TRASHY TUESDAY: COUNTER-SPY by Ray Slattery (Horwitz, 1964)
“Parachuted into German-occupied France to unravel the secrets of a diabolic missile system, Nicole had penetrated to the Nazi headquarters. But now she was stark naked, the unknown, personal prisoner of a licentious cruel German captain.”
From the back cover of Counter-Spy
Under his own name and the pseudonym of John Slater, Ray Slattery wrote numerous World War II novels for Horwitz which focussed not on heroic battles, but on the treatment of Allied soldiers (mainly Australian) and nurses as prisoners of the Japanese. In response to popular demand, he also expanded his output to include books which dealt with the treatment of beautiful young women by depraved Nazis doctors and officers. These books had titles like: Gestapo Camp, White Slaves of the Swastika and Victim of the S.S. (all John Slater titles) and usually featured on the covers naked women being tied or chained up and tortured.
Counter-Spy was published in 1964 by Horwitz and was one of nearly 20 novels that Slattery wrote that year (under his own name and the Slater pseudonym) which focussed on Nazi and Japanese atrocities and the abuse of prisoners of war, usually women. These books would seem to have been very popular in the 1960s and were reprinted into the 1970s and 80s. In addition to the books by Slattery, there were other similar series, including the Jim Kent series which went well into the 1970s. Despite the covers, these books were often quite chaste, with the torture usually more suggested than described and certainly not as horrible as the fate that befell many in real life.
Counter-Spy appeared under Slattery’s own name and despite the cover, which strongly suggests that it is a book about a young blonde woman being tortured in a dungeon, it is actually a routine war adventure yarn. Nicole Duval was a member of the French resistance until a mission led to her fleeing France under gunfire on a board a British submarine. (Slattery supplies quite a bit of detail on Nicole’s previous adventures in France, which suggests that there was an early book about her and Squadron Leader Webley, but I have not been able to identify which book it was). The British now have a new mission for her. She will be parachuted back into France to pinpoint the location of a secret German rocket base so that the Allies can bomb it within ten days. The mission requires her to get close to a German Captain who manages security at the base and pass information back on its location. When her plan goes wrong, she becomes the personal prisoner of the Captain who does not realise that she is a spy. She desperately tries to keep her virtue intact while passing back the information the British need.
It is not a dreadful book. The pacing is brisk and there is plenty of action. The story flows well and there is the constant threat that something terrible will happen to Nicole, who spends a good portion of the book in a bath robe. Credibility is frequently strained, and Slattery’s dialogue is very stilted and staged. The characters are very much stereotypes, from the dashing Squadron Leader who initially brought Nicole to London and serves as the absent love interest, to the polite, but brutal German Captain who holds Nicole captive. The attitudes and behaviours of Nicole and others, also do not ring true and she is not a convincing hero. After building up the tension, the novel ends very abruptly and not very convincingly, as though Slattery had reached his page limit and had to quickly wrap up the story!
The cover is by Col Cameron, who did over a hundred covers for Australian paperbacks, mainly for Horwitz. It is a good eye-catching cover, with a well-placed riding crop and braid of hair maintaining the modesty of the girl being chained up. The cover bears no relationship, however, to the contents of book. The cover indicates that Nicole is chained up in what appears to be a dungeon and tortured with various implements, including knives, pliers and whips. In fact, she is never even threatened with such torture and is held in a bedroom and not chained up. She is also not blonde in the book. Anyone buying the book based on the cover would have been very disappointed!
It is not a great book, but it is certainly an interesting reminder of the popular Nazi Prisoner of War cultural trend in men’s fiction from the 1960s and early 70s.
Like always, this article owes much to the excellent Australian Paperback Guide by the late Graeme Flanagan.