Sunday, December 22, 2019

Malko #2: Operation New York by Gerard de Villiers

In 1962 the tidal wave that was James Bond washed up a million spies ashore in film and books. The shaken not stirred cocktail that is Ian Fleming's secret agent code-name OO7 was irresistible and the public quickly wanted more and more to satisfy the spy-fi habits. Every pulp-writer worth his salt took up pen to write about some sort of agent, British, American, French,official or unofficial, private eyes became spies, cops became spies, everyone got in on the phone, it didn't matter they just hoped that they struck gold and got some of the Fleming-level recognition (and money) for the work.

Pretty much no one did.  Bummer. But a few captured energy and excitement of Fleming's early Bond novels.

MINI-RANT: With "Casino Royle" Fleming was simply trying to bring the Sapper "Bulldog Drummond" school of English thriller in to the modern post-W.W.II world of blood, guts and sex. He was writing pulp of the English variety. As he wrote he wrote with more authority and literary intentions. By the time you get to the "Blofeld Trilogy," comprising of "Thunderball," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "You Only Live Twice" he's shattered Bond to his core and is working to rebuild him before Fleming's death. Without a doubt Fleming's greatest achievement is "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," Bond has grown up with his readers and dealt his baggage enough to fully fall in love again, after the events of "Casino Royale." Bond at this point isn't the Bond of pre-Thunderball, he's more reserved, thinks more, acts less and generally more morose. Fleming may have grown old and tired of writing tales of derring-do and beautiful women. The later books are extremely well-written and fascinating looks into the end of one of the most recognizable characters ever created. BUT to me they are simply lacking in what I want to read in escapist fiction. So, yeah if you have never read a Bond book, first off shame on you, second off don't expect the movies and thirdly start with the early books and work up through the series. I'd suggest "Moonraker," and "Diamonds are Forever." "Moonraker" has the best example of the full blown "Fleming-Sweep," of escalating action which really didn't start until the second book "Live and Let Die." "Diamonds are Forever" is the dark-horse I'll recommend cause it's kinda just Fleming going through the motions, but it's motions by this books that he's perfecte.

Okay, now that that is all out. I found myself in a quandary. I wanted more 60's spy thrills in the vein of the early Fleming's. Some series quenched the thirst quite well James Mayo's Charles Hood books were close, ditto with James Dark's Mark Hood books, the two of which I always confuse myself with. Nick Carter Killmaster by Nick Cater would certainly do but with an army of ghostwriters you never knew what you were going to get. Mark Denning's John Marshall books are shamefully unknown. In the Gold Medal World Edward Aaron's Sam Durrell, Richard Telefair's Monty Wash or Earl Drake by Dan J. Marlowe could pass the time. Recently Michael Kurland's War Inc. books proved to be excellent examples of the genre. Only Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm and Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise ever came close to the pure excitement of a Bond book.

Then I met Malko or his His Serene Highness, an Austrian Prince with a crumbling castle and bills to pay. So what does he do? A former arms dealer, he works for the CIA to pass the time and soak up some cash. Each of the Pinnacle books start off with a "dossier" on Malko, his habits, accomplishments, weapons and beverage choices etc. etc. to get you to know the man, the myth, the legend that his Malko. Over TWO HUNDRED BOOKS he, together with Turkish former-killer butler Elko and later his girlfriend/fiancee Alexandra, Malko fights killers, Nazi's, enemy agents of all nationalities, and has TONS of sex that's always told in a blatant kinky detail. Malko is the epitome of the "sex and snobbery" school that Fleming created told in a undeniably French manner.

Gerard de Villiers created Malko in 1965 at the height of Bond-mania and wrote with the gritty authority of the journalist that he was but with enough the fantasy (and sex) that readers craved. They craved it so much that he wrote and wrote and wrote right up until he died, Malko tackling each modern problem that came up in every corner of the world.  See Malko lives in a world of grimy spies and killers that de Villier's rips from real-life. de Villier's had a network of friends and sources on all sides of the espionage world, he uses real-life figures to blend realism into his escapism true to life spycraft that was read by real-life counter-espionage agents, diplomats, kings and presidents. It's a surprising mixed drink of a book. I really don't think the series should work. It's all too gimmicky, a prince spying for the CIA with fictitious versions of real people running around and car chases, and gun fights and brutal torture? It should be too much to take in.

But nope, it's perfect. The books read like hard R-rated espionage fairy tales for adults.

"Operation New York" was originally printed in French in 1968 as the 11th in the series, it was also published in English in England (makes sense) as "Black Magic in New York," which is a spiffy title. This edition was the second book that Pinnacle put out to bring Malko to the Americans. The risk with translated fiction is having a translated that can speak the language but who also can write, because when you translate you are essentially rewriting a novel. I don't speak French so I'll never know what spark I may be missing from de Villier's writing but luckily the translators working on the Malko books did a fine job in making highly readable books. No. 2 finds Malko set-up in the most spectacular way. After being drugged and tattooed the word is out that he is actually Rudi Guern an asshole Nazi who's been in hiding since after the war. Malko now has to find Guern to prove his innocence. To do this he will wade through Nazi's, nazi-hunters, women, witness horrifyingly brutal torture and perform some masochistic sex, you know for the greater good. Malko isn't the most active hero in this book, I think he was still forming as a character for de Viller's at this point or things were lost in the translation (literally) but he's durable enough and produces enough charm to keep the book moving along at a Grand-Prix level pace. According to the OUTSTANDING Spy Guys and Gals website the translator for this books was Nicholas Leonard and it may or may not be the only one he did so he might not have proven to be a good fit for the series. This book is probably not be the best place to start with the books which can be read in any order. I started with #7 "The Countess and the Spy" which was translated by Lowell Blair who did a good chunk of the series and I read it in nearly a sitting. Blair also translated a couple books in Jean Bruce's longer running OSS-117 French spy books that pre-dated Bond and Malko, but that's a tale for another time.

Pinnacle bottomed out at producing 15 translations which just really blows. One more came from Medallion Books and recently five modern books from fancy pants-publisher Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, which is far too few books for me. Unfortunately people have caught on to how good Malko is and the books (save the Black Lizard ones) are hard-to-find and pricey but they are worth it.  Maybe I just need to learn to read some French, there's a whole world of pulp existing just beyond my reach which is a shame. But I mean I have thousands of books unread in a language I can read so maybe it's for the best not to add. My shelves might not be able to take it.

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