Thursday, June 2, 2022

Tightrope Men, The

British resident Giles Denison awakens in an unfamiliar place with vague memories of his past. When he stumbles into the bathroom, he is shocked to see the face staring back at him is not his own. The mirror's reflection, and wallet, prove that Denison is a doctor named Harold Meyrick. Upon further inspection, Denison discovers that he is in a hotel room in Oslo, Norway. Going with the flow, and hoping sanity returns, Denison heads to the front desk and learns that he's been a guest of the hotel for three weeks. Finding his car, Denison is further perplexed when he finds a small doll inside with an invitation for a meeting at a nearby popular tourist spot.

When Denison arrives at the rural, forested attraction, he's immediately attacked by three men. Barely surviving the encounter, Denison escapes with his life and is soon arrested by the Norwegian police. Thankfully, Denison finds some solace when men from the British embassy arrive to spring him from jail. They attempt to explain the bizarre circumstances surrounding Denison's newfound identity. It turns out that Dr. Meyrick was assisting British intelligence in locating hidden papers regarding a top-secret weapon. Some red agency captured Meyrick and the perfectly pedestrian Denison. Meyrick is either dead or undergoing torture, while Denison has been brain-scooped and surgically rendered to resemble Meyrick. 

Desmond Bagley's The Tightrope Men (1973) is a clever, high-speed espionage thriller with the obligatory suit 'n tie good guys fighting global terror with an unlikely hero. Denison's transformation from unwilling, shocked suburbanite into the willing and capable spy was really enjoyable. The author injects some humor and a lot of fun banter with Denison, as Meyrick, forced to engage in relationships with Meyrick's friends and a beautiful daughter. The latter becomes a real mess for Denison as he is falling in love with the woman that is supposed to be his daughter. There's reader speculation on who's in the know and who isn't when it comes to Denison's facade as Meyrick, which made for a great mystery. Of course, there's gunplay and action-adventure in the deep, rural wilderness of Finland (similar to Bagley's Running Blind taking place in the remote wilds of Iceland).    

Needless to say, Bagley rarely disappoints. The Tightrope Men is a well-crafted, superb spy-thriller with danger, intrigue, and romance at the forefront. If you love Ian Fleming, Hammond Innes, and Alistair MacLean, then you are probably already familiar with Desmond Bagley. If not, this is a perfect representation of his work. Highly, highly recommended.

Fun Fact about Paperback Warrior – I'm a bit of a Finland history buff and Bagley provides an excellent, digestible history on Finland's relationship with Russia. There's also passages regarding the Karelian Isthmus, an area in northwestern Russia, where the Finnish population was seemingly replaced with Russian. In particular, I've read poems and stories associated with Finland's National epic Kalevala. There's a great Finnish band called Amorphis that writes and performs songs associated with Finnish history and the Kalevala poems. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.


  1. Google "Good Guys Wear Black movie poster". It's very similar to the cover. I wonder if it was an inspiration for the movie poster.

  2. I don't think Bagley is quite as good as Alistair MacLean at his peak, but then no-one was as good as MacLean at his peak. Bagley was still a very very fine thriller writer and like MacLean he was superb in his use of unusual, memorable, hostile settings.

    This is a Bagley I haven't read so I may have to add it to my shopping list.