Friday, April 20, 2012
Forgotten Books: The Dead Line -- Philip McCutchan
As you'd expect, Commander Shaw is pretty much a Bond clone, except even more suave and attractive to women. He's a magnificent physical specimen, and he has a great car. He smokes, too. Everybody did, back in the old days. The book opens (as a lot of spy novels did) with Shaw recovering from wounds received on his previous assignment. He's doing some surfing to tone up, and of course all the young women on the beach swoon over him. Also of course in only a short time he's become one the best surfers around. Now, however, it's time to get back to work, so he gets put through some tough exercises by his handlers and proves that he's aces.
Then he learns about his assignment. This is a very '60s novel, with the commies stirring up "the Coloured elements" and doing a bang-up job of it. Shaw's sent to Harlem, where a woman falls for him at once and gets involved in some really serious action that even includes a tiger. In an apartment. Things get even more bizarre later on. (Spy novel plots got more and more outrageous as the years went on for writers not following the Le Carre model.) It's kind of hard to get past the racial elements of the plot here. It might have been good fun in 1966, but it's not so much now. Still, McCutchan had a flair for this kind of thing, and the book zips right along. Maybe I'll read another one someday.