Sunday, June 27, 2021

39. The Hard Sell by William Haggard

Another excellent, "sophisticated" thriller by Haggard, this time the plot revolves around a British engine manufacturing company struggling with industrial sabotage in Vittorio, Italy where they have partnered with an Italian airplane firm (the brits make the enging and the italians the plane).  Colonel Charles Russell of the Executive branch takes some personal time to deal with the problems, since the owner of the British company is an old friend of his.  Russell is very scrupulous to pay for everything himself, but once he gets to Italy, he sniffes out that the mystery impacts England on the global industrial stage and his overnight stay becomes two weeks and real work.

Though I would consider Haggard's spy stories to be "above" Fleming's in that the actual espionage is subtle and complex and the conflicts mostly psychological. Victory requires knowledge, self-control, profound understanding of other humans rather than brand names and gadgets.  That being said, The Hard Sell feels very similar in its aspiration to a James Bond book. This is spy escapism for older men with a higher education level.  Russell gets to stay in a really nice hotel with a great bar, slum it in the older working class part of town (and of course stumble upon a little unpretentious bistro that has the best food and service) and even get knocked out and end up in an old school brothel with a super hot and experienced courtesan who appreciates him for being a gentleman ("She might be forty-five but looked much less, still a warmly magnificent woman").

There is a bit of action, but most of the story is Russell and the other major players all scheming and trying to second-guess what all the others are doing.  The cast of characters is rich with amoral euros playing the game: the chief of police hiding that his cousin is a Communist, the Swedish expat fixer way over his head in debt to Americans pulling his strings, the aforementioned Communist who is well educated and rich but doing good in some weird way that Haggard approves.  It's all very enjoyable and in this very beautiful Penguin paperback that I tried to keep in good condition but had to read.

No comments: