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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 18 May 2014

"A Higher Authority" by Barrie Hyde

An anonymous MI5 operative is recruited by 'The Organisation'. After three months at a Kenyan training camp his first mission is as an accounts clerk in Slough working for the UK end of an Italian Marble company.

I very much enjoyed the first part of the book in which the author takes time to build up a picture of the Organisation and its operatives. The hero, who changes identity almost as often as he changes his clothes, is an immediate hit in the Slough Office owing to his success at chasing up bad debts. His life is humdrum, travelling 'cattle class' (from this and a number of other snipes we learn that the author clearly does not enjoy air travel) to meet his girlfriend abroad, being courted by the Jamaican in the flat upstairs, meeting yet another lady in a Slough McDonalds. This mixture of spy with mundane is a hallmark of a number of the very best thrillers: it particularly reminded me of Goldfinger in which Oddjob drives a Ford Popular around Kent at speeds sometimes approaching twenty miles per hour.

Suddenly, things change. Suspected as a snoop, our hero is captured as he spies on the lorries unloading marble; his pretext of collecting more paper for the photocopier is not accepted and he is knocked unconscious to wake in the back of a lorry. Fortunately he can activate the tracking device on his watch (memo to self: if ever I have to kidnap a suspected spy I will strip them naked before tying them up in the back of the lorry). The excitement starts with torture and shootings.

Suddenly, the so far rather ordinary hero was able to cope with watching friends die. Suddenly the rookie operative became one of the brains who led the mission. Suddenly a criminal organisation which had been ludicrously easy to penetrate became just as easy to shut down.

I missed any sense of moral darkness. The hero's girlfriend questions whether the mission is worth the body-count at several points but this is never properly explored. The hero himself bounces back from tragedy in the same way as he recovers from being attacked: he has a bit of a headache but nothing a good night's sleep, a shower and a hearty breakfast won't cure.

You do wonder, and it would be fascinating to read a sequel in which this was explored, whether this emotion-less, identity-less, hero working for a never-named Organisation in a moral vacuum is actually a bit of a psychopath.

The plot is classic thriller and well constructed (although I began to get a little lost as the cast list started mushrooming). It contains the mandatory twist right at the end.

It certainly kept me turning the pages and I read it in just a few hours. May 2014; 216 pages

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