THE TAMARIND SEED (1971) by Evelyn Anthony

Anthony-Tamarind-sphereEvelyn Anthony (pen-name of Evelyn Ward-Thomas) turned 86 this month. She began writing historical romances in the Coronation year of 1953 but by the late 1960s had switched to topical suspense mixed with romance. The Tamarind Seed is a perfect example of her approach, a tale of Cold War espionage where a Russian agent falls in love with a British counterpart – will they make it?

I submit this review for Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey (for review links, click here); Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; and  Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog, 

 “… it had never occurred to Judith before how magnificent a coloured man could be as a physical specimen”

Judith Farrow is a British woman working as an assistant to a senior diplomat at the UNO in New York. A traditional, deeply conventional woman, she is still grieving over the death of her husband in a car accident many years earlier, even though she had fallen out of love with him by then. Her poor luck in love continues when she embarks on an affair with an ambitious man who works at the British Embassy in Washington – when she realises that he actually has no intention to leave his wife now that she has joined him from the UK, she immediately breaks it off. Looking to get her life back together, Judith goes on holiday to Barbados. There, by sheer coincidence, she meets and begins a chaste friendship with Feodor Sverdlov, who just happens to be the head of the KGB at the Soviet Embassy in Washington.

“… we’ve got more than just a leak, or a single instance of some colossal bloody blunder. This is a deadly menace to our whole Western security. A double agent that could make Mr Philby look like a filing clerk”

Anthony-Tamarind-Seed-dellIt doesn’t take long for the security chiefs from both sides of the iron curtain to get twitchy, refusing to believe that this is just a chance encounter. Matters are complicated further by the presence of a mole – codename ‘Blue’ -  working at the heart of the British Intelligence in Washington. Jack Loder, the supremely able if unpopular working-class head of security, is tasked with neutralising ‘Blue’ before it is too late (and keeping up appearances with the CIA). His main ally is the British minister, Fergus Stephenson, a first class diplomat who has done well despite failing completely in his marriage to Margaret, who has never forgiven him for telling her of his homosexual past while at University at Cambridge. It won’t take long for spy fans to realise just who ‘Blue’ really is …

“The Capitalist world has to be destroyed, Comrade Sverdlov. Our way of life and theirs cannot co-exist”

Despite his position, Feodor is a moderate, helped in his career by being married to a high-ranking doctor who slavishly follows the party line and has refused to leave Moscow. Unfortunately for Feodor the line has hardened and he realises he is soon for the chop after his assistant is sent back home, never to be heard from again. He decides to ask Judith to help him defect to the British – his main tradeable asset being original documents that could help then identify the true identity of the mole.

“It was a real indication of age in a woman when she started lusting after her sons’ generation”

Anthony-Tamarind-sphere3The novel is ably constructed but decidedly underpowered, the incredibly long chapters certainly slowing down the pace. Also, Judith is a bit of a bore and so straight-laced that the romantic element becoming anodyne as she refuses to give in to Feodor’s advances. Instead they trade platitudes about religion and politics, and although he reveals an appealing soft side (despite a reputation built on reprisals he led after the 1956 Hungarian uprising), this doesn’t really provide a proper substitute. The spy story is efficient but incredibly contrived, with ‘Blue’ alerted to Feodor’s plans through an unlikely chain of coincidence, seemingly predicated on the assumption that everyone in the British diplomatic and intelligence community in New York and Washington really do all know each other.

“He had the peasant’s suspicion of intellectuals …”

This is a book then of many parts and contradictions, though it also has several surprises, not least the development of the unlikely relationship between the working-class Loder and Cambridge-educated aristocrat Stephenson. This ultimately proves to be a highlight of a book that never digs too deep and has very little action until the finale, when the couple head back to Barbados with both sides hot on their trail, leading to an ambiguous finish. On the whole Tamarind is perfectly entertaining but when compared with the likes of John le Carré’s The Russia House it definitely comes off as second-best with its dull heroine, bland romance and unconvincing spy machinations. The movie adaptation would make some interesting attempts to counter this …

The 1974 film version was the second of seven films made by the husband-and-wife team of Julie Andrews and writer-director Blake Edwards and from the outset, with its title sequence by Maurice Binder and languid score by John Barry, feels like a mellow, half-speed James Bond movie. As the film was financed by British company ITC the story was re-located to Paris and London, though the scenes in Barbados were thankfully shot on location! This is otherwise a very faithful adaptation of the book, perhaps even too much so as at two hours it is a bit too slow. Edwards does make some interesting changes, not only providing a proper night of passion for the two lovers before the film is out (and making the ending less open-ended) but also adding more suspense in the shape of an elaborate airport sequence not found in the novel, providing some much-needed action to pep the story up a bit. The casting however, is absolutely first-rate, with Dan O’Herlihy and Sylvia Syms pitch-perfect as the warring couple Fergus and Margaret Stephenson. Their splenetic exchanges are so bile-filled that they are likely to burn themselves into your monitor!

Tamarind-Seed-lobby

Julie Andrews is so perfect as the upright, no-nonsense Judith that one wonders if Anthony had her in mind all along, though she is quite a bit younger in the book. Indeed this movie does have a slightly languid, middle-aged feel to it, something compounded by the casting of Omar Sharif, an obvious choice to play Feodor as he was the so successful in Doctor Zhivago (as was Edward’s cinematographer, Freddy Young), but who does not ever give the impression of a man of action. What we have then in a mature romance in a world of treachery with a terrific cast (Anthony Quayle is also very good as Loder and Oskar Homolka inevitably plays a Russian general) and impeccable technical credentials and that also improves on the original novel while sticking very closely to it.

tamarind-seed-networkFor an in-depth review of the film from its original release in 1974, see what Kathleen Murphy had to say by clicking here. For an overview of Blake Edwards’ other many excursion in the crime and mystery genre, see my earlier post here.

DVD Availability: Released many times over the years, Network in the UK is set to re-release it soon (originally due in August, this has now been pushed to February next year) for what promises to be the best edition yet with a new HD transfer and an isolated soundtrack to better appreciate John Barry’s mellifluous  score – for details, click here. In the meantime there are many, many DVD releases to be found all over the globe, all of them perfectly adequate if bare-bones.

The Tamarind Seed (1974)
Director: Blake Edwards
Producer: Ken Wales
Screenplay: Blake Edwards
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Art Direction: Harry Pottle
Music: John Barry
Cast: Julie Andrews, Omar Shariff, Anthony Quayle, Dan O’Herlihy, Sylvia Syms, Oskar Homolka, Kate O’Mara, Bryan Marshall

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge in the ‘author I have never read before’ category:

vintage-silver-marked-card-xivii

***** (2.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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This entry was posted in 2014 Book to Movie Challenge, 2014 Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo, Barbados, Blake Edwards, Cold War, Espionage, Evelyn Anthony, London, Paris, Spy movies. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to THE TAMARIND SEED (1971) by Evelyn Anthony

  1. robert says:

    It might be that a good spy book more often comes from someone who has some insight into spying games one way or another (Fleming, Le Carre, De Villiers, etc…). I am not sure if E. Anthony was in the game… :)
    Inventing is one way and works fine with magic books or fantasy, putting some reality in “real life” novels is another.

    • Fair enough because this book really doesn’t go in for any sort of authetnicity Robert. If one wanted to be cynical, it is very easy to see how Anthony mixes her cocktail from very standard elements – topical geopolitical references, a Russian defector, a homosexual Cambridge mole at the heart of British intelligence, a seeming honey trap, foreign exotic locales – to create her book. It is neither fish nor fowl but perfectly enjoyable – and Anthony was no fool an dcan be quite gard on her characters, but admittedly she is not really aiming her work at spy fans, but rather their girlfriends and wives (or at least, as that was perceived circa 1070). More than an interesting curio though …

  2. Colin says:

    Welcome back, sport! Hope you’re refreshed and rested.

    You know, I don’t like the sound of those long chapters one bit, a pet peeve of mine. I’ve never seen the movie either, but the trailer and your comments mean I’ll likely now check out the Network release when it comes.
    You mentioned The Russia House in passing and something about the trailer – maybe the music – does recall it, even though I accept it’s unlikely to be as good as that.

    • Thanks chum – great to be backand I promise to be much more ‘involved’ on the blogosphere as a result. Anthony’s decision to have such long chapters is odd and would have made more sense if we maybe had a bit more invested int he romance, but it all felt a bit Mills and Boon to me with the two characters not really even getting into a clinch – I guess I needed a bit more passion with my romance! The movie is, to my mind, a bit better than the book and well worth a look – there is something fascinating going on the films that Edwards made in the ‘wilderness years’ between the bigs hits of the 60s and his return to the Pink Panther (which came right after Tamarind)

      • Colin says:

        Going by what you say, the romance sounds a bit insipid in its portrayal – and dare I say a tad boring. No, I’ll pass on that.
        The film, with Edwards and that cast, sounds like an improvement for sure.

        • Yeah, the book is OK but the film is definitely worth a look – I think it’ll be worth waiting for the Network release though.

          • Colin says:

            Well I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen of recent Network releases so far – so yes, I’ll hang on for that one.

          • It’s also nice that they are plannign to do the isolated soundtrack – I always enjoy that as a feature, though I can see why companies tend to resist this for fear of the files being ripped.

  3. Delighted to see you back, Sergio! Hope you had a lovely trip. And of course, thanks for the thoughtful and candid review. I’ll confess I’ve not read the book, ‘though I’ve seen the film. I think it makes sense though that in a spy novel, you want the pace to go quickly, and characters to be perhaps a little more morally ambiguous? Great post, as ever.

    • Thanks very much Margot, lovely to be back – I hope to get ‘back in business’ properly over the coming week. I think the comparison with The Russia House, book and film, is probably a really apposite one, the more I think about it. The film was beautifully shot with a great score too but just maybe the relationship between the two leads didn;t quite click, with the supporting characters coming off much better. Here Andrews and Shariff are well-matched but again it’s the other characters who feel livelier.

  4. TracyK says:

    Hooray, you are back! I have missed you and your sparkling posts. This book and the movie both sound interesting. Probably because I love anything related to spies.

    • Thanks very much TracyK – I’ve really missed the to and fro on our blogs! The movie is certainly well worth a look and I did enjoy the book, slightly curious hybrid that it undoubtedly is.

  5. John says:

    Return from Oz! Welcome back, my friend. So glad to have you back with the blogging gang. Saw this movie on TV when I was a teen. Can’t remember a thing about it other than MAD magazine did a *very* funny spoof of it. The artists and writers a had a field day making jokes about the seed itself, as you might imagine. Not sure if I’ll ever hunt down this book or re-watch the movie. I like spy novels but I prefer Jonas Wilde style action.

    • Thanks very much for the warm welcome back John, it feels like I’ve been away for an age but I got nearly everything done that I needed to do and the trip to see la famiglia in Sydney was incredibly fulfilling – I would love to see the MAD spoof, it sounds bloody great (I now realise I didn’t bother to even explain the meaning of the title – doh!)

      • John says:

        Just did some Googling to see if I could find if someone uploaded any of the panels. No luck, but here’s some trivia. It was called “The Tommy-Red Seed” in the US version of MAD, but “The Tommyrot Seed” in the UK and Canadian editions. The guys who worked at MAD said it was one of the biggest mistakes among their movie parodies because it wasn’t a big box office success and hardly anyone, especially their reading audience, saw it. Still, I remember it being scatologically funny which is always a riot when you’re a teenage boy. BTW, the same issue of MAD contains their parody of the Bronson vigilante movie DEATH WISH. Obviously, a much bigger hit at the time.

        • Thanks for that John – I really like the UK title! I used to love their movie spoofs, way back when …

        • Santosh Iyer says:

          The Mad issue containing the spoofs is issue no. 174 (April 1975).
          The title Tommy-Red Seed is quite appropriate (Tommy representing British and Red representing Russian).
          The spoof of Death Wish is titled Death Wishers.

  6. Jose Ignacio says:

    Nice to have you back Sergio and a nice review too.

  7. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Excellent review. I recall Anthony’s books being around in my mother’s collection when I was growing up – the historical romances, mostly – and I do wonder why she went out of that comfort zone because I think the historicals were much more succesful!

    • Thanks very much Karen – I assume it was a commercial decision about the marketplace but don’t know for sure – she was compared alot with Mary Stewart, who also did crime and historicals of course.

  8. Hi Sergio, it’s good to be back on your blog and read your comprehensive reviews. While I’m aware of Evelyn Anthony’s work to some extent, I’ve never read anything by her, according her books the same treatment that I did her compatriot and espionage writer Anthony Price in spite of their paperbacks being easily available. I think I’d be more inclined to watch the movie first, mainly due to Andrews and Sharif, and then read the book. Fast or slow paced, espionage fiction appeals to me.

  9. Welcome back Sergio, and returning with the usual fascinating review. I think I read other books by Evelyn Anthony, but not this one, and I may even have seen the film a long time ago. Your comments were incisive and insightful.

    • Thanks very much Moira – I am curious now to see what her earlier historical novels were like but have no idea awhen I’m likely to do that – all of a sidden my reading dance card seems absolutely jammed!!

  10. I’ve picked up some Evelyn Anthony books at various Library Book Sales over the years. Your review inspires me to read one.

  11. Bev Hankins says:

    Glad to have you back, Sergio! Wow..Evelyn Anthony. That’s a name I haven’t thought about for 30-35 years! I’ve only read one by her (The Poellenberg Inheritance) and that was well before I kept any kind of decent log….All I’ve got is a puny little two-star rating to go on. So, I’m guessing Anthony was not my speed. Judging from your excellent review….she’s still not.

  12. Yvette says:

    Are you back to stay? Good news if so. You were missed. Online movie talk just doesn’t feel the same without Sergio. :) This movie sounds like something I’d really enjoy. Maybe not so much the book though. Unfortunately, Netflix doesn’t currently have it available. I never even knew that Julie Andrews had made a movie with Omar Shariff. Interesting casting. I’ve never thought of him as a man of action either. Even in Lawrence of Arabia. P.S. I love Sylvia Syms. At least i think I do. Maybe I have her mixed up with someone else. Anyway, I’ll keep an eye out.

    • Great to be back Yvette – Sylvia Syms is a terrific actress, one of those glamorous beauties who turned out to be made of much tougher stuff than critics and studio bosses initially gave her credit for. She was the nurse in Ice Cold in Alex trying to cope with the alcoholic John Mills as he tries to get his self esteem back (and in which Anthony Quayle also has a crucial role) and in Victim she was the loving wife of the gay barrister played by Dirk Bogarde. More recently she has too often been cast as harridans but as a result also made for a truly scary Margaret Thatcher. Here are some pics :)
      ICE COLD IN ALEX
      VICTIM

  13. For me personally this movie was ruined by Miss Andrews who I found very unconvincing, she just never looked comfortable to me

    • Maybe, though she’s certainly good casting in terms of how the character is written in the book!

      • I have not read the book so can only assume you are correct. I just found her to never seem comfortable in the characters skin

        • Certainly to say that it’s the character as originally written is no answer – Andrews was too often cast in these straight-laced, rather unemotional roles and it wasn’t really until the 1980s and films like SOB and Victor Victoria that she really had a chance to break out of that rut, I quite agree.

          • I think it was the Mary Poppins – Sound of Music type casting that she struggled to shake off. Even in serious drama’s I think she was still being cast as a reliably nanny figure

          • Yeah, and it didn’t help that The Americanization of Emily and Darling Lili basically flopped – shame, especially Emily that was apparently James Garner’s favourite of his own films. He will be missed.

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