The Tango Briefing

I don’t read books often, but downloaded a novel by the British author Elleston Trevor to my Kindle just before going on holiday to Cornwall, and I finished it in about a week.

The Tango Briefing is one of 19 novels written by Trevor under the nom-de-plume Adam Hall, about an enigmatic British secret service ‘executive’ (agent) named Quiller. Trevor also wrote The Flight Of The Phoenix, which became a famous James Stewart film 50-odd years ago and was remade in 2004. Some readers may also be familiar with a 1966 film, The Quiller Memorandum, with George Segal as the eponymous super-spy.

I particularly wanted to read Tango Briefing because a Quiller TV series was broadcast by the BBC in 1975. It has never been repeated, and the only episode I can remember was based on this book.

This one was written in 1973 and doesn’t have the usual cold war theme. Instead, Quiller has to find a freighter plane with a mysterious, sensitive and top-secret cargo that’s come down in the Sahara, before various Arab government and security agencies can find it.

I found it a frustrating, occasionally irritating but ultimately rewarding read. It’s a cracking story, told in the first person – but bloody hell, he takes his time telling it – in a long-winded, rambling stream-of-consciousness style, sometimes taking in plot aspects that contribute nothing ultimately to the story.

He also has this little trick of taking you by surprise by casually referring to something you haven’t quite found out about yet, for dramatic effect – “it occurred to me, in one of those stray thoughts that pass through our minds at unlikely moments, that it wasn’t a very easy death I was giving him” – Er, what? Oh, right! Even though he’s got you under armed guard, you’re about to kill him!

And it gets a bit wearing after a while.

I honestly think you could improve the book by judiciously removing about 40% of it. It does need an edit. But it won’t get one, and it’s worth a few hours of your time anyway if you’re into this sort of thing.

Actually while writing this it’s just occurred to me, in one of those stray thoughts that pass through our minds at unlikely moments, that I said much the same thing about the 1968 film Countdown when I wrote about it a few months ago. Maybe it’s my attention span.

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