Come Die With Me by James Dark
Signet Books, 1965
Price I paid: 50¢
FORTRESS OF DEATH
It rises high and remote in the Brazilian mountains—a hermitage walled by sheer cliffs of dazzling white, lethally wired concrete. In this secret lair, a madman’s plot is being spawned, a scheme that will bring the world to heel.
Intertrust agent Mark Hood is the only one who can combat the evil plan. And he has been forced to join in its operation. Intertrust agent Mark Hood is sitting on top of an exploding time bomb as the seconds tick away…as the unsuspecting world hurtles toward tyranny…and death.
COME DIE WITH ME is a grand-slam of the sinister and sensational, delivered by JAMES DARK, new champion of the spy-cological thriller.
This review is going up later than I would have liked, but all I can say is that I had plenty of time to finish it before work today and I didn’t because I’m just an awful procrastinator. You have my apologies.
I like to break out of science fiction every so often and check out some spy thrillers. I’ve done a few others. My reasoning for doing spy thrillers is actually quite the opposite of why I tend toward science fiction. Sci-fi is something I’d be reading anyway. It’s the genre I feel most comfortable reading. Even when it’s bad it’s at least still interesting. Spy thrillers, on the other hand, are something I wouldn’t read otherwise. I don’t have anything against them, they’re just a bit out of my literary comfort zone. Stepping out of comfort zones is a good thing, though, so here we are.
The last two spy thrillers I read were pretty bad. The Doomsday Bag was just hilariously and badly written, while Assignment—Star Stealers was convoluted and stupid. Come Die With Me, on the other hand, wasn’t either of those things. It just…was. I don’t know how else to put it. There is very very little to take away from this book in either direction of quality.
Still, the cover had so much promise! That lady is naked and all tied up. That dude in the room with her is probably up to no good. I’m not just saying that because he looks a little bit on the African side, either. I’m not racist. Pretty sure the author was, though.
And the back cover synopsis! It refers to the main character as “Intertrust agent Mark Hood” not once, but twice! Like we were in danger of forgetting over the course of a few sentences! Plus, we get to learn the wonderful portmanteau of “spy-cological,” which is going into my lexicon as of this moment. The best part is, while it’s a pairing of “spy” and “psychological,” we can make up our own portmanteaus that it might also mean!
For instance, “spy” and “mycological” might mean that our hero has to stop some mushrooms.
I just imagine Sean Connery, smoothly saying as he lights a cigarette, blond on one arm, redhead on the other: “But shurr, I’m a FUN GUY.”
That’s more of a Roger Moore line, now that I think about it.
The hero of this book, Mark Hood, is really everything you’d expect in the hero of a book about spies. That is to say, he’s just James Bond. But nobody can ever be as cool as if they were written by Ian Fleming, so what’s the point? Mark Hood is just some dude who’s big and burly and handsome and he knows karate, “the Dane Cook of martial arts,” as Sterling Archer so wonderfully puts it.
Do you watch Archer? Because you should.
Apart from all that, this guy is just bleh. Nobody in the book has any sort of personality except the villain, and even then that’s not saying much, but for a hero I can’t even imagine writing somebody as bland as this guy. It might be worth trying.
Thing is, you’d expect a super-spy to be really bland, right? To blend into the crowd? To be less than noticable in a given situation? That makes a lot of sense. But here’s the thing, this guy isn’t written that well. He’s touted as being recognizable all over the world because his cover, which is of course some kind of international rich guy playboy, is so awesome. He used to play cricket and drive race cars, and almost everyone he meets over the course of the book is all gushing over him because he was so great at one or both of those careers before he went into the spy game for Intertrust.
Intertrust sounds like a virus scanner or a password manager or something. Maybe the kind of Internet service you’d see in a pop-up ad that goes “YOUR windows 7 COMPUTER IS INFECT WITH VIRUS.DOWNLOAD INTERTRUST NOW”
See where Mark Hood has a one-up on James Bond is that Intertrust is so completely secret that nobody knows it exists except for the people who work for it.
I’ll hold up while you take a shot. Have some more ready.
This book was, if anything, mercifully short. I picked it because of that fact because I knew I had (job) work this weekend and wouldn’t have as much time to put off (blog) working as I usually do. This isn’t the shortest book I’ve reviewed, but at 128 pages it’s close.
The plot is quite a bit shorter than the book, as I guess you’d expect but I’m trying to make a point here. What I mean is that at 128 pages this book had about 20 of plot advancement that made any sense at all, and they were all right at the end before the whole thing just stopped. Try and keep up here.
So there’s this guy named Gauss. He’s a NAZI.
Yeah, twenty years after Hitler’s downfall we’ve got another guy trying to take up the reins and lead the world into global Nazihood through some kind of stupid plan or another. Seriously, I have no idea how this guy’s plan was supposed to work in any capacity.
Before we and Mark learn what’s going on there’s all this stuff leading up to it. Mark Hood is investigating on behalf of Intertrust, who have sent him to Nassau to figure out what’s going on. Or at least I think it was Nassau. The synopsis says it was in Brazil and Wikipedia tells me that Nassau is not in Brazil, so I just don’t know. There was a woman who was Brazilian, though, so maybe that’s what they were thinking of.
Gauss has stolen some top-secret American warheads that are mounted on some torpedos. They are made of tritium and are supposed to be as powerful as a nuclear weapon without any of the fallout. Everything that the Internet tells me about the nature of tritium and its use in nuclear weapons suggests that that is nutzo, but I guess I’m willing to let that go in light of the book’s other massive flaws.
At first, Mark doesn’t know that it was Gauss who stole the torpedos. He’s sent to figure out whodunnit and find a way to stop them. Along the way he meets and almost hooks up with a lady named Prudence.
Mark basically figures out what’s going on when Gauss’s people kidnap Prudence and start to threaten her. That’s actually pretty funny, because Mark had no leads until that happened. He was as stumped as we were. He catches on, though, when Gauss shows up and says that unless Mark joins up with his dastardly plans, he’ll kill Prudence. Mark can’t let that happen, so he joins up with the Nazi.
At this point you’d expect the book to get interesting. As plots go it’s not particularly original but it works. The spy infiltrates the bad guys’ organization and has to do some bad things to make it convincing, which he or she then feels really bad about but can’t let the bad guys know because that would blow his or her cover. Think of something like The Departed which did it well, or the Star Wars novel I, Jedi which did it about as well as you’d expect a Star Wars novel to do it.
This book doesn’t do anything like that.
Mark joins up and immediately starts making demands. He’s not going to kill anybody innocent. He’s not even going to rough them up for Gauss’s amusement. Basically, he’ll join up as long as it doesn’t involve doing anything actually evil or Nazi-like.
Gauss, because he’s a great villain, is like “Ok cool.”
I mentioned that the villain has the most personality in the book. That’s because he’s got a character quirk. It’s not much of one, and in fact it’s so trite that it’s silly, but at least it’s there. His thing is that he can’t bear to be called “crazy.” I guess it’s supposed to be a sign of how crazy he actually is that he gets really mad when somebody calls him that. Whatever.
Wasn’t there a children’s cartoon a while back that had a villain with exactly that same quirk? Gods, I wish I could remember what it was. I want to say it was Doctor Claw from Inspector Gadget. This is really going to bug me.
Anyway, Mark joins up with the villain party. He manages to infiltrate really well because everybody else is either stupid or naïve. Gauss likes him because he’s of “pure Aryan stock.” He meets a young Brazilian scientist lady, whose name I forget at the moment but was probably something like Merita Sexita, and they hit it off pretty well, if you know what I mean. It turns out that she’s convinced Gauss has purely altruistic motives. Her scientific research has something to do with bacteria and using it to make wheat grow a lot bigger and faster.
It turns out that Gauss has, of course, bad things in mind, mainly due to the fact that he’s a Nazi. Oddly enough, though, the book doesn’t play up the Nazi part as much as you might expect. When it does, it’s the “taking over the world” angle of Naziism, not the “exterminate the inferior races” part. I’m sure that was in there somewhere, but it wasn’t the main goal.
So somehow Gauss intends to use these tritium weapons to “hold the world hostage.” What does that even mean? It doesn’t even say what he expects to get out of it. He’s just going to use one to blow up a US Navy Vessel and then tell the world that he has more weapons of that calibre, at which point the world will surrender? Why?
I guess it’s because he’s crazy? But how is that supposed to make it an interesting book if the villain is completely ineffective because his plans are so stupid? Sure, he might kill a bunch of people, but the book keeps making it out as “this madman can destroy the world.”
Somehow connected to all that—I genuinely never found out how or why—is Dr. Sexita’s research. Apparently the whole deal with that is that the bacteria she’s been researching and incorporating into this grain can go haywire and, instead of helping crops, will destroy them. I guess using starvation as a hostage tool is another brilliant idea of Herr Gauss, although I think the point of holding something hostage is that you have the capability to give it back, as opposed to just destroying it and demanding the goods.
This book was largely incoherent and just bounced around. Gauss trusts Mark so much that he just lets him in on the plan. Basically we learn everything with about twenty pages to go and it’s all just exposition. Mark goes to Dr. Sexita and tells her that Gauss is really a Nazi and that his plans are not what they seem. She panics and freaks out and then they have sex.
It’s apparently quite wonderful.
The book’s ticking down! Gauss sends out one of his henchmen to hit the USS Endeavor with one of the tritium warheads. Hood’s job is—get this—to stand nearby and watch. So Hood does what you would expect him to do, he goes down to the torpedo boat and starts beating on the henchman. In the struggle, though, it turns out that one of the torpedos fires! Oh no!
It misses the Endeavor.
The ship is all “wtf” and comes over and picks up the two men. Hood explains what’s going on to the captain. Then he goes down to the brig or whatever and punches Gauss’s lackey and the book ends.
I’m serious! What is up with that ending! Nothing at all was resolved! Gauss is still on the loose, he still has other tritium bombs, Dr. Sexita is nowhere to be found. What about Prudence? You know, the girl who got threatened so that Mark would join the bad guys? What happened to her?
I’m considering the idea that this book had more pages but they fell out. I’m am actually very seriously considering that. Or was this supposed to be a cliffhanger ending? I know this was the beginning of a series, but still. I am in no way inspired to search out book two to see what happens to the Nazi guy or any of that. I’m just drained.
Everything in this book was about as thin as tissue paper. Nobody has any personality or character or any of that, and the plot was just a meandering walk through Nassau or whatever until the Nazi told the hero what was going on and then the hero ostensibly stopped part of it. Nothing mattered or connected with me at all.
I want to say the book was terrible but there just wasn’t enough of it to be terrible.
It’s like trying to be mad at a mosquito in the house except that the mosquito is in another room and you can barely even notice it if you go into that room.
It’s like being bothered at a foggy window in your car except that it’s the back left window and it’s not very foggy anyway and you’re not even driving you just ducked in because you forgot your keys.
There’s not anything worth being genuinely angry about in this book and that makes me VERY ANGRY.
Oh and it had some racism in it, too, but it all came out of characters’ mouths (and not even the hero’s), so I guess I can let that slide a little bit. It was just one way of identifying the bad guys as standard-issue bad guys.
So I’m really not sure what else to say because, to be honest, it’s like I didn’t read anything at all. This is the least memorable of all the books I’ve read up to this point, so I suppose it deserves at least some recognition for that superlative. James Dark, congratulations.
I think I should just stick with science fiction.