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Friday, 20 March 2015

FFB - Quiller Meridian

Quiller Meridian is Adam Hall’s antepenultimate Quiller novel, published in 1993. For some obscure reason I read his penultimate, Quiller Salamander (1994) in 2002. I’ve got only one more left to read, his nineteenth in the series, Quiller Balalaika, which he completed just before he died in July 1995.

Quiller is a codename for the narrator, a British spy. He never carries a weapon, relying on his brains and martial arts training to get him out of tight corners. Most later books in the series use a mission identifier in the title – Northlight, Barracuda, Bamboo and Solitaire (see note below) and this is no exception. Mission Longshot collapsed and Quiller was called in: ‘They found me in Rome and the embassy phoned my hotel and I went along there and talked to London, and Signals said something had come unstuck in Bucharest and ‘Mr Croder would be grateful’ if I could get on a plane and see if I could pull anyone out alive.’ As far as Quiller is concerned, if Croder says that, it means ‘some kind of hell has got loose and he wants you to get it back in the cage.’

So now Quiller is given a new mission, Meridian, and he has to contact a Russian, Zymyanin, and take over. Apparently, Zymyanin has vital information that London wants. He’d need to move fast, though, as his contact was scheduled to travel on the Moscow train Rossiya to Vladivostok. The tension mounts as Quiller gets acquainted with Zymyanin and a Russian beauty, Tanya. Adam Hall’s books were always topical and this tale takes place in the period of upheaval shortly after the demise of the USSR, when powerful and ruthless men jostled for placement.

As the train rockets through the snowy wastes, a murder throws the mission into jeopardy. This is no Orient Express conundrum, however – soon, very soon, Quiller is involved in betrayal, explosions, hairbreadth escapes and assassination. The suspense is ratcheted as he gets close to ‘curtain-call’. Minor homage: in my Tana Standish psychic spy thrillers I use single word chapter headings, emulating the master, Adam Hall.

Adam Hall – Elleston Trevor – observed about his creation: ‘Obviously antisocial, shy of people and human contact, he is wary of giving anything of himself to others. On rare occasions when the pressures of a mission have forced him into a position where he must consider other people — sometimes a deadly opponent — he reveals compassion, surprising himself.’

As implied above, Quiller is a complex character; here’s a sample passage that suggests as much; while militia vehicles trawl the nighttime streets: ‘… I pulled Tanya into a doorway before its lights reached us. It was there, after the patrol had gone past us without slowing, that she finally broke, and I stood holding her as the sobbing began, her body shaking with it, her tears streaming, jewelling the fur collar of her coat in the moonlight, all the fear and the misery and the loneliness coming out of her over the minutes until at last the force of her anguish broke through the protective shell of my reserves and reached the heart.’ (p127) A long sentence, yet it works, visual and emotional.

Unlike some spies, Quiller doesn’t have sex with all the women he encounters on his missions. It was cold and Tanya insisted he share the blankets with her. ‘So I lay down with her back curved against me and eased my arms around her and felt her shivering; then after a while the warmth came into us and the shivering stopped, but later I felt her hands giving sudden little jerks as sleep came to her at last and she was dragged out of my reach and beyond my help into the first of the nightmares that would be lying in wait for her in the years to come.’ (p141)

While hiding from detection, he hears the laughter of a woman nearby. ‘It was a wonderful sound, coming softly through the night, through this of all nights when joy was hard to come by. It came again and I sipped courage from it, feeling release and renewal, not surprisingly, I suppose, given the natural grace of womankind to succour the needy.’ Excellent stuff.

It’s a shame that the series is no longer available as paperbacks; but at least you can obtain them in Kindle.

Note: This blog entry refers to Quiller Solitaire -


If you like Cold War thrillers, please try MISSION: PRAGUE, MISSION: TEHRAN and MISSION:KHYBER the first three books in the psychic spy series featuring Tana Standish.

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