The Eagle Has Landed (1975) by Jack Higgins presents the reader with the premise that on November 6, 1943 a group of German paratroopers land in NorfoThe Eagle Has Landed (1975) by Jack Higgins presents the reader with the premise that on November 6, 1943 a group of German paratroopers land in Norfolk where the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is rumored to be headed for a weekend's relaxation at a country house near Studley Constable. The mission? To kidnap Churchill if at all possible and to kill him if it's not. The central story is framed with more recent events. Higgins inserts himself into the narrative and describes how he discovered the story while in a Studley Constable graveyard, looking for the grave of a sea captain by the name of Charles Gascigne. He uncovers a concealed grave containing thirteen German paratroopers. What on earth are those men doing in an English graveyard. The villagers won't talk to him--and are even quite menacing when they tell him to move along and not come back. But Higgins is used to asking awkward questions and following leads into dangerous territory when he catches the scent of a story. After a year's research, he puts together the tale described in the book.
When Hitler's men manage to free his ally Benito Mussolini and bring him to Germany, Hitler is inspired to demand that a similar operation be developed to kidnap his enemy Churchill. With Himmler's enthusiastic support of the plan, he orders Admiral Wilhelm Canaris to investigate the possibility and Canaris gives the task to Oberst Radl--asking him to make it look good (to keep the Fuhrer happy) but to be ready with good reasons why it won't work. The further Radl digs into the plan, the more convinced he becomes that it really could work. But when he submits his final study to Canaris, he's told to forget it--unless asked for it.
He's asked sooner than anticipated--by Himmler himself, who is delighted with the findings and gives Radl the power necessary to put together a team. He brings together Liam Devlin, an IRA radical who is willing to do just about anything in the cause against England, and the disgraced Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Steiner and his crack team of paratroopers to prepare to land in England. Meanwhile, in Studley Constable, a bitter woman by the name of Joanna Grey, an Afrikaner woman and longtime counter-intelligence agent, has been sending information about Churchill's schedule, the terrain for the landing, and other details that makes it seem that every little thing is working together to ensure success....
This is an action-packed book and it moves fairly quickly to the finish--especially when you consider how much of the book is spent on the build-up. We follow the plan from its inception through the gathering of Devlin and Steiner to the training and preparation of the paratrooper team and their landing in Norfolk. What keeps the story from dragging is the way that Higgins brings his characters to life. Despite the fact that we know we shouldn't be rooting for the Germans and those who are working for them, Higgins makes these men (and woman) very real and complex. Just as the villagers learn (once "The Eagle is Blown" and they know that Germans are among them), German men can be just as human as they are--they can make sacrifices and choose to do good even when in the midst of performing duties that make them the enemy. As one of the characters says of Steiner towards the end of the book: Whatever else may be said, he was a fine soldier and a brave man. And so he was. ★★★★ for a fine read. I would (if I were rating it) give the movie five stars--simply because the actors bring the characters even more fully to life.
The Fifth Passenger: Review Edward "Teddy" Young was a British graphic designer, submarine officer, and publisher. In 1935 he joined the then new publ The Fifth Passenger: Review Edward "Teddy" Young was a British graphic designer, submarine officer, and publisher. In 1935 he joined the then new publishing firm of Penguin Books and was responsible for designing the cover scheme used by Penguin for many years as well as the sketch for the original penguin logo. During World War II he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and became the first British RNVR officer to command a submarine. He used his wartime experience in the Royal Navy to pen the classic WWII memoir One of Our Submarines. He also puts his naval and submarine knowledge to good use in his 1963 mystery thriller, The Fifth Passenger.
In The Fifth Passenger, Peter Carrington is a London solicitor who served during the war with Captain William Howard. He owes Bill Howard his life and now Howard is calling in his favor. The book opens with Howard on the run. We don't know what he's done--if he's running because he's a traitor or because he's discovered a traitor. When Carrington receives a terse phone call asking him to meet Howard in Brixham, he doesn't know either. All Howard tells him is
I've got myself in a spot of trouble, Pedro. Can't tell you what it's about on the telephone--it's just that I've done something rather stupid and got myself involved in something that's become too big for me....Get down to Brixham as soon as you can...I'll meet you there tomorrow evening or the day after. But keep it under your hat at all costs. Don't try to find me, don't make inquiries about me, don't tell anyone you're expecting to meet me.
Carrington's loyalty to his former commander takes him immediately to the seaside town where there is no sign of Howard, but a large schooner by the name The Black Pearl waits in the harbor. The schooner is waiting on a few passengers and the weather to clear before setting sail for the West Indies. Soon, all the passengers are aboard--except for the mysterious Mr. Hitchcock, the fifth passenger. Carrington's sure that Hitchcock is Howard in disguise and settles down to wait as well. But Carrington isn't the only one waiting for Howard. Who will win the cat and mouse game? And at what cost a win? Carrington finds himself back on a submarine before he discovers the answer.
This book was Young's single foray into the espionage/mystery field. It is a pretty nifty story for a first and only fiction effort. Carrington's adventures as he tries to make contact with Howard--all while avoiding the men who are on Howard's trail (including one of Howard's oldest friends, Tony Gardner)--are played out like a chess match, particularly with Gardner. There is also a love interest for Carringtion that actually fulfills an important role in the game rather than serving as a distraction. Overall, a well-done, yet low-key espionage thriller.
One of the game changing novels of the spy and thriller genre, John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) portrays the espionage methodsOne of the game changing novels of the spy and thriller genre, John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) portrays the espionage methods of both the East and the West as equally amoral--willing to sacrifice anyone in the name of national security and willing to use their own people as pawns on the chess board of spy and counterspy. His murky world with the worn-out and jaded Alec Leamas contrasts with the glossy, shaken martini world of James Bond.
The story begins in East Germany where the final link in Leamas's chain of informants is gunned down as he tries to escape to the West. Leamas is waiting for him on the other side and watches as his last man is taken. The intelligence agent is tired and ready to "come in from the cold"--give up the intelligence game altogether when he is made an offer that he can't refuse. To play the game one more time and take out a senior East German operative named Mundt. Leamas can't resist the chance to eliminate the man most likely responsible for the loss of his agents. In order to get Leamas where he can do the most damage, the Circus (British Intelligence Service) begin laying the groundwork for him to become a defector. Leamas is booted out, given a pension that is substantially less than a intelligence man of his experience might expect, and reduced to drifting from one odd job to another. He drinks heavily and grumbles often of his treatment by his former employers.
It isn't long before he's approached by the other side and after playing a bit hard to get, he gives in and goes East. But the game is more difficult than he expected and he didn't plan on falling for a girl along the way. He also finds that someone has rigged the dice...but is it the opposition or his own side? It's hard to tell when everyone seems to be playing two hands instead of one.
I'm known for saying that the spy/thriller book just isn't for me. But when someone like le Carré writes it, it winds up that it is for me. This is an absolute first-rate spy novel that keeps the reader on the edge of her seat waiting to see if Leamas is going to pull it off--and if what he pulls off is really what he thinks he's set out to do. This has everything--love and loyalty, betrayal, secrets, and a "trial" scene that reveals the chilling fiendishness of the plot within the plot within the plot. The finale is a wrenching and horrifying surprise. Well done.
There is a popular and not ill-founded belief that, if you really want to start something, Cairo is the place to do it. And certainly this story startThere is a popular and not ill-founded belief that, if you really want to start something, Cairo is the place to do it. And certainly this story starts in Cairo, on the terrace of the Continental Hotel, on a sweltering Friday night in June.
In Allan MacKinnon's House of Darkness (1947), Colin Ogilvie is on his way back to Britain to (reluctantly) return to civilian life after being demobbed at the end of the war. He's taken the long way 'round, spending time as a deckhand on a fishing smack, working his way though other odd jobs, and ending with a stint on an archaeological dig before landing Cairo. He's finally convinced himself to head back to seek a teaching position when he runs into his old friend Jerry Gray on the Continental Terrace. That's when life got interesting for Olgilvie again.
...there was something in his voice--a sense of strain almost--that made Colin look up sharply. Was he imagining things or had the atmosphere become suddenly tense?
Gray manages to subtly let Olgivie know that he's being watched and overheard and the two work a strategy so Gray can pass a message to be taken back to England. They play at old comrades in arms who have to part and leave the terrace together--apparently exchanging reminiscences, to cover the real message.
...get hold of Sir Alan Drexter at the Home Office....Give him the message personally. My normal line of communication has been tapped. They're on to me, and I'm going lay off for a while.
He follows up with specifics of a meeting he has observed and the players involved. When the swarthy individual who has been trailing them pops up at Colin's elbow, they make a hearty farewell with promises to meet up when Jerry gets leave at Christmas. Unfortunately, that it isn't to be. Jerry's body is fished out of the Nile River the next morning while Colin is winging his way back to England.
Unaware of Jerry's fate, Colin convinces himself that his friend had, as he was wont to do during the war, been over-dramatizing the situation. He'll pass along the message, as promised, but it surely can't be as urgent as Jerry let on, so he heads to his club first to get settled and have a shower after the long flight. During the ten minutes or so that he's out of his room, somebody (or bodies) comes along and thoroughly searches and ransacks it. It's obvious they were looking for something in particular--that's when Colin decides maybe old Jerry wasn't dramatizing after all. And Captain Stevens, the club secretary, is a bit concerned that Colin may be mixed up in something quite dangerous.
"Tell me, though, is it likely to happen again? I mean, they won't come back and shoot you, or anything, will they? It's not that I object personally, but some of the older members--"
Obviously, the message is urgent and Colin does his best to deliver as promised. But Drexter is out cruising along the west coast of England in his yacht and his deputy, Colonel Stanley is also quite plainly not answering his phone.
Things were happening--things violent, illegal, and mysterious--and he could do nothing about it because two blasted civil servants weren't there when he wanted them.
After several brushes with ruffians of all sorts, running into (quite literally) Stanely's rather beautiful ward, discovering that Stanley has been kidnapped, a quick confab with Scotland Yard and various top-secret Johnnies associated with the Home Office, tracking Drexter down, learning that Stanley has quite probably been smuggled off to a foreboding Scottish castle (the titular house), discovering a plot that threatens the British way of life, killing one villain in self-defense and being accused of murdering another in cold blood, and various other adventures too intricate to relate, Colin feels that he's had rather a full schedule since first landing back in England.
I don't know just what we may be running into, Ogilvie, but I've got a hunch that it's pretty big. Keep both eyes open, don't trust the Archangel Gabriel till you've seen his warrant card, and--good luck!
Naturally, the good guys come out on top and there's a rather exciting final adventure before a quick twist at the end reveals who is the real the villainous brains behind the dastardly deeds. This, quite honestly, is the most fun I've had reading a mad-dash, mystery thriller in a long time. Even though I had never heard of Allan MacKinnon before, I snatched it right up when I saw this near-fine Dell Mapback edition sitting at my favorite used bookstore--just waiting for me. What a delight to find such a cracking good yarn with engaging characters, apt descriptions, and humorous dialogue. I have a feeling MacKinnon had a great deal of fun putting this story together and it translates to plenty of enjoyment for the reader. A definite surprise favorite for March--and it may just turn out to be the overall favorite for the year.
The Philomel Foundation (1980) by James Gollin mixes the worlds of chamber music and international espionage. Alan French of the Antiqua Players is apThe Philomel Foundation (1980) by James Gollin mixes the worlds of chamber music and international espionage. Alan French of the Antiqua Players is approached by The Philomel Foundation with a fabulous offer of an all-expenses-paid tour of Europe. The group will be paid additionally for several prearranged concerts and the rest of their time may be spent sight-seeing, researching, in impromptu performances, or however they see fit. Oh and one other thing--
Suppose that, in addition to your...musical responsibilities, there were certain other ways in which you could be helpful to the Foundation. Certain contacts you could make?
You know...nothing illegal. Nothing too taxing. Nothing a bunch of pre-classical musicians can't handle. Just a little matter of smuggling a famous Russian cellist and dissident out of East Germany. No big deal. Because--naturally, musicians who can manage to play beautiful music on lutes and krummhorns, shawms and viols and harpsichords will have the quick wits, quicker reflexes, and the sangfroid to sneak the great Korbrand away from his Russian watchdogs and past the East German border guards with no problem at all.
"It's going to be like sneaking a note past your fourth-grade teacher," Flachsmann protested. "How can you keep on saying no?"
Well, the inner James Bond in Alan French can't keep saying no. And his colleagues in the Antiqua Players are all for playing the hero and helping Korbrand escape from behind the Iron Curtain. Of course, French has suspected that it won't be as easy as Flachsmann (the money man behind The Philomel Foundation) has predicted. He would be right.
This a fairly solid read. It plays espionage with a very light touch. The reader has no illusions that the musicians will ever be in real danger--despite one of their number being roughed up a bit by a goon-for-hire. The set-up may seem a bit too easy and hard to believe of a bunch of espionage amateurs, but the Antiqua Players more than make it worth your while. The group dynamics and the inside peek at the world of professional music making are quite interesting and well done. A good dose of belief suspension helps this story go down well and I definitely wouldn't mind finding the future installments (there are three more) to see what other mischief the Players can get into.
As Helen opened the door of Miss Warren's room, a small incident occurred which was fraught with future significance.
It was a dark and stormy night...As Helen opened the door of Miss Warren's room, a small incident occurred which was fraught with future significance.
It was a dark and stormy night....no, really, it was. Fortunately, Ethel Lina White was a much better author than the potboiler creators who are generally credited with starting their books in such fashion. The Spiral Staircase (1933; originally titled Some Must Watch) is a suspense thriller with a damsel in distress that makes excellent use of the dramatic storm-tossed night to provide a top-notch novel filled with Had-I-But-Known moments.
She was visited by no prescience to warn her that--since her return--there had been certain trivial incidents which were the first cracks in the walls of her fortress. Once they were started, nothing could stop the process of disintegration; and each future development would act as a wedge, to force the fissures into ever-widening breaches letting in the night.
Things start off calmly enough. Helen Capel is over-joyed to find a position as lady's help at the Summit, Professor Warren's remote estate on the Welsh border. After all, apart from the loneliness of the locale, the post is a very good one--offering her a very nice room and sitting room of her own, good food, and she's even allowed to take her meals with the family. It is a bit worrisome that there is a murderer loose in the countryside. A mysterious killer who has chosen as his prey young women who work for their living. Some think he may be a man who believes these women have taken jobs away from men.
But, reasons Helen, all the girls who have been killed have been alone. And the murders have taken place at a good distance from the Summit. Surely she, and the others in the house, will be safe if they keep the place shuttered and bolted at night and they all stay inside. Yes, she's sure of it. Until a victim is strangled in a house just five miles away. Until the next victim is found murdered just on the other side of the estate. Death and terror creep closer to the Summit, but still Helen feels safe...until the stormy night when she bolts herself in the house only to find that the danger was somewhere inside and had chosen her as the next target.
White also provides the typical suspense-thriller heroine in Helen Capel, a self-identified independent-minded young woman who none-the-less does remarkably silly things for someone who suspects she's in danger. Through various plausible-sounding means, several of the inmates leave the house, a few of them are drugged, drunk or otherwise incapacitated, and Helen promptly goes about alienating one of the few people who couldn't possibly be the killer--thereby setting herself up to slip into the maniac's clutches.
White manages to bring about a quite nifty ending--I won't spoil it by giving even a hint of what I mean. The book is a classic example of good suspense done right without blood and gore or explicit scenes. It is also a terrific character study with plenty of misdirection to allow the reader to question each person's motives and whether they are really what they seem. A very good read for a dark and stormy night of your own. Just make sure to lock all the doors. You might want to check under all the beds first, though.
Edward Logan is a stuffy, predictable, highly respectable businessman. His manservant says you can set your watch by him and he always knows what to eEdward Logan is a stuffy, predictable, highly respectable businessman. His manservant says you can set your watch by him and he always knows what to expect from Mr. Logan. But then, on the day Edward decides he's been a fool over a young woman and, on the advice of his lawyer, goes to ask for his letters back and to tell her good-bye, he becomes impulsive.
EL: I've been a fool...what are you laughing at? F: I thought you were going to say that. There is a faintly sheepish aspect about you this afternoon which is immediately recognizable to any experienced solicitor. It is almost invariable accompanied by the form of words you have just uttered. Or some equivalent synonym. (Edward Logan, Fenchurch; p. 12)
She is not at home when he arrives at her apartment, but her door is unlocked so he walks on in. He finds a note which asks someone (quite probably the suspected other man in the case) to wait as she'll be right back. As he stands looking out the window and tries to decide what to do, he sees a man walking purposefully towards the apartment. When the man comes into the building and his footsteps can be heard on the stairway, Logan is again impulsive and dashes into a closet.
His suspicions about Betty Alton's relationship to the man are put to rest when she arrives home to find her brother (!) in her apartment. But Logan has barely breathed a sigh of relief before Stephen Alton reveals that he's managed to get his hands on some top secret plans, is attempting to avoid the authorities, and wants to sell the plans back to the Russians. And then the Russians show up--demanding the plans and searching the apartment and the occupants for their precious secrets with no success. The Russian spies are quite amused to find a secret lover hidden in the closet and they appear to discard Logan as a prime player in their particular drama. They exit with Alton and Logan runs away from the scene.
He becomes convinced that it might be a practical idea to leave London for a bit...just in case the Russians don't find what they're looking for and decide that he might have it. So he arranges with Greene, his manservant, for his bags to be packed and tickets to be bought for an unexpected trip to France. He then calls his twin brother Laurence, who lives in Paris, and asks him to meet him at the Gare du Nord and put him up in a hotel for a bit.
Laurence is baffled by the odd request. Every time his brother has visited, it has been arranged long in advance, down to the last detail. His brother never does anything on the spur of the moment. Edward is very mysterious and will only tell him that it's a matter of life and death and that all will be explained when he sees Laurence. Laurence's bewilderment increases when he arrives at the station late to find an almost empty train and no sign of his brother. He heads to Edward's compartment and finds his luggage, passport, tickets, and hotel reservations laid out for custom inspection but Edward has vanished without a trace! Before he can decide what to do, the conductor comes and addresses him as Mr. Edward Logan.
Certain signs among his brother's things (items out of place, slits in the lining of the suitcases) and his brother's ominous statement cause Laurence to be a little impulsive himself. He assumes his brother's identity, determined to discover what happened to the normally unadventurous Edward...and avenge him if necessary. Laurence was a member of the French Foreign Legion and the French Resistance during the war so he has no problem with a little adventure. He just wishes he knew what it was all about.
Enter Tommy Hambleton and Inspector Bagshott. Hambleton is attached to the Foreign Office and interested in the fate of a certain German doctor, known to have been carrying secret plans for a device that could play havoc with enemy troops. Bagshott is with Scotland Yard and wants to know who had it in for Stephen Alton. He also knows that Herr Muntz disappeared overboard while on a Mr. Stephen Alton's ship and the papers may or may not have gone over the side as well.
Muntz--let's call him that--was carrying a briefcase containing papers which he said were worth vast sums to the Russians and when the British Government saw them they would dance ring-o'-roses round Nelson's Column. So said the second engineer. (Bagshott; p. 55)
Hambleton gets on the track of a trio of Russians and follows the trail to France while Bagshott investigates in England. Things really get interesting as Laurence, the Russians, and Hambleton all race to find each other and the missing plans.
This is another fun outing by Manning Coles, the neighborly writing duo of Adelaide Frances Oke Manning and Cyril Henry Coles. Spy thrillers aren't my usual fare, but this particular series is breezy, witty, and humorous. There are more coincidences and unlikely events than you can shake a stick at--but you don't care, dead bodies accumulate at an alarming rate, and there is, of course, no real mystery about who did what to whom, but it's a rollicking good yarn. The only real mystery is what did Alton do with those darn plans?
The Ticking Clock (1962) is one of Frances & Richard Lockridge's stand-alone mysteries. It is a suspense-driven novel that doesn't bring in any ofThe Ticking Clock (1962) is one of Frances & Richard Lockridge's stand-alone mysteries. It is a suspense-driven novel that doesn't bring in any of their series characters, even peripherally. I find these novels to be the least appealing of the Lockridge efforts. I'm less inclined to the suspense thriller anyway, but it helps when they bring in Captain Heimrich or Lt. Shapiro or Bernie Simmons for at least part of the investigation or the wrap-up. Another weakness in this novel is the lack of interaction and dialogue. Nearly all of the "conversation" (if that's what we want to call it) is an inner dialogue that Constance Dale, our heroine, has with herself. One of the strengths of the Lockridge books is in the conversations. The dialogue is always vibrant and very real and it adds a depth to the books that is sadly lacking here.
Constance Dale has come East from California to investigate her inheritance. As the nearest relative to dear old Great-Aunt Adelaide, she has been saddled with a gigantic white elephant of a house. Her house agent has tried diligently to sell the thirty-some room mansion for two years, but with no luck. So, Constance finally decides to look things over for herself and see if, at the very least, she might be able to sell some of the furniture to cover the taxes and upkeep. Then she'll head to New York City, conduct some business for her West Coast company, have a bit of a vacation, and head home.
But the best laid plans...
When Constance looks over the house, there is evidence that someone has been there. The grandfather clock is ticking away...and it's set to the right time. At first she ascribes the clock to the couple who looked over the house shortly before she arrived. Maybe they just wanted to see if it still worked. But then she comes back later that evening to see a light on in one of the rooms. A light that clicks off as soon as her car's headlights hit the house. And there's the feeling that someone is watching her during the night. And finally there's the cry that sounds an awful lot like a child. In addition to the odd happenings around the house, there is her nearest neighbor and distant cousin Jonathan who keeps popping up at the strangest times and who seems be suspicious of her. When she discovers a kidnapped child being held captive in her house, she doesn't know whom she can trust.
Most of the suspense in this story is built up through that inner conversation that Constance has. We follow her thoughts and her fears. It's not quite in the "Had I But Known" category, because Constance doesn't spend any time at all foreshadowing events like that. It's more like a more coherent stream-of-consciousness where we know all about what she's thinking the whole time. The saving grace of the book is the few conversations that are had--between Constance and Jonathan, between the kidnappers and the father of the child, between the kidnappers themselves, and the brief glimpses we get of the policemen involved (even though they aren't any of our usual Lockridge friends). I think Constance could have been just as engaging as other Lockridge heroines, but since she's so much on her own in this one we're just not given the chance to find out.