Thursday, September 14, 2023

Mickey Spillane’s Bloody Sunrise

Bloody Sunrise, published in 1965, is the second of Mickey Spillane’s four Tiger Mann spy thrillers.

Tiger doesn’t work for the government. He works for a private agency set up by a rich guy named Brady. It’s a very generously funded private espionage/counter-espionage agency and it’s not strictly legal but Brady doesn’t think the official US intelligence agencies can be relied on. In that respect Tiger resembles Mike Hammer - he’s not constrained by the rules that apply to official cops or official spies.

Tiger has decided to quit the espionage business. He’s getting married and his bride-to-be doesn’t want a spy for a husband. Tiger is crazy about the girl and he’s fed up with the spy game anyway.

His wedding day doesn’t turn out as he’d hoped. Instead of getting married he ends up being recalled to duty. This is a big case, a really big case, and there’s no getting out of it. Tiger isn’t too pleased but the codename Plato has an effect on him. It means there’s a danger that the case could lead to war. Tiger still has enough of a sense of duty to accept the delay to his wedding plans.

The problem is a Soviet defector, Gabin Martrell. He could provide incredibly useful information, if he could be persuaded to talk. But for some reason he won’t talk.

The reasons for Martrell’s defection are mysterious. Tiger figures it could be a sincere change of heart, or there could be a dame behind it. Tiger favours the latter theory.

Brady doesn’t think the CIA will be able to persuade Martrell to talk, but maybe Tiger will be able to. That’s Tiger’s mission and he intends to pursue that dame angle.

He finds the dame, Sonia, but there are complications. Plus he has to keep her out of the hands of the official intelligence agencies. They’re not going to like that. They don’t like Grady’s organisation.

Tiger also needs to keep himself out of trouble. He doesn’t need to have the police pursuing him for a murder rap. But Tiger has never been able to avoid trouble and corpses seem to accumulate whenever he’s around.

And of course he has to worry about the KGB. They’ll be gunning for both Martrell and Sonia. Tiger is going to have almost as much trouble with the CIA as he has with with his own government’s intelligence agencies.

He has two distractions. One is minor. A seaman Tiger once saved has contacted him with a strange story about something he found on a ship. Tiger thinks the guy is drunk and crazy but the story sticks in his mind. The major distraction is Tiger’s relationship with his bride-to-be, Rondine. She isn’t really Rondine. Rondine is dead. This is Rondine’s kid sister Edith. Tiger’s relationship with the real Rondine dates back to the war and it was messy and complicated. Whether Tiger has ever really dealt with what happened to Rondine is open to doubt.

Tiger certainly bears a resemblance to Mike Hammer. Like Hammer he prefers to work alone and his relationship with official government agencies is rather strained. Like Hammer he doesn’t worry too much about following rules. He makes his own. He has a tendency to use violence as a first resort. He is basically Mike Hammer retooled as a spy but I like Hammer so I’m not complaining.

And like Hammer he has a complicated attitude towards women. In both cases it’s because they get involved with complicated women, which is not surprising - a PI or a spy is inevitably going to encounter women with issues, and women who are not what they seem to be.

The style is standard Spillane. Again I have no complaints - I like Spillane’s style.

The plot is decent enough although the major twist won’t come as a huge surprise to seasoned spy fiction readers.

The most interesting thing about this book is that Tiger Mann is not an official intelligence agent and he’s not a reluctant spy or an amateur accidentally caught up in the world of espionage. Having him work for a private espionage organisation is a nice touch. In a way it makes him a throwback to much earlier heroes like Bulldog Drummond but it’s an idea that Len Deighton would explore a year later in Billion Dollar Brain (from a very different perspective).

Bloody Sunrise is a solid spy thriller. Highly recommended.

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