Desmond Bagley (1923-1983) was one of the first high-adventure authors to join Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean as the stars of the genre. I loved all of Bagley's novels I read, including 1970's Running Blind. In that book, the protagonist has fled a Russian spy named Slade. In the Freedom Trap, released a year later, Slade is presented again, although this is a totally different story. The two books could be considered companions, but are not directly linked to one another. I liked Running Blind so The Freedom Trap sounded like the most logical Desmond Bagley novel to read next.
The book features a South African burglar by the name of Rearden. In the opening pages of the book, Rearden comes to London for the first time. It's here that he is asked to meet a mysterious man named MacKintosh and his sexy secretary Mrs. Smith. Mackintosh offers Rearden a sizeable sum to steal a packet of diamonds from a London mailman. Although it sounds absurd, I was surprised and convinced by MacKintosh's explanation that the diamonds (in the 1970s at least) were just posted in simple envelopes. Rearden accepts the job and in a few chapters the letter carrier is assaulted, Rearden is richer and MacKintosh has a handful of sparkling diamonds. The entire heist is performed flawlessly - no witnesses, smooth transaction. But later that night, two London detectives come to the door to arrest Rearden on assault and robbery charges. Did MacKintosh sell Rearden out?
The first 80 pages of this book are dedicated to theft and subsequent arrest. It was enjoyable, profoundly convincing and well written. As good as it was, the second act was absolutely terrific. Rearden pleads his innocence through the initial interrogation, sensationalized trial and the mandatory sentence. The judge begs Rearden to come clean on where the diamonds are. Rearden, refusing to cooperate, defiantly proclaims his innocence while the judge sentences him to 20 years in prison.
After a year in the pen, a convicted mobster insider offers Rearden an agreement. For 20 grand, a mob-backed criminal squad can get Rearden out of jail. The cool part of it? They specialize in getting people out of prison for money. And they know he can afford it. If Rearden agrees to this deal, he could be free. But if he pays, he has no way of knowing if this team even exists. In the worst case, he pays the money and is caught fleeing. His 20-years would probably double. What the hell does Rearden do?
The Freedom Trap is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The first and second acts were just tremendously well written and just so much fun to absorb and understand. The conclusion of the novel was somewhat abrupt and seemed rushed, but it never really harmed what is otherwise a remarkable reading experience. Moreover, the Slade link between Running Blind, and The Freedom Trap is certainly there, but by all means the two books are independent titles. Highest recommendation available.
Note - The book was adapted into a theatrical film in 1973 starring Paul Newman. The title used for the film was The MacKinstosh Man. Fawcett reprinted the paperback under that title as well.
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