Well, not exactly. New James Bond novels and movies pop up all the time, but Gérard de Villiers (who died in 2013) wrote either 100 or 200 novels about an Austrian (and freelance CIA operative), named Malko Linge, that have sold millions of copies in France and made him “the most popular writer of spy thrillers in French history.” The discrepancy with the numbers (100 or 200) hardly matters, though those figures are cited in the biographical information about the writer at the beginning of the two novels discussed here: Chaos in Kabul and The Madmen of Benghazi, both originally published in France in 2013. Clearly, the guy was prolific—much more than Ian Fleming. His expertise was the Middle East, which made his stories not only current but, often, prescient.
My first exposure to James Bond was as an undergraduate, more than fifty years ago, and then, subsequently, in the movies, beginning for me with Goldfinger (1964) that I attended with my mother. When Pussy Galore showed up on the screen, my mother laughed uproariously, which told me something about her that I hadn’t known. I mention Pussy because her name and innuendo are about as far as Fleming went in those novels. De Villiers has no such limitations. The sex is graphic, sprinkled throughout each narrative every few chapters. Linge is heaving endowed (something we always assumed was true of James Bond, though we never knew). The women are all large-busted, and Linge gets them all—in multiple encounters and positions.
Because these are the writer’s first books to be published in the United States in decades, they provide background to Linge’s character. From Chaos in Kabul, we learn “a somewhat impoverished Austrian nobleman [who lives in a castle] who somehow managed to preserve his situation in ways unsuspected by the hoi polloi. Very few people knew of Malko Linge’s connection to the CIA as a highly skilled freelance operative. In exchange for taking intense risks, it allowed him to pay the castle’s bills.” A couple of times, we’re told that he will not kill anyone but that precept is invalidated by the end of the first of these novels.
At the beginning of Chaos in Kabul, Linge is hired to eliminate Hamid Karzai. Yes, you read that correctly. So Linge is flown into Afghanistan after responding to his CIA agent, “This mission is impossible. The Agency has everything it needs in Afghanistan. You operate a fleet of drones that can hit anything. What can you expect from one man against the Karzai machine? Besides, you know I’m not a killer.” And the answer to his response? It can’t be obvious that Americans caused Karzai’s death. So, Linge agrees, but first he’s got to find an accomplice who will do the actual killing. That guy is a South African thug, and the plan is that Karzai will be shot when he’s riding in his motorcade.
Obviously, the plan didn’t work out or you would have read about it in your papers (if you read newspapers). But de Villiers’ story is convincing because when the novel was published, Karzai was still in power. Imaginatively, de Villiers’ story takes on a suspenseful turn once the plot fails, because Karzai catches word that Linge is the person who tried to murder him. So Linge becomes a hunted person, just as Karzai was earlier in the novel. He’s kidnapped, and assumes he’ll be murdered but, first, he’s dropped to the bottom of a deep, dry well. Then, after a few days of “living” in the well, something is tossed into the deep space:
“A shout made Malko look up. A man leaning over the lip of the well tossed something that bounced down the walls and landed at his feet.
“It as small, brown, and round.
“A hand grenade.”
That’s the end of the chapter. De Villiers’ plots rely heavily on cliffhangers, dozens of them in the same way that Charles Dickens’ pulled the same trick at the end of the installments of his serialized novels. What’s goanna happen next, you can’t help asking? How can he still be alive? But, dear reader, you need not worry. Everything has to work out for our hero so he can appear in De Villiers’ next novel, which in this case is The Madmen of Benghazi.
The ruse in this novel is the CIA’s plan to restore the monarchy in Libya, once Qaddafi is located and eliminated (the Arab Spring has already begun and Qaddafi is on the run). Linge is hired to protect Prince Ibrahim-al-Senussi, who has been living in exile in London, living the life of a playboy. With a voluptuous British model named Cynthia Mulligan, the Prince gets a flight to Cairo to talk to a number of well-connected Libyans about restoring the monarchy. Qaddafi is referred to as America’s “nut job,” and the country—now that he’s on the run—has become “a free-form cluster fuck.” As you might suspect, there are plenty of Libyans who do not want to see another monarchy (who want a caliphate instead) and are out to kill al-Senussi. Just as the plane that he and Cynthia are on is about to land in Cairo, it’s shot down by a surface-to-air missile launcher. Or so you think, tricked by another cliffhanger.
Eventually de Villiers gets his three main characters (Linge, al-Senussi, and Cynthia) into Libya, but not at the same time. Linge and Cynthia are isolated from the Prince so that there can be plenty of fast sex with the two of them. When the Prince realizes that if he stays in Libya there will be continued threats on his life, he reconsiders his original goal of becoming the next monarch. “Al-Senussi was looking a little green around the gills. When the British originally suggested that he could be the next king of Libya, he’d found the idea very attractive. He’d imagined leisurely chats, with lots of tea and cakes, with friendly, civilized people”—and plenty of available women, preferably Western.
Thus the new objective is to get Linge, Cynthia and Al-Senussi out of Libya and, finally, safely back to the United Kingdom. So we’ve got another chase, with plenty of tense action and more voluptuous sex. And you, dear reader, will be fully entertained by reading Gérard de Villiers’ spy novels, more cleverly than by playing computer games. And think about it, there are either 98 or 198 additional de Villiers’ novels waiting to be translated into English, once the publisher stops counting on his fingers.
Gérard de Villiers: Chaos in Kabul
Translated by William Rodarmor
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 376 pp., $14.95
Translated by William Rodarmor
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 260 pp., $14.95
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.