U.N.C.L.E., C.U.R.E., CIA – All kinds of letters, all kinds of agencies. This column brings to a close our “Spies in September” run. We’ve read a lot of espionage this month, and we’re going out with some old favorites here.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E #2: THE DOOMSDAY AFFAIR by Harry Whittington – Yes, the one and the same Whittington from my glowing Stark House review. I wanted to see what the king of the paperbacks could bring to characters we all know and love. This 1965 tie-in is a more balanced book than the previous one, with both Solo and Illya having equal roles. It starts out with a THRUSH agent who is going to defect, until the lei she is wearing kills her.
From here, Solo is on the hunt to find out who killed her, while Illya works another angle. The book is packed with mindless fun, be it a couple being driven off a road to Solo going to a strip bar. And I can’t forget Illya breaking out from a prison, only later to become a gibbering mess who can’t control his body because he is drugged. That’s one thing about this series: They actually use cool gadgets. Most of the stuff I read this month was pretty well based in reality – nothing super-cool for the imagination.
The plot moves along to what THRUSH is plotting this time: blowing up Washington, D.C. They have set up a secret base where all these scientists have come to over time to sell out their countries – I won’t give away the surprises of where. There is also a super-secret agent that in reality is a double agent that you won’t see coming. Well, you might if you pay close attention. Whittington has fun with the spy genre; I just wish he got to play a bit longer in it.
THE DESTROYER #49: SKIN DEEP by Warren Murphy – This 1982 paperback was the first Remo Williams adventure to feature only Murphy’s name on the cover, even though it was co-written with two ghost writers. It open on a ship where a hush-hush stealth plane is kept. We meet a pilot by the name of Caan who gets a mysterious visitor at night bearing instructions and a protective liquid. Cann thinks it was some weird nightmare until he sees the bottle in his hand the following morning. Then the ship and crew are all attacked by giant killer birds, pecking out and ripping the rest to shreds. Using the liquid, Caan saves himself … for a even worse fate, one that involves the plane.
Remo and Chuin go on the search for the aircraft, which was taken by a former Nazi doctor who makes Josef Mengele look like Florence Nightingale. This man is so evil, he experiments on a village of lepers. I mean, don’t these people already have it bad enough? It seems Dr. Zoran also shares a history with Remo’s boss Harold Smith from back in WWII. In a plot that eerily foreshadows the tragic events of 9/11, Zoran has brainwashed Caan, a Jewish pilot, to become a Nazi supporter and to crash his plane into the World Trade Center.
Murphy and company do not lose a step in this tight little adventure, filled with all the excitement and fun this series is known for, plus a nice helping of bickering between Chuin and Remo. These books just get me all set for another, but that’s got to wait. Plus, once the DESTROYER series moves over to a new publisher next year (Tor/Forge), we’ll be seeing a reissue of some of the early titles.
ASSIGNMENT SCHOOL FOR SPIES by Edward S. Aaron – Well, I finally read one of the very first ASSIGNMENT books I ever bought. Not knowing the series when I picked it up with a few others, I was slightly mad at myself since this 1966 entry deals with Sam Durell going into rogue agent mode – not a book to start a series with for a new reader, since Durell is such the company man in his department. So I put it to the side and figured I’d get a few of the others in before tackling it.
Glad I did, since Durell is of one mindset in this book, as his former love Deidre has gone off and gotten married. But not to some normal American, but a European count who seems to have some shady things going on. Durell is told to report back to the States countless times during his search for her, but he continues, not caring what the consequences will be. He is joined by two fellow agents, Xanakias and Marge Jones. Xanakias joins up since a previous enemy from another ASSIGNMENT novel has reared his head again, while Marge joins because she works in one of the offices, stuck in a daily grind but wanting more adventure.
SCHOOL FOR SPIES is another fine read from one of my faves. The school here is kinda reminiscent of another hideaway packed with girls (namely, 007’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE). Also, it’s great to see Durell just go all rogue and on his own. It reminded me of the Bernard Samson novels of Len Deighton. If you have read a few of the books in this series, then sure, grab this one – it’s packed with action. But if this would be your first exposure to the raging Cajun, put it down and read at least three other ASSIGNMENTs before it so you’ll have a taste of the real Durell in his normal troubleshooting role.
Next time: Shyamalan is a hack. –Bruce Grossman
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MISS EARLIER INSTALLMENTS OF ‘BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS’? REGASM THESE:
• #22: For Queen and Country
• #21: Red Spies at Night
• #20: September Is for Spies
• #19: I Hate Illinois Nazis
• #18: Watching the Detectives
OTHER BOOKGASM REVIEWS OF THESE AUTHORS:
• ASSIGNMENT BANGKOK by Edward S. Aarons
• ASSIGNMENT BURMA GIRL by Edward S. Aarons
• THE DESTROYER #14: JUDGMENT DAY by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy
• THE DESTROYER #22: BRAIN DRAIN by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy
• THE DESTROYER #48: PROFIT MOTIVE by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy
• GRANDMASTER by Warren Murphy
• A NIGHT FOR SCREAMING / ANY WOMAN HE WANTED by Harry Whittington