Sunday, May 31, 2015

Forgotten Books: SLEEPERS CAN KILL (1968)

SLEEPERS CAN KILL by Simon Jay (Collins, 1968)

The story: Members of a communist group meet once on an Italian beach as the war is ending and agree to stay inactive in the years ahead, until the call comes. Thus an espionage cell, "sleepers" is created, infiltrating New Zealand. Michael Connor is a discredited servant of New Zealand counter-espionage who is recalled as the sleeper cell comes violently awake, its puppet-masters finally pulling the strings. SLEEPERS CAN KILL is an exciting, complex and unusual espionage story, filled with murder and betrayal while offering something different in terms of a detailed New Zealand setting, strong characterisation, and a welcome sense of humour. Author Simon Jay breaks new ground for himself and adds to the espionage vogue by "discovering new spies and heroes in an authentic and unusual setting".

The author: Simon Jay was a thriller writing pseudonym used by New Zealand doctor Colin James Alexander (1920-2007). Alexander was born in Lincolnshire, but immigrated to New Zealand with his family at a very young age. He saw active service in Italy from 1945-1947, and was a doctor and surgeon before becoming a Professor of Radiology. He wrote two thrillers, DEATH OF A SKIN DIVER (1964) and SLEEPERS CAN KILL (1968), along with having a lot of medical work published.

Further comment: The idea of a 'sleeper cell' seems very common today, with all the talk of terrorism in the news, and its heavy use in crime and thriller dramas on screen and in books. Almost fifty years ago however, the idea would have been quite novel (pun intended), and for a New Zealand professor and doctor to insert it into a spy story, along with setting his tale of intrigue half a world away from the Euro-centric or North American-based mainstream of the time, would have been something quite unusual and interesting.

I'm very pleased to have stumbled over this book, which I purchased online from a secondhand dealer in the UK after I read about it in a footnote to some research I was doing. I'd heard of Simon Jay before, having sourced DEATH OF A SKIN DIVER - which was more of a murder mystery - a few years ago.


What are some of your favourite out-of-print crime or mystery titles? Do you like reading old hardcover tales from the 1950-1970s that have fallen from fame? Comments welcome.

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