THE WRONG SIDE OF THE SKY by Gavin Lyall
After reading a century of books last year, it's taken me a while to get into the groove again.
I just finished Gavin Lyall's The Wrong Side of the Sky, the author's debut novel from 1961. Lyall was very popular in the sixties and seventies despite not being the most prolific of writers.
This tale takes place in Athens, Saxos and Libya and concerns an airline pilot chasing a stolen hoard of jewels. Its fast, humourless and easily digested. Exactly what I'd expect from a Pan Books potboiler.
Very, very good for that kind of thing.
Still reading Gavin Lyall
MIDNIGHT PLUS ONE
Lewis Cane is an ex-OSE agent doing casual work in France for dodgy businessmen. By chance he meets an old resistance colleague Henri Merlin, now a lawyer to dodgy businessmen, who has a well-paid one-off job offer: to drive wanted dodgy businessman M. Manganhard to Liechtenstein for a vital dodgy business meeting. Cane takes the job and enters into forty-eight hours of trouble.
Lyall forsakes airplanes for cars in this one. Cane takes his charge and his youthful secretary through northern France accompanied by Harvey Lovell, an ex-CIA agent employed as a gun-for-hire. He needs him because the route is peppered with danger and intrigue and hoodlums galore.
Midnight Plus One is a strong thriller, with all the basic requirements fulfilled. I enjoyed it. Lyall lacks the golden descriptive touch of some writers. His location descriptions are uniformly ordinary, but he’s good with personalities. The dialogue is crisp and the action swift. The stand out sequences are a roadside car-jacking, a confrontation with a wizened old general with a hidden agenda and a host of hidden accomplices and gunfight along the trenches of a Swiss frontier fortress. The novel lacks humour. It has an old-fashioned attitude towards rape. It has a very poor appreciation of addiction (Lovell is an alcoholic). This maybe because the novel is over fifty years old or it maybe because Lyall isn’t very knowledgeable about sex and drink. His characters are not overly sensual, even the women, who tend to be admirable objects with little character.
The novel does have drive and energy. The scenario is fine. I enjoyed it.
Keith Carr is an ex-Royal Air Force pilot slumming it around the sunny climes of Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the fictitious Republica Libra. He takes a Hollywood film crew on a private jaunt to Santo Bartolomeo, the Republic’s capital, and so embarks on a hair-raising escapade involving gorgeous women, murder, revolution and a dawn bombing raid on an island airport.
Gavin Lyall was well into his stride by the time he published his fourth novel, but despite the preordained tricks of his trade – the women who plays hard to get, the ex-military pilot, the shady past of all the protagonists, the constant hard drinking, the fist fights – something is missing from this adventure.
The locations are fine and Lyall gives a nice exotic spin on areas of the Caribbean which were still inaccessible to the majority of his readers. He spends a couple of pages describing the writers’ haunts along Ocho Rios and Oracabessa, where Noel Coward and our old friend Ian Fleming had their houses. He even mentions Golden Eye by name, which is rather cute. Lyall’s spin doesn’t have affection for these places; he treats them with a cynical wonder, a travelogue of names and places and incidents. There’s little love for the sweaty bars, film sets and private airfields his hero vacations in. Even less for the imagined dictate of Republica Libra where the current incumbent General Castillo is under threat from his vice-president, General Bosca, as well as the deposed autocrat General Jimenez.
Generally [get it?] Carr saunters around with much swagger and takes delight in rubbing all up the wrong way. He has a habit of smoking an unlit pipe which I found both odd and distracting. There is a long cast of characters, some of whom are interesting. J.B., the female solicitor to the stars, and Luiz Monterrey, a character actor with a hidden past, are probably the most interesting. The most ridiculous is Walt Whitmore, macho western star who wants to get involved in a real live revolt. There’s a sudden burst of sexual tension when Juanita Jimenez arrives, but it’s the only burst of tension in a tepid plot which resolves itself carelessly and long-windedly.
Flying sequences aside – there’s a spectacular dogfight with a MIG jet plane and the bombing raid holds the attention – the story felt a bit flat, as if Lyall was treading water. The characters don’t grab and the incidents are slow to build. I particularly disliked a loaded-dice life-or-death gamble which lacked all suspense as the reader already knows the outcome and is even worse for being such a stupid game for Ned Rafter, one of several nominal villains, to allow himself to become involved with. Here, I feel Lyall’s people should be more verbally persuasive. They do fine earlier on, coaxing each other to assist in Jimenez’s counter-revolution, so why not now?
A good read, but not as sparkling as Lyall’s first efforts.
@Barbel Hey there! Well, I finally did it...I got some Alistair MacLean novels and I'm working my way through them now. I'm about 2/3 of the way through WHERE EAGLES DARE and enjoying it immensely, although I think the screenplay of the film is actually much better and more concise. Good stuff, though. I think MacLean has rather a tin ear for dialog in the book but he really knows how to set up a situation and describe the action with finesse.
Great! Thought you would enjoy the books.
Yes, the film tightens up the plot somewhat but they're pretty close. It's a good story either way.
Which other Maclean novels did you get, Gymkata?
Offhand, I think I grabbed THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE, FEAR IS THE KEY, HMS ULYSSES, and ICE STATION ZEBRA. I figure that's a good enough start.
Great start! Those are five of the very best. 🍸
We should start an Alistair MacLean appreciation thread.
My favourite is Caravan to Vaccares. Night Without End is exceptionally fine.
"The Kingdom" by Jo Nesbø
This isn't a Harry Hole novel. Instead the story is essentially a story about two brothers who grew up on a mountain farm in southern Norway. The older brother stayed and runs the local petrol station. The other brother returns from studying business in Canada with an exotic girlfriend and a plan to build a hotel that could save the declining community. Unlike the Harry Hole novels this is absolutely not an urban story. Neither is it a detective story. It's more a drama involving crime told from the view point of the older brother. The Kingdom has the great plotting and sharply drawn characters Nesbø is known for. Worth reading if you're a Nesbø fanand would like to see him do something a little bit different.
Lies by T.M. Logan.
When a teacher sees his wife arguing with the husband of her friend, he then confronts him in a car park and events take place that leaves him questioning if his past life has all been based on lies.
This is a pretty decent thriller with a twist ending. The sense of paranoia is nicely handled.
I was sufficiently impressed by it to pick up another of Logan’s books, The Catch, which I’m reading now, which is written in a similar vein, concerning a father who does not trust his all too perfect son-in-law.
THRILLING CITIES 1 and THRILLING CITIES 2 by Ian Fleming
The first part is more of a travelogue than the second, which tends to be extended essays on Fleming's opinions about sex, gangsters, gambling and banking.
The stuff in the Far East offers an insight into how the author utilised his experiences for the pages of YOLT. The characters of Tanaka and Henderson are based on Tiger Saito and Dick Hughes and the early sections of the novel, where Bond tries to acclimatise and assimilate himself with Japanese civil conventions, are based on Fleming's own time spent with these two in Tokyo.
A fun read. Half-way informative. The 'Incidental Intelligence' sections read as if Fleming copied them from a brochure.