Monday, January 11, 2021

The Adjusters #4: The Glass Cipher

The Adjusters #4: The Glass Cipher, by Peter Winston
No month stated, 1967  Award Books

The penultimate The Adjusters seems to again be courtesy the same author who wrote volume 2 and volume 3 – aparently Jim Bowser. The Glass Cipher is certainly not the work of Paul Eiden, who wrote the first volume…and I guess that’s the only volume of the series he wrote, given that the next volume was credited to Jack Laflin. The vibe in this one is the same as the previous two, even often referring back to their events; tellingly, the events of the first volume only get a passing mention. 

One change is that hero Peter Winston is less of a prick this time. It’s still the same character, but the assholic attitude is almost entirely wiped away. Perhaps there’s a lesson here, as he gets laid a whole bunch in The Glass Cipher. I mean a whole bunch. The dude will just be lying in his hotel room, feigning sleep, and some hot babe in a miniskirt will barge in, pretend she’s in the wrong room, and then just snuggle up in bed with him! But as with those previous book, the sexual material is for the most part kept off page, and the ample charms of the female characters are only slightly exploited. Violence is pretty much nil; as with the previous two books, this one is almost like a mystery with occasional fistfights, and although Peter carries around his .357 with its “hair trigger,” he seldom uses it. 

Bowser again brings gadgets to the fore; this time around Peter uses a typewriter with “vauum seal” locks that locks steadfastly to furniture, and Peter can rappel down buildings from it. He’s also got cufflinks that work as mirrors, and a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see what’s going on behind him. All of it courtesy Joe Sergeant, the Q-ripoff gadgets guy who appeared in the previous two Bowser books. And again here there’s no mystery, as in Eiden’s volume, that Edgar Whittle, billionaire owner of EWW Enterprises, is A-1 (to Peter’s A-2), leader of a secret espionage force that uses the company’s global pursuits as cover. All of which is to say that this one is of a piece with the previous two, making Eiden’s initial book seem to be from another series entirely. 

This volume is also along the lines of the previous two in that it’s overly dense for such an otherwise short book, coming in at just over 160 pages but seeming much longer. This is mostly because Peter (as Bowser refers to him) doesn’t do much but ponder his latest assignment, snoop around, and get laid by sundry women who appear out of nowhere and then vanish again. I mean, this sounds like my own average day at work, and I demand escapism in my swinging ‘60s spy-fy. In that regard this series is way down the rung from similar series of the day like Mark Hood. While I enjoyed Eiden’s first volume, despite the similar slow-boil plot, Bowser’s haven’t really enthralled me very much. But I’d have to say that The Glass Cipher was a little more entertaining than the previous two he wrote, if only because Peter Winston himself is a little less annoying. 

The titular glass cipher is a small cylinder of glass Peter gets hold of in the opening pages; it’s been smuggled out of China by a scientist who fears for his life. Designed by this guy’s boss, the glass is composed of tiny fibers which distort anything you place the glass over. So basically you can write a secret message, put the glass cipher over it, take a photo through the glass…and then you’d need the glass to decode the message. Or something like that. Eventually this isn’t enough of a Maguffin for Bowser, who also introduces something about a “missile coating” this same Chinese scientist is developing, which would render a missile impervious to any anti-missile initiatives, or somesuch – as always in any Cold War thriller, the goal is to have the most bestest missile technology for when WWIII occurs. What I find interesting is that in these ‘60s yarns the fear of nuclear war is seldom mentioned, as it would be in such a yarn from the ‘70s or ’80s. The goal is more so having the best weapon of mass destruction, not necessarily from preventing such a weapon from being created. 

Peter gets the glass, and is told that another courier will be contacting him with a photo which will contain this missile coating formula – once the glass is placed over the photo, that is. Peter’s been contacted because the scientist is friends with Edgar Whittle. But after Peter gets the glass he basically just goofs off for a while – checks out Joe Sergeant’s latest gadgets (which he’ll of course eventually use on the case), goes to the gun range, and of course gets lucky a whole bunch up in his penthouse pad. We get our first indication how egregious this sort of thing will be when, after visiting the gun range, Peter just happens to save some poor young girl in a miniskirt from a would-be “molester;” Peter takes her back up to his place for some off-page shenanigans, already suspecting she’s a “shill.” I forgot to mention – she’s a “cage girl” at the “Go-Go-Gone Discotheque.” Peter’s right, and she’s been paid off to lure him out, and she won’t be the first female character who tries to detain our studly hero. 

However the main female character is really Lady Joanna Halliday, a jet-setting man-eater Peter meets soon thereafter. He’s sent to London, given that a mysterious female voice has called the EWW office, saying that “the message” will be arriving there. Peter’s sent to a gala affair at Lord and Lady Halliday’s…and is immediately ambushed by hotstuff Joanna, who pushes him to the side and begins humping and grinding him. Literally seconds after they’ve met! While they’re getting hot and heavy a silent shot is taken at them – a bizarre bit Bowser doesn’t really even get back to for quite a while. Again the adult stuff is firmly off-page, but Peter and Joanna become quite an item, with her serving in the capacity of “main girl” for the majority of the narrative, even though it eventually develops that she might be involved with the Chinese. 

But so much of the novel is comprised of Peter sitting around in his hotel room and pondering the case. As mentioned he gets randomly lucky here, too, with one ridiculous part seeing a stray woman come in, claim she’s lost, and immediately climb in bed with him! Of course she’s another “shill,” but of course Peter gets lucky again. Eventually the action moves to the countryside, the last quarter all playing out in Joanna’s castle, where Peter tries to figure out what’s going on – whenever he can get out of Joanna’s grasp. There’s a delegation of Chinese here (or “Red Chinese” as they’re mostly referred to…when I was very young that phrase was still in use, and I thought Chinese people were literally red, true story). Among them is Chew, who appears to be the expected “Evil Oriental” type, before Bowser pulls an unexpected reversal in the last pages. There’s also Shan Lee, hotstuff young babe who happens to be the niece of the scientist who created the missile coating formula, and who of course immediately starts throwing looks Peter’s way. I kept misreading her name as “Stan Lee,” which gave an entirely different mental image to the sex scenes between her and Peter. 

Actually Shan Lee is probably the recipient of the most explicit material in the book, in particular stuff about her “little girl breasts.” Meanwhile Joanna’s out of the picture, moved on to another male conquest, but that’s okay because Peter’s learned she’s a heroin addict. In the last quarter there’s a lame mystery presented that Joanna might be behind the plot, and Peter spends a lot of time snooping around or pretending to go to bed so he can find out what’s going on. The last few pages feature the only real action in the book – and it’s spectacularly tame. I mean it’s not until like the last 4 pages that Peter even kills anyone, and it’s bloodless stuff like, “one shoot put the guard out of commission.” I mean I demand blood and guts with my escapist spy fiction! 

The ending is also sort of interesting; on the plane ride home, Peter’s informed that the Dispatcher has an “urgent” assignment for him, and the novel ends with Peter wondering when he’ll ever get to rest. As it turned out he’d get about two years, as the fifth and final volume didn’t appear until 1969. So clearly the Dispatcher’s assignment wasn’t all that urgent. So this was it for Bowser’s tenure on the series…here’s hoping Jack Laflin brings a bit more spice into the series for the final volume.

1 comment:

Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

As usual, an interesting and insightful review. By the way, the cover art was done by Charles Gehm, who is (ironically) most widely known for the paintings he did for porcelain collector's plates featuring scenes from fairy tales.