Bookshelf: Mannix

By Michael Avallone
First Published in 1968
Published by Popular Library
128 Pages

Mannix, which ran on CBS from 1967 to 1975, was in many ways two separate shows. Yes, Mike Connors starred as Joe Mannix during its entire run and, yes, the character was always a detective, but its first season was very different than the other seven. When the show premiered in September of 1967, Mannix worked for a high-tech organization called Intertect, which used computers to compile information that its operatives could then use in the field. Mannix, however, preferred to use his wits, his experience and his fists to solve cases, not technology. Joseph Campanella played Lou Wickersham, Mannix’s boss.

When Mannix returned for its second season in September of 1968, Intertect and Campanella were gone. Joe Mannix was now a private investigator working for himself with Gail Fisher as Peggy, his secretary. This tie-in novel, written by Michael Avalone, was the only original story based on the series (four novelizations were also published) and is set during the first season when Mannix was working for Intertect. Lou Wickersham has a large role in the story and Howard Pender, who also worked for Intertect, was mentioned several times (Morgan Jones played Pender in several episodes during the 1967-1968 season). While the show was known for its violence, Avallone’s novel is notable for its relatively racy content.

As the story opens, Mannix is finishing up a case involving a woman whose husband had been kidnapped. She was involved in the abduction and planned on absconding to South America with his fortune. She holds him at gunpoint but he’s eventually able to remove the bullets from her gun when she isn’t looking. That makes her angry. So he spanks her. She tries to seduce him but he won’t have any of it, threatening to spank her again. He finishes the job, hands her over to feds and goes home.

The next day, Lou Wickersham assigns him to keep tabs on a young woman worth three billion dollars who apparently plans on working for the Red Chinese. Her name’s Iris Alexandria Foley and she likes to sunbath completely naked atop apartment buildings. After dropping by the Cybernetics Department to flirt with the supervisor and the Armory Department to have his gun checked out, Mannix returns to his messy cubicle to read Intertect’s file on Iris Foley. The file had been put together by the company’s powerful IBM computers, which Mannix loathed, and was unfortunately missing one important detail.

As the story unfolds, Iris meets with a man named Borkoff who she thinks is working for the CIA but instead is working for the Soviets. She thinks she’s going to help her country but instead Borkoff blackmails her into helping the Soviets embarrass the Secretary of State. Borkoff has photographs of her late father in compromising positions that she’ll do anything to keep hidden away. Mannix crashes a fancy costume ball looking for Iris and winds up in a brawl with a dozen or so wealthy young men.

Mannix Front Cover

Mannix Front Cover – Copyright Popular Library

Borkoff plans to have Iris killed once she’s no longer useful. Mannix is eventually able confront her and, with the help of her bodyguard, a former boxer named Monkey Miller, plans to set a trap for Borkoff. Instead, Mannix is the one trapped when Monkey turns out to be working with Borkoff. Ultimately, Monkey betrays Borkoff in order to save Mannix and Iris. Borkoff is killed in an explosion after agreeing to turn over the photographs in return for his freedom. That important piece of information left out of Intertect’s file on Iris Foley? The fact that Mannix looks just like her late father. It almost got him killed and did nothing to change his opinion of computers.

Monkey’s motivation for betraying Iris is never plainly laid out. He may have been tired of her constant partying. He didn’t want to hurt her, though, he only wanted a lot of money. So when it became obvious that Borkoff was planning on killing her, Monkey quickly returned to his role as bodyguard. Iris didn’t seem to be bothered all that much by Monkey’s betrayal. She was more interested in bedding Mannix.

The twist involving Mannix and the dead father looking identical was disappointing, as was Monkey’s sudden betrayal of Iris and equally as sudden betrayal of Borkoff. Up until that point the story was moving along fairly well but the ending pretty much ruined it. Still, Avallone peppered the novel with enough nudity and hints of sex to keep things interesting. Here’s how he introduced Iris Foley on the roof of her skyscraper apartment building:

Her willful body, lying on a soft, downy deck chair whose very material cost ten dollars a yard, was long, bronzed and curved like a Dienes nude. Iris Alexandria Foley was everyman’s romantic fantasy of the perfect woman. Even now, supine on the deck chair, her breathtaking alliance of breasts, hips and legs were the perfect essence of female. Her skin shone like wet sculpture. The classic lines of her face, even with the gorgeous eyes closed, showed the hand of a master creator. Gaunt cheekbones a la Garbo, a slender nose molded in perfect detail, and the somehow inevitable lush mouth, were worthy of a Renaissance Italian and his clay. She lay like a goddess in the sun.

Strangely, Iris didn’t have a problem with Monkey seeing her completely naked. She sunbathed naked again later in the book and once more wearing a bathing suit, this time trying to entice Mannix. Avallone made it abundantly clear that to Iris the sun was a substitute for a man:

The sun steamed, sending its hot fingers like a lover’s touch into the warm recesses of her body. She kept her eyes closed against the glare. Heavy, jewel-crested harlequins adorned her eyes. The flaming clutch of the sun held her body. She loved the sun. If only a man could ever make her feel like the sun did…

And later:

Iris Alexandra Foley shut her eyes tightly and locked all thoughts of a serious nature out of her mind. Now was only the sun and that bubbling, intimate surrender to its rays. God, how it held her nakedness so hotly, draining all the natural fight out of her. Damn, why couldn’t a man be light that?

For all her vast experience and world travel and accessories of wealth and position, Iris Alexandria Foley, age twenty-nine, was that rarity of rarities in an enlightened, 1967 world.

She was a virgin.

Unable to show the violence that was the hallmark of the series, perhaps Avallone hoped making the novel salacious would help it sell. Compared to many of today’s dramas, Mannix was squeaky clean but at the time it was considered overly violent, with its reliance on guns and fist fights. It certainly could have gotten away with showing a character like Iris Foley in a bikini. But it would have been difficult to translate Iris and her love of the sun to the television screen, both for reasons of decency and practicality.

Mannix Back Cover

Mannix Back Cover – Copyright Popular Library

As I mentioned in my review of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. #1, “The Birds of a Feather Affair”, also written by Avallone, tie-in novels from the 1960s are going to seem somewhat sexist to today’s readers. Iris is a spitfire at times, carries a gun and at one point uses it to knock Borkoff unconscious (when he wakes up he punches her in the face). But she also spends a lot of time crying or pining over Mannix. When Borkoff first shows her the photographs of her father he expects anger. Instead, he gets tears:

Miss Iris Alexandria Foley very quickly and very childishly sat down on the floor. And wept. Unashamed. Her figure in the banal trenchcoat trembled. Great sobs racked her body. She buried her face in long, graceful fingers and cried. The man’s floppy fedora on her head rolled off onto the floor.

After knocking Borkoff out she throws herself on a bed and cries again. Later, when she is told that Mannix is dead, she breaks down once more and no longer cares about the photographs of her father. She tells Borkoff she wishes she were dead because Mannix, the only man she ever felt anything for, a man she had known for a few days at most, was taken from her. She nearly faints when he shows up alive. Later, she suggests have an affair. At one point she even apologizes for being bitchy.

This has been an unusually long review, especially for a story I didn’t think was all that great. But Michael Avallone writes lascivious stories well. Mannix is certainly the most adult tie-in novel I’ve come across to date, although it really isn’t all that bad. Crime stories just like it — and worse — were a dime a dozen at drugstores and supermarkets, some of which were written by Avallone. It’s a fascinating cultural artifact, though. Interestingly, he also wrote several tie-in novels based on The Partridge Family. Anyone who wants to learn more about Avallone, who died in 1999, should read this obituary from The Independent and this entry at the Thrilling Detectives website.

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2 Replies to “Bookshelf: Mannix”

  1. I’ll guess from this that you have never had the chance to read any of Michael Avallone’s own novels, in particular his long-running Ed Noon series.
    If you think the Mannix and UNCLE books are racy…
    See if you can find a book called SON OF GUN IN CHEEK, by Bill Pronzini. It’s a survey of what Prozini has dubbed “alternative mystery writing”, in roughly the same sense that Ed Wood’s movies would be “alternative cinema.” Avallone gets a whole chapter to himself, and does he ever deserve it.

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