Monday, 14 October 2019

The Doomsday Bag (Ed Noon #20)

Ebook cover
Author: Michael Avallone
First Published: 1969
File size/Pages: 477kb / 141pp
Ebook Publisher: Story Merchant Books
Ebook Date: March 2014

I decided to test whether or not you could just pick up an Ed Noon mystery novel and wade in regardless of the number of the book in the series. I had been disappointed with Avallone's Satan Sleuth opener Fallen Angel, but I was already a fan from my youth via his Planet of the Apes and Man from U.N.C.L.E. novels and had promised to look into Ed Noon in the Satan Sleuth review so had to give him a second chance - I figured he earned it just for being Michael Avallone! So I had a browse through the Kindle store at the Ed Noon books that were available (pretty much all of them) and settled on one that had a slightly different, but original looking, cover scan with a naked lady and a classic James Bond pose.

The Ed Noon series ran from 1953 to 1990 comprising of over thirty novels. Noon debuted with The Tall Dolores in 1953, where his character begins his career as a down and out private investigator with a small office in Manhattan, New York which he refers to as his 'Mouse Auditorium'. He is ably assisted by secretary Melissa Mercer. By the sixties Avallone made a strategic move to tie in with the current trend of spy-related media and Noon became the go-to-guy for the President of the United States when ever he needed some investigative work done without the knowledge of the Secret Service or the FBI. Ed Noon became the "Spy to Mr President" and his capers veered more into that world, getting more and more outlandish as the years went by.

The Doomsday Bag is the twentieth book in the Ed Noon series, coming out at the end of the sixties and ushering in the seventies with a story cloaked in the shroud of Nuclear War, Communists and Cuba. The 'bag' being referenced here is a metal suitcase carried by a Secret Service officer, Leonard Kanin, who by virtue of his role to follow the President around wherever he goes, and the contents of the suitcase, holds a most unpopular position which leaves him ostracised from the rest of the Whitehouse security personnel. This is because the case contains the passwords and key codes that can launch the full might of America's nuclear arsenal. It has to be ready and close to the President at all times. Even the President himself feels the influence of Kanin's company and admits it is like having an itch you cannot scratch. Hence, the "Doomsday" bag.

But at the start of this book, Ed Noon is called into the Whitehouse after having appeared at a tribunal in Washington DC, and taken straight in to see the The Man about an urgent matter. The Bagman and, more importantly, The Bag have gone missing. One second he was there - the next gone. Amidst the rush of press and media people at an event Leonard Kanin has disappeared with the most important suitcase in the world. Noon is told by the President to "drop everything and find The Bagman." It's only been a few hours, Noon's presence in Washington is a stroke of luck and POTUS gives him a special card to present to anyone if he has any problems. Effectively the card is from The Man and tells FBI, Secret Service, Police and Armed Forces to assist Noon at all costs.

Avallone sets up his story without any preamble and the reader is propelled into a great race against time with Ed Noon as he strives to work independently to find the codes before anyone else. Almost immediately, upon leaving the Whitehouse Avallone gets the action rolling and I loved it. Noon has encounters with gun-totting taxi riders, bombs disguised as everyday objects (no spoilers here!) and double-crossing spies on both sides of the fence. The writing is fast and furious, Noon stills holds onto his fifties banter as the dialogue flows beautifully. There are plenty of suspects, and the story had a surprise or two I didn't guess at.

Avallone also treats us to some female company for his hero. Noon meets a beautiful journalist in the from of Felica Carr...

There was an aura of fragrance about her that I was sure wasn't any kind of perfume. It had to be her own spoor; a compound of female beauty, soft curves, and bold valleys of womanhood and just plain latent Tiger Lily. Under the ermine that surrounded her exquisite face like a cloud of heavenly Number Nine I was sure was a great lady dying to get out and raise some unpuny Cain.

Noon and Carr make it to bed, and although Avallone describes their encounter, it is delivered soft core and is actually quite delightfully written.

I'm not sure when exactly Avallone introduced the spy element to the Ed Noon books. However, although The Doomsday Bag was written towards the end of the sixties and the campy-spy period, it does not read like a Matt Helm movie and retains a more serious flavour which I preferred. There is a scene where the threat to Noon's life is quite real and it is handled tensely without descending into the use of stupid gadgets or bad one-liners.

Throughout the book there is more than one reference to the assassination of President Kennedy and his brother. There are also some other references to political deaths and I had the feeling that perhaps Avallone was mulling over this history as the seventies approached?

I can say that (at least this) Ed Noon book can be read without any knowledge of previous titles quite easily. There was only one reference to an earlier story, in the appearance of a recurring character, but this did not spoil my enjoyment in any way.

One last point - this book ends in a very strange way, with a kind of postscript cliffhanger - I'm not sure if this is a normal thing for Noon mysteries - grateful if someone could enlighten me?

The eBook cost £3.81 on Amazon UK.