AVAKOUM ZAKHOV VS. 07

Written by: Andrei Gulyashki
Reviewed by: Vladislav Pavlov

In the fall of 1965 the famous Bulgarian writer Andrei Gulyashki announced that he would write a new novel about Avakoum Zakhov – Bulgarian Secret Service case officer. By then Gulyashki had already written several Zakhov stories: The Momchilov Incident, Midnight Adventure, In A Rainy Fall, Sleeping Beauty, Tiny Night Music – they comprise the book The Adventures of Avakoum Zakhov. In these stories Avakoum Zakhov successfully fights spies from various Western Intelligence agencies.

Gulyashki said that in his new novel Avakoum Zakhov would meet a more formidable adversary – “Ian Fleming`s notorious James Bond 007 – the British Secret Agent”, and that Bond would work for a NATO Intelligence Department. Gulyashki also felt that Fleming`s creation lacked humanity, and that he would make James Bond a more realistic person.

Gulyashki wrote the book and intended to publish it, but the James Bond literary copyright holders – Glidrose Productions (later Publications) – barred him from using the name James Bond and the number 007. Gulyashki was forced to change it. That`s why the novel`s main villain – a British secret agent – has the number 07. BUT the NAME JAMES BOND is NEVER MENTIONED!!! Indeed there`s a British secret agent, and he`s Avakoum Zakhov`s main adversary, but he doesn`t have a real name, just the number 07 and various aliases.

Some words about 07: As I mentioned, Gulyashki thought that James Bond lacked humanity and was a very unreal character. One must understand that we`re talking about the Cold War era. In the Eastern Block, communist propaganda said that James Bond was a cruel, ruthless, killing machine without any human feelings. As we would now say, he was considered to be a really bad guy for Soviets… Nobody read the James Bond novels or saw the films. Some people didn`t even know his name, only the number – 007. And some people (at least in Russia) thought that the number of the “notorious secret agent” was 07 and found it ironic, because 07 was the dial-code for a distant call.

(By the way, there was a great Russian singer, Vladimir Vysotsky. He`s dead now but he once wrote a comic song about Bond. It`s called “James Bond”, but he uses the number 07 when referring to James.)

Gulyashki had no trouble showing his 07 as a really mean, cruel bad guy. For this, he didn`t have to study the Bond novels. His novel “Avakoum Zakhov vs. 07” is a kind of antipode to Fleming`s “From Russia, With Love”: communists are good and Western secret agents are bad. But unlike Fleming, Gulyashki is very serious when it concerns his hero`s enemy, so I didn`t have fun reading about 07 the way I enjoyed reading about General Grubozaboyschikov, Rosa Klebb and other maniacs in SMERSH.

Some words about Avakoum Zakhov: He`s a Bulgarian Secret Service case officer, a communist, of course. Rank: Captain of Counterintelligence. His real name is unknown. Height: 180 cm. Eyes: large, grey-blue. He has a long face, the high brow of a mathematician, and the fair, slightly curly hair of a romantic person, greying at the temples. He has a strong jaw-line, the fists of a boxer, but the fingers of a pianist. He has an athletic figure. His head and broad shoulders are tilted slightly forward, this almost undistinguishable stoop-shouldered look makes him look constantly ready for sudden danger. His cover: archeologist. He graduated from the Historical faculty of Sofia University. Zakhov`s deductive skills are similar to Sherlock Holmes`. As for his personal life, he`s a bachelor, but one can`t say that he has a diverse sex-life. The author doesn`t really touch on this subject. Women like Zakhov, but he ignores them. He loves a girl, but doesn`t dare open his heart to her. One can assume that Bulgarian Avakoum Zakhov is a real puritan.

About the Plot:

Hero: Avakoum Zakhov

Villain: the secret agent 07, alias Samuel Benasis, Rene Lefevre, Gaston Dex, Vadim Sergeev.

Villain`s henchman: Japanese Syao.

Heroine: Natalia Nikolaeva

Locations: London, Paris, Istanbul, Sofia, Varna (Bulgaria), Tangier, Atlantic Ocean, Antarctica.

Villain`s plan: kidnapping of a Russian scientist Konstantin Trofimov, who has invented a weapon more formidable than the atomic one – a new type of a powerful laser; its ray can penetrate any surface and neutralizes many different electromagnetic waves.

Villain`s employer: Intelligence Department of NATO (This department employs 07 – British Secret Service agent.)

Zakhov`s friends: General N, Colonel Vasilev, Captain Markov, professor Konstantin Trofimov.

07`s friends: Vera Belcheva; Metody Stanilov; the tanker crew: Captain Francois, second-in-command Robert Smith; radio-operator Hans; sailors);

Highlights: 07 loses tail on mountain road; assault on the Professor`s villa; Zakhov`s penetration on board 07`s tanker; shipwreck of the tanker.

Remarks: some parts of a plot are very naive; dialogue is slightly childish; beautiful descriptions of nature; final scenes in Antarctica are unreal.

PART I.

NATO learns that Konstantin Trofimov – a Russian scientist – has invented a weapon more formidable than the atomic bomb – a new type of powerful laser. Its ray can penetrate any surface and neutralize many different electromagnetic waves. NATO knows that Trofimov will visit the International Conference of Physicians in Varna, Bulgaria. It`s the best place to kidnap him. For this, the Intelligence Department of NATO employs British Secret Service agent 07 (it`s mentioned that 07 worked for this Department before.)

07`s boss – Chief of Department A of British Secret Service – orders him to study Russian, which takes 07 eight to nine months. His chief then gives him his last briefing. He explains that 07 will be working under the Intelligence Department of NATO, and that the mission has nothing to do with the Secret Service. He says: “Remember, your actions have nothing to do with our Service, and you do not try to contact us:” (Wow, it sounds like Gardner!) There is no portrait of 07`s chief, but it`s mentioned that both he and 07 belong to an exclusive club in St. James Street (this would be “Blades” from Moonraker).

The orders are given, and 07 meets a contact, who tells him to go to Paris. There 07 gets a new passport in the name of Samuel Benasis – a businessman from Vancouver who sells wood as material for furniture. He then flies to Istanbul, where he ignores the city`s beauty. His previous visit here is never mentioned, so we can`t connect him to Fleming`s From Russia, With Love. In Istanbul he meets an American named Arthur. 07 and Arthur use funny passwords:

“Hello,” he [Arthur] nodded and stared at 07 through his glasses. “I heard you offered wood. Two bucks per cubic metre.” “Two bucks and twenty cents,” said 07…

Arthur gives him orders and a new passport. 07 becomes Rene Lefevre, Swiss, a reporter of a Lebanon telegraph agency. It`s suitable cover for getting to the International Conference of Physicians, where Trofimov will speak. Arthur orders 07 to go to Bulgaria where he will meet Vera Belcheva – 07`s connection. At the end of the briefing, Arthur says something interesting – I think Gulyashki hit the bullseye here.

Arthur to 07: “We would be very grateful to you if there was no shooting this time”.

Yes, it is James Bond!!!

07 goes to Bulgaria, although the Bulgarian Security Service knows that reporter Rene Lefevre is really the notorious British Secret Agent 07. The Bulgarians think his visit is directly connected to Russian professor Trofimov. 07 drives his Opel-record to Varna, but a car with Bulgarian agents tails him. He loses the tail on the mountain road; the car with the Bulgarian agents flies down the rock face. One is dead, two are hospitalized.

But the streets and buildings of Varna have eyes, and the Bulgarian Security Service soon finds 07. The Bulgarians arrange a stake-out in a Park, where 07 meets his connection – Vera Belcheva. Vera is very beautiful, but 07 doesn`t try to seduce her. Gulyashki writes:

“He [07] clearly realized that a man in his profession musn`t sleep with a colleague, and he almost never did since he knew it could be inconvenient and even dangerous. He was too much the professional. ”

The real James Bond would have bedded her:

Vera helps 07 contact top Bulgarian Physician Metody Stanilov at whose villa Russian Professor Trofimov will stay when visiting Varna, Bulgaria. The villa is well guarded by Security Service agents. It`s situated on the rocky coast and enclosed by a high fence. Security agents are fairly sure that the villa is impenetrable. 07 thinks the same.

Meanwhile, Stanilov realizes that only top Bulgarian Secret Service case officer Avakoum Zakhov can beat 07, and therefore must die. Stanilov organizes a birthday party at his own house; he invites guests, but before they arrive, he leaves, claming that he must go to the villa in Varna where the Russian professor will be staying. The guests arrive and find the house empty. Stanilov has left a message saying that the house is at their disposal and to enjoy themselves. He`s hidden the food and wine, which they should easily find. If not, they should call their friend the archeologist Zakhov (Stanilov and Zakhov know each other). Indeed, since the guests can`t find the food and wine, they have to call Zakhov. Stanilov gambled that only Zakhov would find it because of the latter`s Sherlock Holmes skills. Zakhov quickly finds the hidden food and wine, but his developed sense of danger tells him that something is wrong. Indeed, he soon finds a surprise waiting for him: a high-voltage cable secretly connected to the lock of a chest where wine bottles were stored. “Shocking, positively shocking.” Zakhov can`t prove anything, but now suspects Stanilov a possible enemy. Another surprise. The Chief of the Bulgarian Secret Service summons Zakhov back: British agent 07 is in Bulgaria. Zakhov is to keep an eye on 07 and uncover his plans. Zakhov`s chief tells him about 07:

“This agent is not a mindless pawn; one should keep an eye on him even when he plays bridge in his St. James Street club.”

Yes, the names are different, but it *IS* James Bond.

PART II.

07 must find some way into the villa, even though he knows he`s under constant surveillance, so he acts natural. His daily programme is as follows: He gets up at 10 a.m. and has breakfast till 11 a.m. (His breakfast: half of fried chicken, with tomatoes and salad.) From 11 to 1 p.m. he swims along the coast. (Before swimming he puts on a rubber hat!) Then he returns to the hotel, changes clothes, and goes to the restaurant, dines in the company of other foreign reporters. (His dinner: crayfish, smoked sausages, oysters, fillet dressed with wine vinegar and olive oil and: a large portion of roast mutton with spicy sauce… no scrambled eggs?) 07 certainly likes eating. After dinner he rests on the terrace and flirts with the chambermaids. In the evening, he meets Vera Belcheva. They get a boat and row along the beach (near the Professor`s Villa). Their boat is also under constant surveillance.

07 pulls a fast one. The Bulgarian agents don`t know that he has an inflatable doll… (no, not that kind of inflatable doll!)… an inflatable doll of himself. While Vera sits in the boat with “an inflatable 07”, embracing and talking to it, the real 07, wearing an aqualung, explores the underwater rocks near the villa. 07 learned this trick in the USSR. He was on a mission, near Archangelsk and a Soviet soldier fooled him the same way. 07 nearly got killed.

07 eventually finds a secret tunnel leading straight to the villa`s garage…

It`s now the last day of the International Conference of Physicians. In the evening, Russian professor Trofimov, his secretary Natalia Nikolaeva and Metody Stanilov return to the villa. Meanwhile, 07 and Vera Belcheva sit in a rowing boat. 07 inflates his “rubber ringer”, puts on an aqualung and… kills his colleague – Vera Belcheva!!! He can`t have any witnesses. He kills her… with a poisoned knife blade, hidden in his shoe!!! (shades of Rosa Klebb!) He then enters the villa through the secret tunnel. Inside, he shoots several guards using his silenced pistol, and injects a strong drug into the sleeping professor`s and secretary`s veins and then carries them to the car. 07 goes to Stanilov`s room and wakes him up. Stanilov realizes that he`ll also be killed, so he begins arguing with 07. It turns into a fight, which 07 wins. He persuades Stanilov at gunpoint to get in the driver`s seat and drive. Throughout the ride, Stanilov feels 07`s gun muzzle pointed at his back. The car windows are curtained, so they successfully pass through the villa`s Exit Control. Stanilov drives to the rendezvous point where another boat waits for 07.At the rendezvous point, 07 kills Stanilov (using his poisoned shoe, of course) and disappears with the unconscious professor Trofimov and the professor`s secretary Natalia Nikolaeva…

Avakoum Zakhov has a single clue: a pair of intercepted and deciphered radiograms from 07 to 07`s HQ. He begins the quest.

PART III.

Avakoum flies to Paris, where he learns that 07 (and also the Russian professor and his secretary) might be on board a ship that will stay at Tangier for several days. In Tangier, Avakoum learns that in this city 07 will pick up the German professor Paul Schelenberg. The professor, a former physician, is a wanted war criminal who experimented on Auschwitz prisoners during the Second World War.

Avakoum Zakhov introduces himself to the professor as one of 07`s men, then puts a strong sleeping-pill in the professor`s beer and goes to the rendezvous point, and meets 07`s real contact. Avakoum introduces himself as Professor Paul Schelenberg which gets him on board 07`s ship, a small tanker.

07 has persuaded Russian professor Trofimov that he is Vadim Sergeev, that they`re on a Russian ship, and that he – 07 – saved the professor from enemy agents.He says the ship is going to the ice-station in the Arctic (North Pole) where the professor planned to test his invention. However, 07 keeps the professor and his secretary under lock.

Actually, the ship is going South, to Capetown, South Africa. 07 is sure that Paul Schelenberg is real and asks him to befriend the Russian professor and learn more about the secret invention, which is why 07 needed the German professor. But it doesn`t work. The Russian professor clams up. Moreover, Zakhov can`t let on that he`s a Bulgarian secret agent, because of 07`s constant presence. Worse, Natalia ignores Avakoum because she`s under 07`s spell.

Avakoum Zakhov spends his free time playing bridge with the tanker crew. He can freely walk the decks of the ship, however the radio-room is the only taboo. Somehow, he must pass the ship`s coordinates to the Center. He accidentally discovers that 07`s henchman – the Japanese Syao – is a double agent, apparently working for Japan! (Wow!!! A colleague of 07 is a traitor! This is the second time that Gulyashki uses John Gardner`s methods!!! And the book was written in the 1960s!) Avakoum blackmails Syao and passes the ship`s coordinates and bearings back to the Centre and changes the ship`s course. 07`s ship now goes to the Antarctic Soviet ice-station “Mirny” (Peaceful). Soon 07 realizes that Syao is a double and orders the tanker crew to hang him. Afterwards, 07 and his crew have a party and drink rum.

The rest of the book somewhat resembles Alistair MacLean`s sea-novels, but the Antarctica scenes aren`t realistic. The frosts and winds of Antarctica don`t seem to bother anyone in the novel.

The ship gets into the ice trap and wrecks. At the last moment 07 sends their coordinates to his HQ. The only survivors are Avakoum Zakhov, 07, professor Trofimov and Natalia Nikolaeva. They are in Antarctica. Now every person knows who is who. Natalia Nikolaeva isn`t under 07`s spells any more; Zakhov is now her hero.

07 and Zakhov don`t try to kill each other, but they frighten each other, and 07 is shown as a miserable coward. Zakhov tells 07:

“…If “Franklin” comes first, I will strangle you, that`s for sure!” He said these words calmly, firmly, with a cold confidence. 07 shivered, he felt the chill running down his spine, as though someone had touched him with a piece of a hard blue ice. ”

Avakoum Zakhov waits for a Soviet helicopter from the ice-station “Mirny”, while 07 waits for the American Icebreaker “Franklin”. Who will arrive first? Waiting for help, the survivors spend the night in Antarctica. Zakhov, Trofimov and Natalia build a snow house. 07 builds his own shelter. However, as I mentioned before, the frosts and fierce winds of Antarctica don`t bother them much.

Morning. The Russian helicopter arrives first. Avakoum Zakhov, professor Trofimov and Natalia Nikolaeva are saved, but 07 disappears. Zakhov wants to stay to capture 07, but the pilot stops him. The Pilot knows that the American Icebreaker “Franklin” will come for 07 within several hours. Avakoum Zakhov does not kill Agent 07!!! END.

Further Remarks:

It wouldn`t be surprising if Gulyashki hadn`t read a single Bond novel to understand the character. He certainly saw the movie “From Russia, With Love”, and read some critical articles about Bond. Yes, Gulyashki`s “07” is indeed a British secret agent; he`s devoted to his country, he`s got a similar number to 007, he has various secret weapons, he`s a sharpshooter, a good driver, he lives in Chelsea, likes to play cards… Somebody would say: hey, it`s James Bond alright!.. But Gulyashki has made Bond a cruel, ruthless, killing machine without any human feelings other than meanness and greediness.Gulyashki`s knowledge about the background of Fleming`s creation is very poor. 07 and 007 are different as far as it concerns their thoughts and tastes. Gulyashki shows us a “decadent but handsome agent of a corrupt Western power.” And he successfully makes this agent look ridiculous and miserable.

As a Bond-fan, I try to be impassive while writing this article. Nevertheless I`ll say that this book is an offence to Mr. Bond. Gulyashki`s book isn`t a friendly pastiche and I can understand why Glidrose barred Gulyashki from using James Bond`s name and number.

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