Even in his early assignments, we find in Fedora a maturity not found in many of the 1960s secret agents such as James Bond. For Fedora it is not all fast-cars, lovely women, and the elimination of enemy agents, even if there is a fair share of all of these. One characteristic that marks Fedora out from other fictional agents is his skill as a talented pianist. Through music he finds escape from the real and brutal world of the assassin.
“Every time he played [the piano] Johnny found himself .. far removed from his existence where he handled a gun with an efficiency that was cold and hard and completely disillusioned.”
This disillusionment is something you rarely see in this genre until the post-Bond era (or counter Fleming period) when authors such as Len Deighton and Le Carré showed the darker side of espionage work. In this respect, Desmond Cory and his characters (such as Fedora) are arguably ahead of their contemporaries.
Johnny is a secret agent whose forte is the ability to outshoot, outwit, and outmaneuver his Cold War opponents. Although he is often teamed with Sebastian Trout, who is attached to the Foreign Office, Johnny’s connection with British intelligence is unofficial; he is hired for specific assignments. Unlike Trout, Johnny lacks a solid education. In Intrigue, written in 1954, he does not recognize lines from Alice in Wonderland or Julius Caesar, and when Trout mentions that someone is descended from the Medici, Johnny asks what a Medici is. He relies on native cunning rather than acquired knowledge to outsmart his opponents. His one cultural asset is his love of music. Thanks to a benefactor, Johnny did get piano lessons, and he developed into a pianist who is equally proficient playing classical music, jazz, or boogie woogie. He is very protective of his hands; a delicate touch is needed on the ivories as well as on the trigger.
Johnny Fedora is a young man’s hero. The desire for action, the enjoyment of danger, and the appreciation of uncomplicated sex are all well understood by the young. However, the Fedora novels also contain indications of suppressed talents not necessarily typical of spy novels or appreciated by the thrill seeker. Cory’s facility with language is apparent, not only in the idiomatic use of Spanish but also in the apt inclusion of French, German, and Latin. In addition, there is unexpected humour in both action and description.