Let Sleeping Girls Lie

Author: James Mayo
Publisher: Heinmann
Published: 1965

Let Sleeping Girls Lie is the second book in the Charles Hood spy thriller series by James Mayo. Mayo is actually the pen name for Stephen Coulter, who allegedly (according to Donald McCormick in Who’s Who in Spy Fiction) provided much of the background information on the operation of French Casinos, which Ian Fleming used as a basis for Casino Royale.

Inspired by Fleming’s success, Coulter, writing as Mayo, would then start his own spy series, starting with Hammerhead (which was made into a film starring Vince Edwards as Hood), continuing with Let Sleeping Girls Lie, Sergeant Death, Shamelady and A Man Above Suspicion. He would also write books under his own name, like Embassy and An Account to Render.

However Let Sleeping Girls Lie is a very frustrating book. There are passages that are absolutely brilliant, including a battle on a road construction site with earth moving equipment, and a piece where Hood is staked out as food for a vulture that has been trained to attack and eat live prey (possibly mimicking how Sayyid Qutb was tortured in prison in the 1960’s as outlined in the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares). It’s spine tingling stuff. As a spy fan I couldn’t be happier, and at this point in the novel (about half way), I was thinking ‘was this one of the great unsung ’60s spy novels?’ The answer is no. The story ran out of puff there and then.

There is a plot thread, which is introduced at the start of the book, in the first chapter actually, about a unique disease known as ‘the laughing death’. The villain of the piece, named Zagora, uses ‘the laughing death’ to control legions of women who are drawn to him as a prophet. How Zagora uses this disease to control the women is never truly explained. As the story goes on, it is alluded to again and again, and Hood even postulates a theory about where it came from and how it spreads, but it is never really resolved. In fact at the end of the novel, the reader cannot even be sure that the heroine, Tiara Evenly, does not have ‘the laughing death’. It’s all very much up in the air.

And furthermore, Zagora is never brought to justice. In fact, he disappears from the story at the half way mark, with only his minions left to battle Hood. The promised confrontation between hero and villain never happens, and in its stead is a mad dash through a women’s beauty treatment salon. So instead of battling the Zagora, Hood draws back curtains on scantily clad or naked women covered in mud packs and beauty creams. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a cheap bit of titillation, but I also expected a final tussle and a neat resolution to the story. Instead I got the literary equivalent of a brief glimpse of nipple.

Another failing in the story is the travelogue aspect. Vivid, detailed description of a cities sights and sounds, in the right hands, is a fine thing. It immerses the reader in the story. The early description used by Mayo / Coulter in France is quite okay. The story moves fast, and the characters do not stay in one place for too long. But the last third of the story is set in Venice. And here the repetition of the descriptions start to wear very thin – endless canals and bridges and water taxis. By themselves, each description is well-written and evocative, but when they are stacked on top of each other, it slows the narrative down to a weak-kneed crawl. It only picks up again for the last ten pages for a spirited but (as I have already carped on about) unsatisfactory resolution.

The most disappointing thing about Let Sleeping Girls Lie is that it did start off so well. For it to crumble away to nothing seems like a wasted opportunity. There is no debate that Coulter/Mayo is a good writer. It’s there to be seen. I’d guess – and that’s all it is, as I have no information to base this on, other the the book itself – was rushed to be completed. The ending is truncated without resolution and the editing could have (and should have) been tighter. That reeks of a story rushed to meet a deadline to me. But forty-six years after the event, I’ll guess we’ll never know.

Ultimately this is a poor book in the series described as ‘the slickest of the SuperBonds’. I’d give this one a miss.

Let Sleeping Girls Lie

Smoker

Author: Mel Odom

Smoker is a short story, only about forty-five pages, but it represents one of the great things about eBooks. In days of yore, its length it would have always made it cost prohibitive to print. Unless it popped up in an anthology, or in a magazine, this story would have gone unread, which would be criminal. But now, it can be zapped straight to your computer or Kindle and read immediately. I use the word ‘immediately’ because this is a great little story… and you should read it right now. It is perfect antidote to watching re-runs on TV over the silly season. You’ll devour it in one sitting.

As a boxing story, of course it’s tough as nails, but, and this is probably a boy thing, the story as it climaxes is extremely moving. I’m too tough to tell you that I had tear welling in my eye, so I wont! And I won’t outline too much of the plot, as it is only a short story, and I don’t want to ruin the surprises the fable has in store. But quickly, the story concerns a Merchant Marine named Terry Farrell, who, while in Singapore, receives word that his father is dead and he should return home.

Farrell does, and finds out that his father was killed in an illegal boxing match – known as ‘Smokers’ because they take place in dingy back rooms which fill up with cigarette and cigar smoke from the patrons that pay to watch the fights. Of course, Farrell goes looking for answers.

The thing is, this is not just another boxing story. There’s a bit more going on here. For wont of a lazy comparison, Smoker is like a cross between author, Mel Odom’s The Cutman fused with (trying to be a tad cryptic so as not to spoil it) blues legend Robert Johnson.

If you’re reading The Fight Card series, then add this to your ‘To Be Read’ pile too. You’ll be glad you did. Currently it is only 99c from Amazon.

Smoker

Fight Card: The Cutman

Author: Mel Odom
Published: November 2011

Time for another entry in the hard punching Fight Card series – this time courtesy of Mel Odom writing as Jack Tunney. Mel may not be a household name, but if you are like me and troll through book shops, you have no doubt come across some of his work – but possibly without realising it. Maybe you have read some of his entries in Tom Clancy’s Net Force series. Or you might have stumbled across the novelisations of the films Vertical Limit, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and xXx. Then there are the tie-in books for the popular TV-Series NCIS, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. If fantasy is your thing, Mel has you covered too, with the Lost Soul series, the award winning Rover series and Forgotten Realms. Recently, Mel has worked with Bill Crider and James Reasoner on the western series Rancho Diablo. As you can see, he has written in practically every genre.

A handful of titles from Mel Odom's career

He has been quoted as saying:

I make no bones about the fact that my roots are in the pulps. I loved Doc Savage and the Shadow and the Spider when I was growing up. Tracked down every one I could find. I’ve told people all my life that I was simply born in the wrong time. I want to write EVERYTHING. Back then you could. Writers went from a science fiction pulp story in the morning to a Western range romance in the afternoon, and then finished off the evening with a story they hoped to sell to Weird Tales.

If that wasn’t enough, there is another facet to Mel Odom’s varied career as a writer. To some writers it may have been hidden away as a grubby little secret, but not for Mel. He is proud to be one of the authors who has contributed to the Mack Bolan, Executioner and Stony Man series.

He really is the man, that no genre could tame. I first stumbled upon Mel’s work earlier this year, when I read one the best Mack Bolan stories I have read so far (of course, I still have many others to read. You can read my review of Kill Point by clicking here).

Some of Mel's 30+ titles, in the Executioner, Stony Man series

I think you’ll agree, there is no other man better qualified to revive the old pulp boxing stories than Mel, who along with Paul Bishop, initiated the Fight Card series.

Although The Cutman is the second book in the Fight Card series, you do not need to read them in order as each story is self contained. This one is set in pre-revolution Cuba, and Havana is like a new Las Vegas with lavish casinos, salsa flavoured night clubs and bars… and of course the organised crime that goes with it. As the story begins, the cargo ship Big Bertha has just made port, and two punks come around claiming that they don’t have permission to dock where they have. It’s all bunk of course, and part of an extortion rort. These punks work for a small time kingpin called Falcone.

But their scare tactics don’t work on the crew, particularly one Mick Flynn. For those of you who have read Felony Fists (or my review) may recognise that Flynn was also the surname of the lead character in that story. You see Patrick Flynn (from Fists) and Mick Flynn are brothers and were both brought up in the same orphanage, St. Vincents Asylum for Boys in Chicago – under the tutelage of Father Tim, who taught the boys to box.

So from the get go, Flynn and the whole shipboard crew, including peglegged Capt’n Sliddell, are on the wrong side of this two-bit gangster, Falcone. And it just so happens, Falcone has a little sideline which is illegal boxing matches – and his fighter, Marcell Simbari – known as the Hammer, is a wrecking machine who has destroyed all comers! Can you guess where this is all going? Of course, the conflict is going to escalate, culminating in a big fight between Mick Flynn and Simbari.

As I said when I reviewed Felony Fists, I guess boxing stories are in some ways predictable, nearly always culminating the big fight, in which the hero wins. But in stories such as these, the starting points, and the end points are not really important. It is the journey along the way, and The Cutman is a great little trip. Mel Odom’s telling of the tale is smooth and atmospheric. As I read, I could almost feel the oppressive Cuban heat, and smell the booze, sweat and smoke in the waterfront dives. And the story builds to a beautiful (and brutal) climax – the aforementioned fight between Flynn and Simbari, which has enough twists and turns in it, to keep most readers, if not on the edge of their seat, then at least on their toes, and dodging from side to side.

Later this month, the third book in the series, Split Decision is scheduled to be released, and if it packs the same punch as the first two books in the Fight Card series, then I am going to be one happy reader over the holiday season.

The Cutman can be downloaded from Amazon.

And if boxing stories are your thing, Mel has another available for kindle called Smoker: A Boxing Fable – I may have to download this one myself!

You can find out more about Mel at his website.

As mentioned above, Mel Odom has written novels in every genre, but spy fans can check out his contributions to the Executioner, Stony Man and Tom Clancy’s Net Force series.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Fight Card: The Cutman

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Country: United States
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Michelle Botes, Larry Poindexter, Gary Conway, Jeff Celentano, Jonathan Pienaar, Bill Curry, Dennis Folbigge, Ralph Draper
Music: Michael Bishop & George S. Clinton

American Ninja 2 is a huge improvement over the first film in the series. It is fast, furious and funny. Yes, that is right, it is funny. The series developed a sense of humour, which considering the silliness of the story, is very welcome. Also Dudikoff and James are much more relaxed and confident in front of the camera. Particularly Dudikoff, who displayed the acting skills of a plank of wood in the first film.

The story starts on the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean, and three US Marines who are stationed there to protect the US Embassy are racing along a coast road on motorcycles. Before I go any further, let me explain that being stationed at St. Thomas is not like the usual military posting . It is pretty cruisy, with the Marines not required to wear uniform, and seem to spend much of their time, surfing and seducing the female population (the bulk of which, it would appear, spend their whole life clad in bikinis).

The motorcycling Marines stop at a bar for a drink, only to to accosted by some burly locals. Naturally enough a fight ensues, and two of the Marines are knocked out. From the back door a team of black clad Ninja (what is the plural of Ninja? Is it ‘Ninjas’ or is it still just Ninja?) enter the bar and hoist the unconscious men over their shoulders. Then they carry them out the back.

The remaining Marine, Tommy Taylor (Jonathan Pienaar) had been a part of the setup. It appears that he is being blackmailed, as the as yet unknown bad guys are holding his wife hostage. Of course, Taylor reports to his commanding officer (a man known as Wild Bill) that he was knocked out, and does not know what happened to his fellow Marines. However, at the bar, a young boy named Toto was hiding behind a pinball machine, and he witnessed the whole abduction and also reports it to Wild Bill.

The two abducted Marines brings the total of missing Marines to four, and two others disappeared of a motorboat, and Wild Bill makes his report to Washington, telling the tale of the strange black clad Ninja. He asks for help. And what does he receive? A squad of Marines to take control of the situation? No. Two Army Rangers, Sergeant Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) and Sergeant Curtis Jackson (Steve James). On a Marine base, Army Rangers aren’t exactly welcome, and immediately the two men are treated as interfering interlopers. However, as anyone who has seen American Ninja 1 would know, these two men have had experience at fighting teams of Ninja before.

For those not familiar with the characters, let me explain. Joe Armstrong was brought up by a Japanese man, who passed on the skills of Ninjitsu. Now he is the only American who knows the secrets of the Ninja. He is the American Ninja. Curtis Jackson is the enthusiastic amateur. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good martial artist, but good martial arts are nothing compared to the skills of a Master Ninja.

Of course, it isn’t long until turncoat Taylor tries to set Armstrong and Jackson up, and on a beach, a team of Ninja come for them. Naturally our boys fight them off, but of course, their resistance marks them as a threat, and the villains of the piece target them for extermination.

As for the villain, well he’s Leo Bourke (Gary Conway) – known to all and sundry as The Lion. The Lion is the world’s biggest drug dealer, and to stay Number One, he has a plan to create a SuperNinja Army. Utilising misguided bio-geneticist, Professor Sanbourne the Lion’s plan for world domination is close to coming to fruition. On Blackbeard Island, Sanbourne is close to completing a bio-engineered army of SuperNinja, all of them with ultimate fighting skills encoded into their DNA. That’s where the kidnapped Marines come in – they provide DNA for the SuperNinja. Of course, Armstrong and Jackson have to stop them and spend the climax of the movie beating up a whole swag of Ninja. The Marines get involved too, and lots of things blow up.

I cannot stress how much fun this movie is. Sure it has it limitations in budget, and some of that shows on the screen – for example when the Lion is addressing his team of SuperNinja, and outlining his plot for world domination, his corporate logo (half lion/half shuriken) looks to be drawn on a blackboard with chalk. But generally the film acknowledges its limitations and finds ways to work around them. Dudikoff is not a naturally gifted martial artist, so many of his action sequences are more of a typically American action film style; such as bar-room brawls and car chases, or more traditional fisticuffs. It is only at the end that he has to go Ninja, and use swords and knives.

As I mentioned at the top, Dudikoff and James were much more relaxed this time around and work off each other well. James gets the best of the comedy routines, and as the titled American Ninja, Dudikoff is front and centre during most of the action scenes.

Of course, a movie made in 1987 will have dated somewhat in its style. The haircuts and music in particular have an ’80s cringe factor, but you have to expect that sort of thing, and allow it to wash over you. If you can do that, and if you’re in the mood for some low budget Cannon Film (the sign of quality!) hijinx, then American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, dishes out all that could be expected from a film of its kind, and in fact, probably surpasses all expectations.

I cannot argue that this is a spy film, as our heroes are Army Rangers, rather than spies. However there are many familiar espionage tropes – particularly when our heroes storm the villains lair. The glass booths used by the Lion to create his new army of genetic SuperNinja could come out of any ’60s Eurospy flick (particularly Lightning Bolt).

Michael Dudikoff also starred in Avenging Force as a retired secret service operative.

Composer, George S. Clinton did the incidental music for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and its sequels.

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)