Friday 18 November 2011

The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry (British First Edition, Hutchinson, 1974) and the Q. R. Markham Assassin of Secrets Plagiarism Controversy

Continuing this run of posts on various spy fiction series, here's a novel by an American author who, for reasons I suspect he's none too chuffed about, has been all over the news of late:

Charles McCarry's The Miernik Dossier was first published in hardback in Great Britain by Hutchinson in 1974, a year after the US Saturday Review Press/E. P. Dutton first edition. McCarry's debut novel following Citizen Nader, his 1972 biography of political activist Ralph Nader, it's also the first in what would become a ten-book series featuring CIA agent Paul Christopher (McCarry was a CIA operative himself before turning to writing), members of Christopher's family, and his ancestors.

Now, until very recently I'd never heard of Charles McCarry – I've only really become interested in spy fiction in the last couple of years and have a lot of catching up to do – but the author popped up on my radar as a result of the controversy surrounding Q. R. Markham's Assassin of Secrets, whereby Markham – or, to grant him his proper moniker, Quentin Rowan; given his transgressions he doesn't deserve Kingsley Amis's pseudonymous surname – lifted almost verbatim great chunks of other writers' spy novels and constructed his own piece of espionage fiction out of them. The story has been making headlines in newspapers and magazines over the past week or so, but it was via spy novelist (and friend of Existential Ennui) Jeremy Duns's blog that I learned of it, as Jeremy had written a blurb for Assassin of Secrets before realising what Rowan had done. (Rowan has since explained his actions to Jeremy.)

Inveterate collector that I am, I have to admit I did toy with purchasing a copy of Rowan's pilfered concoction, the recalled-by-the-publisher paperback edition of which is currently fetching silly money on eBay. In the end, though, I decided that to do so would represent an affront to the authors Rowan had ripped off – not that they'll care a fig what I think, mind you, but it's the principle of the thing – and determined instead to investigate some of the original works Rowan had filched from. I was already aware of the post-Fleming Bond novels by John Gardner and Raymond Benson that Rowan had lifted passages from, and of course of Robert Ludlum's novels, from which he'd also stolen, but there was one author he'd ransacked extensively who I'd not come across before: Charles McCarry.

I don't believe The Miernik Dossier was one of the McCarry novels Rowan plundered, but he did plagiarise a number of later books in the Paul Christopher series, notably the second, third, fourth and seventh ones. However, it's always best to start at the beginning, which is why I plumped for a first edition of The Miernik Dossier. And I must say it's an intriguing piece of fiction. Ironically, given the bolted-together-from-multiple-sources nature of Rowan's book, The Miernik Dossier is something of a patchwork quilt itself. It's written in the form of, variously, reports by Christopher, letters, telephone conversation transcripts, diary entries and so forth, all of which go towards building up a picture of a possible defection by a Polish United Nations employee named Tadeusz Miernik.

It looks fascinating, and I'm glad McCarry came to my attention; in a way, from my – admittedly incidental and trifling – perspective, I guess one could make a case for at least some good coming of the Rowan affair. There's a thorough overview of McCarry's spy novels by P. J. O'Rourke here, and a lengthy interview with McCarry here (link via Sarah Weinman). As to The Miernik Dossier, British firsts of the novel will set you back anything from £20 to £100 (and possibly a bit more for a US first), but if you live in the UK, and you're quick (and lucky), there's a copy currently on eBay with a starting price of £7.00, auction finishing 27 November (tell 'em I sent ya). And if old editions aren't your thing, the novel is readily available from the usual outlets.

Moving on, and next I'll hopefully have that Richard Stark review I keep promising, after which it's on with the spy fiction series...

Thursday 17 November 2011

Anthony Price's David Audley Spy Novel Series: Gollancz First Editions, 1970–1976; Price Guide

I promised in Tuesday's post on the first edition of October Men – spy novelist Anthony Price's 1973 fourth entry in his David Audley / Ministry of Defence Research and Development Section series of espionage works – that I'd be following up with a gallery of the initial seven of Price's Audley novels, as (a) with my recent acquisition of October Men, I now have all of them in first edition, and (b) they all boast those iconic yellow dustjackets British publisher Victor Gollancz were famous for. Here then, dear reader, is that gallery.

The yellow-jacket Gollanczes didn't carry cover design credits, but the house style was established by Stanley Morison, a noted typographer and director at Gollancz. As of the eighth novel in Price's series, 1978's The '44 Vintage, the jackets on his books became photographic in nature; I'll be showcasing some of those down the line sometime, although whether that will be as part of this just-begun series of posts on various spy fiction series remains to be seen.

But I can tell you that the next couple of spy series I'll be looking at will both be American rather than British. In the first instance I'll have a post on the debut novel in an espionage series which, for reasons to do with plagiarism, has been making the news of late; and then after that I'll have a run of posts on a spy fiction series starring a secret agent who is forced out of a middle-class retirement writing Western novels and back into a life of violence and treachery. And away from the spy fiction, I'll also have that review I mentioned of Richard Stark's fourth Alan Grofield novel, Lemons Never Lie, before too long (I've been re-posting my reviews of the previous Grofield books on The Violent World of Parker ahead of the new review).

Anyway: on with the Anthony Price first edition gallery. I've linked to my reviews of the first four novels – if anyone knows of useful reviews of the other three, let me know and I'll link to those, too – and included each first edition's current value (depending on condition/scarcity).

The Labyrinth Makers (David Audley #1), Victor Gollancz, 1970 (review here). Current value in first: £150–£300.

The Alamut Ambush (David Audley #2), Victor Gollancz, 1971 (review here). Current value in first: £75–£200.

Colonel Butler's Wolf (David Audley #3), Victor Gollancz, 1972 (review here). Current value in first: £20–£80

October Men (David Audley #4), Victor Gollancz, 1973 (review here). Current value in first: £60–£150.

Other Paths to Glory (David Audley #5), Victor Gollancz, 1974. Current value in first: £40–£100.

Our Man in Camelot (David Audley #6), Victor Gollancz, 1975. Current value in first: £30–£90.

War Game (David Audley #7), Victor Gollancz, 1976. Current value in first: £60–£120.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

October Men (David Audley Spy Series #4) by Anthony Price: First Edition (Victor Gollancz, 1973)

Well then, seems we'd best add messrs Audley, Butler, Roskill et al to the list of spy surnames I teased on Friday. Because, as you may or may not recall, after listing those surnames towards the end of that post, I mentioned I'd hopefully be popping along to the Bloomsbury Etc Book Fair on Sunday, which I duly did. And blow me if I didn't stumble upon this there:

A UK hardback first edition/first impression of Anthony Price's October Men, published by Victor Gollancz in 1973. It's the fourth in Price's series featuring various operatives of the Ministry of Defence's Research and Development Section – in this instance Dr. David Audley and Captain Peter Richardson – and I reviewed the novel itself back at the end of July, just ahead of my two-part interview with Price. However, the only edition I'd managed to secure by that point was a 1992 second impression of the 1984 Gollancz reprint – reason being, October Men is a right bugger to find in first edition, at least at an affordable – ahem – price. Of the five Gollancz firsts currently listed on AbeBooks, only one is in the UK – an ex-library copy, for over eighty quid – and the rest are either also ex-library or scattered around the globe and troubling a ton – as in, £100, although there is one for sale from the States at the moment for much less than that.

But anyway, my point is, the first of October Men isn't readily available in the UK. So I was delighted to find this fine – in all senses – copy at Sunday's fair. It wasn't cheap, but it was still less than half the amount I'd have had to pay for the nearest comparable copy. And considering the splendid state of my one – a bright dustjacket with only the most minor of dinks; clean, fresh, almost unread pages – it could even be considered something of a bargain. Moreover, the acquisition of a first of October Men means I now have in my possession first editions of all seven of Price's novels to feature that iconic yellow Gollancz dustjacket, i.e. David Audley novels #1–7. So, for the next post, how about a gallery of all those firsts...?