QUILLER BALALAIKA

Adam Hall, Author
Adam Hall, Author . Carroll & Graf/Penzler $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1265-6
Hardcover - 978-1-85903-125-4
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First published in the U.K. in 1995, shortly after the pseudonymous Hall's death from cancer, the 19th book about the British secret agent known only as Quiller, set in Boris Yeltsin's Russia, contains the same reliably exciting mixture of the exotic, the erotic and especially the dangerous as its best-selling predecessors. Hall was a smooth and accomplished craftsman who could set up an action scene with a few deft strokes and then pay it off without a wasted word. Authors of some of today's bloated thrillers could learn a lot from this book's opening pages, as an extremely reluctant Quiller finds himself being coerced into taking on a British-born criminal, Basil Seckes (aka Vasyl Sakkas), who has risen to head up the Russian mafia. Slipping into a notorious Siberian labor camp to rescue the one person with the key to a mission code-named Balalaika provides Quiller's ultimate challenge. Wonderful touches abound, from fighting techniques and the internal politics of Quiller's ultrasecret outfit to the way a small mistake (using a literal Russian translation of an American phrase, "Don't miss this great opportunity") puts Quiller in great peril. Eight years doesn't seem like such a long time, but this last Quiller outing sadly reminds us of how far we've come from a golden age of adventure fiction. (Dec. 4)

FYI: Edgar-winner Hall (whose real name was Elleston Trevor) turned out dozens of other genre titles under a range of pseudonyms, including Mansell Black, Trevor Burgress and Trevor Dudley-Smith. Why it took eight years for this book to be published in the U. S. is a real mystery.

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