Friday 13 January 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Movie Competition: The Two Winners!

Drum roll, please: it's time to announce the winners of my wonderful Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie competition! Yes, astonishingly, I did actually receive a good number of entries for the giveaway, and equally astonishingly almost all of them correctly answered the following question:

John le Carré's novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the first instalment in what's known as the Karla Trilogy, or Quest for Karla; name the second and third novels in the trilogy.

Answer being, of course: 

The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People.

So thank you to everyone who entered, and I can now reveal the two lucky people whose names were pulled out of the "hat". Stand up and take a bow:

Jon Auciello, PA
Carolyn Bostick, NY

You two will both be receiving a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Movie Tie-in Book, T-shirt, Voice Recorder Pen and Post-it Note Cube, courtesy of the fine folk at Focus Features. Congratulations to you both! And for anyone in the States who hasn't yet seen the film, it's still on general release, and you can read my review of it right here.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Review: The Eliminator by Andrew York (Christopher Nicole); Hutchinson, 1966 / Top Notch Thrillers, 2011

On to the second of two posts on Guernsey-based author Christopher Nicole's pseudonymous series of espionage novels starring a state-sanctioned assassin, written under the nom de plume "Andrew York" (one of many Nicole aliases). And having posted a brief introduction to Nicole and a glorious gallery of first edition fillies, today I turn my attention to the first instalment in the nine-book series: The Eliminator.

Originally published in hardback in the UK by Hutchinson in 1966, The Eliminator introduces Jonas Wilde, Great Britain's state executioner. When we first meet Wilde he's on assignment in Barbados, in disguise as tourist Charles Vane, his target a wealthy businessman. Wilde is rarely given reasons for the killings he carries out; he merely takes it on trust that the individuals he assassinates (more than twenty over the course of his career) are deserving of elimination. So when, having completed his Barbados assignation, Wilde is directed by his boss, Antony Canning, to fix his sights on a scientist named Stalitz, Wilde's only reservation is that the killing has to take place in the UK.

Wilde, you see, usually operates overseas, facilitated by what's known as The Route – essentially a cover story, whereby Wilde takes a yachting holiday in the English Channel two or three times a year, stopping in at the small island of Guernsey, which he uses as a back door in and out of Britain, assisted by a small cadre of former state assassins. But Wilde is beginning to question his role as The Eliminator; his last few missions have left him uneasy, and this latest one is equally troubling. And when, having inveigled himself into the west country mansion where Stalitz is staying, the mission goes disastrously awry, Wilde discovers that everything he's been led to believe is wrong...

The Eliminator is literally a book of two halves: the first half, titled "The Assassin", details Wilde's life, his associates, how The Route works, and two of his missions; the second half, titled "The Avenger", then yanks the rug out from under Wilde's feet in spectacular fashion, sending him on a hunt for the man who has betrayed both him and his country. Both parts have their merits – the sequence in part one where Wilde gains the trust of Rhoda Gooderich, the housekeeper at the country estate, is especially delicious – but it's in part two that the tension really escalates, climaxing with a neat, unexpected twist.

Wilde is a fascinating creation: urbane, sophisticated, ruthless, but also oddly vulnerable. His role as executioner would, you might think, require emotional detachment on his part, but perversely Wilde has to work himself up into a righteous rage in order to complete his deadly assignments. Nicole/York is strong on location as well as characterization: I've been to Guernsey myself a few times, and of course Nicole lives there, so his depiction of Saint Peter Port and the surrounding area is spot on. (I also got a jolt of recognition when, in an aside, it's revealed that Wilde's Charles Vane alias has an equally fictional sister in Beckenham – the suburban town where I grew up.)

But the abiding impression one is left with is how elegantly written The Eliminator is – which is why it's so surprising that the Jonas Wilde series has slipped into semi-obscurity. It's something that John at Pretty Sinister Books remarked upon in his recent review, and hopefully something that will be addressed now that Mike Ripley's Top Notch Thrillers imprint is reviving the series. Certainly The Eliminator is a cut above the more run-of-the-mill James Bond-inspired sixties spy boom dross – I couldn't help thinking whilst reading it that, like the Bond novels, it would have made an excellent film – and I'll definitely be returning to Wilde's world before too long.

(UPDATE 1: As John from Pretty Sinister Books has now pointed out in the comments below, the book was made into a film – read his post on it here.)

(UPDATE 2: Mike Ripley has since drawn my attention to this article on the website of Ostara Publishing, Top Notch Thrillers' parent publisher – the article originally appeared in Crime Time – outlining the strange set of coincidences surrounding the reissuing of The Eliminator, not least of which being that Christopher Nicole's yacht, Rose of Arden – the real-life equivalent of Jonas Wilde's yacht, Regina A – wound up in the ownership of Ostara's founder, Andrew Cocks, and consequently can be seen on the cover of the Top Notch Thrillers edition!)

(UPDATE 3: I've since conducted an interview with Christopher Nicole, which explores the Jonas Wilde books and Nicole's wider literary career.) 

And speaking of Bond-inspired espionage, I'll be staying with the 1960s spy fiction for my next run of posts – except the star of this next series actually predates 007. Ahead of that, though: those Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy competition winners revealed...

Tuesday 10 January 2012

The Eliminator / Jonas Wilde Spy Novel Series by Andrew York (Christopher Nicole): Introduction, Bibliography and First Edition Cover Gallery

Well the entries for Friday's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy competition have been trickling in at a steady pace; don't forget you have until midnight EST on Thursday to be in with a chance of bagging that movie tie-in swag, and that the two winners will be announced this Friday. (NB: competition only open to US addressees.) Ahead of that, though, let's return to my series of posts on spy fiction series, with a series of novels starring a state-sanctioned assassin...

I actually have Pretty Sinister Books blog maestro John to thank for bringing this particular (decidedly obscure) spy series to my attention; back in August of last year John posted a review of the first book in the series, 1966's The Eliminator, which had been reissued by Mike Ripley's Top Notch Thriller imprint. (John has since also reviewed the second book, 1967's The Co-ordinator, while Top Notch have gone on to publish the third and fourth.) Written by British author Andrew York, The Eliminator was followed by eight sequels over the next decade, all of them featuring the suave, sophisticated killer Jonas Wilde – the United Kingdom's state executioner.

But the Jonas Wilde books weren't the only series of novels created by York. For not only did York pen four novels starring West Indies police commissioner Colonel James Munroe Tallant (1977's Tallant for Trouble et al) and a trio of books for younger readers starring British intelligence operative Jonathan Anders (1969's The Doom Fisherman, etc.) – plus a couple of standalone works – but under various other guises he also wrote something like 200 books besides, many of those series as well. "Andrew York", you see, was just one of a bewildering array of aliases used by Christopher Nicole, a Guernsey-based author who utilised pen names like Caroline Gray, Alan Savage, Alison York and around ten others to write thrillers, historical novels and non-fiction. (In a neat illustration of the befuddling nature of Nicole's bibliography, in the States the three Andrew York/Jonathan Anders books were published concurrently with the UK editions but under Nicole's real name, and with different titles – Operation Destruct, Operation Manhunt and Operation Neptune.)

There's rather a lot to explore with Mr. Nicole – who I believe is still writing – and I suspect I'll be digging further into his Byzantine backlist in the future. For now, though, let's concentrate on the Jonas Wilde books. I'll be reviewing the first novel in the series, The Eliminator, in the next post (and to prepare yourselves you can of course read Pretty Sinister Books' thoughts on both that and its sequel). But ahead of that, let's have a full Jonas Wilde bibliography-cum-cover gallery. All of the Wilde novels were initially published in hardback by Hutchinson in the UK, and while there's not a huge demand for first editions, some of the books have become remarkably elusive – so much so that I'm still missing two of them. I'll fill in the gaps as and when I manage to get my hands on the two absent volumes (although I have found a front cover image for one of them), but for now – and, to my knowledge, for the first time anywhere – feast your eyes on these first edition fillies (er, plus what seems to be an upturned wheelchair)...

(UPDATE: I've since conducted an interview with Christopher Nicole, which explores the Jonas Wilde books and Nicole's wider literary career.)

Andrew York / Jonas Wilde Illustrated Bibliography

1. The Eliminator (Hutchinson, 1966): dustjacket design by Michael Brett; front cover photograph by George Coral; author photograph by Mark Gerson

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2. The Co-ordinator (Hutchinson, 1967): front cover photograph by Ivor Keenman

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3. The Predator (Hutchinson, 1968): front cover photograph by George Coral

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4. The Deviator (Hutchinson, 1969): jacket ripped on corner, but looks to be front cover photograph by George Coral again

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5. The Dominator (Hutchinson, 1969): front cover photograph by George Coral

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6. The Infiltrator (Hutchinson, 1971): dustjacket design by Keith Inman

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7. The Expurgator (Hutchinson, 1972): dustjacket design by Michael Bramman

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8. The Captivator (Hutchinson, 1974)

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9. The Fascinator (Hutchinson, 1975): dustjacket photograph by Chris Parker