Wednesday 25 January 2012

Desmond Cory's Johnny Fedora Spy Novels: Feramontov (Feramontov Quintet #3, Frederick Muller, 1966) and Timelock (Feramontov Quintet #4, Muller, 1967)

I had intended this to be the final post in this current series on British author Desmond Cory's Johnny Fedora spy novels... but on reflection, I've decided to extend the run slightly. I'll explain how and why at the end of this post, but first, having reviewed books one and two in what's known as the Feramontov Quintet – the five-book series-with-a-series which finishes off the Fedora thrillers, and which all pit Johnny against Soviet spymaster Feramontov – Undertow (1962) and Hammerhead (1963, alias Shockwave), let's take a look at two further Feramontov novels I've managed to find in first edition.

First up, a British hardback first edition of Feramontov, the third book in the Feramontov Quintet – and the fourteenth Johnny Fedora novel overall – published by Frederick Muller in 1966. The jacket design is credited to Klim Forster, about whom I've been able to determine very little, although he did illustrate the cover to the 1967 Macmillan edition of Jean Stubbs's My Grand Enemy, and a 1972 Daily Telegraph Magazine article titled "The Major and the Macaroni" by journalist and Labour MP Chris Mullin (whose excellent diaries are well worth a read).

I mentioned in my introductory Desmond Cory/Johnny Fedora post that many of Cory's Fedora novels have become decidedly uncommon in first edition (or any edition in some cases), and although the Muller first of Feramontov isn't the scarcest of the Fedoras, it is still in short supply: AbeBooks currently has just three copies listed, one of those lacking a dustjacket. Set once again in Spain, the story sees Feramontov eliminating British agents; on publication in the States the novel was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review alongside Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Octopussy, the latter dismissed as "a thin and even emaciated volume", while Feramontov was hailed as being full of "colorful action, copious carnage, elaborate intrigue, frequent surprises" (see article "The Evolution of Desmond Cory" on the Desmond Cory Website).

Cory was often compared with Fleming, even though Johnny Fedora beat Bond into print by two years (the debut Fedora outing, Secret Ministry, appearing in 1951; Casino Royale wasn't published until 1953), and the second Feramontov Quintet novel I'm showcasing in this post was even more directly contrasted with Fleming's work – and just as favourably:

First published in hardback in the UK by Frederick Muller in 1967, Timelock is the fourth Fermaontov novel (and the fifteenth Fedora outing). The jacket design in this instance is credited to Abis Sida Stribley, a designer who was also a photographer; Stribley's photographs illustrated the original 1965 Woman's Own serialization of Agatha Christie's novel At Bertram's Hotel (I'm assuming the photo on the cover of Timelock is Stribley's, too). Set, like the other Feramontov novels, in Spain, Timelock is notable for the fact that Fedora and Feramontov actually meet this time; previously they'd only set eyes on each other from afar.

I bought this copy in Dim and Distant in Heathfield, East Sussex, but the Muller edition is practically common as muck in comparison with other Cory firsts: AbeBooks currently has a staggering five copies listed (although one of those might be sans jacket). As mentioned above, Timelock was again juxtaposed with Fleming's 007 adventures, this time by writer and critic Anthony Boucher, who wrote in his New York Times Magazine column Criminals at Large: "I must say once more that I find Cory's Johnny Fedora a much more persuasive violent, sexy and lucky agent than James Bond." (Again, see "The Evolution of Desmond Cory" on the Desmond Cory Website.)

I had, as I say, planned to leave it at that for now for the Cory/Fedora posts – I'm still on the hunt for an affordable first of the final Feramontov – and Fedora – novel, 1971's Sunburst – but I do actually have in my possession one or two other, earlier books from the series (I've been a busy little bee, as per usual), one of which is particularly exciting. So rather than save those for a later date, let's carry on with Cory a wee while longer, with another first edition showcase post... and another review.

Before that, though, look out for some breaking news regarding a different spy novelist – a contemporary of Cory's whose novels are all out of print... but not for much longer...


  1. Feramontov was nearly made into a film in the 70s. A shame it didn't make it since the plot was better than any Bond movie plot I remember. None of Cory's books were filmed, but I see from his website that Fedora novels like Timelock have been published some five times. I guess they sold well to be reprinted so often.

  2. Boucher hated Fleming and Bond. So no surprise there.

    The illustrator Klim Forster. Let's see what I can dig up on him...

    He graduated from the Beckenham School of Art, class of 1962

    He did some work for Sports Illustrated in 1965.

    In 1970, he illustrated "Return to the Alcazar / The Firstborn" by
    Elisabeth Kyle.

    Klim Forster also did drawings for the Sunday Telegraph serialization of John Pearson's 1973 Bond novel, that authorized biography thingy.

    In 1974 he did drawings for the Glasgow Herald's serialization of Frederick Forsyth's "The Dogs of War".

    "Communications" by David Sprake [illustrations by Graham Higgins and Klim Forster]
    Publisher: Oxford Oxford University Press 1981

    He did line illustrations for Andy Durham's 1987 book "Tennis", pub Octopus Books.

    He put the following ad in a 1993 issue of "The Artist": "DRAWING AND WATERCOLOUR TECHNIQUES WITH KLIM FORSTER — Professional tuition in relaxed atmosphere. Small groups suitable for beginners and improvers."

  3. more Klim credit for you.

    "Squash" by Malcolm Willstrop; foreword by Jonah Barrington; line illustrations by Klim Forster. Octopus Books, 1987.

  4. Wow, thank you for the further Klim Forster info, and for that little nugget about Feramontov nearly being turned into a film. If I actually made any money out of Existential Ennui (the opposite being true, sadly), I'd hire you as a researcher!

  5. Johnny Fedora novels were popular in Germany. Schatten über Madrid and Kennwort Zeitblockade I still have in my collection.
    I liked your review on Under Tow. These last reviews are more about the covers than the plots. Can you tell us more about them and what you think?

  6. Good to see such comments. Small correction on one of the comments. A number of Desmond Cory books were made into films, such as DeadFall with Michael Caine ('deadful' film; decent book), and Circe Complex. None of these were Fedora novels, confirming that Cory's contribution was far wider than the Fedora novels.

  7. Thanks for the compliments, except there are two different anonymous posters. I did the Klim Forster research. Some other chap mentioned the almost-but-not-quite film of Feramontov.

    All the same thanks, on both our behalves. I'm sure the other chap whoever he is feels as I do. It's nice helping a blogger without going to the trouble of running the blog ourselves. Especially when blogger always posts such fascinating articles and has a yen, as I do, for 60's and 70's spy fiction. It all went downhill in the 80's with those 500 page technobabble Clancy wannabe deadweights and delusion semi-illiterate Ludlum doorstoppers.

  8. Jurgen, I take your point about wanting to know more about the plots of Feramontov and Timelock, but the plain fact of the matter is, I haven't read 'em yet!

    I guess I should probably make it a bit clearer somewhere on this blog how Existential Ennui works now that it's a bit more widely read, but generally speaking, a post with the word "review" in the title will be a review of that book, and a post without the word "review" in the title... won't! It'll be an examination of a book's cover design, or publication history, or collectability, or all of those things. That'll either be because I haven't actually read that book yet but still want to write something about it – in which case I'll likely follow up with a full review down the line – or because I've already read it (or reviewed it) and yet find that particular edition interesting (because of its cover, pub history, etc.).

    In the case of these two books, then (and in fact the next two fedora books I'll be blogging about), I'll be posting full reviews at a later date. So essentially, you get double the enjoyment! (If "enjoyment" is the right word...)

    Desmond Cory Webmaster (whatever your name may be...), thanks for the minor correction. If you have any other corrections on my actual posts, please don't hesitate to let me know and I'll fix 'em.

    Anonymous: see, this is the trouble with anonymous commenting: I can't tell one undercover commenter from another! But nice work on the Forster info, and glad you enjoy my shoddily researched posts anyway... although I fear I may plummet in your estimations soon, as I am planning some Tom Clancy posts...

  9. Just googling my father, Klim Forster, and found your site! He died of Alzheimer's last year and we were never terribly close as he was a bit of a difficult man (artistic temperament, possibly!) I don't know a lot about his early years as an illustrator, so it's lovely to see that there are still some pieces of his work out there in the ether. I keep nagging mum to take me up in the loft and see if we can dig out any of his old book covers, or anything else. His father Reg Forster was an illustrator, too. Pretty successful, I think. My husband was thoughtful enough to trawl the internet for copies of the books he'd illustrated and gave a load them to me for Christmas one year. Life With the Cowboys if one of my favourites. Glad to know someone out there appreciates his undoubted talent.

    1. Sorry to hear about your dad, Rosie, but glad you found this post. I'd be interested in learning some more about your dad's work, so let me know if you do make it up to the loft.

  10. Hi Rosie.
    I've been trying to find out a bit about Reg Forster and haven't been getting far, so I'm hoping you can help! I collect books by Kathleen Fidler, and the series of books she wrote in the 1950s about a family called the Deans were all illustrated by Reg Forster. I love the illustrations, and wanted to know a bit about Reg's life - where he came from, lived, studied - that sort of stuff. Can you help?