"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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….


10 January 2018

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