For Your Shelf Only continues! Spy Vibe recently talked with Jon Gilbert, rare book dealer and author of Ian Fleming: The Bibliography. Our chat began a new series on Spy Vibe, offering fellow collectors and fans of spy novels a chance to share their experiences and some of their prized books.
Our next guest is fellow C.O.B.R.A.S. agent, David Foster. Australian author, David James Foster writes under the pen name James Hopwood. He has contributed to Crime Factory Magazine (Vol. 10), Matt Hilton's ACTION: Pulse Pound Tales, and writing as Jack Tunney, wrote King of the Outback - the sixth title in the popular Fight Card series. He can be found at the blog: Permission To Kill. More info at his author page on Amazon.
Many of us grew up reading and collecting spy fiction. At what age did you start to collect books?
G'day Jason, and thank you for inviting me back to Spy Vibe. I started collecting books pretty early. I was lucky, as my Aunt ran a second hand bookshop. The first books I collected were Charlie Brown books, which were paperbacks with the Charles M. Schultz Peanuts comic strip in them. I thought they were brilliant, especially the ones featuring Snoopy as a WWI flying ace. I must have only been seven or eight at the time.
However, by the time I was nine, a new star had appeared on my horizon. That was James Bond. It was the film, The Spy Who Loved Me, that set me on my quest of collecting spy books. The first Bond book I owned was The Man With The Golden Gun, and the copy I acquired had a picture of Roger Moore on the cover. I read it, but must admit, I didn't really get it. It wasn't like the filmic incarnation of Bond. However, with my Aunt's help, I persevered, collecting the whole series. And the more I read, and the older I got, the stories began to click.
What books did you seek out and what was it about them that captivated you?
Most of the Bond books I had were the '60s Pan editions, so the cover art wasn't great – not like the hardbacks and the '50s paperbacks. But even without wild lurid illustrations on the covers I was still very drawn to the series. And this may sound strange, one of the things I really loved were the adverts at the back for other books series – such as the Travis McGee, Modesty Blaise and Charles Hood stories. Back then, I never could find any McGee or Hood books, but I knew they were out there – all part of this cool, hidden, man's book thing. As a kid, I thought that's what a real man did, read Travis McGee books!
The adverts read:
John D. MacDonald
'The tough, amoral and action crammed stories of the popular Travis McGee as he tangles with passionate women and violent men to uncover blackmail and corruption from California to Mexico.'
'A telepathic nymphomaniac twin possessing one half of a vital formula... a vulture trained to eat living prey... a gunfight amongst priceless antiques – another thrill packed Hood assignment.'
'Demon driver. Ace pilot. Crack shot, and a knockout with the girls?
Yes, you've got it in one. PHILIP McALPINE – That Dolly Dolly Spy man – the last word in British sex-mad cad agents, is back with his second adventure.'
Of course my collection isn't limited to Bond or even spy books, I'll pick up anything. I have Peter Corris, Clive Cussler, Len Deighton, John LeCarre, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins, Alistair McLean, Clive Eggleton, Desmond Bagley, Adam Hall, Peter O'Donnell, Andy McNabb, James Rollins and many, many more. The sad truth is, I have so many books now, even if I didn't buy any more, I would never get around to reading them all – and, of course, almost weekly, new books come into my life.
Do you have a book or two in your collection that you prize above all others?
My Holy Grails would be First Edition Hardbacks of Ian Fleming's Bond stories, however with my meager budget, I realize these are well out of reach. But I do have a couple of items in my collection I am pretty proud of. The first is a First Edition of Modesty Blaise – with the pink dustjacket – not price clipped. And possibly the most sought after is, the unsanctioned Bond novel, Avakoum Zahov versus 07, which was a novel written by Bulgarian, Andrei Gulyaski.
It is often erroneously assumed that The Zakhov Mission is the English translation of Avakoum Zahov versus 07. Much of the misinformation can be attributed to Donald McCormick’s book Who’s Who in Spy Fiction (Elm Tree Books 1977. p93), which suggested The Zakhov Mission was serialised as Avakoum Zahov versus 07 in Komsomolskaya Pravda. Charles Helfenstein was the first to attempt to clear up some of the confusion about Gulyashki and Zahov in the debut issue of his fan magazine, Spies: The Secret Agent's Magazine in 1992. In issue 2 (Oct 92) he even reprinted a 1967 interview with Gulyashki, complete with a picture of him. Once the truth was out there, it was much easier to attempt to locate a copy (although I must admit it was still sheer luck that I found it).
Now why is the English version of Avakoum Zahov versus 07 of any interest? Firstly, we are talking mid sixties. Ian Fleming had died and Kingsley Amis hadn’t yet written his Bond continuation novel Colonel Sun. So there was a gap to fill. Apparently Andrei Gulyashki approached Glidrose (now Ian Fleming Publications) and told them that he had written a ‘new’ James Bond novel. Glidrose weren’t interested. Gulyashki decided to publish his Bond book anyway and was quite vocal in his quest to do so – so much so, that the press dubbed him ‘The Vulgar Bulgar’. So this is his renegade Bond novel.
The second reason why the book is of interest is that it has become quite rare. In the Titan comic strip edition of Goldfinger, there is an article by Vladislav Pavlov (Goldfinger: Behind Enemy Lines: A Foreign Perspective. Titan Books 2007). This is what he briefly has to say about ‘Avakoum Zahov versus 07’.
‘...Bulgarian writer Andrei Gulyashki (known for his series about the Bulgarian secret agent Avakoum Zakhov) announced his intention to write a novel in which his hero would be fighting the notorious 007. (Behind the Iron Curtain, the notion of copyright has always been a bit vague, to put it mildly). When it became known to the proprietors of the literary Bond franchise (Glidrose) they naturally banned Gulyashki from using either the number 007 or the name James Bond. As a result, the name of the villain disappeared and the number 007 was shortened to 07, the British agent acting in Bulgaria under the control of the NATO intelligence division.
In his book Gulyashki did all he could to defame the character, picturing him as mean and stupid, substituting, in a way, the role of 07 for the Russian SMERSH leaders described by Fleming in From Russia With Love. There was, however, one notable exception: whilst Fleming, describing the villains in such a grotesque way, was only pulling the reader's leg, Gulyashki's villain, created for the benefit of Soviet propaganda, looks infinitely dull and serious. The book has been rumoured to have been published in English, and is even considered a kind of Holy Grail amongst some Bond collectors for its extreme rarity. However, few people realise that the carpenter's cup can't be made of gold.
Avakoum Zahov versus 07 was only published in English by an Australian publisher called Scripts. Scripts were allegedly an offshoot of Horwitz Books, that specialised in saucy ‘Adult’ fiction. But before we go any further, let me assure you that despite being published under the ‘Scripts’ flag, this book is in no way pornographic in nature.
What are you collecting now?
The books I am hunting for these days are essentially Australian pulp fiction from the '50s, '60s and '70s. Australia used to have a huge pulp adventure fiction output, which is criminally ignored these days. I am not for one minute claiming it was all great literature, but even bad books, tell you something about the time and place they were written – and therefore have a worth.
Thanks again to David for joining us and sharing his love of collecting books and tracking down cool stories. Scroll down for past editions of our series, For Your Shelf Only, where guests share stories about collecting and show us some of their treasures. Series links: Jon Gilbert, Raymond Benson, Jeremy Duns, Peter Lorenz, Rob Mallows, Roger Langley, Craig Arthur, Fleming Short, Matt Sherman. You can find cold war thrillers and other spy treasures in Spy Vibe's secure Amazon Store.
Stay tuned for another edition of For Your Shelf Only. Check out Spy Vibe's classic 2009 article, Set For Adventure, where we joined forces with Lee Pfeiffer, Jeremy Duns, Stephen Bissette, and others to look at the best set designs from spy entertainment. More about Spy Vibe creator Agent J at Jason Whiton.