Think Inc. by Adam Diment (1971)

I squeezed the trigger and there was a derisive click as the firing pin fell on nothing. The fucking gun wasn’t even loaded. (p.29)

And so we bid a sad farewell to the stoned and sex-mad ‘spy’, Philip McAlpine, in this, the fourth and final novel by young Adam Diment, all public school and swinging London, who knocked out four fun short novels before disappearing from the scene and writing no more. This is his swan song, his farewell to writing, and it is surprisingly downbeat.

There are still plenty of throwaway lines (‘Ostia is the Southend of Rome.’ p.8) but the book feels significantly more controlled and coherent than its predecessors, less larky. It is the best plotted and written of the four, the most psychologically persuasive, and significantly darker and more bitter.

Dirty old London

Though set in 1968 (it is explicitly stated that the Jewish character, David, goes home to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the foundation of Israel in 1948) the book was published in 1971 and it definitely feels like the long party which was the 1960s is over.

‘What’s London like now?’
‘Coming down off its high. The scene is shifting but nobody is sure where to.’ (p.43)

There is less London than before, no parties in bohemian flats or in dingy clubs off the King’s Road. In fact, when he does return briefly to London the text is packed with critical comments: how ugly it is; how the traffic is appalling; the unfriendliness of taxi drivers and people on buses, the quiet racism, the casual exploitation – ‘I was home and I hated it.’ (p.153)

At a loose end the night before a ‘job’ which has drawn him back to the capital, McAlpine picks up a prostitute in the luxury hotel he’s staying at and surprises himself – and the reader – by the depth of pity and compassion he feels for her. He buys her an expensive dinner and gets to know about her and her pitiful attempts to break into ‘modelling’ and suddenly realises he doesn’t want to sleep with her, at exactly the same time that the girl says she does want to sleep with him, but not be paid, because he’s actually treated her like a human being.

This is the first of the novels to have believable, and creditable, human emotions in it.

Plot

Having burned his bridges with British Intelligence after a job handling a defector goes badly wrong (defector gets shot, government money is lost) McAlpine hightails it to to Jamaica to lie low. When he finally and reluctantly returns to Blighty for an interview at a grouse shoot (!) with his hated boss Quine, the latter says a number of agencies and individuals are after his blood: fly you fool. So McAlpine packs a fake passport and flies to Rome.

Hardly has he settled into a routine of hanging round the beach at Ostia worrying where his next lira is coming from, than he is picked up by some armed goons and taken to see a gentle giant named Faustus, who runs a nice criminal syndicate, jokingly titled Think Inc. As in all the other novels, McAlpine is blackmailed into joining them; if he says no, Faustus will simply alert the British authorities and then a rat’s nest of baddies will come gunning for him.

So he is involved in three scams or ‘capers’, as Modesty Blaise would call them:

  • The faked kidnap On a light note, Think Inc. ‘kidnap’ a young gorgeous movie star, Solange Dore. In fact, she wants to be kidnapped and had contacted one of the gang to suggest it, because she wants to get out of her contract with a crappy Rome film studio. Solange flirts with the crew, creating dissension in the ranks, until giant Faustus drags her to his cabin for a good spanking; after which she behaves herself, and a few days later, after the ransom is paid, she is dropped at an isolated beach with a story of having been kept doped all the time, so she can’t identify her kidnappers.
  • Gun smuggling and catastophe The team are using a fine pleasure cruiser, and have set up base on a tiny Greek island where Faustus once did something heroic for the locals. The second scam is smuggling guns and here, in the middle of this short novel, things go wrong and the tone dramatically changes. The captain of the boat delivering the guns recognises the number two in Think Inc. against whom he obviously has a grudge, immediately pulls a gun and starts firing. Our boys fire back at which the crew of the other boat open up with a devastating M60 machine gun. Half of Think Inc. are killed in minutes. The badly wounded Faustus tells whimpering-with-fear McAlpine where to find a machine gun and grenades in the hold, so McA takes them, swims over to the enemy boat – which is still relatively close – and use the grenades and machine gun to kill everyone on board, before blowing it up. He swims back, then coaxes Think Inc.’s battered boat back to the Greek islands where the locals patch the survivors up.
  • Hijacking a Boeing 707 carrying a cargo of gold – part one McAlpine undergoes training to fly a 707 in a repressive Middle Eastern country. We have barely caught up with him before he is kidnapped, awaking in a concrete cellar where he is beaten to get him to reveal the details of the caper. He makes the baddies think he’s hurt worse than he is, then decks one, clouts the other and runs to the car outside. Here there is a short vicious fight with the main baddie, McAlpine using the car aerial to whip him round the face, then beating him to the ground before making his getaway, driving straight to the airport, and using his fake passport and a spare set of clothes to catch the next flight out.

Diment’s spy novels have always felt like an uneasy marriage between the convincing pothead, dolly bird-shagging narrator (based rather closely, one suspects, on the author) and a lot of rather implausible spy palavah tacked on to justify their existence. Most of the shooting has been like an episode of The Man from UNCLE where bullets ricochet around and only faceless baddies fall unlamented. Only at the very end of The Great Spy Race and The Bang Bang Birds was there the real killing of characters we’d got to know – which gave both books peculiarly sour endings – but even these were quickly forgotten compared to the generally light-hearted, dope smoking, sunbathing and girl-ogling antics which dominated the texts.

In Think Inc., by contrast, it is as if Diment is making a conscious effort to mimic the mainstream thrillers of, say, Alistair MacLean, with their focus on the knuckle-crunching reality of physical violence. The shootout between the boats is very detailed and gory. Him taking a beating in the concrete cellar, then the way he hits and whips his gaolers to escape, is similarly visceral.

  • Hijacking a Boeing 707 carrying a cargo of gold – part two McAlpine escapes the gang who’d kidnapped him and, as with the other books, the text races, hurtles full pace to the final scene which is McAlpine playing the part of a replacement second pilot on a 707 (hence the training). There’s a detailed account of how he and his faked credentials take in the real crew, how they go aboard, do all the checks, and fly to Rome. Land, refuel, eat dinner etc before taking off for the Middle East – and it is on this leg that he slips a mickey finn into the crew’s coffees. They all pass out and McAlpine is free to reroute the plane to an abandoned RAF airstrip in the empty desert of Muscat. In a nailbiting sequence he just about manages to land the monster of a plan on his own, on a poor quality strip. He undoes the door as Faustus and the remainder of Think Inc. drive over in a lorry to unload the gold but – at this moment of triumph, a powerful machine gun opens up, ripping holes in the side of the plane, in Faustus and the ground team. Presumably it is the same set of crims who kidnapped him during his training, though in the panic he doesn’t wait to find out, but ducks and weaves back to the cockpit, starts the still warm engines, wheels the plane around and takes off…

Sex and love and escape

In the previous novels McAlpine spends a lot of effort eyeing up every woman he meets, and sleeping with as many as he could get his hands on, in an atmosphere of unlimited randiness set against the miniskirts and hash haze of the Summer of Love.

This final novel is distinctly different and, although it still has enough casual sexist remarks to give any feminist apoplexy, Diment goes out of his way to have his hero actually fall in love with a woman he respects for the first time in his life. His inamorata is Charity, the only woman in Faustus’s gang, and black (itself very interesting) but the point is that the narrator shows a new sensitivity and depth in his feelings for her.

She smiled softly as she undid the towel round my waist with long cool fingers and ran her nails across my stomach. I shivered and hooked my fingers into the neck of her shift. She raised her arms and wriggled slightly as I pulled it off. Her breasts were hard and small as two apples with pointed, dark chocolate nipples. Her skin was very soft and taut and had a slight, sub-cutaneous luminosity. As though there were lights just under the surface. We kissed for a long time as I stared into the wells of her gentle brown eyes and we lay in a slowly shuddering tangle of touching limbs. She closed her thighs and squeezed, trapping me and I jerked like a startled horse. (p.44)

Well, I like it. Not the fact that it’s pornographic – but that it has a scattering of unexpected phrases and sweet insights.

Half way through the novel there is an unprecedented event: McAlpine spends a couple of pages (pp.85-86) thinking about his life and, specifically, wondering whether he has ever loved someone and whether he ever will. These thoughts are closely tied in to reflections on his career as a murderer: including the men on the boat, he has murdered some 10 people, even though he’s never been in a war and is still not 26 (p.103). He’s sick of it.

The love interest in the previous novels had existed solely to provide the hero with sex, and the girls’ main plot function was to turn out to have been agents all along, sleeping with him only to keep an eye on him – ie providing a not-very-convincing burst of fashionable cynicism or disillusion at the end of the story.

Here the feeling is completely different. McAlpine is given numerous moments of introspection in which he realises he is sick of the life of murder and crime, and wants out. After the trauma of the shipboard massacre, when he is finally safely back on the Greek island, he falls into Chastity’s arms and weeps and weeps. When he awakes he realises he is genuinely in love for the first time in his life.

Already he had had the novel experience of – when Solange offered herself to him – turning her down, more worried about its impact on his relationship with Chastity than the offer of quick sex. Changed. In a previous novel, when a girlfriend had revealed she was pregnant, all he could think was ‘Dozy cow! Why didn’t she take her pill?’ just like the thoughtless philanderer Alfie in the film of the same name.

But now, when Chastity reveals that she is pregnant, McAlpine is genuinely overjoyed and kisses her and kisses her stomach. They have both been involved in abortions and, Diment laments, his generation has been brought up to expect instant gratification, there is rarely time to form a bond with a lover of the opposite sex before the sex has become familiar and boring and you’re on to the next partner.

Now he wants to escape all of that: he realises he hates cold, ugly, polluted London with its rude racist population; he wants to give up a life of spying, crime and killing and go live somewhere peaceful with his love; and he wants to give up the shallow promiscuity that dominated the earlier novels and commit himself to marrying Chastity and becoming a husband and father. It is genuinely touching when McAlpine says he wants the baby to be a little girl because he’s always liked them.

Which makes it all the more heart-rending when, in the final scene, on the final page, as the ambushers open up with the heavy machine gun, scything down Faustus and the others beside the plane, and Chastity leaps screaming with fear, reaching up to McAlpine to pull her inside the plane, at the last moment she is hit by a volley of large-calibre bullets and is already bleeding heavily and unconscious when McAlpine drags her inside, then has to duck back to the cockpit and make an emergency take-off.

The novel – and McAlpine’s fictional existence – ends on a very bitter note as, once in the air, he sets the plane on autopilot, heaves himself up out of the pilot’s seat, and steels himself to go back into the cabin to confront the fact that the woman who taught him how to love, and who represented all his hopes of escape and a new life, is probably bleeding to death and might already be dead.

Related links

Pan paperback edition of Think Inc.

Pan paperback edition of Think Inc.

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.

The Great Spy Race by Adam Diment (1968)

It felt good to be alive – take a memo McAlpine – make sure you stay that way. (p.78)
The main attraction of being a layabout is watching the rest of the world rushed off its aching feet. (p.83)

This is Diment’s second novel featuring Philip McAlpine – a kind of lazy, dirty, dope-smoking twenty-something nephew to James Bond – who is back and reluctantly embroiled in another wildly improbable, comedy spy caper.

Only quotes can convey how incredibly up-to-date and achingly 1968 Diment is: the clothes, the slang, the mini-skirts, the birds, the Stones, Dylan, the cars, the groovy boutiques and dope-ridden parties.

London has always been crap

The miserable drizzle gathered itself into a frenzy of proper rain as I trudged up the short, concrete crazy-paving path to the little, jerry-built semi-detached. Why for God’s sake, I thought, hadn’t I worn a hat? Answer – I haven’t got a hat. (p.7)

Outside, the polar wind denied the sunny impression I had got through my office window. March in London with the mutant plane trees trying to push green buds through a coating of soot into the carbon monoxide. (p.14)

It was pissing with rain in London and we stood together, gazing at our meteorological heritage. (p.75)

Only bits of London are swinging, very small bits – nobody could delude themselves into thinking Barnet is swinging. (p.132)

Lots of English writers accurately describe how horrible, grey, rainy, bleak and shabby London is, but Diment doesn’t let it depress him. The subject is grim but the language is always alive and amused.

The sun was setting over the roof tops beyond Hammersmith and the windows of the juvenile skyscrapers along Euston Road were ablaze with reflected glory. A few black clouds were piling themselves up north of the city, which would probably mean rain later but it was, so far, a lovely spring evening. Even the other cretins blocking the roads with their rotting piles of low-carbon steel couldn’t spoil my mood. (p.28)

Spying

In both his novels virtually every character we meet – and certainly all our hero’s lovers – turn out to be secret agents, comically disillusioning our man. The ubiquity of spies in his fiction presumably is a kind of satire on the ubiquity of spies in films and fiction during the great Spy Boom of the mid to late 60s.

This espionage racket is spreading like mould, I thought. Soon I won’t have a friend left who’s not in the racket. Only last year I had been shocked out of my life when I discovered Lord Kilmarry, friend and titled ponce of this parish, worked for the same department as me. Now here was Timothy, cold-eyed as anything out of Le Carré, offering to flog me Kosygin’s telephone number or something. (p.18)

More smuggling – if they caught me at customs they’d think they had another Philby. (p.94)

‘Exactly what are you doing here and what do you do for a living?’ On occasions like this, according to the Stationary Office Manual for Spies, you are supposed to mutter that you work for the War Office, the Ministry of Defence or the frigging Atomic Energy Commission and your actual labours are of a classified nature. This is the polite, retiring British way of saying I’m a spy or counterspy so kindly mind your own sodding business or you’ll be pestered day and night by retired security men checking you for clearance, non-membership of the communist party, debt and perversion. But ever since spying got to be a fashionable job – like photography or interior decorating, this formula is guaranteed to whet your questioner’s interest even further. (p.117)

The plot

There’s a plot? Oh yes. Well, McAlpine is asked by his boss to fly to the tropical hideout of a retired superspy – Peters, ‘the last of the great spies’ – who lives with a fearsome assassin/butler and a half-naked dolly bird. He thinks it’s just a courier job, delivering money.

But once out on the terrace of Peters’ fabulous modern pad overlooking the bay etc, the wicked old man reveals he has set up a ‘spy race’ ie he has posted instructions to every espionage agency in the world to take part in his espionage Olympics. Upon paying a £20,000 deposit each of the contestants will receive a series of clues which will lead him (or her) to the ultimate prize: an entire breakdown of Red Chinese agents in the Far East (p.66). And McAlpine has just unknowingly handed over his deposit. He’s in the race!

It’s a great idea for a madcap chase movie in the spirit of the Beatles’ Help (1965) or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) or even Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), and there’s enough tense confrontations, shootouts, flying, speedboating and car chases to gladden any boys’ heart.

The clues are addresses or numbers or locations, contained in bank vaults or known only to beautiful women who have to be seduced or which have to be blackmailed out of a gay boutique owner, which the spy (ie McAlpine) then has to interpret correctly.

But I’m not reading it for the story, I’m reading it for its attitude and devil-may-care style and the vivid depiction of London 1968, recognisably the London I got to know in the late 1970s – not the gentlemen’s clubs of Greene and le Carré or indeed Philby, but the dirty pubs and noisy bars and cheap boutiques and dodgy bistros and tiny flats and loud parties where swinging young people drink and smoke and posture.

‘Lend me your camera, man. I’m about to picture the biggest scene this century.’ I looped it off his neck and squeezed between two posturing lads, all bulging balls and manly deodorants, who blocked my way to the door. (p.86)


A dedicated follower of fashion

What people are wearing is very important to the narrator and one of the many markers or indicators situating the text historically and culturally.

‘By the way,’ he crooned, as I stood with my hands on the door button, ‘I just love your suit. But I don’t think the pink flowers on the tie quite go with your dolly little shirt.’ (p.25)

I dressed in bright green, high collared, military style suit with the regulation long-collared shirt and fertilised hot-house tie. Philip is wearing bright colours this spring. I clapped twenty quid into my American-style money clasp and ran the electric mower briskly over my virile stubble. (p.29)

He was hardly a man in the shadows. He wore a shirt covered in Arabic scrawl raised in gold thread on a green background. His hard lemon yellow trousers reminded me of ballet and feetwise he wore knee length, purple suede. (p.85)

Great party, man

And how refreshing, how funny, to have a party described, not a dinner part of the Le Carré or Deighton ilk, but a messy, noisy, dirty bash full of drunk randy young people.

The party was in a large studio flat over a boutique doing a strong line in old Wehrmacht uniforms. A tiny modelling girl, with long blonde hair and eyes like a bushbaby’s, led me into the room. Dark as the Western Front but not quiet, the cigarette fumes clotted the air like clouds of mustard gas while the very latest Stones’ LP gave a realistic sound track to the trench-warfare atmosphere. (p.30)

Sex…

McAlpine is leerily lecherous about almost every woman he meets. What makes it so 1960s is the way every woman he meets seems to be just as lecherous back, generally wearing the smallest of mini-skirts, no bras or pants, see-though dresses, topless sunbathing etc. It was the 1960s. Everyone experienced this as a tremendous liberation, apparently. And the lechery is not hateful, but is always heading in the direction of carefree consensual sex. The other thriller writers I’ve been reading rarely even mention sex or, like Graham Greene, only mention explicit details to convey more incisively their corroding despair and guilt.

Diment is a reminder sex can actually be fun.

‘We asked Josephine, seen here in a compromising position with gay man about swinging London, Philip McAlpine, whether she enjoyed the “New Morality”,’ I said slipping slowly into her plump, warm clingingness and she burst out laughing in happy passion. I like my sex to be fun – you can have old Lawrence’s deadly earnest copulations. She had a neat little trick of digging her heels into the base of your spine. Our activities ended successfully and added to the scar-tissue around my verebrae. (p.38)

Miss Sergeant looked much the same as she always did without clothes. I patted her generous behind and shuffled the clinging little thing over to the bed. Plump thighs flashing and little tits bouncing as she hit the springs… Rubbing against her flesh was like taking a bath in a vat of peaches. (p.98)

Mrs O took off her shades and looked at me, like a farmer appraising an untried bull, with her brown, slightly slant eyes. It sent a small tremor right down to my testes. Supercharger in, lads, I thought rather faintly. (p.109)

So many ‘serious writers’ come a cropper trying to describe sex which has led to the establishment of the Literary Review’s annual Bad Sex in Fiction award. Diment flirts with disaster but, I think, avoids it because he is happy and funny.

‘Mmm, you smell gorgeous. Masculine.’ She ran one hand through my hair and her nails produced a visible tremor right down my jellified spine. This girl was every carnal dream incarnate and still, I guessed, too young to vote. I took off my jacket which felt heavy as a suit of armour and dropped it on the floor. She rolled me out of my clothes like a stripper removing her nylons and led me over to the bed, gently, by my very aroused and totally uncontrollable member. ‘Unzip me,’ she said and turned round. Her hair, black and falling to the swell of her behind, covered a zipper which ran clear from the neck of her dress to the hem. I pulled it open and she stepped out of the dress and turned to me. There hung around her an aura (almost) a halo, of langorous sexuality. We rolled over on the bed kissing and feeling. (p.124)

I quote at length becuase this is the dominant note of the book, not the guns or cars or planes (which are also feelingly described). I suppose for some readers the relentless lechery might get a bit trying, and the book gives a strong sense of the attitude of male entitlement which the contemporary Woman’s Liberation movement was reacting against. 1968 was, apparently, the year when the term ‘sexism’ was first used and the first major protest was staged outside the annual Miss World competition.

… and drugs

The protagonist enjoys getting stoned, no melodrama, no big fuss, no Victorian moralising about drugs. He rolls ’em, he smokes ’em.

I flicked a joint out of the pack, the first and only manufactured packet of reefers I’ve ever seen – all little pink flowers and hearts, very psychedelic. ‘Got a light?’ … She came back with a gold Zippo lighter and I turned on. It was very good stuff that. In no time at all I was orbit high with my skin feeling lovely as I could sense every inch of it under the warm sun. (p.73)

… and Len Deighton

Taking a leaf from Len Deighton’s Ipress thrillers, the novel opens with a photocopy of what purports to be a ‘top secret file’ on McAlpine. Also each part (there are three) and each chapter, has an epigraph, as in Deighton’s novels – the difference is that, whereas Deighton’s were erudite allusions to the plot (for example the use of crossword clues in the chapter headings of Horse Under Water), Diment’s have the same irreverent attitude as his sparky young narrator. Eg:

Play up, play up and play the game.
WARCRY OF A CRUMBLIN’ EMPIRE

Love is better the second time around
POPULAR MISCONCEPTION


Similes

The text is well lubricated with a steady flow of cheeky, spur-of-the-moment comparisons:

  • The stars were like calculating lights on a huge cosmic computer. (88)
  • The American… was standing on the pavement looking bewildered and angry and talking to a dark-haired bird who balanced the extreme scantiness of her skirt with silver bells on her wrists. Every time she made a gesture she tinkled like a Himalayan monastery. (92)
  • I bounced out of Nice in my hired 2CV, Michelins crying on the curves and the engine buzzing like a chainsaw to keep the tinty tin can moving at forty miles an hour. (97)
  • She has a way of walking, that girl, like two soft ball bearings bouncing on a foam trampoline. (115)
  • Outside the sun hit me like a stadium full of electric fires. (127)
  • ‘Thanks man.’ I walked out across the apron to where the DC8 stood, like a great golden pterodactyl in the setting sun. (134)
  • [The pilot landed beautifully], cutting back the engines at the last moment and bringing her down like a casual mallard showing off for Peter Scott. (135)
  • In half an hour it would be broad daylight and if they had infra-red sights I was already staked out like a toad on a dissecting board. (136)
  • ‘Nearly there, nearly there,’ I said, skipping rapidly and moving like Chichester in a typhoon.’ (138)
  • My breathing steadied down as I went over the crest and my legs, like melting crème caramel on the beach, felt fine… I dropped the suede jacket and went on across the little plateau – I was going through clothes like the raviest of Mods. (148)
  • I slammed her into second which made the gearbox cogs emit a sound like breaking bottles. (151)
  • I went cold as fish fingers and bent over the quadrant of levers… Sweat stood out on my forehead like frosting round a lager glass. (159)
  • Sitting placidly in the cage, gun ready to hand, was my old enemy Miss Pringe. My heart dropped like a brick off the Post Office Tower. (169)

Great fun, but you can tell it won’t last. Diment’s novels make Modesty Blaise look like War and Peace. The only real character in them is the solipsistic narrator, sex mad and stoned – a very persuasive creation, this, but absolutely everything else about it, all the other characters, let alone the improbable plots, are as flaky as old paint. It’s a shame but you can see why Diment’s four novels have just about vanished without trace.

Related links

1968 Pan paperback edition of The Great Spy Race

1968 Pan paperback edition of The Great Spy Race

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.

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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