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Jerry Cornell's Comic Capers by Michael Moorcock

01/06/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Jerry Cornell's Comic Capers in the USA - or Buy Jerry Cornell's Comic Capers in the UK

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pub: Immanion Press. 329 page enlarged paperback. Price: 12.99 (UK), $20.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-9048-5318-3.

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Michael Moorcock has been publishing novels since 1962 under a variety of names, covering a variety of genres. Among the various series, many, especially older, readers will know about the exploits of Jerry Cornelius, anti-hero and spy whose adventures often entered the world of the surreal.

A lesser known character and precursor of Cornelius, was Jerry Cornell. The first of these novels was published as 'Somewhere In The Night' in 1966 under the pseudonym, Bill Barclay. It was revised and re-issued in 1970 as 'The Chinese Agent' under Moorcock's name. A later novel, 'The Russian Intelligence' from 1980, also starred Jerry Cornell. This is the first time they have appeared together in one volume.

Both these novels were written in the period when spy thrillers were at their peak and were an antidote to the general seriousness of the genre. Jerry Cornell is a British secret agent. He is regarded by his bosses and the opposition as the best. He sees himself as suave, sophisticated and a babe magnet. He success though is often down to luck and being in the wrong place at the right time.

In 'The Chinese Agent', Chinese-American Arnold Hodgkiss is planning to steal the Crown Jewels when he is mistaken for a courier and handed top secret papers en route to a Chinese master spy. Cornell is given the job of retrieving the documents. His hope is that he can do the job quickly and get on with his main interest in life, chasing women.

Kung Fu Tzu, the Chinese agent for whom the package was originally destined, wants it retrieved. As both men pursue the documents, the novel descends into farce. Hodgkiss is pursued along the Portobello Road by stroppy stallholders to be run over by a totter with a horse and cart. Kung tries to kidnap Mavis, Hodgkiss' girl-friend, to thwarted by the arrival of the police. With Hodgkiss mostly out of the picture, the race is on to find the totter and the stolen papers.

'The Russian Intelligence' takes place three months later. Jerry has married Shirley, the receptionist at the agency, and it is now her mission to put paid to any bits on the side that the womanising Jerry might be considering. This adventure begins with a fellow agent dying in Cornell's arms. Since Cornell doesn't like the sight of blood he doesn't pay enough attention to what the other agent is trying to tell him. The dead agent was looking into information leaks from the department. His boss thinks there may be a connection to a comic publication and sends Cornell to the editor's offices to follow up the lead. A copy of the comic, it seems is delivered regularly to the Russian embassy. When Jerry gets himself into a pickle, it is the women of the story that have to come to his rescue.

Both these novels are still great fun to read especially if regarded as period pieces. Moorcock himself appears to have had great fun writing them, putting allusions to other authors and their characters. Cornell himself only thinks he is a brilliant agent. Solutions fall into his lap, mostly because of the actions of others.

Pauline Morgan

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