Author: James Dark
Publisher: Horwitz
Published: 1962

Recently I have looked at a few Mark Hood spy thrillers, written by James Dark – namely Come Die With Me and the Throne of Satan. Prior to them however, I looked at The Invisibles, which is also a Mark Hood spy thriller, but as it was an Australian edition, the author was credited as J.E. MacDonnell. As an Australian, it fascinated me that their was international spy fiction being written in Australia during the 1960s. I was curious to find out more, which I must admit I found difficult. J.E. MacDonnell also wrote a large amount of popular naval fiction, and these books were easy to find, however it would appear that his spy fiction was as not as well received and is very hard to find.

Thankfully, when I posted my review of The Invisibles, readers commented on the Hood books and mentioned that they had been published in America under the pen name James Dark. And after a bit of searching on the net, I have located a few American editions of the Hood novels. From these, I wrote the reviews I mentioned above (Come Die With Me and Throne of Satan).

What I found confusing is that when I was researching Hood by J.E. MacDonnell – while there were a few discrepancies across the websites I visited, mainly due to foreign titles – was how many books were in the series. One of the most informative websites on J.E. MacDonnell, Collecting Books and Magazines (it’s towards the bottom of the page) – suggests that there are 13 novels in the series.

However, the website, Fantastic Fiction, which looks at author James Dark rather than J.E. MacDonnell, suggests that there are 17 novels in the Mark Hood series.

Once again, some of the titles listed were duplications of the same novel, only published under different titles – but still, there were a few that were new to me, and didn’t appear in any of J.E. MacDonnell’s biographies. That made me think, was there more than one James Dark?

As it happens, James Dark was a house name for several authors at Australian publisher, Horwitz Publications. It also seems that the ‘Dark’ name was applied to novels of all genres. One of the most informative articles I have been able to find, and it shed much light on the mystery of James Dark was written by Steve Paulsen, and appears on the Australian Horror Writer’s Association website. Entitled, Pulp Fiction in Oz, Paulsen’s article is worth reading in it’s entirety, but for those who want to cut to the chase, the information about James Dark is down thirteen paragraphs from the top.

ImPact - the first Elliot Carr adventure

Taking Steve Paulsen at his word (as he seems much better informed than me) – then the James Dark credited for writing Havoc!, is James Workman. And Havoc! is World trouble-shooter, Elliot Carr’s second great story of espionage… inside on the second page, it says that also by the same author is a book called Impact, and once again it would appear to have been written by Workman.

While on the topic of James Dark – although I do not have a copy of the book – the next bit of wild speculation on my behalf is that the novel Spy From the Grave which was published in 1964 (according to the Fantastic Fiction site), is not a Mark hood novel. Come Die With Me, which was published in 1965, is clearly the first Mark Hood novel. The setup, the introduction to Intertrust (the organisation Hood works for) all suggest it is the first novel in the series. Therefore, (assuming that the publication date isn’t wrong) then Spy From the Grave predates the Mark Hood series, and may possibly be an Elliot Carr novel. Or more likely, it could simply be another standalone spy novel, which seems logical as Paulsen suggests, that this sixth, James Dark novel, was written by another author, Richard Wilkes-Hunter. If you have read Spy From the Grave or have any information about it, or James Dark, please feel free to comment (or contact me off air, via email if you wish).

But now, after all that meandering investigative journalism, you’re probably wondering how Havoc! stacks up as a spy novel. As I mentioned briefly, Havoc! is the sequel to the novel Impact, and for those who like their silly spy acronyms, how’s this?  The hero of these stories, Elliot Carr is a chief operative for the International and Metropolitan Police Air Control – or if you prefer IMPACt (Impact being the title of the first novel). How Carr and IMPACt, an organisation geared to protecting airlines around the world, get involved in this multi-threaded espionage plot, is contrived beyond belief, but it is a fun, fast paced ride.

As the story begins, the world’s first moon rocket is preparing to be launched from the Kooralinga Rocket Range in Australia (remember this was written in 1962 – predating the Apollo moon launches). Upon launch, the rocket goes haywire and crashes to the ground. As an adjunct here, while Kooralinga appears to be a fictitious place name (or at least used fictitiously in this instance), it echoes Maralinga, which is the site of the UK nuclear tests carried out in South Australia in the 1950s. Was the author suggesting that the rocket was nuclear powered?

Meanwhile Barnstable Klinger, a specialist assassin, hired by the Chinese is sent to Hong Kong to investigate eccentric scientist Cyrus C. Canning who has been doing microwave research. Klinger is to steal Canning’s research; failing that he is to kill everybody involved in the project. Before Klinger can achieve his objective, Canning flees to Sydney (but nobody knows this). Upset at his disappearance, Canning’s wife and step sister track him to the airport. Once they find out where he has gone, Klinger steps in and kills Canning’s step sister, Martha– she also has knowledge of Canning’s research.

Terrifying Tales - by James Dark (James Workman?)

As she was killed at an airport, this is where IMPACt are called in, and Elliot Carr decides to oversee the investigation personally. Somehow, Carr suspects that not only is Martha’s death connected with Canning’s research, he also believes it ties in with the sabotage of the moon rocket in Australia. But rather than start in Hong Kong (or head to Australia – which he does later), Carr starts in England, interviewing Sir John Calidcroft, who is one of the world’s leading scientists. Carr hopes he can shed some light on Canning’s research.

If the story was that straight forward, it wouldn’t be much of a spy novel would it? To make things more complicated, there is also a person going by the noms de guerre, The Man From Mannheim, who has sent letters to three of the four nuclear powers suggesting that if they don’t start dismantling their nuclear stockpiles, he will do it for them using explosive means. As proof of his intentions and capabilities, ‘Mannheim’ explodes some small nuclear stockpiles in each country as an example.

I must say, that I was surprised that such a strong anti-nuclear story was written in the early 1960s. I have always thought that nuclear disarmament and ‘ban the bomb’ protesting was a part of the late ’60s –  and much of that was predominantly to do with the Vietnam War. Clearly that is not the case. This novel is purely a Cold War novel, and predates Vietnam. Havoc! was published in 1962, the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is generally regarded as the closest the world has come to nuclear conflict. Whether that had an influence on this story is anybody’s guess. Or maybe the author’s anti-nuclear stance is a reaction to the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, which occurred between 1955 and 1963?

Regardless of the author’s viewpoint, what is unusual, is seeing this stance written about in a piece of early-sixties Australian genre fiction, especially considering Australia’s political climate at the time. The incumbent Prime Minister was Sir Robert Menzies who had continued to remain in power after winning an un-winnable election in the wake of the Petrov Affair in 1954. At the time of Havoc!, Menzies was able to exploit Labor’s divisions over the Cold War and the American alliance, and win the 1963 election, with an increased majority. Put simply, most of the Australian populace at that time, were behind the Government, were anti-communist and in favour of a nuclear deterrent (that is not to suggest that wanting Nuclear disarmament makes you a communist!). Of course this is a broad generalisation, but this book would appear to go against the grain of mainstream thinking in Australia – at that time.

But back to the story. Elliot Carr does not only have to contend with American, British, Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies trying to track down Canning, but also thrown in the mix, is a mysterious organisation called ‘Circle of Three’, who appear to be manipulating events in the background. Then there’s a Russian splinter group, known as the ‘Clinic’, run be the evil Miss Cotter – a nurse who specialises in torture.

Havoc! at only 130 pages, may seem like a slight book – and I guess it is – but it does in fact pack quite a bit of plot, a few twists and turns and multiple storythreads into its page count. As I have already sugested, this is the second, Elliot Carr adventure, and on the strength of it, I would happily read the first. However, possibly more tantalising, is the fact, that at the end of the book it is set up for another Carr adventure. I cannot be sure that any more Carr books were written, but as the history of Australian pulp fiction is currently so poorly recorded, there is no reason to assume that there weren’t any.

Australia pulp fiction is a bit of an enigma at the moment, and finding out the truth is getting more difficult with each successive generation. Horwitz doesn’t really exist anymore. During the 1980s it started to focus more on magazines than publishing books (primarily magazines like Playboy). Eventually the company got gobbled up by larger media groups, and now Horwitz and all its imprints (such as its Adult imprint, Scripts, which published Avakoum Zahov vs 07) are quickly fading from memory. I know we can’t all live in the past, but I suggest that ignoring Australia’s publishing heritage strips away a layer of our identity. Sure many of these books were sexist, racist, and in this day and age, verging on litigious, but they are a reflection of our society, good, bad or indifferent in days gone by. They are a signpost of who we were then, and juxtaposed against current fiction, can suggest where we are going.