The 60s Bond Rivals (3): Charles Hood

chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

Following on from Barbel's excellent discussion threads on Matt Helm and Harry Palmer, I have asked our esteemed member to steal his headline and start a topic about James Mayo's OO7 impersonator CHARLES HOOD who ran through a series of literary adventures in the sixties and early seventies.

I courteously asked his permission to borrow his topic title. I'm also saving him the trouble of reading them again. Or am I...?

Comments

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent
    edited March 21

    Warning: potential spoilers inhabit this review...

    HAMMERHEAD

    James Mayo (1964)

    I have a secret love for Charles Hood. Six-foot, good-looking, ex-boxer-fencer-rower-skier-shooter, epicurean, bon viveur, antique expert, womaniser, agent for the British Special Intelligence Service, a man whose wanderlust brought him only to the attention of the Circle, that cabal of great industrial companies whose interests sometimes coincide, sometimes conflict, with British policy; always, always a man in trouble.

    James Mayo (a pseudonym for Stephen Coulter) was an acquaintance of Ian Fleming. They worked together briefly for the Royal Navy Intelligence division and continued an association as journalists working for The Sunday Times. According to our friends at Wiki, Coulter / Mayo helped Fleming with some of the background details of Casino Royale. Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve never seen this in print. Anyway, Mayo also wrote thrillers. I read a couple of his pre-Hood 1950s efforts a few years back. They were nothing like Fleming’s output. Raw, dirty, grimy, set amongst the underbelly of society. The heroes all have a streak of vanity and a hidden vicious, violent nature which would reveal itself at opportune moments. They are resourceful men, who think logically, utilise all their knowledge to advantage, exploit others for gain, use women for pleasure; ultimately they take risks and trust in their skills and fortitude to succeed. They are, if you like, traditional men’s men.

    Charles Hood is cut from this cloth, even if he’s distinctly of the public school class. He’s a smooth talking, cool customer of a gambler, as easy on the eye as the Monet’s he worships, as satisfying as the lobster thermidors he consumes, as refreshing as the ’52 Chablis he guzzles. He’s also as rough and tough as James Bond, maybe more so. He may inhabit a world of luxury and privilege, but the people he discovers within it are as grisly and single-minded as the ruffians of the street. Hood is equally at home quaffing champagne for breakfast on a gorgeous yacht, necking cassis in a snivelling Nice strip club, hobnobbing with politicians or scrapping with hoodlums. A wag at The Sunday Citizen described him as “the slickest of the super-Bond’s” and that’s not far wrong. 

    Hood is in France on the instructions of George Conder, an S.I.S. superior, to investigate Espiritu Lobar, a Arakanese shipping magnate renowned for extravagant tastes and feared for his mercilessness business dealings. So callous is Lobar’s attitude his rivals refer to him as Hammerhead. Conder, though, has secret intelligence on the man. All is not what it appears in Lobar’s ordered world. Top of the list of intrigues is the unusual sailing activities of his enormous yacht, the Triton; second is his abusive treatment of individuals; third, his shady, piratical past. Indeed Lobar does read like a modern day buccaneer. He’s a huge man with a bronzed physique, a horrific scar from a near fatal lynching and an eye which, rather than being lost, has simply lost a lid and hence stares constantly, menacingly, at its targets.

    Lobar is indeed up to tricks: his yacht is equipped with a unique second hull, the lower section of which is hollowed out to contain a small submarine bay. The yacht has sailed the Mediterranean, releasing the sub to lay specialised Soviet counter-defence equipment which will nullify NATO’s seaborne tactical response forces. When Hood pays the magnate a discreet pre-emptive visit in Paris, he finds Lobar absent, but instead encounters Tookey Tate, a burglar petrified of someone or something inside Lobar’s apartment building. Tate vanishes and Hood’s suspicions are aroused.

    Using a Gainsborough painting for bait, Hood travels to the Cote d’Azur to meet Lobar in person. The trip turns into an adventure of nightmare proportions. Lobar’s instructions have changed and he’s desperately attempting to maintain his elegant façade while struggling to control Zarubino, a rogue, chameleon-like circus mimic. Zarubino – or Andreas as he’s being called – is to impersonate Richard Calvert, British ambassador to NATO, in an attempt to steal the organisation’s defence plans.

    Andreas – or Zarubino, take your pick – is the worst of the Triton’s stewards, clumsy, ill-disciplined, a sexual deviant and a bad gambler. His odd behaviour, as well as the reaction of his paymaster, intrigues Hood. So too does the sensual African nymphomaniac Ivory, who seduces our hero with an aphrodisiac. So too does the ever watchful chief steward Perrin. So too does the playful ingenue Sue Trenton. So too does the frightening, deformed strongman Golos, the obdurate chauffeur, the concealed door in Lobar’s office, the emptiness of Lobar’s villa, the whole enveloping quietude of Lobar’s gorgeous surroundings. Everything is too neat, too convenient.

    The narrative builds well through the first third. We meet the main players. Reservations surface. Clues are dropped. There’s a little stealthy investigation. There’s some sex-play. There’s a hefty dose of location name-dropping. The atmosphere’s are gaudily fascinating. The novel doesn’t exactly go awry at this point, but Mayo does begin to force needless moments of action on us. They come thick and fast. I don’t mind it. The events are well-described, taut and terrifying in the telling. Hood is more than capable in a fight, a gun battle or a car chase. And there are an awful lot of them. The story begins to pant and blow quite a bit towards the end, as if Mayo himself was out of breath. Scenes become shorter and less defined. They also seem to be less relevant. This is a minor disappointment. I love a good action sequence and I enjoyed what I read, but I do want violence to be necessary. For instance, the fight Hood becomes embroiled in to escape the Triton is pure exploitation, a needless example of overkill. Similarly, a confrontation in an abandoned car garage and a peculiar incident where our hero becomes nailed into a coffin are visceral and gripping, yet they don’t move the plot forward. Far better are the moments of pure horror: Hood discovering Tookey Tate imprisoned, his mouth sealed shut with wire staples; Golos maliciously crushing a pig’s head; the intense savagery of Lobar’s countenance.

    Mayo struggles badly over the role of women in the novel. They are objects of the first degree. Three whole scenes revolve around women stripping. Lobar keeps a small harem on his yacht to entertain his guests. Every female is gorgeous and available, is ogled and enjoys it. You probably wouldn’t get away with that kind of writing today. It doesn’t help that Mayo has neglected to include a central female character vital to the plot. There is a woman for Hood, but she’s a romanticised barmaid. The person who should be the focal point – Ivory – is virtually written out after Hood reaches dry land and Sue Trenton, while provided with a motivation, never arouses the hero’s amor. She merely becomes bait in the first of three denouements which conclude the novel. Fleming, despite many faults writing female characters, did not neglect the fundamentals of his entertainment.

    Hammerhead is a fun and exciting read. My criticisms are probably unfair, perhaps because I always want so much more from the writers who followed in OO7’s wake. I would certainly recommend Charles Hood and a debut novel is always a great place to start. It has superb locations, a swift and stylised action-packed narrative, a clutch of interesting, sexy or gruesome personalities, as well as a reasonably believable conspiracy, filled with the prerequisite intrigues, resolutions and plot holes. You can’t really ask for more than that in a spy thriller.   

    Heads up then for Charles Hood!

            

      


  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 3,850MI6 Agent

    Great review, chrisno1. I read 2 or 3 of the series back in the 70’s. I enjoyed the movie, Hammerhead, as well, even though it got mixed reviews.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff

    Very enjoyable, and thanks for posting that. I'm looking forward to the next one.

  • Sir MilesSir Miles The Wrong Side Of The WardrobePosts: 25,131Chief of Staff

    Thanks for that 🍸 can’t say I’d heard of Charles Hood before 👀

    YNWA 96
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    Thanks, guys. There will be more to come, including a film review, fingers crossed.

  • Golrush007Golrush007 South AfricaPosts: 2,909Quartermasters

    I bought a paperback of Hammerhead last year after reading about Mayo's books in the excellent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by Mike Ripley. I shall have to elevate it nearer the top of my to-read pile.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent
    edited March 25

    Warning: potential spoilers inhabit this review...

    LET SLEEPING GIRLS LIE

    James Mayo (1965)

    I admit to a terrible soft spot for Let Sleeping Girls Lie. It was the first Charles Hood novel I bought. I was thirteen and plucked it from a small second-hand book store close to my home. The cover attracted me as did the raft of great quotes on the sleeve. It’s hard to forget those early memories. They leave an indelible impression. Like Thunderball, my first Bond movie, or Dr No, my first Fleming, or Caravan to Vaccarés, my first Alistair MacLean, I adore the work, despite its obvious flaws. I’m not usually disposed to bias, but I really do love this novel. So, I guess if you want to, take this review with a pinch of salt.

    James Mayo’s second Charles Hood adventure has a brilliant title, which conjures all sorts of fantasies. It also rolls along the tongue, with all those alliterative ‘L’ sounds, the assonance of its slippery ‘S’s. It is a superbly sensual fetishistic title. My copy has a wonderful cover, the upper torso of a naked woman spread beneath the title words, all chiselled over a field of golden corn. That the book within can’t quite reach the heights set by the cover isn’t initially apparent.

    Diana Windermere suffers a fit of the giggles. Everyone at her posh Parisian hotel thinks she’s tight, until the house doctor suggests she may be suffering from Laughing Death, an obscure disease originating in New Guinea. After hours of insufferable laughter, Diana dies. Meanwhile, Charles Hood has been roped into an assignment by the Circle, that mysterious consortium of leading industrialists whose aims sometimes cross over with those of the Secret Service. He’s to watch over the Evenly Twins, gorgeous identical, telepathic sisters who are being used by Lord Claymore, Head of the International Chemicals Corporation and also Head of the Circle, to retain and recite chemical formulas of secret industrial experiments – some of which are military secrets. One of the twins has been going AWOL, but they can’t tell which one because the naughty minxes keep swapping clothes and hairstyles and even impersonate each other’s vocal inflections. Claymore is worried the escapee has been turned by the opposition – possibly a foreign secret service – and fears for the lives of the sisters and for the secrets they keep.

    Hood enjoys watching over Tiara Evenly just a little too much. ‘Comfort’ certainly comes into it. Tiara, naturally, is a nymphomaniac. Having sampled her behaviour’s first hand and her bed second, Hood believes she’s under the influence of Zagora. It’s never clear why Hood should make this assumption. All it would have taken was one out-of-place line from Tiara, but there’s nothing. I checked the prose. Nothing. This is a tad disappointing. Let’s put that flaw to one side a moment because Zagora is a dangerous, manipulative giant of a man and a great villain.

    Zagora is a renegade holy man out of Russia. He’s set up a bogus retreat centre in the Italian Dolomites where he tends to the troubled minds of rich, impressionable, pliant and important women. His theory of salvation through sin is reinforced by a curious hypnotic countenance which he uses to extract information, sometimes personal and scandalous, sometimes governmental and clandestine. His residence appears to be almost entirely populated and visited by women, excepting a few butlers and the wiry, mute, bird-man Balek, a disfigured giant who carries the Laughing Death virus in his veins. Hood chases Tiara through Europe and tracks her to Zagora’s monastery, where horror lurks in the shadows.

    The novel starts off very promisingly. The prose is swift and undemanding. We are thrust immediately into the story and its protagonists. Mayo doesn’t paint his women in any favourable light. Mind, most of the men are fairly appalling too. Manners don’t come into. Hood barely has a tender bone in his body. The women he meets – who are numerous – are all beautiful, available and young. Many of them are constantly discarding their clothes. This doesn’t distract from the story, which is something of a thrill a chapter if you include all the sexy incidents. It builds fast and sways and dips to climax after climax. [I make no apologies for the pun, it is that kind of novel, although Mayo’s hero lacks any noticeable sense of humour.] There is a magnetic, fearsome villain, straight out of the Rasputin mould, a vicious henchman and a series of chases and fights and gun battles which touch raw nerves. The action is gory and nasty. The sex is borderline pornography. It’s all rather enjoyable.

    Mayo provides grand descriptions of landscapes and townships, art and banquets and wine. He’s particularly hot on Venice and gives its surrounds a nice decadent, decrepit atmosphere. Hood revels in the palaces and trattorias, the swanky hotels and museums. He’s very much at home in Venice – as is the cinema’s version of James Bond – there is something incurably romantic, yet undeniably shadowy about the famous city, its rusty canals and cagy inhabitants. Hood has a nervous, snivelling contact in Arthur Graff, whose decapitated head ends up at the bottom of a glass jar of formaldehyde. He also seeks help from Malaren, a nymphet hand maiden sent by Zagora to seduce him. She ends up trussed to a chair and shot by a bullet intended for Hood. It’s a lucky thing Tiara Evenly only knows one half of each scientific formula or she too might also have met a horrific demise.

    Using her sister, Tickle, as bait to draw Zagora out, the adventure concludes on the Grand Canal with a boat pursuit and a trip to an exclusive health spa where almost every woman is beautiful and everyone is most definitely naked. Pure exploitation and made even stranger by the fact the villain isn’t present, nor is he caught. There is no satisfactory closure to the affair. Zagora, one assumes, is still at liberty. This really isn’t good enough from Mayo. He ought to know better. You don’t spend 180 pages raising the threat level of your chief antagonist and then fail to provide an ultimate confrontation between hero and villain.

    This final chapter is a big disappointment and lets down what is a superior and gripping read. I rattled through the adventure in two sittings and, not for the first time, revelled in the blood and fury, the lust and fornication, the power and dread. It’s a taut, tantalising read, easily digestible and packed full of all the necessary thriller requirements. It is much more escapism than espionage, much more of the ‘Italian spy’ genre than James Bond, who even in his cinematic antics was never so lurid. I can just about forgive the inexplicable flaws because it’s all so brilliantly, maddeningly effective.

    Thumbs up, then, for Let Sleeping Girls Lie.



  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent

    thanks for continuing the Rivals of James Bond series Chrisno1!

    I shall have to look for these books as soon as its safe to enter used bookstores again.


    what other spy series could be included as Rivals of James Bond ? Modesty Blaise would be the obvious one, though we must have an existing Modesty Blaise thread somewhere. John Gardner wrote a spy series contemporary to 1960s SpyMania years before becoming official Bond continuation author. Quiller we've discussed recently.

    conceptually do Rivals have to be from the height of SpyMania? Do Richard Hannay, Bulldog Drummond, and Gregory Sallust count as Rivals, or are they prototypes? I like the idea of swinging 60s London being overrun with Rival superspies all gambling at the same casinos and picking up the same chicks. There'd be actual rivalry if they ever caught onto each other, whereas if there's no temporal overlap they're not technically rivals!

    should they only be literary sourced, as the first three Rivals all have been? if we go with film, teevee and comic book spies from the 60s the list would be endless, but I personally would love to see each and every one of them analysed in encyclopedic detail

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff

    Another enjoyable review, and it makes me want to read the book again (haven't looked at it in many a year).

    Further 60s Bond Rivals? Well, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. should be there I think but not till chrisno1 has finished his look at Charles Hood. And Boysie Oakes as caractacus says above.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    We must have a thread on The Man from UNCLE ? and Modesty too?

    I think to rival Bond, a subject ought really to encompass film and literature, the above would qualify, as would Bulldog Drummond's reimagined adventures of the sixties. After that, I'm struggling as it happens. Jason Love perhaps ? I did some reviews of these characters on CBN a decade or so ago and would like to revisit them, but I'm not sure I have the time or patience - I was unemployed at the time and time and patience was all I had.

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent

    the Man from UNCLE thread was started here by Napoleon Not-So-Solo, and I've bumped it recently meself to talk about season 1. I may open Channel D a second time to file my overdue report on Season 2

    the only proper Modesty Blaise thread I foundis here, surprisingly only two pages. check out Willie Garvin's post 5! well he oughta know, he's a character in all the stories.


    in the General Chat section we have threads on the Avengers, The Prisoner (also covering Danger Man), and a few on the Saint (one of which I have recently bumped meself just the other day).

    Not sure if there's anything for the original Mission Impossible, Get Smart, or I Spy

    a lot of these tv series did have pocketbook spin-offs, as well as comic books and british annuals, so there's prose or at least print versions


    filmwise there's also the two Derek Flint movies, and all those lo-budget Italian knockoffs, including several rival Agent 077s! yes there were at least three rival agents all claiming to be Agent 077 (which I presume was not trademarked)!

    and there was a featurelength Fred Flintstone parody I must watch sometime. of course, even if that was broadcast at the height of SpyMania, Fred Flintstone lived in the StoneAge, thus unlikely to actually crosspaths with any of the above named swingin' 60s superspys.


    in the American comic books there was Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD, Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents, and from Archie comics the Man from RIVERDALE

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff
    edited March 25

    Well, I suggest John Gardner's Boysie Oakes then. Definitely a 60s Bond rival, and by a genuine Bond author (although that came later, of course). Only one movie, for which Shirley Bassey sang the title song

    The Liquidator (1965) main title sequence (Dame Shirley Bassey) - YouTube

    in a very Bond style. A fair number of books, though.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 3,850MI6 Agent

    Our Man Flint and In Like Flint both had tie-in paperbacks published in the USA.

    The Man Called Flintstone was on a double bill with Batman in UK cinemas in 1966. I remember enjoying it as a 10 year old but haven’t seen it since, although have watched Batman many times 😁

    Danger Girl (1998) was a great comic book series, with a very George Lazenby style secret agent working with three sexy female secret agents.

    The Nick Carter series deserves a special mention, over 250 books written by a host of in-house authors who are never named but Michael Avallone, Martin Cruz Smith and Manning Lee Stokes were among the contributors.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 4,055MI6 Agent
    edited March 26

    That sounds absolutely marvellous 😁 Thanks for the review- the ending does sound quite the let down but the rest sounds like ridiculous fun 😊

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    Warning: potential spoilers inhabit this review...

    SHAMELADY

    James Mayo (1966)

    Shamelady kicks off with the murder of a local poacher by the grotesque giant Oscar. The action takes place along the perimeter of a secret installation south-east of Paris. It’s barely relevant, but starts James Mayo’s third Charles Hood thriller in the vein of horrifically muscley encounters for which he routinely peppered his previous two efforts.

    Hood has been sent to New York to watch over Alexis Falkenburg, an Austrian banking operative who has the inside line on playboy-come-gold bullion smuggler Narcisso Rosario. Hood learns that Alexis has died and spends the weekend with Bonbon, a red-haired classy good-time girl he meets at swanky celebrity orgy – minus the celebrities, unless you count a glimpse of playboy-come-gold bullion smuggler Narcisso Rosario. Bonbon gets more than her teeth into Charles Hood. A few days later they bump into one another in London and on impulse, Hood flies with her to Morocco and her friend Narcisso Rosario’s gorgeous coastal estate. Rothsteil’s, the private banking corporation and member of the Circle, had its eye on Alexis Falkenburg as she’d performed a series of dodgy gold trades for Rosario’s companies, mostly undeclared Soviet bullion. They wanted to turn her; did Roasario get to her first? wonders Hood.

    Once the adventure pitches up at El Tabela, Mayo picks up the pace dramatically. Hood drops his guard, becomes fascinated by the intoxicating Bonbon, unaware she’s under orders to seduce him. The urbane Rosario introduces him to his world of thrilling exotica, including elaborate feasts, gorgeous surroundings, orchards, the titular bashful flower, an enormous super-computer and a crazy plan to hijack a Russian cargo plane loaded with gold bullion. Hood also encounters Mayo’s usual range of ghouls in the villain’s entourage: Bendix, a paraplegic security guard; Oscar, the lobotomised boy-giant; Tugan, the split-lipped personal adjutant; the Basque, a pelota playing assassin; Kankin, the wiry, bespectacled Russian planner. As the novel progresses through thrust and counter thrust, from one absurd violent action to the next, Hood single-handedly eliminates all of Rosario’s goons, usually in grisly, unlikely fashions.

    The tale is well-described and has a solid enough plot, which probably tries to touch too many bases – Rosario has been robbing jewellery warehouses and banks as well as smuggling state gold. Mayo’s writing doesn’t neglect our external senses. The sights, sounds and scents, touch and taste of places, people and things is paramount in Hood’s dangerously tailored world. Mayo gives them all a fair lick. We’re never too far away from a sensuous trickle of Roman water fountains, a damson flavoured claret, a Van Gogh mustard sunset or the soft lilting purse of a pair of ruby lips. You get the general idea. We understand Hood is a sophisticate and a glutton. He enjoys his wine and women. He also revels in the violence. The fights appal him, latterly, but he’s almost always stoked with righteous anger. Rosario becomes his Enemy Number One and several times we are told Hood dislikes him, wants to punch him or kill him. Yet he has an unswerving admiration for the man. The good living blinds our bon viveur to the ugliness within. This is about as close to internal emotion as you get in a James Mayo thriller.  

    Oddly we are told Hood falls in love with Bonbon. The feeling is mutual. But this doesn’t stop him chasing after the stunning Alexis Falkenburg once he discovers her residing naked like Robina Crusoe on a deserted coral island. This slightly distasteful scene is pure sexploitation. In fact the whole show has that air of a 1960s European spy flick, where the fights and chases and seductions happen thick and fast and for no apparent reason. The deeper I delved into Shamelady, the more I thought about those almost all forgotten movies like Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die or Our Man in Marrakesh. Even Derek Flint dovetails a little towards this fashion. Like the happenings in those kind of movies, it isn’t entirely clear why Alexis was kept alive.

    The story resolves itself through an untidy series of chapter by chapter, scene by scene standoffs between Hood and each of his antagonists, ending in the prehistoric caves at Giron, Bordeaux. Best of these confrontations is probably the Basque’s pelota bashing, but a wicked fight with an Arab gardener who ends up impaled on his pitch fork is terrifying in its telling. After Hood is recaptured – he constantly escapes, returns, escapes, gets caught – he’s losing his spying touch – Rosario affably readmits him into his grand plan: “You roughed up a couple of the staff. The others took things into their own hands.” Let’s forgive and forget all the senseless killings…

    The most bizarre showdown is with Lulu, the talkative super-computer packed full of witticisms and deadly devices to protect itself. This has all the desperate hallmarks of those cheap spy flicks I mentioned. It’s inventively silly. Mayo hasn’t done his homework though. Even in the 1960s computers were always housed in air conditioned, closeted rooms, so it would be nigh-on impossible for a locust swarm to come to Hood’s rescue. I kid you not. Locusts are one of the world’s most rampant insect pests. They swarm by the billion. They would also ravage Rosario’s orchards, flowers, the whole estate, and this isn’t even hinted at. A terrible authorial oversight.  

    So, did I enjoy Shamelady? Well, if action’s your thing and you aren’t too fussed how or why you got there, it does a grand job. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two Charles Hood’s. Because of the bounties of sexy women, the over-imaginative plot, the sleek teak-like villain, the startling parade of horrid henchmen, the inventive spikes of hardcore violence, it feels almost too over-the-top. Mayo’s reused his own formula, gate-crashed his own party and over-painted his canvas. Yes, the novel is tough on action, gritty and suspenseful. It rarely slackens. Yet, for all the fine recipes – for deed, amore, nourishment and landscape – there is an ingredient missing: Charles Hood and the personalities that surround him lack any kind of soul.

    Shamelady is certainly worth a read, but be prepared only for an action packed ride and characters as thin as a reed. 



  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 3,850MI6 Agent

    Another great review chrisno1.

    ‘Because of the bounties of sexy women, the over-imaginative plot, the sleek teak-like villain, the startling parade of horrid henchmen, the inventive spikes of hardcore violence”

    Your quote is EXACTLY why I remember liking some of these books 😁. In fact, you have inspired me to reread the series!!!

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent

    by coincidence, Shamelady was another name Fleming considered for his property before deciding on Goldeneye.

    in Horowitz's Forever and a Day, the villain's estate is named Shamelady


    I wonder if James Mayo knew this? there were a couple of Fleming bios published in 1966, not sure if any were out when he would have been writing this book

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    Facts on the shame lady flower.

    Mimosa pudica - Wikipedia

  • Sir MilesSir Miles The Wrong Side Of The WardrobePosts: 25,131Chief of Staff

    In the Raymond Benson Bond novels Bond has a villa in Jamaica called Shamelady 🍸

    YNWA 96
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff

    Yes, with Benson dropping strong hints that it's Goldeneye which Bond has purchased and renamed.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    Warning: potential spoilers inhabit this review...

    HAMMERHEAD

    Directed by David Miller

    Produced by Irving Allen

    Starring Vince Edwards, Judy Geeson, Diana Dors, Peter Vaughn, Michael Bates, Beverley Adams, Patrick Cargill

    UK through Columbia (1968)

    When Irving Allen announced an intended three picture series based on James Mayo’s Charles Hood novels, he openly declared: “I’m not interested in prestige productions anymore. I just want to make money.” It isn’t clear whether the first of the anticipated trio did make Allen any money, but it certainly ought to have done as it’s a classy example of the Euro-Spy subgenre which was popular in the cinemas of the late 1960s. In fact, when compared to Allen’s other ill-fated franchise Matt Helm, Hammerhead feels like a completely different type of film. Gone is the easy-going, laid back, disinterest of its cast. Gone are the constant wisecracks and prat-falls. Gone are the crazy gadgets. Gone are the way-out-west plots. Gone is the reinvention of a literary hero. Instead we have a thriller grounded in action and intrigue and, crucially, based firmly upon its source novel.

    John Brinley made an initial adaptation, but Irving Allen brought in his staff writer Herbert Baker, who’d done much to reignite Matt Helm’s flame in Murderer’s Row. Allen paired him with William Bast. This last appointment was probably a softener to actor Vince Edwards, who had worked with the experienced Bast over many episodes of the television medical drama Ben Casey. Edwards was the star of Ben Casey, but whatever his merits it’s painfully obvious from as early as the first scenes that he isn’t going to be capable of sustaining our interest as a hero. Whatever charisma he has is buried beneath an austere smile and a slouched demeanour. He does eventually relax into the role, but appears to lack any sense of ironic fun. He’s also very uncomfortable with the sex scenes – which aren’t really sex scenes so much as ‘sexy scenes’ and I’d use that term cautiously too. In fairness to him, the screenplay generally avoids humour (and sex) and when the laughs (or the sex) are supposed to come, they don’t. In the hands of a more robust director, this might not have mattered so much, but David Miller’s career never quite took off and his best work, like the results here, is sporadic.

    It’s fortunate that the trio of writers don’t abandon James Mayo’s story. They have edited it severely and the ghastly gory bits have been prudently excised, but they’ve still maintained a tough, formidable narrative, with all the main characters and the basic rudiments of the book’s plot remaining. A swinging sixties vibe has been introduced and kicks the movie off with a bizarre contemporary art performance and ends it with an unlikely hippy-trippy dance party. There’s also a nice song from Madeleine Bell (she of Blue Mink) dubbing for Judy Geeson during a nightclub interlude. Herbert Baker was probably responsible for these, as he created similar inserts for his two Matt Helm screenplays. Director Miller is careful enough not to dwell on the contemporary scene; it’s used more as a compass point to the lifestyle of Geeson’s kooky Sue Trenton.

    The writers have clearly read Mayo’s book carefully and figured – as I did – that the author had his hero chasing the wrong woman. In the original, Hood visits a seedy harbour-side nightclub and seduces a barmaid called Kit. She has nothing to do with the villain or his scheme and, while she does assist Hood in his investigations, her unimportance to the main thrust of the story leaves her remarkably impotent. Not so Sue Trenton and the harem-girl Ivory. Although both are central to the story’s resolution, Mayo relegated them to Hood’s sexual periphery and Andreas’ voyeuristic tendencies. I found this odd and so too must have the screenwriters as they make Sue the heroine and Ivory the saviour – as it should be.

    Judy Geeson is distinctly loveable as a young dancer / singer who bags a lift with Charles Hood as they flee the police, who have broken up the indecent art show which played over the opening credits. She’s barely got a stich on, but Edwards’ Hood is much too much of a gentleman to notice. Disappointing. The Bond writers would have known how to deal with this sort of set-up. Taking a shine to her saviour, Sue follows Hood first to Hammerhead’s penthouse and then to Estoril in Portugal. She’s been offered a job at a nightclub where the owners hope she can unknowingly be used to spy on Hood. This is a great expansion of her character and role. Geeson has bundles of enthusiasm, moments of pathos and a natural flair for light comedy.

    Vince Edwards lacks all this in spades, which makes their affair a little hard to fathom. Mind it is a very chaste affair. The cinematic Charles Hood suffers from being undersexed compared to his literary brother. Twice confronted with the desirable and provocative Ivory, Hood spurns the opportunity to bed her. In fact he starts to rough her up in an abortive attempt to gain information. This is a totally unnecessary scene and here the writers should have followed Mayo’s own pages and had the two go to bed. This would certainly give the hero’s persona that wisp of Casanovan devil-may-care. Ivory is deliciously played by Beverley Adams – also from Matt Helm – but her role is underwritten and her appearance at the film’s climax is too convenient; a little more thought should have been put into how and why she rescues Hood.

    So what happened to Kit? Well, in a major switch Hood’s squeeze becomes Hammerhead’s and she’s graduated into looking like Diana Dors and owning Kit’s Klub, the seedy bar where Sue sings and Andreas pervs over the girls. These saucy little scenes are very good. Dors provides a motherly, two-faced shoulder to cry on for Sue. She’s good too when slyly revealing Kit is intricately involved in Hammerhead’s plot. There’s a changing room full of delectable lovelies who provide Hood with vital intel. Joseph Furst (later to be in Diamonds Are Forever) pops up as an admiring customer, but he may as well not be there at all. The mid-section of Mayo’s novel, all the horrific fights and tortures, is virtually non-existent.

    So it’s a surprise to realise the most startling aspect of the film is how gritty it is. This is no lame, tongue-in-cheek saga. There’s a concerted effort to make Charles Hood and his adventures what he is in the novel: a bon viveur, a tough nut and a man for whom trouble really is a middle name. The action starts bright and early. Hood appreciates the canvases in Hammerhead’s penthouse, admiringly reeling off artist after artist. This helps the audience establish Hood’s credentials. On leaving the apartment, as in the novel, Hood encounters Tookey Tate (Jack Woolgar, looking beaten up before he’s been beaten up) tries to help the cat burglar and is then assaulted by two thugs. This is a great confrontation, set in an underground car park, and has all the aggression and viciousness of a Bond fight.

    After a briefing on board an express train, the action transfers to Portugal, a sunny, dusky, scenic relocation for the story – think On Her Majesty’s Secret Service everyone – where Hood boards Hammerhead’s yacht and carries out some snappy investigations. Hammerhead makes a slightly daft entry, lowered in a sedan chair from a helicopter, but he’s impressively filled out by Pater Vaughn. The writers disposed of Lobar’s real name in favour of his pseudonym. This makes explanations easier. They retained Conder’s description of him as being the immaculate conception of evil. They introduce the villain’s Achilles Heel as an addiction to pornography, but other than a couple of well-written comments on the nature of sexual addiction, this isn’t utilised to its fullest.

    Things are over-confused slightly on the yacht, where Michael Bates makes an impression as the clumsy mimic Andreas, but otherwise the adaptation thins out the novel remarkably well. The secret submarine angle is ditched. The doppelganger ruse retained. The action stays rooted in Portugal. Hood’s approach to Hammerhead’s villa, the subsequent fight with the chauffeur and a chase with the police are all solidly, violently effective. The movie slows enough to reignite the machinations of the plot until Hood and Sue are recaptured at Kit’s Klub. Hammerhead begins to put his plan into action. Hood and Sue spend an afternoon trapped in a coffin inside a hearse. This sequence looks better on screen than it read on the page. The climax takes place as Hammerhead tries to escape by being winched up to his helicopter in that sedan chair. Ivory shoots him with a harpoon arrow fired from a speargun. I did say the ending made no exact sense. It was also a little short on genuine excitement. All the real thrills had happened already. There wasn’t even a showdown between Hood and the henchman George, a role for a young and enormously powerful looking David Prowse. I couldn’t fathom why Golos had to be renamed as George, but it’s hardly relevant to the story, so heigh-ho.

    While I might be sniffy about the direction and the writing, it’s worth noting they are both a touch above the usual standard for this type of fare. Equally too the photography from Kenneth Talbot and the jazzy, nippy little score from debutant composer David Whitaker. The sets are gaudy and, importantly, don’t resemble cheap studio knock-ups. They blend well with the exteriors used. The editing is sharp. The costumes are trendy sixties fashions. The strange hippy festival which invades the last fifteen minutes could have been done away with and I would have liked to see more of Ivory, but there isn’t a lot to dislike about Hammerhead, the movie. It’s two biggest pitfalls are its lack of humour and its leading man.

    Humour is always a hard nut to crack. It’s admirable the production team don’t really try. There are some laughs, or attempts at least, but none of it is forced. The cast clearly recognise the movie’s escapist leanings, but playing it straight works better than hamming it up. Unless you play it as straight as Vince Edwards. There really is no excuse for his dry, one expression performance. It’s terrible. People bemoan George Lazenby as Bond, but if you want to witness a real dullard at work, watch Edwards in Hammerhead. Occasionally, his charm and personality seep out, but mostly he keeps it bottled up. This is very noticeable in the opening London scenes and those with Beverly Adams. His posture, facial expression and vocal tone all suggest either boredom or disinterest. The director doesn’t help; instructing your hero to make a salami sandwich while Miss Adams writhes in next-to-nothing in front of him is a cue for disbelieving sniggers. Edwards doesn’t look suave or sophisticated: he looks petrified. Quentin Tarantino, a director I rarely agree with, stated the film needed Robert Culp. I thought the very same thing while watching it. Ideally however a British actor should have portrayed Charles Hood. It’s interesting to note that Irishman Stephen Boyd was the first choice and I reckon he’d have made a solid, if slightly intense, fist of it. 

    I really enjoyed this movie. It’s brisk, fun, exciting, occasionally tense and doesn’t treat its audience as if they’re buffoons. The end does leave a little to be desired, but I’m happy to forgive that. If anything, such a lapse only brings Hammerhead closer in its resemblance to the work of author James Mayo.

    It can be watched on the following link:

    Hammerhead (David Miller, 1968) VO (ok.ru)



  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    Warning: potential spoilers inhabit this review...

    SERGEANT DEATH

    James Mayo (1968)

    Originally titled Once in a Lifetime, my paperback copy of James Mayo’s fourth Charles Hood bears the legend: “with minor additions, published 1969 by Pan Books Ltd.” Hitting the hardback shelves in the UK in May ’68, one month after the movie premiere of Hammerhead, this novel must have troubled the publishers for the title change wasn’t the only alteration being made. Something has gone seriously awry with the author’s fourth stab at the spy genre. The blurb on the inside sleeve reads as if nothing much has changed: sex and sadism never had it so good. Start reading the book however and it feels vastly different. Basically, this is because Mayo doesn’t spend his narrative following the exploits of his hero, which he so carefully and outrageously maintained throughout almost the entire length of the previous three. Sticking to one character’s – the hero’s – point of view often aids a reader’s identification with that person. In Sergeant Death, it is the titular Quartermaster Sergeant Lloyd Bannion who is the primary focus of the swift and perfunctory prose.

    Bannion has been running illegal rake offs from U.S. Air Force stores for five years. He’s got a comfortable life in Tehran. Drinking hard, bullying subordinates and blatantly seducing women takes up the majority of his time. The rest is spent defrauding the military or shipping stolen artefacts to Europe for Iranian smugglers. His contact is the shrewd Ahmad Malik, who is rivals with the South American Franklin Delgado. Malik’s teenage over-sexed wife Zarin is sleeping with them all (and others). She hasn’t yet though got her claws into the archaeologist Helpman, who is singlehandedly digging out the lost tomb of Nebuchadnezzar and unearthing priceless totems. Bannion thinks he can get a bigger slice of the antique action and aims to remove both Malik and Delgado from his path. He reckons without Helpman’s objections or the scrutiny of Charles Hood, who drops into Tehran following a lead about fake objects d’art being sold at Kristoby’s auctioneers.

    Mayo spends the earlier section of the novel following Hood’s path. A murder in Tehran doesn’t seem relevant, until his Paris enquires at Sarda’s sordid little strip club, send him jetting to warmer climates. Iran was a favourite haunt of the decadent rich in the sixties and early seventies, so Mayo’s picked a juicy little location to frame this sex-and-bullets escapade. What he doesn’t do is wallow enough in the territorial landscape. Hood spends most of his time galivanting around the posh international hotels or resorts, private villas and officer clubs frequented by the same hoodlums he begins to investigate. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact Mayo spends such an inordinate amount of time describing the figures of the opposite sex. This becomes a distraction. Although there isn’t very much to distract the reader other than a few rudimentary pieces of detective work and couple of street fights.

    Bannion is a distinctly unlovable character, deliberately I’m sure. The problem is, so too is Malik, Delgado and Helpman. The latter is a selfish egotist chasing money rather than prestige on a bizarre revenge kick against the establishment who have discredited him – rightly – for forgeries and theft. He may be a genius. He’s also an idiot. The other three are all powerful men. Bannion brutally, physically so; he’s a psychopath, rapist and murderer, he just hasn’t been caught yet. Delgado is a strong, wealthy, confident, malicious man, who wants to possess whatever he cherishes, be it businesses, paintings or people through blackmail and wealth. He too has committed untried crimes. Malik uses stealth and secrecy. He’s a go-between, a money-grabber, a sexual deviant. Never have I read of such a distasteful bunch. The deeper I delved into the book and Mayo described their lives and lifestyles, the more disheartening an exercise it became.

    Hood pairs up with the delicious swimmer Debbie Ansell. She’s one of Delgado’s former victims and appears to shrug off the vicious past encounter – a horrifically related BDSM rape – as if it was par for the territory of working for the Circle. Debbie’s so incautious she almost goes through the same motions with Bannion, who stalks her and breaks into her house. Hood claims to love dear Debbie, but given they spend exactly five days together this seems hopelessly romanticised.

    I’m not entirely sure what kind of novel I’m supposed to be reading here. I looked back over my past reviews and noted that my first impression of Sergeant Death was very positive. I wouldn’t say that now. I do acknowledge Mayo’s clever analogy of Nebuchadnezzar’s period of insanity, of which the King famously spent time eating grass in the wilderness; this descends upon the four trophy hunters seeking his sarcophagus. It’s a stretched point and I didn’t recognise it this time around. I will concede Mayo has drawn detailed backgrounds for his protagonists and spends time with each of his characters, allowing us a window into their realm and emotions.

    Sadly, this isn’t enough for me. While Charles Hood is present, he isn’t centre-stage. The novel loses its focus, or rather the series loses focus, because of it. Hood sits drinking whisky sours on the periphery of the action and only becomes involved at the very end and even then he’s as good as stumbled across the situation. So a few nasty murders, some nasty hallucinations of pornographic sex, nice locations nicely described, some nasty rough stuff, a sprinkle of wickedly acid-barbed lines nicely delivered here and there and a nasty taste left in the mouth.

    Overall, nicely nasty or nastily nice. Take your pick.  



       

  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 4,055MI6 Agent

    Really enjoying these reviews, thank you chrisno1

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    Warning: potential spoilers inhabit this review...

    THE MAN ABOVE SUSPICION

    James Mayo (1969)


    I can best describe my feelings towards Charles Hood’s fifth escapade, The Man Above Suspicion, as ambivalent. First off, I must say it has a brilliant cover. Then you open the book. All the ingredients for the recipe of a great espionage adventure are present: intrigue, action, seductive women, powerful villains, beautiful locations, wicked henchmen, boisterous set-pieces, a world threatening plot. And yet, and yet…

    I can’t quite put my finger on the problem; yet there most definitely is a problem.

    James Mayo has constructed a novel essentially of many parts. He kicks off with the strange disappearance of Professor Dunlop and the equally strange treatment of his daughter by a series of innocent bystanders, who, we are led to believe at this point are in on the conspiracy. Mayo then drops this line of enquiry completely and introduces us to Henry Belgeorge, philanthropic businessman extraordinaire, a man who Charles Hood has been ingratiating himself with for the past few months because the Circle reckon he’s up to no good.

    Apparently it’s something to do with oil and the island of St Kilda. Only now Hood is suddenly chasing another industrialist, the mysterious Morrell, who appears to have kidnapped the beautiful perfumiest Kim McClaine for primitive amorous reasons. It isn’t clear why Morrell has bought this little Caribbean enclave, but isn’t for oil exploration; the Circle know there’s none there. As Hood goes undercover, using his rudimentary pilot skills to fly sorties between St Kilda and Guadalupe, he learns there is more to the exotic island than meets the eye.

    The band of assorted hoodlums who occupy Morrell’s Veruna Sands estate are straight out of stranger-than-fiction. Hood takes a dislike to them all. He does a couple of ill-advised recces and discovers a strange disused zoo and an even odder clapboard mansion where he eventually rediscovers Kim, naked and afraid. No, I couldn’t figure it out either. To be honest, I began to lose interest in the story at this point because I had no idea why or what Hood was supposed to be doing. I don’t think the writer did either.

    The novel hangs together by the merest of threads. It’s essentially a series of short vignettes, each on their own fairly interesting, but together they can’t seem to function. There’s a roller-disco interlude in Guadalupe [you have to read it to get it], a beach hut seduction of the beautiful Terry Windmiller, a fight with a bullwhip expert, a madcap escape. Each scene is borderline excellent, but each feels separate to what surrounds it because there’s no commonality, so tension is too easily dissipated and requires rebuilding with each vignette. It reads as if James Mayo created the scenarios purely for his own entertainment with no direction for a coherent narrative.

    This piece-meal building of the story continues when Hood decamps to France, following up on information he’s garnered that Morrell has a secret chemical manufacturing plant there. After a car and a foot chase and a few nights creeping around an old Chateau, Hood is bundled off the Austria, meets Belgeorge, meets Morrell, meets a man wrapped in bandages, meets a dismembered yet still functional brain – yes, he really does – escapes with the help of revenge obsessed Terry Windmiller and eventually, with Kim at his side, winds up in a huntsman’s cottage like Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps.

    It’s all well and good packing in the action chapter by chapter, but I wasn’t learning anything about the dastardly plot or the group of political fascists, The Movement, who orchestrate it along with their rich bastard backers, The Brothers. It was all hearsay. Hood never found incorruptible evidence, he never confronted anyone, the villain never properly explained his schemes – Belgeoge demonstrated it, but this resulted in a man having his head torn off by a tiger, so the ruse was pretty much all set to fail. Latterly Hood spent a good deal of time evading strong men at an Austrian schloss while dodging them from room to room. It was almost like a bedroom farce. I got really bored.

    I at least had some gratification come the climatic couple of chapters, for here Hood encounters the Hammer Horror-like ‘mummy man’ on a train. It’s not explained how the henchman got there, but a vicious fight breaks out. It’s end is suitably gruesome. Nice to know James Bond doesn’t have the copyright on train-fights. We then have a few pages of epilogue where everyone converges on the National Opera House, Covent Garden, and the whole affair is conveniently sorted by a suicide and the vengeful Terry Windmiller. I didn’t believe it for a page. I was also once again reminded of The Thirty-Nine Steps. I felt cheated.

    Perhaps most disconcerting is Mayo’s prose. He does himself no favours by neglecting his powers of description, which are normally very good. I had real difficulty visualising everything in this novel, from hotel rooms to zoo enclosures, chateau to schloss, airfields to theatres, everywhere is a mess of adverbs and adjectives, with no point of order. He’s chosen locations so complicated to explain a reader can’t possibly interpret the action with any pace. To have to constantly reread sections of a book to understand what is happening is a poor show on any author’s part.

    After the mishit of Sergeant Death, I should be pleased that Charles Hood is back centre stage of his adventures, but it doesn’t feel like a reward. The Man Above Suspicion is a slapdash, quick affair. I reckon Mayo wrote it because he was told to, not because he wanted to. A bit like this review, which isn’t my best effort either. Duress must be infectious.



  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent

    Recently came across photos of these two foreign publications of Charles Hood.

    The first I believe is German and is a copy of Hammerhead retitled THE KARATE KILLER

    The second is a Turkish publication entitled BLIND FIGHT, but I have no idea which of the books is translated


  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent
    edited April 17

    Warning: potential spoilers inhabit this review...

    ASKING FOR IT

    James Mayo (1971)

    There is something horribly half-baked about Asking for It, the final of James Mayo’s six Charles Hood thrillers. Firstly, it’s much shorter than all the others; second, there is no direct assignment for Hood; third, it is written in the first person. On the face of it, none of these restrictions should have any direct bearing on the shortcomings of this novel, that they do serves to suggest Mayo was bored with his character and wanted a change of authorial direction. I can almost imagine Mayo [or Stephen Coulter, his real name] sending in a manuscript to his agent and a reply coming back stating: “Very nice, but the publishers really want another Charles Hood.”

    The inclusion of our hero, who dictates the shenanigans of the story into a Dictaphone tape, is entirely superfluous. There is no Circle or MI6. Instead a brief explanation is made at the outset: Hood has been on an assignment to Panama and before his return has chosen to do a little fishing on Lake Nicaragua, holing up in Managua. Hood’s extraneous dictation is for the benefit his superiors, but he holds nothing back, is disparaging about everything and everyone and recites the official document as if he was writing a book [Ah Ha!]. Worse, he even includes sluttish remarks about the Senior Officer of the typing pool, a certain Wynyfrede P. Proxmire, who he knows will be transposing his equally sluttish musings. The local Circle man in Nicaragua is Jack McGinnis – I don’t know if it is just me, but almost every name in this book appears to be deliberately misspelt – and Hood passes him a favour because he has a plane to catch.

    The favour turns out to be Matilda Roebuck, sensual, beautiful, deadly and a magnet for trouble and troublesome men. She wants somebody to protect her from her step-father. He must have a serious attitude problem because McGinnis turns up a corpse and Hood is arrested before he can catch his flight. Cue a Philip Marlowesque detective story featuring a safe deposit box, stolen forged Bearer Bonds, stolen jewels, escaped ex-cons, escaped lunatics, hardmen, tough men, femme fatales and a ventriloquist whose dummy does the killing.

    The flavour of the piece is downright peculiar. Hood doesn’t endear himself to anybody. His debut dictation involves the pornographic description of a young busboy who he believes would make a perfect bedpartner for Miss Proxmire; he proceeds to relate in embarrassingly frank detail how eroticised the young lad would make her. Hood continues in this vaguely titillating vein throughout much of the novel, a vivid and not very welcome extension of Mayo’s less courteous moments of the previous five novels. Hood always had an easy eye and his seduction technique was obvious, but he’s so blatant here it overpowers the whole story. This is a pity as, despite the awkward structure, the plot and its incidents are terrifically well realised and in the main, the first-person telling aids our understanding of Hood’s character. Except this doesn’t read anything like the Charles Hood we’ve come to know and like.

    He’s rude, self-serving, obnoxious and obscene. The cultured, man-about-town on a mission is in there somewhere, but he only occasionally surfaces; generally Hood has sunk to the level of his seedy, threadbare, surroundings. Nicaragua is painted like a wild west town and the protagonists like gunslingers, we even have bandit moustaches and clever gun-tricks. Hood meets a cacophony of crazy characters who are all out to acquire the key to a safe-deposit box packed with riches. As with any decent detective yarn, the reader has a hard job keeping up with the twisting plot. However, Mayo spoils this semblance by having characters appear when and where it suits him, not through any investigation of Charles Hood. This is perfectly encapsulated by a scene where Hood and the delicious Matilda go nude bathing and she suffers sunstroke. This conveniently occurs right beside the dilapidated mansion of master forger Doctor Kinley and it becomes apparent she has faked the illness specifically to lift the safe deposit key from the house. Yet at no point has Matilda ever directed Hood towards this location. They come across it by pure accident. Even if she had known it was nearby, Hood doesn’t and she takes a huge gamble expecting him to discover it. Implausible explanations are a staple of bad detective fiction. This example rankles with me. Additionally, the links between the characters are tenuous and Mayo has to include unseen and unspoken persons to conclude his snakelike exposé. The cast is largely innocuous. They all tote guns and chuckle with impunity.

    Well, I suppose you want to know if the thing’s any good.

    Accepting the constraints of the novel’s structure – the cassette tape idea is justified by a sole red herring – I’d have to say it’s a decent enough punt for a crime thriller. It has a cat’s conundrum of a plot, a lot of toing and froing, some well-realised investigation, a few dead bodies, a contretemps with the police, a couple of violent escapades and it ends on a point of regret and indecision for the hero. The ingredients are certainly worthwhile fare. What doesn’t work is Charles Hood’s [Mayo’s] insufferable dictation, which slows the action and allows the writer to character assassinate his hero. Hood becomes quite detestable and self-serving, even worse, he lacks any sense of humour. Having removed the outrageous, fantasy driven plots of the earlier novels, as well as the memorable, malignant villains, Mayo only has Charles Hood left to play with and he isn’t making an impression on anyone.

    I’ll give a thumbs up to the scheming Matilda Roebuck, a foxy siren straight out of Dashiell Hammett, and the scene with the ventriloquist is genius, but other than that I’m struggling to get excited about this novel. Asking for It is a disappointing finale to a series of novels which promised much, but as it progressed, failed to deliver on its contract. The thrills and suspense might remain, but the narrative drive of worldwide menace thwarted by a globetrotting hero has gradually been eroded and Charles Hood’s adventures have become borderline sex-capades with a hint of viciousness and a tawdry list of associates.  


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