There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

You’ve got to mind your fingers when you give a dog a bone: The Striker Portfolio by Adam Hall (1968)





The Striker Portfolio by  Adam Hall (1968)

The Striker Portfolio (1968) is a short, sharp spy thriller. Secret agent Quiller zigzags between West and East Germany, struggling to "get in the way" of a Stalinist cell crashing Luftwaffe jets and forcing the political downfall of FRG politicians and military leaders opposed to reunification on the GDR's terms.

Author Adam Hall's strengths are epitomised in this little peroration prefacing a car chase:

....Their headlights came on suddenly in the mirror and I knew what was happening because I'd worked out the formula: the formula for survival. The basic data for the N.S.U. RO-80 included weight and speed figures: 1210 kilograms with a dry tank, 180 kilometres per hour. The gears were automatic and the front wheels did the driving. The time-lag was about the same with the automatic as with a manual shift and so it didn't make any difference. The superior traction of front-wheel drive wasn't likely to affect things even on the fast curves north of the mountains because there would have to be a curve that had to be driven round if the N.S.U.'s cornering advantages were to be brought into play.

The Mercedes 300 weighed 1560 kilos and the top speed was 190 k.p.h. Gear control was optional and I didn't know which this one had. The rear wheels did the driving.

First findings: all factors being equal the Mercedes could overhaul me by 10 k.p.h. and give ms a 350-kilo nudge into the tree-trunks when it was ready.

Unknown data: the precise weight of the two men and the amount of fuel they had on board. There was nothing to be done about this. Give a man eighty kilos with shoes and overcoat: they had an extra 430. Assume their tank was close on full: it took them past 450. But it would need a slide-rule to decide the balance: how much their extra weight was going to cost them in acceleration and maximum speed, how much it was going to help them nudge me off the road.

I'd done what I could at the Esso station, telling the man to shut off at twenty-five litres. That amount would get me to Hanover if necessary and left the N.S.U. lighter.

Workable findings: assume the best figures - both men were heavy and their tank was full and it would cost them 10 k.p.h. in maximum speed. Add 1 k.p.h. In one hour there would be a kilometre's distance between us and with that kind of margin I could peel off at whatever loop-road I liked: Braunschweig Hildesheim, Hanover itself. And they wouldn't see me go. Assume, the worst figures - both men were average weight and they had a quarter tankful and they had the edge on me in terms of maximum speed. The extra weight of one man would bring down the speed fractionally but not the full 10, k.p.h.

Conclusion: the Mercedes had to be faster than the N.S.U. by 1 k.p.h. if they were going to stay with me and send me into the trees. I believed on the figures alone that it was 1 k.p.h. faster and that they could do that.

There was only the one area in which I could hope to work, hope to avoid a mathematical certainty. The N.S.U. had a rotary engine and was lighter by 350 kilos and that gave me the edge on them in acceleration. I was already establishing a lead: that was why they'd just put their headlights on. They were worried. Their idea would be to stay with me almost bumper-to-bumper with their lights out so that I couldn't see enough in the mirror to judge how close they were, couldn't see which side they were creeping up on to shape for the final nudge.

The N.S.U.'s superior acceleration and the Mercedes' higher top speed would vary the distance between us as we went north. It would be like a Chriscraft towing a water-skier on a long piece of elastic: the N.S.U. would draw ahead and then the tension would be taken up and the Mercedes would close the gap until it hit.

The only outside factor that could come into play was the presence of other cars making north. But we were both going to take it right up to the ceiling and there wasn't likely to be anyone driving in the 180-190 region at night....




Jay

11 January 2018



Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Define, infiltrate and destroy: The Warsaw Document by Adam Hall (1971).


'What's the area?'

'I think you'll need tropical kit.'

'Oh my God.'

'It's a shame,' he smiled amiably, 'in winter they send you to Warsaw, don't they?'

--Adam Hall, The Tango Briefing (1973).






The Warsaw Document by Adam Hall (1971).


Quiller is dispatched by Bureau control to assist tyro spook Merrick in forging links with Polish anticommunists on the eve of a historic East-West summit in Warsaw.

Mission

....a director puts his ferret to work in the way he chooses, shows him the hole and shoves him down it and stands back and crosses his fingers.

....Mission-feel is never wrong: it's the specialised instinct you develop as you go forward into the dark like an old dog fox sniffing the wind and catching the scent of things it has smelled before and learned to distrust; and in the concealing darkness the forefoot is sensitive, poised and held still above the patch of unknown ground where in the next movement the trap can spring shut.

....the opposition had a programme running, its engineering as smooth and massive as the iron wheels that rolled past here on their predestined rails; and that I was in its path.

Egerton didn't know what it was but he knew it was there and he'd sent me to find it and blow it up.


Foster


Quiller finds himself pursued by Warsaw cops and a KGB contingent led by Colonel Foster.

....Foster....once an Old Etonian and now a hero of the Soviet Republic with an alloy medal somewhere in the top drawer with his handkerchiefs and cuff-links', a rumour about a Hungarian woman, 'a simple daughter of the proletariat content to share his uneventful life'.

When it looks like Quiller has finally turned the tables on the opposition, he plans to take Foster back to London.


Hall archly observes:


....He didn't want to go to London; there were people there who'd believed they were his friends and he had something in common with all shabby men: he couldn't face his creditors.

The set-piece


The final two-thirds of The Warsaw Document is essentially Quiller the ferret going through the maze of Warsaw, trying to figure out what his control has really assigned him to do. And all the while evading Polish police and the KGB.


On of Hall's most spectacular coups in this long to-and-fro is a hand-to-hand fight between Quiller and a cop in a train station lavatory.


.At close quarters a gun is highly dangerous. The danger is present before it leaves the holster, since it gives a feeling of power, of superiority, thus leading to false confidence and the impression that no serious effort has to be made, that the conflict has already been won. The danger increases tenfold once the gun is in the hand because only one hand is left free for useful work; at the same time the psychological danger remains present: it is felt that the mere sight of the gun will intimidate the opponent to the extent of rendering him powerless, quite incapable of movement. If, at this stage, the opponent decides to move, the danger becomes so great that it dominates the situation and can no longer be averted. The simple act of moving confounds the strongly held belief that no movement will in fact be made, and the surprise has the proportions of severe psychological shock.


Kimura's first rule is grilled into new trainees until they're sick of it but later it saves their lives: when threatened by an armed man, do nothing until he comes into close quarters.


It's usually easy enough because he likes to frisk you and then you can go to work. In this case I was lucky because we'd walked into each other and the distance was perfect. The gun was in his hand but that was all: his index hadn't settled inside the trigger guard and he was nowhere near horizontal aim. In another tenth of a second I would have had to use the routine deflection drill designed to get the body clear of the bullet but I didn't wait for that because the noise would alert the nearest patrols.


I chopped upwards against the wrist-nerve and the force swung him partly round as the gun spun high and hit the glazed tiles of the ceiling and that was all right but he was already hooking for a kite blow and I knew I'd been wrong: he hadn't been relying a hundred per cent on his gun - he'd just thought it might be the most convenient way.


I went down first and he dropped and tried for the throat so I used the knee and he rolled and corrected and I thought it was probably kaminari, a bastardised form of kung fu, because he got very busy and couldn't relax the tensions so it was easy until the speed of the blows began foxing me and I had to go for a straight classic hand-edge for the shoulder hoping to numb and not succeeding the first time and not getting the chance to do it again because he was on to it and pulling clear and coming in again with a series of horribly fast kites that burned at the muscles while I hooked at what I could reach: windpipe, groin, plexus, trying for blows and then for locks and not getting them as I should.


Specialised disciplines are effective within their range but none of them are flexible enough: their patterns are too formalised. Pure karate can stop any amateur attack because it has the answer to every move in the book but there are one or two others and some of the kaminari blows have never been fully understood in the West so that an element of the unknown enters the conflict and there's no time to rethink on the established techniques because this form of attack is tense and fast and accumulative: the aim is to break down the opponent before he's had time to work for any kind of finalising strike or lock.


That's why karate has never been taught at Norfolk. They teach something different there.


I still couldn't use it. His energy was appalling and the blows came chopping wickedly fast for the vulnerable points and I knew that if I left only one of them unprotected for a half-second he'd be in there and finish me. His attack was animal: I couldn't believe that this creature could ever, short of killing it, be tamed; or that, once tamed, it could speak or write with a pen in a human hand. His breathing was like a wolf's, his frenzy producing grunts through the teeth and nostrils, a bestial snuffling, and somewhere in my mind there was surprise that these weren't claws ripping at me, that I touched no fur. Yet his blows were infinitely disciplined.


And suddenly I knew that if I didn't do something quickly he'd break me down and I'd have to be taken to Foster in an ambulance. My arms were losing strength and their muscles burned. I couldn't shift his weight from across my legs.


For a long time, for two or three seconds, I let myself relax, bringing the strikes closer to give him confidence, then twisted and freed an elbow and drove it hard enough to disturb his rhythm and he shifted his weight and I went for a yoshida and brought it off but couldn't hold the full lock because he slipped it enough to sap the leverage and come in again with neck strikes so that I had to roll back and parry them. Light had begun flashing in my head.


A hokku and it threw him and 'I followed with the second stage of the lock but wasn't fast enough and his weight came back and I had to protect again because if only one of his strikes got through it would leave me paralysed. My head throbbed, pulsing to the rhythm of the flashing light, and breathing was difficult now. He fluttered above me, a vague dark shape whose weight increased and bore down and smothered my movements, and its snuffling became excited as the strikes hammered at the crossed shield of my arms and shifted their aim and hammered again and found the target protected but only clumsily now as I lost strength, and worse, lost science. Time was going, no more time. I needed time.


Sorry about that, old boy, but you shouldn't have chanced your arm, these chaps won't put up with it.


Relax and bring him closer. Get the breathing right or it's no go. Relax.


But I was a torch, a body burning, my own light blinding. His blows poured pain into me and the flames burst brighter. There was no time. Then let it be done without time. Now.


Twist. But he was ready and I had to try again and it didn't work but his aim was shifted and I moved the other way and felt purchase available as we rolled with my knee rising hard but not hard enough: it baulked his strikes but he went for a neck lock and I had to stop it because it was a musubi and we are frightened of that one, all of us. Lock and counter-lock and we lay still, the muscles alone engaged, contraction without kinetics, the hiss of our breathing the only sign of life. Then I felt purchase again: my foot had come into contact with the wall of the subway and when I used it he was surprised and the lock went slack and I had time and forced him over and we lay still again but the position was changed and I saw that there was a blow I could use if I worked very quickly.


But I hesitated. Morality came into this and the awareness of what I was going to do was holding me back. This was the jungle but even in the jungle there are laws: a male wolf, in combat with another and sensing mortal defeat, will pause and expose its neck and the jugular vein, tokening submission; and the victor will leave it.


Here the law didn't apply: a vulnerable point had been exposed by chance and morality was out of place because the organism was shouting it down, squealing for survival, and I put the last of my strength into the blow. It wasn't very hard because I was weakened now, but it was effective because it struck the point that Kimura had told us about.


Then I got up and leaned with my back to the wall, dragging air into my lungs while the nerve-light went on flashing in my head. A sound was somewhere, a rumbling, and I remembered where I was, in the railway station of a modern city where men could speak, and write with pens. It seemed a long time since I was here before: an act so primitive had brought a time shift and the past few minutes had been measured in millennia.


The rumbling became thunder overhead and its rhythm slowed: a train was stopping. I would have liked to rest but there'd soon be people here….





The Warsaw Document is a fine thriller filled with ice, snow, and plenty of duplicitous Eastern bloc Cold War atmosphere.


Jay

10 January 2018



Our author


London insists: The Tango Briefing by Adam Hall (1973)





....that renowned student of spy fiction, Randall Masteller, regards the Quiller books as 'one of the greatest spy series ever written'

--Mike Ripley, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: The Boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed (2017).



The Tango Briefing by Adam Hall (1973)


....The situation, Quiller, is simply this. Even if you have only a one per cent chance of surviving the end-phase, London would appreciate your making the attempt.

One always has to paraphrase just a little, with Loman.

Then I'd called to Chirac to start up and I was here because I was an old ferret sharp of tooth and I knew my warrens and I'd run them before and I'd run them again because the chance I believe in is the one-per-center and that is the way of things, as I see them. Pure logic, of course: the high risks of my trade drew me to it and that is why I ply it, and the greater the risk the more I am drawn and when the risk is expressed as a one per cent chance of survival then I'm hooked and damned and hell-bound and don't get in my way.


An impossible situation: get rid of something permanently before it undercuts the prestige of UK imperialism in the international arena. Loman is put in charge, and Loman demands Quiller for his executive. It's easy to see why. Quiller is a frustrating pain in the neck, but Loman knows that is tolerable fallout considering he acts without fail.

The Tango Briefing starts out like one of those interminable 900 page Clive Cussler novels. But by page 200 the mission is accomplished.

Adam Hall's skill as a writer is on ample display in The Tango Briefing. The Algerian desert is beautifully evoked, with its head-aching heat and eye-burning sand. But the real pleasure is sitting back and observing Quiller gaming both sides of the chess board in the nanosecond before he has to take action.

The ellipses Hall employs to keep the first-person narration captivating are fine coups of craftsmanship.

….So at 19.15 I checked out of the Hotel Africa and went across to where the Chrysler was parked and they said later at the hospital that the glass had been the worst trouble because some very small fragments had got stuck in my face and they'd been difficult to find.


There weren't any bones broken but they were worried by various signs of physiological shock that were still hanging about, and the bruises where I'd been flung across the pavement. I didn't remember much, but there'd been no actual retrogressive amnesia: I checked on that right away. I was just walking towards the Chrysler and then the senses went partially dead through overloading: very bright flash, a lot of noise, smell of burnt aromatic nitro compounds and the feel of the pavement sliding around under me.


They'd made a silly mistake, that was all. They wouldn't have risked installing an ignition detonator linkage right outside in the street: they'd had to put something quick on board and it was probably a rocking activator and a bus had passed close and the slipstream had rocked the Chrysler enough to trigger the thing at the wrong time, three or four seconds too early.


Loman came as soon as I rang him and found me in the casualty room with bowls and bandages and blood everywhere.


'Listen, get me out of here and fix another plane.'


Speech sounded a bit sloppy because the mouth had got cut up by the glass and it had begun puffing.


'Do they want to keep you under observation?'


'Yes, there's the odd bit of glass left in but it'll work itself out, they know that….




Jay

10 January 2018



Our author

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The name of the game is death: The Most Dangerous Game by Gavin Lyall (1964).








The Most Dangerous Game by Gavin Lyall
(1964).
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1448200369/ref=cm_sw_r_other_apa_U97uAbE3KGAPE


....Daphne Wright (who writes crime novels as Natasha Cooper) worked for Lyall and described that early phase of his writing: 'His first few novels feature cynical but warm-hearted men who use their training and experience in the army or RAF in more or less legal ways. They know their way around Europe and are at ease with guns and planes. Many of them – or their colleagues or quarry – battle with alcoholism.'2

Lyall's first seven novels were finely crafted adventure thrillers and he rapidly established himself as a leading player on the thriller scene, being elected Chairman of the Crime Writers' Association in 1967 after completing only four novels. In the 1970s his productivity fell drastically – 'writer's block' was later blamed....

--Mike Ripley, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: The Boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed (2017).



A Beaver floatplane




One of the chief (to me) joys of thriller novels is what might be called the Night Action. In The Most Dangerous Game Lyall gives us a breathless covert night time flight from Finland into Russia, hugging the terrain.


….We came over the connecting channel between the lakes -just a gap in the trees thirty yards wide and a bit longer, floored with mist. The second lake opened ahead. There was no horizon. The mist reached as far as I could see. Gaunt thin pines on small islands poked through in clumps, fading away across the lake like the rotting masts and sails of dead, half-sunken ships. It was as quiet and still out there as a cave of ice. The Beaver must have sounded very loud and looked very obvious.


I swung left to keep near the north shore, then pulled the nose up and cut back the engine to get the noise down. I felt Judd stretch across behind me to peer out.


The time was a few seconds after one. I stopped the timer and reset it to zero. The north bank was just a forest of rootless pines standing out of the mist. I pulled the nose up and into a wingover to reverse course along the north shore. The speed was down to seventy-five knots, but I was putting out a lot less noise.


'All right,' I said. 'Where's your friend? You're sure you didn't write down the date or time wrong in your diary?'


A green light blinked blearily from the mist among the trees. Judd jerked in his seat.


I said: 'All right, I have it.' I dipped the nose and snapped the navigation lights quickly on and off, then swung out in a big S-turn over the lake and back again along what would have to be the landing run.


There were no islands closer than a quarter mile from the shore, which at that point was a very slight headland, a gentle bulge into the lake. If somebody was going to heave floating lights into the water from there, they were probably aiming to mark a landing path just skimming the bulge. As good as anywhere.


A spark twinkled through the air and then turned into a steady misty glow on the west side of the bulge.


'What are those things?' I asked.


Judd paused to think if he was revealing any important State Secrets. 'New type of flotation torch. It always stays the right way up.'


Another one twinkled sharply and brightly and then became a dull glow on the water below the mist. I turned back, put down half flap, and went down on a reverse landing course, just to try the lights. I aimed for the nearest light, keeping half an eye on the further one. The nearer light got gently bigger, but not sharper. The further one started to fade appreciably while I was still at fifty feet above the mist. At thirty feet it died away entirely. I rounded out, skimmed the top of the mist, and pulled away. The lost light glowed suddenly below me.


'Did you see all that?' I asked.


'I saw it.'


'You know enough about flying to know why there were supposed to be two lights? So that you can have something to give you a perspective on the ground - which one light won't do?'


'I know about that,' he said, and his voice was heavy and old. 'I see what you mean.' He didn't sound like a man with a gun.


I turned at sixty feet, turned down the cockpit lighting to just a glint, and dipped towards the nearest light, aiming just short of it. The floats squashed into the mist, sank, then I pulled back sharply. The light flared under the nose and for the first time I saw water: a glimmering flat sheen for a few feet around the torch. I climbed out and away.


Judd asked: 'What would happen if- if you got it wrong?'


'We might turn on our backs. We might just dig one float in and tear it loose. One of them's a bit out of line anyway. Either way you'd have three people stuck here instead of just one.'


Then I said: 'I have an idea. I've a nasty feeling it may be the first time anybody's had it, so it could be a very bad one. But I think I can land on one light if we can get it to show up a bit more water.'


'Is there any way to do that?'


'My idea covers it. I want to drop something in the water between the lights; that should start a few ripples that'll catch the light a bit further than it goes now. It's too damn calm.'


'Suchas what?'


'Unstrap yourself. The baggage compartment in the rear bulkhead: there's a few tins of food - emergency supplies -in there. Then open the drop hatch and wait for my shout. Chuck out three or four in a string.' I felt him move back.


I turned in a slow circle to bring us back to a reverse run up the landing line. The mist and the black, tattered trees fading across the lake still looked as dead as the far side of the moon. The time was four minutes after one.


I heard the rush of air as the hatch came open. Judd called: 'I'm ready.'


'Okay. In about fifteen seconds.' I pulled back the pitch and then the throttle, and dipped down on a line with the lights, staying on the une after the far light had vanished. I flattened out gently on top of the mist.


'Ready,' I called. The first light flared and disappeared under the nose.


I counted and one and shouted: 'Now.'


The second light suddenly glowed ahead, swelled, and passed beneath. I rammed up the throttle, not caring about the noise. Now we were committed. If we were going to make it, it had to be before the ripples died. I climbed into a turn.


Could I still use the second light? Round out at - say -three or four feet on the glow from the first light, then coast through the mist at that height and drop her on by the ripples from the second light? Could I still work it?


No. I couldn't try it with a split mind. It had to be just one idea and one only. Forget that second light.


Judd scrambled heavily back into his seat.


'I didn't close the hatch--'


'Skip it.'


I came out of the turn at fifty feet above the mist, about two hundred yards back from the first light. I eased back the throttle and pitch and put down full flap. The Beaver slowed, swayed, and then shook herself into a new slightly nose-down attitude.


I shuffled her in gentle small turns, lining up with the lights while I could still see two of them. The speed drifted down off the dial. At fifty knots I let the nose droop. The far light faded and vanished.


I kept my eye on the one light. I was aiming short, shorter than on the previous runs.


We were about thirty feet above the mist and a hundred yards from the light. It was beginning to fade - just slightly. Speed down to forty-seven knots. She was heavy at this speed, and sluggish on the ailerons.


Twenty feet up and the light was fading. I had to hold her down; some part of me wanted to haul up so that I could see the light better. But I had to aim short; I had to round out and then touch on the light itself. Beyond it was nothing. Nothing.


Ten feet above the mist the light was just a faint glow. I was about sixty yards short of it. I was in the right place. I made a hand go out and pull back the throttle. I raised the nose slightly.


Suddenly the inside of the cabin seemed as quiet and still as the mist and the black trees above the mist. The light was the only live thing in the world, and it was just a dying ember. The speed slid down off the dial. The floats broke the surface of the mist. It foamed and rose and streamed away, suddenly moving, but sluggish, a dead thing in a tide. The mist climbed and shredded through the propeller. The light disappeared.


I was alone. I was falling. There was nothing. And I was inside it, part of it. I wanted to haul back, rear away, slam on engine to hear something else besides me trying to escape from being nothing. I didn't want to die in the quiet.


Then there was light. A glow that was nowhere, too diffuse to be high or low, but growing fast, spreading outwards and at the same time hardening in the centre, high, too high. I jerked back on the yoke and it shuddered under my hands, on the brink of the stall. The light flared, close and dazzling in the mist, and beyond it little twinkling ripples. Suddenly the flat world snapped into place underneath me. I knew where I was.


Four feet up - too high. I jerked the yoke forward and back and the Beaver dropped a two-foot step in the air and the yoke shuddered again and I pulled back and she suddenly stopped flying and sagged with a splash into the water.


Mist swept over me. Nothingness, but a different nothingness, because I was on the earth again. The second light glowed, brightened, and drifted astern, a couple of yards to port. I let the Beaver wander to a stop.


We rocked gently in our own disturbance of the water. The engine made early morning coughing noises; it couldn't take much slow running. But for the moment, I liked the quiet.


Judd made a long breathing sound behind me. 'Yes,' he said. 'Yes.'


I said: 'Welcome to Russia.'


'Yes/ he said again. Then, more cheerfully: 'I had a nasty moment back there.'


'You got it secondhand, friend. I'd already squeezed it dry.'




The Most Dangerous Game is a modest and well-organized thriller. Regional setting in Lapland and the Russo-Finnish border during the Cold War are well-handled, as is the final showdown between the pro and the amateur obsessed with hunting man.

Jay
9 January




Our author



Monday, January 8, 2018

Turning the tables: High Citadel by Desmond Bagley (1965).



High Citadel - Desmond Bagley


....South America proved a happy hunting ground for several thriller writers, just as Africa had for Rider Haggard and Edgar Wallace, and previous generations of adventure-seekers. With its jungles, high mountains, lost cities, and, indeed, lost civilisations, as well as extremely exotic (and dangerous) local inhabitants – piranhas, anacondas, native Indians with blowpipes and curare-tipped darts, not to mention ex-Nazis – it is rather surprising that it was not the setting for more tales of high adventure.

In the same year that Snake Water was published, however, Desmond Bagley produced another top-notch one in High Citadel, a rip-roaring thriller set in the High Andes where the survivors of a plane crash not only have to contend with the inhospitable terrain, but are pursued by an army of rebel soldiers. Fortunately, among the ranks of the survivors are a couple of medieval historians who are able to construct medieval weapons to fight off their attackers.7

....Desmond Bagley was really good at disasters and how his characters reacted to the dangers which surrounded them, often natural or physical (hurricanes, avalanches) or man-made and occasionally his characters showed extraordinary (though not fantastical) resourcefulness.

The 'unique selling point' of High Citadel was how the survivors of a plane hi-jack (and crash) in the Andes fight off well-armed insurgents by resorting to building weapons from antiquity. When a condensed version of the book appeared (with illustrations) in the American magazine Argosy in August 1965, it was under the rather bellicose headline: 'Are medieval weapons a match against the military might of a modern Communist force?'2

--Mike Ripley, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: The Boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed (2017).



***


High Citadel by Desmond Bagley (1965) takes place high in the Andes mountains.


Mines, mining camps, a tortuous mountain road, glaciers, and a bridgehead are the locations of action. Our protagonists, in less than a week, survive (mostly) plane crash, altitude sickness, scrapes, cuts, frostbite, and bullet holes.


One among the survivors of the crash is a political opponent of the country's current leadership. Cuban-backed guerrillas want him dead before they launch their coup.

I'm a Marxist and a defender of the Cuban revolution and its revolutionary leadership. I still enjoyed this outdoor adventure thriller. Bagley might smear the Cuban revolution, but I chose to take that as testament to the revolution's political weight and moral authority in mid-60s South America.

The plane crash survivors are a cross section of genric swells. There's the Anglo-Irish pilot, O'Hara, who pulls himself out of a personal and professional tailspin by becoming a real leader. Dr. Aguillar, the bourgeois liberal politician, a frail and excessively noble old man, is accompanied by his lovely niece Benedetta and younger cothinker of utmost skill, Rohde. Peabody, an ugly American if ever there was one, comes to a sticky end. Willis and Armstrong are respectively engineer and Medieval military scholar. Miss Ponsky is what used to be called an old maid school marm, but she is also the archery champion of South Bridge, Connecticut.

The survivors harry guerillas to stop them repairing and crossing a river bridge. They do this by converting abandoned materials in the derelict mining camp to crossbows and a trebuchet. All work together, and with an author like Bagley spelling things out I now think I could at least build a crossbow.

The fittest survivors agree to scale a looming peak in order to reach help in a valley on the other side. It is a harrowing trip, filled with sharp depictions of cold, hunger, and exhaustion.


….Rohde cut steps in the fifteen-foot ice wall as high as he could reach while standing on reasonably firm ground, then climbed up and roped himself to pitons and stood in the steps he had already cut, chopping vigorously. He cut the steps very deep, having Forester in mind, and it took him nearly an hour before he was satisfied that Forester could climb the wall safely.


The packs were hauled up on a rope and then Forester began the climb, roped to Rohde. It was the most difficult task he had faced in his life. Normally he could have almost run up the broad and deep steps that Rohde had cut but now the bare ice burned his hands, even through the gloves, his chest ached and stabbing pains pierced him as he lifted his arms above his head, and he felt weak and tired as though the very breath of life had been drained from him. But he made it and collapsed at Rohde's feet.


Here the wind was a howling devil driving down the pass and bearing with it great clouds of powdery snow and ice particles which stung the face and hands. The din was indescribable, a freezing pandemonium from an icy hell, deafening in its loudness. Rohde bent over Forester, shielding him from the worst of the blast, and made him sit up. "You can't stay here," he shouted. "We must keep moving. There is no more hard climbing — just the slope to the top and down the other side."


Forester flinched as the ice particles drove like splinters into his face and he looked up into Rohde's hard and indomitable eyes. "Okay, buster," he croaked harshly. ".Where you go, so can I."


Rohde thrust some coca quids into his hand. "You will need these." He checked the rope round Forester's waist and then picked up both packs, tentatively feeling their weight. He ripped them open and consolidated the contents into one pack, which he slung on his back despite Forester's protests. The empty pack was snatched by the wind and disappeared into the grey reaches of the blizzard behind them.


Forester stumbled to his feet and followed in the tracks that Rohde broke. He hunched his shoulders and held his head down, staring at his feet in order to keep the painful wind from his face. He wrapped the blanket hood about the lower part of his face but could do nothing to protect his eyes, which became red and sore. Once he looked up and the wind caught him right in the mouth, knocking the breath out of him as effectively as if he had been punched in the solar plexus. Quickly he bent his head again and trudged on.


The slope was not very steep, much less so than below the cliffs, but it meant that to gain altitude they had that much farther to go. He tried to work it out; they had to gain a thousand feet of height and the slope was, say, thirty degrees — but then his bemused mind bogged down in the intricacies of trigonometry and he gave up the calculation.





Readers who enjoy military strategy, extreme weather survival, and heroes scrambling around in rough terrain and turning the tables on enemies by using guerilla tactics and pre-gunpowder weapons will find everything they want in High Citadel.

Jay
8 January




The author.