Spy Pit (1967)

Here’s a fun take on the usual Super Spy movie: have the hero be something other than the usual square-jawed Anglo. And it works. Roger Hanin Plays “Saint-Dominique” who travels all over the world trying to uncover a sinister plot to Destroy Civilization As We Know It. And it has Margaret Lee as a love interest.! Also known as Berlin Apocalypse.

Mr. Ten Percent (1968)

In Mr. Ten Percent, George Martin) (AKA Francisco Martínez Celeiro) stars as a rogue agent who steals from cooks, then returns the loot to the police for 10 percent of it’s original value. More of a crime comedy than a spy movie, it has elements of the swinging 60′s spy craze. For instance, the name “James Bond” keeps getting tossed around as a running gag. Also known as Sigpress Against Scotland Yard. And it features Klaus Kinski as the faithful manservant Periwinkle.

Vienna Spy Hunt

Vienna Spy Hunt: a fun little German spy movie from 1965. Among the stars in this movie is Terrance Hill, who would go on to play the hero in the “Trinity” western movies.The plot: a group of spies run around Europe looking for a stolen device. The Eurospy craze was just starting to kick in and you can see some ideas which were developed later. The movie has been known under countess other titles (note the poster), but I like mine best. Sorry about the Greek subtitles, sometimes you have to take what you can get. Once again, the real credit for these film’s preservation goes to the fans who match up different sources to get a decent original.


Thrillers and More Thrillers, Edited by Robert Arthur (Windward Books, 1973)

pulp Thrillers and More Thrillers was one of the many young adult short story collections Robert Arthur released in the 1960′s. Remembered as the creator of The Three Investigators, Arthur was a workaholic writer who cranked out an enormous amount of words until his death in 1971. He also edited many of the “Alfred Hitchcock” story collections which lined bookshelves in the 1960′s.

My encounter with Thrillers came during 5th grade. The teacher had received a new consignment of books that day and I, ever the eager bookworm, couldn’t wait to get to them. But my friend Dave beat me to the pile and snagged Thrillers before I could get to it. And oh that hardback edition looked swell. I had to wait an entire week to get my eyes on the pages. Was it ever worth the wait! Naturally, Dave kept telling me how great the stories were while held onto the book.

The first story, which I had somehow managed to not read when I was 9, is “Mr. George” by August Derleth, the famous writer, publisher and hold of the torch to H.P. Lovecraft. A young child is left alone in a big house when her mother dies. She’s already been making regular trips to the grave of “Mr. George” who may or may not have been her real father. Greedy relatives move into the house and hatch a plan to see that the child is eliminated by “accident”. But a spectral presence has decided to thwart their evil deeds.

Next is “The Calamader Chest” by Joseph Bayne Brennan. It scared the pants off me the first time I read it. The story still holds up. A young man buys an interesting chest from an antique dealer. He doesn’t know the history behind it. One night, he spies a human finger emerge from the chest and start scratching at the lock. Is he dreaming or is it something else?

“The Poison Necklace”, by Miriam deFord is another one I couldn’t forget. A gifted chemistry student creates a necklace display of toxic crystals. But a young boy grabs the display with a handkerchief and takes it home. You’re left wondering who will finally make the fatal contact with the deadly arrangement.

One of the lengthiest, and one of my new favorites in the collection is Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Bottle Imp”. Stevenson had relocated to the pacific islands when he wrote the story and was immersed in the various Polynesian cultures. The story is about a demon trapped in a bottle who can grant wishes (with some restraint). However, the person who owns the bottle will be condemned to hell should they die with the bottle in their possession. Also: the owner can only get rid of the bottle by selling it at half its value. The story concerns a Hawaiian native who comes in possession of the bottle and what he does with it.

And there’s “Faith Hope and Charity”, by Irvin Cobb, about three criminals who will do anything to escape their appointment with the executioner. They do manage to get out of jail, but death is still waiting for them. A grim tale, which I managed to miss on the first read.

“Ms. Manifold”,by Stephen Grendon: a traveler takes a room at a London flophouse. He discovers the proprietress had a husband in the distant past. No one seems to know what happened to him, but the narrator finally discovers the truth of his disappearance.

Finally, there;s “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” from Thomas Burke. The story is told in the second person about a strangler who manages to avoid the police at every turn. Finally, an inspired journalist discovers the identity of the killer. And he makes the wrong choice about going to the police with the evidence.

The collection also features the amusing “My Displaced Ghosts” by John West and Poe’s classic “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The illustrations by Saul Lambert gave me plenty of nightmares.

It’s a little hard to believe this story collection was marketed toward kids. Nowadays, no publisher would even touch theses subject matters for the young adult market. I don’t know why. I seemed to have turned out alright.

Lone Wolf (1968)

I came up with this title translation for the french movie from 1968 starring Danièle Gaubert. Originally titled La Louve Solitaire, it was released in the US under the name Golden Claws of the Cat Girl. I’m guessing The Solitary She Wolf, a direct translation, just wasn’t marketable. The movie was based on a series of novels about the cunning cat burglar turned government agent by Albert Sainte-Aubre (non which have been translated into english).

Beautiful Daniele Gaubert plays Francoise, a former trapeze artist who makes her living as a realtor by day and a thief by night. The french government arrests her and makes an offer: break into a safe at a foreign embassy or go to jail. Reluctantly, she decides to work for the secret service.

She assigned another agent, named Bruno, to work with her. Bruno has a talent of his own: he can lip-read. Struck deaf by a bomb blast as a child, he was forced to read lips to understand the people around him. While diving as an adult, he suffered a pressure injury which restored his hearing. The plan is to have him read a diplomat’s dialogue with a telescope and send Francoise over the roof in her Diabolik cat-suit at the right moment.

But the ice-cold Francoise and the wounded Bruno develop feelings for each other, which complicates the mission. And this is really the best part of the movie. I had to play to back several times just to figure out what was happening between the two. It doesn’t end well, unfortunately.

I’m sure the movie had an influence on the first La Femme Nakita move and the entire Girls Who Kick Butt genre.

This isn’t a perfect movie by any means. Gaubert is just a little too cold to be a good lead. She’s also way to tall to be a the convincing acrobat needed for the role. But I do admit her cat-suited scenes are spectacular.

DANCING BEAR by Oren Sanderson

Dancing Bear by Oren Sanderson (Amazon Digital Services, 2014)

spy novels 2 pulp crime novels


Dancing Bear by Oren Sanderson is an espionage novel based of one of the experiences the author had while working security at the Israeli embassy in Boston:

“My most remarkable case was that young lady who entered the Consulate on false claim- asking to see me for special visa extension request- and then refused to leave. It was a few years after an Israeli diplomatic crate, on its way to Israel, was mistakenly opened in the airport of Rome in Italy, and a cuffed man was found inside. That young woman begged and insisted that she should be shipped to Israel in such diplomatic crate.

According to her story, she was a part of an Israeli student union In MIT- perhaps the most prestigious Ivy League university in our area. The student union was managed by two famous Israeli students, sons of well-known right wing families in Israel. Now, she said the union is blamed for spying in the U.S., and it’s our duty to smuggle her out of the country. The procedure on such cases is clear and sharp- we are not allowed to deal with it. I however couldn’t resist calling one of these students. He clearly said that not only she is not part of the union, but as a matter of fact, he never heard her name before.”.

The book begins with the narrator, David, spending another day at the Israeli embassy, dealing with the usual parade of petitioners who come into the secure antechamber. The exact date of the narrative is never given, but it seems to be around 1990. He asks them what they want, notes their arrival and tries to find someone in the diplomatic corps to answer their questions. He’s being doing the security job for some and enjoys it.

David is the son of a college professor and an Israeli woman from the back country. His mom ran off on him at an early age and his dad spent most of the rest of his life chasing after skirts. Danny, holding went back to Israel, became a paratrooper, but eventually went back to the US where he received a law degree. Needless to say, he finds himself caught between two worlds.

But when a stunning women enters the visitor’s area and pleads to see the diplomat with tales of “information vital to the survival of Israel”, David becomes a little too interested. Soon he finds himself head over heels in love with this fallen bird and ends up taking her to a friend’s house for safekeeping. And it gets worse: He abandons his job at the embassy to hide out with her on Cape Cod. Soon, he discovers several groups are chasing after the both of them.

His friends still at the embassy try to get him to see reason, but David hooks up with some expat Israel friends for help. Then he has the girl snatched right out from under him. It all has to do with a covert operation she was running for the Israeli government. The Israeli secret service has obtained documents the American government wants back. Or is she making the whole thing up?

The author managers to throw a lot of characters at the reader in the space of the novel. There’s a former Israel fighter pilot. Two arms smugglers. An auto repair shop run by Israeli mechanic. And a pizza shop which serves the best schwarma on the East Coast.

There’s a gruesome description of the nerve gas attack on a Kurdish village by Saddam Hussein’s army:

“The first ones collapsed seven minutes after the shelling started; the last, ten minutes after it stopped. Over 5,000 people died. Their bodies were piled one on top of the other, their skin covered in blisters, their eyes wide open and their faces twisted in an expression of unbelievable pain. Fluids continued to drip from their bodies for days afterward.”

It’s a convoluted novel with more surprises than a house of secrets. You have to read to the final page to understand the title of the book. I admit to being a little surprised by the ending, but it was consistent with the plot.

Ultimately, the novel comes down to trying to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. It’s a recurring theme in espionage fiction. Rather or not it’s resolved depends on your point of view.



ETHIOPIAN STORIES by George Schuyler

ETHIOPIAN STORIES by George Schuyler (Northeastern University Press, 1994)

pulp crime novels One of the things you notice about the pulp era (1928-45) of American fiction is the lack of Black writers or characters. What few characters of color in pulp fiction tend to be embarrassingly racial stereotypes, with few notable exceptions. Even The Avenger’s Black aids were noted as being honors graduates from a historically Black college (as if to reassure the White audience). I can’t help but speculate if Black pulp magazines did exist and just never survived the paper drives of WW2.

The only Black American pulp writer I can locate is George Schyler (1895-1977), who wrote several novels satirizing race relations in the US. 20 years ago, Northeastern University Press began reissuing his books. Black Empire (1936), which he published anonymously in the Pittsburgh Courier. I once checked the book out of a library, but never had the chance to finish it.

Ethiopian Stories consists of two novellas: The Ethiopian Murder Mystery and Revolt in Ethiopia. Both were published in Black American newspapers in the 1930′s. Ethiopia, an ancient Christian empire which dated back to the Roman era, was invaded by Italian Fascists in 1935. The plight of the Ethiopian people was constantly in the news at the time.

The Ethiopian Murder Mystery takes place in New York City. Harlem to be specific. A suspicious murder is tied to Italian secret agents and Ethiopians in exile. Revolt in Ethiopia has rich Black American Dick Welland and his valet becoming mixed up in the liberation of occupied Ethiopia. The first story is a standard murder mystery. The second is more of an adventure story.

I wonder if regional Black American publications might hold other treasures waiting to be found.