The Utopia Affair (The Man from U.N.C.L.E. #15) by David McDaniel (1968)
Camp. Wildly improbable. Mediocre acting. So cheesy it's cool. That was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. during the sixties. I loved it and so did millions of others. Napoleon Solo was a bit self-centered, Ilya Kuryakin was an understated, not-your-typical Russian, and Alexander Waverly (for some reason) always reminded you of Cosmo Topper. Together they became all the rage.
For those who do not know it, U.N.C.L.E. stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, a nongovernmental international group of spy guys. Their enemy and counterpart is THRUSH, a sophisticated, well-organized international group of criminals and would-be rulers of the world. Both groups employ an array of nifty gadgets.
The television show spun off The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., a magazine (and one for Girl), several movies, a gazillion merchandising tie-ins, and a string of paperbacks (also including some for Girl). Author David McDaniel wrote seven (only six published) of the U.N.C.L.E. novels. McDaniel was a talented author and (as "Ted Johnstone") an active science fiction fan. He died before he could attain the recognition he deserved, at age 38.
The Utopia Affair was McDaniel's fifth entrant in the series. Waverly's routine physical has given Section Six some concern; he is overworked and has taken poor care of his health. Waverly is forced to take a six-week vacation at the highly exclusive Utopia health/vacation resort in South /Australia. And who will fill in Waverly's role as the Chief of North American operations? Napoleon Solo, of course.
Waverly is just too important to U.N.C.L.E. and to Solo to be sent off without some sort of protection. So Ilya Kuryakin is sent undercover (and without Waverly's knowledge) to assess any possible threats against Waverly, who is booked into the resort under the name of Leon Dodgson. Grumpy while there at first, Waverly soon begrudgingly appreciates the forced vacation. One of the resort's other guests happens to be a high-level THRUSH commander who is using the alias of Silverthorne. Silverthorne appears unware of Waverly's true identity, although it is possible that Waverly knows exactly who Silverthorne is. One activity at the Utopia is an advanced sort of war game, newly developed by a staff member. This game is an intricate, drawn-out, and sophisticated twist on the subject. Waverly signs up for the game and happens to draw Silverthorne as his opponent. As the game continues, it is obvious that both players have an extraordinary ability for military planning. As the days goes on, Silverthorne tries to get one up on Waverly by sneaking into his lodging, searching for for notes that he felt Waverly must have made about proposed plays -- surely, he felt, no one can play the game and plan so well without some written plan of action.
In the meantime, THRUSH has discovered that Waverly is at the resort and has dispatched two highly efficient killers to eliminate him. Interestingly, the orders come from a higher level than Silverthorne's, so he is unaware of the killers' target, although he does recognize the killers as THRUSH men. This keeps Ilya hopping, trying to innocuously block their various plans for assassination while remaining undercover.
THRUSH is also working on an elaborate plan to dishearten Solo while he has the reins of Waverly's organization. They manufacture a large number of crisis throughout the world, as Solo tries to put out one fire after another. Soon Solo drops the ball on one of the crises and a number of U.N.C.L.E. agents ae killed.
McDaniel has a lot of fun writing the U.N.C.L.E. books, often "Tuckerizing" real-life characters, while also giving nods to other fictional characters -- he has placed well-known science fiction personality Forrest J. Ackerman as a character in one of his books; in another, he introduced a Scotland Yard inspector who is clearly John Creasey's Inspector Roger "Handsome" West; he has also made oblique and not-so oblique references to Creasy's The Toff and his Department Z, to Rohmer's Fu Manchu and Sir Denis Nayland Smith, to John Steed and a female companion from television's The Avengers, to 007, James Bond, and probably many others .
The Utopia Affair happens to be the slowest of McDaniels' U.N.C.L.E. novel that I have read. It starts off slowly setting the stage and things don't begin to liven up until the middle of the book with some great comic touches about Solo's occupancy of Waverly's chair, Waverly's rather brilliant military moves during the war game, and Kuryakin's struggles against assassins who clearly outclass him in almost every way.
So this is not the greatest U.N.C.L.E. novel, but who cares? Not the youngster in me who thrilled to the television series,