|Berkley Medallion Edition, May 1969|
The Screaming Dead Balloons by Philip McCutchan features Shaw, Esmonde Shaw that is. Commander Shaw is a spy, very much in the vein of another more well known British spy of the same rank. Commander Shaw works for the secret organization 6D2, an organization backed by various governments, in the business of spying and saving the world from bad guys. The novel begins with Shaw slumming and whoring through London, drinking and screwing his guilt away from a previous mission that resulted in the death of three astronauts. He's lured into 6D2 through the offer of 5000 pounds along with further enticement from mini-skirted female agent/recruiter Anya Kiselyov. In spite of being "a rip with the girls" Shaw calls Anya a bitch a handful of times before accepting her offer to join 6D2. It's clear from their animosity that they'll hook up before the novel, and their assignment, is over.
Shaw's assignment is to check up on a certain Doctor Zan, a sort of brilliant scientist with a criminal slant. Word has it that Doctor Zan is part of the evil organization GRASP. GRASP is described as "pretty tough operators" who "show up where ever there is the smell of trouble." Kind of along the lines of SPECTRE or SMERSH that we've come to love to hate. Doctor Zan's mission in life is to establish the rule of Science over all of the world's political powers, with himself in the captain's chair, of course. Not necessarily a bad idea, except for the megalomania bit.To aide him in this endeavor Zan has at his control a race of indestructible slug-like creatures, described as screaming balloons able to grow to the size of small buildings and devour anything in their path. Shaw and 6D2 have no idea of the force behind these balloon creatures until they're unleashed on a small Amazon village, leaving wads of charred flesh and bone in their wake. Their next stop, as Doctor Zan warns, is London!
It's a ripping adventure, one in which Shaw and Anya are kidnapped in no-time-flat, tortured, and held captive in an underground lair beneath the Amazon jungle. Doctor Zan is also one of those maniacal villains who demands that his captives are fully aware of the true nature of his plans, before he dispatches them. It's all good jolly fun, in the sort of James Bond-meets-The Blob fashion. I do admit I was a bit disappointed that Anya isn't really much of an agent other than bedding Shaw, and getting captured. She also seems to be frightened a lot. It's too bad, as there doesn't seem to be a point to her character otherwise. I guess I should have expected such when Max, Shaw and Anya's chief at 6D2 tells Shaw before the mission, "Take care of her. Try not to sleep with her too casually. She's tough, but she's all woman."
It sounds goofy as hell, but it's a pretty good time if you're looking to spend a rainy afternoon with another one of those swinging spies from the day.