-watering descriptions.

Also worth mentioning here is that Bond’s pal Felix Leiter appears again, pretty damn coincidentally this time. He’s now a Pinkerton’s detective, having been kicked back to desk duty in the CIA after losing some limbs in Live And Let Die. He bumps into Bond on the streets of New York and soon enough they’re out boozing and talking. Felix is himself sort of a prefigure of a later (real-world) character: handless private eye J.J. Armes; he even has his own trick car, a “Studillac,” which actually existed.  Unbelievably, Fleming does nothing with this car – though later he has a completely different character, cabdriver Ernie Cureo, take part in the high-speed chase we expected to see from Felix, given the intro of the Studillac.

After the Saratoga Springs stuff there follows the trip to the mud bath which again clearly seems to be shoehorned in because it’s something Fleming experienced while slumming around in America. But this part actually leads up to something happening; Bond, again following the belabored convolutions of the entire novel, is to smuggle some cash to a jockey who frequents these mud baths. A pair of hoods (in actual hoods!) crash in on the place, threaten the mud-covered jockey, and pour boiling mud on his face for fixing a race. This sequence sort of made it into the film version, at least so far to Blofeld’s fate in the pre-credits sequence. This sequence also again casts a glaring light on the differences between the movie Bond and the literary Bond. You know what the literary Bond does while the hoods torture the jockey? He lays there in his own mud bath and doesn’t do a damn thing. 

Speaking of the mud bath sequence, bad news for the progressivised revisionists of today who have been clamoring for Bond to be portrayed by a black actor in the films, claiming it could be done because “Fleming never outright stated that James Bond is white.” It’s right there on page 79 of this Signet edition, folks: “…Bond was loaded with hot mud. Only his face and an area round his heart were still white.” I love the smell of Napalmed revisionists in the morning.

It's always interesting how the literary Bond differs from his movie incarnation, which per some sources was mostly a creation of Sean Connery and original series director Terrence Young (not to mention the screenwriters, producers, and sundry others, no doubt). As just one example, whereas the cinematic Bond always has the right word for the right occasion, the Bond of the novels sometimes puts his foot in his mouth, as is the case with his date with Tiffany. Bond starts yapping about their employers in the Spangled Mob and Tiffany goes cold; Bond immediately senses he’s blown it, and of course he has. It’s funny because Fleming’s novels were derided in their time for their cheap exploitation and whatnot, yet in reality Bond rarely if ever gets laid, or at least doesn’t until soon after the book ends.

That being said, Bond has toughened up this time. He kills a total of six men in the course of Diamonds Are Forever, a record for the series so far, not to mention his first kills since Live And Let Die. The first two kills occur in the same sequence; Bond, now in Vegas as part of that elaborate Spangled Mob payoff scheming, finds himself in the taxi of Ernie Cureo, a colleague of Felix’s – and Ernie by the way was memorably portrayed by Stacy Keach in that BBC radio drama I keep mentioning. They’re on their way somewhere when they are suddenly shadowed by two cars. For once Fleming doesn’t pull the expected copout when Bond unholsters his Beretta. Cureo gets the drop on one car and Bond’s able to hop out and blast away at the two hoods inside; we don’t get any details but Bond appears to kill both of them, either by bullets or by causing the car to catch fire with them trapped inside.

This leads us to the climax – well, the first of three climaxes. Bond’s cover as Peter Franks has been blown, and the hoods have been sent by Seraffimo Spang, mega-wealthy owner of his own town outside Vegas, Spectreville. After being rounded up by the surviving two hoods – a bleeding Ernie left in his car in a drive-in movie lot! – Bond is escorted there, even delivering a few quips along the lines of his later film incarnation (“Nice car you had.”). Upon his arrival in Spectreville Bond kills one of the two thugs, blowing him away with the other thug’s gun, and then Bond thrashes the hell out of the thug he took the gun from. Again, where the hell has this guy been??

Seraffimo Spang is a letdown of a villain; there’s a reason why you seldom if ever see the Spang Brothers mentioned in any list of Bond’s most memorable villains. Fleming attempts to make him outlandish, per the series mandate – he’s rich, he collects actual Old West trains, he dresses in chaps and leather like a movie cowboy – but it’s all sort of lazily done. The BBC adaptation goes an unusual route and makes Seraffimo campishly gay, the cowboy gear more along the lines of Hopalong Cassidy or somesuch, and to tell the truth even that is better than what we get here. Also the Spangled Mob itself is presented as a little too low-budget for what’s supposed to be a global criminal empire; it seems like Seraffimo runs it himself from his little cowboy town, with just a handful of thugs at his disposal – in particular sadistic hoods Wint and Kidd, the “literal” hoods who showed up at the mud baths (and who themselves were given a camp gay treatment in the film version).

Bond gets beaten up (off-page) by these two; the “Brooklyn Stomping” treatment, per Seraffimo’s orders. When Tiffany rouses him back to consciousness, Bond is apparently having a dream about the climactic events of Live And Let Die. This leads us to the first of those three climaxes; Bond and Tiffany make a desperate escape on a rail car as Seraffimo chases them in his old train. It’s pretty goofy when you think about it, but at least Bond scores another kill – taking out Seraffimo with his Beretta (which Tiffany has collected for him, conveniently enough) as the cowboy villain speeds by in his train. As we’ll remember from Moonraker, Bond’s the best shot in the Service!

Now we come to Climax Two: Bond and Tiffany are aboard the Queen Mary, making their oceanbound voyage for London. Bond has so fallen for Tiffany that he plans for her to move in with him! This leads to the novel’s first and only bit of hanky-panky, as Tiffany gives herself to Bond after a night of wining and dining on the luxurious ship, but of course it happens off-page. When Bond wakes up, Tiffany’s gone, and he receives a cable at that moment alerting him to the fact that two of the Spang hoods were seen boarding the same ship: Wint and Kidd, of course. Bond grabs his Beretta, fashions a rope, and swings down to their room, conveniently right beneath his own, smashing into the place like a regular movie hero. Curiously, the BBC drama (last time I’ll mention it) leaves his execution of the two hoods “off-air,” or however you’d say off-page for a radio drama. But Fleming wisely lets us witness it all, and it’s a nice reminder of how our hero can be a merciless dispenser of justice.

Climax Three is curiously underwhelming, and the least thrilling of the three. Bond’s now in New Guinea, where the novel began, and he waits with a few soldiers as Jack Spang flies in to kill the dentist who has been smuggling out diamonds for him from the nearby mine. Spang intends to cut off the pipeline and start anew, and per hasty word from M we learn that he’s killed everyone but this dentist. Well, that happens, and then Spang’s taking off in his helicopter, and Bond blasts it out of the sky with a Bofors artillery cannon. Then Bond sits for a bit, reflects on all the kills he’s had to make on this caper (another difference between Literary and Cinematic Bond – this one actually regrets the killing), and then begins walking toward the burning helicopter. Fleming seems to imply that Bond’s about to snatch the diamonds from it.

Most all commentators agree that the series heads into a new area with the next novel, From Russia, With Love, which is universally considered one of the best. I enjoyed reading these first four Bond novels for the first time, but the only one I really liked was Live And Let Die. I’d rank Diamonds Are Forever as my second favorite of the first four, if only for the periodic action and thrills; otherwise the convoluted travelogue stuff was a total bummer.