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Thursday, 17 May 2012

FFB - QUILLER SOLITAIRE

This Friday Forgotten Book is by Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor), published in 1992.


Now that I’ve completed this book, I only have two more Quiller adventures left to read (Meridian and Balalaika). Ever since Adam Hall’s death in 1995, I’ve been hoarding my unread Quiller novels. Through the seventeen books I’ve read, Hall has sustained his style and drive, maintaining tension and edge-of-seat action and suspense, never flagging. That can’t be said of many prolific authors.

Quiller is the spy’s codename. We never know his real name. He uses aliases – Gage, Locke, Longstreet, but there are others too. He’s a shadow executive working for the Bureau out of London. Officially, the Bureau doesn’t exist. It isn’t part of MI5 or MI6. Like Le Carré, Hall has devised believable spy-jargon for his secret service world. Quiller often refers to himself and others of his ilk as ferrets, ‘to be put down a hole’.

Quiller is a man alone – and that’s how he prefers to operate. His missions are given operational names which are then put up on the board at Control in London. Barracuda, Bamboo, Salamander, Meridian and so on. Solitaire draws Quiller for personal reasons – one of his fellow operatives was killed by a shadowy organization called Nemesis. He’s sent to Berlin to infiltrate Nemesis, a terrorist faction.

He refuses to carry a gun. He reasons, ‘If a man has to carry a gun it means he’s got no better resources. A gun can be more dangerous to you than to the other man, if you carry one. It gives you a false feeling of power, superiority, and you get the fatal idea that, with this thing in your hand, you don't have to make any effort because the conflict’s already been won. And … watch it if you find you’ve left the safety catch on or forgot to load or there’s a dud in the clip or the other man gets time to kick the thing out of your hand — then you've really had it. Better to use your brain because your brain won’t stop working for you till you’re dead. Anyway . . . I don’t like the bang they make.’

It matters not that the novels are narrated in first person. We know the narrator will survive to tell us of his latest mission, but what’s riveting is the cat-and-mouse games he plays with the villains, the psychology he employs to survive against the odds, and the sheer persistence of a man who will never accede to defeat.

If you’ve never read a Quiller novel, you’ve missed something quite special. Adam Hall knows the rules of writing but, when necessary, breaks some of them with verve. In one action paragraph that runs to nineteen lines, he uses only a single sentence – strung together by one ‘and’ after another, but the speed and action make the repetition of ‘and’ shadowy, hardly visible, as your eyes and mind race through the superb action scene. Any kind of punctuation would simply slow down the pace.

If you have read a Quiller novel, then you probably don’t need me to recommend this book – which I do, by the way, unreservedly.

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