* Prices may differ from that shown
Lockwood is sent to meet a fellow spy at the airport - she is arriving from Hong Kong and has an important taped conversation that Lockwood's bosses are very interested in getting hold of. All goes to plan...until the tape is played and there is nothing but singing. It soon seems obvious that the woman Lockwood met at the airport is not the real spy - who in fact was murdered a couple of weeks before at a guest house in Wales. Golden boy Tim Frazer is sent to Wales to stay at the same guest house to see if he can track down what happened to his colleague. Before he knows it, he is caught up in a web of intrigue that could threaten his own life.
Francis Durbridge is an author I am very familiar with - he wrote the Paul Temple stories, which were broadcast on radio in the mid-1900s and were remarkably popular. Tim Frazer, on the other hand, is not a character I have heard of before. To a certain extent, he is a fairly under-developed character - the emphasis really is on the story and not the people who play it out. Whereas Paul Temple, who was a private detective, had many more layers - mainly because he was accompanied everywhere by his wife, Frazer is a pleasant character though, perhaps a little too much of the golden boy for whom everything works out well, but that's partly why the story works so well.
There are a few other characters who have minor roles in the book - Lockwood, for example, who appears at the beginning of the book, but then only has occasional reappearances. As such, they are not at all rounded, although Durbridge manages to make them intriguing by casting a shadow over their involvement in the case in hand. There are a couple of characters that are made out to be working class and a bit daft, which isn't very politically correct, but probably reflects the author's beliefs. To be honest, the book is too short to add many layers to any of the characters and, in any case, it really doesn't matter because the reader's interest is targetted on the plot.
I really enjoyed the plot. Although the book is classed as a spy novel, it really has more elements of detective fiction than anything else, with plenty of murder and missing people. It reminded me a little of Agatha Christie's more political thrillers - The Big Four and The Seven Dials Mystery immediately spring to mind. There is very little description, most of Durbridge's writing focuses on the action, which is exactly what is needed here. On the other hand, the story isn't one that I will remember for very long - it doesn't have much about it that is outstanding, perhaps like some of Agatha Christie's lesser known work.
The lack of description means that it is hard to tell what decade the story is set in, which actually works in its favour, because it isn't at all dated. It is fairly obvious that it isn't set in the Internet age, but apart from that, it could have easily have been any post-War decade. Written in the seventies, I presume that was when it was set, but in any case, it really doesn't affect the story in any way.
The writing is simple and plain; I certainly can't imagine it winning any literary prizes. The chapters are all short and to the point and the book is a really short read. That is exactly as it should be though - although I enjoyed the story, I don't think it would have been improved by trying to drag it out even for another few pages. As it is, it is a great length, ideal for the beach or when travelling. And the pacing is great - there are a number of cliffhangers at the end of chapters that persuaded me to read just a little more.
Although this isn't the Francis Durbridge I am most familiar with, I still enjoyed it. There are a couple of other Tim Frazer books, which I will look out for - although I don't think they have been re-printed for a number of years. I think the book would appeal to anyone who likes a good detective or spy story, particularly if your preference isn't for modern day tales, but rather for when times were supposedly simpler. Recommended.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get hold of a copy of this book. There are second-hand paperbacks available on Amazon for in the region of £25 (yes, you did read that right). I was lucky - my copy was just 50p from a charity shop, so it is worth looking out for it.