Television writer and producer James Mitchell penned two series of spy novels of note in his near-fifty year career. The first, a four-book series starring gunrunner-turned-secret agent John Craig, written under the pen name James Munro, ran from 1964–1969; the second, a five-book series starring British Intelligence assassin David Callan, spinning out of the Mitchell-created Callan TV show, ran from 1969–2002. I profiled both series last year, reviewing the first book in each – respectively The Man Who Sold Death and A Magnum for Schneider, alias A Red File for Callan – and showcasing first editions of almost all of the other novels – almost all, because there were two I hadn't at that point got my clammy hands on. Fortunately, in the interim, I have; and so, seeing as I reviewed the second Callan book, Russian Roulette (1973), last week, I figured now's as good a time as any to showcase them. Oldest first, I think:
The Money That Money Can't Buy by James Munro, published in hardback by Hammond in 1967 (dust jacket design uncredited). The third John Craig spy thriller, Kirkus Reviews describe it as "Just so much spy schmaltz", which seems a little harsh to me; of the Craig novels, I've only read The Man Who Sold Death thus far, and though I wasn't as keen on it as I was A Magnum for Schneider, it wasn't that bad, and given the kind of writer Mitchell was, I can't imagine the quality of the series plummets too dramatically – a supposition supported by Existential Ennui reader Darryl Crawford, who commented on my John Craig post that the later books have "some of the coolest villains this side of Modesty Blaise", and Randall Mastellar at Spy Guys & Gals, for whom "the stories are good reads and the character does come up with a couple of the greatest one-liners I've ever read".
I found this first edition on an all-too-rare-these-days trip up to London (I moved down to Lewes from London nearly six years ago), in the basement of Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road. (On the same trip I also secured a vinyl copy of my album of the year from last year, Everything Everything's Arc, in Sister Ray on Berwick Street, which I was immensely pleased about because it's incredibly hard to come by on vinyl.) I think I paid about a fiver for it, which isn't bad considering the Hammond first isn't exactly in abundant supply – there are at present only half a dozen copies for sale online – and especially not in the UK, where I can currently only see one jacketless (I believe) copy for sale online (offered, coincidentally enough, by fellow Lewes exile, and fellow blogger, Steerforth).
Even scarcer, however, unless you're prepared to put up with an ex-library copy, is the Callan novel I secured:
Bonfire Night by James Mitchell, published by Severn House in 2002 (shortly before Mitchell's death that same year), jacket photograph by Ute Klaphake. The fifth and final Callan novel, there was a near-thirty year gap between this and the previous one, 1975's Smear Job, and according to reports from Existential Ennui commenters it's either "a bit weird" (Stuart Radmore), "confusing, and reads more like a script than a book" (Saz), or is "Mitchell... operating at the very top of his game
in this dense narrative" (the aforementioned Darryl Crawford). Given which, the best thing to do, I imagine, is to read the book oneself and make one's own mind up, which ordinarily would mean stumping up at least twenty-five quid for an ex-library copy of the Severn House edition – the sole edition of the novel to date. Seems the vast majority of the print run of the Severn House edition went to public lending libraries, and even my copy, which I won on eBay (in the end for less than twenty quid), while it isn't ex-library, was evidently intended for libraries:
The book's case replicates the jacket front and back as a PLC (printed laminated cover), rather than the more usual Arlin over boards, suggesting it was bound with libraries in mind. Where it actually ended up, though, was with Mitchell's agent, as evidenced by this stamp on the front free endpaper:
All of which makes one wonder if the entire print run was bound for libraries. Anybody own a copy of the Severn House edition which doesn't sport a PLC...?