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‘American Rivals of James Bond’ (review)

Written by Graham Andrews
Published by McFarland Books

 

American Rivals of James Bond by Graham Andrews seemed like it would be a quick look at the likes of Nick Carter, Matt Helm, and Derek Flint, but this is a McFarland publication so hold onto your seats.

What American Rivals of James Bond (note that there is no “the” in that title, denoting that the author isn’t claiming to be all-encompassing here, and yet…) is actually a thorough history of spies and secret agents of all kinds in pop culture, going back to the 1700s, and that’s after giving a considerable section of well-researched history of real-world spying, too.

Not only do we get well-known spymasters like Joseph Conrad, Edgar Wallace, and Alfred Hitchcock, but also names unknown to me like E. Phillips Oppenheim, Dornford Yates, and Col. Herman Cyril McNeile, M.C. (known as Sapper).

We delve into the dime novels and more deeply into the pulps they became, with stops at Doc Savage as well as G-8 and His Battle Aces. There’s even a summary biography of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy and Alex Raymond’s Secret Agent X-9.

UK TV’s Avengers, Protectors, and Danger Man are all present and accounted for, but why, since this is a book about American rivals of 007?

It’s not just spies but also detectives and police officers who are covered to a great degree as well, particularly well-known ones like Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto. We also get the lesser-known Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, but we also get coverage of Captain America and Tarzan. Mickey Spillane’s Tiger Mann shows up but then so does British author John Le Carre’s British character, George Smiley.

Thus, I find myself torn as to whether I should praise this book’s extreme thoroughness when it comes to who was included, or to lament its lack of focus. For well over 200 pages, we have been given a detailed recitation of facts regarding hundreds of historical characters, authors, film directors, literary heroes and anti-heroes, comic book and pulp superheroes, and now-classic TV icons.

American Rivals of James Bond is readable, it’s quite entertaining at times, it’s most certainly informative, and clearly well-researched. I just feel like it might have been better if it hadn’t veered so far afield, but instead covered what was covered in as much detail as it does in some of the earlier sections.

 

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