Until I can work out how the importer works, I’m just going to have to cut and paste my original InSpyNoMo entries. The following post is unadulterated, though I suspect I’ll go back and edit/add to it.
Shamelady (1966) follows the adventures of Charles Hood, the ‘toughest secret agent in the business’ according to The Times blurb on the cover of my edition. He’s employed by a City group called The Circle, who send him out to do various secret agenty things on behalf of the City (the financial capital of The World centre of London) and Britain. He gets sent out to investigate a communist accounts fiddle and winds up entangled in an international gold-smuggling ring. He’s a bit inept and gets caught a great many times, falls for a girl who is one of the gang and who twice admits she lied before but now she really does love him, before finally falling for another girl and skipping off into the sunset with her once the Big Baddie gets mowed down in a French cave.
There’s also a computer named Lulu that is programmed to TERMINATE but doesn’t because it’s a computer and he is Charles Hood, Super Spy Man Extraordinaire.
There’s literally fuck all about Shamelady or its author James Mayo (pseud. for Stephen Coulter) online. Of the few things I could find about it, the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that Mayo was a friend and fan of Ian Fleming, who helped him research for Casino Royale and later went on to become a spy himself. I actually wonder if this is why there’s so little on him. He apparently worked for Eisenhower during the Cold War (despite being British) and there’s a lot of speculation on the type of work he was involved in.
Regardless, Mayo indeed was a Fleming disciple and used Bond as a springboard for his agent. As Alice Dryden notes, ‘The Charles Hood novels attempt to better the Bond novels by having double the number of girls, double the violence, and half the credibility’.
I want to say she’s wrong and that there are hidden depths to the work and that the insights into the psychology of the Cold War and international criminals far outwieghs the negatives, but she’s basically right. It’s enjoyably escapist, but only if you get can past the awful cliches that punctuate the story: the borderline pornographic sex scenes, ‘tender’ conversations between Hood and his lady of the moment, the male fantasy consensual rape sequence, the fist-gnawing revelations, the odd blubbering from Hood after a fight and endless chases. In this respect, it’s a rather frustrating read. I found myself doing a lot of eyerolling and scoffing, and yet the bits in between really are very well thought out, and the actual plot holds together well.
The narrative bears a carefully woven balance between spy-fi formula and the realities of espionage during the Cold War. It is actually quite political, it’s warmingly philosophical and it does offer a very honest, rather dismal view of the dreary world of ordinary men.
[Hood] was appalled when he looked out over the roofs and domes and saw the black streams of City prisoners marching along to deliver themselves up for the day. The great human swarm crawling along stretched out to the suburbs […] swinging on to buses, disappearing into doorways – to do what? To fiddle all day with bits of paper. To sit at desks, to strip off their coats on hot days, roll up their shirtsleeves, push out their chest and snap their braces – and get right down to looking at their files.
This conflict between disdain for those who do their work behind a desk and a suppressed desire to relate to them is found throughout the genre, harking right back to Riddle of the Sands (Carruthers is a City clerk who bores easily, while Davies laments he ‘never quite fit’ behind a desk).
There is a decided filmic quality throughout, which makes it a highly visual read. Mayo places the reader in the centre of the action; there is none of the detached agony of witnessing violence you find in Hall or le Carre. It is very immediate. Even one of the more ridiculous scenes in which Hood is being pelted with a deluge of leaden cricket balls and has only a shark-fishing rod and a couple of hooks to defend himself, you can feel each thwack of the balls over your head, feel the cartilage in your knee splinter when he gets hit and the merciless tear of flesh and bone when the hook finally catches his opponent’s shoulder. Even fly-fishing in the desert comes alive.
I’m rather conflicted about Shamelady — is it just a poorly done copycat of Bond? Does it shit all over the conception of the British superspy? Does it actually achieve anything on its own or is it merely a piece of hackneyed drivel that badly needs rewriting?
Or does it really bear merit as a piece of thoughtful exposition that hides behind a sensationalist narrative in order to portray the deeper fears of technology and Britain’s failing grip as a world superpower that were so pressing throughout the post-war/early Cold War years? I’m not sure. In any case, it’s the third in the Charles Hood series, and after reading it I did go out and Abebooks the other two, so it must have triggered something in me. Clearly, it needs more investigation.
One final note: when researching, I did find two rather interesting links: John Fraser’s Jottings on Thrillers and a speculative article by John S Craig on whether James Bond was based on a real person. Both worth a read.