The genesis of this recently published novel is not only unusual, it’s heart-warming. Author Pamela Kelt’s father was a writer, working away on his novels on a ‘clunky typewriter, only re-emerging at odd times, looking crumpled and unshaven’. She hadn’t read a word or even seen one of his manuscripts until some twenty years after his untimely death. When she read this manuscript, she became obsessed with getting it published, she felt it was so good. As both her father and she had overdosed on Ambler, Deighton, Le Carré, Chandler and Buchan, she knew a good story and character when she read it. Pamela sent it off with great trepidation to Crooked Cat Publishing… and it was accepted. This acceptance meant more to her than all of her own, I suspect; it was something really special.
If you’ve enjoyed Alistair Maclean, Eric Ambler, Raymond Chandler, Gavin Lyall, and Desmond Bagley, to name a few, then this novel is right up your street – or calle, since it’s set in Spain.
It’s the early 1970s, before the demise of Franco. The narrator, Alan Christian is a recalled British agent sent to discover the truth behind the death of another agent, Lynd, ostensibly a shooting accident. His descriptions are clipped, precise and raise a smile of admiration or even of humour: ‘… over roads with potholes you could have hidden a sniper in…’
Alan’s enquiries move from one eccentric or sinister character after another. He is also threatened, and in turn threatens others. ‘I said that confidently. I was full of confidence. I oozed confidence. I dripped with it. That was the impression I was trying to create. I even considered whistling.’
In typical fashion, Alan gets knocked unconscious by ne’er-do-wells from time to time. And finds himself in strange places and predicaments: ‘I didn’t have to open my eyes to smell the room. You could have bottled that atmosphere and sold it as “instant peasant”.’
Of significance is the US naval base, Rota – which is now called Naval Station Rota, Spain. Apparently, the VLF-transmitter Guardamar, which uses Torreta de Guardamar, the tallest man-made structure in the EU as antenna that links Naval Station Rota. [I live close to Guardamar and we can see the antenna…]
There’s a conspiracy, and a hare-brained scheme to change the world. It seems that Alan’s meddling is liable to put a Spaniard in the works.
I enjoyed this character-driven thriller very much, not least since it concerned a familiar yet now altered Spain. Alan Christian is of the old school, a polite, honourable, tough, and stubborn man who liked to drink and smoke too much, but most of all cared about the world he lived in. His integrity shines through, despite his bone-breaking travails.
If you like your heroes to be world-weary with wit and compassion, then try this posthumous ‘original cold war thriller’.
A shorter version of this review will appear on Amazon et al.