Sunday, 29 September 2019

The Pass Beyond Kashmir

Author: Berkely Mather (aka John Evan Weston Davies)
First Published: 1960
Pages: 252

This is another thriller reprint in eBook format from Ostara Publishing, in their Top Notch Thriller range. My review of The Eliminator by Andrew York was from the same company. They have been putting some very good novels into the  platform.

The Pass Beyond Kashmir was written by Berkely Mather, a thriller writer whose reign during the sixties has somewhat been forgotten all these years later by the general public.

His first novel-length thriller was The Achilles Affair, published in 1959 when he was 50 years old. It was critically lauded - Ian Fleming was quoted as describing it as “one thriller which I can unreservedly recommend”. However, with his second book, The Pass Beyond Kashmir, he drew on his mysterious experiences in India and it established Mather as one of the top thriller-writers of the period. He went on to have fifteen fiction novels published into the eighties.

Mather was born in Gloucester, England in 1906 and died in 1996. His writing career tailed off in the early eighties when he completed a family saga trilogy. The success of The Pass Beyond Kashmir brought him a lot of attention, notably from Ian Fleming, who suggested that Mather should write the script for the first James Bond film, Dr No. A script was already in existence by that time, so Mather took a look and lightened it considerably, injecting some camp satire into the character of Bond. As we all know, under other writers, this was exaggerated enormously in later films. Although he was offered a percentage of the take for his work, Mather disastrously decided to accept a flat fee.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Return to the Planet of the Apes #1 - Visions from Nowhere

Author: William Arrow (aka William Rostler)
First Published: 1976
Pages: 183

Planet of the Apes was massively popular in the UK when I was still in primary school. I can remember being with my classmates and re-enacting chase scenes from the 1974 television series in the playground. I had dark curly hair and my best friend was blonde. So we had to be Peter Burke and Alan Virdon, with someone else playing the part of chimpanzee Galen - whilst every other boy in our year pretended to be part of General Urko's gorilla army and chase us down repeatedly. We used to regularly be 'caught' in the gorilla's nets and tumble over and over on the dirty concrete. Those were the days!

By 1975, the short-lived TV series had gone (I was devastated) and was replaced by a children's animated series, Return to the Planet of the Apes. This new venture did not fare very well and lasted only 13 episodes. I'm pretty sure, at that time in my life, I was of the same opinion that it wasn't very good, and the animation was "rubbish". I would have much  preferred the TV series back and already had copies of the novelisations by George Alec Effinger (one of my favourite genre authors by the way). A number of novelisations of the animation episodes were released, I have no memory of seeing them in the UK, so when I recently was made aware that they were available in eBook format I decided to indulge myself in some nostalgia.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The Eliminator (Jonas Wilde #1)

Author: Andrew York (aka Christopher Nicole)
First Published: 1966
Pages: 196

In my last blog I reviewed the first Jonathan Anders novel Operation Destruct by Christoper Nicole. This book was aimed at the young adult market in the early seventies. It sparked my interest in Nicole's other work and pretty quickly I landed upon a series of espionage novels he wrote under the pen name of Andrew York (one of Nicole's many many pseudonyms) that involve the character of British spy Jonas Wilde.

There are nine books in the series, all of the with very similar titles ending in "..ator", such as The Dominator, The Predator, The Deviator etc. Published regularly between the years of 1966 and 1975, ending with final book, The Facinator. They were published in the U.S. by Berkley Medallion Books with some great artwork covers. I could not find any U.S. Berkley version of the The Eliminator other than the film tie-in pictured below. If anyone has a copy, I'd love to see it?

Friday, 13 September 2019

Operation Destruct (Jonathan Anders #1)

Author: Christopher Nicole
First Published: 1969
Pages: 209

There is an old saying, "never judge a book by its cover". George Eliot used the phrase in The Mill on the Floss in 1860. It was further popularised in a 1946 murder mystery novel by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller, Murder in the Glass Room, when they had a character utter "You can never tell a book by its cover." It feels most appropriate for Operation Destruct by Christopher Nicole.

I was drawn to this novel by the rather attractive cover with its title design vaguely reminiscent of Doc Savage paperbacks by publisher Bantam Books. A seated man that looks to me like actor Lee Majors with a pistol in his hand, an attractive young woman behind him, and a burning boating slowly sinking. Looks like it might be up my street I thought. A little investigation turned up information; there are three Jonathan Anders books in the series by Dell. This being the first, the second being Operation Manhunt and third Operation Neptune. All three were produced with the same composition (see foot of this blog entry). I think you'd agree they are quite attractive.

Monday, 9 September 2019

High Citadel

Fontana (1990)
Author: Desmond Bagley
First Published: 1965
Pages: 255

After being disappointed with Alistair MacLean's Bear Island, I was slightly reticent to jump immediately into a book in a similar thriller vein by his contemporary, Desmond Bagley. However, it seemed that from everything I read in Facebook groups, comments about Bagley were all positive with examples such as, "never read a bad one" or "always enjoyed his books". I had nothing to worry about surely?

In fact, Desmond Bagley's first novel, The Golden Keel, published in 1963, was the the first book I ever read on an ereader. It was probably free! I remember enjoying it, but the memory is clouded; the experience of reading an eBook for the first time and the wonder of how this new type of device would effect my reading in the future overwhelms any detail of the novel. Bagley died in 1983, roughly twenty years before electronic paper was incorporated first into the Sony Librie. I wonder what he would have thought of ereaders? He took an interest in computer programming during his lifetime, and was an early adopter of personal computing to aid his work as a writer, perhaps he would have embraced it?

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Bear Island

1973 Fontana edition
Author: Alistair MacLean
First Published: 1971
Pages: 280

In 1971 Alistair MacLean was on a bit of a roll. He had just come off the back of the books Puppet on a Chain and Caravan to Vaccares* (both of which had originally been planned to be film scripts rather than novels) reaching highs of No.5 and No.6 on the New York Times bestsellers list. After six consecutive years of an annual release from 1966 to 1971 MacLean fans would have to wait until 1973 for the next fiction story from the master storyteller.

The main protagonist of Bear Island is named Marlowe, a nod to Chandler perhaps? Rather aptly it is a murder-mystery. It was to become the last novel that MacLean wrote in a first-person narrative style.

Bear Island takes place in two key locations. A converted fishing trawler named The Morning Rose, and the ubiquitous Bear Island, the southernmost island of the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago. A frozen and inhospitable place - perfect for some rip-roaring action and adventure (if only that were true).