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The second Quiller novel written by Elleston Trever under the pseudonym of Adam Hall, The 9th Directive is a cold-war espionage drama very much in the back-to-basics style of The Bourne movie series or the new re-imagined Bond films starring Daniel Craig. Quiller eschews a gun on most of his missions, preferring to rely on his knowledge of unarmed combat to survive, and there are no gadgets or handy secret agent devices to hand; all Quiller has is his guile and his ability to blend into the crowd, perform his mission objective and withdraw before anyone even knows he was there. Often things have a habit of going the way of the pear through no fault of Quiller's own, but one thing is for certain; this is one agent you DO NOT want to be messing with! How these books have never been commissioned to film I will never know (it has something to do with the rights to Adam Hall's work I believe ~ only The Quiller Memorandum has ever been filmed and that back in the seventies), and if ever a time was ripe for these novels to become a successful movie series then that time is now. Meanwhile, this series remains something of an enigma; popular amongst it's fans but little known to anybody else thus garnering the books something of a cult reputation not helped by the fact that many of the novels are now out of print and sometimes difficult to track down.
In this paticular mission, Quiller is sent to Thailand to plot the assassination of a visiting politically important British Person, who remains throughout the book un-named but who is heavily hinted at maybe being royalty; the idea being that Quiller is the best of the best and that, by plotting how he would set up a potential kill, he may discover how enemies of The State are planning their own assassination attempt in plenty of time to stop them. What follows for the first act is a remarkably tense thriller, that has echoes of the movie, Enemy At The Gates, as Quiller sets himself up as a sniper aiming to take out his enemy counterpart at the crucial moment of the kill. But Quiller does not realise that he is being played and that the plot afoot is actually something different from that which he has been lead to believe and, added to the fact that he is forced to work with a Handler he has little professional time for, this results in a cold-war espionage novel that is amongst some of the best that has ever been written.
This is by far one of the best Quiller novels, different this time because he actually gets to handle a gun, showing that he is an Agent skilled in a whole multitude of talents who rightly deserves his well-earned reputation. As per what is usual, The Bureau he works for, which does not officially exist, is prepared to distance itself from him should he fail meaning that Quiller is all on his own. Which is the way he likes it! And right from the start the action and tension never let up making this one of the best examples of this series that you are ever likely to read.
One of the key elements here is the way that no element of Quiller's personal life is ever revealed; even his true name remains a closely guarded secret. There is little or no back-story either, the novel follows Quiller's mission from beginning to end then stops much like an actual mission debrief, and though earlier events in Quiller's career are mentioned, they are never elaborated on meaning there is nothing to distract the reader from the main crux of the plot. This could work one of two ways ~ it could make for this to be something of a very cold read or mean the novel is highly focused and compact ~ but, thankfully, it is the latter that proves to be true. If you like the style of writers such as Len Deighton or John Le Carre but have never picked up this author, give him a try. I guarantee you will not be disappointed!