For me, one of the hardest things to accept about Hunter-Killer is that it isn’t a spy novel. For so long I have heard stories of Geoffrey Jenkins unpublished Bond novel, Per Fine Ounce, and knowing that he was tapped to write a Bond thriller, immediately, in my mind, made him a spy writer. Later, when I learned that Jenkins character Geoffrey Peace is considered by be his most James Bond creation that sealed the deal. I had to read a Geoffrey Peace novel. But I am rattling on a little bit. Maybe I should slow down and explain where I thought Hunter-Killer was going to take me, and where I ended up!
My road to Hunter-Killer was a long one. It’s a book I have been searching for, for years. Why? If you are student of the Bondian universe you are probably well aware of author Geoffrey Jenkins. For the un-initiated, here’s an overview of Jenkins link to the literary and filmic James Bond written by Best Selling author Jeremy Duns. The article Gold Dust originally appeared in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Magazine (You can now read it on his blog, The Debrief). Summarizing, for the benefit of those who are two lazy to read Jeremy’s article – or who are pressed for time, Jenkins actually wrote the first post Fleming James Bond novel, called Per Fine Ounce. Never heard of it? That’s not particularly surprising as the book was never published. Allegedly, Glidrose Publications (now known as Ian Fleming Publications) who controlled the rights to the literary Bond were not happy with the story and shelved it. In fact the manuscript has gone missing, with only a few pages remaining. You can read two pages at the MI6 Website.
Quoting from the knowledgeable folk at Wikipedia:
Not much is known of the plot for Per Fine Ounce. The reference work The Bond Files by Andy Lane and Paul Simpson indicates that it was based upon a story Jenkins claimed he and Fleming had worked on around 1957, and that the storyline was set in South Africa and dealt with diamond smugglers and a spy ring and bore some resemblance to Fleming’s Bond novel Diamonds Are Forever as well as his non-Bond work, The Diamond Smugglers. However, in an interview with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang magazine published in 2005, Peter Janson-Smith, Fleming’s former literary agent and former chairman of Glidrose, claimed that he believed the story may have been about gold. This makes more sense, as the title derives from the line “per fine Troy ounce” or a variation of. A fine ounce is a Troy ounce of not quite pure gold. Jenkins’ synopsis found by John Pearson in Fleming’s papers featured gold bicycle chains, baobab tree coffins and the magical Lake Fundudzi – presumably, Jenkins used some or all of these elements in the book itself. Four draft pages of the manuscript were discovered in 2005, in which 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.
Allegedly, Harry Saltzman, one of the producers of the Bond film series, who thought Jenkins had been badly done by, agreed to buy a portion of Jenkins new book, Hunter-Killer to be incorporated into the latest James Bond film, which was You Only Live Twice. The section that was appropriated was the opening when James Bond is killed and then buried at sea, only for it to be revealed that Bond’s death was staged so he could complete his next mission without the attention he had been receiving from foreign agents.
Once again, from Wikipedia:
In 2005, Titan Books published a reprint of a comic strip based upon Colonel Sun. In the introduction, it is stated that in the mid-1970s Amis lobbied for EON Productions (producers of the Bond film franchise) to produce a film based upon his book. Reportedly he was told that Saltzman had forbidden that any film be made based on Colonel Sun due to Glidrose refusing to publish Per Fine Ounce a decade earlier.
The story starts with a funeral for Commander Geoffrey Peace. Peace is to be buried at sea with full Naval honours. His close friend John Garland is on hand for the ceremony, but is sickened by the pomposity of it all. He needn’t have worried though, because Peace is not actually dead. He simply wants people to think he is, particularly the CIA and assorted other US Government agencies, because he is about to participate in one of the ‘world’s greatest’ scientific and engineering endeavours.
Peace has helped develop the ‘world’s greatest’ rocket engine called SNAP. But because he is a). Britiish and b). a naval man, rather than the air-force or NASA, the powers that be are against the SNAP project. However, the Vice-President of the United States, Marvin K. Green (known as MKG to his friends) has faith in the project, and to prove it is worthwhile, the VP himself, is prepared to pilot the SNAP rocket to the Santa-Fe space station which is orbiting the earth.
The problem is, that due to the VP’s importance, the project is kept ultra top-secret, so only a select few actually know about it. When the US Submarine Commander who is designated to deliver the Vice-President to Peace and his team, finds out the true purpose of the project, he refuses to allow it to proceed. At that point, Peace, MKG and the rest of the support players, escape onto a British sub, and then very soon, the whole US Seventh Fleet is trying to track them down and stop the SNAP rocket’s test flight.
The story is told in a first person narrative, not through the eyes of Peace, but through his friend Garland, which is kind of strange, because Garland doesn’t really do anything except fall in love with the token female character Adele. Adele is a Creole beauty from the Seychelles, who also happens to be a crack radio operator.
Hunter-Killer has a good opening, then a very turgid and prolonged set-up where the actual mission is defined. Then the story lurches into gear, but at the same time, there is almost a feeling of ‘when is the story going to start’. The problem here is that the story has no heroes, and no villains. In fact it could be argued that the hero, is in fact the villain. As a reader, it is hard to know who to ‘cheer’ for.
Hunter-Killer is not a spy story. It’s an adventure story, and Geoffrey Peace is not James Bond, or even a James Bond substitute. In fact, as the story progresses, Peace becomes downright unlikeable. He lies to his friends, bullies people and is incredibly arrogant and egotistical. But there I go again, suggesting that Peace is the hero of this story. Sure he’s the main protagonist, and most of the events in the story take place due to his actions, but in some ways John Garland is the hero of the story, and Adele is the heroine. Reading the story, you move through the plot feeling like they feel,and there is almost a sadness as they witness a good man, Peace, become an obsessive monster. And as such, the tone of the book becomes pretty bleak for an adventure story. It’s like watching your best friend bullying someone. You know that it is wrong and you should say something – but y’know, he’s a mate.
The You Only Live Twice section at the start was different to what I expected. Peace is not simply wrapped up and slid into the water and picked up by a sub, but instead is interred in a cylindrical coffin which is fired from a depth-charge mortar.
The weird thing is that I started reading this, and was searching and hoping for a Bond connection, and apart from the You Only Live Twice opening, I wasn’t quite finding one. Then as happenstance would have it, one weekend I caught a lift with a friend into the city. This friend travels a fair distance to work each day, and as such has a habit of listening to audio books in his car during his travels. Recently he had picked up a copy of Quantum of Solace: The Complete Short Stories from a local library. Where I joined him, was during The Hildebrand Rarity, and as I listened, a smile crept over my face. There was the Bond connection I was looking for. The parallels in the locations and the descriptions in the Seychelles, had me thinking I had stumbled onto something pretty important (well as far as Bond fans are concerned – it’s important).
So feeling rather smug and self satisfied, I tried to check the veracity of my theory with one of the few people I know, who knows more about Ian Fleming and Geoffrey Jenkins than I will ever know. That man is best selling author, Jeremy Duns. I contacted Jeremy and outlined my discovery. Jeremy steered me towards an article he wrote for the Commander Bond website entitled Rest in Peace. A part of my ego was bruised that Jeremy had beaten me to the punch, but at the same time I was pleased that I had discovered this on my own and was not just repeating what others had said before. Furthermore though, Jeremy’s article highlighted many aspects to the Fleming/Jenkins connection that I had missed. It’s a fantastic article – I recommend that once you’ve finished here at PtK, that you skip across and read it.
So, that’s Hunter-Killer, and as I’ve said there is already some well written documentation about author Geoffrey Jenkins on the web — by people who are considerably more knowledgeable than myself — so I figured why should I simply regurgitate what has already been written. But then I thought about it some more. Hunter-Killer is a novel that almost contains three different story telling styles — the Quasi-Fleming, the outrageous sci-fi spy adventure, and a brief adjunct into alternative archeology and esoterica. I thought, these may be worth looking at, particularly in how espionage and adventure fiction have tended to merge together over the ensuing years.
Firstly, let’s look at the Fleming elements of the the story. Truth be told, in this novel, Jenkins doesn’t have a real grasp of what is referred to as the ‘Fleming Sweep’. He tries to evoke landscape, environments and atmosphere like Fleming, but his words just don’t carry the same weight. In fact, there were certain passages where I thought if I read one more bloody boring description of the water breaking over a reef, I am going to toss this book at a wall. So it’s all good and well being familiar with the Bondian universe and dropping references to it in a novel, it is quite another to write well enough to make it stand alone — rather than being a repetitive and clumsy pastiche. So Jenkin’s travelogue didn’t really work for me.
Next, you’ve got the outrageous sci-fi element of the story. Well, what can I say — you know how a lot of people don’t like the film of Moonraker because it is downright silly? Let’s just say that the filmic Moonraker makes a lot more sense and is more believable than firing the Vice-President to a space-platform orbiting the earth, just to prove that a rocket design works. Hell, the VP may be Chuck Yeager for all I care, but nobody — including the President of the United States — is going to allow the Vice-President to go flying off into space (especially since the novel explains that the previous moon-shot ended with the astronauts burning up in re-entry. I don’t care what spin you put on the story – it is not believable).
So that brings us to the third and final literary style integrated into Hunter-Killer, and it’s the clumsy attempt at melding alternative archeology and esoterica into the story. Now I am calling Jenkins’ attempt clumsy because fantasy stories, such as those by Robert E. Howard and Jules Verne, and often mined the ‘lost continent’, ‘hidden valley’ idea for years.
Although alternative archeology and esoterica would start to seep into espionage based thrillers in the early 1970’s, possibly after the English publication of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which swept the world and made many — let’s say ‘earth-bound’ and rational people — consider the possibilities of ancient civilizations and extraterrestrial visitation. I remember as a young boy at primary school — I mustn’t have been more that seven or eight years old — being thrilled to bits when the film of Chariots of the Gods was shown to us in the school library. Regardless of whether you believe in alternative archeology or you believe it is all a big load or nonsense and mumbo-jumbo, there is no denying that the literary symbolism and the sense of awe and wonder that these theories by von Daniken and others created, ended up seeping into the main stream thriller. In fact, with the arrival of Dan Brown as one of the world’s most popular authors (ever) with The Da Vinci Code, it could be argued that alternative archeology and esoterica now dominate our literary landscape.
But getting back to Jenkins, it wasn’t always so — and let’s face it, Hunter-Killer was released three years before the English edition of Chariots. I guess if you’re looking for a literary progeny of Jenkins’ work on Hunter-Killer, look no further than best selling author Clive Cussler. Now I cannot say that Cussler read Jenkins novel. And some Cussler fans may suggest that the early Dirk Pitt stories didn’t focus on the alternative archeology trappings that the later novels do. Their case in point may be the first Dirk Pitt novel, The Mediterranean Caper (published in the United States in 1973), which is a pretty straight forward adventure story…and to that I’d say you’re damn right. Hey, as a quick adjunct here, a couple of years ago I was in a second hand bookshop –- which is not so unusual. I picked up one of the Dirk Pitt novels that I didn’t have (I think it was Treasure) and went to the counter to pay. Now this was a shop I used to frequent quite a bit (sadly it has closed and a huge, soul-less shopping centre is being erected), so it was not unusual for me to spend half and hour (or more) chatting to the owner. Noticing that I was purchasing a Clive Cussler novel she casually mentioned that she had a customer who was trying to get hold of all the Dirk Pitt books but was having trouble locating one title, The Mediterranean Caper. Coincidently, several weeks prior to this, I had borrowed a copy of The Mediterranean Caper from my local library and had read the story and returned the book. One week later, that same library was having a book sale –- getting rid of some of their older titles. I went along and picked up a copy of Cussler’s Mayday. When I got home, I read the first few pages only to find that it was exactly the same story as The Mediterranean Caper. So put simply, The Mediterranean Caper is the American title, and Mayday is the English (and Australian) title for the book. At the second hand book shop, I was very smug when I was able to reveal that little tidbit of information – and hopefully saved that particular Cussler fan many hours of fruitless searching for a book that he already possessed.
But back to the point at hand, The Mediterranean Caper was a pretty simple adventure story. But The Mediterranean Caper wasn’t the first Dirk Pitt adventure that Cussler wrote. Pacific Vortex was. In the Forward, Cussler explains (Sphere Book edition 1983):
Not that it really matters, but this is the first Dirk Pitt story. When I mustered up the discipline to write a suspense / adventure series, I cast around for a hero who cut a different mould. One who wasn’t a secret agent, police detective, or a private investigator. Someone with rough edges, yet a degree of style, who felt equally at ease entertaining a gorgeous woman in a gourmet restaurant or downing a beer with the boys at the local saloon. A congenial kind of guy with a tinge of mystery about him. Instead of a gambling casino or the streets of New York, his territory became the sea, his challenge, the unknown. Out of this fantasy, Dirk Pitt materialised. Because this was his first adventure and because it does not weave the intricate plots of later exploits, I was reluctant to submit it for publishing. But at the urging of friends and family, fans and readers, Pitt’s introduction is now in your hands. May it be looked upon as a few hours of entertainment and, perhaps, even a historical artifact of sorts.
More information is available in the book Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed – by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo (Pocket Books 1998):
As one of the two manuscripts originally sent to Peter Lampack when Clive was seeking an agent, it languished on a shelf in Clive’s closet until he casually mentioned it to his publisher, which at that time was Bantam Books. Upon learning that there was an unpublished Pitt novel, it was decided to introduce the book in a paperback-only edition. Clive dusted off the manuscript and did a quick rewrite. The name of the villain Delphi Ea was changed somewhere along the line to Delphi Moran, something that Clive was still unaware of when it was mentioned to him last year.
One interesting fact, and I am only going by memory here (as such I may have my facts wrong), is that Dirk Pitt was not originally intended to be the continuing hero of Cussler’s books. As I mention above, I borrowed from my local library a Hardcover edition of The Mediterranean Caper. In the introduction to that book, Cussler explains that he originally intended for the villain, Delphi Ea, to be the continuing character – popping up all around the world – causing all sorts of mischief. But later Cussler changed his mind and went with Pitt. I wish I could get hold off that particular Hardback again (the paperback edition, which is quite easy to find, doesn’t have the introduction by Cussler). Now, you’re probably wondering when I am going to get back to tying all this Cussler history in with Geoffrey Jenkins. Well Pacific Vortex wasn’t quite the same action adventure as The Mediterranean Caper was. The villain, the re-named Delphi Moran, lived in an underwater city — obviously not the same underwater city that Geoffrey Peace encounters in Hunter-Killer, which is claimed to be a part of the lost continent of Lemuria — as Cussler’s is off the coast of Hawaii, but none-the-less there are some interesting parallels. In the end, as I said at the beginning , that is what really confused me with this book. I had worked myself up to expect a substitute Bond story. Instead I got an adventure story — the type that would take root in the 1970s and beyond. The type that Clive Cussler and others would excel at.
In the end, I find it very hard to rate Hunter-Killer. I started reading it with so much excess baggage, I find it hard to be objective. In fact, as a reading experience I found it disappointing, and I am not sure if this is because of my preconceptions, or because of Geoffrey Peace’s rather overbearing character. The jury is still out on this one.
For another review, Wes Britton in his series called The Geoffrey Jenkins Files reviewed Hunter Killer in The Geoffrey Jenkins Files, Part 1: 1959-1966.