Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: Death Beam

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Death Beam

Author: Robert Moss

Publisher: Crown

Date: 1981

Length: 408 pages

Quote: “Some of the Western intelligence chiefs who knew of the Club's assistance...privately recognized its usefulness. But they also saw the Club as a source of potential danger and embarrassment. They would never formally admit to acknowledge it.”

Charles Canning, “some kind of intellectual James Bond,” is a member of the Club in good standing. He could “talk American,” or French or any number of other things (he is English), if he didn't let himself get carried away by passion when quoting the classics of French literature to supermodels in bed. He can kill ordinary men with his bare hands, too, if he thinks it's appropriate; he's done that several times, and he's never been caught, and he never will be...because Death Beam is an escape novel, primarily aimed at male readers between ages twelve and ninety-five. Foiling the evil Soviets' plot to use their Death Beam to destroy the President of the United States is just one of many adventures Canning has with his cosmopolitan assortment of glamorous and sinister friends, and will not seriously complicate his romance with the beautiful African-American singer Melanie Toussaint.

Nor will a well-savored roll in the hay with the beautiful Israeli Clubwoman, Rael, complicate Canning's American pal Hammond's romance with the charming all-American Sally, who shows a little Club potential after a chase that involves her diving into a load of tomatoes, explaining to someone who thinks she's covered in blood that “It's all right. I'm a messy eater.” A fellow could count on a girl like Sally to understand that Rael was strictly helping Hammond calm down, probably saving his life, a humanitarian act regardless of any passion that may have been felt...if people like Sally, like Rael, or for that matter like Hammond, actually existed.

Canning's opponents are similar self-parodies. War-wounded, vengeful Ivan Petrovich Safronov, a sort of cross between Ivan the Terrible and Captain Hook, thinks it's axiomatic, whenever one needs a distraction from a bit of political controversy, to attack the Jews; he's not joking when he tells his subordinates, “Stalin shot his generals. History can be repeated.” After killing “that geriatric pedophile” who's previously seemed to be what Safronov has for a friend (and yes, trigger alert, he is a pedophile), Safronov will quote Lenin and gloat, “We will teach men the meaning of terror.” Then there's Sammy Hamad, the Palestinian they exploit, and scuzzy double agent Stepan points for guessing what they're like; even if you don't read spy novels you've met “characters” like these, possibly in descriptions of cliches to avoid using in serious fiction.

It's no easy task for a grown woman to read novels like Death Beam without laughing. I never mind laughing, so I've read it. Preposterous as the spy novel genre has to be (if the authors know any real secrets vital to the security of any real nation, they know better than to use them), it is sometimes chosen by knowledgeable writers as a way to communicate a bit of truth, and in my judgment Death Beam accomplishes that. Of course, by now you don't have to wonder whether my judgment is based on communication with any Unidentified Informants. The truth in Death Beam is that the United States' weak point is our tendency to underestimate the dangerousness of what our enemies can and will do. By way of evidence: September 11, 2001.

Who would be likely to enjoy Death Beam? Someone looking for entertainment that may be no more realistic than a romantic comedy, but is at least less sugary. The copy I have is a library discard (from last summer's Big Haul of fiction) and not in good enough condition to be sent to Mountain Home; if anybody out there wants a clean copy, we'll get him one.

Robert Moss is alive and active, although his recent writing hasn't been spy novels. Therefore, Death Beam is a Fair Trade Book. If you buy it here, although our best price will be $5 per copy + $5 per package, we'll send 10% or $1 to Moss or any charity of his choice. Payment may be sent to either address at the bottom of the screen.