Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)


#21

Adventure in the Haggard-Buchan School (The Bookman, Nov. 1960)

The Pass Beyond Kashmir by Berkely Mather
Reviewer: Ian Fleming

The Achilles Affair, Berkely Mather’s first book, was one of the best thrillers of 1959. The Pass Beyond Kashmir takes the author triumphantly over the hump of the ‘second book’ and into the small category of those adventure writers whose works I, for one, will in future buy ‘sight unseen’.

The author belongs to the Haggard-Buchan school, or at any rate to its Search/Chase subdivision, in which English writers are supreme. The essential requirement in the contemporary craftsmen in this idiom is that they should be truthful and accurate reporters, for nowadays we know the world, and the scenery and background over and against which the hero journeys must not only hold the attention but be credible. Berkely Mather’s India seems to me totally so. I believe every word of his local knowledge and I greatly admire the art with which he informs one of sects, secret police, smells, language, dust, mud and flies without overdoing the expertise—a weakness into which Hammond Innes, for instance, occasionally lapses. With Berkely Mather one never feels ‘crammed’, or irritated by ‘knowingness’. The background unrolls, as we follow the cheap but likable private investigator on the way from Bombay to the foothills of the Himalayas, with a truly remarkable narrative ease. And what a ghastly trek we take in search of those secret oil surveys! Fights and muggings in the stews of Bombay—ghastly encounters with police and rivals (with every man’s hand against us!) all the way up to Kashmir and there—the last straw—the damnable Chinks to cope with! And the going! Hard! Nothing to eat, torrents of rain, mud, stench, filth, every foot of the way!

To make the hardened reader feel these things, really to put him through the wringer, is the art of the writer of thrillers. Mr. Mather has this ability, backed by a quiet, unemphatic prose style, a contemporary eye, and, most important, a heart.


Note: I’m going to be charitable and assume that Fleming was echoing the author’s language when he wrote that racial epithet…

Berkely Mather himself is an overlooked and important figure in the history of James Bond. Fleming was a genuine fan of novels and recommended Mather to Broccoli and Saltzman as a screenwriter for the Bond films, starting with Dr. No. Mather’s obituary in The Independent adds “In fact a script was already in existence, and Mather lightened it considerably…Although offered a percentage of the take for his work on the script, Mather disastrously opted for a flat fee.” His work on Dr. No, included his drafts and detailed notes, was later auctioned off.

Mather also co-scripted From Russia With Love and contributed an uncredited rewrite of Goldfinger. So he had a hand in the all of the classic three Bond films and the exact nature of his contributions deserves further study.


#22

“James Bond film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman purchased the film rights to The Pass Beyond Kashmir for Columbia Pictures in 1963. Sean Connery and Honor Blackman were to star. Production was to have begun in late 1964 in Britain and on location in the Far East.”

Not according to google book’s snippet view. “Chink/chinks” appears at least three times all in the sense “a narrow opening or crack, typically one that admits light.”


#23

A Connery film of The Pass Beyond Kashmir certainly would have been a treat.
In my experience Google Books–including its snippet view–doesn’t always search every part of a book. There have been multiple cases where a term popped up far more often than the search suggested. So the issue remains open, though I’m willing to admit that Fleming was an equal-opportunity racist.


#24

Did you go to Eton with my chums? Well, you may as well be from the colonies darling

Closer to how some people look at the world than I’d like…


#25

I’m aware of Google Books’ limitations, so I checked two separate editions. Nada. But the slur does appear in several other novels Mather wrote. Alongside a number of other racial slurs…


#26

I skimmed the book (UK paperback), paying particular attention to the final forty-five pages where Chinese troops do appear. One character refers to them by an archaic slur starting with the letter “P”, four words. The more generic “Chinaman” appears several times.

I’ve since discovered that the two editions I consulted through Google Books’ snippet view are American editions. But I’m skimming the British paperback. I’ve already spotted one racial slur variant between the US/UK editions. The British/Australian generic slur for non-white people appears only in the UK edition.

So all in all I’d say this one is almost certainly Fleming’s fault.


#27

The Thriller Trend (Sunday Times, Sept. 20, 1959)

A Twist of Sand. By Geoffrey Jenkins (Collins. 15s.)

By Ian Fleming

I think the art, or craft, of writing thrillers has come to be despised because the great American thriller writers, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, led the practitioners off into a cul-de-sac. Poe, Stevenson, Buchan, Rider Haggard, Oppenheimer, Edgar Wallace and, of course, Eric Ambler, in their different ways wrote thrillers of originality and distinction. But, then came the American school of the private eye and the millionaire’s nymphomaniac daughter, the Syndicate and Mr. Big in his nightclub, and suddenly, on both sides of the Atlantic, everyone was doing it.

That vein, until we move on to the Teamster Union boss with the daughter at Vassar, is almost extinct. The reader of thrillers has got tired of the office bottle, the kick to the groin, and the beautiful girl beside the swimming pool. One has turned to true-life thrillers about the war or to strange tales which seem true, like The Long Walk. But still, occasionally, for an aeroplane or a train journey one is tempted by a recommendation and buys their teen shillings’ worth of teenage pillow-fantasy beginning in a drab Soho and ending in a drab Tangier—badly documented, illiterate, but worse, naive.

This year, apart from good old reliable Simenon, I have read only one thriller which I could unreservedly recommend to my friends, The Achilles Affair, by Berkely Mather (Collins). But now, with A Twist of Sand, by Geoffrey Jenkins, I think we have a writer who, with encouragement and self-discipline, may become a thriller writer on whom we can rely.

**

Geoffrey Jenkins has the prime gift of originality. Above all, his setting is original—and how important the background is in these books! He writes about the Skeleton Coast, one of the last truly secret places in the world, that dreadful stretch of South West Africa where the rich alluvial diamonds are mined by De Beers and where the survivors from the Dunedin Star acted out one of the great survival epics of all time. Against this roasting, sand-blasted backdrop, Jenkins tells the story of Geoffrey Peace, D.S.O. and two bars, a court-martialled English submarine commander.

Peace is bequeathed a lost island off this coast by a Buchan-ish uncle. It was here that, under secret orders from the Chief (Director, Mr. Jenkins!) of Naval Intelligence he sank Germany’s prototype atomic U-boat. He sank it by firing a recognition flare into the pool of oil while it was cleaning its fuel tanks. He then shot down the survivors—all but one! He was alone on the bridge when he did these things. Under his vow of secrecy, he could not tell even his second-in-command what he was doing in these suicidal waters, so he was dismissed [from] the Service for hazarding his ship.

Lured back by his inheritance arid his memories, he earns a living fishing off the Skeleton Coast. Until a certain Dr. Stein appears. Stein knows about Peace through the sole survivor of the U-boat and he blackmails him into taking his trawler to land on the forbidden coast, ostensibly in search of a rare beetle—onymacris. The half-crazed U-boat mariner comes too, out for Peace’s blood, and the desirable Anne-with-a-crumpled-eyelid, a Swedish entomologist who alone can recognise the beetle.

Stein tricks Peace ashore with the party arid they set off through the desert into the sinister mass of the Hartmannberge.

There follows a desperate journey, the climax of the book, in the course of which the reader is dealt such a series of highly expert jolts to the solar plexus in the Geoffrey Household style that he reaches the last page panting.

**

Now, this is a badly organized book. Geoffrey Jenkins tries to cram in too much—the plot, the Skeleton Coast, excellent snatches of natural history, sex, and whole chapters, exciting though they are, of Peace’s wartime experiences. The D.S.O. and two bars are thrust too often down our throats, the court martial chapter should have been cut in toto, and Anne, she of the crumpled eyelid, talks with a peach stone in her mouth.

But these are small criticisms of a literate, imaginative first novel in the tradition of high and original adventure.


Note: Geoffrey Jenkins is best-known nowadays for his lost Bond novel Per Fine Ounce. Two of its surviving pages have been posted by MI6-HQ.com.

Further information from wikipedia:

"After Ian Fleming’s death, Glidrose Productions commissioned Jenkins to write a James Bond novel in 1966. Jenkins claimed in the late 1950s he had discussed the idea of a James Bond novel set in South Africa with Fleming, and even written a synopsis of it, which Fleming had very much liked. Jenkins’ synopsis, found by John Pearson in Fleming’s papers, featured gold bicycle chains, baobab tree coffins and the magical Lake Fundudzi. Fleming had said he would come to South Africa to research the book, but he died before this happened.

"Jenkins finished the manuscript for Glidrose entitled Per Fine Ounce, but it was rejected. Peter Janson-Smith later recalled that he thought it was badly written, although he admitted that Glidrose may have been ‘stricter in those days.’

“The novel is believed lost, except for 18 pages now in the hands of Jenkins’ son David.
In them we learn that the Double-O Section has been closed down and James Bond defies M on a matter of principle, resigning from MI6 to pursue his mission in South Africa alone.”

Next week I’ll post Fleming’s second review of a Jenkins novel.


#28

Two other pages also exist although the website that hosted them is now defunct.

Further information from wikipedia:

I thought it was the other way around. Jenkins kept urging Fleming to visit South Africa. I’ve also heard that Fleming considered Jenkins’ outline overloaded.

Not true. Jenkins chose not to write a novel based on his diamond smuggling outline. I believe he mentions this in his correspondence circa 1966. He instead chose to create an entirely different story which would become the basis for PFO. His original outline and PFO have little, if anything, in common, other than both are set in South Africa.

I’ve heard conflicting reports about this. Others claim only four pages exist.

Fleming reviews Jenkins’ third novel “A Grue of Ice”.

Looking forward to it!


#29

A Thundering Yarn (Sunday Times, Aug. 26, 1962)

By Ian Fleming

A Grue of Ice. By Geoffrey Jenkins. (Collins. 16s.)

I greatly enjoyed Geoffrey Jenkins’s first thriller A Twist of Sand, but I got bogged down in his second, The Watering Place of Good Peace, which suffered from turgidity and a kind of almost hysterical hypertension. The “Grue” in the title of his latest book gave me a moment of unease. I need not have worried. This is fully up to, the standard of Mr. Jenkins’s first book and is in every respect in the highest tradition of the Buchan-Household-Hammond Innes school of adventure story.

Once the characters have been introduced—fashionably, at Tristan da Cunha—the plot hurtles into a positive maelstrom of action and suspense centering on the mysterious and illusive Thompson Island in Antarctica. Wetherby and his Man Friday, Sailhardy, are likeable heroes, the villain and his cohorts are suitably villainous (there is an admirable sub-villain, the radio operator Pirow, “The Man with the Immaculate Hand”), and Helen reminded me, with a pang, of Leni Riefenstahl in her heyday.

But what will make the book memorable, particularly for those who like myself are sea-struck, is the vivid expertise of the oceanographic background to the story—the Blue Whales, plankton, ice-floes; that solidity of stage and props which gives integrity to the fantastic (though I wonder if an albatross really would attack a sea-leopard!).

A note of caution for the worldly reader. This a thundering good yarn, with all that the phrase connotes. Geoffrey Jenkins must beware of the yarnish streak in his prose that produces “Dear God! There has been enough violence already! What are we to do?” and similar fumed-oak passages. That having been said, one can welcome Geoffrey Jenkins’s return to the ranks of the great adventure writers.


#30

Thanks for going to the trouble of digging these pieces out, @Revelator; much appreciated. I wonder what Fleming made of Alistair MacLean? He always struck me as a writer whose œuvre would have interested Fleming on various levels.


#31

You’re very welcome! I’m very happy to share Fleming’s journalism, since it remains publicly inaccessible (unless you’re a millionaire who owns Talk of the Devil). Off the top of my head, I can’t remember Fleming referencing to Alistair MacLean, but I think you’re right about his potential interest.


#32

MacLean despised Bond, Fleming’s books, and Fleming himself. “Sex, sadism and snobbery.” MacLean considered Fleming every bit as bad and trashy a writer as Harold Robbins.

When MacLean was having tax problems, his lawyer advised him to consider a tax deal like what many authors had done and would do with Booker McConnell. MacLean was willing to consider it until the lawyer made the fatal mistake of mentioning that this was what Fleming had done. With that, MacLean firmly rejected the proposal. He would have nothing to do with Fleming, not even doing what Fleming himself had done. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

These mannerisms are common in Jenkins’ books. Many of his books have a manic, feverish quality, verging at times on the hysterical.

Let me quote scholar and university lecturer John Fraser (who is quite the fan of thrillers and has a lot to say about them on his website): “…there was a creepy fascination to the slightly manic Geoffrey Jenkins and his eye for strange locations and physical phenomena.”

http://www.jottings.ca/john/thriller_best.html

Interesting to learn that Fleming did not like Jenkins’ second novel “The Watering Place of Good Peace” (1960). “…Good Peace” has a very curious history and exists in two versions. I seem to recall that the hardcover has a lengthy midsection set 100 years before the events of the main part of the book. This historical sub-plot involves the protagonist’s and villain’s great-grandfathers who also did battle and have the same names as their great-grandsons. This version ends tragically in modern times with the hero’s girlfriend dead in his arms. No paperback appeared until 1974 which Jenkins had radically overhauled. This version has a happy ending. Also seem to recall that the historical sub-plot got cut and instead contained new modern-day episodes. Been decades since I read it…