The Lady from L.U.S.T. #1: LUST Be a Lady Tonight by Gardner Fox (as Rod Gray)
The Gardner Francis Fox Library, 2007 (Revised Kindle Edition)
Originally published by Tower Books, 1967
Price I paid: $2.99
A fair exchange can be robbery—sometimes. Count Guido della Faziola wanted my body. I wanted the pictures that were hidden in the stateroom of his luxury yacht, I would give him the flesh fest he wanted. But the Count was not likely to hand over the negatives even in exchange for little old me, I was going to have to steal them. My skin tight evening gown with its low, low-cut bodice was an open invitation. The Count’s hand accepted the invitation. Oh, well, I, was in the service of my country. Vive la patriotism!
“Come into my stateroom, cara mia,” he breathed into my ear.
“Yes, let’s,” I breathed back. “I’m going to love you to death.”
Little did he know….
I mentioned last week that I was going to track down one of these books, and I’m so glad I held fast to that promise. Folks, what we’ve got here is some gen-u-ine smut!
I want to make it clear that I’m not mocking this book solely on the grounds that it’s erotica. Yes, it was pretty bad for a lot of reasons, but none of those reasons were “It’s a dirty book.” Erotica, like any genre, needs to be judged on its own merits. Does it do the job it’s supposed to? Does it elicit the emotions it intends to? There are different rules from, say, science fiction, but the rules are there to be judged on their own merits, not to be compared to some other genre.
Polygon.com has a good video essay on how horror, melodrama, and porn are all the same genre. Here’s a link. I’m not sure it’s totally related to this essay, but I wanted to link it because I thought it was good.
So erotica, like any other genre, can be a window into a time period. This book was first published in ’67 or ’68 (I keep getting conflicting results on that). Just like science fiction can help pinpoint the social anxieties and hopes of a time period, erotica can tell us something a little more direct and a little more specific. I’m skirting around the obvious here, so I’ll just come out and say it: Vintage erotica gives us a look at what people thought about sex in a particular time. It’s important to note, though, that no element of a society exists in isolation, so learning about the sexual mores of a time period can also provide a glimpse into the rest of it!
Books are awesome!
So this book. Our hero is Eve Drum. She’s called Agent Oh Oh Sex in all the promo materials, and I think that’s pretty funny, but that’s not her code name in the book. She’s called that as a joke by her fellow workers at the federal agency called L.U.S.T.
L.U.S.T. stands for “The League of Underground Spies and Terrorists.” It’s very odd for me to see a government agency openly using the word terrorists as a part of its name. In case you’re wondering, yes, this is an American agency, and yes, they’re supposed to be the good guys.
You know they’re the good guys because their opposite number from the Other Side is called H.A.T.E., the Humanitarian Alliance for Total Espionage.
These acronyms are so terrible. C’mon, Gardner Fox, you’re better than that.
Also, it’s the bad guys who have the word “humanitarian” in their name?
Did I mention that this is my second Gardner Fox book? Did I also mention who Gardner Fox is, and why this book interested me so much? Fox is a legend in the comics industry. He and his associated artists created so many aspects of DC comics that it’s easy to take them for granted. Stuff like Batman’s utility belt, the DC multiverse, and perhaps most importantly, the Justice League.
But like my friend Eric pointed out when I told him about this book, “creating superhero comics particularly back in the day was pretty bad for bill-payin’.”
All that said, this was a tough book to read. The Kindle version claims it was revised, but whoever revised it did a terrible job. I’m sorry, whoever you are, if you’re reading this, but it’s just awful.
The book is so full of typographical errors. They don’t seem like the typical errors that come from bad OCR work. They were just all over the place. Commas just wherever somebody felt like putting them, missing letters or whole words, and blocks of dialogue that simply do not follow the accepted rules of writing dialogue. That last one is the most consistent one, and it drove me crazy. Not because it was just bad and wrong, but because it was actively confusing. Let me dig up an example:
“Go away,” I said, burying my head in the pillow. “L.U.S.T. sends congratulations, Eve. You’ve done a great job, they want you to continue on the case.” (34)
So you might need to know that Eve Drum is the first person narrator of this book. She’s the one doing the talking at the beginning. But then her superior, David Anderjanian, picks up his part of the dialogue without a paragraph break. That whole second part of dialogue is a different person, but every rule of writing says it should still be Eve talking.
This happens a lot.
This book, being the first, introduces both Eve and us to L.U.S.T. She gets recruited right at the beginning of the book over the course of about a half-dozen pages, and then she gets thrown right into the action. The plot of this novel details L.U.S.T.’s effort to keep a secret weapon out of the hands of H.A.T.E. It’s a laser that can shoot down nuclear missiles. Whichever side gets it first will throw the entire Cold War out of whack.
So Eve is placed on this very important case, and the rest of the book breaks down thusly:
Let’s say this book clocks in at about 60,000 words. It turns out that writing an erotic spy novel consists of writing about 30,000 words of spy novel and then filling in the gaps with sexy scenes. Sometimes the two things overlap a bit—Eve’s first mission is to steal some racy pictures from some Italian guy on his yacht. She goes to the Italian guy’s party, which turns out to be an orgy, and then just sexes him senseless so that she can steal the pictures without much of a hitch.
I never got the feeling that Eve’s official speciality in the organization was supposed to be sex, but that it just sort of turned out that way. She’s skilled in other things. She mentions being able to pick locks from an early age, and her L.U.S.T. training has taught her some martial arts, shooting, and things of that nature. She uses those skills throughout the book almost as much as she uses her large breasts and libido.
Something that’s positive about this book is that Eve is never once shamed for her sexuality. She’s never called a slut. It comes a little close to it once, when she’s boning down with somebody and isn’t able to turn off her secret spy microphone (spycrophone) so everybody back at L.U.S.T. hears it. She’s embarrassed by the situation but everybody else just thought it was funny and cheered her on.
There are some icky bits in the book, though. Sometimes they involve Eve. While that she uses sex to complete her mission is completely fine, it’s not fine that sometimes her use of that sex borders on the edge of consent. Eve is set to bodyguard a fella named Martin Sloane, who invented the laser that H.A.T.E. wants so much. The hitch is that Martin is married, and Eve knows that his wife, Midge, isn’t going to like that he’s hanging around with such a bangin’ hottie. Eve’s solution, then, is to seduce Midge so that she’s convinced Eve is a lesbian. The adultery is icky enough, but there’s just a bit too much “What the hell are you doing” coming from Midge. She’s eventually fine with the whole thing, but it wasn’t great.
Another, much grosser, bit is earlier, when we meet the guy who turns out to be the villain, Balder Cunningham. Eve goes to his house for a different orgy, and everything is going fine and dandy until Balder brings out the main event, a “well-known actress” who is never named. She is humiliated and whipped and forced to have sex with all the other guests of the orgy, which would be fine if that were her thing, but it’s clearly not. It’s also clear that it’s not what she was told she’d have to do when she was hired. She ends the scene emotionally and physically devastated. She’s been “paid for” and Cunningham says that this means she can’t do anything about it. What she goes through is sickening and reason enough to let this book remain unread, but also a reminder to us all how legalized sex work would be so much safer for sex workers, as they would have legal recourse for this kind of thing.
Balder is clearly a sadist, which is fine if he would find consenting partners, but he doesn’t. Late in the book he tortures Eve in a way that is just chock full of sexual malice and it’s the worst thing I’ve read in a good while.
Balder is killed at the end of the book when he tries to shoot Eve after she breaks out of her restraints. They’re in his dungeon and he misses her but the bullet ricochets and hits a rope that is holding up a special torture chair, which falls directly onto him.
Eve sexes up pretty much every man in the book except Balder Cunningham, which, again, is fine and consensual. One thing about this book, though, is that everything is described vaguely. The sex is strictly softcore, so no explicit words for genitalia are used, and often the action, which will go for several pages, is described so indirectly that it’s hard to imagine what is happening. Eve will stop doing…something…and then go grab a stool so she and her partner can do…something else.
The non-sexual parts of the book are no better. Eve herself is hardly described beyond having large breasts and a shapely butt. This description also applies to every other woman in the book. I don’t even know what color Eve’s hair is supposed to be, but I know that she—and every other woman in the book—has large nipples.
There is a positive highlight of this book that I want to mention, and while I don’t expect to read any of the other twenty-odd books in this series, it’s something that I hope persists. Namely, it’s that Eve is very knowledgeable about the history of sexual expression. She will narratively monologue, at length, about the history of certain forms of sexuality. This is always during one of the sex scenes. For instance, if she’s having a lesbian encounter, she will begin telling us about lesbianism throughout history. We’ll get the requisite Sappho and the other ladies of Lesbos, but she’d go on about how harem women would keep themselves occupied, and numerous other examples. Multicultural sexuality, Eve has, and while I don’t know if anything Gardner relates through her voice is accurate, it was very interesting that he felt the need to include that data.
For example, here’s a section where Eve seduces another woman. It’s also a moment that was less than consensual at first, and involves some light bondage:
In Greece, the rites to Aphrodite and Dionysus included flagellation, to stir up the desires. At the Oscophoria, a feast to honor wine itself, the whipping was done with grapevines. (76)
It goes on a lot longer, running us down the history of sexual whipping through Rome, France, and England down to the modern day.
Take for example when she finally makes it with Martin, whose wife she seduced earlier. (Side note: I was expecting a threesome but it never happened.) Her main reason for taking Martin to bed is that Midge mentioned to her how he’s not a very good lover. He’s a very wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am type. Eve will not let this stand. She grows quite fond of Midge after their single encounter, so she takes it upon herself to educate Martin on how to take it more slowly and ensure that his wife gets enjoyment out of the sex act. It is during this long segment of the book that she references the Kama Sutra, but also a ton of other things that I’m not aware of but seemed legit enough.
There is, however, a weird exchange that happens with Eve first broaches the subject to him:
“I understand you,” he grumbled. “You’re a love rebel, a goddamn anarchist when it comes to men and women.” (107)
I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean, but my Kindle tells me that page is 69% of the way through the book, so niiiiice.
The book was homophobic in a standard sixties way. Lesbianism or female bisexuality is a source of erotica, male homosexuality is either a source of comedy or of outrage. No surprise, but not acceptable.
This book had a lot in common with some latter-day Heinlein novels. You know the ones. The ones that make you go “haha Robert A. Hornlein.” It would have these sections where Eve would describe “what women are like” and they’ll be the things you’d expect a female side-character from Time Enough for Love to say, stuff like “women are vain things” or “women don’t care what a man looks like as long as he’s a good man” or any number of a million examples you can pry out of one of those books. That a woman is saying it in the narrative is, I guess, supposed to make it more acceptable, and they usually giggle empty-headedly after they say it, but it doesn’t work. It’s one of the worst things about Heinlein, and this book reminded me a lot of it.
So how do we judge this book? Let’s look at it from the two genres it was combining.
As a spy novel, this book was a little less than middlin’. Not too bad, but nothing spectacular or surprising. A bad organization from a bad country wants to capture a guy who invented something that would be very helpful for the Cold War. An agent has to make sure the guy doesn’t get captured. He does get captured, and there’s a rescue, and everything works out in the end. There are some action scenes with alligators and gunfights. It’s no James Bond, but it’s also no Mind Brothers.
And as erotica? This might not be a fair assessment because I was looking at this with a pretty clinical eye, but on the whole, it wasn’t great. Scenes went on too long without much happening. They were interrupted by long stretches of sex history lessons that were more interesting than any of the fuckin’. And sometimes things would happen that didn’t make much sense and I couldn’t tell what was supposed to be happening. The book was a lot more coy about the sex than I was expecting, and skirted around it too much to be good porno, even if it was supposed to be softcore. Seeing as how roughly half the book was the erotic part, it meant that I was ready to skip it and get to the spy part more often than not.
Nonetheless, I made the sacrifice and read the sexy bits because I try to keep some authenticity in these reviews. It’s a difficult job.