“A battle to the death between two crack Secret Agents of East and West!”
This week’s Pulp Friday is one of the strangest cultural artefacts to come out of Australian pulp publishing in the sixties, the spy thriller Avakoum Zahov vs 07 by Bulgarian author, Andrei Gulyashki.
While spies first came to prominence as popular culture figures during World War One, it was the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, published in 1953, that really kick-started the modern fascination with spies. A host of well known authors as well as a legion of lesser know writers and pulp imitators, all followed in Bond’s wake.
These days it’s easy to view Bond as little more than a clotheshorse with a few snappy lines of dialogue and a lot of high-tech gadgets, facing off against the latest embodiment of the West’s global fears.
But in the fifties and sixties, Bond was a blunt weapon in dinner suit whose sole purpose was to smash the West’s enemies. He was also the epitome of sexual and social permissiveness, licensed to kill and swing. The casual sex, alcohol consumption, fine living and travel to exotic destinations were all potent symbols of the West’s economic and cultural affluence in the sixties.
Not only were the Soviet authorities aware of the global popularity of James Bond, they saw him as a major propaganda coup for the West. Fleming’s books were banned and Soviet newspapers lambasted the secret agent as a sadist and a Nazi.
And while Soviet culture never offered up anything as glitzy or lurid as Bond, it nonetheless produced its own fictional spies.
The most infamous of these was Avakoum Zahov who featured in a series of books by Bulgarian author, Andrei Gulyashki. Two of these books were reprinted in the West. The first, The Zakhov Mission, was published in the United Kingdom and the US. The second, Avakoum Zahov vs 07, found its way onto bookshelves in Australia in 1967 via Scripts Publications. Regular Pulp Friday readers will be familiar with Scripts, the offshoot set up by Horwitz Publications in the late sixties to distribute their more adult oriented material.
In the Scripts version of Gulyashki’s novel, Agent 07 is the code name for a cold nameless cold blooded British agent ordered to kidnap Konstantin Toffimov, a Russian scientist who had perfected a powerful laser beam. Despite the hero Avakoum Zahov’s efforts, 07 managed to kidnap Toffimov and his secretary, Natalia, and spirit them onto a ship heading towards Antarctica. Zahov manages to slip on board the ship to rescue the professor and his secretary. Zahov, the scientist, his secretary and 07 shipwrecked on an ice sheet. The book culminates in a hand-to-hand fight, in which Avakoum upholds Soviet superiority by pushing 07 into a hundred foot crevice.
The book is incredibly rare and has been referred to by some Bond fans as the ‘Holy Grail’ of Bond fiction. EBay Australian currently has a copy for sale $2269.
Exactly how Avakoum Zahov vs 07 came to be released by an obscure local pulp outfit is one of mysteries surrounding Avakoum Zahov vs 07.
Multiple translations of the book exist, some of which have different endings. Exactly who Gulyashki and what became of him is unknown.
But the most hotly debated issue is whether Gulyashki simply wanted to cash in on the Bond craze for his own ends or whether Avakoum Zahov vs 07 was part of a deliberate plot by the Soviets to counter the popularity of Bond.
Gulyashki’s books were not the only spy fiction to emerge from the Soviet Block. A number of Soviet authors wrote suspense and spy fiction. The best known of these in the West was Yulian Semyonov, who the Los Angeles Times once referred to as “the Soviet Robert Ludlum”.
If you are interested in finding out more about Gulyashki, Avakoum Zahov vs 07, and Cold War era Soviet Bloc spy fiction generally, you might want to check out my piece, ‘A Proletarian James Bond?’ in issue 2014 of Overland Journal, available here.
The cover for Avakoum Zahov vs 07 comes courtesy of my friend David Foster, whose excellent site Permission to Kill contains an absolute treasure trove of material on spy fiction and film.