Article by Dr. Wesley Britton
Most fans of the literary 007 know something about the history of the lost James Bond continuation novel, PER FINE OUNCE. Without question, the researcher who’s provided us with the most credible background information is writer and novelist Jeremy Duns. But now that we have Peter Vollmer’s new PER FINE OUNCE, there’s even more to learn about the story.
It all began in 1959 when South African writer Geoffrey Jenkins published his first thriller, A TWIST OF SAND. It sold over three million copies and Ian Fleming praised the book saying, “Geoffrey Jenkins has the supreme gift of originality.” According to Fleming, the book was “a literate, imaginative first novel in the tradition of high and original adventure.” Well might he offer such praise. The two authors were friends and colleagues at the SUNDAY TIMES and the two writers spent time together discussing how a James Bond novel might be set in South Africa.
In the book Fleming liked, the main character was Commander Geoffrey Peace, a dark and brooding man with an almost mystical connection to the sea, especially the South Atlantic. In the plot, Peace is blackmailed by a scientist to help him find rare insects on the Skeleton Coast the scientist thinks will make him rich. In flashbacks, we learn Peace was a World War II submarine skipper involved in a doomed hunt for a sunken Nazi U-boat. The third part of the book has Peace and company, described in vivid detail, tracking down those insects in the beautiful and savage jungle far from Peace’s natural environment—at sea. It’s an extremely believable tale full of human drama and the redemption of a haunted individualist. For the record, this incarnation of Geoffrey Peace had nothing to do with espionage.
Flash forward six years.
After the death of Ian Fleming, Glidrose Productions, later Ian Fleming Publications, began exploring the idea of having new writers create new James Bond novels using the collective pen name of Robert Markham. Jenkins seemed an obvious choice. By 1964, he had four best-sellers to his credit and he already had story ideas that Ian Fleming himself had participated in shaping.
So, sometime in 1966, Jenkins submitted his manuscript for PER FINE OUNCE. Here’s where the mystery begins. For whatever reason, Glidrose rejected the MS. Was it Anne Fleming who disliked the idea of continuation novels to begin with? Was there some literary deficiency to the book? We will likely never know the reasons behind the decision, but one question has remained. Whatever happened to the original text of PER FINE OUNCE?
That same year, Commander Geoffrey Peace returned in a new Jenkins story, HUNTER KILLER. But this Geoffrey Peace had very little in common with the haunted sub-commander of A TWIST OF SAND. At the end of the 1959 story, Peace was still a private sea captain still in the “bad books” with the authorities. But, in the opening pages of HUNTER KILLER, Peace has apparently been so rehabilitated that a fake funeral has been arranged for him at sea with a flotilla of American and British ships on hand as an honor guard. (If this makes you think of the opening of the film version of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, well there has been speculation that Harry Saltzman used this event as a nod to his friend, Geoffrey Jenkins, as Saltzman was reportedly angered over the rejection of PER FINE OUNCE. Pure speculation that, but the similarity is striking as YOLT came out just a year later.)
Unlike the gripping and extremely realistic 1959 debut, HUNTER KILLER is preposterous and completely atypical of the rest of the Geoffrey Jenkins canon. This Geoffrey Peace is very much a two-dimensional 007 clone who’s been tapped to help out on a secret mission. His job: to captain a sub that will launch a very special missile that will take the Vice President of the United States into space. This puts Peace in the unusual position of trying to outrun an American sub and outwit the CIA to pull off a mission so secret the U.S. government doesn’t want its own navy to know about it. Why not? Well, the implausibilities and unanswerable questions keep piling up, and HUNTER KILLER ends up as a thrill ride without a single foot in anything believable. The novel has its fans, but one matter can’t be denied. The Geoffrey Peace of A TWIST OF SAND and HUNTER KILLER are the same character in name only. (Another speculation: if PER FINE OUNCE was anything like HUNTER KILLER, there might have been very solid artistic reasons to reject PFO.)
Then, what seemed to be the final appearance of Geoffrey Peace came in 1968 with the film version of A TWIST OF SAND. It starred Richard Johnson as Peace (Johnson played Bulldog Drummond in two Bond clones) and Honor Blackman of GOLDFINGER fame. It wasn’t much of a movie, and it seemed Commander Peace was finally put to rest.
Flash forward some forty years
David Jenkins, the heir of Geoffrey, began looking for an agent to help get his father’s books back into print. That happened, and now all 16 Jenkins thrillers are available via Amazon. At the same time, one of Jenkins’ literary agents had two other ideas. First, would it be possible to finally discover the lost PER FINE OUNCE manuscript in the Jenkins estate or in the Ian Fleming Publications files? And, why not consider finding a new writer to create a new Geoffrey Peace series of continuation novels?
At one end of the PFO hunt, Ian Fleming Publications continued to maintain they no longer had any pages of the book. They still claim the book was rejected and the complete MS returned to the author. At the South African end, four pages of PFO were found, and extracts were posted at the MI6 website. Then, an additional 14 pages were discovered. So a new idea sprouted—why not use these pages as a springboard for a new PER FINE OUNCE but make the central character Geoffrey Peace as, obviously, the Jenkins estate had no rights to anything officially Bond, James Bond?
Enter Peter Vollmer
While all this was going on, the then-unknown South African author Peter Vollmer shared the same literary representation as the Jenkins estate. As a result, his first two novels were published, DIAMONDS ARE BUT STONE (2011) and RELENTLESS PURSUIT (2013). These thrillers demonstrated two things: Vollmer was more than capable of crafting excellent and gripping stories, and his style was very much in the mold of Geoffrey Jenkins. If there was anyone who deserved a shot at creating a new PER FINE OUNCE, Peter Vollmer seemed a more than credible choice.
At this point, the saga got a bit murky again as both David Jenkins and Vollmer fired their agents for various reasons, which meant the man who came up with the new PER FINE OUNCE concept was now out of the picture. Well, such things happen in publishing.
According to an interview for ARTISTIC LICENCE RENEWED, Vollmer said he was originally given a synopsis of the Geoffrey Jenkins’ story (that had been discovered by biographer John Pearson in the Fleming papers), but he opted to submit a synopsis of his own to avoid copyright issues. He added he was more influenced by Fleming than Jenkins, and thus his PER FINE OUNCE has virtually nothing to do with the 18 pages Jenkins left behind, although an extract from the “lost” MS is used as a front piece for the second edition of the new PFO published by Acorn Books. Judging from that interview, Vollmer didn’t use much background from either A TWIST OF SAND or HUNTER KILLER. Thus, the re-booted Geoffrey Peace has very, very little to do with either of Jenkins’ novels.
Instead, PER FINE OUNCE is very Bondian indeed. Peace reports to a Vice Admiral in England and is sent off on a mission in South Africa. Set in the final years of the presidency of F. W. de Klerk in the early 1990’s, Peace infiltrates an ultra-right wing Afrikaner group who are working a gold-mine to fund a nuclear device that they plan to use to disrupt the transfer of power from whites to the leadership of the then imprisoned Nelson Mandela.
Bond tropes include two lovely ladies, one a spitfire of a jealous partner, the other the bad girl who might reform in the embraces of Geoffrey Peace. There are cinematic set-pieces, such as the elaborate mine and the hidden bomb hideaways. There are exciting chase scenes, prison escapes, and vividly described South African locations.
In all this, how much of Jenkins’ PFO is in the new PFO? It’s hard to know. Vollmer doesn’t use the pages where 007 resigned from MI6 to pursue a personal mission. There is one casual reference to gold bicycle chains, an image known to have appeared in the synopsis John Pearson had uncovered. Beyond such small usages, it seems clear the publicity for the new PER FINE OUNCE benefits from the legend of the “lost” MS for a book with only fleeting connections with that MS.
None of this detracts from the novel itself, a book that should interest James Bond fans with a protagonist that is pretty much 007 except in name. After enjoying this read, I hope readers will track down the other books of Peter Vollmer—apparently, two further titles are already in the pipeline. Stripping away all the marketing hype, Peter Vollmer is the real find in the story, and he’s well worth being added to your reading list. And, if you’ve overlooked the books of Geoffrey Jenkins, A TWIST OF SAND is an excellent place to start. HUNTER KILLER aside, so are all the other titles of a seriously neglected writer who doesn’t need Bond connections to earn a very respectable place in thriller history.
Dr. Wesley Britton is the author of SPY TELEVISION, BEYOND BOND: SPIES IN FICTION AND FILM, ONSCREEN AND UNDERCOVER: THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF MOVIE ESPIONAGE, and THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TV SPIES. Many of his articles and reviews are posted at his website, www.spywise.net. He’s co-host of online radio’s DAVE WHITE PRESENTS for which he interviews celebrities such as George Lazenby, Vic Flick, and Raymond Benson. All these conversations are archived at www.audioentertainment.org.
Wes Britton’s review of South African novelist Peter Vollmer’s DIAMONDS ARE BUT STONE
Wes Britton’s review of Peter Vollmer’s novel, RELENTLESS PURSUIT
Wes Britton’s “Geoffrey Jenkins Files” (includes more extensive reviews of 13 Jenkins books—part one has both Twist of Sand and Hunter Killer.)
Exclusive Interview with ‘Per Fine Ounce’ Author, Peter Vollmer