Runaway (1984)

RunawayWriter and Director: Michael Crichton
Starring: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Kirstie Alley, Gene Simmons, Stan Shaw, G.W. Bailey
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

In the mid 1980’s three actors, who had made a big impact on television, playing detectives, were trying to make the transition from the small screen to the big screen. The three were Tom Selleck, who had major success as Magnum P.I.; Pierce Brosnan, who had a good run as Remmington Steele; and finally there was Bruce Willis, who’d played David Addison in Moonlighting. Well Bruce stumbled a couple of times, with Sunset and Blind Date, before landing on his feet with Die Hard. Pierce on the other hand started off okay with The Fourth Protocol but then had a string of stinkers. Well Tom’s rise to fame had been a bit slower than the others. He’d been acting since the late 60’s and had seen his fair share of flops. In fact he had been in 6 failed TV pilots before he broke through with Magnum. So now at the peak of his popularity, he attempted to break into movies.

It has been well documented, that Selleck was the first choice for Indiana Jones, but somehow that didn’t come to fruition. So it would seem strange that his first attempt to break it into the big time was in the Indiana Jones inspired High Road To China. I am sure it wasn’t a flop, but it wasn’t a run away smash either. Next up was Lassiter. I can’t remember much about it – it seemed boring at the time. That brings us to Runaway, Selleck’s third attempt at breaking into the big time.

Runaway is set in the not too distant future – that being the not too distant future in 1984 – but strangely in what now would be the past, many of the futuristic inventions in this movie have not come to pass. Anyway, in ‘yesterday’s tomorrow’ mankind has come to depend on robots in almost every aspect of daily life. There are domestic robots in the home, agricultural robots in the field, sentry robots in offices, and industrial robots on work sites. When these robots malfunction, the police are called…often because insurance companies will not let average citizens switch off the machines when they play up. The police have their own little department to deal with these ‘Runaways’. The department is headed by Sergeant Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck), and he has just been assigned a new partner, Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes).

Just to make the film a little more interesting, they have given Ramsay a slight impediment. He gets vertigo. And as we all know dear reader (if we’ve studied our Hitchcock), if the hero of a film suffers from vertigo, then the climax of the film has to take place in a high open environment, where the hero has an opportunity to freak out, or overcome his fears.

Ramsay and Thompson’s first job of the day is an agricultural pest controller that has run amok in a field of corn. They deal with this by blowing it up. Their next call isn’t so simple though. A domestic robot has gone mad inside a house. It has grabbed a knife and killed two people. Still inside the house there is a ten month old baby, and somehow, the robot has grabbed a gun. Ramsay decides to go in and rescue the baby. Incredulously, a TV cameraman decides to follow Ramsay into the house to film the thrilling rescue. But the robot has other ideas and shoots the cameraman. Eventually Ramsay out manoeuvres the robot and shuts it down. Ramsay exits the house with the child, but the child’s father, David Johnson (Chris Mulkey) has run off. He appears to be afraid of something or some one.

The following day, the killer robot is checked be the police department’s resident boffin, Marvin (Stan Shaw). Inside he finds a non-standard chip. The robot has been programmed to kill. The isn’t a robot gone mad. This is murder! Ramsay heads back to the house and searches for some evidence or a lead. As he checks the door recorder (it records footage of the people at your front door), he finds a portion of a partially erased message. It is a man claiming to be from the ACME Robot Repair Company, and he has come to repair the domestic robot. Ramsay deduces that this must be the guy who changed the chip inside the robot.

The man on the recording is Dr. Luther (Gene Simmons from the rock group KISS). Luther has been busy. He has had two men making him a batch of ‘evil’ chips that he can auction off to the mafia, terrorists or any other person with the cash and an unpleasant disposition. One of the men who made the chips just happens to David Johnson, the owner of the house where the robot went mad. It appears that Luther is tying up the loose ends. The robot was meant to kill Johnson too.

As Ramsay is a good police officer, he tracks down Johnson, who is hiding in a hotel. As he tries to bring him back to the station for questioning, Luther pops up and fires a gun at them. It is a special gun that fires special bullets. These are smart bullets that are a bit like heat seeking missiles, and they can go around corners.

The film surprisingly hasn’t dated too badly. There’s one or two 80’s haircuts on a couple of the girls, but generally this film doesn’t look like it was made nearly 25 years ago. The biggest hint to it’s age is the absolutely dreadful score by Jerry Goldsmith. Look I love Goldsmith’s orchestral work, but this electronic mess, which they proudly proclaim in the end titles was done on Yamaha Digital Instruments, is one of his weakest scores.

The acting in the film is better than it should be. Selleck conveys genuine emotion, and almost seems to ‘tear up’ when he has to let Luther go, because he is holding a hostage. Another sequence where the acting is good, is when Ramsay has to dig an unexploded mini-missile from Thompson’s shoulder. Surprisingly, Gene Simmons is okay too. Sure, all he has to do is glare and look menacing – but he glares rather well.

In the end, Runaway isn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t a blockbuster for Tom Selleck either. He never really became a big star like Bruce Willis or Pierce Brosnan. But he is a jobbing actor, and if you look him up on IMDB you can see that he has been consistently working since then. But for a second, he looked like he could have been the next big thing.

The trailer – uploaded to Youtube by: ChrisTaylorHungary

Runaway (1984)

Assault on a Queen (1966)

Director: Jack Donohue
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Virna Lisi, Tony Franciosa, Alf Kjellin, Richard Conte, Errol John
Music: Duke Ellington
Based on a novel by Jack Finney (and has a screenplay by Rod Serling)

Assault on a Queen is a caper film from Frank Sinatra, and let’s be honest, although we all enjoy Frank’s legacy of cool, in general his caper films weren’t too good. Ocean’s Eleven is almost impossible to sit through, and Robin And The Seven Hoods is only slightly better. Assault on a Queen starts off fairly promising. For the first hour of it’s running time, I’d even say it’s the best Frank caper yet, BUT somehow the story, which has a great premise, falls off in the middle and just does not deliver.

The film, which is set in the Bahamas, opens with a boat racing into port, with an ambulance racing to meet it. On board the boat are Victor Rossiter (Tony Franciosa) and Rosa Lucchesi (Virni Lisi); two fortune hunters, who have been searching for a sunken galleon carrying gold off the coast. Their deep sea diver’s, diving suit has burst while searching for the galleon and he has drowned. The ambulance and doctor arrive at the port, and the doc pronounces the diver dead.

Assault on a Queen Novelisation
Assault on a Queen by Jack Finney

Later that evening at Blackbeard’s Tavern, Mark Brittain (Frank Sinatra) and his partner, Linc Langley (Errol John) are seated at the back, drinkin’ gin and playin’ gin. Entering the bar are Rossiter and Lucchesi. They are looking for a new diver and have been recommended Brittain. They approach him and make him an offer. Rossiter and Lucchesi believe they have a map that shows them the exact location of the sunken galleon. Brittain has heard all the stories before and is not interested. Brittain and Langley are fishermen, not treasure hunters. Rossiter and Lucchesi leave still requiring a diver.

After the tavern is closed, Brittain and Langley return to their boat, only to be blocked by the harbour master. He will not allow them on their boat as they owe over $600 in dock fees and for other supplies.

The next day, to get his boat back, Brittain goes to Rossiter and Lucchesi he agress to take the diving job. At this time, Brittain also meets Rossiter’s other partner, Eric Lauffnauer (Alf Kjellin). Lauffnauer is a German, who used to be the captain of a U-boat in World War II.

When we next see Brittain, he is all kitted up in a deep sea diving suit. He drops over the side and drifts down to the bottom and begins to search for the elusive galleon. After an hour on the bottom he hasn’t spotted anything. Just as he is about to return to the boat, he sees a sunken World War II German submarine. It appears to be intact.

Assault on a Queen

Rather than continue to scour the seabed for a treasure that may or may not be there, Rossiter and Lauffnauer come up with a new scheme to make them all rich. It is to raise and refit the old submarine, and then become pirates on the high seas. Their target: the ocean liner, Queen Mary.

Assault on a QueenWith a film of this kind, you really have to suspend disbelief, because it really is quite silly. And the acting is paper thin. There is no reason why Brittain should go along with Rossiter, Lauffnauer and Lucchesi’s hair brained scheme. Sure, there’s the lure of money, but it ain’t ‘easy money’. As I mentioned at the top, the film really loses focus in the second half. We know what the gang are up to, and even how they intend to do it, so we spend a great deal of the second half, just waiting for them to get on with the job.

The film features a great musical score by Duke Ellington. It’s jazzy (of course), with a hint of calypso, and over the top there’s a cool line in funk flute. But as good as the music is, it sometimes doesn’t follow the story.

Sadly this film is a misfire, but it is a good example of sixties Jet-Set cinema. It stars an American, Two Italians, and a German, in a story set in the Bahamas. You can’t get much more international than that. Just before signing off on this one, a quick bit of trivia: Reginald Denny who plays the Master-At-Arms on the ship was Algy, Bulldog Drummond’s dim-witted buddy in the film series from the 1930’s. And more interestingly, Virna Lisi, who looks fantastic in this film I might add, was originally cast to play Barbarella but turned it down.

Assault on a Queen (1966)

Ratcatcher

Author: James McGee
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Year: 2006

You don’t send a gentleman to catch vermin. You send Hawkwood.

Ratcatcher while being quite enjoyable is a ‘Goldfinger’ book. Have you ever watched Goldfinger? Have you noticed that James Bond doesn’t really do anything. He falls into nearly every trap, and in the end, one of the other characters (Pussy Galore) saves the day. Okay, Bond was the catalyst for Pussy’s change of allegiances, but really Bond didn’t do to much. That brings us to Ratcatcher by James McGee.

Ratcatcher is a historical adventure novel set in London, during the early 1800’s. The hero of the story is a Bow Street Runner (an early policeman) called Matthew Hawkwood. Hawkwood appears to be almost an extension of Bernard Cromwell’s Sharpe character (I am sure many of you have read some of the Sharpe novels, or at least seen some of the tele-movies starring Sean Bean as Sharpe). Hawkwood’s history appears to be almost identical to the Sharpe stories – previously he was a military man – a good ‘thinking’ officer, but he is ordered to do something stupid by a superior officer who is a buffoon that comes from a life of wealth and privilege. This causes conflict and Hawkwood is dishonorably discharged. If you can imagine if Sharpe became a Bow Street Runner, then you’ve got Hawkwood.

The story starts with the highway robbery and murder of a naval courier. Hawkwood is assigned to find out why, and retrieve the missing papers. As this is a historical novel, this leads him to all the extremes of this era. He gets to attend a Grand Ball, meet a gorgeous lady named Catherine de Varesne, and shag her. Unfortunately his encounter with de Varesne also gets him into a pistol duel with the son of a wealthy Lord.

The story also sends him into seedy dens packed with cut-throats. One of these cut-throats happens to be Nathaniel Jago, who previously was a soldier under Hawkwood’s command. Even though, now they are on opposite sides of the law they team up to sort out the puzzle.

Towards the end the story moves into ‘Tin Tin’ or ‘Biggles’ territory. Not that that is a bad thing. This is where the story picks up pace and becomes solid entertainment. Following the clues, Hawkwood and Jago discover a plot by the dastardly French to kill the Prince Of Wales. This involves a new invention (or secret weapon, if you prefer) called a submarine.

Earlier I mentioned that Ratcatcher was a ‘Goldfinger’ book. That’s because Hawkwood falls into more traps than he sets. Sure, it’s his intervention that stops the evil plan succeeding, but really he doesn’t do as much as I had hoped at the outset. I wanted a bit more swashbuckling. The pistol duel was a good sequence, but it needed more. But despite my little digs or grievances with the story, and the character, Ratcatcher was never meant to be a piece of high art. It is meant to be fun, and on that level it really succeeds. It is very enjoyable, and I for one, am looking forwards to Matthew Hawkwoods next adventure.

Ratcatcher is the first in a series of books featuring Matthew Hawkwood. The other books are The Resurrectionists and Rapscallion.

Ratcatcher

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Director: Blake Edwards
Starring: Peter Sellers, Hebert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Lesley Anne Down, Omar Sharif, Richard Vernon
Music: Henry Mancini

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is the fourth film in the series, which I know, I know, is not a spy film. But it includes so many spy film tropes, and actors who are associated with spy films, I thought it was well worth inclusion here. And is it just my imagination but does Mike Grell’s Bond comic Permission to Die bear are passing resemblance to this film? I know Permission to Die also borrows heavily from The Phantom of the Opera too – and how co-incidental is it, that Herbert Lom should play the Phantom in Hammer’s film version of The Phantom. Of course, Lom plays Chief Inspector Dreyfus in this film (or should I say ex-Chief Inspector).

As the film starts, ex-Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is in an asylum for the clinically insane. But the good news is, he is almost ready to be released back into polite society. But first, unbeknownst to him, he has to pass one last test. That test arrives in the form of newly appointed Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) of the Sureté. For the one or two people in the world that are not familiar with Clouseau, let me explain that he is a walking disaster just waiting to happen. He’s the type of guy who, when entrusted with a simple task of vacuuming a room, ends up naked in another country, covered in raspberry jam with a poodle gaffer taped to his chest – or something like that (maybe that’s a past-life regression thing I shouldn’t be talking about). Needless to say, when Clouseau is around, the simple becomes complicated, and things are never quite the same again. However, most of the world seems obvious to the disaster that Clouseau seems to conjure up. Only Dreyfus appears to be able to see the disorder and destruction of Clouseau’s actions. And therein lies the rub, and how Dreyfus ended up in an asylum. Actually Dreyfus ended up in an asylum because he went mad and tried to kill Clouseau, but his heart was in the right place. He believed that if Clouseau was dead, a great many of the world’s ills would be alleviated. Anyway, that’s enough backstory – if you want to know more, track down a copy of A Shot in the Dark (in my opinion the best of the Pink Panther movies…although Pink Panther doesn’t appear in the title – nor the Pink Panther diamond in the story).

But back to Dreyfus’ test. Clouseau turns up at the asylum and joins Dreyfus in the idyllic grounds beside the lake. Dreyfus is distressed to see Clouseau but refuses to allow his arrival to interfere with his imminent release. But Dreyfus’s stoicism can only go so far, and after Clouseau has inadvertently dumped him in the lake three times and had him raked in the face (hey, it happens to all of us…ask Sideshow Bob), Dreyfus reverts back to an insane maniac and tries to kill Clouseau.

After a nifty animated title sequence Clouseau returns home, but little does he know that Dreyfus has now in fact, escaped from the insane asylum and has broken into the apartment below Clouseau’s. Plotting revenge, Dreyfus drills through the roof of the apartment he is in (or through the floor of the apartment Clouseau is in) and with a miniature periscope spies on Clouseau as he searches his house. What is he searching for? He is searching for Cato (Burt Kwouk), his manservant. Cato has been given instructions to attack his master when he least expects it – this is supposed to keep Clouseaus skills honed and his wits sharp. Well, that’s the theory – it usually ends in chaos.

After their usual fight routine, Clouseau receives a phone call from the Commissioner explaining that Dreyfus has escape and may try to kill him. Clouseau decides that positive action is required and chooses to adopt a cunning disguise…as a hunchback, with an inflatable hump! A diversionary phone call from Dreyfus (with disguised voice – peg over nose) distracts Clouseau as he is inflating his hump. As he talks, the hump continues to inflate, and then, like a balloon, lifts Clouseau off the floor and out the window. As he is so caught up in himself he doesn’t notice that he has drifted outside, but in a way it is a godsend. Dreyfus wanted Clouseau near the phone as he has a bomb prepared to kill Clouseau once and for all. But as Clouseau is actually outside, floating away, he isn’t at home when the bomb blows. Dreyfus is foiled once again. Out of frustration Dreyfus chooses to adopt a rather elaborate and grand scale approach to his Clouseau problem.

Now an evil mastermind, Dreyfus starts organising a series of audacious schemes. First Dreyfus arranges the escape by one of France’s leading criminals, Jean Sauniere. Dreyfus needs Sauniere for his next plan, which is to rob twenty-million France from the Paris Credit bank. Why does he need the money? To finance his biggest and boldest scheme which is to kidnap brilliant scientist Professor Fassbender (Richard Vernon). Now why does Dreyfus want Fassbender? Fassbender is required to invent a ‘Doomsday Weapon’ so Dreyfus can control the world. The weapon being a giant laser. But deep down, Dreyfuss doesn’t want to rule the world, he simply wants to kill Clouseau. So after the ‘Doomsday Weapon’ has been created, Dreyfus interrupts the television broadcasts around the globe and delivers his ultimatum. It’s simple – he wants Clouseau or he will destroy the world. To prove he is serious, he aims the weapon at the UN Building in New York and vaporises it. Once again, Dreyfus delivers his terms – the world has seven days to deliver Clouseau dead or alive or next time he will destroy an entire city.

Dreyfus’ ultimatum sends teams of assassins from every organization and corner of the globe to Munich (which is where Clouseau’s investigation has lead him) to ‘Kill Clouseau’. But of course, Clouseau is not an easy man to kill. Not because he is clever and resourceful, but because he is inept and unpredictable. In the end, many assassins die in grotesque and mildly amusing fashion.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is one of the better entries in the series. It’s not right up there with the best, but those who have seen the dregs that Blake Edwards served up towards the end of this series (I don’t count the recent Steve Martin films), will know that this provides some classic Sellers madness and comedy routines. Which film was it that featured Roger Moore and for Sellers scenes simply used out-takes from this film – was it Trail of the Pink Panther? Man, that was one abhorrent piece of entertainment (the word being used very loosely, of course). I haven’t seen it in about twenty-five years, and I rightly don’t think I want to.

But this film has its moments (does your dog bite), and some classic scenes where Clouseau attempts to storm Dreyfus’ castle in Bavaria – the first hurdle being the drawbridge. What can I say – comic genius!

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Queen Kong (1976)

Director: Frank Agrama
Starring: Robin Askwith, Rula Lenska, Valerie Leon, Roger Hammond, Fiona Curzon, Linda Hayden
Editor: David Campling
Cinematography: Ian Wilson
Writer: Frank Agrama, Ron Dobrin
Music: Pepper

Oooh, this one hurt. There is a reason that the punk movement had to tear England apart in 1977/78, and this film showcases why. Some people just had too much time and money, while others were forced out onto the streets – which were piled high with rubbish. Those with the money made shit like Queen Kong. No maybe I am being a little harsh there. There beats a caring heart underneath Queen Kong’s frivolous moth eaten furry antics.

As you may have guessed (probably not), that Queen Kong is a feminist take on King Kong. And that’s the positive thing about the film. It is a very pro feminist, which considering when the film was made in the male dominated, macho mid seventies, its message of equality of the sexes is admirable. It is also worth pointing out, that despite Robin Askwith in the cast, who came to prominence in a string of ‘Confessions of…’ films, Queen Kong is in no way a sex comedy. It is more a battle of the sexes. But while this film shows admirable restraint in not exploiting the bodies of the actresses in the film, (although it could have done with a bit of livening up with some gratuitous T & A), it still allows them to speak, what would now be considered extremely racist, if not downright patronising, ‘Oonga Boonga’ language. So in a film about ‘equality’ racial slurs are encouraged, but a tasteful glimpse of breast is considered exploitation. But I guess back then, one hurdle at a time. Sexism first – racism later.

Now if you are going to watch Queen Kong, the first thing you should do is listen out for the lyrics of the theme song. They’re not good, mind you. But you may get a chuckle out of the immaturity of the lyrics. Here’s a few lines:

“…Queen Kong, she’s the chick with all the hair.
Queen Kong comes from I don’t know where.
She’s the Genie, who aint teeny.
She’s the Queenie, Queenie, Queenie for my weeny…”

Words fail me. I guess sewerage to a magistrate is caviar to a psychopath – so who am I to judge?

The film opens in the jungle, and a man in tattered rags fights his way through the dense undergrowth. A tribe of Amazon women, dressed in leopard skins chase him with spears. Eventually they run the poor fellow down and capture him. They drag him back to their camp and hang him upside down above a boiling pot. You know some time soon, the adventurer is going to be lowered into the pot and cooked. The Amazons encircle the pot, and start jabbing the adventurer with their spears. He then starts yelling and pleading to be cut down.

Then the director is the filmic abomination we have been witnessing steps into the frame. Her name is Luce Habit (Rula Lenska). She calls cut, and the actor is cut down. The slightly effeminate lead actor quits the film. He has had enough of being abused by women. That’s one of the gimmicks of the film. Men are weak and fragile, whereas the women are strong and powerful.

This leaves Luce with a dilemma. She is about to begin filming her latest adventure film in deepest, darkest Africa and she needs a new leading man. So she heads out to search London to find one, passing every recognisable landmark on the way. At some market stalls on Portabello Road, she finds her man, Ray Fay (Robin Askwith), where he is attempting to steal a toffee apple. She drugs him, puts him in a sack, and then stows him on the boat.

We see the boat – named ‘The Liberated Lady’ – being loaded with Guns, Gas, And, and Monster Tranquilisers. If you think my grammar is a little screwy there, let me assure you it isn’t. First we see a crate marked ‘Guns’ being loaded onto the ship. This is followed by a second crate marked ‘Gas’. Then two more crates are paraded across the screen, the first says ‘And’, and the second says ‘Monster Tranquilisers’. Get it? It’s a visual gag. No, you’re right it isn’t very funny, but sorry folks, that’s about as good as this film gets.

The good ship ‘Liberated Lady’ casts off for parts unknown in deepest darkest Africa. Actually, it’s not parts unknown. Luce knows exactly where she is going. They are going to ‘Lazanga where they do the Konga’. Luce explains to Ray that Lazanga (where they do the Konga) is a land where no Englishman has stepped before. When Ray asks why, he is told ‘because it is full of Australians!’ I am laughing on the inside!

Luce and her film crew arrive at Lazanga (where they do the Konga) and discover a native village of Amazons led by Valerie Leon. Because Ray Fay, is a good looking bloke, and the villagers need a suitable sacrifice to appease there giant god (yeah, it’s Queen Kong – but you know that). So the native capture Ray and put him in a giant birthday cake for Queen Kong. But when Queenie arrives, rather than eat him, she takes him off into the jungle with her – and thus begins a rather offbeat and unconvincing love story.

Now I’ll assume most readers here have seen at least one of the versions of King Kong, and are aware that Kong gets taken from the jungle to New York City. To parody that, this film takes Queenie to London where she can wreak all sorts of havoc on the landmarks, especially the Big Ben clock tower. But rather than the climax you were hoping for (that is, if you’re still watching by this stage), the film turns into an emancipation rally, with women hitting the streets with signs and banners protesting at the treatment shown to Queen Kong.

For those of you who have never heard of the film Queen Kong, don’t be too concerned. You didn’t miss it at the cinemas. Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, who put up the money for the Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange King Kong, had the film squashed before it could be released. For years it only survived in bootleg version. But thanks to the modern marvel of DVD, you can now take Queen Kong home and marvel at
the film in all its inept glory.

The film has some positive ideas hidden in there, but it is all undone by the slip-shod way it is put together. The poor special effects are deliberate, but they only serve to distract, rather than amuse. If the intent was to make a tasteless, scattershot comedy, then the film-makers should have gone all the way. Queen Kong screams, ‘I want to be a smutty piss-take on King Kong’, but it is too scared to become that. Instead it comes off as an immature mess.

As the alligator says this is ‘roobish’! The one-liners are forced, and the joke set ups are transparent. There are also a few asides, directly to the camera. This type of thing worked in the 1960s, when people were trying to break open the traditional structure of a film, but by this time it was tired and laboured. Added to this, there is some ham-fisted spoofery of films such as The Exorcist, The Devil in Miss Jones, Jaws (groan), and Last Tango in Paris. This is the type of film that makes you look back at the puerile and antiquated offensiveness of Carry on Up the Jungle, with positive affection.

But I know, if you’re a Kong fan, no matter what I say, you will go and hunt this film down. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

SPY CONNECTIONS:

Blood From the Mummy's Tomb
Blood From the Mummy's Tomb

Okay, Queen Kong has very little to do with spies, but it does feature Valerie Leon, who is one of the few actors/actresses that starred alongside both Sean Connery and Roger Moore in a James Bond film. She played a hotel receptionist in The Spy Who Loved Me and was the ‘Catch you later’ girl in the Bahamas in Never Say Never Again. Aside from that she also had roles in The Saint, The Baron, The Avengers, numerous Carry On films and a role in the sci-fi smut film Zeta One. Hammer fans remember her for her role in Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb.

Confessions of a Driving Instructor
Confessions of a Driving Instructor

Then we have Robin Askwith, who’s career has had very little to do with spies (he did play a kid in Otley). As mentioned above, he is most remembered for playing Timothy Lea in ‘The Confessions of…’ films. The book series that ‘The Confessions of …’ series were based on were written by Christopher Wood, who would later write the screenplays and the novelisations for The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

No 1 of the Secret Service
No 1 of the Secret Service

Fiona Curzon, along with appearing in Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Minder and The Return of the Saint, was a Bar Girl in Lindsay Shonteff’s No. 1 of the Secret Service. Later, she also appeared in Shonteff’s next schlock spy thiller No. 1 Licensed to Love and Kill (AKA: The Man From S.E.X.) — I never really knew what that acronym stood for ? Her role was Carlotta ‘Muff’ Dangerfield — known as ‘Lotta Muff’ to her friends…er, yep! Enough said, I think.

Queen Kong (1976)

Starcrash (1978)

Country: United States / Italy
Director: Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)
Starring: Caroline Munro, Marjoe Gortner, Christopher Plummer, David Hasselhoff, Robert Tessier, Joe Spinell, Nadia Cassini, Judd Hamilton, Hamilton Camp
Music: John Barry

You may have noticed I have been a little light on for posts lately. Well I have had a dose of the flu and been a bit out of it, but sometimes that can work in your favour. During my feverish state I watched Star Crash, a film that had slipped by me all these years. And, it probably has to do with my delusional fevered state, but I believe Star Crash to be one of the greatest films ever made. Sure, it’s a Star Wars rip-off, but Star Wars has dowdy white robed Princess Leia as a heroine. Whereas Star Crash has Caroline Munro in a black leather bikini. That in itself should be enough for most of mankind, but the film also has space ships, amazons, troglodytes, stop motion monsters, and special effects that look like they could have been taken directly from Barbarella. Then we have Marjoe Gortner as some kind of energy guy who can see into the future. And it has Christopher Plummer as the Emperor of the Universe. Plummer once again proves that a decent actor can be given the most atrocious script to read, and still make the words resonate. Oh yeah, Hasselhoff’s in it too. But the movie is really about Caroline Munro in skimpy costumes.

The film starts with an imperial space cruiser searching for a secret planet in the haunted stars. This hidden planet is controlled by the totally evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell). And as the cruiser gets closer, the ship is attacked by red monsters. These aren’t your average monsters. They’re more like the bubbles in your red lava lamp, but they drive everyone on the ship mad. Well, almost everyone. The cruiser has three escape launches, and these are fired before the ship, well it sorta dies. It doesn’t really do anything. It just floats there.

Then we cut to our heroes. Stella Star (Caroline Munro) is a superb pilot, and Akton (Marjoe Gortner) is a superb navigator, but these two in the past, have breached the law. On their trail are two super space cops. The first is Thor played by Robert Tessier. You may remember Tessier as the bald header bruiser in Charles Bronson’s Hard Times, and many other 70’s action films with Bronson or Burt Reynolds. Here he is painted blue. The other cop is a robot cop (or Robocop if you prefer), named Elle (Judd Hamilton – voiced by Hamilton Camp in the English version). Elle is a pretty determined sort of character and never gives up. When Stella Star and Akton attempt to escape by flying blindly into hyperspace, Elle and Thor follow after them.

When Stella And Akton leave hyper space, they are in the Haunted Stars and are quite close to the drifting Imperial Cruiser. Stella goes for a space walk over to the cruiser and finds one man left alive, he is dehydrated and rambling about red space monsters. Before Stella and Akton can report the ship, Elle and Thor turn up and arrest them. And for their crimes, each of them is sent to separate penal colonies.

Meanwhile news of Stella and Akton’s discovery of the cruiser is relayed to the Emperor (Christopher Plummer). On board the cruiser was his son, Simon (Hasselhoff), and he wants to know happened. So he arranges for Stella and Akton to be released, and teamed up with Thor and Elle. Now all four are working on the same side, they set about tracking down the three launches that were fired from the Imperial Cruiser just as it was attacked.

Okay, I may have been a bit lavish in my praise saying this is one of the greatest films of all time, but it certainly falls into the ‘so bad, it is good category’. If you have a cold or flu, or a simply feeling a lit bit out of it, my prescription is one shot of Star Crash. It won’t cure you, but somehow you’ll feel a lot better.

The Starcrash trailer – uploaded to Youtube by: sideshowcarny

Starcrash (1978)

Kill Kill Kill

Forgive me — this one is a bit of a nostalgia trip. Today I am setting the way back machine to the mid 1980s, and an amusing and slightly embarrassing chapter in Australia’s rock history. Bear with me, it does have a spy connection at the end, especially as the story spirals out of control.

Allow me to introduce you to the Painters & Dockers. The ‘Dockers’ were a post-punk, Oz-Pub rock band who — well they played all around Australia, but were based in Melbourne. They were loud, fast and at times offensive. So essentially, a good time was had by all.

I saw the ‘Dockers’ on numerous occasions and they were fantastic live — and I am sure that on more than one occasion I had my glasses broken at a gig, caught up in the excitement and the heaving mass of bodies. Costly — but a fair barometer if I was having a good time.

One of the best gigs I saw them perform was in Moorabbin (strangely enough), where they blew Weddings, Parties, Anything off stage. I don’t say that lightly, because the ‘Weddoes’ were a great live unit. To put that into perspective for International readers, during U2’s Love Comes to Town Tour in the late ’80s, the ‘Weddoes’ blew both U2, and B.B. King off stage. So, on their night, the ‘Dockers’ were something special.

The song under review here is Kill, Kill, Kill and it comes from the album ‘Bucket’. I don’t know why it was called ‘Bucket’, but maybe because they figured that most people who listened to the album would be sick — and therefore need a bucket. I tend to think it is simply rhyming slang…I am sure you don’t need me to spell it out for you.

The album’s cover art was always going to garner a certain amount of negative attention and as the old saying goes — ‘a picture says a thousand words’ — so I’ll let the image speak for itself. But from the outset, the ‘Dockers’ were looking to offend people (well, certain sectors of the community). With tracks titled Kill Kill Kill, Gun for Fun, After the Blast, and Organised Slime, lyrically they may suggested a proclivity for violence. But at the same time, there was pronounced sense of humour too. These were the guys, who prior to this release, were best known for the song, The Boy Who Lost His Jocks On Flinders Street Station. In case something is lost in translation there, the song is about a young schoolboy, standing waiting for the train, when the elastic in his underpants breaks as the train whizzes past. The ‘Dockers’ were not about high-art – they were about a good time.

But I have got sidetracked. I was talking about (or going to talk about) ‘Bucket’, and the song Kill, Kill, Kill. The song garnered a bit of negative press at the time of release. At this juncture, I’d like to bring into the story Reverend Fred Nile. Now this post is not intended as an attack on the church, any religious group, or even Rev. Fred. If there is a criticism, it is simply ‘think before you speak’ — which I believe can be applied to anybody (including myself at times). In this instance, Rev. Fred appeared on television and attacked Painters & Dockers over the song Kill, Kill, Kill. It’s been quite a while, so I may be slightly wrong on what he accused them of — I think it was ‘satanism’ or encouraging violence. Most likely this was based on nothing more than the song was called Kill, Kill, Kill, and the chorus echoed ‘Thrill, Thrill, Thrill’. So, in some people’s minds, the ‘Dockers’ were a pack of satanists who got off on Thrill Killing. I guess that from an outsiders point of view, the song would suggest that. The thing is, Painters & Dockers did not write the song. It is actually lifted from a Get Smart episode, where Kaos (and the Groovy Guru – played by Larry Storch) are using a band named The Sacred Cows to manipulate the world.

Here’s the original version performed by The Sacred Cows on Get Smart:

Posted on Youtube by jenipete

So while Rev. Fred was getting worked up about a throwaway song performed by a band who played for inebriated adults, and couldn’t care less about the lyrics, the song through syndicated repeats of Get Smart was being pumped into the lounge-rooms of impressionable youngsters all across the country. All these years later it seems silly now. It seems like an over-zealous attempt at censorship, but in this instance the wrong band, and the wrong song was chosen.

Here’s the ‘Dockers’ version:

Posted on Youtube by Chepickle.

As a side note to this story, it is worth noting that hate-mongering, violence encouraging ‘Dockers’ would, at Christmas, perform a series of concerts with the Salvation Army Brass Band. Obviously the Salvos didn’t look at the band in a negative way, and saw them from what they were – just a bunch of high energy lads looking for – and presenting a good time for all. And what’s wrong with that?

Kill Kill Kill

Hunter Killer

Author: Geoffrey Jenkins
Publisher:
Fontana
Release Year:
1966

For me, one of the hardest things to accept about Hunter-Killer is that it isn’t a spy novel. For so long I have heard stories of Geoffrey Jenkins unpublished Bond novel, Per Fine Ounce, and knowing that he was tapped to write a Bond thriller, immediately, in my mind, made him a spy writer. Later, when I learned that Jenkins character Geoffrey Peace is considered by be his most James Bond creation that sealed the deal. I had to read a Geoffrey Peace novel. But I am rattling on a little bit. Maybe I should slow down and explain where I thought Hunter-Killer was going to take me, and where I ended up!

My road to Hunter-Killer was a long one. It’s a book I have been searching for, for years. Why? If you are student of the Bondian universe you are probably well aware of author Geoffrey Jenkins. For the un-initiated, here’s an overview of Jenkins link to the literary and filmic James Bond written by Best Selling author Jeremy Duns. The article Gold Dust originally appeared in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Magazine (You can now read it on his blog, The Debrief). Summarizing, for the benefit of those who are two lazy to read Jeremy’s article – or who are pressed for time, Jenkins actually wrote the first post Fleming James Bond novel, called Per Fine Ounce. Never heard of it? That’s not particularly surprising as the book was never published. Allegedly, Glidrose Publications (now known as Ian Fleming Publications) who controlled the rights to the literary Bond were not happy with the story and shelved it. In fact the manuscript has gone missing, with only a few pages remaining. You can read two pages at the MI6 Website.

Quoting from the knowledgeable folk at Wikipedia:

Not much is known of the plot for Per Fine Ounce. The reference work The Bond Files by Andy Lane and Paul Simpson indicates that it was based upon a story Jenkins claimed he and Fleming had worked on around 1957, and that the storyline was set in South Africa and dealt with diamond smugglers and a spy ring and bore some resemblance to Fleming’s Bond novel Diamonds Are Forever as well as his non-Bond work, The Diamond Smugglers. However, in an interview with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang magazine published in 2005, Peter Janson-Smith, Fleming’s former literary agent and former chairman of Glidrose, claimed that he believed the story may have been about gold. This makes more sense, as the title derives from the line “per fine Troy ounce” or a variation of. A fine ounce is a Troy ounce of not quite pure gold. Jenkins’ synopsis found by John Pearson in Fleming’s papers featured gold bicycle chains, baobab tree coffins and the magical Lake Fundudzi – presumably, Jenkins used some or all of these elements in the book itself. Four draft pages of the manuscript were discovered in 2005, in which we learn that the Double-O Section has been closed down and James Bond defies M on a matter of principle, resigning from MI6 to pursue his mission in South Africa alone.

You Only Live Twice
You Only Live Twice: Bond's burial at sea

Allegedly, Harry Saltzman, one of the producers of the Bond film series, who thought Jenkins had been badly done by, agreed to buy a portion of Jenkins new book, Hunter-Killer to be incorporated into the latest James Bond film, which was You Only Live Twice. The section that was appropriated was the opening when James Bond is killed and then buried at sea, only for it to be revealed that Bond’s death was staged so he could complete his next mission without the attention he had been receiving from foreign agents.

Once again, from Wikipedia:

In 2005, Titan Books published a reprint of a comic strip based upon Colonel Sun. In the introduction, it is stated that in the mid-1970s Amis lobbied for EON Productions (producers of the Bond film franchise) to produce a film based upon his book. Reportedly he was told that Saltzman had forbidden that any film be made based on Colonel Sun due to Glidrose refusing to publish Per Fine Ounce a decade earlier.

The story starts with a funeral for Commander Geoffrey Peace. Peace is to be buried at sea with full Naval honours. His close friend John Garland is on hand for the ceremony, but is sickened by the pomposity of it all. He needn’t have worried though, because Peace is not actually dead. He simply wants people to think he is, particularly the CIA and assorted other US Government agencies, because he is about to participate in one of the ‘world’s greatest’ scientific and engineering endeavours.

Peace has helped develop the ‘world’s greatest’ rocket engine called SNAP. But because he is a). Britiish and b). a naval man, rather than the air-force or NASA, the powers that be are against the SNAP project. However, the Vice-President of the United States, Marvin K. Green (known as MKG to his friends) has faith in the project, and to prove it is worthwhile, the VP himself, is prepared to pilot the SNAP rocket to the Santa-Fe space station which is orbiting the earth.

The problem is, that due to the VP’s importance, the project is kept ultra top-secret, so only a select few actually know about it. When the US Submarine Commander who is designated to deliver the Vice-President to Peace and his team, finds out the true purpose of the project, he refuses to allow it to proceed. At that point, Peace, MKG and the rest of the support players, escape onto a British sub, and then very soon, the whole US Seventh Fleet is trying to track them down and stop the SNAP rocket’s test flight.

The story is told in a first person narrative, not through the eyes of Peace, but through his friend Garland, which is kind of strange, because Garland doesn’t really do anything except fall in love with the token female character Adele. Adele is a Creole beauty from the Seychelles, who also happens to be a crack radio operator.

Hunter-Killer has a good opening, then a very turgid and prolonged set-up where the actual mission is defined. Then the story lurches into gear, but at the same time, there is almost a feeling of ‘when is the story going to start’. The problem here is that the story has no heroes, and no villains. In fact it could be argued that the hero, is in fact the villain. As a reader, it is hard to know who to ‘cheer’ for.

Hunter-Killer is not a spy story. It’s an adventure story, and Geoffrey Peace is not James Bond, or even a James Bond substitute. In fact, as the story progresses, Peace becomes downright unlikeable. He lies to his friends, bullies people and is incredibly arrogant and egotistical. But there I go again, suggesting that Peace is the hero of this story. Sure he’s the main protagonist, and most of the events in the story take place due to his actions, but in some ways John Garland is the hero of the story, and Adele is the heroine. Reading the story, you move through the plot feeling like they feel,and there is almost a sadness as they witness a good man, Peace, become an obsessive monster. And as such, the tone of the book becomes pretty bleak for an adventure story. It’s like watching your best friend bullying someone. You know that it is wrong and you should say something – but y’know, he’s a mate.

The You Only Live Twice section at the start was different to what I expected. Peace is not simply wrapped up and slid into the water and picked up by a sub, but instead is interred in a cylindrical coffin which is fired from a depth-charge mortar.

The weird thing is that I started reading this, and was searching and hoping for a Bond connection, and apart from the You Only Live Twice opening, I wasn’t quite finding one. Then as happenstance would have it, one weekend I caught a lift with a friend into the city. This friend travels a fair distance to work each day, and as such has a habit of listening to audio books in his car during his travels. Recently he had picked up a copy of Quantum of Solace: The Complete Short Stories from a local library. Where I joined him, was during The Hildebrand Rarity, and as I listened, a smile crept over my face. There was the Bond connection I was looking for. The parallels in the locations and the descriptions in the Seychelles, had me thinking I had stumbled onto something pretty important (well as far as Bond fans are concerned – it’s important).

So feeling rather smug and self satisfied, I tried to check the veracity of my theory with one of the few people I know, who knows more about Ian Fleming and Geoffrey Jenkins than I will ever know. That man is best selling author, Jeremy Duns. I contacted Jeremy and outlined my discovery. Jeremy steered me towards an article he wrote for the Commander Bond website entitled Rest in Peace. A part of my ego was bruised that Jeremy had beaten me to the punch, but at the same time I was pleased that I had discovered this on my own and was not just repeating what others had said before. Furthermore though, Jeremy’s article highlighted many aspects to the Fleming/Jenkins connection that I had missed. It’s a fantastic article – I recommend that once you’ve finished here at PtK, that you skip across and read it.

So, that’s Hunter-Killer, and as I’ve said there is already some well written documentation about author Geoffrey Jenkins on the web — by people who are considerably more knowledgeable than myself — so I figured why should I simply regurgitate what has already been written. But then I thought about it some more. Hunter-Killer is a novel that almost contains three different story telling styles — the Quasi-Fleming, the outrageous sci-fi spy adventure, and a brief adjunct into alternative archeology and esoterica. I thought, these may be worth looking at, particularly in how espionage and adventure fiction have tended to merge together over the ensuing years.

Firstly, let’s look at the Fleming elements of the the story. Truth be told, in this novel, Jenkins doesn’t have a real grasp of what is referred to as the ‘Fleming Sweep’. He tries to evoke landscape, environments and atmosphere like Fleming, but his words just don’t carry the same weight. In fact, there were certain passages where I thought if I read one more bloody boring description of the water breaking over a reef, I am going to toss this book at a wall. So it’s all good and well being familiar with the Bondian universe and dropping references to it in a novel, it is quite another to write well enough to make it stand alone — rather than being a repetitive and clumsy pastiche. So Jenkin’s travelogue didn’t really work for me.

Next, you’ve got the outrageous sci-fi element of the story. Well, what can I say — you know how a lot of people don’t like the film of Moonraker because it is downright silly? Let’s just say that the filmic Moonraker makes a lot more sense and is more believable than firing the Vice-President to a space-platform orbiting the earth, just to prove that a rocket design works. Hell, the VP may be Chuck Yeager for all I care, but nobody — including the President of the United States — is going to allow the Vice-President to go flying off into space (especially since the novel explains that the previous moon-shot ended with the astronauts burning up in re-entry. I don’t care what spin you put on the story – it is not believable).

So that brings us to the third and final literary style integrated into Hunter-Killer, and it’s the clumsy attempt at melding alternative archeology and esoterica into the story. Now I am calling Jenkins’ attempt clumsy because fantasy stories, such as those by Robert E. Howard and Jules Verne, and often mined the ‘lost continent’, ‘hidden valley’ idea for years.

Chariots of the Gods
Chariots of the Gods - by Erich von Daniken

Although alternative archeology and esoterica would start to seep into espionage based thrillers in the early 1970’s, possibly after the English publication of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which swept the world and made many — let’s say ‘earth-bound’ and rational people — consider the possibilities of ancient civilizations and extraterrestrial visitation. I remember as a young boy at primary school — I mustn’t have been more that seven or eight years old — being thrilled to bits when the film of Chariots of the Gods was shown to us in the school library. Regardless of whether you believe in alternative archeology or you believe it is all a big load or nonsense and mumbo-jumbo, there is no denying that the literary symbolism and the sense of awe and wonder that these theories by von Daniken and others created, ended up seeping into the main stream thriller. In fact, with the arrival of Dan Brown as one of the world’s most popular authors (ever) with The Da Vinci Code, it could be argued that alternative archeology and esoterica now dominate our literary landscape.

The Mediterranean Caper
The Mediterranean Caper - the 1st Dirk Pitt novel published

But getting back to Jenkins, it wasn’t always so — and let’s face it, Hunter-Killer was released three years before the English edition of Chariots. I guess if you’re looking for a literary progeny of Jenkins’ work on Hunter-Killer, look no further than best selling author Clive Cussler. Now I cannot say that Cussler read Jenkins novel. And some Cussler fans may suggest that the early Dirk Pitt stories didn’t focus on the alternative archeology trappings that the later novels do. Their case in point may be the first Dirk Pitt novel, The Mediterranean Caper (published in the United States in 1973), which is a pretty straight forward adventure story…and to that I’d say you’re damn right. Hey, as a quick adjunct here, a couple of years ago I was in a second hand bookshop –- which is not so unusual. I picked up one of the Dirk Pitt novels that I didn’t have (I think it was Treasure) and went to the counter to pay. Now this was a shop I used to frequent quite a bit (sadly it has closed and a huge, soul-less shopping centre is being erected), so it was not unusual for me to spend half and hour (or more) chatting to the owner. Noticing that I was purchasing a Clive Cussler novel she casually mentioned that she had a customer who was trying to get hold of all the Dirk Pitt books but was having trouble locating one title, The Mediterranean Caper. Coincidently, several weeks prior to this, I had borrowed a copy of The Mediterranean Caper from my local library and had read the story and returned the book. One week later, that same library was having a book sale –- getting rid of some of their older titles. I went along and picked up a copy of Cussler’s Mayday. When I got home, I read the first few pages only to find that it was exactly the same story as The Mediterranean Caper. So put simply, The Mediterranean Caper is the American title, and Mayday is the English (and Australian) title for the book. At the second hand book shop, I was very smug when I was able to reveal that little tidbit of information – and hopefully saved that particular Cussler fan many hours of fruitless searching for a book that he already possessed.

But back to the point at hand, The Mediterranean Caper was a pretty simple adventure story. But The Mediterranean Caper wasn’t the first Dirk Pitt adventure that Cussler wrote. Pacific Vortex was. In the Forward, Cussler explains (Sphere Book edition 1983):

Pacific Vortex
Pacific Vortex - the 1st Dirk Pitt novel written

Not that it really matters, but this is the first Dirk Pitt story. When I mustered up the discipline to write a suspense / adventure series, I cast around for a hero who cut a different mould. One who wasn’t a secret agent, police detective, or a private investigator. Someone with rough edges, yet a degree of style, who felt equally at ease entertaining a gorgeous woman in a gourmet restaurant or downing a beer with the boys at the local saloon. A congenial kind of guy with a tinge of mystery about him. Instead of a gambling casino or the streets of New York, his territory became the sea, his challenge, the unknown. Out of this fantasy, Dirk Pitt materialised. Because this was his first adventure and because it does not weave the intricate plots of later exploits, I was reluctant to submit it for publishing. But at the urging of friends and family, fans and readers, Pitt’s introduction is now in your hands. May it be looked upon as a few hours of entertainment and, perhaps, even a historical artifact of sorts.

More information is available in the book Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed – by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo (Pocket Books 1998):

As one of the two manuscripts originally sent to Peter Lampack when Clive was seeking an agent, it languished on a shelf in Clive’s closet until he casually mentioned it to his publisher, which at that time was Bantam Books. Upon learning that there was an unpublished Pitt novel, it was decided to introduce the book in a paperback-only edition. Clive dusted off the manuscript and did a quick rewrite. The name of the villain Delphi Ea was changed somewhere along the line to Delphi Moran, something that Clive was still unaware of when it was mentioned to him last year.

One interesting fact, and I am only going by memory here (as such I may have my facts wrong), is that Dirk Pitt was not originally intended to be the continuing hero of Cussler’s books. As I mention above, I borrowed from my local library a Hardcover edition of The Mediterranean Caper. In the introduction to that book, Cussler explains that he originally intended for the villain, Delphi Ea, to be the continuing character – popping up all around the world – causing all sorts of mischief. But later Cussler changed his mind and went with Pitt. I wish I could get hold off that particular Hardback again (the paperback edition, which is quite easy to find, doesn’t have the introduction by Cussler). Now, you’re probably wondering when I am going to get back to tying all this Cussler history in with Geoffrey Jenkins. Well Pacific Vortex wasn’t quite the same action adventure as The Mediterranean Caper was. The villain, the re-named Delphi Moran, lived in an underwater city — obviously not the same underwater city that Geoffrey Peace encounters in Hunter-Killer, which is claimed to be a part of the lost continent of Lemuria — as Cussler’s is off the coast of Hawaii, but none-the-less there are some interesting parallels. In the end, as I said at the beginning , that is what really confused me with this book. I had worked myself up to expect a substitute Bond story. Instead I got an adventure story — the type that would take root in the 1970s and beyond. The type that Clive Cussler and others would excel at.

In the end, I find it very hard to rate Hunter-Killer. I started reading it with so much excess baggage, I find it hard to be objective. In fact, as a reading experience I found it disappointing, and I am not sure if this is because of my preconceptions, or because of Geoffrey Peace’s rather overbearing character. The jury is still out on this one.

For another review, Wes Britton in his series called The Geoffrey Jenkins Files reviewed Hunter Killer in The Geoffrey Jenkins Files, Part 1: 1959-1966.

Hunter Killer

Globetrotting

The Nearest ExitHere’s a quick look at some of the spy stories appearing around the web.

The Nearest Exit

The Rap Sheet has guided me to an article by Gretchen Echols who enters the world of The Nearest Exit in a review for January Magazine.

As she explains, Olen Steinhauer’s new novel (a sequel to 2009’s The Tourist) really puts espionage operative Milo Weaver through his paces, testing his fealty to The Company as well as his facility for rooting out a possibly Chinese “mole” in the organization.

To read the full piece click here.

Red Station

RED STATION – the first in a new series featuring MI5 officer, Harry Tate.

From Adrian Magson’s website:

Harry is a former soldier, loyal Security Services (MI5) officer and a servant of the State. He does what he’s told, fighting the war against terrorism, drugs and high-level criminal gangs.

When things go bad, and two civilians are shot dead during a drugs intercept, he agrees to take an immediate posting to a place called Red Station, to help the agency avoid embarrassing media questions.

All Harry knows is, it’s in a remote place where he will be under strict orders to stay off the radar – a No Contact Rule. That includes former colleagues, friends, family – everyone.

What his bosses haven’t told him, however, is that Red Station is a punishment posting for washed-out spooks from MI5 and MI6… and that Harry won’t be coming home.

Which is where they have seriously underestimated their man. Because the loyal servant has his limits, and when he finds that the set-up behind Red Station is not all that it seems, and his life is in imminent danger, not only from an invading Russian army but a government assassination team known as The Hit, he decides to fight back.

“Magson writes with the authority of a veteran spy master… MI5 officer, Harry Tate, is a welcome addition to the spy thriller genre and I can’t wait to read more.”
Matt Hilton – author of the Joe Hunter series
http://www.matthiltonbooks.com/

“A spy novel with the best elements of John le Carre, Ian Fleming and Frederick Forsyth, blended into a wholly original and topical story.”
Adrian Muller – Co-Director of CrimeFest
http://www.crimeFest.com

RED STATION – published by Severn House – (http://www.severnhouse.com)
Available through all good book outlets August 2010 in the UK and November 2010 in the US.

By Royal Command

Tanner at the Double-O-Section has reviewed the fifth (and final ?) book in Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series. Tanner says:

Higson delivers the basics of spying in a conversational, easy-to-follow manner. He’s explaining it to kids, but as usual with his writing, even adults won’t feel like they’re being talked down to. Chances are that any adult Bond fan has a pretty good idea of what he’s talking about already (how cells operate, etc.), but it’s very easy to bear with Higson, as his writing style is so brisk and easygoing. He’s never didactic, and he assumes a basic intelligence and a certain level of education of his youthful readers, which is very refreshing.

To head across to the Double-O-Section click here.

Globetrotting