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No actual author is credited for the books, with the Nick Carter name being used as a house pseudonym. Volumes varied between first person and third person narrative. Authors known to have contributed entries in the series are Michael Avallone, Valerie Moolman, Manning Lee Stokes and Martin Cruz Smith.
The title character of the series serves as Agent N3 of AXE, a fictional spy agency for the United States government. The novels are similar to the literary James Bond novels - low on gadgets, high on action. Sexual encounters in particular are described in detail.
The definitive description of Nicholas J. Huntington Carter is given in the first novel in the series Run, Spy, Run. Carter is tall (over 6 feet / 1.83 m), lean and handsome with a classic profile and magnificently muscled body. He has wide-set steel gray eyes that are icy, cruel and dangerous. He is hard-faced, with a firm straight mouth, laugh-lines around the eyes, and a firm cleft chin. His hair is thick and dark. He has a small tattoo of a blue axe on the inside right lower arm near the elbow - the ultimate ID for an AXE agent. At least one novel states that the tattoo glows in the dark. Carter also has a knife scar on the shoulder, a shrapnel scar on the right thigh. He has a sixth sense for danger.
Carter practices yoga for at least 15 minutes a day. Carter has a prodigious ability for learning foreign languages. He is fluent in English (his native tongue), Cantonese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Putonghua (Mandarin), Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. He has basic skills in Arabic, Romansch, Swahili, and Turkish. In the early novels, Carter often assumes a number of elaborate disguises in order to execute his missions.
The name Nick Carter was acknowledged by the series as having been inspired by the early 20th century pulp fiction detective of the same name in the 100th Killmaster volume (labelled Nick Carter 100) which included an essay on the earlier Nick Carter and included a Nick Carter detective short story alongside a Killmaster adventure.
Nick Carter uses three main weapons during the course of the series, all of which are named, and have histories. The gun, Wilhelmina, is a stripped down German Luger. In the earliest stories, Carter got the gun off a German officer during a harrowing mission during World War II. Later stories state that he has had a series of Lugers, all named Wilhelmina. The knife, Hugo, is a pearl-handled 400-year-old stiletto crafted by Benvenuto Cellini. The blade retracts into the handle, and the whole thing is worn on a special sheath on the wrist, designed to release the knife into the user's hand with a simple muscle contraction. The third member of the triad is Pierre, a poison gas bomb, which is a small egg-shaped device, usually carried in a pocket but sometimes as a "third testicle" at his scrotum. Activated with a simple twist, it would, within seconds, kill anybody, or anything, that breathed its odorless and colorless gas.
Carter often takes with him other weapons as the mission demands. These have included:
Carter has used a variety of equipment in the novels most of which have nicknames. These have included:
The agency Carter works for is described as being smaller and far more secret than the CIA, mostly concerned with assassinations. In the first novel of the series, Run, Spy, Run, AXE is described as "the trouble-shooting arm of the US secret services". AXE headquarters are located in the 6th floor offices of a building in DuPont Circle, Washington, DC under the cover of the Amalgamated Press and Wire Service. AXE is purported to contain several different departments with specific functions including Editing (later called "Special Effects and Editing") - headed by Mr. Poindexter - which, among other things, creates false biographies for agents and provides appropriate props (e.g. fake latex fingerprints); Documents - whose role is to plant stories in the media to support specific activities and create false identification and travel documents; Records - which provides background information on suspects; and Operations - which provides logistic support for specific missions. AXE has a branch office near Columbus Circle, New York and affiliate offices in countries around the world.
Agents are given code designations; Carter's N3, which has at least once been stated as standing for Number three, identifies him as one of the elite Killmasters. The meaning of the code N3 is described differently in different novels - sometimes it is Carter's personal designation, other times it is considered a rank, with N1 being the highest, in other novels we are told that Carter is the third Killmaster to have worked for AXE with both his predecessors having been killed in action. David Hawk, described in early novels as looking a lot like Uncle Sam, is the head of AXE and Carter's personal boss. Della Strokes, Hawk's personal secretary, is a character similar to Bond's Miss Moneypenny - flirtatious but serious. Ginger Bateman is Hawk's personal secretary in later novels. Poindexter, AXE's equivalent to Q, runs the Special Effects and Editing department, in charge of weapons, gadgets, disguises, and papers.
In the first novel in the series (Run, Spy, Run), AXE is described as comprising 24 agents. They are identified by alphanumeric code. The following agents / codes have been described:
A2 Unnamed (mentioned in "Hanoi")
A4 Unnamed (mentioned in "Fraulein Spy")
A12 using pseudonym "Alfred" (mentioned in "Fraulein Spy")
A24 Unnamed (mentioned in "Run, Spy, Run")
B5 (mentioned in "Hanoi")
B12 Unnamed but further nicknamed "Vitamin" (mentioned in "Fraulein Spy")
C4 Unnamed (mentioned in "Fraulein Spy")
E14 Red Turner (mentioned in "A Bullet for Fidel")
K7 Unnamed (mentioned in "Run, Spy, Run")
J2 Unnamed - briefs Carter on his trip to Japan (mentioned in "The China Doll")
J20 Jean Paul Turnier (mentioned in "The Terrible Ones")
N1 Stuart Hample (mentioned in "The Peking Dossier (1975)")
N1 David Hawk (in "Trouble in Paradise (1978)")
N1 Theodore Salonikos (dies in "Hide And Go Die (1983)")
N3 Nick Carter
N5 McLaughlin (mentioned in "Dr. Death (1975)")
N6 Joe Banks (stated dead in "Six Bloody Summer Days (1975)")
N7 (stated dead in "Hide And Go Die (1983)")
N12 John Sparks (mentioned in "Under the Wall (1978)") (stated dead in "Hide And Go Die (1983)")
N17 Dennis Gordon (dies in "The Golden Bull (1981)")
N17 Bill Qualley (mentioned in "Hide And Go Die (1983)")
N30 Kiki Pederson (dies in "Trouble in Paradise (1978)")
P3 David Trainor (murdered in "A Bullet for Fidel")
P4 Unnamed, described as a mole in the Kremlin (mentioned in "Safari for Spies")
Q7 Ellie Harmon, briefs Carter on his mission in "Hanoi"
Z4 Zeke, works in AXE Psycho Lab - interrogates German scientist Erich Burgdorf in "Hanoi"
N.B. the listing here is in series order (not necessarily by publication date, which is given)