Monday, July 21, 2014
An incompetent hero
About the time MacLean's hero, Interpol agent Paul Sherman, gets beaten up within an inch of his life for about the third time in three days, I began to have doubts. How can anyone take such punishment repeatedly, yet keep going as if nothing has happened? What's more, how can anyone deliberately keep getting himself into such situations? Even Sherman himself doubts his own competence, as when he hides a second gun on his person because he expects, correctly, his primary gun will be taken from him. Then he hides the key to his handcuffs because he expects them to end up on his own wrists.
Sherman is in Amsterdam trying to track down the head of an international drug-smuggling ring. He operates alone, except for two young and beautiful female assistants whose main function seems to be to give him someone to protect and/or rescue periodically. He goes into highly dangerous situations, expecting the worst, not just without backup but without even telling anyone else where he is going. Nor does he think to share his suspicions in case he doesn't make it back alive.
Published in 1969, Puppet on a Chain appears under the influence of the James Bond movies of that period. MacLean's villains, like those in the movies, choose not to simply put a bullet into their adversary's head. Rather they concoct elaborate means of slow execution that allow the hero an opportunity for escape, usually more because of amazing good luck than anything else.
Maxwell Smart, who was anything but smart, always got his man. Paul Sherman gets his, too, but this wasn't supposed to be a comedy.