Saturday, August 07, 2004

Rough Edges

Rough Edges: "By the way, while it was a great TV show, THE AVENGERS may hold the distinction of having the worst series of tie-in paperback novels. The ones published by Berkley and written by Norman Daniels (usually a fairly good writer), Keith Laumer (likewise), and John Garforth (whoever he was) are just terrible, even worse than the I SPY novels by John Tiger (who I think may have been Walter Wager)."

I've never read any of the novels based on THE AVENGERS, but I'm in agreement with James that the writers involved are usually pretty good. Keith Laumer wrote some hilarious SF novels about Retief of the CDT, as well as a pretty darned good Raymond Chandler pastiche, FAT CHANCE, which was made into a movie with Michael Caine. I like the book and the movie, but not everyone agrees with me. And then there's Norman Daniels. I remember with great affection a book called SPY HUNT, which I liked a lot. Later, the main character, John Keith starred in a series of novels for Pyramid Books, but I never liked any of them as much as the first. I believe Daniels got his start in the pulps and maybe was a writer for G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES. James would probably know for sure.

5 comments:

James Reasoner said...

I don't think Daniels wrote any of the G-8 novels, though he may have done back-up stories for the magazine. He was very prolific in the pulps, writing many of the Phantom Detective novels, nearly all of the Black Bat novels, and assorted other house-name characters as well as plenty of non-series stuff under his own name. I have SPY HUNT and the rest of the John Keith novels but have never read any of them. I think Daniels wrote a few Gold Medals, too. As far as I know his last work was the Wyndward Plantation series, published by Warner Books in the Eighties.

Bill said...

Thanks for the info, James. When Daniels developed the series based on the character from SPY HUNT, it was called THE MAN FROM A.P.E. The titles were things like OPERATION N and OPERATION K. He did indeed do some Gold Medals, like SUDDENLY BY SHOTGUN. And I think he even did a nurse novel for GM. I'm too lazy right now to get up and check.

Lee Goldberg said...

John Tiger was, indeed, the charming and gregarious Walter Wager, who recently passed away.

David Spencer said...

Mr. Reasoner speaks only for himself with regard to the quality of Walter Wager's I SPY books. Indeed, as many pulp scribes writing tie-ins did (in those days before VCRs and DVD sets and the notion that all TV script lore must carry over pristinely into other media), he did some re-inventing; devising backstory, code names, and putting Scott and Robinson on assignments of global significance. But he managed, still, to capture the characters (even if it was a capture from his unique perspective), and create a literary equivalent of the "word jazz" that was largely a function of Culp and Cosby improvising to the structural SHAPE of their scripted dialogue, rather than actually delivering what was on the page. Might another writer have better captured some of the more intimate and verite aspects of the series? Perhaps. But Walter delivered the tone of the relationship between the leads accurately and entertainingly (again, within the canvas upon which he chose to paint it) and the books were hugely popular for a reason other than that the franchise was fondly regarded. Walter's style was hugely influential on impressionable minds that would turn to writing careers (mine included) and I've lost count of the readers I've encountered who count the John Tiger I SPYs (as well as the two Tiger MISSION: IMPOSSIBLEs) among their favorite tie-ins anywhere, ever.

That said, I do agree that the quality of the AVENGERS novels was spotty at best. John Garforth (who is actually John Garforth, now a fellow devoted to small town UK politics and community theatre, who had a mid 60s-70s tenure as a British pulpsmith, writing under his own name and ghosting for others) did some lovely stylistic things but missed the tone. Laumer's books were sortakinda okay, but I think he was phoning it in. (By the way, Laumer also did two of the three INVADERS novels published in the US. Like Wager, he changed character backstory -- perhaps the biggest violation altering David Vincent's career from architect to aerospace engineer -- and furthermore, said he'd accept the commission ONLY if he'd be allowed to make those changes. [I corresponded with him when I was a kid and he said this to me directly. As well as admitting that he took on the AVENGERS gigs for the fun and the money.) As to Norman Daniels ... I haven't read his AVENGERS books since I was a teen, so I may find myself shocked upon a re-read ... but I have to tell you, I thought he came admirably close, more so than anyone else. Though I hasten to add, close to what the show had morphed into, once it introduced Tara King. Which is only correct, because the Steed-King pairing was what he was asked to represent.

(Aside to Lee Goldberg: Walter was a friend of mine too -- the friendship actually started after I wrote him a fan letter ABOUT the I SPYs -- and he always spoke very highly of you, and every so often said he wanted to introduce us to each other.)

Bill said...

Thanks for the great comments, David!