The Dead Man: Face of Evil

Authors: Lee Goldberg, William Rabkin
Publisher: Adventures in Television
Published: February 2011
Book No: 1

This novella is not a spy story, but the story has its roots in the ‘Men of Action’ stories that were popular in the ’70s and ’80s – and many of them were spy stories. But first, I want to talk to you about ‘Dirty Harry’. When I was growing up I was a big fan of Dirty Harry. In fact I discovered Harry twice. The first time was when I was a young teenager, then later as an old teenager.

The first instance was before video really took off in Australia. Back in the early 1980’s television censorship Down Under was very severe. We had what they called AO MOD TV movies – standing for Adults Only Modified for Television. Well the censors worked overtime on Dirty Harry, cutting out whole scenes and great chunks on dialogue. It is a testament to the strength of the movie that despite the removal of the violence and swearing, it was still a bloody good film. The cuts obviously diluted Dirty Harry from how it was originally intended to be seen, but in others ways opened up the film to a new youthful audience.

Four or five years later and I finally got to see an uncut version of Dirty Harry, and if you’ll forgive the Harryesque wordplay, I was blown away. But between that time I actually encountered Harry again. Not the filmic Harry as portrayed by Clint Eastwood, but the ‘Men of Action’ book series written by Dane Hartman (I think my first was one of the latter ones in the series Dealer of Death). I bring up the fact that my first filmic encounter with Harry was cut, because the books were extremely graphic, which delighted me no end. I do believe they were the series that taught me the word ‘viscera’. With the hindsight of twenty-five plus years, I realise the Dirty Harry series was trash…but I enjoyed it so. They were my ‘Men of Action’ series…the one I latched onto.

The thing is, if you grew up in that era, without all the video games, computer, ipods etc., then most likely to escape you read, and adolescent males read ‘Men of Action’ books. And there were heaps of them to chose from, Mack Bolan as The Executioner, Remo Williams as The Destroyer, The Black Samurai, The Specialist, The Hunter, The Penetrator and many many others. I am sure many of you have your favourite. You could always tell a ‘Men of Action’ book by the number on the cover – they were always numbered, hoping you’d keep along with the series.

Men of Action
‘Men of Action’ books

The old ‘Men of Action’ books are all but extinct now – of course you can find them in second hand shops, but possibly younger generations have replaced them with video games, which provide them with more immediately thrills. I for one, kind of miss them. But it seems that I am not alone. Thankfully, a group of talented authors are coming together in a project aimed at reviving the spirit of the ‘Men of Action’ books in a new e-book series. The series is called The Dead Man, and the first book is Face of Evil written by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. But this new series isn’t just retreading old ground, or presenting more of the same. The story tellers have added a paranormal, horror element into the mix. So Face of Evil presents a story in a style that you may be familiar with, but mixed with some other elements to bring the reader something new.

However, here’s my first little gib, and I know it’s an e-book, but in keeping with the ‘Men of Action’ ethos, it should have a big No. 1 on the cover to signify that it is the first in the series. Oh, and a guy with a gun… and maybe a girl in bikini. They don’t need to be in the story… heaven knows most of the old series promised more with their cover artwork than we actually got!

I know I am being superficial, but hey, I’m a traditionalist! The story concerns Matthew Cahill, who has been a widower for many years, and works in a saw mill. After many years on his own, Cahill looks like he is about to enter into a new relationship with a co-worker named Rachel. But this budding relationship is cut short, when one afternoon as they are skiing, an avalanche takes Cahill’s life. Or does it? After three months of being buried in the snow, his body is found and taken to the morgue. But as the coroner attempts to perform his autopsy he notices a very strange thing. As he cuts into the corpse, he notices that it is bleeding. Dead men don’t bleed.

So how does Matthew Cahill stand up as a ‘Men of Action’ hero? I think the jury still has to be out on that. Cahill has the potential to be a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining hero. He is in this story. But Face of Evil is somewhat of a ‘Beginnings’ story, which charts how Cahill becomes ‘The Dead Man’ and suggests the path that he is going to take. And I must admit I am eager to see where this path leads. So is he a great ‘Men of Action’ hero? He could be. Time will tell.

If there is a weakness to the story, it was in the horror aspects to the story. By nature I am squeamish kind of fellow, but the horror elements here didn’t have me chewing my nails, or have my heart racing. However, the thriller, and comedy – very dark comedy I will add – is first rate. I found myself laughing out loud on a few occasions (which is always embarrassing when you’re on a train).

Here’s the spiel about The Dead Man series:

Matthew Cahill is an ordinary man leading a simple life…until a shocking accident changes everything. Now he can see a nightmarish netherworld of unspeakable evil and horrific violence that nobody else does…

For Cahill, each day is a journey into a dark world he knows nothing about…a quest for the answers to who he is and what he has become…and a fight to save us, and his soul, from the clutches of pure evil.

FACE OF EVIL, the first book in the series, was written by Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin and will be released on February 20th, to be followed in coming months by more all-new adventures of THE DEAD MAN by some of the most talented and successful mystery, western, horror and scifi authors out there today, including Bill CriderJames Reasoner, Matt Witten, Joel Goldman, James Daniels, Burl Barer and David McAfee.

Face of Evil
Faux Cover - 'Face of Evil' as a retro style 'Men of Action' book

Please forgive the clumsy faux cover art (right) I have created for Face of Evil. The simple fact is I was just having a bit of fun. So too, I think that the authors who have come together for The Dead Man project are having a bit of fun (although on the strength of Face of Evil, I would suggest their story telling ability is stronger than my artistic aspirations). The enjoyment, most evident in the in-jokes, is palpable when reading the story. Of course, I cannot know exactly what the authors were thinking when they wrote this story, but a part of me expects that it may not have seemed like work at all. The story races by at a brisk rate of knots, each twist and turn, and shift in time providing another revelation as the story moves towards its… well, I was going to say ‘end’, but that really is misleading. For now I will say ‘close’, but sure to be picked up in book two.

Face of Evil is only a novella, around 80 pages, which creates its own little duel edged sword. In many ways, I was happy that it was short, as the twists had me eager to know whats happens next. Therefore, I could finish the book in one sitting, rather than pressing on into the wee small hours and turning up to work bleary eyed the next morning. On the flip slide, I was enjoying it so much, I didn’t want it to end so abruptly. I guess I have to wait for the next installment in The Dead Man series.

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The Dead Man: Face of Evil

Napoleon Doble: @ 4DK

My knowledge of Filipino cinema is admittedly poor. I have heard of the Tony Falcon, Agent 44 series, starring Tony Ferrer, but I have never actually seen one. At least sixteen films featuring Falcon were made (possibly more), from 1965 till 1980. As many these films were little more than imitations of Bond, very little effort was made to preserve these films for future generations. They were banged out quick, then pushed around the market, hoping to generate as much cash in as short of time as possible. The films were then neglected and left to rot. As such many of these films are lost to us forever. The prints that do survive are scratched and faded and barely resemble their former colourful and psychedelic selves.

Then there was Weng Weng, the diminutive star of For Your Height Only, The Impossible Kid and D’Wild Wild Weng. I have seen and attempted to review For Your Height Only, but apart from that, I am still rather ignorant of Weng Weng’s career.

Then there’s Dolphy. Once again, I am sad to confess that my knowledge of Dolphy is limited to a few posters from films in which he parodies James Bond. But James Bond wasn’t the only sixties spy who was parodied. Napoleon Solo and The Man From UNCLE also came under fire. Once again, the intrepid cinematic explorer, Todd from Die, Danger, Die, Die Kill, has ventured into the unknown, macheted his way through the dense Filipino jungles and dug up Napoleon Doble and the Sexy Six.

Here’s a snippet

Surviving examples of Filipino pulp cinema from the 1960s are so few and far between that it’s always exciting when one turns up — even though, admittedly, I was less excited about the prospect of actually watching Napoleon Doble and the Sexy Six than I was by the mere fact of its existence. Like the previously reviewed James Batman, Doble is one of many spy spoof/action comedies from the period that starred the (still!) massively popular comedian Dolphy, and, having seen James Batman, I felt that I had already pretty much gotten what those movies were all about… more

Napoleon Doble and the Sexy Six, is not exactly the type of tribute that UNCLE fans would want or expect, but it is out there, and a reminder of just how popular UNCLE was across the world in the 1960s.

I forget where I found these Dolphy posters on the net many months ago – but I thank the person who uploaded them – they are a great visual timecapsule of films that are almost forgotten.

Napoleon Doble: @ 4DK

Mettle Dives Deep

Author: James MacNell (J.E. Macdonnell)
Publisher: The Childrens Press
Published: Unknown (around 1958?)

Mettle Dives Deep is the second of the Captain Mettle children’s adventure books by J.E. Macdonnell, writing as James Macnell. As it is the second book, no time is wasted introducing the characters, so the action begins from the get-go.

It opens with Admiral Sterne briefing Mettle on his next mission. Mettle and his crew – including the perpetually bored Crabby, and bosun’s mate Hooky Hogan – on board the Naval destroyer, Scorpion are now a ‘Special Services’ unit, which I guess is the navy’s equivalent of being some kind of naval spy squad. Their assignment is to track down a cadre of gunrunners who have being smuggling weapons to groups of terrorists in the Mediterranean. Nobody knows how the gunrunners are doing it, because the coast is being watched day and night. The Scorpion sails off at speed to unravel the mystery and capture those responsible.

This second outing plays a bit more like a naval adventure, than the first Mettle book, but that is not such a bad thing. By accident, Mettle and his crew stumble on the path of a midget submarine – the asdic equipment was conveniently being tested at the time. The story then reverts to a good old submarine hunting story, with the bad guys lying silently on the sea bed, hoping that the destroyer will move on believing they have lost the signal. Meanwhile, Mettle believes that the lost signal might be a trick, with the sub lying doggo at the bottom, so he has the engines cut, and everybody on board remain dead silent. I know it’s the type of thing that we have seen in just about every submarine movie ever made – particularly The Enemy Below with Robert Mitchum. But it still reads rather well, and creates a bit of tension.

The choice by Macdonnell, to have the villains of the piece use a Japanese midget submarine is an interesting one. Midget submarines were used on numerous occasions in World War II, but as an Australian, the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour was no doubt, indelibly burnt into Macdonnell’s mind. While the actual attack, on Sydney is generally regarded as a failure, the psychological aspect of the attack can not be underplayed. Even as a boy, I was told tales of the day that Japanese subs snuck into Sydney and bombed Australia. They didn’t actually ‘bomb’ Australia. They fired torpedoes at ships in the harbour, but the event almost became an an urban myth, with the story and facts being greatly distorted with each telling… but such was the psychological power of the attack. I am sure it is still an event that resonates extremely strongly with older Australians. By choosing midgets submarines, for Australian readers, Macdonnell’s story certainly evokes the memory of the Japaneses attack, and he uses it to his advantage.

After waiting on the bottom for half an hour, the villains decide to start their engines and high tail it out of there. But Mettle is waiting, and has the Scorpion crew deliver a string of depth charges. The villains, and their sub full of guns and dynamite, which just may blow, head to the surface and surrender. The gunrunners are taken into custody. Of course, the submariners are just evil minions, and Mettle is after the big Kahuna – a man known as the ‘Squeaker’ due to his high pitched voice.

Mettle undertakes his own little mission where he takes the place of the gunrunners in the sub – accompanied by Hooky, and an fiery red-headed engineer know quite simply as ‘Engines’. Ultimately, Mettle Dives Deep is an adventure story, so as you’d expect it should have some of the trappings of a ‘Boy’s Own Adventure’ book – and having laid the ground work, with having Mettle and his crew inside a midget sub, what do you think happens next? If you remember my review of the first Mettle book, you may recall that Hooky tangled with a shark – so sharks are out – so if you said a giant octopus, then give yourself top marks. You are absolutely correct.

Mettle and Hooky sail to Basra and meet the gunrunners, in the process getting into a gun fight and stealing a plane – just par for the course for the boys. As the links in the gunrunning chain are broken, Mettle and his team end up of the coast of Somaliland with the villains holed up on a boat in a coastal crater lake (had to get that volcano motif in there somehow!)

Mettle has twenty of his best men, all armed, don frogman outfits and storm the lake. While the climax to this book is pretty exciting, the actual final confrontation with the villainous ‘Squeaker’ is a bit of a let down. There’s not really a cathartic coup de gras, and as such the final pages flounder at little.

However, there is still a lot of fun to be found in this Captain Mettle adventure. As I mentioned above, it is more of a naval adventure than Captain Mettle V.C. with much of the action taking place either on the destroyer, Scorpion or on a captured miniature submarine. That’s not a bad thing, but I must admit, I would have liked to see Mettle carrying out more of his own brand of derring-do on land. But a small quibble. Next up, to close out the series is Captain Mettle at Woomera, which I predict, given the Australian based story, will be more land based.

Mettle Dives Deep

The Nest (2002)

Country: France
Director: Florent Emilio Siri
Starring: Nadia Farés, Samy Naceri, Benoit Magimel, Pascal Greggory, Sami Bouajila, Anisia Uzeyman, Richard Sammel
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Original Title: Nid De Guépes

The Nest, in some ways could be considered a companion piece to District 13. Why? Both are very tough, modern French action films. They also share another common trait – they are both extreme examples of style over substance. No maybe that isn’t being fair – there may be a whisker of substance in there, but both films are so rapidly paced with stunt after stunt, action set piece after set piece, that any characterisation is left to fall between the cracks. But as an adjunct to that, it is also fair to say that in these films, the characters are so ‘black and white’ that they are defined by their actions – it’s the only insight we get into them as human beings. But more about District 13 another day.

The Nest, despite it’s trappings of being a modern urban decay thriller is essentially an updated western. The director lets us know this from the start when 5 hoods, who are off to knock-off a warehouse start whistling the theme from The Magnificent Seven.

The film contains several story threads that all converge at a warehouse in the centre of an industrial park. The first thread concerns Laborie, an officer in the Special Forces, who is assigned to transport the head of an Albanian crime syndicate to trial in an armed transport. But as you’d expect, the syndicate attempt to release their imprisoned leader. The mobsters assault Laborie and her team on route, but their attack only partially succeeds. Laborie is forced to retreat. With her prisoner in tow, she seeks refuge in the aforementioned warehouse.

Another story thread concerns a gang of thieves who have chosen that same warehouse as their target for their next heist. The final figure in the equation is the security guard who works at the warehouse. Naturally, this will be an evening that is quite different to his usual routine.

Now usually this disparate collection of people in such close proximity would provide enough conflict an drama for a film, but when the syndicate’s soldiers track Laborie to the warehouse, they surround and lay siege to the building. Continuing the western analogy from before, those trapped inside the warehouse (or nest) are like a group of cowboys trapped in fort, surrounded by a horde of savage Indians on the warpath.

Now all the characters are in place, the dumb shoot ‘em up can commence. It may sound like I am slagging off The Nest for being another mindless action film. Far from it. I really enjoyed it in a ‘check your brain at the door’ kinda way. And as I said at the top – it’s style against substance – and The Nest has more style than any ten Seagal, Van Damme (or any other Hollywood meathead action star) movies. And since I have foolishly mentioned Hollywood, how long do you think it will be before they mount a remake…I kinda see Angelina Jollie as Laborie, and Ed Norton….I hope not!

The Nest (2002)

The Swiss Conspiracy (1976)

Swiss ConspiracyCountry: United States / West Germany
Director: Jack Arnold
Starring: David Janssen, Senta Berga, John Ireland, John Saxon, Ray Milland, Elke Sommer, Anton Diffring
Music: Klaud Doldinger
Based on the novel by Michael Stanley

The Swiss Conspiracy is one of those movies that has now passed into public domain so you can pick it up for virtually nothing – a few measly coins – not even the price of a glass of beer. I picked it up because I thought it might be a spy film, and you know how obsessive I am about watching spy films. It isn’t though. It’s one of those films that lingers on the cusp – another seventies jet set thriller – although this one lacks jet setting.

The film starts in a swank restaurant and man is having a pleasant meal. A waiter pushes over a trolley, and prepares to serve the meal – but rather than remove the cover from the food, he produces a sawn off shotgun from his pants, turns and fires at the diner. The blast sends the man flying back through a glass window.

We then cut to the titles which are picture postcards of Switzerland accompanied by a cheesy rock tune by Klaus Doldinger – it’s the type of title track that makes you wish that Roy Budd could have composed the score to every seventies crime drama.

You know, I try to like David Janssen. I must admit I am too young to have watched The Fugitive television series in which he appeared and won over many fans. So unfortunately for me though, he is a poor man’s William Holden, and even in the seventies, good roles for Holden were few and far between. That means Janssen got the dregs of the dregs. Here Janssen plays an ex member of the US Justice Department – now he sort of works as an international man of mystery, solving other peoples problems. In this instance the problem is with a Swiss Bank run by Johan Hurtil (Ray Milland) and Franz Benninger (Anton Differing). The Bank is being blackmailed by an unknown group for 10 million Francs. If the Bank does not pay up, then the bad guys will release the details and private account numbers of the bank’s clients to the world. Adding to the pressure, the blackmailers have also approached 5 of the banks clients and demanded that they each pay 1 million Francs or their personal details will be passed on to other parties.

The one thing that The Swiss Conspiracy has going for it is an interesting supporting cast. John Saxon plays a gangster called Hayes – and quite frankly I know Saxon has been in some shit, but this has to be his worst performance ever – man, he is bad! Even the fight scenes – I know it’s a bit much to expect Roper from Enter the Dragon, but the choreography here is terrible. Then you’ve got Elke Sommer and Senta Berger – well it may not be their most glamorous moments – but far be it from me to say anything bad about the ladies. Anton Diffring is an interesting character actor – you may not know his name, but you’d know his face – usually as a Nazi in War films or as an East German agent in a swag of spy films. Milland’s only in it for the pay check – but I guess he’s professional – incidentally Milland and Diffring teamed up once again a few years later in Sherlock Holmes and The Masks Of Death.

Look, The Swiss Conspiracy isn’t a complete crock, but as you can pick it up for a few small coins, I think that the price is right – I wouldn’t spend any more. And I am guessing the only reason that you’d choose to watch it is for the cast, and well what can I say – hey it’s got Elke Sommer and Senta Berger in it!

The Swiss Conspiracy (1976)

Light Blast (1985)

AKA: Colpi di luce, Neon Killer
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Starring: Erik Estrada, Thomas Moore (Ennio Girolami), Michael Pritchard, Peggy Rowe, Bob Taylor
Music: Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis

“It’s maggots like you that make me like my job!”

Light Blast is a trashy B-grade cop thriller starring Erik Estrada who was swept to fame in the late 70’s and early 80’s playing Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncharello in the TV series CHiPs. For those too young to remember CHiPs, it was a show about two California Highway Patrol police officers, Estrada, and Larry Wilcox, who rode motorcycles and arrested crooks. In Light Blast, again Estrada plays a cop, but this time he’s decidedly more ‘Dirty Harry’ than ‘Ponch’.

To readers, it must seem lazy for a reviewer to continually mention Dirty Harry, but Harry casts a very long shadow. If a cop film features a tough, violent loner who is good with a gun, then the film is undoubtedly influenced by Harry Callahan and his 44 magnum. Likewise, if a film is more gritty and character driven, it probably owes a debt to The French Connection. And in keeping, if a film features a black actor as the lead, then the film is measured up against Richard Roundtree’s Shaft. All three films were made in 1971. It was a good year for cop movies (although Shaft was a ‘private dick’). And all three films provide the template for the cop films that followed.

It could be argued that over the years in police films, although the cops have battled a various assortment of psychos, it wasn’t until the success of The Silence Of The Lambs, that the style of cop films changed from the model set up in the early 1970’s. These days, cop shows on television (like C.S.I.) and at the movies are pretty dark affairs, with serial killers, stalkers, paedophiles, and bizarre cults plaguing society.

As entertainment, I must admit I find it all rather distasteful – that’s not to say that some of them aren’t good productions. But I long for the days of good old fashioned ‘cops and robbers’. It’s easier to understand the motives of your old style villain. It’s greed and selfishness. He wants money. But today’s villain tends to keep a collection of body parts in his basement, which I can’t really relate to. And furthermore, I am not too enamored when it is served up as entertainment night after night (C.S.I. and Bones – I am looking at you), and yearly at the movies (how many Hannibal Lechter films do we need?)

But I have digressed. Light Blast is from the Dirty Harry school of cop films. Estrada is Ronn Warren, a San Francisco cop. The film opens with Dr. Yuri Soboda (Michael Pritchard) test firing a new high tech laser weapon at a railway depot. At the depot a young couple are engaging in a bit of hanky-panky in a train carriage. Unusual location for a secret tryst, but whatever works for you! As the ray hits the carriage, the young lovers melt…yuk!

Then we cut to a hostage situation. Two armed robbers are holding a dozen people hostage in a bank. Police have circled the building and are trying to negotiate a resolution. But it isn’t easy to reason with the gunmen. To prove that they mean business they shoot one of the hostages. They demand a plane. The police officer in charge of the negotiation – the one with the megaphone – tells them that the plane will take time. Next, the gunmen want a meal. They also want the food delivered by someone without clothes, that way they can see if the person is armed.

Naturally the police don’t send a civilian. They send Ronn Warren. He walks up to the bank practically naked, holding a giant turkey and french-fries (or ‘CHiPs’ as I like to call them – sorry, bad pun). Warren quickly overpowers the ‘perps’ and frees the hostages. He does this with a pistol hidden in the turkey – er, yeah!

Meanwhile, a message is sent to the mayor of San Francisco, by Soboda saying that he wants five million dollars. But first he will fire the weapon again at 5:48pm to prove that the threat is legitimate. As a precaution the city’s police officers are sent to cover and protect all the public event happening that day. Warren is sent to the Freemont Speedway. And of course, that’s where Soboda and his team of extortionists strike. They fire the weapon and melt the announcers booth at the speedway.

Warren observes this, and pursues the laser, which is housed in a television broadcast truck. This leads us to the first of the films four car chase scenes. As the film is set in San Francisco, you will naturally think of Bullitt when you see the vehicles speeding around the undulating San Fran street scape. Needless to say, that none of these chases even comes close to the level of excitement in Bullitt. After each chases, Soboda raises his ransom demands. The final chase starts with a citizen exclaiming, “Hey! What the f*ck are you doin!”, and that perfectly sums up the viewing experience.

Light Blast is trash. The only reason to watch it, is if you are old enough to remember CHiPs fondly, because Erik Estrada is all this film has going for it. The acting is generally atrocious, and the action scenes are repetitive. Each one is a car chase!

Light Blast (1985)

Captain Mettle V.C.

Author: James MacNell (J.E. Macdonell)
Publisher: The Children’s Press
Published: Unknown (around 1958?)

Captain Mettle V.C. was the first in a series of children’s adventure books written by Australian author J.E. Macdonnell under the pen name James MacNell.

Mettle isn’t exactly a spy, he is a Navy commander, but his adventures, and the type of assignments thrust upon him, go beyond the boundaries of a typical naval adventure. They certainly fall within the parameters of an espionage novel.

As the story opens, Captain Mettle is on the bridge of the destroyer, Scorpion, steaming towards Hong Kong for a very important meeting with the Admiral controlling the China station. Aside from Mettle, the opening chapter also introduces the reader to Mettle’s second-in-command, Cuthbert Crabbe de Courcy – known to all and sundry as Crabby. Crabby always appears tired, and bored – however despite this projection of lethargy, whenever there is a crisis, he is a man of swift and vigorous action.

The other character of note is Hooky Hogan, the chief bosun’s mate. Hooky, as his nickname suggests, has a hook where his right hand should be. The introduction to Hooky happens when one of the crew falls overboard. Hooky is the first into the lifeboat sent off to rescue the man. However, before they can drag in and rescue the the flailing and thrashing crewman, a giant shark spears its way through the water towards him. Hooky leaps into the water, drags the crewman out of harms way, and then with his hook, splits the shark along its belly as it speeds past.

Upon arrival in Hong Kong, and after a meeting with Admiral Sterne, Mettle is assigned to command a torpedo boat and track down a band or pirates who have been plundering the shipping lanes out of Hong Kong. Recently four merchant ships have simply vanished from the area. Mettle hand picks two crewmen to come with him on the mission – Crabby and Hooky – and they set off in their quest to stop the piracy.

It doesn’t take long for Mettle and his crew to encounter the pirates after they tuck in behind a merchant ship transporting a shipment of guns to Shanghai. Naturally the pirates attempt to steal the shipment, and send out a fake distress signal from a junk in front of the vessel. The cargo ship stops to offer assistance, and the pirates storm on board.

Mettle and his ship mates stop the assault, and with their torpedo boat, stop the junk and a flotilla of other small craft from making off with the cargo. But the men that Mettle captures are just the worker bees, and he is after ‘The Brain’ behind the operation. After interrogating one of the prisoners, Mettle is given directions to an old temple on mainland China.

As the story plays out, the events that led to Hooky losing his hand are retold, and it concerns a villain named Li Fang Fu; a man who specialises in torture – especially the fabled ‘death by a thousand cuts’. In one of those coincidences that can only occur in an adventure story like this, it so happens that Li Fang Fu is also the head of the pirate organisation, and as our trio close in, he has a reception committee waiting.

Captain Mettle in action!

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by Captain Mettle VC. I have read a few of J.E. Macdonnell’s Mark Hood spy adventures, and while I have found them hugely enjoyable, it can generally be accepted that they are wafer thin slices of sixties spy pulp entertainment. So I expected the Mettle books – which are aimed at children – to be dumbed down and desexualised versions of the Hood books – or at least in style. While the story is quite simple – no more or less than some of the Hoods – I found it refreshing that Macdonnell didn’t tone down – or dumb down – his writing. The story doesn’t shy away from adult themes, like death, torture and drugs. However their is no sex. If these books were aimed at boys, I am guessing it is teenage readers rather than youngsters. That’s why I have enjoyed Charlie Higson’s Young Bond and Anthony Horrowitz’s Alex Rider books, because they didn’t dumb down their stories for their audience, and neither did Macdonnell when creating Captain Mettle.

As can be expected from a book of this vintage, the story and characters are frightfully racist. With the villains of the piece being Chinese pirates, over the course of the novel every derogatory term for the Chinese is used, and a few I have not heard before. The characters also chain smoke throughout the story. These attributes in a modern novel, aimed at the adult market, would be derided as being antiquated and xenophobic, but if they were presented in a contemporary novel aimed at children, and remember this is a novel aimed at teenage boys, then the author could find protesters on their front lawn. Times have certainly changed. But judging the content by today’s standards is not fair, and to be honest, I cannot see this book appealing to the current crop of young readers. It’s probably only of interest to readers like my self, who are interested in author, J.E. Macdonnell or vintage pulp and naval fiction.

All in all, Captain Mettle VC is a rollicking spy adventure which is thoroughly enjoyable, and on the strength of it, I would be happy to read more of Mettle’s adventures. Other books in the Captain Mettle series are, Mettle Dives Deep and Mettle at Woomera.

Captain Mettle V.C.