Does the name Johnny Fedora mean anything to you? What about Philip McAlpine? Gerald Otley? David Audley? No? Well, they were all heroes of action/spy thrillers produced in the sixties and seventies written by, respectively, Desmond Cory (a pseudonym), Adam Diment (an author who apparently vanished from the face of the earth), Martin Waddell and Anthony Price.
I was reminded of these and many other players in the world of thrillers while reading Mike Ripley’s hugely enjoyable (especially if you recall any of the names from the first go-round) Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a survey of British thrillers “from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed” and the social and political landscape that produced them.
My own personal favourite of the many authors covered is Gavin Lyall, whose best two novels, The Most Dangerous Game and Midnight Plus One, are featured within. Lyall specialised in shabby, careworn, often burnt-out cases who are forced to dig deep and remember the hero they had once been. As Ripley points out, The Most Dangerous Game features a most unusual setting, up on the Finnish-Russian border, and Midnight Plus One a car chase where a Citroen DS is fatally holed in a gunfight.
“The car had been stabbed in its hydraulic heart: the fluid – the life blood – that powered the steering, brakes, gear-change, was dripping away from the main tank.”
Bloody French cars – always over-complicated.
Steve McQueen was rumoured to have optioned MPO to play Harvey, the alcoholic American gunman (not a great combination). I checked and Sony does own the rights. And no, they wouldn’t let me have a go at a screenplay. It’s a fine, tightly plotted book, although, as with many novels mentioned in Mike Ripley’s roundup, the sexual politics have not worn well.
By coincidence, my own homage to Lyall appears in the new R J Bailey thriller (I am one half of RJB), Nobody Gets Hurt, in that Sam Wylde, the series’ hero, has to go on the run in a Facel Vega (as once owned by Ringo Starr), which is beautiful but as lethal as a bleeding Citroen DS.
Nobody Gets Hurt (p/b to follow) is out as an e-book in August (and available on NetGalley for advanced reading now. https://s2.netgalley.com/catalog/book/114770
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang by Mike Ripley is published by HarperCollins (£20)