Sunday, April 29, 2012

Harold Lamb's Swords from the West

Swords from the West Swords from the West is more than just a collection of short stories. The seventeen stories in this volume include two short novels and several other stories that are virtually novellas.

New Jersey-born Harold Lamb (1892-1962) was one of the grand masters of the adventure story. He wrote for pulp magazines but also wrote a number of serious historical works as well as penning the screenplay for Cecil B. DeMille’s underrated 1935 epic The Crusades Lamb was fluent in French, Latin, Arabic and Persian with a smattering of other eastern languages as well and can be considered to be one of the most erudite of adventure writers.  

Swords from the West claims to be a collection of his tales about the Crusades but the stories are far more more varied than that would suggest, including a story of the Battle of Châlons in 451 (possibly the most decisive battle in European history, the battle that ended the advance of Attila’s Huns into Europe and also the last great Roman victory). There’s even a ghost story set in India during the Raj. Lamb was renowned for his even-handedness. There are Crusader heroes but there are brave and honourable Moslems as well (and perfidious and treacherous ones also).

Lamb was also fascinated by the Mongols (he wrote a biography of Genghis Khan) and was surprisingly sympathetic towards them. Some of the best stories in this volume involve the Mongols and Tatars, including the novellas The Grand Cham and The Golden Horde and the novel The Making of the Morning Star. Lamb’s heroes are not kings or even princes but mostly landless knights or adventurers, men on the periphery of greatness or men caught up in great events.

There are brave women as well in these tales. Lamb admired courage and daring regardless of race or gender.

Lamb’s style is somewhat more literary than the usual run of pulp writers but he had the pulp writer’s awareness of the importance of pacing and excitement. His plotting is skillful and well thought out. His stories aren’t just a collection of exciting incidents - he knew how to build a tale towards a satisfactory climax, bringing the hero to his appointed point of destiny.

He was fascinated by civilisations in transition, either on the verge of greatness or in the process of decline. His crusader stories do not deal with the glories of the First Crusade or with the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the height of its power, or even with the exploits of great crusader heroes like Richard Lionheart. Lamb was more interested in the period when the doomed surviving crusader princedoms were struggling for survival.

Lamb’s view of the Crusades was complex but ultimately tragic. You certainly won’t find him espousing the modern and fashionably politically correct view of the Crusades as a war of aggression against peace-loving Islamic civilisations, but neither will you find him adopting a simplistic triumphalist tone. Courage and honour, and treachery and cowardice, can be found in every civilisation at every period of history. You also won’t find modern ideas about universal peace and brotherhood in these pages. Civiliations that are unable or unwilling to fight for their own survival do not and never will survive.

A collection of fine stories by a master story teller, highly recommended.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vikram and the Vampire

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) was famous for his translations of classic folk tales and other literary classics from various eastern languages (Burton being one of the 19th century’s great linguists). He was equally well-known as an explorer and adventurer.

Vikram and the Vampire, which he translated and adapted in 1870, is a group of Hindu tales. They are told by a baital (not really a vampire but a kind of spirit who can inhabit dead bodies) to King Vikram (described by Burton as the King Arthur of India). The stories are somewhat in the style of the tales of the Arabian Nights - if you enjoy the Arabian Nights or you enjoy fairy stories you should certainly like Vikram and the Vampire.

Most of the tales have a humorous or ironic slant to them. They’re a lot of fun.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister

In Raymond Chandler’s 1949 novel The Little Sister Philip Marlowe takes on what seems like a fairly routine missing persons case. Orrin Quest was a young man from Manhattan, Kansas who arrived in LA and then disappeared from sight. His sister hires Marlowe to find him. The trail leads to a couple of corpses, an up-and-coming movie starlet and an out-of-town gangster.

From there on the plot, in typical Chandler fashion, becomes more and more devious, culminating in not one twist but a whole series of twists at the end.

If you’re already a Chandler fan you pretty much know what to expect – lots of snappy dialogue (the kind of dialogue that has been copied countless times but no-one does it quite as well as Chandler does it), fascinatingly perverse characters, delightfully seedy settings and an abundance of cynicism.

And mixed with the cynicism you get Marlowe, a genuine hero in an age that has little use for heroes. The Little Sister is classic Chandler. Wonderful stuff.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jules Verne's The Steam House

Jules Verne’s 1880 novel The Steam House is one of his lesser known works, but one not without interest.

In the 1860s an assortment of English and French travellers undertake an extraordinary journey through India by elephant. But this is no ordinary elephant. This is a steam elephant! And they travel in style, the steam elephant (affectionately christened Behemoth) pulling behind it two well-appointed and comfortable houses.

This idea had been put to an engineer named Banks that while travel was pleasant it was even more pleasant to remain in one’s home. Banks proposed a solution to this dilemma - he would contrive an invention that would allow a party of adventurous souls to make a lengthy journey without the necessity of ever leaving behind the comforts of home. His invention, Steam House, would be a luxurious wheeled house drawn by a powerful steam traction engine.

In fact not one house but two, it being naturally desirable to have a separate house to contain the provisions needed for such a journey along with the servants. Since all Englishmen are of course eccentric and whimsical he builds the traction engine in the form of a gigantic mechanical elephant.

This turns out to be more than a mere pleasure jaunt. One member of the party is Colonel Munro, whose wife was brutally slain at Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny. Munro was able to take vengeance on some of the mutineers but the leading spirit behind the Mutiny, the redoubtable Nana Sahib, escaped. Colonel Munro and Nana Sahib remained sworn and implacable enemies. Rumours of both Nana Sahib’s death and his continued existence have swept the sub-continent but just before this story starts an apparently certain report of his death seemed to have closed this chapter of history. Colonel Munro however does not believe that his old enemy is truly dead.

That is why the colonel agreed to join the expedition - he hopes to find evidence of Nana Sahib’s whereabouts and finally bring him to justice.

 Captain Hood has other reasons to undertake this journey. A keen hunter, he hopes to being his tally of tigers to fifty. The other members of the party are motivated mostly by the sheer pleasure and interest of the journey that will take them to the foothills of the Himalayas.

As was his usual practice, Verne delights in making his account as detailed as possible. At times this slows the narrative down and the first half of the tale is a little on the slow side. It starts to gather steam, so to speak, by the halfway point when the party meets up with an eccentric Dutch animal zoologist collecting live animals for European zoos. And it really picks up when they find themselves on the trail of a deadlier prey than tigers - Nana Sahib himself!

The rights and wrongs of the Indian Mutiny and of the Raj have been endlessly debated and I have no intention of adding anything on that subject. Nor wilI I venture any opinion on subjects such as tiger-hunting. Verne is mostly concerned with telling a tale of adventure. It is a tale of its time but it is still an intriguing and on occasions exciting story.

For some obscure reason Wildside Press elected to publish this book in two volumes, the first being The Demon of Cawnpore, the second being Tigers and Traitors. It’s not a particularly long novel and there is no reason at all to break it into two halves. On the other hand they are to be commended for making such an obscure work available in English. The translator is not named but the translation maintains the feel of a 19th century novel, avoiding any annoying tendencies to intrude modern idioms or prejudices but still being enjoyable and highly readable.

If you’re a fan of Verne, or of 19th century stories of travel and adventure, there is sufficient entertainment here to make it worthwhile seeking out this forgotten book.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Secret Operative K-13

One of the more popular although these days sadly forgotten sub-genres of 1920s and 1930s pulp fiction was the aviation adventure story, of which Joel Townsley Rogers’ Secret Operative K-13 is an example.

Some of these tales were straight aerial combat stories, some combined aerial combat with espionage, some followed the adventures of former World War I air aces in exotic locations in the between wars years while others (such as Donald Keyhoe’s Philip Strange stories) added science fiction, the paranormal and magic.

Secret Operative K-13 belongs to the aerial combat combined with espionage sub-category.

It’s ostensibly set in 1916 although there are some anachronistic features (Sopwith Camels and tanks). The story was originally serialised in the pup magazine Everybody’s from December 1928 to February 1929 and Black Dog Books’ edition is claimed to be its first appearance in book form. It’s likely the anachronisms were the result of sloppy sub-editing or perhaps being a pulp author writing in haste Rogers simply forgot the story was supposed to take place in 1916!

The story actually concerns two spies, one German and one Allied. K-13 is an Allied spy in the headquarters of General von Schmee who is about to launch his VII Army Corps in a major offensive. The Germans have a spy as well, known as Number Two, in the Royal Flying Corps. A young German-born American pilot serving in the RFC, Richard Fahnestock (with the rather unfortunate nickname “Big Dick”) is caught up inadvertently in espionage when he is ordered to pose as a deserter to infiltrate von Schmee’s headquarters to rescue K-13. Or at least that’s what he is told his mission is.

Number Two has supplied von Schmee with the British order of battle and, armed with this information, von Schmee is confident of victory. So confident that his surprise attack is to be launched without artillery preparation. But while Number Two is supplying the German with information that could make the offensive the vital breakthrough on the Western Front K-13 is busily supplying the British with intelligence to foil these plans. The Germans need to discover K-13’s identity just as badly as the British need to learn the identity of Number Two.

Fahnestock finds that he’s been set up but he’s a determined if bull-headed fellow and he’s not easy to kill.

National stereotypes abound in this book. I doubt if any real Prussian or British officer would have behaved the way the characters in this story behave but this is pulp fiction and the aim is excitement and adventure rather than historical accuracy. It’s not supposed to be taken seriously. Judged purely as pulp fiction it’s quite entertaining.

The author’s name is given as Joel Townsley Rogers on the book cover but other sources give his name as Joel Townley Rogers. He wrote in various pulp genres including crime and science fiction.

The combination of spies and fighter aces in Secret Operative K-13 is hard to resist although perhaps disappointingly there are very few actual aerial combat scenes in the book. It’s still kind of fun.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Donald E. Keyhoe's Strange War

Donald E. Keyhoe (1897-1988) was an ex-Marine Corps pilot who turned to writing for the pulps in the 1920s. His stories were aviation adventure tales but with a very large dash of weird fiction. Strange War is a collection of six of the sixty-four stories he wrote about Captain Philip Strange, the Brain-Devil. Keyhoe later became a UFO freak.

Philip Strange had been a carnival performer doing a mental act involving hypnotism, and had studied various eastern esoteric philosophies. When the First World War broke he was assigned to G-2, the US Army Air Corps’ intelligence section. He was a fighter ace and a spy-hunter and helped to foil various outlandish German schemes to spread terror and confusion.

The stories combine aerial combat and espionage with elements of the bizarre. In Scourge of the Skies a diabolically clever German scientist has developed a gigantic mechanical pterodactyl. Other stories involve death rays and beams of light that cause instant senility, or what appear to be ultra-advanced super high speed aircraft.

The Western Front is stalked by monsters and by strange irrational fears.

Interestingly enough these uncanny threats are all given reasonably rational explanations - very unlikely explanations but non-supernatural. There’s some delightful technobabble here.

Strange is a master of disguise as well as being well-versed in all kinds of mental feats and possessing skills that approach the paranormal.

The stories are wonderfully offbeat and the style is pulpy and breathless. There are various malevolent figures working for the German Empire who seem to be inspired by fictional diabolical criminal masterminds such as Dr Fu Manchu. In fact the tone is a bit like Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories but with more technology and more science, albeit weird fringe science. A cross between the Fu Manchu books and Buck Rogers.

The stories were originally published in a pulp magazine called Flying Aces.

Highly recommended for its delirious mixture of aerial combat, hypnotism, stage magic, spies, fiendish inventions and the paranormal.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Otis Adelbert Kline’s Planet of Peril

Otis Adelbert Kline’s 1929 novel Planet of Peril is a sword-and-planet adventure very much in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In fact so much so that the two authors were alleged to have had something of a literary feud going over this issue. The reality seems to be that although Kline’s work was essentially Burroughs pastiche Burroughs (very sensibly) took no notice. Burroughs was by that time so popular that he could afford to regard imitation as a tribute rather than a threat.

As a Burroughs pastiche Planet of Peril is pretty reasonable. If you enjoy Burroughs’ work there’s no reason you won’t enjoy Kline’s. Kline could not match the extraordinary world-building skills of Burroughs but he gave it his best shot.

Robert Grandon is bored, in the way only a 24-year-old can be bored. He craves a life of adventure and he has done his best to pursue that craving but ennui has still caught up with him. So when he receives a very mysterious invitation he has no hesitation in accepting it.

Doctor Morgan has a curious proposition for him. He has already demonstrated his telepathic abilities by the manner in which the invitation was extended, but telepathic skills are only a part of the strange tale he spins. It appears that he is in telepathic communication with certain inhabitants of the planets Venus and Mars. Even stranger, these are inhabitants of those planets who lived aeons ago. And even stranger still, he has discovered that it is possible to swap minds with these people. He offers Grandon the opportunity to take over the body of a long-dead Venusian while the Venusian takes over his body.

Grandon accepts the offer, and finds himself on the planet Venus in the distant past in the body of a Venusian prince who has been enslaved by a beautiful but formidable and cruel princess named Vernia. The inhabitants call the planet Zarovia.

Grandon escapes and encounters some of the strange creatures of Zarovia, such as the deadly insectoid sabits. He becomes involved in plots and counter-plots and in the conflicts between the constantly warring kingdoms of Zarovia. He also discovers love, in the unlikely form of Vernia. She turns out not to be so evil after all.

The battles involve airships and an odd mix of primitive and advanced weaponry, in the typical style of sword-and-planet adventures.

There’s the usual mix of intrigue, romance and action. It might not be quite up to the standards of the best examples of the genre but it’s entertaining enough stuff and worth a look.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ian Fleming's Moonraker

Moonraker was the fourth of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, appearing in 1955. By that time Fleming had the formula well and truly nailed and the result is wonderful entertainment.

A mysterious businessman has announced plans to build a missile that will ensure Britain’s defences. He is prepared to finance the project himself as a kind of gift to the nation. The rocker, known as the Moonraker, will be able to reach any city in Europe (which in 1955 made it a super-weapon).

Sir Hugo Drax is very mysterious indeed. In fact no-one is absolutely certain of his identity. During the German breakthrough in the Ardennes in 1944 a British headquarters was destroyed, and a badly burned man was found among the wreckage claiming to have total amnesia. He was tentatively identified as a former dockworker from Liverpool. After the war this man made a fortune speculating on precious metals and by the early 50s he had been knighted and with the announcement of his Moonraker project had become a sort of national hero.

Sir Hugo Drax just happens to belong to the same club as M, the head of the British Secret Service, and M had noticed something peculiar and disturbing- Sir Hugo cheats at cards. It’s peculiar because he is so wealthy he has no need to do something so petty, and it’s disturbing because in 1955 being exposed a card cheat could still mean social ruin. So it has the potential to become a matter of national security and M asks James Bond as a personal favour to find out how he does it and find a way to cure him of this unfortunate habit before a scandal erupts.

This sets up the obligatory gambling scene without which no Bond novel would be complete. Fleming was fascinated by the dangerous glamour of high-stakes gambling and always liked to find a way not only to include such a scene but also to make it integral to the plot.

The very next day a double murder takes place at the headquarters of the Moonraker project and Bond finds himself working undercover as Drax’s chief of security. Naturally there’s a beautiful woman involved, in this case a policewoman from Special Branch also working undercover in Drax’s operation. Her name is Gala Brand. At this stage of course it is still assumed that Drax is a patriotic hero and that some outside group is trying to sabotage the Moonraker. Bond will soon discover there’s more to Sir Hugo Drax than meets the eye.

Fleming’s success with the Bond novels was based on making use the traditional ingredients of the spy thriller but adding extra sex and violence and most importantly, adding extra glamour. He more or less created the stereotypical secret agent as handsome, charming, sophisticated, witty, cultured and as an all-round bon vivant. Fleming loved to drop the names, not of famous people, but of famous and luxurious products. The pages of the Bond novels are littered with references to luxury products. He was sometimes mocked for this but on the whole it was a very effective technique. Spy thrillers are after all escapist fantasies so you might as well make the fantasy as exciting as possible.

Bond also differed from earlier heroes of this type such as Richard Hannay and Bulldog Drummond in being sexually amoral. Bond is as patriotic and as courageous as Hannay and Drummond but you can’t imagine those earlier spy heroes indulging in the sexual adventures that Bond gets up to.

Fleming’s Moonraker bears little resemblance to the outrageous 1979 Bond movie of the same name. By 1979 technology had moved on and the Moonraker rocket of the novel would have seemed very dated.

The novel is immense fun and if you’ve never sampled the delights of Fleming’s spy fiction it’s as good a place to start as anywhere since there’s no particular need to read the novels in sequence. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Edmund Crispin’s Frequent Hearses

Frequent Hearses is the second of Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries that I’ve read. I think it’s fair to say that the best things about Crispin’s novels are Gervase Fen himself and Crispin’s delightfully witty writing style.

Published in 1950, Frequent Hearses is a story of suicide and murder within the British film industry. Professor Fen happens to be working at the film studio, as an adviser on a biopic about the poet Pope, when the suicide of a promising young actress arouses his suspicions.

The plot is one of those typical murder mystery plots that perhaps relies just a little too much on coincidence. It’s all enormous fun though, and there’s so much amusement to be derived from Fen's encounter with the wonderful world of movies. A great book to curl up in bed with.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Your Turn, Mr Moto

Your Turn, Mr Moto, published in 1936, was the first of John P. Marquand’s Mr Moto novels. Mr Moto is better remembered today from the film series with Peter Lorre as the Japanese master detective.

I’ve only seen one of the Mr Moto films and it’s an engaging mixture of crime and espionage. The Mr Moto of Your Turn, Mr Moto is a rather different character. He’s a spymaster rather than a detective and he’s the bad guy instead of being the hero. He’s also a supporting character, not the central character. Oddly enough that was the way Charlie Chan was also introduced in the first of Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan novels. In both cases the subsidiary character ended up being the highlight of the book and was so popular with readers that he went on to become the central character in further adventures.

The hero in Your Turn, Mr Moto is Casey Lee, a washed-up alcoholic American flyer stranded in Tokyo when plans for a trans-Pacific flight fall through. He’d hoped the flight would resurrect him as a national hero (he’d been an air ace in the First World War and a noted pioneer aviator in the 20s). Now he’s so embittered that when Japanese spymaster Mr Moto offers him a job he accepts it even though it means betraying his country.

Being a Japanese spy turns out not to be much fun. People keep trying to kill him. On a ship to Shanghai they become convinced he has gained possession of a secret formula that would allow oil fuel to be burnt so efficiently that it would double the cruising ranges of both warships and aircraft, giving whichever country possessed the secret an enormous strategic advantage.

Casey has other problems. He has fallen in love with a glamorous White Russian spy named Sonya. She may be working for one of the major powers, or for the White Russians still hoping to overthrow the Bolsheviks, or for herself. Casey has no idea where her loyalties lie but he’s crazy about her. He’s also having second thoughts about the whole betraying your country thing, plus he’s caught up in a struggle between American, Chinese and Japanese intelligence agencies. The most dangerous person in this game appears to be Mr Moto, an urbane and sophisticated man who deplores unnecessary violence but has a steely determination to get the secret formula for Japan. His courteous and charming exterior hides a razor-sharp mind. While Mr Moto deplores violence he understands the regrettable necessity for it at times.

All Casey Lee understands is that he needs a drink. He’s a flawed and reluctant hero but a hero nonetheless. He muddles through as best as he can.

One thing I get annoyed by these days is people who enjoy this sort of fiction but always feel the need to apologise for the politically incorrect nature of such books. We live in an arrogant age that often forgets that the people of the past were as complex and as intelligent (and sometimes as stupid) as we are. When we assume that the people of the past were all mindless bigots we’re guilty of stereotyping past generations in the same way they get accused of stereotyping other races.

Your Turn, Mr Moto displays a complicated set of attitudes towards the Orient. Of course we’re not even supposed to use that word any more because it conjures up a mood of exoticism, adventure and mystery and we live in an age that has no time for such things. Casey Lee has to struggle to understand the mysterious workings of the Japanese mind, and Mr Moto has to struggle just as hard to understand the equally mysterious workings of the American mind.

Mr Moto might appear to be the bad guy but he’s no villain. Insofar as a spymaster can be an honourable man Mr Moto is an honourable man. He serves his country with intelligence, bravery and education. Casey Lee discovers, much to his own surprise, that he is a patriot as well. Neither of them displays any xenophobic feelings. They respect each other’s abilities (Mr Moto at first underestimates Casey but he soon discovers his error which only increases his respect for the American). On a personal level they like one another.

That’s really the point of the book. Espionage requires deception but it’s not necessarily good guys vs bad guys. Sometimes it’s good guys vs good guys who just happen to be on opposite sides.

This is a very decent espionage thriller. Recommended, especially if you like your spy fiction in exotic locations.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Matt Helm: Death of a Citizen, Donald Hamilton

Death of a Citizen, published in 1960, was the first of Donald Hamilton’s many Matt Helm spy novels. The character is better remembered these days from the four 1960s movies staring Dean Martin as the super-cool super-spy.

The movies were tongue-in-cheek romps and great fun. If you only know the character from the movies then Death of a Citizen will come as quite a surprise. There is some sly humour but mostly it’s a gritty and rather dark tale of espionage. The only connection between the Matt Helm of the book and the Matt Helm of the movies is that both are photographers, but the book’s version of the character earns his living as a writer with photography being a sideline.

During the Second World War Matt Helm had served in a very shadowy US branch of the US intelligence services. They had no official existence (plausible deniability and all that) and worked undercover in Occupied Europe. A bit along the lines of the British Special Operations Executive, but with a difference. Matt Helm and his fellow agents were essentially assassins. The name of the organisation is never mentioned at any stage in the book.

The war is now long over and Matt Helm is now happily married and living a quite and generally unobtrusive life in New Mexico, earning a good living as a writer of westerns. He has three kids and family life agrees with him. He’s still in pretty good shape but he’s just a little heavier than he had been during those wartime days, and with a bit less hair. He’s almost forgotten that he was once a spy and an assassin.

So it comes a bit of a shock to him when Tina turns up at a cocktail party in New Mexico. Tina had been one of his fellow agents. She’s sort of an old flame as well, except that their very brief relationship during the war had been based purely on lust. It’s even more of a shock when she gives him one of their old recognition signals, a signal that means he should pretend not to know her and that she has important information for him. He’d assumed that all of his fellow operatives had been put out to pasture like him. Tina is apparently still an active agent in the field.

Matt wants none of this. He’s a happily married man. He’s retired from the spy business. Now Tina wants to tell him that Russian agents are planning to assassinate a neighbour of his, an atomic scientist who works nearby as a place called Los Alamos. And that he’s been reactivated. He’s unpleasantly reminded of the fact that their boss, Mac, told him after the war that they could never retire from an organisation that officially didn’t exist. His happy assumption that the organisation would have been long since closed down is apparently false. He’s still determined to have no part in any of this, until the dead girl turns up in his study. Tina has killed her and tells him the girl was a Russian agent, an assassin who works for the Soviet counterpart to their organisation.

Now he has no choice, and is drawn back into the world of the professional spy. And nothing is what it seems to be.

The novel packs a lot of action into its 140 pages. There are no gadgets. This is a world of deception and danger where spies rely on their wits and their training. And of course guns. It’s a world where killing is an unpleasant necessity. Matt Helm is a very good killer.

Anyone writing a spy novel in 1960 was going to be influenced by Ian Fleming whose reputation had by this time spread from Britain to the US in a big way. Fleming’s James Bond novels, unlike the Bond movies, were dark and surprisingly realistic spy thrillers (and they also featured no gadgets). They differed from earlier spy fiction in having a lot more violence and a lot more sex. Fleming did for espionage fiction what Mickey Spillane did for crime fiction. Death of a Citizen follows the same formula - plenty of fairly graphic violence and plenty of sex.

Matt Helm is not unlike Bond, although he’s a less polished version. He doesn’t drive a vintage Bentley, he drives a beat-up ’51 Chevy pickup truck. But he’s just as ruthless. He has perhaps more of a conscience than Bond but both characters understand equally well that their job is vitally necessary even if the more squeamish members of their society would prefer not to think about such things.

The main difference is that Matt Helm no longer wants to be part of this world. He doesn’t want to go back to killing for a living.

I can’t confirm this since this is the first Matt Helm book I’ve read but I’m told that the early ones at least have to be read in sequence. I liked it enough that I’ll probably seek out the second book, The Wrecking Crew. If you enjoy spy fiction from the era before it became bogged down in moral relativism and cynicism you could do worse than check out Donald Hamilton’s work.