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Friday, July 28, 2017

BRIT SPY—JOHNNY FEDORA

BRIT SPY—JOHNNY FEDORA

Desmond Cory is a pseudonym for British mystery and thriller writer Shaun Lloyd McCarthy. As a nineteen year old undergraduate at Oxford, he wrote his first thriller, The Secret Ministry, which introduced his Irish-Spanish secret agent Johnny Fedora.  A year before Ian Fleming saw his first James Bond novel, Casino Royal, published in 1952, Johnny Fedora was already licensed to kill by British Intelligence as a deadly private contractor, who was hired for specific assignments for which the British government needed to have a degree of deniability.

Described by critics as the thinking man's James Bond...who deals with the cold-blooded bastards on this earth, Fedora survived sixteen deadly assignments chronicled by Desmond Cory over a twenty year period. As a spy with the ability to outshoot, outwit, and outmaneuver his Cold War opponents, Fedora’s assignments were a tour through all the exotic hotspots of the world. Whenever he needs backup, Fedora partners up with the efficient Sebastian Trout. Assigned to the Foreign Office, but with no love for bureaucracy, Trout acts as a more involved version of Bond’s friend, Felix Leiter. 

   
In his first assignment, Secret Ministry (1951), Fedora is part of a team of seasoned assassins, called together to eliminate renegade group from Hitler’s Gestapo who have escaped to London after the war, but continue to kill and maim. As the series continues, Fedora faces ever growing threats to Queen and country, all leading to a final five book face-off against Feramontov, a cold, ruthless, and fanatical Russian agent determined to support the ideals of his homeland—even at the price of world annihilation.

Like his closest counterpart James Bond, Fedora was a product of the Cold War—a time when two ideologies were attempting to destroy each other without anyone noticing. Spies from The East and The West found themselves in a war of attrition—pawns on the World’s chessboard. Whenever a dastardly bid by an unfriendly foreign power to influence other counties in different parts of the world, Johnny Fedora and his ilk would sally forth to meet the devil.

Even though the critically acclaimed early Fedora novels made the bestseller lists and significantly outsold the early Bond novels, Ian Fleming had the last laugh. The ex-commando turned writer Desmond Cory found his thunder stolen when President John F. Kennedy admitted Ian Fleming’s Bond adventure, From Russia With Love, was one of his favorite novels. Immediately after Kennedy’s unintentional, yet resounding, recommendation, the sales of all of Fleming’s Bond novels skyrocketed to epic heights, and a cultural juggernaut was born.

When the New York Times Book Review in 1966 published side by side reviews of Cory’s latest Fedora novel, Feramontov, and Ian Fleming’s new Bond outing, Octopussy, a reviewer said Feramontov was filled with colorful action, copious carnage, elaborate intrigue, frequent surprises. Comparatively, Octopussy was dismissed as a thin and even emaciated volume. However, the brightness of Bond’s sun blinded readers to the qualities of any similar fiction—even if, like Fedora, their adventures had provided the template for Bond. 

Despite surface similarities in content and packaging—suave British spies with deadly skills coupled with exotic locations and an economy of words—the Fedora books are strikingly different as Cory was less concerned with Bond’s fast-pacing and techno-gadgetry (accentuated and expanded by the Bond films) and more concerned in delivering a thriller with brains. Trying to walk a tight-wire between action and realism, Fedora operated in the no-man’s-land between Deighton and Fleming.

Being closer in style to Graham Greene than Ian Fleming, Cory’s characters are often internally troubled, with Fedora occasionally showing his own frailties. Cory eschews melodrama, preferring to detail the psychological battle of a harrowing interrogation than the shootouts, car chases, and destruction of more derivative secret agent novels. He delivers lean, realistic prose to match his clever and suspenseful plots. Less obsessed with action, Fedora’s assignments weave a fascinating web across the world of men and women leading secret lives and their psychological and sexual deviations under pressure.

THE JOHNNY FEDORA NOVELS
Secret Ministry  (The Nazi Assassins)
This Traitor Death (The Gestapo File)
Dead Man Falling (The Hitler Diamonds)
Intrigue (Trieste)
Height of Day (Dead Men Alive)
High Requiem
Johnny Goes North (The Swastika Hunt)
Johnny Goes East (Mountainhead)
Johnny Goes West
Johnny Goes South (Overload)
The Head  
Undertow   
Hammerhead (Shockwave)
Feramontov   
Timelock  
Sunburst
 
The last five Fedora novels, Undertow, Hammerhead—aka: Shockwave, Feramontov, Timelock, and Sunburst, form the Feramontov Quintet, chronicle the duel between Fedora and his KGB arch-enemy.
 
 

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant summary of Cory's Fedora novels with great cover art to support it. Perhaps worth adding that there is a dedicated Johnny Fedora website at www.johnnyfedora.com
    Thank you, i really enjoyed your article

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