Friday, October 29, 2021

Web of Spies (Nick Carter-Killmaster #11)

Web of Spies, published in 1966, is the eleventh of the Nick Carter-Killmaster spy novels. The series eventually ran to 261 novels.

Nick Carter is one of the most during characters in the history of fiction. He made his first appearance as a Sherlock Holmes-style detective in dime novels in 1886. He had a long but intermittent run in pulp magazines. In the 1930s he became a pulp hardboiled detective. In the 1960s the character was revived as a James Bond-style secret agent in the long-running Killmaster series of novels which were still being published as late as 1990. He has been featured in various movies and radio serials.

Nick Carter stories have always been credited to Nick Carter as author but in fact countess writers wrote Nick Carter adventures over the years. Web of Spies was written by prolific pulp author Manning Lee Stokes (1911-1976), who seems to have written around twenty books in the series.

Nick Carter, Agent N-3, is a top operator for the American intelligence/espionage agency AXE.

In Web of Spies his assignment is Mission Sappho which involves the kidnapping of a distinguished English lesbian. Not just any old lesbian, but a distinguished English lesbian. Alicia Todd is not only a lesbian, sh’s also a brilliant scientist and a dope-fiend. She’s going to defect to the Russians. Maybe. Nick Carter’s job is to stop her from defecting, or to kill her.

Alicia Todd has been caught in a KGB honey trap. The Russians have sent a glamorous female spy to seduce her.

Nick Carter’s first stop is Tangiers where he re-acquaints himself with Gay Lord. Gay is one of Nick’s exes. She’s a beautiful lady spy and she works for everybody. She works for the Americans and for the Russians and she also works for The Spiders. They’re a shadowy freelance group. They rescue ex-Nazis. But they hate Nazis. Or at least some of them do. There’s a pro-Nazi and an anti-Nazi faction within the Spiders. Gay has landed herself in a mess and she wants Nick to get her out of it. Nick figures he might try to do that. But you have to get your priorities right and the first priority is to sleep with her again, for old times’ sake.

Nick departs from Tangiers leaving a trail of mayhem behind him although to be fair he wasn’t responsible for the mayhem. Next stop is the Costa Brava in Spain where Alicia Todd and the Russian lady spy Tasia Loften are getting to know each other. They’re getting to know each other very well indeed as Nick can testify since he’s been watching them through binoculars.

Nick will have to find a way to kidnap Alicia Todd and the chances are she’s not going to be happy about it. And there are likely to be plenty of complications given that he’s discovered that Judas is still alive and still active. Judas is a kind of master-spy/criminal mastermind who appears in a number of the Nick Carter books and Nick has unfinished business with him.

It all gets rather complicated since it’s not just the Americans the Russians after Alicia Todd. Both factions of the Spiders are involved as well. And there are the Spanish police and Guardia Civil to deal with also. Lots of bloodbaths ensue. We’re talking full-scale battles here. Everyone double-crosses everyone else, with Nick doing more than his fair share of breathtakingly cynical double-dealing.

To add to the gruesomeness there’s a decayed monastery where the monks used to sleep in coffins, and there’s Mr Skull who’s Judas’s chief henchman. He’s not quite a zombie, but close to it and he’s seven feet tall. Judas is a deliciously evil diabolical criminal mastermind.

There’s one thing you’ll notice immediately about this book! The author loves exclamation points! He loves them a lot!

The Nick Carter-Killmaster books are pure pulp fiction with plenty of violence and plenty of sleaze. Manning Lee Stokes wouldn’t win any awards for his literary style but he knows how to keep the action moving along and that’s what matters.

The James Bond influence is obvious. Nick Carter has Bond’s interest in the female of the species but his ruthlessness makes him closer in attitude to Matt Helm. Bond may have had a licence to kill but he was only expected to do so when it was absolutely necessary. Nick Carter, like Matt Helm, is a specialist assassin and his orders to kill are quite explicit. In fact he is given written orders to assassinate people, something which would horrify Bond or even Matt Helm (or any real-life assassin).

Nick Carter is also more obviously hardboiled than Bond. Bond bedded plenty of women in his adventures but he tended to fall in love with them. Nick is more cold-blooded when it comes to women. He also has more than a bit of Mike Hammer in his makeup. He’s quite happy to employ torture if he feels it to be necessary and he’s pretty casual about the number of people he kills. Sometimes he kills because it’s necessary, sometimes merely because it’s more convenient. Oddly enough he’s into yoga.

I read a couple of the Nick Carter-Killmaster books a few years ago (and I enjoyed Spy Castle quite a bit). I picked up Web of Spies on the basis of a favourable review at the Glorious Trash blog.

Web of Spies is outlandish pulpy fun. Highly recommended.

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