Sunday 26 May 2024

The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. - The Cornish Pixie Affair

Peter Leslie’s The Cornish Pixie Affair, published in 1967, was the fifth of the original novels based on the TV spy series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (although only the first two were published in the United States).

I’m rather fond of TV tie-in novels, especially the ones that are original stories rather than novelisations of TV episodes. They often have a subtly different tone compared to the TV series. They’re often darker and more violent, and sometimes sexier. The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. novels are definitely slightly more serious than the TV series. In fact the first of the novels, Michael Avallone’s The Birds of a Feather Affair, is very dark indeed.

Another fascinating feature of TV tie-in novels is that they often make explicit things that are only implied in the series. In some cases these are things that would not have been acceptable to the TV networks. In the case of The Cornish Pixie Affair we’re explicitly told that U.N.C.L.E. is politically strictly neutral, favouring neither the western powers nor the eastern bloc. That’s implied at times in the TV show but never explicitly stated.

Peter Leslie (1922-2007) was a reasonably prolific author who wrote quite a few TV tie-in novels based on various TV series including several The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Danger Man, The Invaders and The Avengers.

The Cornish Pixie Affair starts with a murder in a circus, always a good way to start a mystery or thriller story. The murder takes place in rural Cornwall. Sheila Duncan ran a concession stand in a travelling circus. She sold souvenirs. The murder might have been the result of a complicated romantic entanglement but what worries Mark Slate is that Sheila may have been murdered because she was a secret agent. She was in fact an U.N.C.L.E. agent and she was working on a case.

Ace U.N.C.L.E. agent April Dancer is sent to Cornwall to take charge. She talks her way into a job in the circus, taking over Sheila Duncan’s concession stall. There are clues but they seem to make things less clear. Why do so many people want to buy cheap black porphyry statuettes of Cornish pixies? Such statuettes don’t appear to exist, but people keep asking for them. And why are the little souvenir lighthouses made in such an odd way?

And what could possibly be the motive for the second murder?

April decides that engaging in some flirtation with one of the suspects might pay dividends, but she finds out that harmless flirtation can get a girl into a lot of trouble. A girl can end up chained in a dank cellar.

This is a perfectly competent spy thriller. The plot is not exactly dazzling but it’s serviceable.

April and Mark behave in ways that are generally consistent with what we know about them from the TV series (which is essential if you’re going to write a TV tie-in novel) although the novel would have benefited from a bit more witty banter between them.

April gets to make use of plenty of gadgets. It’s amazing what can be done with the things women carry around in their handbags. Or at least the the things April carries around in her handbag.

It’s all fairly straightforward with very little in the way of outlandishness. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. The books lacks the silliness that marred so many of the TV episodes but it lacks the subtle touches of the outrageous that made the good episodes so enjoyable. The circus setting is used quite well.

There’s a reasonable amount of action and suspense. It picks up steam in a major way towards the end with quite a bit of mayhem and some tense race-against-time stuff.

Overall it’s a book that fans of the series should enjoy. Recommended.

I’ve reviewed three of the other Girl from U.N.C.L.E. novels - Michael Avallone’s The Birds of a Feather Affair, Simon Latter’s The Global Globules Affair (which is great fun) and The Golden Boats of Taradata Affair (also by Simon Latter).