Thursday, September 3, 2009



Published in 1960, Assignment: Mara Tirana was the twelfth book to feature detective/spy/tough guy Sam Durell – AKA: The Cajun – in author Edward S. Aarons now mostly forgotten Assignment series.

Many mystery sources site Aaron’s espionage series to be under appreciated, perhaps because of its focus more on espionage than sex. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain level of titillation in the Assignment series, women are always instantly falling for Durell’s square jaw line. However, whereas Nick Carter could hardly keep his pants on long enough to save the world, Durell is a more mature, slower hand – more Secret Agent Man than James Bond. Durell even worked for an actual spy agency, the CIA, even if K section didn’t exist within that orgainzation.

Durell’s adventures were written over a span of 28 years from 1955 to 1983, with each more or less being set in the same time frame as which it was written. This does make many of the plots somewhat dated if a reader isn’t willing to take the step back in time needed to enjoy the stories.

Aarons himself wrote all of the novels in the series until his death in 1975 (his last book being Assignment: Unicorn). With the series still enjoying popularity, it is accepted that Aarons’ brother Will(iam) and his nephew, Will(iam) Jr., took over the writing of the books. It is quite possible, however, these titles were ghost written by house authors.

Assignment: Mara Tirana is a typical series entry, made notable by the usual stunning McGinnis cover:

She stood between Sam Durell and his grim search for a US space pilot, downed behind the Iron Curtain; standing beside Lissa, the girl who had breathed life into his pain-racked body, Adam stared at the tragic, twisted remains of the once-shiny space vehicle which had taken him to the stars; its streaked, heat-rusted metal, cracked and cratered, made Adam shiver with the memory of his rendezvous with death and his horror of the perils which lay ahead; he was isolated in a tiny mountain village, surrounded by Communist police and he could trust only Lissa, the woman who had sacrificed her body to a savage lover in order to save Adam's life: this was the man they'd sent Durell to find.

The Assignment series had a number of reoccurring themes, including throwing together a diverse group of people who have to rely on each other to survive; exotic locales given limited scope in the action pieces; a beautiful woman who improbably falls in love with Durell after first hating him; Durell displaying patriotic and personal sentimentality despite his hardass reputation.

For espionage fans nostalgic for the paperback originals of the sixties and seventies, it’s worth making the effort to pick up a title or two in the Assignment series.

1 comment:

daniel said...

Good post about a favorite author of mine. One nice thing about Aarons being under-appreciated is that you can find affordable copies of his books.

His non-Durell novels are just as good, and even more obscure.