Nominated for the Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America
Also available in electronic edition
by Michael Kurland
A brilliant combine of international assassins had gathered on the sunny shores of Alba. Interpol had no clue to their plans, so Peter Carthage, WAR, INC’s top agent is sent to infiltrate and destroy the threat — and tangles with a strange irreligious order of violent monks! As Carthage learns the sinister secret of the monastery, he finds himself in the middle of the greatest coup in the history of crime!
“His correct name, as best I have been able to determine, is the Marquis Chang Hu. He is said to be in the direct line of descent of the royal family of the Manchu Dynasty, and I have no reason to dispute this.”
“He claims no country and no country claims him. I know that he spent many years in a monastery in Tibet known as Bache Churan.” Smith stopped and looked around him. After a few seconds he continued deliberately. “The monastery produced many wise men whose unique powers are still spoken of in that part of the world. Most of them were good men and worked to help mankind. Some were not. I also know that Bache Churan burned to the ground and was totally destroyed in the year 1906.”
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The folks at Bold Venture Press reprinted an interesting trio of works by Michael Kurland. Kurland is probably better known for his series of works on Professor Moriarty or maybe his Sherlock Holmes works. I’ve covered the Professor Moriarty series already. This trio was written in the 1960s for Pyramid Books, but they didn’t ask for anymore. As it wasn’t planned to only be three works, but the first of a series, I’m not going to call it a “trilogy.” These were written during the “spy-fi” crazy kicked off by the James Bond movies that spawned a variety of works in fiction, movies, and TV. Some of these were more over the top than Bond was, sometimes being satirical or even soft porn. This series is one of the better-written ones, in my opinion. The series concerns a private U.S. organization, WAR Inc., and in particular the missions of Peter Carthage, a former major in the U.S. Army. WAR Inc. is Weapons Analysis and Research Inc. This is the height of the Cold War. So WAR isn’t so much a mercenary group, but a group providing research, training, equipment, systems, advice, and technical knowledge. But their men, who are drawn often from the military, not just the U.S. military, have a broad brief. As it is the Cold War, they hope to help neutral nations who would be wary of asking either the U.S. or Russia. While Peter is the main character, there are others who make up WAR and will appear in several of the stories. They include Dr. Steadman, founder and head of WAR; Eric Jurgens, Swedish and expert in combat, training, and weapons; Prof. Perlemutter, German and head of propaganda; John Wander, electronics and communications; Bob Alvin, computer expert, and others. Their level of involvement in each novel will vary. So not so much a spy series and not so much a mercenary fighting force series. With the third novel, Pyramid dropped the “Mission:” style of title. Yeah, Pyramid, not Kurland, picked the titles, as I noted. WAR Inc. #3In A Plague of Spies, we are introduced to a new member of the group, Theodore Ursa. A former Army captain who lost part of his right leg in Vietnam; he is also black. This time the team (Carthage, Perlemutter, and Theo) is helping the Grand Duchy of Alba, a small nation located to the north of Albania. They have no army, so need their police force beefed up. But there are also strange goings-on. Spies and criminals are for some reason converging on Graustak, the capital in that nation. Why and under whom is this being done? A British agent named Smith reveals to the team that the one behind it is a mysterious individual who is known only as the Marquis Chang Hu, who has apparently been operating for 80 years. One group is aiming to hit the paperwork company, which makes currency paper. The other group is aiming to hit the casino, banks, jewelry stores, etc. It’s all heavily coordinated and with a scheme to distract the police force. Such a thing can only be coordinated by the “mind of Chang Hu”. Can the WAR team figure this out and stop it? How, when Carthage is kidnaped, along with a girl. There is always a girl. And what is the endgame for all of this? This one got nominated for the Edgar Award, a major award for mystery fiction. Hopefully, some got the hint at who the villain (and another character) really is… Overall, I enjoyed this series. This is a well-written series, with a very plausible organization and characters, though I felt the stories too quickly wrapped up, but I am sure it was to focus on the action. And this may have worked against the series originally. I think at the time it seems those works that are a little more outlandish were able to succeed. Maybe more sex and violence? Maybe a little pushing the envelope in plausibility? The last one pushes the plausibility a little, but perhaps not enough. I wish there were more. The reprints are also well-designed, with good cover artwork and layout. I think the third volume has the best cover. In looking at the cover artwork of the originals, they weren’t very good. No consistency in the design. The second one had the cover dominated by the title, with very little room for artwork. I think that might have hurt sales. Pyramid did better with other series they did, like their The Shadow and Sax Rohmer reprints, but maybe that was due to other art directors.