||1976 - 1989
ABOUT THE SERIES
Charlie Dark is an agent with the CIA.
He has been one since, well, the beginning. He reminisces once briefly about his time with the OSS during World War II so he was there when it went away and the nascent Agency came into being. And he has stuck around and been successful for quite a few years. He has also become in the minds of many of those in charge, a relic.
Which is a strange concept because in the antiguity world, a relic is a prized possession, something of value from the past to be honored and desired. That is most definitely not the case with Charlie Dark. "Of value", absolutely because Dark consistently gets accomplishments when truly no one else could. "Honored and desired", most definitely NOT.
The chronicler of Dark's adventures puts it far better than I could when he says in the intro to the collection :
Charlie inhabits a violent world - the CIA - yet he is nonviolent; indeed, he's inept with weapons and scorns them. ("Any fool can shoot people.") He is old and fat, in a genre that conventionally calls for sleek young heroes. He is thunderingly conceited, an amiable know-it-all, in a world that normally allows no room for arrogant prima donnas. He is clever and ratiocinative in a world best known for its blundering screw-ups. He is an iconoclast in an organization that demands conformity. He insists upon working alone, even though the "company" that employs him is one that prizes team spirit and effort. He is intuitive and resourceful in the midst of an organization peopled by dogged data-gathering computer types. He is rumpled in the world of the neat; he is humorous in the world of the witless; he has nerve but not nerves; and his relationship with his boss, whom he refuses to call his "superior,' is characterized by mutual hatred and contemptuous loathing, even though the two characters exist in symbiosis: neither can survive without the other.
He is also rather desperate. He really enjoys only two things: eating, and practicing his trade - the trade of international trouble-shooter and extinguisher of brush-fires; a trade at which he is - and knows he is - the best in the world. Charlie's greatest fear is that he will be fired: forced into ignominious retirement. In order to avoid that inevitable fate, Charlie goes to ever-increasing lengths to prove his inimitable excellence and therefore his indispensability. As he grows ever older and fatter, Charlie must continuously extend the outrageousness of his stunning feats of accomplishment. He is a man under constant desperate challenge; beneath the corpulent surface of self-confidence I believe there is a man very near utter panic.
While the above does an incredible job explaining Dark, it does tend to paint a not-so-glowing picture of the man, which is an accurate one. But it does not, perhaps because the writer was being modest, something Charlie Dark would never be, convey how fascinatingly brilliant and impressive Dark can be when handed an impossible assignment and he carries it off.
The world in which Dark operates is controlled by one man - his boss, Myerson. Myerson could be described by many as odious. While no one in the recorded adventures likely ever use that term, the few times someone has the inclination to comment at all about him, terms pointing to odius are spoken. No one likes Myerson and Myerson never gives anyone a reason to. Dark most assuredly does not like Myerson and Myerson in return hates, loathes, despises, and denigrates Dark.
Unfortunately for both of them, and to the delight of those reading the adventures, they both need each other desperately. Myerson knows that without someone to pull off the occasional miracle, he would have been let go years before. It is to Myerson's department that impossible, no-way missions are sent, in many instances simply because no one else wants the likely blot on their record. It certainly is not because the powers like Myerson. Myerson's one saving "grace" is the fact that his people pull off miracles. And by the term "his people" I mean Charlie Dark.
For Dark's part, as much as he cannot stand to be in the same room with Myerson, for whom he has zero respect and liking, Dark is well aware of the sad fact that since he is so old and so fat and so not "one of the team" he would have been ousted years before, not through incompetence but because he did not fit in. The one and only person who had protected Dark from forced retirement is Myerson and that is only because Myerson so desperately needs Dark to help him keep his job.
Two men - at constant odds with each other - so much in need of the other.
And while this hate-but-need relationship goes on, Charlie Dark is given one impossible task after another and succeeds brilliantly.
|Number of Books:||2|
As the author, Brian Garfield, mentions in his wonderful introduction to the collection , is not one to often return to a character once he has written a tale about him. He did so in his two-book crime novels about Paul Benjamin (Paul Kersy in the movie versions), Death Wish and Death Sentence [I loved both books. I really did enjoy the first movie. The remainder - not at all].
This lack of desire to continue with a person once a book was finished was the case with the excellent 1976 adventure in . It told the tale of Miles Kendig, a not-ready-to-be-retired CIA agent who still had some desire to do something so he wrote a tell-all book and then let both the Agency and the KGB know he was naming names. Some of those names desperately want to get the manuscript so they go after him and the fun begins.
The book was a terrific read, so much so that it won the Edgar for Best Novel for that year and rightly so. It did well enough to attract the attention of Hollywood and the author was hired to cowrite the screenplay. The movie that came out a couple years later starred some incredible acting talent. Walter Matthau was a terrific Kendig. Ned Beatty did an awesome job playing loathesome Myerson. The genius that was Herbert Lom was devilishly clever KGB agent Yaskov. I do not remember from the book the character that the delightful and talented Glenda Jackson played in the movie but any movie is better for having her in it.
The novel was, in my failing memory, a fair amount darker than the movie but the movie did follow the book pretty well and both were well worth a person's time. While I have not reread the book since I devoured it in the late 70s, I have watched the movie at least three time (and writing this now I am determined to increase that count soon).
That is a fair amount of typing about a character who is NOT in the series in question. Miles Kendig is never a player in any of the activities we follow Charlie Dark doing. He is mentioned more than a couple of times but when at the end of the book he disappears, he stays vanished.
The author was obviously not done with the universe he created when he drafted the first book. In the foreword I mentioned, he talked about being the recipient of "amiable badgering" by Eleanor Sullivan, editor of both Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and finally succombing to it to pen his first short story (he was a devoted novel writer before then).
That tale saw him returning to the Kendig-spawned world and the person of one of the wonderful support character, Joe Cutter (played fantastically by an often amused Sam Waterston). The novella's title was Joe Cutter's Game and it came out in AHMM shortly after the book.
That must have gotten the author's creative juices flowing because a couple years later, he began to produce a series of short stories, ten in all, about a new member of that same world. Charlie Dark was "born" in and for the next year roughly every two months a new Dark puzzle would show up, this time in the pages of EQMM.
I say puzzle rather than adventure because to me the reader and by the words of the author, these were all intended to be puzzles to be worked out by a clever man. He chose to have the solver for all of them be the same fellow. He decided to make that chap rather different than, well, anyone else being written about in the spy fiction genre. Here would be no masculine and athletic female-hounded epicure and wine connoisseur. Nor would we find a rugged he-man ready to bite a bullet while stitching up his own severed arm while blasting away bad guys, presumably with his feet.
No, Charlie Dark is so not the typical spy fiction hero. He is far more akin to the awesome detective, Nero Wolfe, than anyone else but even there we have a major difference. Both are genius and both are rotund (since I am as well, I tongue-in-cheekly choose that term over fat or obese) but other than both have an unhealthy amount of conceit, they are quite a bit different. Wolfe is a gourmet. Dark just loves to eat. Wolfe is sedantary and hates to leave his home. Dark actually seems to enjoy travel and goes all over the world. Wolfe has a small cadre of support men (Archie Goodwin and Saul Panzer being the two main ones). Dark wants to operate along (though he does seem to enjoy the presence of a young man named Ross). Wolfe truly hates the cases he has to take to finance his lifestyle and accepts them always with a growl. Dark relishes the challenges that his depised Myerson dishes him.
So while comparisons like I just made between Wolfe and Dark are likely to occur, Dark is as uniquely his own self as Wolfe is and just as fun to watch.
Three years after the stories in EQMM came out, the author bounded them together in one terrific collection. He took the liberty (well, they were his own stories) to dust off that Cutter novella and reshape it as the work of Charlie Dark instead of Joe Cutter and add it to the mix. He finished it off with a new tale which he aptly named . He published this wonderful full compendium of Dark puzzles into one volume using the name of one of those tales as the title which came out in 1981.
Almost a decade later, the same Eleanor Sullivan who had (thankfully) coerced Mr. Garfield into trying his hand at a short story continued her terrific side job of editing complilations of stories from both AHMM and EQMM with a much enjoyed (at least by me) volume called which consisted of stories from three really gifted authors originally published in those magazines. Eight of those tales were of Charlie Dark and had already been collected in Checkpoint Charlie.
I should say in closing that the time frame listed for these tales, 1976-1989, really does not tell the truth. The first Kendig novel and the solo Joe Cutter adventure came out in 1976. The first collection came out in 1981 and the second in 1989. In truth, the time frame should be 1978-1979 because that is when the stories actually were released.
But just as Charlie Dark is always showing, facts so often get in the way of the truth.
NOVELLAS AND SHORT STORIES
|Number of Stories:||12|
|Number of Movies:||1|
The only movie (so far) that fits in this space does not have Charlie Dark in it nor does it ever mention him at all. Nevertheless, any good follower of Dark will know it and should have seen it. More than twice.
Director: Ronald Neame
Writer: Bryan Forbes
Actors: Walter Matthau as Miles Kendig, Glenda Jackson as Isobel Von Schonenberg, Sam Waterston as Joe Cutter, Ned Beatty as Myerson, Herbert Lom as Mikhail Yaskov
This is a film dramedy version of the book of the same name. A clever retiring CIA agent has written a tell-all book about the CIA, the FBI, and the KGB. Neither side wants him to live long enough to publish it.
My Grade: A+
Your Average Grade: A++
Charlie Dark is the CIA''s Charlie Muffin
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