Monday, March 20, 2023

27. The High Wire by William Haggard

This is something like the 5th or 6th Haggard I have read.  What a great discovery.  It's odd, because the only books of his I have found are these gorgeous green penguins from the 50s and 60s.  However, it turns out Haggard wrote almost 30 books going right into 1990, but I never see those later books.  I wonder if they didn't sell as well.

I would say The High Wire is one of the lesser of his books that I have read.  I kind of get the feeling he is trying for a love story as that is the narrative thread that holds together a somewhat disjointed plot.  The main actor here is Rex Hadley, recently divorced from a difficult woman (whose behaviour somehow held him back from fulfilling his full career potential as a managing engineer) is now promoted to take over the nationally important "Project A".  He is first given a week's vacation to settle down post-divorce and goes to Sestriere, a ski resort in the Italian alps.  There he meets a charming and louche aristocratic with an attractive woman who wine and dine him and he accidentally lets slip that he is now the boss of Project A.

He realizes his error the next day, and also sees the slip as a reminder that he has to tighten up his game.  However, it is enough for the aristocrat who then gets assigned to the British embassy where he sets up a blackmail play.  At the same time, his boss, Victor head of the secret service back in the enemy country (never named and not Russia) also is working with more direct action to get Hadley to talk.  Project A is only in its nascent stage, but the rumours are that it is based on a new concept that could revolutionize conventional warfare and tip the balance of power to the west.  Victor's boss is putting heavy pressure on him to find out what it is.

I say it is disjointed, but it's more that the book flows pretty evenly for the first two-thirds, seems to conclude and then has a new final act which involves Hadley now engaged to the woman he first met with the aristocrat back in Sestriere and though Victor and the aristocrats moves have been blocked, Victor comes himself for a final desperate play.  It involves commandeering a gondola (thus the title) to torture Hadley and get his info. I can't remember if Victor was a character in any of the earlier books and maybe that's why he gets this final chapter, but it felt tacked on.  There was more action than usual in this book including an attempted kidnapping via helicopter on english soil, with dogs attacking and a shootout. That was fun. So not my favourite Haggard but will look great next to the other green penguins on my shelf!

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