2015 August 20: “The Black Phoenix” by Martin Lester (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1954)

“The Black Phoenix,” by Martin Lester, is in fact a spy thriller (a la James Bond-esque) written by Edmund Cooper. It was published by Curtis Warren Ltd. (February 1954) and represents Cooper’s second printed title.

CW The Black Phoenix                    CW Ferry Rocket

NOTE: The first was “Ferry Rocket” (via Curtis Warren Ltd., January 1954) as by George Kinley, and that was incorporated into his classic “Seed of Light.”

But, let us return to the spy thriller….

British special agent Peter Mars, after infiltrating and demolishing a nefarious Russian plot early in the novel with the aid of an American special agent (actually, Peter lapses into amnesia throughout the entire episode after being bopped over the head) returns home to England for rest and relaxation.

However, in the espionage business, there is no such thing as snatching a little R & R, eh?

Peter Mars is immediately drafted to replace the recently deceased English counterfeiter Hildebrand, whom was knocked dead by a lorry. (On his deathbed, Hildebrand had mumbled incoherently some future arrangements). Thus assuming the role, Mars travels to Iceland and is immediately met with unpredictable complications: a driver that picks him up but presumably doesn’t speak English, and a young lady at the hotel accosts him under the guise of being Hildebrand’s wife!

Clearly the girl can blow his cover, but, incredibly, she doesn’t. She is there to locate her father, a Nazi officer, that she has not seen since the Second World War, and coerces Mars to bring her along with him.

With a note slipped under his hotel room door at night, he reads and readies himself for his ordeal. The pair are driven far away from civilization, then take a helicopter out to a remote island, seemingly uninhabitable, when a platform rises out of the surface. They land and the platform drops beneath the island to an underground facility, like something right out of an Ian Fleming thriller. (Mind you, his first Bond book was “Casino Royale,” in 1953, so I’m not entirely certain what Cooper modeled his concepts after).

Having arrived, he is greeted as Hildebrand, since the girl does not betray his trust. Further, we learn she is the daughter one of the top brass Nazis. Point of fact, the entire underground base is a secret Nazi regime waiting to bring the world to its knees! And their deepest guarded secret: a young teen-aged boy that reportedly is . . . the son of Adolph Hitler!

Without revealing further details, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the well-thought-out initial Peter Mars tale of espionage and intrigue against the Russians, but, Edmund Cooper truly shines in this complicated tale of Nazism surviving years beyond the war, secretly plotting to undermine the world economic system. The entire “son of Adolph Hitler” could have been eradicated from the novel, as it lent absolutely nothing to the plot.  The fight scenes are intrinsic and elaborate, drawing the reader deeper into the chaos that ultimately ensues.

Cooper, sir … you’ve done a damn fine job entertaining me this week with your first two (of three) novel achievements.

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2015 August 20: “The Black Phoenix” by Martin Lester (Curtis Warren Ltd., 1954)

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