Showing posts with label Desmond Bagley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Desmond Bagley. Show all posts

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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Freedom Trap

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Running Blind

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

High Citadel

British author Desmond Bagley was a respected practitioner of the “high adventure” sub-genre of thriller fiction along with fellow British writers Alistair MacLean, Jack Higgins, and Duncan Kyle. To Bagley’s credit, it’s hard to get a straight answer when you ask knowledgeable readers which of his many books is his masterpiece, but his second novel, 1965’s “High Citadel,” is often recommended by those in-the-know.

“High Citadel” stars a heroic Irish pilot named Tim O’Hara, a Korean War veteran who has crawled into a bottle and lives a subsistence existence flying for a dodgy, cut-rate airlines near the Andes mountain range in South America. When a luxury 727 filled with international passengers makes an emergency landing at O’Hara’s home airfield, a business opportunity knocks for O’Hara’s boss who wants him to fly the respectable passengers over the range to their desired destination.

While flying the overloaded and non-pressurized aircraft over the mountains, one of the people on board hijacks the flight by gunpoint and forces O’Hara to make a dangerous landing on an abandoned airstrip high in the mountains near a defunct mining camp. Bagley provides some white-knuckle aviation writing as this scene unfolds. The crash landing is harrowing, and O’Hara’s role as hero becomes fully formed.

After the terrifying landing destroys the rickety plane, we get to meet the international cast of survivors that includes a sexy Latina babe and her enigmatic uncle, a loudmouth American drunk, a British professor of medieval history, an elderly spinster, and a brainy physicist. As the motive for the hijacking becomes clear, we learn that not all the passengers are who they claim to be. Despite their differences, it’s necessary to band together to survive as a team.

The man vs. nature story becomes a man vs. Army tale as the plane survivors encounter hostile forces in the mountain wilderness and are forced to fight for survival with improvised weaponry. Bagley sure knew how to keep the plot moving, and “High Citadel” is a fat-free story filled with action, intrigue, and heroism in a freezing mountain terrain.

Some of my favorite scenes of the book involved the “council of war” meetings in which the survivors must decide whether - and how - to combat the hostile attackers. This a challenging review to write since I’m going to great lengths to not spoil any of the plot developments that are foolishly disclosed on the various iterations of the book cover descriptions and art. If you can go into this one cold, you’re in for several treats.

Reading this 53 year-old paperback, I was constantly reminded of the 1984 film, “Red Dawn” in which a bunch of outgunned and outmanned American high school kids repel a Soviet invasion in their town. “High Citadel” plays with the same idea in a timeless story showing that heart, bravery and ingenuity can triumph against any enemy. You’ll love this one. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE