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Kolymsky Heights

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  2,071 Ratings  ·  275 Reviews
From the heart of Siberia have come coded messages implying a mysterious secret to be entrusted to only one man. How that individual gets in, finds the contacts, and tries to get the secret out is a masterpiece of wrenching excitementand immensely intelligent storytellling. Lionel Davidson is an award-winning author critically acclaimed on a par with le Carre, Forsyth and ...more
Hardcover, 361 pages
Published September 1st 1994 by St. Martin's Press (first published August 15th 1994)
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Enemy Of My Enemy by Travis CaseyKolymsky Heights by Lionel DavidsonThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumRed Station by Adrian MagsonThe Rover by Joseph Conrad
Man on the Run!
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Hunt for Red October by Tom ClancyThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
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944 books — 1,676 voters

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Community Reviews

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Ian Brydon
Apr 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
There has been terrific hype about this novel recently, which is unusual for a book published more than twenty years ago. Various authors whose own works I have read and enjoyed, such as Philip Pullman and Charles Cumming, have been quoted as citing it as one of the finest thrillers they have ever read. Having just tried to read it myself I am left wondering whether they were talking about some other book, because it is difficult to reconcile their views with mine.

To be fair, it did start rather
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime-thrillers
Kolymsky Heights – A Masterpiece of a Thriller

Kolymsky Heights from the late Lionel Davidson has just been re-released by Faber & Faber with an introduction from Philip Pullman with the testimonial that it was “The best thriller I’ve ever read.” I thought that this was a very big statement and would I be let down by the boast, and to be honest I think he undersold it! As someone who has enjoyed reading classic adventure thrillers from the inter war period of the 20s and 30s it reminded me ve
Mar 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: thriller, fiction
If you are the type of person who while watching some blockbuster thriller thinks to themselves I am enjoying this hand to hand combat between the hero and the evil henchman on top of a gondola in the alps but I wonder how he got there in the first place, did he buy a return ticket? Did he ask for the ticket in English or did he ask for it in the local language, maybe he rented a car, I wonder if he put in on a credit card, than this is so the book for you.

Finally at long last a thriller which r
James Harris
Apr 16, 2015 rated it liked it
If you watch a Bond film thinking: well yes, all this excitement and adventure is all very well, but how does Bond book his plane tickets, and how many stops does he have along the way?

There's a mad Russian scientist doing mad Sci-fi things in a top secret Russian military base in Russia and our hero has to go and infiltrate that base for REASONS. But the actual infiltration takes up about 30 pages of a 500 page novel. The rest is about getting him to the base, and boy do we
Gerald Sinstadt
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime
This was Lionel Davidson's last book (he died in 2009). His son has recorded elsewhere the problems of its creation - it was rewritten three times.

Having been an admirer of this author since the days of The Night of Wenceslas and Smith's Gazelle and others, it was a great joy to discover one last volume that had eluded my notice. I was not disappointed. At the centre of the adventure is a premise which takes some swallowing - though total disbelief was suspended while reading. But essentially th
George Gale
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: thriller
This is a book I keep coming back to as it is a masterful story of an amazing resourceful but believable main character isolated in a cold and frozen land but somehow I warmed to him. The main reason for him being there sometimes becomes secondary to how he is going to achieve it but the author drives the plot on relentlessly, whilst stretching credulity a little at the end, still left me satisfied and wondering whether there was some mileage left for Johnny Porter. There may be,I haven't read a ...more
Chloe Semp
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tim Stretton
May 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
No book can live up to the hype Kolymsky Heights has suffered ("the best thriller ever") but this comes close. It's not particularly thrilling, until the final quarter--although then it makes up for it--but it's fascinating and absorbing throughout. In the detachment of its authorial viewpoint and the meticulous focus on practical problem-solving, it's reminiscent of Jack Vance and Patricia Highsmith. A very fine novel and congratulations to Faber to thinking to disinter it after over 20 years o ...more
Rita Costa (Lusitania Geek)
Oh what a great thriller that I just read it. Very entertaining book to read, easily to understand the story and a different thriller that I used to read, yet I enjoyed. From Japan to Siberia, you can catch the art of espionage that involves a secret military research base in Russia, and a scientist who is desperate to reveal a discovery that the military are equally desperate to keep hidden. There were "episodes" that weren't really necessary to include in it, but that's one of the few disadvan ...more
Victor Sonkin
This looked like a perfect plane/beach/bath book (and I first spotted it at WH Smith at Heathrow). It's the last thriller by the British author Lionel Davidson (who died some years ago), who was compared to Le Carre and Greene in the 1960s, and wrote Kolymsky Heights after a long hiatus.
Briefly, the plot is as follows. Professor Lazenby in Oxford receives a series of cryptic (but easily decipherable) messages which, with the help of government spooks, including CIA, he understands to h
Tim Pendry

This is a 2015 re-publication of a solid thriller from the immediate post-Cold War period with a slightly breathless introduction by the children's fantasy writer Philip Pullman.

The novel is more than competent. Excellently written and (mostly) a 'page turner', it is has all the vices and virtues of the genre - implausibilities set within a carapace of gritty realism.

The implausibilities are manifold. The hero is capable of feats of toughness that really are 'in your dreams, mate' and we have ex
Flawed, but oh so readable!

The novel describes an improbable romp through north-east Siberia, by way of rarefied Oxford University, remote British Columbia, and Tokyo. Our hero is super-linguist and multiculturalist Johnny Porter (aka Raven aka Jean-Baptiste Porteur), a native of the Canadian Gitxsan tribe. He is also a dab hand at impersonations and can fabricate a jeep (fabulously called a Bobik - I SO want one!) out of spare parts in a freezing Siberian ice cave. On his own in three days.

A my
Jul 08, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: never-finished
I was given a pile of books by my boyfriend's mother to read and this was one of them. I thought I better give one a go before I see her and she asks if I've read any. This one sounded pretty interesting with the promise of spies and secret Russian science.. plus Philip Pullman says it is one of the best books he has ever read, and I love Philip Pullman's books. Turns out Philip and I have VERY different taste in books.. I got over half way through this then had to give up. Life is too short for ...more
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a deeply immersive thriller that I can only describe as 'Ice Road Truckers' meets 'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold'.

I bought it because it kept winking at me from the front window of Waterstones (the trickster!) and it has that Philip Pullman quote saying it's "the best thriller he has ever read". Good enough for me!

It's an old school cold war type thriller but with some hugely unique flavourings of it's own. For example the lead character is a Canadian native Indian and the setting is
Stephen Goldenberg
Aug 29, 2015 rated it liked it
When Philip Pullman announces on the cover that this is the best thriller he's ever read, you know that you are almost certainly going to be disappointed. The bar has been raised too high. It starts well enough. The strange discovery in the Siberian perma frost at the start of the novel is promising. But the eventual discovery of what has been going on at the top secret, isolated, virtually impregnable Russian scientific research station is somewhat underwhelming and of little interest to the au ...more
May 12, 2015 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. I bought this book almost entirely due to the blurb on the jacket by Philip Pullman. I'm a big fan of Philip Pullman's books -- "The Ruby in the Smoke" and its sequels; the "His Dark Materials" trilogy -- so when I read that "Kolymsky Heights" was the best thriller he'd ever read, I snapped it up. Then I kept reading away, wondering when I would become so engaged with the protagonist that I could enter into the book. It didn't really happen, so I was left with a meditation on what mak ...more
Benito Jr.
Feb 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Exceptional offbeat minimalist thriller, with an unlikely hero -- a "Native Canadian" linguistic anthropologist! (Actually, I think the proper term is "First Nations".)

The book didn't quite suit my purposes at the time -- I was about to board a plane, so I wanted a relatively mindless airport novel -- but it generates its own peculiar level of excitement. It's closer in style to, say, George Smiley interviewing and re-interviewing retired Circus employees and shuffling through redacted reports -
Katia Nosenko
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good old thriller, not scary, not haunting and not very psychologic either, but packed with actions. It reminded me James Bond, but a tiny bit more clever. Also i liked setting very much - somewhere deep in Siberia. It conformed with my archetypical memories of Russia - altruistic, fiendishly clever scientists, evil and dangerous security services, hospitable people and the last but not least - devoted, loving and selfless women!

Good, a bit naive, but very intelligent read within the genre.
Alexandra Peel
Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Best espionage book ever. The hero is heroic in a very unconventional way; native Canadian Indian with a skill in languages to almost rival Richard Burton. Set in the hideous chill of Siberia, Johnny Porter goes reluctantly to retrieve some secret information, all the while fooling or hiding from Russian services, suspicious tribal folk, Japanese sailors and so forth. If you like thrillers or spy stories, you really must read this.
Louis Roos
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book years ago, thinking it was about the Kolyma camps of the gulag era. I started reading it because of a lack of anything else at the time. What a wonderful suprise it was! It has a very gripping story line, and the escape back of the main character is absolutely fascinating, I could not put the book down.

Since I have read other books by the same author, and all of them were of the same high standard. Mr Davidson deserves to be better known.
Dec 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was recommended by Philip Pullman, who wrote the His Dark Materials trilogy. I found it completely gripping, a real page-turner. The atmosphere of cold and fear is brilliantly conveyed. This book is a one-off - Davidson hardly wrote anything else, and has since died.
Ian Miller
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A very well-written thriller, in which the main protagonist, Porter, takes on a mission to get information from a Russian research station in one of the remotest parts of Siberia that is so secret it does not officially exist. Porter is a language specialist, and apparently has a most unusual physique because he can convince Koreans he is a Korean, Evenks he is an Evenk, Chukchees he is a Chuckchee, and so on. His task is to get into the Siberian region, which is tolerably straightforward (at le ...more
Dec 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I became aware of author Lionel Davidson Oct. 31, 2009, after reading his obituary in the New York Times. Often compared to contemporary Graham Greene, and his books also encompassed history, mystery, espionage, and adventure, which was certainly the case in Kolymsky Heights, the last of his eight novels for adults. He also wrote under the pen name David Line.

I was absorbed from the book's prologoue: "How long, dear friend-how long? I await you with eagerness! So much has happened, so much I mu
Timothy Neesam
Mar 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
I came across Kolymsky Heights while searching 'top thriller books' for something new to read. Philip Pullman described it as 'the perfect thriller' and worthy of multiple reads, Author Lionel Davidson, who died in 2009, was lauded by the likes of Graham Greene and Frederick Forsyth. Kolymsky Heights tells the story of Johnny Porter, a First Nations Canadian anthropologist, linguist and CIA recruit, who is persuaded to travel to Siberia to find out what happened at a remote scientific research i ...more
Christine Dolan
Jul 08, 2016 rated it liked it
I was a little disappointed by this book. It had received such a lot of hype, and held a lot of promise, but for me it didn't deliver. Philip Pullman praised the book for its great detail, but in part this is what put me off, as it slowed the pace a lot. Also the plot centred around a man creating intelligent apes in a secret place in Siberia, something so implausible that I found it intensely irritating.

The book does have its strong points, though. The setting and the atmosphere are both excell
Scott Abercrombie
Jul 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
An excellent thriller that tells an interesting and thoroughly well researched story.

The primary reason for not giving it five stars was the implausibility of some elements of the story and also of the abilities of the protagonist that my suspension of belief wouldn't quite stretch too. Also I found myself a bit left behind by some of the more detailed scientific discussions, however that is a personal flaw rather than a slight on the writing and certainly didn't impact on my understanding of t
Aug 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
From looking at various websites, most readers rate this as five stars. A minority rate it as one star and I am one of those. Admittedly I gave up at about page 200, but I simply was not gripped. Likewise, I found I could not relate to the hero, Porter, and I really couldn't care less what happened to him. There's huge tracts of detail in the book but for me it didn't add to the pace, it merely seemed to waste time. The plot in isolation is very good and I couldn't help thinking what Frederick F ...more
Mar 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
I do agree with other readers about what the point of Porter's mission was - the actual reason for it played such a small part in the book. It's not until you're more than halfway through the book that Porter reaches the research station. I was thinking from the Prologue that the research findings would be the main part. The book is really about Porter's journey in & out of the research station. Still, this is a brilliantly written book which I bought following the hype surrounding its repri ...more
Aug 29, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a slow burner and, although marketed as a thriller, I wouldn't quite put it in that genre. There wasn't any tense, cliff hanger, can't-put-the-book-down moments that a thriller should have. That's not to say it didn't become enthralling. A rather lengthy affair detailing one man's endeavour to infiltrate a top secret facility in Siberia and get back out alive. The 'twist' at the end was an obvious road to go down. I don't think it's deserving of all the hype but it is a very good read.
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Aka David Line

Lionel Davidson was a three-times winner of the Gold Dagger Award (for The Night of Wenceslas, A Long Way to Shilo and The Chelsea Murders). His thrillers and adventure novels have won him enormous international acclaim.

See also Obituary at
[this reference added 12-Aug-2013].
More about Lionel Davidson...

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“The danger with detail, for a storyteller, is to put in too much of it: to be so in love with one’s research that one wants the reader to fall in love with it as well. But the reader rarely does.” 1 likes
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