Are spy novels still being read?

Night of the Condor – Blog #012 of the 160 “Pretty Faces” book cover Challenge

This is book #160 on the list of 160 books that Gardner Francis Fox wrote from 1953 to 1986. This is the seventeenth book I scratched out a cover for.

Agent N3 unravels a bizarre conspiracy of blood and corruption!

Nick Carter Killmaster #231 Night of the Condor Kurt Brugel scratchboard art book cover
Blank bookcover with clipping path

Mr. Fox wrote 3 masculine lead spy fiction novels and 54 feminine lead spy novels between 1967 to 1982. He wrote these stories under 4 pseudonyms: Troy Conway, Nick Carter, Glen Chase and Rod Gray. Nick Carter Killmaster: Night of the Condor #231 was written under his real name, but doesn’t show up on the cover or inside, so I have to assume they are using Nick Carter as the House Name.

The original back cover description…

“The American James Bond!” — The New York Times

High in the Peruvian Andes, an earthquake uncovers the wreckage of a plane that crashed twenty years before. Amid the rubble are the remains of a legendary super-spy. The evidence makes it murder—and a job for the Killmaster. The trail out of the past is still hot. It begins with a ripe and willing Brazilian show-girl with mob connections, then leads through an ever-increasing body count to a left-wing death squad and straight into the U.S. Embassy!

This Carter Adventure does bring a little of the Cold War into it. There is a mention of a Russian KGB agent, but I don’t want to say anymore and spoil the story. This novel was released during the Iran-Contra Affair. There is a lot of mention of cocaine use, but it was the mid-80s and that’s what everyone was doing back then.

Are spy novels still being read?

I myself don’t go looking for espionage stories to read. It seems like a tough sell nowadays. With the end of the Cold War, the idea of reading about secret agents fighting it out in the shadows seems silly to me.

It would be more fitting to have a story written around the “Cold War” being fought on the internet with Facebook and Twitter being the battlegrounds. It would give a whole new name to Cyber Wars.

I have to say that the movie Atomic Blonde did the Old Cold War theme justice. The plot uses the Berlin Wall and the long confrontation between MI6 and the KGB as the backdrop. It has an erotic-thriller edge. There is a lot of action and Charlize Theron is so bad-ass! The Cold War is not the primary theme though, the relationships between the agents are the driving force. I would recommend this movie to anyone who liked La Femme Nikita, movie or tv show.

I have not seen Red Sparrow, but I also haven’t heard anything encouraging to get me to. I will probably see it when I get closer to writing the blogs for Mr. Fox’s Lady of L.U.S.T. and Cherry Delight series.

They are still making Bond Films, but I think the Mission Impossible and John Wick franchises are doing it right. But this brings me back to my question: Are spy novels still being read? I’m guessing not. I feel like movies and streaming is doing a better job than flipping through pages.

The big selling points for a super-spy story is that it should take place during the Cold War era. This is why Atomic Blonde works so well, it’s happening the week the Berlin Wall is coming down. The end of the Cold War.

High in the Andes, the wreckage of a plane contains the body of a legendary super-spy missing for twenty years. Carter is sent to find who killed him and why.

Selling Nick Carter as the “American James Bond” is a tall order and I have to say this character and story take it on very well. Unlike Coxeman and Lady from L.U.S.T., the other two spy novel series Mr. Fox wrote for, this story is not spoofing the genre, it is making its own way through the tropes. Carter is not sipping “shaken, not stirred” martinis, but he is maneuvering the landscape like a professional. He takes on a persona, meets his inside contact and deals with the baddies with a cool hand.

Night of the Condor is laid out in 27 short chapters.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter Seven of Night of the Condor, where Nick is meeting his inside contact for the first time:

Carter caught Xica Bandeira’s second and last show at the Starlight Room of the Vista del Mar nightclub in the exclusive oceanfront suburb of Miraflores.

A heavy tip to the maître d’ got Carter a table at ringside. Elegantly attired in formal evening wear, he attracted more than a few interested glances from female patrons. He ordered a double brandy and settled in to watch the show.

The slickly produced revue was a Las Vegas-influenced version of Latino cabaret. Variety acts alternated with splashy dance numbers featuring a chorus line of long-legged beauties. The house band played disco with a Peruvian flavor.

The beaming master of ceremonies finally announced, “And now, for your entertainment pleasure–the sensational Xica!”

Her name harvested a big round of applause from the crowd.

The stage blacked out. A spotlight picked up a long, sleek leg emerging from behind a curtain at the wings.

The other leg followed and Xica stepped into view. A drum roll accompanied her as she slithered to center stage.

The lights came up, exposing Xica in all her glory. She was a Latin beauty, exotic and provocative. A tangled mane of auburn hair reached down to the top of her ripely curved derriere. Dark eyes flashed in a high-cheekboned face. Her full-lipped mouth pouted with sullen sensuality. Her high-breasted, long-legged dancer’s body was sheathed in a glittering green sequined gown. Her dress’s plunging neckline and slit sides revealed plenty of sleek honey-toned skin.

A musical fanfare erupted and she started to sing.

Carter took a long swallow of his drink.

Xica’s thin, husky voice was heavily miked. She sighed and pouted her way through a rendition of that old hit, “Besame Mucho,” then mangled a couple of other standards.

She couldn’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow, but it didn’t matter because she sold a song with her whole body. Swaying, strutting, and flaunting her fabulous figure, she made love to the microphone and to every man in the audience.

The crowd of well-heeled tourists ate it up.

They brought her back for an encore, an uptempo dance number that really allowed her to show her stuff.

She surely raised the room temperature a few degrees, Carter mused.

After she took her last bow and disappeared in the wings, Carter went backstage.

A stocky character with a face like a bulldog barred the way. A fistful of bills persuaded him to let Carter pass.

The backstage area was crowded with performers, stage crew, sugar daddies and stage-door Johnnies. Showgirls in their spangled finery were birds of paradise.

Carter asked a platinum-haired black Amazon where he could find Xica.

“Won’t I do?” she purred.

“You certainly would if I didn’t already have a date.”

“I’d cost you a lot less than that Brazilian gold digger.” Her sensuous gaze surveyed Carter from head to toe and liked what it saw. “A handsome man like you wouldn’t have to buy me anything more than dinner and a few drinks.”

“I’d love to, some other time.”

The black chorine shrugged. “Suit yourself. Xica’s dressing room is at the end of the hallway, to the left.”

“Thanks so much,” Carter said.

“You’d better have a big bankroll, hombre,” she called after him. “Xica’s expensive!”

How right you are, Carter thought. AXE was paying some real money for Xica’s services.

Carter rapped on her dressing room door.

“Who’s there?”

Nick Carter did so well to ride the James Bond fame-train, that he went on to have 261 books written about him and his adventures. This might be why he gets The New York Times credit. Nick is tough as nails and always quick to the resolve. He does work for the acronym titled agency: AXE. Though I don’t know what it stands for. It’s never broken down in the story. It’s a government mystery saved for the conspiracy theorist, I guess..

Original book cover illustration by George Gross for Nick Carter Killmaster #231 Night of the Condor

Originally published in 1987 by Jove Books

The cover Artist: George Gross

I transcribed this book in 2019 with Douglas Vaughan.

It’s a tough world out there. It’s hard to stay employed as a misogynistic killing machine when the current mainstream P.C. culture is asking everyone to stay away from this sort of material. Though the movies seem to be picking up were the novels like Nick Carter left off. I would encourage anyone who would like to go on a spy adventure to pick up a copy of Night of the Condor. In some aspects espionage novels written before the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall should be considered historical fiction.

Original scratchboard art book cover illustration by Kurt Brugel for Nick Carter Killmaster #231 Night of the COndor

I create the cover illustrations to size. I work on 6 x 6 black Ampersand Scratchboard. The book covers are 6 x 9, which leaves 3 inches for text. I want a clean, “Penguin Books” look and feel to the covers. I’m using the pretty faces motif to keep a unified look and feel to the whole library. The back cover has an image of the original cover, the date it was originally printed, and the original story description.

I used this photo I found on Pinterest…

photo reference for scratchboard art book illustration by Kurt Brugel

I wonder how John le Carré and Ian Fleming felt about all of these copy-cat secret agents running around? It has been said:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”
– Oscar Wilde

Night of the Condor was one of the last books Mr. Fox wrote. My understanding is that he retires in 1986, but this book isn’t published until 1987. I suspect that either the story was written long before 1986 and it was in line to be published or Mr. Fox kept writing into his retirement. Who knows? I’m just glad it got to see the light of day.

Here’s a short video I put together of me working on the scratchboard process.

I have had many positive comments about the “new” covers. I feel pretty positive I will be able to do all 160 book covers.

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The original framed scratchboard art is for sale.

I will not be working on books in the order as Mr. Fox wrote them. I am doing the book cover designs based on when the transcribers who are assisting me, finish one. As they complete a book, it will be the newest release, so it will get a new book cover design. I also have to go back and replace the photo-bashed covers I made when I first started the Gardner Francis Fox Library in 2017.

Thank you for stopping by and finding out more about what I’m doing.


Kurt Brugel

Custodian & Illustrator