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Wednesday 10 May 2023


Sadly, Balalaika is the last Quiller novel (published 1996). Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor) died the day after he finished it, in July 1995.

It’s contemporary: following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian mafiya is poised to take over the new Russia by destroying the country’s economy. The man responsible and capable of achieving this is a British Moscow-based national, a defector from the Foreign Office, who escaped the country and was given the rank of Colonel in the KGB. ‘His name is Basil Secker, and he uses the Russian alias of Vasyl Sakkas’ (p11). Sakkas is elusive and powerful. Quiller’s mission – Balalaika – is to infiltrate the mafiya and then find and neutralise Sakkas in some manner.

Briefed by Chief of Signals Croder, Quiller is made aware that this is a dangerous ask, with poor chance of success. Quiller requires Ferris as his director in the field; this is so important, that Ferris will be pulled off the Rickshaw mission in China.

As before, Quiller shuns the use of any gun. He is adept at unarmed combat, delivering death when his life is threatened or the mission is at risk of collapsing.

All the style of the previous novels is here displayed at the hands of a 75-year-old thriller writer at the top of his game: the usual spare prose, the stream-of-consciousness writing, the extensive scene of hand-to-hand combat (subsequently employed by Lee Child, among others), and his continual argument with his pain-averse conscience, often referring to himself as ‘the little ferret’.

‘It was eight days since Ferris had been ordered out of the field and by now the lights would be switched off over the board, either that or a new mission would already be set up there with data coming in from the director in Algeria or Baghdad or Beijing, while Mr Croder shut himself up in his tempered-steel shell to consider whether or not to resign, how much guilt to feel for the little ferret he’d left running in circles through the snow, or whether he could hold out a spider’s-thread hope for an eleventh-hour last-ditch breakthrough for the mission, knowing as he did the blind tenacity of said ferret when the jaws of adversity gaped from the shadows of the labyrinth’ (p232).

The breathless climax in wintry Moscow is fitting, another Hall-mark fast-paced ending.

‘That’s it.’ So the author finished his last book. There’s a poignant four-page Afterword contribution by Jean-Pierre Trevor, his son.

Editorial notes:


In two places Hall mentions hitting the nose with force, driving the bone into the brain and causing instant death. However, when researching my recent  Leon Cazador novel No Prisoners, I learned that this is probably not so: ‘Next instant, Leon deployed the ninja Fudo-ken, the clenched fist slamming full into the man’s nose, shattering the bone structure. While the bone and cartilage probably wouldn’t penetrate his perverted brain, the blow would undoubtedly cause subdural hematoma which was bound to deny the brain adequate blood flow. As a result, a biochemical cascade was in all likelihood happening right now as Leon dispassionately watched. Brain cell death was imminent. No great loss to humanity.’

Chapter titles

The single-word chapter headings were not always evident. In The Quiller Memorandum of the 23 chapters only 12 are single words; interestingly Ch3 is ‘Snow’ and in Balalaika Ch1 is ‘Snow’.

His fourth Quiller (The Warsaw Document) is the first with the consistent use of single-word chapter headings. There is only one other exception, in Quiller’s Run, with 11 of 32 being two-word titles, one of them being ‘Pink Panties’!

Certainly, inevitably, as mentioned already, some chapter headings will be repeated, not least ‘Midnight’.

Why mention this? For my Tana Standish psychic spy novels I adopted Adam Hall’s penchant for single-word chapter titles (Mission: Prague, Mission: Tehran, and Mission: Khyber). In contrast, my Leon Cazador novels have two-word chapter headings (Rogue Prey, No Prisoners, and Organ Symphony).

See also: WRITEALOT: Book review - Quiller: A profile and Bury Him Among Kings (

1 comment:

MI6 said...

George Segal starred in the Quiller Memorandum based on the spy thriller by Elleston Trevor (born Trevor Dudley-Smith aka Adam Hall). The name of the author of the Quiller Memorandum remains a tad mysterious but it is one of those under-rated thrilling espionage classics whether in writing or on the silver screen that deserve so much more adulation. If you liked Len Deighton’s masterpiece Funeral in Berlin or the Deightonesque Bill Fairclough’s epic raw and noir spy novel Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files series, you are going to love the Quiller Memorandum and vice versa. Why mention Deighton and Fairclough you may ask?

Critics have described Fairclough who was an MI6 agent codename JJ (and one of Pemberton’s People in MI6) in real life as a posh Harry Palmer and his parents worked for MI1 in Germany in the aftermath of World War II just as Quiller did. Both Elleston Trevor and Bill Fairclough (aka Edward Burlington) used many pseudonyms. Given Bill Fairclough was a spy that is not unexpected but why Elleston Trevor (born Trevor Dudley-Smith) published over one hundred books under about a dozen nom de plumes remains a conundrum.

The Quiller Memorandum, Funeral in Berlin and Beyond Enkription are “must reads” for espionage cognoscenti who should of course know how they are linked! John Barry (composer of the Bond, Palmer and Quiller theme tunes) and Bill Fairclough both went to St Peter's School in York where Guy Fawkes and his co-traitors were educated which is why Fairclough's MI6 codename was JJ. For more see an astonishing brief News Article dated 31 October 2022 at TheBurlingtonFiles website.