A find, by gum! A friend with good taste recommended Lionel Davidson. Sight unseen, I bought Kolymsky Heights and found it quite satisfying. It’s as if someone had put John Le Carré, Lee Child, and Michael Crichton in a Cuisinart together. True, they didn’t get completely blended, and also true, the best things about each author didn’t quite make it into the recipe. But you know, a literate B+ thriller is definitely good enough for me.
It starts out with Le Carré — why, now that I think of it, in Oxford! What’s present: spycraft. What’s missing: that dark tidal pull of melancholy. We crank the story up very slowly with a great deal of circumstantial detail about the mysterious mail of an Oxford don. Eventually we shift into Lee Child territory, with the introduction of Dr. Johnny Porter, the sulky but brilliant Canadian Indian who has an astounding gift for languages. He gets recruited for a spying task and it turns out that like Child’s Reacher, Porter is up to pretty much any task, including buildng a four-wheel drive vehicle from scratch and casual bare-handed manslaughter. Davidson’s pace — as befits an Englishman born in 1922 — is less heart-pounding than Child’s. But that’s basically OK, we’re having fun with the spycraft.
The Michael Crichton section — and it is a discrete section — is the least interesting. Porter ends up infiltrating a secret Siberian scientific station (I swear there was no way to avoid that alliteration), where groundbreaking experiments have been hijacked for military purposes. My interest flagged. I don’t read Crichton for the science.
Then we’re back into what is effectively an extended chase scene across eastern Siberia at the winter solstice. Need I say that the weather is as much of an enemy as the bad guys?
It’s all very professional. I don’t feel obliged to read another one of Davidson’s books right away, but I’m delighted to know that they exist.