Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Denis McLoughlin Designs: Amateur Agent by Christopher Adams, alias Kenneth Hopkins (T. V. Boardman, 1964); Book Review

NB: Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

I've just two further T. V. Boardman thrillers to blog about before moving on to other matters – both of which happen to be spy novels hailing from the early 1960s; both of which were written by British authors under non de plumes; and both of which boast dust jackets designed by Denis McLoughlin which will, of course, be making their way onto the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page. Let's take a look at this one first:

Amateur Agent by Christopher Adams, published in hardback in the UK by T. V. Boardman in 1964 (British Bloodhound Mystery #467). "Christopher Adams" was an alias of Kenneth Hopkins (1914–1988), an author who published seven crime novels and mysteries under his own name from 1955 – The Girl Who Died (Macdonald) – to 1963 – Campus Corpse (Macdonald) – plus one pseudonymous spy thriller – Amateur Agent. But Hopkins was also a critic, a man of letters and a poet, as a footnote in the third volume of C. S. Lewis's Collected Letters reveals:

[Hopkins] ...was born in Bournemouth, and after leaving school at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a builder's merchant. In 1938 he set out to sell his poems from door to door. He eventually made his way to London where he came to know the anarchist and publisher Charles Lahr and his circle at Lahr's Red Lion Street bookshop. After serving in the Second World War he worked as the literary director of Everybody's, a magazine concerned with social justice. Later he lectured on English literature and taught creative writing at several North American universities. [Hopkins published a book about one of his visits to the States, A Trip to Texas, in 1962.] His autobiography, The Corruption of a Poet, was published in 1954. His championship of the cause of the Powys brothers... reached its zenith with his biographical appreciation, The Powys Brothers (1967). He was an active member of The Powys Society.

Hopkins's background as a poet can certainly be glimpsed in Amateur Agent. A lively location-hopping tale of mistaken identity, wherein Jim Stone, a British car salesman vacationing in Mexico, gets mixed up in a plot to transport military plans to Cuba, the novel comes across as a more violent version of North by Northwest, but some of the descriptive passages are quite striking, especially those set around Teotihuacan. Indeed, Hopkins paints vivid pictures of all of the novel's various locales, and mixes smart-alec banter with jarring scenes of torture and bloodletting, all of which serve to keep one on one's toes throughout. It's a shame the book, like all of Hopkins's novels, has fallen out of print; the Boardman edition was its only outing and it's consequently become quite scarce (AbeBooks lists just three copies at present, one of those lacking a dust jacket).

Still, at least we all get to gaze upon Denis McLoughlin's evocative wrapper for Amateur Agent – which has taken its rightful place in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design gallery – and as a result of this 'ere post there's now a little more information about both the novel and its author available online. And I'll be providing a similar service with the next post too, as we head back to 1961 for a Cold War espionage tale by a novelist who was obsessed with nuclear annihilation...


  1. A few years before this book was published, Hopkins taught English for a semester or two at The University of Texas at Austin. My roommate was in his class, and I met him and talked to him a couple of times. Seemed like quite a nice fellow.

  2. Aha, I was going to mention that he taught at the University of Texas, Bill, but I couldn't verify the info I found online. Thank you for that! If you or your former roommate can recall anything else about Hopkins, do let me know.

  3. Sad to say, my roomie passed away earlier this year. He'd have been tickled to see this review. Both of us read one of Hopkins's books that semester, but after all these years, I can't recall the title. I'm pretty sure this would have been in 1960, but it could've been in '61. I remember that Hopkins wore a somewhat shabby black suit both times that I met him, and that my roomie called him "Hoppy," though only to me, I'm sure.

  4. And by the way, thanks very much for this memory. I hadn't thought about this in many years.

  5. Don't mention it, Bill. Glad this post could jog some happy memories. And thank you for the additional background on "Hoppy"!