Friday, January 27, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Bamboo Bomb - James Dark (J.E. MacDonnell)

(This post originally appeared on April 26, 2006, in slightly different form.)

There's a story behind why I read this particular book at this particular time -- so naturally I'm going to tell it.

Like a lot of people who have a lot of old paperbacks, I sometimes have trouble remembering which books I own and which I don't. So when I come across something interesting in a used bookstore, I occasionally have to ask myself, do I already have this one or not? And if I can't remember, I err on the side of caution and buy it anyway, because -- in the words of a very wise man -- you never regret the books you buy, only the ones you didn't buy.

Anyway, I was discussing this with Livia the other day, which led me to remark in passing, "That's why I have five or six copies of THE BAMBOO BOMB by James Dark."

She just looked at me and asked, "Have you ever actually read it?"

I had to admit that I hadn't, so she said, "I want you to read it."

Now I have. And it's not bad.

Mark Hood is your typical Sixties secret agent: rich American playboy, Rhodes scholar at Oxford, internationally renowned cricket player, race car driver, karate master, etc. Just the sort of guy who spent the Sixties fighting the bad guys and keeping the world safe. He works for Intertrust, a top-secret international spy organization. In this book he's sent to Singapore to pull the old "American down on his luck" bit so he can infiltrate a group of villains who are out to destabilize the Far Eastern political arena . . . I think. I'll admit I had a little trouble following the plot because I know almost nothing about politics in the Far East during the Sixties. But that's okay, because Hood fights a bunch of bad guys, romances a couple of beautiful girls, and blows a bunch of stuff up real good.

One of the best things about this book is its length -- 127 pages. And there's more plot in that 127 pages than in a lot of 500 - 600 page thrillers that I've read. True, there's not much characterization or back-story, but sometimes I don't care. You pays your money and you takes your choice. More than anything else it reminded me of the Sam Durell books by Edward S. Aarons, with its hardboiled hero and exotic locations and convoluted plot. "James Dark" didn't write as well as Aarons, but then, few people ever did when it comes to this particular sort of book.

"James Dark" was really J.E. MacDonnell. I know nothing about him other than the fact that he wrote a lot of war and espionage novels in various series under various names. The Mark Hood books were originally published by Horwitz in Australia during the mid-Sixties, and at the same time about half of the books were reprinted in the U.S. by Signet, cashing in on the secret agent boom of the time. I think I have all the U.S. editions -- multiple copies of some of them, in fact.

But just to set the record straight, I checked my shelves and I don't have five or six copies of THE BAMBOO BOMB.

I have three.

(Update: I never got around to reading any more of those James Dark books, and I haven't replaced any of them since the fire. But I have fond enough memories of this one that if I ever run across any of them at a reasonable price, I'll pick them up. I might even read them. And this won't come as any shock, but I once again have multiple copies of some books because I saw them in the store and couldn't remember if I already had them. In fact, just the other day I barely caught myself in time to keep from ordering a book on ABE that I had just ordered another copy of maybe a month earlier.)


Matthew P. Mayo said...

I did the same thing a couple of days ago. I was convinced I didn't have the T.V. Olsen collection, LONE HAND, and I nearly bought one online, but I figured I'd look anyway--and there it was! Who put that there?

And while on the hunt, I also found a ton of other books I don't even remember buying. Amazing.

The Olsen collection? Wow.

Anonymous said...

Which reminds me, it's time to read another of my Aarons paperbacks.

Tom Johnson said...

Nice review, James. I've read several Mark Hood novels, and most are fun spy novels. I prefer the 120=page novel to those monster tomes that just ramble and no action. There were some very good 1960s spy series, and I'm trying to catch up on the ones I passed up back then.

Walker Martin said...

I glad to read your Confessions of a Bibliomaniac. I thought I was the only one that kept buying the same book. I even do it on purpose sometimes with books I like alot!

RJR said...

I have 'em all, love the covers, don't think I've ready any.


D.A. Trappert said...

I just bought a copy of this at a used book store for 15 cents!