Monday, April 25, 2016

Spy In Black Lace

Spy In Black Lace, edited by Noah Sarlat
No month stated, 1964  Lancer Books

This vintage anthology of men’s adventure magazine stories is thematically similar to Women With Guns, and also shares the same editor: Noah Sarlat. However unlike that superior anthology Spy In Black Lace is comprised of the shorter stories that ran in the Sarlat-edited “Diamond Line” of men’s mags (ie Stag, Male, etc); in other words, none of the stories here are novella-length like those in Women With Guns.

And also I should quickly point out that those expecting Modesty Blaise let alone The Baroness will be greatly disappointed; with only one exception, the women in the stories collected here are not female James Bonds and certainly aren’t the aggressive ass-kicking females so common in today’s action garbage. All of them (with one exception) just use their bodies in the line of duty, relying on sex as their sole weapon. In other words the collection isn’t very spy-fy in nature and is more about gorgeous women using their ample charms to sway various men in the line of duty.

First up is “Lily Stein: Spy In Black Lace,” by George Raffey and copyright 1960 Newstand Publications. Unlike the other men’s mag anthologies I’ve read, Spy In Black Lace doesn’t tell you which particular magazines these stories came from. Anyway this tale, about fifteen pages in length, sets the precedent for the style and length of those that follow. Unfortunately it’s not the strongest opener for the book, as Raffey spins out a yarn that’s mostly told in summary or in the format of a fake article.

Lily we learn is a beautiful young Austrian who in the early 1930s decided like so many other starving young European women to become a prostitute. But Lily became a “high-class” whore and set her sights on bigwigs across Europe. Soon she was wealthy herself, entertaining men from Austria to Paris. Then one day in 1938 she was contacted by the Gestapo and drafted into service. Now Lily would be a spy for them, acting as a courier. But Lily always struggled to be the best and threw herself into spycraft, eventually becoming a capable spy herself – but again, only in the bedroom.

In 1940 she is sent to New York and there brings military officials and businessmen involved in the beginning war effort into her yoke. There’s no sexual material here, by the way, with what little there is relegated to quick mentions of Lily’s nice rack or her and her latest conquest waking up in bed together. But Lily is worried about the security of her dead-drops, where she mails intel to an “aunt” in Switzerland; she’s very happy when a Gestapo contact comes to the US and shows her a new short wave radio. But the Gestapo dude is a double agent, and the tale ends with Lily arrested just a few days before D-Day; she was about to send info about it to Berlin before she was captured. 

Next up is “Madame Li Sang: Bait for an OSS Trap,” by Hal Hennesey and copyright 1961 Newstand. This one’s in first-person and I’m certain the original story carried a fake “as told to” credit; here Hennesey himself becomes the narrator and character, which I’m sure is only via editing trickery courtesy Sarlat. Hennesey himself was a men’s mag editor and published at least two novels in the ‘60s under his own name. Anyway in this yarn “Hennesey” is an OSS agent deep in Central China, surrounded by “Japs.”

Hennesey’s storytelling is much better than Raffey’s in the earlier story; he keeps the tale moving and it’s never relayed via summary. It’s July 1945 and our narrator has just gotten word that “fifty Kamikaze Tokyo-trained Chinese” have been sent into China to kill all American OSS agents. Now Hennesey has to figure out which “Jap agent” is after him. The sole American here, Hennesey is in charge of a group of Chinese soldiers led by Colonel Chou, whom Hennesey calls “Colonel Joe.” Joe’s idea is to have nearby Madam Li Sang call in her eight hookers for a party, get the men drunk, and figure out which one’s the secret agent!

Once again there’s precious little sex, though Hennesey does report to us that Li Sang spends the night with him. This one plays out more like a mystery, with Hennesey suspecting everyone, even Joe, who summarily kills off one man wrongly accused of being the spy. It climaxes with an assault by the Japanese, ending with Joe saving Hennesey’s life from the agent, who has gotten into the camp disguised as a coolie. Oh and we learn one of Li Sang’s hookers killed herself due to a broken heart – she was in love with the guy Colonel Joe executed.

“Suissa Overmaat: Target for Seduction” by Leon Lazarus follows, and it’s copyright 1961 Newstand. Suissa is a busty blonde Belgian who is the “avowed mistress” of a Nazi officer in 1942 Brussels. As in the previous story, though, Suissa isn’t the main character; it’s a Belgian underground fighter named Paul Waldeck who has been tasked by his superiors to “know Suissa well.” Suissa’s open fling with the Nazi has gotten the interest of the underground rebels, and they figure if Paul can get close to her, he can pick up all sorts of intel.

Suissa’s Nazi boyfriend has a map of anti-aircraft weaponry around Belgium; the underground desperately needs this map. Paul plots with a group and ambushes the officer one day as he’s walking out of Suissa’s apartment – the girl is not a spy by any means and indeed has no idea who Paul really is. The officer is killed and Paul escapes, to hand over the map to a young boy before being shot down himself. Suissa we learn is taken in by the Gestapo, interrogated, and then executed off-page. Bummer! But at least the kid turns over the map to the Belgian underground and the Nazis are again thwarted.

“Kim Suim: Prostitute for the Cause” by Alex Austin takes place apparently in the year it was published, 1958 (copyright Atlas Magazines). Kim Suim is “Korea’s Mata Hari” and we learn she eventually opened a whorehouse in Seoul which was populated with girls trained in the Commie arts of seduction. Unfortunately Austin does little to exploit this and instead the majority of the short tale is given over to recounting Kim’s hardscrabble youth in post-World War II Korea. She goes from man from man in a sort of repeat of the storyline in “Lily Stein.”

But one of Kim’s boyfriends is a North Korean spy and tells Kim she’d be a great addition to the Commie effort. Kim becomes a great spy herself, again relegated to screwing UN officials visiting Seoul and sneaking through their briefcases and whatnot to snap photos, which she sends to North Korea. But she has grand intentions and as mentioned opens her very own cathouse, one filled with similar spy-whores. But just as the story’s getting good it perfunctorily ends: Kim comes home one day to find a few plainclothes police waiting for her, and they take her off for a summary trial and execution. The end!

“Violette Szabo: Wild War Widow” by Morgan Bennett follows; it’s copyright 1961 Newstand and is the best story in the anthology by far. It also would’ve been more at home in Women With Guns than any story actually collected in that book, save for the fact that it’s shorter than any of them, again only coming in at 15 or so pages. But this story is the one exception I mentioned above: Violette is really more so a female commando rather than a spy. It’s World War II and the raven-haired beauty, born in France to a British dad and French mom but raised in London, is a commando for the British Secret Service and has just parachuted into the French countryside to kick a bunch of Nazi ass.

The story is mostly comprised of a long-running action sequence with brief flashbacks to Violette’s past. Unlike most men’s mags stories, this one does not start off in the “present” before getting lost in a long flashback; Bennett keeps the tale moving as Violette, along with a male Maquis comrade, blows away hordes of Nazi soldiers with her Sten submachine gun. It’s apparently D-Day and Violette has brought papers that will help the Maquis in their effort to take on the rear guard of the German defenses. Violette is basically a female Terminator, mowing down legions of Nazis.

We learn in the brief flashbacks that her husband was a French Foreign Legionaire killed in combat; after giving birth to a daughter, Violette wanted to go fight herself – “the child brought her little joy.” She’s apparently seen action before but this is her biggest fight, however she injures her ankle and demands that her Maquis comrade rush to safety with the papers. Violette is caught and taken to a prison; there’s a big buildup with the Maquis attempting to bust her out, but they learn Violette has been put through “unspeakable tortures” and moved to another camp. The finale is a depressing series of “Violette was sent to this camp, and then that camp,” vaguely tortured all the while, until she is summarily executed by a Gestapo officer. We learn she was posthumously awarded a medal for bravery.

“Celia: Camp Follower in the Command Tent” is by Harry Harrison Kroll and copyright 1961 Atlas Magazines. This one takes place in 1864, during the Civil War, and given my lifelong disinterest in this area of history I skipped the story.

“Eva Baronet-Petrovka: Afrika Korps Fraulein” is by Arthur Orrmont and copyright 1961 Newstand. It’s similar to the opening story, “Lily Stein,” in that it’s about a sexy German babe who spies for her country, even though she isn’t a full-on Nazi. She does it more so out of patriotic duty or somesuch. At any rate it’s June 1942 and Lilly has been sent to Cairo, where she is to scope out the city in preparation for Rommel’s eventual conquest. She hooks up with a pair of wealthy Egyptian twin brothers, Abdul and Ahmed, steeling herself to the fact that she’ll have to have sex with both of them in order to maintain her playgirl cover – and to use their fancy bathroom to hide her transmitter-receiver.

From there it follows the usual men’s mag template, flashing back to how Eva’s career began. A virgin teen in pigtails, she was chosen due to her beauty to be sent into spy school, where she was taught the arts of seduction, intel transmission, and sex…again, this particular spy’s “gadgets” are relegated to her own ample bodyparts. She hops from bed to bed in her intel-gathering, almost undone at one point by a New Zealand spy posing as a reporter. Eva manages to destroy all of her spy equipment before the cops come, however she’s sent to a prison camp just as a safeguard, where she sits out the rest of the war in relative comfort. Here we’re informed she also learns the truth of the Nazis, turns against them, and “today” is married to a British official involved in the Intelligence trade, acting as a sort of consultant for him.

“Magda De Fontagnes: Everybody’s Spy – Everybody’s Mistress” is by Ted Stoil and copyright 1960 Atlas. It’s slightly longer than the other stories, which is a shame, as this is another that’s mostly told in summary format, or at least in the style of a pseudo article. The tale opens in June 1937 as a lovely young redhead shoots down a French ambassador in a Paris train station. The man lives and the girl is arrested; she claims the man got in the way of her love life. Newspapers will uncover that the woman is Magda De Fontagnes and the person she was having the affair with – the affair ruined by the meddling of the ambassador – was none other than Il Duce himself, Mussolini.

From here the overlong tale is basically just a fake article like you’d read in a regular magazine, as Stoil recounts Magda’s past. She is a triple spy, working for the French, the Germans, and the Italians, but not through any cunning or wickedness – no, just because Magda “loved too much.” Basically in her sexpionage assignments Magda would fall in love with whatever guy she was boffing, to the point where she’d decide to start spying for him.

This leads to the occasional arrest or dramatic situation, like the incident with the ambassador (Magda freed from prison in exchange for spying for France as well). It’s all very dry and not nearly as torrid as it should be, which sums up practically every story collected here. However Magda is the second protagonist in a row to actually survive her tale; the story ends with her final arrest, caught spying for Germany, and she’s sent to prison for 15 years of hard labor.

Overall this was a middling collection. Sarlat had a good idea for the anthology, though; too bad he was unable to find better stories for it. Someone interested in checking out these old men’s mag anthologies would be better suited looking for Women With Guns or even Our Secret War Against Red China.


Marty McKee said...

Leon Lazarus sounds like a fake name, but he was a real person. I mostly know him for the work he did in comic books, mainly for Stan Lee at Timely/Atlas/Marvel. He also wrote stories for Magazine Management, which produced sweat mags and was also owned by Martin Goodman.

SteveHL said...

I'm not sure if you know that Violette Szabo also was a real person, whose life was evidently very similar to the portrayal in the story. There was a movie based on her life, Carve Her Name with Pride.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for letting me know, Steve, I was not aware of the fact that she was a real person.