Monday, June 18, 2018

The Co-Ordinator (Jonas Wilde #2)

The Co-Ordinator, by Andrew York
No month stated, 1968  Lancer Books
(Original UK edition 1967)

The second installment of Jonas Wilde is one of the best Bond cash-ins I’ve yet had the pleasure to read. While I enjoyed the first volume, this one had me entertained from first page to last. If anything it frustrates you that Christopher “Adrian York” Nichole didn’t go on to fame and fortune as the author of this series. And it’s also too bad there was never a film version, though judging from Danger Route the producers likely would’ve failed to reap the potential of this installment, too.

It’s four months after The Eliminator, the events of which are referred to throughout this one, so I’d advise reading it first. However Wilde is the only major returning character; he’s now in the Isle of Wight, still living on a boat, and still part of the “Disposal Unit” of British intelligence. I don’t think we were given the name of his outfit last time, nor were we informed, as we are here, that Wilde’s codename is “The Eliminator.” Anyway he’s still the official assassin for Her Majesty’s government, but hasn’t gotten any assignments since the previous book.

Nichole elaborates on other elements that went undisclosed last time. For one, that the Russian agent who was behind the destruction of the Disposal Unit is named Laurent Kieserit; he’s a KGB director, and he also happens to have been the father of Jocelyn, ie the woman Wilde wanted to marry, but who turned out in the finale to be a deep-cover operative sent to kill him. Now Kieserit himself is in England, having finally tracked down Wilde in the hopes of killing him, and not just for having killed his daughter. To this end he’s retained the services of Russia’s version of Wilde, a guy who looks like a banker and turns out to be hilariously ineffectual.

Wilde takes care of the would-be killer and breaks with protocol, contacting HQ in London. Here we meet Mocka, who I assume will be a recurring character in future volumes; several years younger than Wilde but his new boss nonetheless, Mocka is a shady spook who operates out of a portrait studio. He doesn’t like Wilde and considers him a harbinger of earlier, more savage times. Regardless, he has a new mission for Wilde: he’s to go to Copenhagen and kill Gunnar Moel, a WWII pilot turned “co-ordinator” of a spy ring turned famous fashion designer(!). Wilde mulls for just a bit over how coincidental it is that Mocka happens to have an assignment for him at this moment, given that Mocka has ignored him for the past four months.

This then is similar to the previous book: Wilde goes off on the job, uncertain if he’s being used for more nefarious goals. After hitting on Mocka’s hot secretary Julie, complete with a trip to Carnaby Street to pick up some mod clothes for his cover as a trendy apparel buyer, Wilde is on his way. He’s to be escorted into and out of Copenhagen by Inger Morgan-Browne and her husband; Wilde meets her on the train ride, and of course she’s a gorgeous blonde with a phenomenal body. But there’s much more to Inger than that, and indeed she basically steals the novel. She’s German, but speaks several languages – “I am what is termed a genius,” she informs Wilde, and indeed she is, with arrogance to spare. In fact she sort of reminded me of the female Terminator in Terminator 3 of all things, even down to checking herself out in any mirror she passes.

One of the many enjoyable elements of The Co-Ordinator is the dialog between Wilde and Inger. Wilde as ever delivers several humorous quips, very much in the vein of Connery’s take on Bond, mixed a bit with Moore’s later take on the character – at least in how Wilde has suddenly taken to referring to all women as “darling.” Expectations that the two will go at it, per genre demands, are soon dashed: “You are confident that you can induce me to enjoy an orgasm and that afterwards I will be your slave,” Inger tells Wilde, denying him the pleasure. She’s all business, and claims to be happily married to her arthritis-ridden, wheelchair-bound husband, Christopher.

Whereas the previous installment lacked a memorable villain, this one delivers in a big way: Gunnar Moel lives in an ultramod house of purple carpets and white walls; he’s a big guy with gray hair and dark glasses. The glasses have a wire that goes into a front pocket; Gunnar (as York keeps referring to him; odd to refer to your villain by his first name) is blind, having lost his sight in a plane crash, and now sees via a “sonic torch” method. I took it to basically mean he sees by a sort of radar, his glasses picking out colors, which he interprets accordingly – ie the white floors, etc. In pure Fleming mold he’s given to grandiose speechifying, in particular a padded bit where he traces a bikini design on the catsuit of his top model/assistant, Hulda, a smokin’-hot busty babe with short black hair.

The reader expects for the long haul to get even longer as Gunnar, still going on and on, insists Wilde join him in a game of bridge. Then Nichole throws such expectations out of whack with the arrival of Gunnar’s unexpected guest – Laurent Keiserit. Wilde springs into action, taking out Gunnar with his preferred execution method – shuto chop to the base of the skull – and tries to take out Keiserit as well. The taut scene features Wilde hiding in Gunnar’s spacious home while henchmen shoot at him, eventually making his escape in the freezing cold. Meanwhile Keiserit escapes, and Gunnar has been taken out, though a few days earlier than the strict timetable he was to follow. 

Nichole continues to twist expectations; Wilde makes it back to his hotel to find Christopher Morgan-Browne shot through the head. Wilde captures his killer, one of Gunnar’s henchmen, and when Inger shows up, having returned from “a Beatles film” (my assumption is it must’ve been a second run of Help! given that it’s 1967 and all), she cooly takes charge of the situation. Plus she isn’t too upset by her “husband’s” death – he was just a fellow agent, plus a pretend cripple to boot. Just to repeat, Nichole does excellent things with the character of Inger; despite her arrogance and duplicity, she comes across as one of the more likable, three-dimensional characters I’ve yet encountered in a novel.

Speaking of duplicity, Inger tells Wilde she’ll go along with him…then doses him with a drug when he falls asleep. Perhaps my only problem with The Co-Ordinator is that hero Jonas Wilde is in a drugged stupor for nearly a quarter of the narrative, led around by Inger like some automaton. Her goal is to take him to Kieserit, still back at Gunnar’s place, and use him as leverage for her own hiring into the KGB. Inger is unaware though that she’s captured Jonas Wilde, who we learn this time is legendary in the world of espionage. Wilde does use his superhuman powers of self-control to attempt a few failed escapes, but still this sequence is kind of a bummer because our hero is rendered so incapable for such a long stretch of time.

But things pick up in a major way in the final half. While Kieserit and Hulda disbelieve Inger’s story that she’s captured this British agent and brought him back as a sign of good faith for hopeful KGB employment, one person does believe her – Gunnar himself, who turns out to still be alive. Given that his neck was previously broken in that plane crash, something Wilde was unaware of, he was able to survive that shuto chop to the skull. Or something. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff here where Gunnar relays Inger’s horrific past, how she was raped endlessly as a 14 year-old by Russians in the immediate weeks after World War II, how Gunnar saved her, rats running over them all night as they hid from the Russians, how he had plastic surgery performed on her face so that it would match the beauty of her body.

Things get even more, uh, “wild” when Gunnar reveals that he’s into cryogenetic research and has a freezing facility beneath his place – built by the very same doctor who not only repaired Gunnar’s neck but also gave Inger a new face. After making Wilde and Inger strip down, Gunnar first toys with Inger a bit more, threatening her with some starving, freezing rats, and then he insists that the two go into the freezing chamber, where they will be cryogenically frozen. Gunnar intends to join them, planning to sleep for about thirty years, figuring that the world will be an “easier place to live in” by then. So that means they’d be waking up in 1997 – just in time for gangsta rap!

Gunnar’s plan is for the three of them to take advantage of this new world as a team – he likes Wilde, despite the latter, uh, trying to kill him, and he considers Inger his soul mate or somesuch – he has only been threatening her due to her quick betrayal upon thinking Gunnar was dead, blabbing about how much she disliked him. This leads into another very tense scene, where a naked Wilde must use his hand-chopping skills to get them out of the cryo chamber – not to mention a rather unusual method for warming up their bodies! Yet again though I have to mention that Christopher Nicole has this incredibly strange method of having his characters have sex but not outright stating that they are – the sleazy stuff always happens between sentences, to the point that if you don’t read carefully you’ll miss it. Bummer!

While there’s no sleaze, there’s some awesome pre-PC stuff which would enrage the feminists of today: Inger later declares that, for the first time in her life, she “felt like a woman” after Wilde made love to her – not that this stops her from again trying to kill him in another tense scene, one that features everyone shooting at Wilde in a darkened room. But after all the cryo chamber insanity, the climax is a bit underwhelming, almost comically so – it features Wilde slowly walking after Gunnar and Inger along the streets of Copenhagen.

This time Wilde truly carries out his assignment, leaving a frozen river to do his dirty work. Upon his return to London he discovers that Mocka was in fact using him – at the behest of Lucinda, the CIA agent who briefly appeared in The Eliminator. And meanwhile Kieserit is still out there; it appears that he will be something of a recurring villain in the series. Inger returns in the fifth volume, The Dominator, and I look forward to meeting her again; for some unfathomable reason, that fifth volume is pathetically scarce. It was never printed in the US and the UK copies are all priced in the stratosphere on the used books market. But the trash gods smiled on me and I got a copy for a pittance.

Anyway I really enjoyed The Co-Ordinator; it’s a shame this Lancer paperback itself has become so scarce, as more people should be aware of the adventures of Jonas Wilde. (Of course you could always just order the US hardcover via Interlibrary Loan – as I’ve mentioned before, if it came out in hardcover, you more often than not can get it via ILL.) This one’s entertaining throughout, with some wonderfully-realized characters, a memorable villain, and a sort of sci-fi flair. I have a suspicion though that, like The Sea Trap, this one will be an anomaly in the series, and posthaste we’ll return to the “realism” of the first volume.


Applebetty said...

I think if the title needs to be broken up that badly, it's time to redesign the cover...

Grant said...

Someone commenting on the previous book compared it very indirectly to the Destroyer series, and the second paragraph of this review definitely made me think of that, especially the book I'm so big on, Destroyer # 5. Partly because the character only kills bare-handed, but for another reason. I wonder how many Men's Adventure books (even ones with ruthless protagonists) would have the protagonist kill a femme fatale, then kill her father when he tries to get revenge!