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02 December 2015 @ 01:04 pm
ASSAULT ON MING (Alan Caillou's Cabot Cain)  
From August, 1969, this is one of the five Cabot Cain books written by Alan Caillou. Taking a tip from Bantam Books, Avon re-issued them all in 1972 with uniform covers that showed a large pose of Cain in action-- while below was a smaller rendition of the same figure in a scene from
the book. A nice touch is that Cain was shown as towering over the other men on those covers, something that wasn't done often on the Doc Savage covers.

In fact, these books read very much like a Doc Savage book from, say, 1947, told in the first person. Cain is a physical giant, six feet seven inches tall and weighing over two hundred pounds (although that weight would make him pretty gaunt; three hundred would be more
realistic). He is also a multi-talented literal genius, dropping references here and there to the classes he's taught at Stanford and the Sorbonne, and the advanced degrees he has in a wide range of fields. Cain casually seems to be an expert on everything, but he doesn't boast
or make a production of it, which is how Doc would treat his own knowledge.

Also, Cain is independently wealthy and will sometimes accept freelance assignments from Interpol-- unofficially and with no fee-- if he thinks the situation justifies his intervening. He doesn't carry a gun, although in dire emergencies, he may use one. The Cabot Cain books could be easily re-written into Doc Savage adventures with only a few details altered, and they would be pretty good ones at that.

As far as I've been able to find, there were five of the books, each with a title beginning ASSAULT ON. These were MING, AGATHON, FELLAWI, KOLCHAK, and LOVELESS. In 1975, ASSAULT ON AGATHON was made into a film, directedby Laszlo Benedek and starring Nico Minardos as Cain. From all accounts, it was a rather pedestrian spy thriller, with its Greek locations its
main point of interest.

Caillou was a fine writer of adventure stories, having a list of television and film credits that most relevantly includes his work on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (he was the writer who developed Ilya Kuryakin into the personality fans know) and he also had a similar number of
acting credits. If you remember the bizarre and short-lived spoof QUARK, Caillou played the administrator with the giant head.

ASSAULT ON MING is told in a clear, expressive style that works in huge amounts of background on Macao painlessly. In this book, Cain agrees to find an ex-gangster's daughter who has gone off on a suicide mission against the rival warlord, Alexander Ming, who got her hooked on heroin. The plot is solid and reminiscent of Ian Fleming (particularly in the constant mention of specific brand names), but worked out a bit more carefully and revealing just enough twists and surprises to keep those pages turning. Caillou builds the action up to a final sea battle between an old junk and a helicopter, a scene that would work very well on film.

There is a wonderfully evocative character who meets and works with Cain, a tiny Chinese woman named Mai Cho-Sing. She works as a bodyguard for a Macao madam, and despite her demure, fragile appearance, was raised on martial arts. Every time she goes into action, there is a bit
of mayhem that startle even the hardened thugs they're dealing with. (She smiles at Cain after a burst of violent action and says,"Impressed?") For once, the semi-romance that develops between the hero and the adventuress he meets is believable and understated, and gives
the final few paragraphs real poignancy. And thank you, Alan Caillou, for not gratuitously killing Mai off, just so Cain has a reason to go for revenge. I am SO sick of girlfriends being slaughtered to justify a fight scene that would have happened anyway.

As a final nod to Doc, Cain has to climb a thin nylon cord barehanded, and he remarks how difficult it is. His hands are "a bloody mess" when he's done. He would probably like to know how the Man of Bronze managed to hustle up and down that silk cord so easily.

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Zathras IXzathras_ix on December 2nd, 2015 06:49 pm (UTC)
As a final nod to Doc, Cain has to climb a thin nylon cord barehanded, and he remarks how difficult it is. His hands are "a bloody mess" when he's done. He would probably like to know how the Man of Bronze managed to hustle up and down that silk cord so easily.

A knotty problem, that, but easily remedied.

The first that a "silken cord" is used for climbing is in "The Man of Bronze" (Apr 1933), but isn't part of Doc's at that time. It does, however, make clear how one should approach using a silk rope.

"A stout silken cord, with hardwood rods about the size of fountain pens tied every foot or so for handholds, draped out of the open window. The end of the cord was tied to a stout radiator leg. And a tense jerking showed a man was going down it."

When Doc starts using the grappling hook and silk cord combo, the ease with which can climb such a thin line is attributed to his powerful grip, as in "The Lost Oasis" (Sep 1933).

"The silken cord, because of its small diameter, would have presented quite a problem to an ordinary climber. But so toughened were the big sinews in Doc's hands, that he gripped the line and climbed it with what looked like comparative ease."

The line appears to have been treated or rubberized in some way, as noted in "The Sargasso Ogre" (Oct 1933).

"He gained the liner. It was a long throw to lift his grapple to the rail. On the first attempt, the hook failed to hold, and came snaking back. The silken line was enameled, giving it a wire stiffness. It did not entangle easily."

In any case, it's most likely that Doc's climbing line was knotted like the one used by the Mayan assassin to provide regularly-spaced handholds more substantial then the line itself, but without the rods that turned the former into a lightweight rope ladder.

Given Doc's size, they could be spaced a yard apart. Dent was enamored of describing Doc as traversing his "silken cord" like a spider, imagery that would've been undermined by mentioning the knots.
pronkerpronker on December 2nd, 2015 10:01 pm (UTC)
Very fine comparison of Doc Savage and Cain.

"I am SO sick of girlfriends being slaughtered to justify a fight scene that would have happened anyway." This. *glowers at Joss Whedon*

Quark! At my house, we just knew this was one show we could never miss due to its niche appeal. Sure enough, all episodes were enjoyed and it had a short, fun run. *sighs over The Tick, Lone Gunmen, et al ... *
(Anonymous) on December 15th, 2015 11:06 pm (UTC)
Alan Caillou was an interesting character in his own right
Alan Caillou (real name Alan Samuel Lyle-Smythe) was an actor as well as a writer. Among his acting and writing credits are TV's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Quark.
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