Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Lady from L.U.S.T. #2 Lay Me Odds

Lay Me Odds is the second of Gardner Francis Fox’s Lady from L.U.S.T. sexy spy thrillers, written under the pseudonym Rod Gray. It was published in 1968.

Eve Drum, ace secret agent for L.U.S.T. (League of Underground Spies and Terrorists), has a problem. She’s on a mission in England and she was supposed to pick up a microfilm but she finds her contact man dead. There’s a possibility that he hadn’t picked up the microfilm before he was killed. It might still be in the hands of his own contact man, a man known as the Satyr. Or the Satyr might know the name of the person currently in possession of that microfilm. Finding the Satyr should be easy. He hangs around the strip clubs in Soho.

The best way to find him would obviously be for Eve to get a job as a stripper. That’s no problem. Eve has no inhibitions whatsoever about taking all her clothes off in front of an audience. Her strip act (as a bashful bride) proves to be a hit and she does find the Satyr. He’s prepared to give her the name she needs as long as she agrees to have sex with him. Eve also has no inhibitions whatsoever about having sex in the line of duty. Eve enjoys sex a great deal. And when she sees the Satyr naked she figures that this will be a very pleasant duty indeed.

She gets the name and the trail takes her to Hamburg. Naturally it takes her to Hamburg’s red light district. The trail will later take her to Innsbruck. This is 1960s spy fiction so some exotic locations are a must and Fox makes good use of them.

Eve has no doubt that the microfilm has fallen into the hands of L.U.S.T.’s deadly enemies, H.A.T.E. (Humanitarian Alliance for Total Espionage). It turns out to be more complicated than that. There’s an internal power struggle within H.A.T.E. and Eve is caught between two deadly factions.

Along the way she acquires a slave. He’s a handsome young German but he just wants to be Eve’s devoted slave. In fact she will discover that he has other more exotic sexual fetishes.

The plot includes enough twists and double-crosses to keep things interesting.

This is refreshingly non-ideological spy fiction. H.A.T.E. is like SPECTRE, it’s just a vast criminal organisation that sees espionage and terrorism as purely business propositions. Fox doesn’t indulge in any political messaging. I’ve now read four of his books and I haven’t got a clue what his political beliefs were. I like that. He just wants to entertain us.

The secret to making a sexy spy thriller work is to strike the right balance between the sleaze and the secret agent action. And Fox, in both his Lady from L.U.S.T. and Cherry Delight thrillers, got that balance right. There’s an enormous amount of sleaze in this book but there’s also non-stop action and mayhem. With an impressively high body count. At one point Eve kills four men within the space of about fifteen seconds. The action scenes are executed with energy and a certain amount of style.

Even is well equipped for her mission. She never goes on an assignment without her explosive panties. Yes, her panties are a deadly weapon.

Eve is highly trained in the normal secret agent skills such as unarmed combat and firearms but she’s equally highly trained in the art of love-making. There’s no sexual activity between a man and a woman that Eve hasn’t tried and in which she isn’t highly proficient. Her controller, David, approves of this. He knows that a lady spy has to have advanced sexual skills. He’s even prepared to assist her in her training in this area.

In 1968 the Sexual Revolution was in full swing and that’s reflected in the book. Eve takes a normal healthy interest in sex. She likes sex and she feels no shame or guilt about it and it’s assumed that the reader will feel the same way.

The sex is moderately graphic with some detailed descriptions of the more interesting parts of both the male and female anatomy (Eve is an expert in both subjects) and the fun you can have when those parts of the respective anatomies come together so to speak. The sex gets decidedly kinky at times. Eve’s slave is a good boy but he craves discipline and Eve is happy to oblige. She’s not really into that sort of thing but it’s the only way to get him excited enough to satisfy her so she’s willing to put some effort into it.

Eve also has no interest in sex with girls but in the line of duty she’s willing to give it a go. Lady spies have to be flexible.

Lay Me Odds works extremely well as sleaze fiction and it works pretty well as a fast-paced action-packed spy thriller as well. Despite the high body count it’s a fun lighthearted romp. Highly recommended.

I’ve also reviewed the first of the Lady from L.U.S.T. books, Lust, Be a Lady Tonight, and the first of Fox’s fairy similar Cherry Delight thrillers, The Italian Connection. Both are also great fun.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Desmond Bagley’s The Freedom Trap

The Freedom Trap was Desmond Bagley’s eighth thriller, published in 1971. It was filmed two years later as The Mackintosh Man.

At first it seems like it’s going to be a gritty hard-edged crime thriller, but of course that’s not really what it’s all about.

Rearden is a South African thief who has arrived in London to do what should be a very simple job. It’s a diamond robbery but it’s so well-planned that it’s fool-proof. His reputation suggests that he’s a very clever very cautious thief and on this job he leaves nothing to chance. But even the most clever cautious thieves sometimes get caught. In this case it’s obvious to him that there are only two people who could have betrayed him - either Mackintosh (the mastermind behind the robbery) or Mrs Smith (Mackintosh’s young very attractive and ultra-efficient secretary who carried out the detailed planning). Either way he is now facing a very long prison term.

Rearden doesn’t like the idea of spending twenty years in one of Her Majesty’s prisons. If an opportunity for escape is offered he intends to take it. Such an opportunity is offered. There’s an organisation which specialises in breaking out of gaol, if they have the money to pay the very high fees involved. And Rearden has no idea if he’s being set up. He just has to trust these people. The fly in the ointment is that Slade will be breaking out as well. Slade is serving forty-two years for espionage. Rearden isn’t bothered by the fact that Slade is a Soviet spy. Rearden isn’t British, it wasn’t Rearden’s country that Slade betrayed and in any case Rearden has no love at all for the British. The problem is that Slade can’t walk properly so he’s likely to be an encumbrance. However there’s no choice. He either escapes with Slade or he doesn’t escape at all.

It’s not too long before Rearden starts to wonder if he should have trusted these people.

To say any more about the plot would be to risk spoilers.

In the 1960s Alistair McLean was one of the world’s bestselling writers and was regarded (quite rightly) as being at the very top as far as thriller writers were concerned. It’s hardly surprising that he had quite a few imitators. The best of these imitators were Desmond Bagley and Gavin Lyall. Bagley and Lyall were so good that it’s really unfair to dismiss them as imitators. It might be better to say that they belonged to the Alistair McLean School of thriller writing.

The Freedom Trap is very much in the classic MacLean mould. It uses the first-person narration that MacLean used in his best books and it uses certain narrative techniques that MacLean had perfected. MacLean loved exotic settings but he liked exotic settings that were off the beaten track rather than the obviously glamorous settings that Ian Fleming favoured. The Freedom Trap takes place in England, Ireland, Gibraltar and Malta.

My feeling about Bagley is that he was very good but not quite in the same league when it came to plotting as MacLean or Lyall. Bagley’s plots are skilfully handled but they don’t pack the same surprise punches that MacLean and Lyall always delivered. The Freedom Trap has a good plot but once you start to put the pieces together it’s just a little predictable in the way it plays out.

This book is also in the MacLean style in the sense that there’s virtually no sex at all (although there’s a kind of romance between the hero and Alison and I’m not going to tell you who Alison is because that might be a mild spoiler). The emphasis is entirely on action and excitement. In those departments Bagley delivers the goods. The action finale is excellent.

The hero doesn’t have a huge amount of personality. Alison is more interesting. The villains are suitably devious, especially the primary villain.

Bagley always wrote well. In this novel there isn’t really any major use of an exotic setting although he certainly creates a memorable prison atmosphere.

The Freedom Trap is a good solid thriller and it’s definitely worth a look.

On the subject of the Alistair McLean School of thriller writing, I highly recommend Gavin Lyall’s Midnight Plus One and Shooting Script. Bagley’s The Vivero Letter is also well worth checking out and his Running Blind is an object lesson in the effective use of an unusual setting (Iceland).

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Hell Ship to Kuma by Calvin Clements Sr

Hell Ship to Kuma is one of four nautical adventure novels written by Calvin Clements Sr. It was published in 1954 and it also belongs to the adventures in the Far East genre.

John Roper had been the master of a rather fine ship until his career was ended as the result of the blunderings and lies of a drunken mate. Roper has little chance of getting another command. He’s eating himself up with bitterness in Saigon. In desperation he accepts a post as mate on the Wanderer. Roper is starting to lose his moral compass. He wants to make a lot of money so he can buy his own ship and he no longer cares what he has to do to earn the money.

The Wanderer is an ageing rust-bucket commanded by Captain Murdock. Murdock reads the Bible a lot. He is also a bully and a sadist. He has an interesting method of choosing his officers - he picks men with weaknesses he can exploit. He derives extreme pleasure from making them squirm.

The Wanderer is bound for a small island near Indonesia, Kuma. The cargo is not strictly legal.

There are three women aboard the Wanderer and that will trigger all sorts of dramas.

One of the women is Murdock’s wife Kim. Kim refuses to allow Murdock to share her bed. It’s not that she objects to men (we will soon find out that there is a man aboard with whom she will happily share her bed) but she does object to Murdock.

The second woman is the Wanderer’s only paying passenger, Karen Gorman. Karen is on her way to Kuma to become the plaything of the man who runs the island, Da-chong. Karen is adamant that she’s only going there to be an entertainer but no-one could be innocent enough to believe that she will only be required to dance.

The third woman is a stowaway.

All three women will trigger rage in Murdock. Murdock hates women. He’s not actually a misogynist. He’s a misanthrope. He enjoys inflicting physical and psychological torture on both men and women.

Roper just wants to keep out of trouble and collect his share of the profits from the voyage. He’s not going to be able to do that because he’s not a man who will long endure Captain Murdock’s baiting or the captain’s horrifying mistreatment of others. And of course Roper is going to get drawn into dramas with those women.

Things will get more tense when they reach Kuma. Roper and Karen Gorman have of course fallen in love but they both think that there’s something more important than love - money. It’s not that they don’t have moral scruples, it’s just that they’ve convinced themselves that moral scruples are a luxury you can only afford when you have money. Roper thinks he can make enough money from the dishonest trading activities of the Wanderer to buy his own ship and then he can start worrying about thinks like honesty and decency again. Karen thinks she can make a lot of money in Kuma without becoming Da-chong’s whore and then go back to being virtuous again. They both really believe these things. Karen really doesn’t think that she’ll have to play the whore in Kuma, because she doesn’t want to think that.

Of course things will happen in Kuma that will cause them both to think again.

And there’s still the matter of Captain Murdock’s wife. There are rumours, but Roper doesn’t believe those rumours. He can’t afford to believe them.

Roper is a flawed hero. He’s basically a decent guy but he’s compromised himself badly and he’s not very proud of himself. Karen is a flawed heroine. She refuses to face the consequences of her actions. Having both a flawed hero and a flawed heroine is quite interesting.

Murdock is an out-and-out villain but he’s a colourful villain. He’s the sort of villain you love to hate. The other characters mostly have some complexity. The other offices on the Wanderer - Djeff, Appley and Fisher - have advanced quite a long way on the path to self-destruction but they each have a tragic awareness of that fact, and perhaps they can still draw back from the brink.

The climax comes with a storm at sea. The storm could have the effect of revealing an important secret on board the Wanderer, and various characters will have choices to make and there’s potential for lots of double-crosses and triple-crosses.

The plot is not dazzlingly original but with characters who are slightly more than just cardboard cutouts, and with the energy and zest that Clements puts into the storytelling, the result is more interesting than you might expect. And there’s some action and plenty of suspense. This is above-average pulp adventure fiction. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Day Keene's Wake Up to Murder

Gunard Hjertstedt (1904-1969) was a fairly prolific American novelist and scriptwriter who wrote under the name Day Keene. Wake Up to Murder, published in 1952, was one of his early novels.

Jim Charters works in a lawyer’s office. He doesn’t get paid much. It’s a menial position. He tends to get the given the dirty jobs. Like telling Pearl Mantinover that her appeal has been rejected and that she’s going to be executed for murder. Pearl is a nice girl and Jim figures she’s probably innocent and this his boss, Kendall, badly mishandled her defence.

Jim tries not to think about it. His life is not that bad. His marriage to May is a good marriage. They’re getting by. And it’s his birthday. It turns out to be a disastrous birthday. Jim gets fired, he thinks May has forgotten his birthday, he takes a few drinks, he takes a few more drinks, he ends up in every bar and dive in Sun City. He wakes up in a hotel room with no idea how he got there. What he does know is that he spent the night with Lou, a cute girl from the office. He feels bad about that. He finds that despite his night on the town he has more money in his wallet than he had at the beginning of the night. That confuses him. Then a guy called Mantin shows up, tells Jim how pleased he is that Jim is going to do that job for him and leaves Jim with an envelope. It’s payment for the job.

The envelope contains ten thousand dollars (a huge fortune in 1952). Jim’s problem is that he doesn’t remember ever meeting Mantin and he doesn’t remember what it was that he agreed to do for him. It has to be something pretty big. Ten grand is a lot of money.

Now Jim isn’t just confused, he’s frightened.

He decides to tell May everything. It’s obvious that he has to find this Mantin guy. And get out of the mess he’s in. He remembers very little of the previous night but he figures he was shooting his mouth off, trying to make himself seem more important. Presumably he claimed to be able to do something that in reality he couldn’t do, and Mantin took him at his word and offered him the ten grand to do it.

Slowly the pieces come together but Jim just seems to be getting into deeper and deeper trouble. Pretty soon there’s a murder for which he is the prime suspect. There are various shady characters who come into the story, some of them very dangerous indeed. In classic noir style Jim Charters has been plunged into a nightmare world and he has no idea how to get out of it because first he has to figure out how the nightmare started.

And he has two women to deal with and he’s not sure if he can trust either of them.

The cops are also likely to be troublesome. Even Jim would have to admit that the story he has to tell them doesn’t sound the slightest bit believable.

This book boasts a nicely devious plot, with both the reader and Jim Charters encountering plenty of unexpected twists.

Keene has a solid prose style. It’s only moderately hardboiled and there isn’t the snappy dialogue one associates with the hardboiled style. There is however plenty of paranoia. Jim Charters has no shortage of things about which to be paranoid.

There’s not a huge amount of action. It’s a plot-driven tale rather than an action-driven tale. Don’t expect shoot-outs and high body counts. Jim Charters is no tough guy. He’s just an ordinary joe and he’s out of place in a world of gangsters and murder.

The sleaze level is quite moderate, in fact very moderate.

This is an unassuming little novel but it’s a well-told well-plotted story and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended.

Sleep with the Devil, published two years later, is a much more noirish, much more cynical and much sleazier Day Keene novel and it is on the whole a much better book (and a better place to start if you’re new to this author).

Stark House Noir has issued three Day Keene novels (this one, Sleep with the Devil and Joy House) in a single paperback volume.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars

The Sands of Mars was Arthur C. Clarke’s second science fiction novel, following Prelude To Space which had also appeared in 1951 (his novella Against the Fall of Night had been published in its original form in 1948).

It was a good time to be a science fiction writer. The genre was beginning to boom. But it was also an awkward time to be writing novels about space exploration. In 1951 there was still very little known about the other planets in the solar system and it still seemed quite possible that Mars and Venus would be at least marginally habitable. It was still even plausible to imagine that life might exist on those planet. Within a few short years the bitter truth, that these planets are impossibly hostile, would become apparent and science fiction novels written in the late 40s and early 50s would come to seem dated. With the solar system consisting entirely of uninhabitable worlds science fiction writers would start to become more interested in writing about interstellar flight.

The Sands of Mars does suffer from this problem. In 1951 Clarke simply had no way of knowing what Mars was actually like. In this novel he assumes there is plant life, of a sort, on Mars and he certainly underestimates the difficulties that colonists would face. He assumes that it will be possible to wander about on the planet’s surface wearing nothing but a face mask and an oxygen tank.

Interestingly the hero of The Sands of Mars is a science fiction writer who finally gets the chance to go into space. It is the year 2000 and a colony has already been established on Mars.

This was another minor problem facing science fiction writers in the early 1950s - they tended to be wildly optimistic about space travel. At that time it seemed (to science fiction writers) to be practically a certainty that we would be colonising the planets by the end of the 20th century.

Naturally Clarke assumes that atomic power will solve most of the problems of space travel.

It’s always amusing to notice what things science fiction authors of the past predicted correctly. In this novel digitised books are an interesting prediction.

Clarke was famous for his lack of interest in characterisation. This was a deliberate choice. Clarke liked Big Ideas science fiction and didn’t want his readers distracted by the emotional dramas of characters. This however is very early Clarke, when he was still finding his feet as a writer, and there is an attempt to give the hero an emotional life.

The hero is Martin Gibson, famed for his novels about space exploration. He’s been invited to Mars as the first passenger on the first regularly scheduled Earth-Mars passenger liner, the Ares. His job is to write newspaper articles which will drum up publicity for the passenger service, and for the Martian colony. Being a reporter he naturally has considerable curiosity and he soon gets the feeling that the colonists are hiding something important from him.

Gibson also, as a result of an accidental encounter, has to deal with the consequences of a painful experience in his youth. He only ever had his heart broken once, but once was enough.

His first impression of Mars is less than favourable. The largest city, Port Lowell, is the size of a small English village. It all seems less epic and heroic than he’d expected.

Gibson gets stranded in the Martian desert, he makes an extraordinary discovery, he slowly unravels the secret the colonists are hiding and he tries to make amends for past failures in his personal life.

This might be over-optimistic but that optimism is what makes the science fiction of the late 40s/early 50s so appealing (and gives them a touch of melancholy when we reflect on how the actual future fell short of the imagined future). It might not be the real Mars as we now know it to be but it is a fascinating look at 1950s ideas on how space colonies would work.

The Sands of Mars also has the distinction of being one of the very first, if not the first, science fiction novels to deal with terraforming. Clarke relies a bit on wishful thinking but he was at least aware that the answer to colonising Mars would have to lie in adapting the Martian environment to our needs, rather than trying to adapt to such a hostile world.

Clarke was also one of the first science fiction writers to appreciate the political ramifications of colonising other worlds, a subject he would explore in more depth in his next novel, Earthlight.

Based on what was known at the time The Sands of Mars is an attempt to deal in a serious logical manner with the various challenges posed by space exploration without doing what so many subsequent writers (even Hard SF writers) have done - resorting to magical solutions such as faster-than-light travel. It’s still an interesting read. Recommended.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Florence Stonebraker's Flesh Is Weak

Flesh Is Weak is a 1951 sleaze novel by Florence Stonebraker. Stonebraker was a prolific sleaze fiction author although she also wrote conventional romance fiction. One of the things I’ve noticed since I developed an interest in American sleaze fiction of the 1944-65 era is that there’s not as big a gulf as you might expect between sleaze novels and romance fiction. The sleaze fiction was more realistic about human emotions and more cynical about human motivations and it was a lot more realistic about sex but in both genres the stories concern people looking for happiness in a relationship and finding lots of obstacles in their path.

The heroine of Flesh Is Weak is Sue Howell. She lives in a seedy apartment house managed by her father Gus. The cops are about to close the building down, on account of the fact that most of Gus’s tenants are prostitutes. That’s how Gus makes his living - he charges the whores more than the normal rent. What he’s doing is kind of in a legal grey area. He’s not actually operating a brothel but the police can still shut his operation down. Mostly the police don’t worry but every now and the self-appointed moral guardians of the city force them to take action.

Sue is hopelessly in love with Kevin, who lives upstairs. He’s an aspiring musician. Kevin is convinced of his own towering genius and it bitter that the world doesn’t share his high opinion of his talents. Since he’s a genius there is of course no question of sullying his talents by getting a real job. He finds rich middl-aged women willing to keep him in exchange for sex.

Sue isn’t so much stupid as simply young and naïve. She knows what Kevin is like. They have regular sex and she knows it doesn’t mean anything to him. But he’s convinced that one day she’ll find a way to make him love her.

There is a nice young boy who wants to marry Sue. Herbie Nichols has a good job and is ideal husband material. The problem is that he’s boring and nerdy and he doesn’t excite Sue either sexually or emotionally. Sue is sure that a proper marriage should be based on both love and sex.

There’s also a sleazy young guy named Larry after her, and a Las Vegas big shot who has offered her a lucrative career as a call girl.

Sue is no Girl Scout but she is neither a conventional Good Girl nor a conventional Bad Girl. She just has very poor judgment when it comes to men. She’s hopelessly romantic and she really likes sex. Most of her decisions are based on a combination of her desires for romance and sex.

Sue can be an exasperating character but that’s because she’s a 19-year-old girl. She’s emotional and impulsive and she’s playing romantic and sexual games to which she doesn’t know the rules. She’s a believable character. She makes bad decisions because she’s young and inexperienced.

You could say the same about Herbie Nichols. When a girl obviously doesn’t love you and is obviously physically repulsed by you it’s not a smart idea to pursue her with the intention of marrying her. But Herbie is young and naïve and obsessed by Sue’s beauty and very obvious sexuality.

It’s hard to make excuses for Kevin. If he wants to find a rich older Sugar Mama to support him then he should just do it without the self-justifications and the absurd fantasies of being an undiscovered genius.

Kevin is a whore who doesn’t like to admit it. Sue has turned a few tricks as well (with Larry) but she isn’t troubled by guilt. It wasn’t unpleasant and twenty bucks is twenty bucks. Sue’s judgment might be poor but her attitude towards sex is one of enthusiastic guilt-free enjoyment. Her lack of sexual hangups at least gives her some chance of getting her life together even if the odds are stacked against her.

The great thing about these 50s sleaze novels is that you’re never sure how they’ll end. Since the moral guardians of society considered the publishers and writers of these books to be mere pornographers and were never going to approve of them anyway those publishers were not too worried about giving the books morally uplifting endings. You never know if the Bad Girl will get punished, or redeemed, or get away with her sinfulness. So in this case we can’t really predict what Sue’s fate will be. And I’m not going to spoil the book by telling you.

There are no graphic descriptions of sex, in fact there are no descriptions of sex at all. The sleaze factor in early 50s sleaze fiction comes from the fact that it’s made clear that the characters are actually having sex and are sometimes doing so for money. By the end of the 50s these novels became just a bit more explicit.

Flesh Is Weak is a pretty good example of the genre. Think romance fiction with lots of illicit sex and a bit of prostitution. Overall it’s very entertaining.

I highly recommend Stonebraker’s slightly earlier Reno Tramp, a must-read for sleaze fans.

Monday, October 3, 2022

John Flagg's The Persian Cat

The Persian Cat is a 1950 spy novel by John Flagg. This was a pseudonym used by American writer John Gearon (1911-1993).

This was an interesting transitionary period for spy fiction which at this time was dominated by writers like Victor Canning. Within few years Ian Fleming would change the rules of the game, upping the ante when it came to sex, violence and glamour. 1950 was also a time when the Cold War had not yet come to dominate the world of the spy novel. In 1950 the bad guys were still the Nazis. The war was over but that made no difference. Nazis were still the favoured bad guys in both spy novels and spy movies.

The Persian Cat falls into that category - a story in which the Second World War looms over everything.

The novel is set in the late 1940s. Gil Denby is an American, presumably in his thirties. He did cloak-and-dagger work during the war but his experiences have left him cynical and bitter. Much of the bitterness is over Dorothy. He has daydreams about killing her.

Denby is now for sale to the highest bidder. In this case that’s the French. They want him to bait a trap for a woman named Claire Fayne. They believe she was responsible for the deaths of several members of the Resistance (the French Resistance was an absolute obsession with thriller writers at this time). His job is to persuade her to enter French territory where she can be arrested. It may be necessary for him to seduce her. They are in fact setting him up as the male equivalent of a honey trap.

Claire Fayne is living in Teheran. She is the mistress of a man Edmund Marlan. Marlan has extensive business interests, none of them particularly honest. He was a wartime profiteer. He is ageing, clever and very dangerous.

A female French agent named Gaby will be assisting Denby in Teheran. She has already been sharing his bed.

Right from the start Denby finds himself out of his depth. He is followed everywhere but he has no idea by whom. It’s likely that a number of persons and organisations have taken a keen interest in his presence in Iran. The British Secret Service, in the person of a man named Berkeley, is definitely interested. Denby thought he would be the one doing the manipulating but he finds that he is dancing to the tune of a number of dangerous puppet masters. And he starts to think that his cover (he’s supposed to be buying rugs for a Chicago department store) might be very threadbare indeed.

In fact it’s possible that everybody in Teheran knows more about what’s going on than Gil Denby.

Denby is doing the job for money but he has his own reasons for hating women like Claire Fayne. Those reasons have to do with Dorothy.

This novel offers as much paranoia as any spy fiction fan could hope for. Denby doesn’t know whom to trust. Maybe everybody is out to get him.

There’s plenty of action as well. Not as much action as you’ll find in spy novels after Ian Fleming came along, but plenty of action by 1950 spy novel standards.

Gil Denby is no James Bond. He’s a characters straight out of American hardboiled/noir fiction. He’s a cynical loser with a chip on his shoulder. He hasn’t lost all his idealism but what little remains is sadly frayed around the edges. He doesn’t trust women. When he does trust a woman, or when he does regain some of his idealism, life comes along and kicks him in the guts.

I have no idea how authentic or inauthentic the Teheran setting is but it doesn’t matter. This is not the real world, it’s spy fiction world. However inaccurate it might be the setting provides a perfect background for a story about a drifter like Denby and it gives the book the touch of exoticism that readers at that time craved.

This is a story of betrayals in the past and betrayals in the present and Denby starts to think he may become guilty of betrayal as well, or at least complicit in betrayal. Betrayals in the world of espionage can of course be personal or professional and the book tends to suggest that personal betrayals are worse. Gil Denby certainly feels that way. He’s been betrayed in love before and he really feels that there’s nothing worse. And when he thinks he might betray love he has to do some serious re-evaluating.

The plot twists are quite satisfactory. There’s some effective atmosphere and it’s all pretty entertaining. I enjoyed it enough to go looking for more of Flagg’s spy novels. Stark House have re-issued quite a few of his books so availability is not an issue. The Persian Cat has been re-issued in their excellent Black Gat Books range. Highly recommended.