Come Die With Me

Signet US paperback edition 1965

Author: James Dark – J.E. MacDonnell
Publisher: Signet / Horwitz
Published: July 1965

Come Die With Me is the first in the Mark Hood series of international spy thrillers by Australian author J.E. MacDonnell (published in the US under the name James Dark).

Being the first in the series, unlike other entries, this one fleshes out a bit about Intertrust, the organisation that Mark Hood works for. Intertrust was created by the four nuclear powers (remembering this was written in the mid 1960s) to stop other nuclear threats from arising. The idea that cold war America and the USSR are working together through Intertrust is an interesting one – although in the books that I have read, this facet of the organisation is never really explored. In fact, Hood could just work for England or the United States.

Another aspect that is also fleshed out more, is Hood’s background. He is an American, but went to study in England, where he became an excellent (world famous) cricketer. After that he became a ‘world famous’ racing car driver. An then a ‘world famous’… well you get the idea. Now Hood is a man of leisure… a playboy… a dilettante. He travels the world looking for excitement and adventure. Well that’s his cover anyway. As we know he is now an Intertrust agent, but his reputation as a jet-setting playboy allows him to travel all over the world with barely an eyebrow raised.

The story concerns a neo-Nazi named Gauss who has stolen three nuclear armed torpedo boats, the last one being taken in Nassau in the Bahamas. Hood is immediately shipped off to investigate, and soon on the trail of the neo-Nazis. The twist in the story comes early, when Hood is captured, and is offered a position in Gauss’ employ (with a substantial paycheck to go with it). Hood has little choice, beyond work for Gauss or die, so he accepts the bribe and the job. However he is not completely trusted, and although now working from the inside, he finds himself helpless to stop Gauss from moving towards the next phase of his operation.

Hood is taken to Gauss’ fortress like retreat in Brazil, which is built on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. While Hood is not exactly a prisoner, he is a closely watched guest, with no access to the outside world. And Gauss is suspicious enough to keep most of his plans under wraps. He is not a garrulous uber-villain who has to describe his mad scheme to the hero in loving detail. Well not at the start anyway!

Gauss’ ultimate plot is kept under wraps until the last minute, but Hood gets an inkling of his intent when he meets Maria in the fortress. She is a bacteriologist who has found a way to improve crop yields, by introducing bacteria to certain crops. Her research could put an end to starvation in third world countries. Of course, Hood also realises that the research, if utilised by someone who wished to destroy rather than create could be perverted for evil ends.

The Mark Hood thrillers are fast paced, but at times I think too fast. There are certain passages in this book that are written so quickly, with lack of description that I could barely follow the action. There is one passage in particular, where Hood, in a car, is being chased down a winding and twisting mountain road, by one of Gauss’ minions.

From page 50:

The big Mercedes was bellowing upon him. He jabbed his right foot down, feeling the Jaguar surge, and he wondered with detachment through his apprehension how Hermann would finish him, against the cliff on the left or over the edge on the right, and he heard a high wild scream of brakes and there were the twin white swords sailing out into nothing, then dipping abruptly, and then vanishing below the edge.

Clearly the villain has driven off the edge, but the above sentence is the only description of the incident. Another sentence confirming that Hermann is dead, and the car has crashed – maybe into the sea – would have fleshed out the action scene quite substantially. Instead, the story rattles on to the next incident.

Horwitz Australian paperback edition 1987

The Mark Hood books are pretty much throwaways, meaning that they are short and very little time is spent on characterisation and plot development. If the narrative begins to flounder, MacDonnell’s story telling device is to simply have the hero whacked over the head by the bad guys and wake up in the villain’s lair. It cuts out all that boring investigation stuff that other spies have to do. Yep, Hood is so good that he just has to turn up in a location and the enemy agents over-react, knock him out, bring him back to their lair, and finally in long, slow, loving detail they reveal their evil plot. It certainly saves time, and keeps the books page count down, well under 150 pages.

But having said all that, the book is not masquerading as a piece of high art either. It is what it is – a slick little spy adventure with girls, guns and goons. It’s a piece of vintage pulp fiction, and if that appeals to you (it does me) then Come Die With Me is a perfectly acceptable way to wile away a few hours.

2 Comments Posted in Books and Comics
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  1. Hi

    I loved your review of ‘Come Die With Me’. Terrific stuff. Vintage pulp fiction with girls, guns and goons is what I read as a kid and it’s what I write now (although perhaps babes, boobs, bombs and baddies’ might be more appropriate to my books!

    My preference is for the ‘pulpish’ fiction, with damsels in distress and whisky in the bottom drawer. I am hoping that the emergence of cheap e-books will lead us to a revival of the ‘Pulp’ genre as e-books become what the cheap pulp paper backs were.

    My latest book is called “Come Here and I’ll Show You” and is definitely pulpish; the similes and metaphors are outrageous; the language is clipped and colloquial. The men are men and the women are damn glad of it.

    Needless to say, the women are fast and dangerous, and the hero is a two-fisted man of action.

    The book is available as an e-book on Amazon and sales are going well. So far, so good!

    Keep up the good work on your terrific site,- it’s a great read.

    Best wishes
    Derek Lantin

  2. Thanks Derek. Best of luck with your book.

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