Search This Blog

Thursday 26 December 2013

Book list - 1966

What was I reading so long ago? Does it matter? Trends and general interests change. The early 1960s, thanks to Dr No et al, was crammed full with espionage thrillers, many of which have indeed withstood the test of time. There were plenty of good popular mainstream writers available in paperback, too, and most paperback lists contained a generous sampling of science fiction and westerns. Eventually, spy books would make way for crime thrillers and both the western and the sci-fi books would end up in ghettoes for several years.

Wreckers must Breathe is an unusual submarine spy adventure from Hammond Innes (which has just been reissued as a Vintage Classic). In contrast, I read Up the Junction, social realism in fiction, depicting the lives of Ruby, Lily and Sylvie in 1960s London (now reissued as a Virago Modern Classic). Having read the previous two volumes, I now finished That Hideous Strength, the conclusion of C.S. Lewis’ science fiction Cosmic Trilogy: the hero Mark is a Sociologist who is enticed to join an organisation called N.I.C.E. which aims to control all human life (Hmm… nothing to do with the current named organisation, of course!)
Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers, which I found quite remarkable; two films evolved from its pages. It interlinked lives over decades; I feel that, along with A Stone for Danny Fisher, it’s one of his best, before he deteriorated into lazy writing and excessive sex scenes.
Death on the Prairie is a sweeping narrative of the Indian wars on the western plains by Paul I Wellman. Part of the blurb on Amazon, which sums it up well, states: 'There is never a quiet page as Wellman describes the Sand Creek Massacre (1864), the Fetterman Massacre (1866), the Battle of the Washita (1868), the Battle of Adobe Walls (1874), the Battle of the Little Big Horn (1876), the Nez Perce War (1877), the Meeker Massacre (1879), and the tragedy at wounded Knee (1890) that ended the fighting on the plains. Celebrated chiefs (Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Black Kettle, Satanta, Joseph, Ouray, Sitting Bull) clash with army officers (notably Custer, Sheridan, Miles, and Crook), and uncounted men, women, and children on both sides are cast in roles of fatal consequence...'

I enjoyed Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy, and felt it came to a satisfying conclusion – though some years later, he embarked on additional books in the series.

Trial by Terror is by an author now hardly read, yet he was big in his day, Paul Gallico. He couldn’t easily be pigeonholed. This book was about an American reporter imprisoned as a spy by the Hungarian authorities. I was reading it as research for future writing. Gallico created Hiram Holliday – there was a comedy TV series about this character. He wrote Thomasina, the Mrs Harris adventures, The Small Miracle, The Snow Goose, The Poseidon Adventure and The Hand of Mary Constable, and my favourite, Scruffy, an amusing tale about an ape of Gibraltar during WWII.
1066 And All That by Sellar and Yeatman. History as it wasn’t, tongue in cheek, and still funny. Followed by a darkly humourous classic, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.

There was little humour in King Rat by James Clavell. I’d already been won over by his monumental Tai Pan. Rat was in complete contrast, drawing upon his own experiences as a POW under the Japanese. The film never did it justice.
I continued to read Dennis Wheatley’s books, notably his Gregory Sallust adventures. He was a fictional spy even before James Bond came on the scene. The Scarlet Imposter (took place in August-November 1939, and was published in 1940), Faked Passports, The Black Baronness, V for Vengeance, and Come into my Parlour. I also read his Richleau novel set in WWII, Codeword Golden Fleece and his extraordinary Ka of Gifford Hillary.
At this time, some Edgar Rice Burroughs manuscripts were being released in paperback apparently for the first time, so I grabbed them from WH Smith’s at Waterloo Station on the way home on leave - Tarzan and the Madman, Tarzan and the Castaways and The Chessmen of Mars.

I still enjoyed Leslie Charteris’ Saint books and read The Saint’s Getaway and The Saint Meets His Match (previously titled She was a Lady).

And I discovered a new thriller writer, Gavin Lyall, with his two adventures The Most Dangerous Game and The Wrong Side of the Sky. He drew on his experience as an RAF pilot to pen adventure stories that usually involved dangerous flying missions in exotic places by cynical young men of dubious morals. He was married to columnist/author Katherine Whitehorn.

As is quite obvious, I was keen on spy books. I’d read a number by Helen MacInnes by this time. She was dubbed ‘The Queen of Spy Writers’ and the title was well deserved. This year I read The Venetian Affair, a classic cold war espionage thriller. Titan Books has recently reprinted her books in attractive covers.
My Bones and My Flute (1955) is a haunting ghost story by Edgar Mittelholzer, an author I discovered with the book Kaywana Stock and others in the plantation series, which are sadly hard to get hold of these days...

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, as well as The Real World of Spies, revelations about spying in the early days of the Cold War; pretty tame by later accounts. And Understrike, the second adventure of Boysie Oakes by John Gardner, an author who subsequently took on the task of writing new James Bond thrillers. Also, Deighton’s Funeral in Berlin (1964), the third in the unnamed hero series (Harry Palmer in the movies); I saw the film in the same year.

The Moving Target (1949), Ross MacDonald’s first novel to feature his sleuth Lew Archer. MacDonald is justly highly regarded. The 1966 film of this book starred Paul Newman, scripted by William Goldman.
The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy’s 1955 novel (once banned in Ireland and the USA for obscenity).  

I was still reading non-fiction, mainly about war escapades: among them, Escape Alone (We Die Alone), The Dam Busters, The Frogmen, I Will Survive, and Mark of the Lion, the incredible story about Charles Upham who won the Victoria Cross twice! He was a sheep farmer who fought in the war, won his medals and then went back to his sheep.

Overload (1959), Undertow (1962), Shockwave (1963) and Feramontov (1966), novels in the Johnny Fedora series by Desmond Cory; greatly underrated, regarded as 'the thinking man's James Bond'..  


Editor Bill said...

Interesting list. Made me want to read several of these that I had never tried before. Thanks. But I will admit to being a bit disappointed when I went to the Amazon page for Death on the Prairie and discovered the exact same description of the book. I'm all for cutting and pasting, but it would be nice to annotate.

Nik Morton said...

Bill, it was a cut-down cut and paste, admittedly, but fair comment! Suitably annotated.