Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Thousand Coffins Affair

Next to STAR TREK and probably BATMAN, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was likely the most successful television series of the 1960s in terms of merchandising. Lunch boxes, toys, model kits, you name it, some produced one with the U.N.C.L.E. logo on it. In addition to all of that, Ace Books published 23 original paperback adventures of U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo (played in the 1964-68 NBC series by Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). Michael Avallone wrote the first U.N.C.L.E. novel, which was probably intended to be titled THE THOUSAND COFFINS AFFAIR, but ended up on shelves as the more marketable but less creative THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Avallone follows the series' premise fairly well, although it was likely penned early in the show's run, maybe even before it ever aired. As in early episodes, Illya is merely a supporting player stuck in the laboratory, although he does get to join Solo for the action climax. It took a few episodes for the show's producers to catch up to the massive popularity of Illya and actor McCallum, primarily among young women.

Solo goes to Paris and Germany to investigate the strange death of an U.N.C.L.E. agent who was found dressed with his clothing backward. Somehow, the murder is tied into a THRUSH operation that uses ultrasonic sound waves to turn people into mush. Avallone's choice as villain is intriguing and certainly more daring than any seen on television. Golgotha is a hideously deformed madman dressed in a hooded cloak who leaves all he faces queasy at the sight of him. Since Avallone never wrote another U.N.C.L.E. novel, Golgotha probably never returned to battle Solo and Kuryakin, but he's effective in this adventure, which evokes the horror of Dachau death camps.


James Reasoner said...

This is one of my all-time favorite tie-in novels, bought and read when it was brand-new and I was a huge U.N.C.L.E. fan. Yes, it was written from the series bible before any of the episodes aired, which is why there are a few little discrepancies that don't quite match up with the TV series. I believe it's also the book that Avallone is supposed to have written in a single 24-hour period. I don't know about that, but I do know I loved it when I read it and have never forgotten Solo's line to Golgotha at the end.

Booksteve said...

Got to admit, this was also one of my favorite tie-ins. Avallone was, of course, a hack in the truest sense of the word but even when he cranked 'em out, they were entertaining!

Benzadmiral said...

Avallone did write two "Girl from U.N.C.L.E." originals, which are up to the level of excitement of "Thousand Coffins." Completely unlike the campy aired GfU series, "The Birds of a Feather Affair" (1966) features real danger and a quite competent April Dancer. Look for that on Amazon or AbeBooks.