Monday, October 19, 2020

Mark Clifton's Pawn of the Black Fleet (When They Come from Space)

Pawn of the Black Fleet (better known under its alternative title When They Come from Space) is a 1962 science fiction novel by American writer Mark Clifton (1906-63).

I must confess that I hadn’t heard of the author but it turns out he was a Hugo Award winner and had enjoyed at least a modicum of success.

This is a first contact story, set at some time in to not-too-distant future, but it starts with a bureaucratic bungle. Ralph Kennedy is an ordinary guy, a kind of lower management type, working for a large company. He’s more than a little surprised to get a letter informing him that he, Dr Ralph Kennedy, has been accepted into the Space Navy and that he will be filling the important post of staff psychologist specialising in extraterrestrial intelligence. This puzzles him for several reasons. Firstly, he’s just plain Mr Ralph Kennedy, not Dr Ralph Kennedy. Secondly, since no extraterrestrial life has yet been discovered how can anyone be an expert in the subject? And he’s rather disturbed to find that he has no choice in the matter. He has to take the job.

It turns out that his main duties are to help the Director of Extraterrestrial Life Research, Dr Kibbie, spend the two billion dollars that Congress has (for no sensible reason) allocated to the department. 

In fact Ralph Kennedy will soon get to study actual extraterrestrial intelligence. This unexpected opportunity arises when the Black Fleet arrives. The Black Fleet is a swarm of sinister spacecraft and they are clearly hostile. But another space fleet arrives, and they’re clearly friendly. And a deputation from the friendly alien fleet wants permission to land in Washington DC. Curiously enough they seem very anxious to meet Ralph Kennedy. This does not please scheming billionaire media mogul Harvey Strickland who sees the alien visitation as a splendid opportunity to increase his own wealth and power.

This book starts out by giving the impression of being an amusing light-hearted satire, taking potshots at some sitting targets - bureaucrats, politicians and the military. As the story progresses it becomes evident that it’s actually something much cleverer. It’s a much more thorough-going and much more complex satire. At the same time it’s an intelligent and original first contact story.

As you might expect there is much speculation about the nature of these alien beings, and about their motivations and intentions. Ralph Kennedy has his own theories and finds that he’s out of step with the rest of humanity.

This is an amusing and very cynical little novel. This is definitely not hard science fiction. Clifton has little interest in science or technology. He spent much of his life working as a personnel manager and it’s obvious that he’s very interested in what makes people tick both as individuals and in groups. This is humorous science fiction but with some more serious overtones.

Apart from this novel Clifton apparently wrote a number of other Ralph Kennedy stories.

Pawn of the Black Fleet has recently been reprinted by Armchair Fiction in their series of pulp science fiction double novel paperbacks, paired with Henry Slesar’s  lightweight but enjoyable The Secret of Marracott Deep. This double-novel paperback really is worth grabbing. I was impressed enough to want to check out more of their double-header editions.

Does Pawn of the Black Fleet qualify as a neglected gem of science fiction? I think it does, or at least it’s a neglected gem of a certain type of satirical psychological/sociological science fiction. I’m now on the lookout for more of Clifton’s work.

Pawn of the Black Fleet is highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Day Keene's Sleep With the Devil

Gunard Hjertstedt (1904-1969) was an American writer of Irish and Swedish extraction who wrote about fifty novels, mostly pulp crime titles and mostly under the pseudonym Day Keene. He was also a successful writer for both radio (in the 30s and 40s) and television (in the 60s). The very noirish Sleep With the Devil was published in 1954.

Les Farron is a man with a plan and no morals to get in the way of the execution of said  plan. There are no spoilers whatever in what I’m about to tell you. Farron’s plan is laid out in detail for the reader in the first few pages of the book. Farron is a grifter and a part-time male model and part-time strong-arm man for loan shark Whit Bennett. Bennett’s activities are so outrageously illegal that Les figures it’s only a matter of time before the cops shut him down and there’s also the matter of the guy Farron beat up a bit too enthusiastically and the guy then, very inconveniently, died. So Farron reasons that the smart thing for him to do is to act before the cops do, kill Bennett and rifle his safe and then disappear.

The clever thing about Farron’s plan is that he has it all worked out how he’s going to disappear. He has discovered a little town called New Hope, about a hundred miles from New York, and he has a new identity for himself already established there. The folks of New Hope are ultra-conservative godly farmers. They’re not quite the Amish but they’re halfway there. No-one would ever think of looking for Farron there. In New Hope Farron is Paul Parrish, a devout Bible salesman.

New Hope has another attraction for Farron. That attraction is Amy. Amy is young and pretty and her father is very rich (these people are simple farmers but very successful ones and since they don’t drink or smoke or gamble they tend to accumulate wealth a pretty impressive manner). It should be possible for Farron, after lying low in New Hope for a while, to get his hands on her dad’s money. In the meantime he can marry Amy. That idea appeals to him. He’s never had a virgin before and he figures it could be exciting.

Farron is a smart guy. His plan is well thought out and he takes great pains with his preparations. He leaves nothing to chance. Nothing can go wrong. All he does to do it to wait things out in New Hope. That means going without the things that are as essential to him as breathing - cigarettes, booze and sex (or in the latter case going without sex until he and Amy are married). But he can do that for a few months. Well actually he gets really jumpy if he goes without those things for a few hours but as long as he keeps thinking about the money he’ll have at the end of it he convinces himself that he can do it.

And nothing does go wrong. In fact it all goes more smoothly than he could have imagined. It all goes smoothly, until it doesn’t.

Farron is a protagonist with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He possesses not the slightest trace of empathy for any other human being. Other people are potential sources of money, or in the case of women potential sources of sex. Amy is a potential source of both. Lydia, his girlfriend in New York, has a great body and she’s enthusiastic in bed. That’s all he wants from her. Of course all this means that he can’t always predict what other people will do. The idea that a person might be motivated by some other mention aside from greed or lust, or that a woman might be motivated by love - these are things that he cannot even comprehend. That could be a weakness.

This is a grimy sordid book, which of course is what the noir fiction genre is all about. It achieves its sordidness and griminess in fine style. Keene’s prose is stripped down and energetic.

There’s not a huge amount of actual violence. It’s the psychological brutality of Farron, his casual acceptance of violence as the normal way to deal with things, that has the impact. While Farron is sex-obsessed you won’t find any even moderately graphic descriptions of sex although there’s plenty of overheated eroticism.

Having half the action take place in New York and the other half in the radical different world of New Hope adds interest but it serves the author’s purposes in other ways. There’s also the contrast between the entirely corrupted Farron and the entirely uncorrupted Amy. And then there’s Lydia - is she one of the corrupted or one of the uncorrupted?

The ending might be thought to stretch credibility just a little but it works and there’s the ironic twist that you expect in noir fiction. Several ironic twists in fact.

Sleep With the Devil is a fine example of 50s noir fiction by a writer who has fallen into undeserved neglect. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A.S. Fleischman's Shanghai Flame

A.S. “Sid” Fleischman (1920-2010) was a New York-born professional magician who took up professional writing after the Second World War. He’s best remembered as a very successful writer of children’s books but he wrote a number of mysteries and thrillers. Shanghai Flame, published by Gold Medal in 1951, was his first spy thriller. Having spent the war in the Navy he had some familiarity with the Far East and that’s where this and most of his subsequent spy novels are set.

The narrator, Alex Cloud, is a newspaperman who likes drinking more than he likes working and he’s arrived in Shanghai to look for Flame. Flame is actually Paula Forrest, also an American reporter, and she’s the reason he drinks.

This is just after the Communist victory in the Civil War and the rumour is that Flame has gone over to the Reds.

Alex thinks that that the only reason he’s in Shanghai is to find Flame but he’s stumbled into something. He’s not sure what it is but it must be important because people are getting killed for it. He thinks it might have  something to do with a deck of cards. He runs into some old friends, although really they’re not exactly friends. They’re the types of people who’d be mixed up in anything that might involve a profit. They’re not political types but the Chinese Government seems to be taking an interest so maybe it is political.

And he has the opportunity to make lots of interesting new enemies. And he meets a a woman. Not Flame, but a Eurasian beauty named Ariadne. Alex is still in love with Flame, but that doesn’t stop him from ending up in Ariadne’s bed. That could cause difficulties with her husband, who is one of Alex’s old very disreputable (and very dangerous) acquaintances.

Of course he finds Flame but winning her back is another matter. Keeping her alive is a bigger priority. If he wants to keep her alive. Sometimes he’s not sure. He’s not sure if she’s forgiven him for sleeping with all those other women. He’s also not at all sure what she’s mixed up in but the Chinese Government has put a price on her head.

The bodies keep piling up. The action is pretty relentless in this story. Whether Alex ends up in a bar or a restaurant or a brothel or on a sampan, those bodies seems to keep accumulating. And Alex makes his own contributions to the body count. He spends more time with a gun in his hand that sitting at a typewriter like a good newspaperman.

Alex might be the hero but he’s definitely no Boy Scout. He’s quick with his fists and he has no great qualms about shooting people, or slapping women around. You have to be tough to be a newspaperman. This book belongs to the “ordinary guy gets entangled in espionage against his will” sub-genre but in this case the ordinary guy is no innocent.

While this does qualify as a Cold War spy thriller it doesn’t come across as being particularly political. Fleischman’s objective is to give us a two-fisted action thriller and he does a pretty good job. It’s a story just begging to be made into a movie. Spies, hardboiled reporters, an exotic setting, dangerous women, a McGuffin that lots of people are prepared to kill to get hold of, a stormy romance, lots of ambiguous but vaguely sinister characters, lots of violence and lots of implied sex - it has all the right ingredients. And if all that isn’t enough, there are also pirates.

Fleischman has no literary pretensions but he understands pacing and he knows how to write action scenes and he provides action in abundance.

Stark House have published this novel in a double-header paperback along with another Fleischman spy thriller, Counterspy Express (which was filmed in the late 50s).

Shanghai Flame is great pulpy spy adventure fun. It’s pure entertainment but it works just fine on that level. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

J.J. Connington’s The Brandon Case (The Ha-Ha Case)

J.J. Connington’s The Brandon Case (AKA The Ha-Ha Case), one of his Sir Clinton Driffield mysteries, was published in 1934.

Alfred Walter Stewart (1880-1947) was a distinguished scientist who wrote a notable science fiction novel and quite a few mysteries featuring either Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield or Superintendent Ross.

Jim Brandon arrives at the Edgehill estate to have a serious talk with his brother Johnnie. Their father inherited the vast Burling Thorn estate and an enormous income and ended up with even more enormous debts. He then borrowed more money to pay the debts. The only way out is to sell Burling Thorn but they can’t because it’s entailed. There is a way around the problem but it will need Johnnie’s co-operation. Unfortunately Johnnie is both foolish and stubborn and he’s now fallen under the influence of a scoundrel by the name of Laxford. What really matters is that Johnnie is about to come of age and when that happens the tangled affairs of the Brandon estate are likely to reach crisis point.

To add to the difficulties there seems to be something going on between that young fool Johnnie and Mrs Laxford, a young pretty woman with hot eyes.

Jim was met at the station by Una Menteith, another pretty young woman living at Edgehill whose position there is not at all clear. Also staying at Edgehill is a somewhat disreputable chap named Hay.

A decision is made to go out and shoot some rabbits and a terrible accident occurs. Inspector Hinton is by no means happy with the circumstances, particularly the bloodstain situation. The coroner’s jury brings in a verdict of accidental death but Hinton feels that the matter is worth further investigation.

Inspector Hinton is a competent policeman whose main fault is that he’s clever, but not quite so clever as he thinks he is. He is also ambitious. He is very keen indeed to become Superintendent Hinton. A big case is what he needs and he has a feeling he may have found one.

The financial tangle is much more complex than it seemed to be and the more the inspector finds out the more complex it becomes.

There’s also the matter of the escaped lunatic, a man who may at times be quite sane and even sharp-witted and at other times have no idea what is going on and no memory of anything that has happened.

There’s no impossible crime angle to this affair. The crime, if there was a crime, has a number of very straightforward very plausible solutions. The difficulty is the number of entirely plausible explanations and the number of entirely plausible explanations.

Inspector Hinton, whatever his faults, is thorough and he is also more than willing to make use of Beauty’s formidable private intelligence-gathering service. Beauty is in fact a Miss Tugby, a servant with an extraordinary capacity for finding out about other people’s private affairs. Beauty provides the inspector with some extremely interesting pieces of information.

Sir Clinton Driffield does not make his appearance until very late in the story. This is also the case in some of the other J.J. Connington mysteries. Driffield is the Chief Constable and of course Chief Constables do not usually intervene in any direct manner in their subordinates’ investigations, unless the subordinate manages to make a complete hash of things or runs into a brick wall. Fortunately for Connington’s readers that is not an uncommon occurrence.

There’s some fascinating stuff in this tale about the extraordinary complexities that could arise when an estate was entailed, especially when a curious custom known as borough-English is involved. This is a legal custom that in some circumstances gives the youngest son the rights that would normally devolve upon the eldest son.

It’s not overly difficult to figure out the identity of the murderer. The real interest lies in how it was done (it was much more complicated than initial appearances suggested), and in the much more difficult problem of proving it. Motives turn out to be more complex than they seemed to be as well. Inspector Hinton does plenty of detecting, sometimes to good effect. He does most of the very necessary routine investigating. Of course Sir Clinton Driffield is the one who finally solves the problem. He provides the equally necessary brilliant insights into what the clues really mean.

All in all a very satisfying detective novel. Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Jessie Dumont's I Prefer Girls

I Prefer Girls is a 1963 sleaze fiction novel which belongs to the sub-category of lesbian sleaze fiction. This was an extremely popular sub-genre which can’t really be ignored. You probably won’t be surprised to be told that lesbian sleaze fiction was popular with both male readers and actual lesbians.

Sleaze fiction in general was often written by male writers using female pseudonyms or by women writers using male pseudonyms. Quite a few of these women writers were lesbians. In the case I Prefer Girls I honestly have no idea if the author, Jessie Dumont, was male or female. Some modern lesbians insist that no lesbian could have written this book but they may be overlooking the fact that the lesbian subculture of the 1950s and early 1960s was very very different from even the lesbian sub-culture of the ’70s and bore no resemblance to that of today.

I Prefer Girls is the story of Penny Stewart, who narrates the tale. Penny was a bit of a tomboy and did not get on with her parents. When they were killed in a car accident she moved post-haste to Greenwich Village and got a job in Marcella’s dress shop. She still had no idea that she was a lesbian. Marcella however easily convinced her, with the aid of some practical demonstrations in the bedroom, that she was in fact a lesbian. It was those practical demonstrations that really convinced Penny. 

However it hasn’t been exactly smooth sailing. Penny not only likes having sex with women. She likes having sex with lots of women. Marcella is older and she’s possessive and she’s not happy about this. Also Marcella is madly in love with Penny. Penny is not in love with Marcella. She’s happy for Marcella to keep her in comfort and she likes the sex but she wants her freedom, and that means the freedom to have as many other women as she chooses. So as the story proper opens the situation is a bit unstable and a bit uneasy.

Then Bernice comes along. Bernice is a waitress. She’s young and blonde and as a cute as a button. She’s also straight, and a virgin, and she has a boyfriend. To Penny these are merely minor details. She wants Bernice. She wants her real bad. The difficulties just make the pursuit more exciting and more challenging.

Penny likes challenges and when it comes to scheming and manipulating she has few equals.

When judging a book such as this you need to remember that that the authors of sleaze fiction had to consider the demands of the commercial marketplace and the demands of the publishers (in this case Monarch Books). With lesbian sleaze there was also the need to satisfy both male readers and lesbian readers. The lesbian readership on its own would not have been sufficient to make such books financially viable in 1963. The men readers obviously wanted lots of steamy lesbian couplings while the lesbian readers would have wanted romance and emotional melodrama as well. In 1963 there was also the problem that the book would have to be somewhat sympathetic, but not too sympathetic.

And there had to an atmosphere of actual sleaze because that’s the whole point of this genre of fiction - forbidden lusts, out-of-control passions, sin and sensation. Sex as something exciting, dangerous and naughty.

Penny herself is a bit of a monster. She’s not just completely self-centred. She also likes to dominate people. She likes to dominate them emotionally and she’s good at it. She realises quickly with Marcella that if she allows Marcella to dominate her in the bedroom that will give her the leverage to dominate Marcella in every other way. Penny’s understanding of power in sexual and emotional relationships is sophisticated and subtle. She doesn’t even mind submitting to a beating in order to increase her long-term power.

Penny is of course in many ways the stereotypical predatory lesbian (while Marcella is the archetypal older butch and Bernice is the archetypal femme) but the author is skilful enough to give the characters at least some semblance of nuance. Penny also has a dark secret (aside from her sapphic longings).

There’s an interesting symmetry to this story but I won’t spoil things by hinting at the nature of that symmetry.

The trick with sleaze fiction was to make the sex overheated without being explicit and Dumont does that pretty well. There are lots of lingering descriptions of the delights of the female body. 

I Prefer Girls works as early ’60s sleaze fiction and there are even some hints of noir fiction as Penny’s lusts and manipulations threaten to lead to disaster. Penny is a memorable femme fatale. I have no intention of telling you whether she really is led to disaster or not - one of the joys of the sleaze fiction of this era is that you can never be sure if the Bad Girl will be punished or redeemed.

I Prefer Girls is the sort of book that has to be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure but if you like indulging in guilty pleasures it’s fun.

And the cover of the Blackbird Books reprint features the same great Robert Maguire painting as the original.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Frank Kane's The Living End

Frank Kane (1912-68) was a successful American hardboiled crime writer who has now fallen somewhat into obscurity. He was successful writer for radio and wrote a lot of scripts for the excellent 1958-59 Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer TV series. He also wrote about forty crime novels most of which featured PI Johnny Liddell. The Living End (in which Johnny Liddell does not appear) was published in 1957.

Eddie Marlon is a skinny Polish-American kid who desperately wants to be a song writer. He’s written a song which he figures will be a surefire hit if only someone will get behind it. He has no talent. The song is just a pastiche of half a dozen current hits. But a lack of talent never stopped anybody from being a success in the music business. He tries to get a music publisher named Devine interested, to no avail. Devine does however offer to get a job as an assistant to popular radio DJ Marty Allen. Eddie’s job will be to pick the records that get paid. Devine warns him that Marty Allen is a straight up and down guy - he’s one of the few DJs who doesn’t accept payola.

Eddie honesty is roughly on par with his talent but he’s prepared to go along with Allen’s rules. Then he gets introduced to sultry up-and-coming singer Jo Leary. Jo and her record company’s contact man Mike Shannon are desperate to get her platter on the radio. Jo tells Eddie that there’s no question of paying money to get her record played but that if somebody could get it some air time she could find other ways to express her gratitude. Mike assures Eddie that Jo can be a remarkably grateful girl. And Jo is a sexy platinum blonde with curves in all the right places.

Getting a few air plays for Jo’s song is just minor league stuff. There is real money to be made if you're a guy with flexible ethical standards, or even better no ethics at all. It’s a certainty that Eddie is going to be tempted again.

Temptation comes in an unexpected form. It has to do with a girl (the platinum blonde mentioned above) and a whip. The whip has been used on the girl. Used a bit too enthusiastically. It was a sex game that got out of hand. It wasn’t Eddie who used the whip but it gives him the opportunity to begin his rise to being a big shot in the music industry.

This book is not at all what you might be expecting from a ’50s hardboiled crime novel. There is crime, there is racketeering, but this is strictly white-collar crime. No-one gets taken for a ride by the boys. There are no guns. It’s essentially an exposé of the notorious payola racket, with DJs paid to promote songs. This novel was published in 1957 and the payola scandal broke in a big way two years later. Of course the music business promised to clean up its act, and of course they never did.

The Living End provides a fascinating insight into the almost unbelievably corrupt world of the American music business in the 1950s, and into the extraordinarily ingenious methods by which so many people in a sleazy business were making easy money by manipulating hits.

As a hardboiled crime novel, well this simply isn’t a hardboiled crime novel as such. It’s still quite intriguing, it has a memorable and extremely nasty villain and an overwhelming  atmosphere of corruption and nastiness. It has the tone of a hardboiled crime story but don’t expect any action or any violence. There’s not much sex either although sordid sexual shenanigans are hinted at obliquely (such as payola in the form of sexual favours). Apart from the matter of the girl and the whip the book doesn’t really get into overt sleaze.

This is a bit of an oddball novel but it’s not without interest. It’s an interesting journey into the moral squalor of white-collar crime. Worth a look.

The Living End has been recently reprinted by Black Gat Books.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Van Wyck Mason’s The Fort Terror Murders

The Fort Terror Murders was published in 1931. It was the third of F. Van Wyck Mason’s twenty-six spy thrillers featuring American G-2 intelligence agent Hugh North. At this stage of his career Hugh North holds the rank of Captain.

Hugh North is in the Philippines and at a dinner party at Colonel Andrews’ house there is much excitement among the officers and their ladies. The excitement concerns the deserted and half-ruined Spanish fortress, Fort Espanto (“Fort Terror”). According to local legends there is treasure hidden somewhere in the fort, treasure that once belonged to the Jesuits before they we unceremoniously expelled from the fort. A fabulous treasure. That was centuries ago. Since that time many have sought that treasure, and they have all died. For the fort is haunted by ghosts - jealous, vengeful ghosts. Now two people claim to have discovered the secret of the treasure’s location.

Hugh North isn’t concerned by ghosts but by much more prosaic evils. The treasure will belong to Senorita Inez Sarolla and her family, and to her fiancé Lieutenant Bowen. Most of the young officers are by no means rich. A junior officer’s pay is not generous. Impoverished young officers and their ladies are not immune to jealousy or to greed. Such a treasure is likely to excite similar emotions even among the senior officers and their wives. It is clearly a potentially dangerous situation and those legends of mysterious deaths and disappearances do not reassure him - they could suggest temptations to weak-minded men (and women).

A party of a dozen or so officers and their women set off for the fort at dead of night to join in the fun of the uncovering of the treasure. The treasure hunt ends disastrously, with one man dead and another who simply vanished. Since Hugh North is an officer with the Intelligence and Criminal Investigation Department of the Army he takes charge of the case.

The tragic events occurred in total darkness within the vast bulk of Fort Espanto. It had originally been a monastery which was converted into a modern fortress by the Spanish in the late 18th century. Much of the original monastery remains. It could of course be riddled with secret passageways but while plans of the fort exist no plans of the original monastery survive, and any secret passageways would have been built into the monastery. There is no way of knowing if they exist or where they might be.

And since the events occurred in darkness no-one is sure where anybody else was at the time.

The clues are particularly puzzling. Two rosaries, both very unusual, and a cryptic message scrawled on a note. Hugh North believes that these clues contain a cypher, but it’s a fiendishly complex one.

But greed is not the only unhealthy passion at work here. There is also lust. Several illicit and intersecting love affairs seem to be approaching crisis point.

While the Hugh North novels are spy thrillers they also include definite murder mystery elements and this particular book is more or less a pure murder mystery. It’s made more interesting by being set in the tropics, which in the 1930s was synonymous with mystery, intrigue, madness and forbidden passions. The vast decaying fortress and the fact that the keys to the location of the treasure lie in the distant past add some gothic touches.

Of course mysteries set in ruined monasteries that include hidden passageways, and passions unleashed by life in the tropics, are deeply unfashionable today. And when you add notions of military honour it becomes even more unfashionable. To me that makes the book all the more appealing. Nobody writes books like this any longer, and that’s very sad. Van Wyck Mason was very very good at writing such books.

Hugh North is also a very old-fashioned hero. Although occasionally his methods can be ruthless (he deliberately and rather callously misleads a key witness) he is essentially a man of honour who does his duty. That’s not to say that he’s a dull square-jawed storybook hero. He’s capable of action but mostly he relies on his brains rather than on brawn. His approach is patient and intellectual.

If you love both golden age detective fiction and spy thrillers then Van Wyck Mason is the author you’ve been looking for all these years. In the pre-war Hugh North books he provides plenty for fans of both genres. The Fort Terror Murders is a bit unusual in including no actual spy thriller elements but it does have the sort of exotic setting that spy fans love. And it does have cyphers. Even cooler, it turns out that solving the cypher is not quite enough to solve the mystery - there’s an extra fiendish twist.

This one throws in assorted gothic and pulp elements as well - not just secret passageways but legends of ghosts and fiendish murder methods (such as murder by cobra). You have to remember that in 1931 Edgar Wallace was at the peak of his popularity so it made sense for Van Wyck Mason to throw in the kinds of things that Wallace fans enjoyed.

The Fort Terror Murders is gloriously entertaining. Highly recommended.

All the early Hugh North books are good. If you want more of a mixture of detective and spy elements then I’d recommend The Budapest Parade Murders or The Singapore Exile Murders. If you want a great spy story (and yes it does have murder as well) then check out the excellent The Branded Spy Murders.