The Dolly Dolly Spy by Adam Diment (1967)

‘I think the sexy spy’s going out of vogue, don’t you, Bill, darling?’
Brentridge laughed a bit.
‘Yes, worse luck. It’s all computers these days.’ (p.167)

Adam Diment

The mysterious Adam Diment was 23-years-old when this, his first novel, was published. It shot him to fame, he appeared in all the right Sunday supplements, and contracts were drawn up to make it into a movie starring David Hemmings… which didn’t quite come off. Diment knocked out three more larky, swinging London spy novels then disappeared without trace in 1971, never to be seen again.

Potted plot

It’s narrated in the first person by Philip McAlpine, a lazy, bolshy, sex-mad, pot-smoking special agent. He worked in security for a big firm for a while, and the novel opens as he is cordially blackmailed by a camp high-up at MI6 – Rupert Quine (to rhyme with ‘swine’) – to work for them. If Phil refuses – they’ll tell the cops about his dope habit and the lump of hash they found in his flat and he’ll get five years in the Scrubs.

OK, he agrees. The plan is he’ll make himself available for recruitment by Charter International (CI), a charter plane company that does mostly legitimate business but intersperses it with flying wanted criminals, dodgy politicians and ‘hot’ merchandise around the Mediterranean. MacAlpine is well placed since he already has a pilot’s license.

McAlpine duly applies for a job, passes an entertaining interview, is shipped off with other recruits for intensive training flying a variety of planes in the American South-West, then returns to work full time for Charter International. The deal is he’ll be handsomely paid by CI and do whatever is asked of him, but also be on a retainer from British Intelligence and tasked with taking short holidays at various places round Europe where he’ll be contacted by agents and offload everything he’s done and heard about.

All goes well, Phil gets permission from CI to fly out his equally sex-mad girlfriend Veronica (‘Ronica) and they spend many rest days and nights getting stoned and making love – until one particular mission which triggers the novel’s climax and conclusion. CI ask him to fly a senior ex-Nazi from Egypt to Alla Surait. (Interestingly, Egypt is here described as a hotbed of ex-Nazis who are helping with various anti-Israeli military plans: this is precisely the premise of The Odessa File, published some six years later; maybe it was true.)

However, the MI6 man, Rupert Quine, emerges spookily out of the undergrowth while Phil is enjoying a little party time with Veronica at a villa in Majorca, and orders him to double-cross CI and fly this Nazi – Detmann – not to Alla Surait but to a British base in Cyprus. Detmann knows all about Egypt’s atomic research and other nasty goings-on, and MI6 want that knowledge. (There are a couple of vivid flashbacks to Detmann’s grisly career in the SS during the war, murdering women and children, which go a long way to denting the happy-go-lucky stoner tone of the novel up to this point.)

Back at Phil’s Charter International base on the (fictional) island of Dathos, someone sneaks into his apartment at night and takes a pot shot at him before he rips the assassin apart with the handy Schmeisser machine pistol he keeps by his bed. ‘Ronica is distraught. The CI authorities are impressed he has such homicidal enemies – and that he handled himself so well. But who was the assassin?

Later, just as he is about to set off for the airfield to carry out the double-cross mission, Phil is surprised to be waylaid by one of the American CI pilots who says he’ll fly the trip and offers Phil $1,600 cash down to make the switch. By this time our hero has realised that a) the Americans want Detmann b) someone told the Americans Phil was a traitor, hence the CIA attack on his life c) the leak probably came from his own boss in London, ‘the bastard’.

Angry, Phil knocks the Yank pilot out with a scotch bottle, ties him up, flies off to the rendezvous in the desert with Detmann – a scary vision in full SS Nazi regalia – and plies him and his henchmen with beer and schnapps heavily laced with sleeping pills. Then he flies to a tiny Greek island only he knows about, lands and unloads the unconscious Krauts, handcuffing them to the walls of a peasant hut.

Phil takes off again and flies to a neutral airfield where he bribes the flight control to let him grab some sleep. From which he is brutally woken by two enthusiastic British soldiers hitting him. Who he foils and locks up, flying on to the British airfield at Cyprus. He had planned to extract money out of Quine to let him know where Detmann is but Quine refuses to pay, vehemently denies he leaked Phil’s identity to the Yanks and tells him, to his horror, that the buxom dollybird Veronica he’s been sleeping with for the past two years is – guess what – also an MI6 agent, and has been spying on Phil and reporting to Quine.

He does something you rarely see tough secret agents do – our hero has a good cry – in fact he has two – at this betrayal of his finer feelings.

‘Miss Lom [Veronica] has worked for the Department for two years,’ he intoned like a kindly ghoul…
She nodded, hair swaying briefly across her face, a black curtain across a quiet night….
I nodded and stared and stared at the floor. Then slowly and inexorably I began to cry. People should cry sometimes – when life becomes too complicated. It gives you a fresh start and a new, flat emotional angle. And this, for me, had been too much. Or maybe it was just exhaustion and the drug-props I had used collapsing…. I stopped after a time and blew my nose. When you get this peace you can face anything – say anything because for a few moments you see the total futility of life – yours in particular. (p.152)

McAlpine turns on his heel and walks out on Quine and ‘Ronica, promising to deliver the Nazis. He flies back to the island where all does not go according to plan, leading to a shootout and an explosive finale – and then to the surprisingly upbeat ending at yet another swanky London dinner party.

The swinging 60s

It is 1966 and London is swinging.

I flicked my cigarette out of the open window and watched it bounce, in a parabola of sparks, from the roof of an adjacent mini. (p.179)

McAlpine is James Bond’s dissolute younger brother. Or maybe nephew. He plays tracks by the Stones and Dylan. He smokes dope at every opportunity, rolling big joints and sharing them with ‘Ronica or houseguests at the various villas he dosses at, lovingly detailing the affects of the first rush, then the spaced-out perspective it gives on everything.

‘You’ll have to roll one yourself, ‘Ronica, I just can’t make the effort.’ She kissed me and began to make a couple of joints. To my time-distorted senses she seemed to be moving with extreme deliberation. I leaned forward slightly and began, gently, to massage her right breast. The texture of her blouse and the firm compactness of flesh underneath took on novel sensations in my current state. I was still swinging on the up curve. (p.32)

He constantly eyes up and evaluates all the talent he sees. Beside sleeping with sexy ‘Ronica he appears to have quite a few other dolly birds available.

One [of Quine’s two secretaries] is an orange-haired, grimy-toothed bird called Avril, who has been with the Department as long as me… To be fair to the old cow, she has an excellent figure, especially if you dig your women well-developed of dug, and when I backed her into an empty office one dull day last July, proved to have solid talents in other directions. (p.14)

He is camp and bitchy when required, calls everyone ‘luv’ and is prepared to be reasonable unless they start shooting. ‘Roll me another joint, will you, luv. Have you got any Scotch?’ The MI6 man Quine is surprisingly camp and he and Phil riff arch sentences, all luv and dahling and sweetie:

‘Philip McAlpine,’ he made it sound like a statement from a deity. ‘Do sit down, luv.’ His hair was going, but his light green suit, with turnup cuffs, was a real wow. The impression he gave was of a dandified moulting stoat. (p.18)

I don’t think I believed any of the ‘hard’ plot but I was captivated by the persona, the posh stoned layabout and his reckless improvident voice, for whom nothing is serious for very long. The voice of one of the lads, a laugher, a joker, a midnight smoker, from 50 years ago, as bright, cool and antiquated as a Jimi Hendrix album cover.

The cab crawled round Hyde Park Corner and tottered off towards Victoria. After shuttling through the quiet streets where even the diesel fumes smell expensive, along the dolly mews with their tubs full of dwarf trees and shining brass coachlamps, our driver eventually found the street and stopped outside, predictably, number 13. Painted virgin white with an old ship’s bell hanging outside the nail-studded, plain varnished, teak front door. One up to Rupert for the bell. God knows where he got it but the engraved ship’s name was Titanic. Funnee. (p.181)

At a brisk 180-pages-long this book was bloody good fun and I’m looking forward to reading the other three.

Nervously knowing

Simon’s Rule of Self-Consciousness: the cheesier the spy novel, the more nervously aware it is of its own clichés:

Brentridge reached the door, flung it open and leapt inside – he had his gun out in the prescribed secret agent fashion. A grenade in the other hand and a stiletto in his teeth would have completed the picture. (p.169)

The view from 1966

Quine was right. This country is, for the time being, a whore. Our Empire has gone and our people remain lazy. We are clever, original, class-ridden and small. The sooner we can get back to being another small country and forget our now useless role of world arbitrator the better. Nobody has listened to our advice for years; it is just accepting this fact which is painful. Meanwhile we export fashion and trend to the rest of them, like a good little whore should. I had been the ponce scurrying round for Britannia among the rumbling power blocks who now run the world. (p.189)

Related links

1968 Pan paperback cover of The Dolly Dolly Spy

1968 Pan paperback cover of The Dolly Dolly Spy

Adam Diment’s novels

  • The Dolly Dolly Spy (1967) Introducing Philip McAlpine, dope-smoking, randy and reluctant secret agent who is blackmailed into going undercover with a dodgy international charter air firm, then kidnapping a dangerous ex-Nazi.
  • The Great Spy Race (1968) A retired masterspy organises an international spy competition, where agents from every country’s Intelligence agencies have to follow a trail of clues across Europe and out to the Indian Ocean to win a complete breakdown of Red China’s spy network, with our man McAlpine reluctantly out in front all the way.
  • The Bang Bang Birds (1968) Our man is bullied (once again) into undertaking a mission in Sweden, to infiltrate an elite club-cum-brothel and retrieve top secret information which is being seduced out of its powerful clientele. Cue an acid-fueled orgy, a duel in a speedboat, a helicopter getaway, a high-speed car chase, lots of sex, and some rather sober and bitter killings.
  • Think, Inc (1971) Stoner spy Philip McAlpine is back in his last adventure, blackmailed into joining the ranks of an international crime syndicate based in Rome and working on three crime capers which turn out disastrously. In a new departure for the series, McAlpine falls in love, with a black Londoner named Chastity and dreams of escaping, from filthy horrible London, from his former life of promiscuity, and from his career as a spy and hit man – dreams which are horribly crushed in the novel’s final pages.
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