In the 1960s and ’70s, it was common for publishers to commission paperback novels as tie-ins to popular television series. Ace Books Inc.’s UNCLE series was one of the most popular, with 24 published books featuring The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and a few more featuring The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.
Indeed, the paperbacks today are sought after by collectors. All in all, they’re a rather mixed lot in terms of story. But that doesn’t stop collectors, especially the ones who want a complete set.
So, here’s a quick review of few titles. I’m not a big collector personally, and generally only buy the ones that interest me, usually the ones by David McDaniel, the one Ace writer who was a genuine fan of the show. Still, given all the interest, it seems there should be some presence on this website. These reviews are © 1997-2008 William J. Koenig.
1. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (aka The Thousand Coffins Affair)
Initial offering in the Ace series is a real hodgepodge. Author Avallone is a veteran of the quick turnaround book. His introduction of UNCLE is quick and to the point and appears to be drawn from production notes. For example, he mentions the alternate entrance through The Mask Club, which is only referred to (and not by name) in one episode of the television series.
The story is very centered around Napoleon Solo, with Illya Kuryakin being very much a supporting character, like early episodes of the show. In this case, he seems more like a lab technician than an enforcement agent. Alexander Waverly doesn’t sound right, addressing his chief enforcement agent as “Solo,” rather than “Mr. Solo,” as in the show. Solo must figure out why an agent put on his clothes backwards before he died.
Not bad, but not the best the series would offer. Author Avallone was not well received at a fan convention in the mid-1990s.
4. The Dagger Affair
Author: David McDaniel
McDaniel’s first Ace book is one of the best in the series. McDaniel divides the book into four sections, similar to the four acts of the TV show, with each section titled as well as all chapters having titles.
Solo and Kuryakin seem much more in character here. While flying to the West Coast, Solo eagerly awaits the chance to see “the latest” James Bond movie. “I’ll never understand what you see in that escapist nonsense,” Kuryakin says. Solo has already tuned the Russian out and is enjoying the opening titles “which featured a girl with an amazingly supple figure.” (Hmmmm. McDaniel doesn’t tell us if they were designed by Maurice Binder or Robert Brownjohn.)
Plot, concerning a device that could wipe out all existance, is a bit far-out. But McDaniel’s origin of Thrush — that it began as a remnant of Professor Moriarty’s criminal organization — has been adopted by many fans as the definitive version. It was McDaniel who came up with the idea that Thrush originally was an acronym standing for the Technical Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjudgation of Humanity. Also amusing is how UNCLE and Thrush have to work together temporarily.
8. The Monster Wheel Affair
Author: David McDaniel
McDaniel delivers another fast-moving tale, this one involving a supposed orbiting space station. But (and you knew this was coming) all is not what it appears. At the start of the book, the author informs us, “The Egypt in this narrative is entirely fictional, and has no relation to any any Egypt, living or dead.” Once again, Solo and Kuryakin are very close to their characterizations on the television show. Waverly has some interesting moments, as well, including a passage where he reflects on Solo’s ability to “slip through the smallest loophole in Fate’s contract.” The cover, featuring a publicity still of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, is a curiosity. The negative is slipped (they’re wearing their UNCLE badges on the wrong side, for example) and Vaughn is wearing clogs with his business suit.
25. The Final Affair (Unpublished)
Author: David McDaniel
Author McDaniel wanted to give the book series a proper conclusion but couldn’t get Ace to publish this story because the television show was off the air. Nevertheless, his final UNCLE writing effort still circulates among fans. In the story, UNCLE has found a way to tap into Thrush’s Ultimate Computer, setting up a final confrontation. The trail begins in San Francisco and leads, eventually, to a remote island. Along the way, Solo is reunited with his first wife (he was married, and widowed, young, according to production notes; this was never mentioned in the show); Waverly dies and Solo becomes head of UNCLE; and Illya is recalled by the Soviet Navy. A little rough in places (it is essentially an unedited draft), McDaniel’s enthusiasm more than makes up for it.