Running Blind by Desmond Bagley

The Blurb On The Back:

The assignment begins with a simple errand – a parcel to deliver.  But to Alan Stewart, standing on a deserted road in Iceland with a murdered man at his feet, it looks anything but simple.  The desolate terrain is obstacle enough.  But when Stewart realises he has been double-crossed and that the opposition is gaining ground, his simple mission seems impossible …  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Alan Stewart is a former MI6 agent who’s called out of retirement in Scotland by his former (and much hated) boss, Slade, who has one last job for him: all Alan has to do is deliver a package to a contact in Iceland.  But the contents of the package are wanted by a lot of people, including an old Russian adversary of Stewart’s who’s keen to get revenge, and Alan soon finds himself on a deserted Icelandic road with a corpse at his feet.  Double-crossed and aware that his enemies will use his Icelandic lover, Elin, to get to him he must take her with him across some of the world’s toughest terrain where he doesn’t know who to trust and almost everyone seems out to kill them …

Although Desmond Bagley’s espionage thriller (first published in 1970 and republished in 2017) is in many respects a product of its time (although I have to say that it wasn’t nearly as sexist as I feared it would be), it’s still a fast-paced, entertaining action thriller that kept me turning the pages from beginning to end.  Alan Stewart is a classic male action hero of the time – good at his job (in particular a crack shot) and despite knowing the reality of what his job entails, nevertheless expects a certain honour in his dealings with his superiors and strongly disapproves of their cynical disposal of lives when it’s in their interests.  Stewart’s exchanges with Slade are neatly done and create tension while forming an interesting counterpoint to Stewart’s dealings with Kennikin (a KGB officer with a very personal grudge against Stewart).  I was worried about the depiction of Elin but although she does have some stereotypical ‘woman in need of rescuing’ and ‘stand by her man’ moments, she also has scenes where she tries to help herself and more interestingly, challenges Stewart on the things that he’s done so that she doesn’t come across as a mindless pushover (which, considering when this book was written, is refreshing).  It’s always interesting to read spy thrillers set in a pre-mobile phone age and Bagley makes the most of his remote and rugged Icelandic scenery.  He also does well at creating a general sense of mistrust, his MacGuffin is interesting and there’s plenty of well paced and exciting action.  Ultimately I thought this was a fun read and would check out Bagley’s other books.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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