Posts Tagged ‘John Sand’

R.I.P. Emma Peel…and a Wolfpack Spy Revealed

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

I am, obviously, at that age when the icons of my youth are going on ahead of me into whatever lies ahead. Emma Peel is gone. Not at all forgotten.

Still, losing Diana Rigg at 82 sounds much too soon – she was still displaying her considerable acting skills and powers of personality in Victoria and the forthcoming Black Narcissus.

The British Invasion was the Big Thing when I was in high school, and that of course immediately brings to mind the Beatles and their fellow rock ‘n’ roll invaders. But the British Invasion was also James Bond, and the Spy Craze – even The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was an Ian Fleming brainchild (thought that fact has been lost in the shuffle a bit). Sometimes the rock aspect collided with the spy craze, as when Johnny Rivers did the theme song for Secret Agent (as the Brit Danger Man was retitled for USA consumption). And would Michael Caine’s career have gotten its jump start if Harry Palmer hadn’t brought John Lennon to mind in The Ipcress File (1965)?

From the UK came the greatest of Spy Craze TV series, The Avengers (well, let’s call it a tie with The Prisoner). Emma Peel’s predecessor – as the black catsuit-clad partner of bowler-and-bumbershoot-sporting John Steed, portrayed by urbane Patrick Macnee – was Cathy Gale. The original distaff martial-arts Avenger (to “boys” my age, those Marvel Avengers should be called the Pretenders) was Honor Blackman, whose final curtain call preceded Diana Rigg’s by just a few months.

The Bond connections are many. Honor Blackman was (could anyone reading this really not know) Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964); and Patrick Macnee was James Bond’s Lordly sidekick in the Roger Moore entry, View to a Kill (1985). Macnee was not, as some would have, the cousin of (sort of) James Bond, David Niven (Casino Royale, 1965), though the two actors did appear together in The Elusive Pimpernel (1950).

Most significantly, Diana Rigg portrayed Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and became not just the love of Bond’s life but his wife, albeit briefly. The former Emma Peel was, not surprisingly, appealing in the role and her presence shored up the place-holder presence of George Lazenby as Bond in what was the greatest James Bond movie Sean Connery never made.

Diana Rigg was an accomplished and much-lauded screen actress, and I won’t go into all of her remarkable list of credits here. I’ll mention only my favorite performance by her, after Emma Peel and Tracy di Vicenzo, which is Arlena Stuart Marshall in Evil Under the Sun (1982), the best of the big screen Poirot movies (feel free to disagree, but do so knowing I’m not listening).

What is significant about Diana Rigg, it seems to me, is how she managed to be an actress of incredible sex appeal and at the same time convey an undeniable, even intimidating intelligence, at a time (the first Bond era, remember) when “birds” were mostly mini-skirts, eye make-up, and lots of teased hair. She could even smirk with intelligence, and the way she and The Avengers spoofed the inherently absurd spy fad gave the series its special zing. Her range as an actress is astonishing. I always had a sense that she wanted to give the audience her best, but if they didn’t like it, that was their problem.

So it is with a bittersweet smile, and a gathering sense of my own mortality, that I blow a kiss goodbye to Emma Peel, knowing that she and Diana Rigg will live forever.

Now, hoping it’s not a display of bad taste, I will segue into finally announcing the series that Matt Clemens and I are doing for Wolfpack. You’ll see the connection in a moment, or perhaps as soon as you hear the title of the first novel: Come Spy With Me.

Matt and I created the lead characters and developed the premise for the series twenty years ago in a couple of little seen short stories. John Sand is a recently retired British secret agent whose cover was blown world-wide when a famous series of novels by an ex-spy colleague of his became best sellers. The stories – at least the trilogy we have agreed to produce – take place in the, shall we say, Swinging Sixties.

John Sand has married a wealthy young woman named Stacey and, in Come Spy With Me, we join them on their honeymoon, where if we had any sense of propriety we wouldn’t witness their carnal conduct. I’ll leave it to you to decide how much propriety Matt Clemens and I have.

But not to worry. The mushy stuff is temporary – carnal gives way to carnage soon enough, and John Sand is as hard-edged a man of action as, well, the famous fictional spy that was based on him.

The name “Sand,” by the way, is a very much conscious tip of the jaunty ‘60s cap to the mono-named lead of Ennis Willie’s series of novels written in that era, which influenced me almost as much as Mickey Spillane, Richard Stark, and Ian Fleming.

You will hear more about this series as the weeks progress – the first book will, as I’ve indicated, be out well before the end of the year. We’ll have a cover to show you before too very long.

When Matt and I discussed getting an advance blurb from an appropriate author, only one name came to mind: Raymond Benson, author of officially licensed James Bond novels (and short stories and video games) and the landmark The James Bond Bedside Companion. Raymond is also the author of the Black Stiletto novels and Hotel Destiny – A Ghost Noir.

Raymond was gracious enough to look at Come Spy With Me in manuscript, and this is what he says:

Come Spy With Me is a heck of a ride! The characters are smooth, the real-world cameos are fun, the action is electric, and the sex is rightly retro. This homage to Mr. Fleming, Mr. Bond, and all the other pulp spy thrillers of the 1960s will leave you craving for the next installment!”

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This is a lovely review of the forthcoming second Ms. Tree collection from Titan – Skeleton in the Closet.

Here is a compendium of reviews of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, mostly very good.

My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz and I, will be discussing Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher next Sunday, September 20, at 1 pm Central. Join us with your own questions.

M.A.C.