TRASHY TUESDAY: RECENT BOOK HAUL OF FORGOTTEN SPY NOVELS
In a recent round of bookstores and book fairs I uncovered some long forgotten spy novels from the 1960s and 70s, some of which have truly bad covers!
When he wasn’t writing his popular tales of naval warfare or his medical romances, James Edmond Macdonnell (J. E. Macdonnell) tried his hand at spy novels, which were all the rage in the 1960s.
Between 1965 and 1970 he wrote 13 novels in his series about agent Mark Hood from the international intelligence agency Intertrust. The books were published in America under the nom de plume of James Dark, and enjoyed some moderate success, but in Australia appeared as a J. E. Macdonnell novel.
The novels have all the typical ingredients of a 1960s spy series, including a highly capable “super spy”, sexy enemy female agents, lots of action, exotic locations, larger than life villains and a pretty Miss Moneypenny-like character who Hood is always trying to date. They also have an undertone of racism, especially the books featuring the negro villain, Dominat (the Black Napoleon).
Operation MissSat (1966) was the fourth book in the series and featured Hood and his accomplice Tremayne, battling a Japanese villain called Sato-san, who wants to re-establish a Samurai culture and capture a nuclear weapon satellite circling the world called MissSat.
From a quick glance through it is pretty standard fare, with some very corny dialogue and lots of jumps in logic. As the back cover makes clear, sex is also an important component of the story, although it is very tame stuff:
“To the Intertrust man, sex is not merely for personal or even mutual satisfaction; often it is necessary in the course of duty. Fortunately for Mark Hood, Toi was a more desirable type of espionage encounter.”
I don’t have the original paperback edition (see below), but I do have the 1987 edition (above) which has a great cheesy cover. The comic book tones give the cover a real seventies feel and I like how the artist manages to cram in all the vital elements: a firm breasted redhead with make-up and large earrings, some generic computer technics, a large red destruct button, a determined looking Mark Hood in a wetsuit and a mad looking samurai swinging a sword. While on the back of the wrap-around-cover there is the harmless looking satellite and the almost feminine rear of the rather poorly endowed Hood. It is a great cover for all the wrong reasons.
In comparison the original 1966 cover seems to be trying to cash in on the 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball, with the spear gun wielding agent in a wetsuit, and the faux scenes from a nonexistent movie. It is a very blatant attempt to link the book to the James Bond phenomena.
A final small point. The cover of the 1966 spells MissSat as a single word, whereas the 1987 edition has it as two: Miss Sat, even though inside the cover the publishers revert to it being one word. When the book was published in America under the James Dark name the title was changed to Assignment Tokyo.
I also obtained a copy of the first edition of the seventh book in the series, Black Napoleon 1967.
Black Napoleon was the immediate sequel to Caribbean Striker and continues Hood’s battle with a group of black extremists, headed up by Dominat: “a brown colossus (with) a magnetic aura of tremendous force.”
The story involves the super intelligent Dominat in a plot to take control of the world and centres on his elaborately equipped volcanic island in the Caribbean. It is standard 1960s spy fare with plenty of action and a duplicitous female agent or two. Surprisingly, the book is not particularly well served by the bland cover, which is almost Paul Gauguin in style, and, unlike most 1960s spy covers, here is not a gun in sight!
Not surprisingly, when the book was published in America, under the James Dark, name the title was changed to Throne Of Satan.
In my book searches I also came across George Mikes’ The Spy Who Died Of Boredom (1973).
I have never heard of The Spy Who Died Of Boredom, or George Mikes, but gather that it a satirical take on the spy genre focusing on a sexy, inept Russian spy. It is supposed to be “a blunderfully funny tale”, but you get no sense of that from the lazy, generic photo cover. Like a lot of British paperbacks in the 1970s, the publishers opted for a quick photo cover, which reveals nothing of the story. The cover would not be out of place on a historical novel, family drama, crime story or even a slightly classy piece of erotica. It does not, however, scream exciting spy story.
A slightly better photographic cover is afforded to Coronet’s edition of Francis Clifford’s All Men Are Lonely Now (1967). Clifford is sadly a largely forgotten writer of spy fiction these days, but his books, including this one, are well worth tracking down.
The addition of the barbed wire overlay to the simple photo of a wounded man gives the cover a good sense of unease and immediately conjures up images of secret bases, and even the border between East and West Germany. It also nicely reflects a key scene in the book.
I also quite like the two variations on the covers for James Hadley Chase’s action spy novel Have This One On Me that I found. The third in Chase’s four book series about freelance spy Mark Girland it nicely captures the mood of this cynical tale. It is also interesting to note how the title of the book is given second place to bestseller Chase’s name.
Chase was well treated by Panther books, which developed some sinister, but quite effective, photographic covers for his books. See more at an earlier post I did: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/trashy-tuesday-james-hadley-chase-the-panther-covers/