The book: Bert Kemp runs a shop in antique guns, but does a sideline in art smuggling. A Nicaraguan heiress has come to Europe to spend a few million on famous paintings - but some of them are slightly less legal than others, and need 'special export handling', and Kemp is hired just for that. But it soon turns out that word has got round, and Kemp needs to be at his sharpest to foil the vultures - and soon just to survive. With a locale that moves from Paris to Amsterdam to Zurich to Venice to Vienna, with artworks from Cezanne to Old Masters, and with villains from the bleeding obvious to the highly unlikely, this 1969 thriller has hidden compartments (and not just in suitcases) and humour, too.
The writer: Lyall served in the RAF in the early 1950s, and his first strand of thrillers is usually about pilots:
The Wrong Side of the Sky (1961)
The Most Dangerous Game (1963)
Midnight Plus One (1965)
Shooting Script (1966)
Venus With Pistol (1969)
Blame the Dead (1973)
Judas Country (1975)
his two other 'strands' are on the number Ten SAS adviser Major Maxim; and the 'Honourable' series of four is about the fledgling British spy service at the start of the 20th century.
My opinion: excellent - I hovered between four and five stars. Four-and-a-half, then. Good, taut writing; well-researched background; tension, subtle plots, betrayals, clever solutions, plus the slightly battered and world-weary antihero who is so much a hallmark of Lyall's writing. Clever, well-plotted books, and not much aged, either!
on 13 June 2013
well written, plot full of surprises, realistic (i.e. gets nowhere in the end) love interest, lots of interesting info about guns and smuggling and faking, I wouldn't know, of course, but it all sounds correct - a typical Gavin Lyall, in other words, absolutely splendid.