Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Silken Baroness Contract by Philip Atlee

In the wake of Ian Flemming's success with the James Bond novels, a lot of American publishers attempted to get into the spy game with series books of their own. Most of them are pretty forgettable, but now and then you find one in a library discard pile which was interesting. Such is the case of the Joe Gail series by the writer Philip Atlee. A former intelligence operator, Gall retired early in the cold war game and only comes out of retirement for special assignments. He's a spook for hire and the employer is the US government, who still finds him useful. In between jobs he chills at a 19th century estate built in the in the Ozarks by a Union general.
Silken Baroness has Gall sent to the Canary Islands on an ambiguous mission. He's supposed to be posing as an American writer and rents a small place near the ocean. This gives him plenty of time to party away and make the acquaintance of the European baroness in question. Soon, he finds himself the target of a several murder attempts. Someone wants him dead and Gall doesn't even know why he's been hired.
The Gall books are written in first person, much like a hard-boiled detective novel. In some ways the character reminds me of Ross McDonald's Lew Archer: a personality so thin it would disappear if he turned sideways. One of his contacts remarks that Gall is lost if he can't "murder it, blow it up, or paint it pink."
There's a lot of scenic writing in this novel. The author is so detailed with the local life on the Canary Islands and the Iberian peninsula you almost feel you are there. Quite a feel for Franco-era Spain and what it must've been like to live under the shadow of the yoked arrows.

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