Monday, June 20, 2016


Spykill, by L.W. Blanco
No month stated, 1966  Lancer Books

I had no idea when I picked it up, but Spykill turns out to be the work of veteran hardboiled writer Lionel White, who six years earlier published the heist thriller Steal Big. I’m not sure if White wrote this one as a contractual obligation or to pay off a debt or even just for booze money, but surely it must’ve been written at least partly in jest, as evidenced by the goofy pseudonym he used, sort of a Spanish play on his name.

Cashing in on the mid-‘60s James Bond craze, Spykill features virile, tough, and ultra-wealthy secret agent Tommy Marco (identified as Thomas Jefferson Marco on the back cover) in his one and only adventure. Marco is basically James Bond meets pre-seclusion Howard Hughes. A lanky Texan with incredible wealth who owns a series of airliners, businesses, and whatnot, Marco flies about the country on his own plane and occasionally helps the US government in the fight against foreign espionage. It’s never mentioned how Marco got into this, what exactly qualifies him for it, so you just have to take it for what it is: a pulpy spy yarn.

At least, for the most part it is. Betraying his hardboiled past, White still finds a way to make Spkykill come off like a Gold Medal paperback from a decade before, as halfway through Marco finds himself in Vegas, confronted by a variety of gangsters. But that’s just one of the plots. I was only joking about the “booze” above, but as I read this book I began to suspect that Lionel White might’ve had some problems with the bottle, or at the very least couldn’t figure out how to plot a spy caper. Spykill starts off about one thing, changes into another, changes into yet something else, and then quickly wraps up in a few unsatisfying pages. The one thing I can be sure of is that it was quickly written.

Maybe White just wasn’t comfortable in the spy genre – according to Will Murray in the The Armchair Detective volume 15, number 4 (1982), White’s one and only contribution to the Nick Carter: Killmaster series, The Mind Poisoners (1966), had to be extensively rewritten by Valerie Moolman. Spykill was published that same year, so one wonders if this is what White’s original manuscript was like before Moolman reworked it. At any rate hero Tommy Marco is more along the lines of another Bond imitator, Mark Hood, in that he’s globally famous and uses that fame as a cover for his secret agent work. Unlike Hood Marco doesn’t have any fancy karate moves, and unlike Nick Carter he doesn’t rely on gadgets; his sole weapon is a .38 revolver, which again more so calls to mind White’s hardboiled work.

Marco when we meet him has been contacted by Greybone, Marco’s shady government contact; it’s never stated who exactly Marco works for. The complicated plotting begins here, as Greybone details how the Commies are using a small New York art museum as an info drop. In particular an 8-inch nymph statuette is being used to convey information; the original, it’s been discovered, was lead coated in gold paint, but the Commies don’t know this, and thus they have been replacing it with a replica of real gold. Apparently they’re stashing info in the statuette, and the prime suspect is an auburn-haired beauty named Carla Jason, who serves as secretary for a broker named Sigrid Winterset.

This proves to be the plot for the first quarter, as Marco meets with Winterset, claiming to want to hire him for a European deal – and meanwhile hitting hard on Carla. “Hitting on Carla” doesn’t really sum it up; rather, Marco bullies her, instantly assuming she’ll want to have dinner with him now and sex with him later. Carla bickers back and forth with him, going out on a date with Marco anyway, but spurning his advances. Later he saves her from two thugs who break into her apartment to murder her, making it look like a rape-killing; orders from Winterset’s KGB (or whatever) bosses, given that Carla’s now been compromised, or something.

The fight is again Gold Medal style, as Marco beats them around and shoots one of them. Carla sneaks off and meanwhile it’s over to the next plot, which has Marco heading to Vegas. Here, Greybone informs him, an Army sergeant working at a nearby missile base was recently killed, deep in debt at the Wrapper casino. Marco, posing as himself, hits the casino and gambles big like a regular pseudo-Bond, trying to figure out what the casino owner, a Mafia-type named DiAngelo, is up to. How these two plots intersect isn’t something White is concerned with, and you get the feeling he’s just using material left over from some earlier book.

This section’s bodacious babe is Charlene, a busty redhead who entertains at the Wrapper and is sent up to Marco’s suite with the champagne. He has her strip and gets in the shower with her, filtering out any possible bugs, trying to get her help on the recent killing. Instead Charlene sets him up and Marco himself is almost killed. The novel’s sole sex scene occurs off-page as Charlene, grateful to Marco for saving her from DiAngelo and his crooked empire, gives herself to Marco as they fly to California; Marco’s promised her a new life with a new name in Europe, working for one of his many companies, in return for her spilling the beans on DiAngelo.

Again, this Vegas stuff has nothing to do with the plot of the first half. Now Marco’s in LA and he tracks down a suspicious European-type seen in the Wrapper, a dude named Bole. When this guy, a contract KGB assassin named Harold, and none other than Carla Jason rent a boat for a three-day cruise, Marco first tails them via amphibious plane and then sneaks aboard the craft itself. Once again he saves Carla, who apparently was about to be killed, the two men meeting with a Russian sub from which a female scientist boards their boat. The idea being that the boat left port holding two men and one woman and would return the same, Carla, having been murdered and dropped in the sea, replaced by the Russian woman. Or something!

Marco apparently gets more sex-in-gratitude, though White forgets to tell us about it; next thing we know Marco and Carla are suddenly sharing a hotel room bed. Carla’s sob story has it that she fell in love with an Iron Curtain consulate guy, one wom she had a kid with, but the dude took off behind the Iron Curtain with the baby and blackmail letters began coming to Carla; if she didn’t work for Winterset and the Commies, her kid would be killed. Marco brushes all this off, assuring her the kid will be fine(!?), and finds out from her about a ranch in the Nevada desert owned by Winterset.

Given that we’re running out of pages – in true Lancer fashion, the novel is a mere 150-some pages of big print – this is where the “climax” takes place. Armed with a “machine pistol” that he doesn’t even use, Marco surveys the ranch…and is promptly captured. As is Carla, who has for no reason at all come along with him. Winterset, Bole, Harold, and all the other Commie villains are here, as are a bunch of Mafia-types. White himself appears to be confused, sometimes using the wrong names for the wrong characters.

And here Marco learns the plot – the Iron Curtain agents are about to take over that nearby missile base and launch one of its rockets at Fort Knox. With its destruction the US economy will collapse. Marco just sits there while the crooks shoot each other, and in the final pages he hits one guy and then shoots Harold. Then he makes a phone call to Strategic Air Command, or something, hoping for an air strike on the missile base. Instead, we flash forward to some time later as Marco and Carla sit on a beach, and via exposition we learn that the missiles had a self-destruct mechanism which prevented the catastrophe. The end!

Yeah, Spykill is a damn mess. It wants to be Bond but it feels more like Hammer, only in third-person, and the book is more a series of disconnected setpieces than an actual novel. Marco himself is too distant to be likable; he’s mostly a cipher, the usual virile superstud type, but his bad-assery is rarely on display. The villains are also interchangeable and forgettable; I spent the final pages hunting back in the book to confirm who was who. 

As mentioned this was Tommy Marco’s sole appearance. My copy has a hole punch on the cover, which I believe is the oldschool method of tagging books for the cutout bin. Most likely Spykill didn’t make much of an impression, lost in the clutter of other spy paperbacks of the day, and White moved on to other things.

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