Along with Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean, British author Desmond Bagley (1923-1983) helped create the basic conventions of high-altitude storytelling within men's action-adventure fiction. His first novel, The Golden Keel, was published in 1963 and propelled a literary career that featured a total of 16 novels, five of which were turned into feature films. As a fan of frosty fiction, I decided to read Bagley's 1970 novel Running Blind, which is set in Iceland. The novel was later adapted for British television in 1979.
In the Scottish highlands, retired British spy Stewart is visited by his former boss Slade (who also appears in Bagley's The Freedom Trap). Slade's pitch is for Stewart to deliver an important package to a gentleman in Iceland. Stewart's experience in the country and his fluency in the Icelandic language make him the perfect operative for the job. Stewart is hesitant to take the assignment post-retirement but agrees in favor of visiting the country again.
The clandestine task of deliveryman for British intelligence evolves into a deadly cat-and-mouse game when Stewart is attacked and the package is stolen. Further, Slade's dismissal of Stewart's account of what happened to the missing package leads him to believe that the whole assignment was a crafty set-up. While Stewart is still in Iceland, he learns that Slade has aligned with a Russian nemesis named Kenniken, a man Stewart shot and hoped to kill earlier in his career. As the net descends, Stewart and his lover must flee into the rural landscape of Iceland, complete with volcanoes and rivers created from melting glaciers. Once there, the two are hunted by Slade's British operatives who are unaware that their leader has defected to Russia. The whole thing makes sense at the end, but some of the finer plot points are "blind" to the protagonist and reader. That's the enjoyment.
Running Blind is an excellent adventure-espionage hybrid that is presented to readers as a first-person narrative. The author, through Stewart's eyes, explains strategies, experiences, old combat stories and the most minuscule details to aid readers. As a fan of Jack Higgins' Paul Chavasse, a spy hero used in five of the author's novels, I felt that Stewart was of the same caliber and breed – sharp, salty and seasoned. The author also included some of Iceland's history and geographical highlights, a bonus for the average suburbanite who may never venture there. At 220-pages of smaller font, I felt the book could have been shorter. But that's the drawback when you become a massive bestseller – publishers want more. Other than the length, there's isn't anything to not like about Running Blind. Highly recommended.
Buy a copy of this book HERE