Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Labyrinth Makers ($14,85), by Anthony Price (c1970)

Yay! for Felony & Mayhem. Many of mystery's great novels would have fallen by the wayside were it not for this extraordinary small press. One of the store's favorite authors is Reginald Hill whose earliest Dalziel and Pascoe books were unavailable in the United States for a long time. F&M has slowly begun to release them to the American reading public. May I reiterate: Yay!

The Labyrinth Makers is one of the classics of spy fiction that wouldn't even be generating dust mites in a dark corner were it not for its re-issue by F&M. This is a spy book in the grand intellectual fashion of le Carré. It is spy vs. spy in a grey world where a country's behind-the-scenes persona may not match its public face.

David Audley, Price's incomparable hero, is not very heroic. He hesitates, fearful, when he is called out from the safe cocoon of his office where he analyzes trends in the Middle East -- where nothing much is happening, relatively speaking, in the late 1960s -- to do field work. A WWII plane and its pilot have been uncovered when the lake in which it was hidden is accidentally drained. All of a sudden there is international interest in it. What does a British war plane have to do with Germany and Russia? What was the mysterious cargo it was carrying? Of course, and luckily for the reader, there are no simple answers. Audley is both prized and castigated for his out-of-the-box thinking, and he is assigned the task of determining the provenance of the airplane.

The only false note to the 21st century ear is Audley's whirlwind romantic relationship with the daughter of the long dead pilot and its awkward progress. Mired in James Bond/60s sensibilities, the cold, older, self-contained Audley manages to rather quickly charm young, mini-skirted, attractive Faith. Only in fiction!

Along with Graham Greene and John le Carré, Anthony Price can rightly lay claim to being one of the best crafters of the elegant spy drama.

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