Title: The Man from C.A.M.P.
Author: Victor J. Banis; Foreword by Fabio Cleto
Buy link: Amazon.com
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: Classic, M/M, Action/Adventure
Length: 388 pages (print); ebook
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie
Resourceful as James Bond, flamboyant as Austin Powers, and gay as a Christmas goose, there’s never been a secret agent quite like Jackie Holmes, the Man from C.A.M.P. These fast-paced stories, written and set in the swinging sixties introduce a new generation of readers to the fabulous adventures of gay superspy Jackie Holmes, the Man from C.A.M.P. Armed with a cache of secret weapons, a body that just won’t quit, and a white poodle called Sophie who’s trained to kill with her razor-sharp teeth, the blond bombshell with a license to thrill known as Jackie Holmes will blow you away! This collection includes The Man from C.A.M.P., Holiday Gay, and The Son Goes Down plus an interview with the author by Fabio Cleto.
I like to imagine this: the time is the mid-1960s. Victor Banis is watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on television. Like all red-blooded Americans, he has a mad crush on Illya Kuriakin. When the show ends one evening, he glances at his battered Remington typewriter that is sitting on his desk and thinks, “I could write a gay U.N.C.L.E.” And that was the inspiration for Jackie Holmes and The Man from C.A.M.P.
I have no idea what was really in Victor’s mind, but The Man from C.A.M.P. certainly brings back wonderful memories of the days when TV was worth watching and we were all gripped by “spy fever.” Think James Bond, Mission: Impossible, Secret Agent, and Get Smart. The Man from C.A.M.P. is a worth entry in the genre.
The Man from C.A.M.P. introduces us to Jackie Holmes, a suave and debonair secret agent who works for the agency whose mission is “the protection and advancement of homosexuals.” Shadowy and unknown to the general public, C.A.M.P. has multiple divisions and branches all over the world. Spy Jackie works in law enforcement and investigations. When MI6, Interpol, and the CIA can’t do the job, who do they turn to? You guessed it. C.A.M.P.
The version I read— The Man from C.A.M.P., reissued by MLR Press in 2008—includes three C.A.M.P. stories (there were nine in all): The Man from C.A.M.P., Holiday Gay, and The Son Goes Down. It also includes an introductory essay by Fabio Cleto (which has been revised and updated and is included as a chapter in The Golden Age of Gay Fiction), an author’s note, and a conversation/interview between Cleto and Banis. These supporting materials provide valuable and interesting context to the actual C.A.M.P. stories themselves; it is for this reason that I rated the volume at five stars. The stories themselves—well, you need to read them remembering that you are looking at a slice of history and not set your expectations too high. Victor notes (in the interview) that he was writing these in about four to five days and post-writing editing and revision was mostly non-existent. Given that, the stories hold up remarkably well and are a testament to Victor’s skill as a author.
I have to admit that I loved (and still do) Nancy Drew mysteries and so I have a soft spot in my heart for old fashioned mystery stories that have a recurring main character and follow a certain formula, which The Man from C.A.M.P. certainly does. To whit: a perplexing crime is perpetrated, a straight partner from a competing but sympathetic law enforcement agency is assigned to Jackie, they immediately figure out who are the likely suspects and go after them. The “going after” reveals that Jackie is not only handsome but intelligent (he speaks seven languages), fit (he’s a martial arts expert), skilled (hand him a weapon, he can use it), clever (need I say more? He is the one who figures out everything), sexually adept (sex is a weapon) and irresistible (see previous comment). Everyone seems to be naked at the end of the story and Jackie always seduces his straight partner, but in a sweet, loving and kind way. My take-away on that was that Jackie isn’t trying to turn everyone gay but rather, to point out that gay guys are just normal horny guys who happen to enjoy being with men. Since the seduced straight guys usually get their prostates massaged for the first time in their lives when they are with Jackie, they come to understand what all the fuss is about.
Reading the three C.A.M.P. stories one after another was a little like reading too many Nancy Drews back-to-back—I felt a little punch-drunk at the end. But if someone wanted to pick up this volume and savor the contextual essays and read the stories at a measured pace, I think it would be a very informative first step on the path of learning more about gay literature and fiction and where Victor J. Banis stands as a pioneer in its history.