Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dossier IX

Dossier IX, by Barry Weil
June, 1970 Pyramid Books

Published in the UK in 1968, Barry Weil's spy novel Dossier IX was released to the US market in 1970 by Pyramid Books, sporting the greatest cover blurb I've yet seen:

The freakiest sex. The wildest action. The far-out "in" thriller of the year.

Which should pretty much whet the appetite of any devotee of trash fiction. Unfortunately, the novel fails to deliver on the hyperbole, being instead a rather dull and routine spy thriller with the occasional bizarre touch. The cover had me hoping for some sort of late '60s TNT sort of thing, but Dossier IX is very much in the mold of Ian Fleming.

Jacob Asher is an Israeli secret agent on loan to British secret service, where he's assigned a headlines-making case: a traitorous British agent has escaped from prison and Asher must find him. Asher follows the trail to Paris, where he works with a cynical French agent named Cassegrain. After a run-in with a beautiful Arabic prostitute who tries to kill him, Asher realizes his cover has been blown and eventually learns that a group of Arabs were behind the attempt. This section of the novel is quite relevant, as the Arabs are attempting to gain atomic weaponry for their homeland and have worked out a deal with various levels of the French government.

Asher is called back and forth from Paris to London; much of the novel is wasted with meetings in which his British superiors recap everything that's so far transpired, as if we readers haven't been paying attention. Eventually sent to Switzerland where he works with a gorgeous French agent codenamed Minou, Asher at length tracks down his quarry, and it's here in the final pages that the bizarre stuff occurs. Most notably, one of the villains dabbles in necrophilia, and Asher comes upon a large formaldehyde tank filled with the corpses of three nude women.

Weird stuff for sure; unfortunately the rest of the novel fails to match it. Actually, I found the whole thing boring. Lots of talking and exposition -- and to make it worse, Weil is a terrible practictioner of POV-hopping. One paragraph we're in one character's head, the next we're in another character's...on and on until we feel like we're watching a ping-pong game. It's a terrible and confusing thing for the reader to experience and it's something every writer should stop doing right now.

All told, the novel is a slow-moving, dialog and narrative-heavy affair, the few sex and violence scenes dulled by the overly-complex writing style. So unfortunately, Dossier IX was a chance discovery that didn't pan out for me: kudos though to whoever at Pyramid wrote that cover blurb.

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