Written by Desmond Cory

Review written by Nick Jones

Nick Jones is an editor and blogger who relentlessly bangs on about old books at http://existentialennui.blogspot.com/

Ostara / TNT
RRP: £10.99
Released: 20th October 2011

Largely overlooked these days, Desmond Cory – a pen name of name Shaun McCarthy (1928–2001) – had dozens of crime and spy thrillers published over a forty-plus year period from 1951 to 1993 – almost all of them now out of print. Sixteen feature British secret agent Johnny Fedora, who made his debut in Secret Ministry (1951), beating another, more famous operative, Ian Fleming’s James Bond, onto bookshelves by two years (Casino Royale didn’t arrive until 1953).

Half Spanish, half Irish, a former Spanish Civil War combatant, Chicago gangster and F.B.I. counter-espionage agent – not to mention a talented piano player – Fedora is essentially freelance, hired by British Intelligence on a case-by-case basis – often assisted by Sebastian Trout of the Foreign Office – and pitted against Nazi spies, trained killers and Soviet agent provocateurs, against whom he proves highly lethal.


The five books which close out the Fedora series are known as the “Feramontov Quintet”, and all see Johnny clashing with feline Soviet spymaster Feramontov. The first of those, Undertow (1962), is a contender for Cory’s best novel – which is why it’s a cause for celebration that it’s now been rescued from semi-obscurity by Top Notch Thrillers. Cory’s quiet facility with the written word is evident right from the off, as he describes the dead body of an escaped prisoner, Juan Guerrero, lying face down beside a Spanish road, a “black halo” of blood staining the ground around his head. Guerrero has been murdered by a fellow escapee from one of Franco’s jails, Moreno, whose extraction has been effected by Feramontov, orchestrating events from a yacht off the coast. Feramontov and his associates Meuvret and Elsa need Moreno to secure certain logbooks, which are hidden in or near a house overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar... a house owned by an Argentinian heiress and currently occupied by two idle Englishmen...


The Englishmen are, of course, Johnny Fedora and his pal Sebastian Trout. By this point in the series Fedora is practically retired, loafing around his girlfriend’s house in Spain (a country Cory knew well; he lived there for a time and eventually retired to the area around Malaga where Undertow is set), lounging by the swimming pool, drinking too much and playing the piano. It’s sheer bad luck on Feramontov’s part that Fedora happens to be in residence at Moreno’s target, but when the housemaid winds up dead in the pool, Fedora makes it his business (partly out of boredom, partly out of professional interest in a fellow killer) to hunt the man who murdered her, in the process getting sucked into Feramontov’s scheme.


Cory has been criticized in some quarters for his unhurried pacing and apparent lack of interest in plotting, but that’s to overlook his books’ very particular qualities as idiosyncratic thrillers. For sure, Undertow is characterized by long, languorous passages where seemingly little of note occurs, and yet those sequences are wonderfully vivid and descriptive, subtly delving into the psychology of the protagonists. Take the scene where Fedora, Trout and Elsa are diving in the harbour. Fedora finds himself, unusually, utterly at peace with the world, subsumed into the aquatic environs, “a pair of eyes and a brain behind a vaseline-smeared plastic panel... no longer human... a disembodied spirit”.

Cory continues: 

Looking up, he could see the sunlight broken by the wavelets on the surface into shuddering, boiling bands and flecks, into streamers of bright gold and orange that became suddenly alive with all the colours of the prism; and he could see the bubbles of his own breath rising swiftly, colourless like pearls, then glinting as though with flame as they reached that surface froth, mingled with it and disappeared...


Offsetting these calm interludes are moments of extreme violence and gripping bursts of action, which punctuate the prose at intervals. One of the most memorable of these is an assault by Feramontov-hired thugs on a police station where Fedora is being held. From start to finish this episode is just two two-page chapters long (the numberless chapters in Undertow are typically very short), but Cory packs a hell of a lot into that scant space, his economy with words lending the scene a shocking intensity.

Equally shocking are some of the things Cory’s cast do to one another. Elsa goads the dangerous, unhinged Moreno into attacking her (and then nearly kills him), while the antagonistic relationship between her and Feramontov explodes into sexualised violence twice in quick succession. That Feramontov is left gasping for breath after the first encounter and sporting a bloodied lip after the second speaks to Elsa’s strength as a character, but she’s as damaged as the rest of them, although nowhere near as twisted and sadistic as Feramontov himself.


The remarkable thing about Undertow is how fresh and modern it feels, certainly more so than many other spy thrillers of the period – the Bond novels included. On top of that, it’s beautifully written, and in the shape of Johnny Fedora features a lead who’s likeably feckless and yet every bit as ruthless as the modern day movie Bond. With the resurgence of interest in spy fiction in the wake of the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy film, here’s hoping Top Notch Thrillers see fit to bring further Fedora adventures back in from the cold.


cheat on husband why do men cheat on their wife married men who cheat
online why do wife cheat what to do when husband cheats
read viagra source which is better chalis or viagra
why wife cheated read online affair
dating a married man my girl friend cheated on me redirect
open women love to cheat online affair
married looking to cheat married men and affairs link
why women cheat in relationships why men cheat click here
spyware apps for android crossbordercapital.com cell spy monitoring software
why do people cheat go i dreamed my wife cheated on me
i want an affair click my wife cheated on me with my father
rx discount pharmacy pensierounico.net print free coupons
sildenafil citrate 130mg tadalafil prednisolone 20mg
free drug coupons tracyawheeler.com rx discounts
kamagra fitness.markmcgookin.com thyroxine
post abortion symptoms health risks of abortion abortions in atlanta
free cialis coupons blog.idilbaby.com free coupon for cialis
abortion at 10 weeks click abortion papers
prescription drug cards eblogin.com prescription coupons
free prescription drug discount card nationalautocare.com cialis savings and coupons
viagra kaufen read viagra bei frauen
allotment click allo allo
discount coupon for cialis coupons for cialis 2016 cialis coupon card
pill for abortion abortion at 14 weeks costs of abortion
aborted babies click elective abortion
duspatal idiotygenii.com duspatal
in clinic abortion pill cost of abortion pill abortion pill cons
amoxicillin antibiyotik fiyat albayraq-uae.com amoxicillin antibiyotik fiyat
clomid cycle clomid tapasztalatok clomid testosterone
online cialis coupons coupons for prescriptions free printable cialis coupons
abortion pill alternatives alpinmontservis.cz against abortion pill facts
cialis blog.bjorback.com cialis pris
addyi review addyi wikipedia addyi wikipedia
what is abortion pill akum.org about abortion pill
early abortion pill where to get an abortion pill abortion pill
cialis cialis tablet cialis 5 mg
acetazolamide 250 mg tablets thebaileynews.com acetazolamide blood brain barrier
naltrexone and alcohol site naltrexone pregnancy

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor