The Boysie Oakes Books: A Classic Pulp Fiction Series from John Gardner

Sep 3, 2020
UK edition of the Airline Pirates
UK edition of the Airline Pirates
I first came across this series in 1981, when the author (John Gardner (UK) – not to be confused with the American author of the same name who wrote Grendel) was appointed by Ian Fleming’s estate to write a series of ‘modern’ James Bond novels. Having enjoyed Licence Renewed I looked around for what the writer had penned in the past and found copies of Amber Nine and Madrigal in a local W H Smiths.

The 'Boysie Oakes' series of books began in 1964 at the height of the James Bond craze. Originally written as a lighthearted pastiche of Bond around the time that book shops were piled high with ‘dolly bird’ swinging sixties secret agent novels, they quickly gained a reputation for a style of humour both subtle and original.

Set within ‘Special Security’ – a department of MI6 that is the equivalent of Fleming’s ‘00’ section - which is headed by the ‘Chief', a boozy ex-Admiral who drinks Chivas Regal at all hours of the day and prefers not to know what his department gets up to provided everything runs smoothly. Beneath him in the command structure is the smooth and Machiavellian Colonel Mostyn – a man for whom the word ‘weasel’ could have been coined. Times are hard for the British Secret Service with a number of espionage blunders and security leaks that prompts the Chief to instruct Mostyn to find a ‘Liquidator’ – a man who can do the section’s dirty work when required. Essentially they want a James Bond. But finding a James Bond isn’t easy.

Mostyn however recalls the closing days of World War Two when he was ambushed by several German soldiers and was about to be shot. His life was saved by a passing British soldier who, with ruthless zeal and cold blooded action, gunned all the German soldiers down. Oakes was his name, and Mostyn had never forgotten him, nor had he forgotten the cold, impassive stare as the man surveyed the carnage.

A man like that would be the perfect Liquidator. Mostyn discovers Brian ‘Boysie’ Oakes now down on his luck, working in a motorway cafe, and offers him the job. Strangely at first Oakes doesn’t seem interested until Mostyn explains that missions will be few and far between, but in the meantime there is a large salary and a jetset lifestyle of tuxedos, casinos, international travel, fine food and wine and dolly birds. Oakes signs on.

UK Corgi edition of Madrigal
UK Corgi edition of Madrigal 
And here’s where the running gag of the books comes into play, for Boysie Oakes is not the ruthless killer that Mostyn assumes he is. In fact he’s a quivering coward, scared of violence, unable to kill in cold blood. In the closing days of World War Two Oakes was simply walking around the corner of the war torn city when he came across the Germans about to kill Mostyn. His gun went off by accident, and by luck the bullets cut down the Germans instantly. What Mostyn mistook for the cold glint of a killer was shock and fear afterwards. 

But tempted by a jetset lifestyle, and the belief that the UK government would never actually send him out on a kill mission, Oakes becomes the Section’s James Bond and all goes well until the fateful day he receives his first assassination job. Bottling it like mad, and unable to go through with it, Oakes finds a friendly and chirpy East End ‘odd job’ man called Charlie Griffin who specialises in ‘arranging accidents’ for a reasonable fee. Simply put, Charlie is the genuine article, and so Boysie begins a familiar routine of sub-contracting his ‘hit jobs’ to Griffin without Mostyn’s knowledge. 

That’s essentially the set up for the first four books which are clever pastiches of familiar Bond routines, where the girls have names like Chicory Triplehouse and Snowflake Brightwater. Everyone thinks Oakes is an effective Bond style agent, but in actual fact, like Harry Flashman, he wants nothing more than to save his skin without revealing the truth to Mostyn.

US edition of Madrigal with vintage art style
US edition of Madrigal with vintage art style
THE SERIES: full list
The Liquidator (1964) 
Understrike (1965) 
Amber Nine (1966) 
Madrigal (1967) 
Founder Member (1969) 
The Airline Pirates aka Air Apparent (1970) 
Traitor's Exit (1970) 
Killer for a Song (1976) 
Two Boysie Oakes short stories in The Assassination File

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