Aarons, Edward Sidney. Assignment to Disaster. New York: Fawcett, 1955.
This novel is the first of more than forty featuring San Durrell, a C.I.A. operative whose assignments take him to all corners of the world. The most conspicuous gimmick of the series is that every title begins with the word “Assignment.” Aarons was so prolific that new novels in the series were published regularly for half a decade after his death in 1975. Indeed, the series remained so popular that after all of Aarons’ own unpublished manuscripts had been seen into print, his son extended the series, producing San Durrell novels under his own name.
San Durrell is a hard-nosed operative who takes great pride in his professionalism. Although he is sometimes a little world-weary, he enjoys the challenges in the work he does—the extensive travel, the necessary adjustments to new settings and situations, the pursuit and analysis of intelligence, and, of course, the physical dangers. He has a weakness for women in tough situations.
The novels typically take their subjects from the current headlines, lending the stories considerable immediacy when they were initially published. In Assignment to Disaster, Durrell pursues a man who has gone missing from the Los Alamos atomic weapons center in New Mexico and may have been a foreign agent.
Adler, Warren. Trans-Siberian Express. New York: Putnam, 1977.
Adler has written almost thirty novels, including romantic-suspense romps such as War of the Roses and Random Hearts, and a series of mystery novels featuring Washington, D.C., police detective Fiona Fitzgerald. Of his novels, The Casanova Embrace (1978) and The Trans-Siberian Success can be placed most readily in espionage genre. But, like Adler’s other suspense title, each features an unlikely romance as a major plot complication.
The Trans-Siberian Express focuses on Dr. Alex Cousins, a leading cancer specialist who is sent to the Soviet Union to treat the Secretary General of the Politburo. While caring for his high-profile patient, Cousins accidentally learns of a pending Soviet attack against Communist China. The Soviets hope to delay his access to outside communication long enough for the attack to remain a surprise; so they send him home by longest route possible, on the Trans-Siberian Express. His every move shadowed by KGB agents, Cousins tries to devise a way of communicating the secret information to someone outside of the Soviet Union. As the train moves across the endless frozen wilderness of Siberia, Cousins’ situation is further complicated by his deepening romantic attraction to one of the KGB agents.
Atlee, Philip. The Death Bird Contract. New York: Fawcett, 1966.
Philip Atlee is the pseudonym of James Atlee Phillips. His brother, David Atlee Phillips, served with the C.I.A. for more than two decades and seems to have provided much background information for the series of 22 novels featuring Joe Gall. After the Bay of Pigs debacle, Gall becomes a freelance operative, sometimes hired by the U.S. government but also hired by other governments and by private contractors. Gall’s straight-on style is reflected in his nickname, “The Nullifier.”
The early novels in the series have clearly been influenced by Ian Flemings’ novels featuring James Bond. They feature a great deal of physical action and specialized gadgetry. But the later novels in the series are more reflective, more world-weary and brooding in a manner that has drawn comparisons to John Le Carre’s work. The series has also been compared to the “Eliminator” novels by Christopher Nicole and the “Death Merchant” novels of Joseph Rosenberger.
In The Death Bird Contract, the third novel in the series, Gall is in Mexico to investigate the secrets of Lewis Wardlaw, an American diplomat whose seemingly fast-track career in the State Department depends on what, if anything, Gall uncovers.