Books We Like, Dennis Drayton on Wolf’s Head by JK Mayo

I think I read only three of J.K. Mayo’s thrillers, admittedly there were not many more,  apparently he was a Scottish newspaper columnist or editor who wrote novels in his spare time.  Reviewers, and not just me, consider Wolf’s Head to be his his best book. So good at the time I first read it that I thought it was Gavin Lyall writing under a psuedonym. It has a few continuity errors, as in Harry Seddall’s when hot girl assistant Sorrel Blake (echo of Modesty Blaize– although similarly she doesn’t come across as an adornment or anything so old hat) goes from having blue eyes to brown,  something that I had not noticed before but I remembered as one or the other and was confused in the re-read. Colonel Sedall himself, is an out of condition old soldier perhaps in his fifties — something I didn’t realise reading it as a young un. But now re-reading as somebody also over 50 (gulp) I found his relationship with the (presumably twenty-something) French waitress a bit bizarre and probably mostly wish-fulfillment on the part of an over fifty out of condition author. Anyway, the plot is that long. long before this sort of thing became common, a British government minister is mysteriously murdered and beheaded by persons unknown, and trouble shooter Colonel Harry Sedall and his team get on the case, fake a car accident to cover up the murder and get on the trail of a baroque SAS/CIA/Government mission gone wrong where the sole survivor is avenging himself on all involved. Harry Sedall was so alike in function to Gavin Lyall’s Major Maxim that as I said, I thought it might be the same author. But perhaps the sort of genre was already emerging  even if it was new to me — it has the team, the veteran older officer with some younger assistants – which might have been a template by the early nineteen eighties, it was certainly used by Colin Forbes in his Tweed books (which I could never get into for some reason, they won’t be the ones in my books I like series) and later in Jack Higgins’s Fergusson/Dillon books (which I also tired of very fast). In more recent times the whole “spy/special forces type team investigate mystery/political dangerous shennanigans” has definitely become a sub-genre of its own so this book probably counts an early example. It is great fun if a bit gruesome (for the time) and the suspense keeps you going even if the pay-off is messy and inconclusive, but then it is a Cold War thriller. It’s hard to not give spoilers as not much happens really, there is action and sex, though mostly behind the scenes, and the main mystery is why anyone, let alone a special forces type, would want to kill a boring old government minister. But its worth reading for Sedall’s world-weariness and Sorrel’s perkiness — she’s not a modern type female kick-ass heroine, but she’s not a Bond girl either.

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