Friday 10 June 2011

Colonel Butler's Wolf by Anthony Price: A Review (Gollancz, 1972)

For this third and final review of spy novelist Anthony Price's first three books, I thought I'd try a slightly different approach and attempt to place this last novel I'm looking at in its particular era – i.e. contextualizing it in relation to events that took place and prevailing attitudes around the time it was published.

Colonel Butler's Wolf was Anthony Price's third novel to feature the operatives of the Ministry of Defence's Research and Development Section, and was published in the UK by Victor Gollancz in 1972. (That's the cover of the first edition you can see above, copies of which range from £35 to around £100 for a fine copy; mine is certainly in fine condition, and was a lucky, cheaper AbeBooks find.) Following on from Dr. David Audley and Squadron Leader Hugh Roskill's turns in the driving seat in The Labyrinth Makers and The Alamut Ambush respectively, this time our lead protagonist is Major Jack Butler, and once again having events related from a different character makes for quite a distinctive reading experience.

Red of hair and dour of temperament, Butler is a different prospect again from Audley and Roskill: he's crabby where Audley is clever, irascible where Roskill is instinctive. But he's no less committed to the cause of defence of the realm – and in some ways more so: a blunt military instrument who'll do the bidding of intelligence chief Sir Frederick and JIC man Stocker unquestioningly, if confusedly. And Sir Fred and Stocker are up to their devious tricks again here: tasking Butler (in place of the injured Roskill, who's laid up in hospital following the climax of the previous novel in the series) to investigate the death of former Oxford student and junior lecturer Neil Smith, who inexplicably drove his motorbike into a pond, they promote Butler to colonel so as to substitute him for another, identically monikered colonel and infiltrate him into academia.

As to why this Neil Smith should be of such interest, it's down to David Audley – directing events from the shadows – to reveal that Smith wasn't Smith at all. It seems he was actually a man named Paul Zoshchenko, a ringer substituted by the KGB sometime between his school days and his stint at Oxford, with the intention of eventually placing him in the British intelligence services, who routinely recruit from Oxford and Cambridge. What's more, Zoschenko might not be the only ringer the KGB have embedded in academia...

Colonel Butler's Wolf draws on Price's familiar themes of history and archaeology; at one point Butler walks Hadrian's Wall in an effort to draw out Russian agents. But it's also informed by the Cold War and the threat from the USSR (much like its two predecessors), as well as by three specific events: the May 1968 Paris student riots, and, I think (although it's never stated) the Columbia University protests of 1968 and the  Kent State University shootings of 1970. Student politics loom large over the novel; it's suggested that the Russians are attempting to foment student unrest (for reasons unknown), a plan that especially offends Audley, as this exchange with Butler underlines:

"The young blighters can sit-in or sit down as much as they like. They can lie down for all we care, if that's what turns them on. Provided it's all their own idea, not something somebody else wants them to do to further some other idea."

"Somebody being the Russians."

"Russians, Martians—it doesn't matter who. But in this case the Russians, yes."

The notion of the KGB infiltrating academia may seem far-fetched, but these were very real concerns at the time. The case of Kim Philby and the Cambridge spy ring was still fresh in the memory in 1972, and there were certainly Communist elements mixed up in the Paris protest. Price combines all of that with his abiding preoccupations to arrive at a denouement at an archaeological dig, as Butler recruits a couple of friendly students and a handful of random Irish labourers to head off a student demo that's marching towards disaster.

There's a lot to like about Colonel Butler's Wolf; there are the now-familiar extended sequences of thrust-and-parry dialogue, and the plot is as murky and labyrinthine as you'd expect. But for me the highlight is Butler himself: harrumphing his way through encounters with professors and students, a fish out of water with neither Audley's intellectual capabilities nor Roskill's social skills to fall back on, he's an engaging lead, and something of an action man to boot: early in the novel he has to battle his way out of a burning prep school. And we get glimpses of the man behind the uniform as well: unexpectedly Butler is revealed as a single parent, the guardian of three young daughters left in his charge after the passing of his wife. It's a small softening of his blustery persona, and makes me eager to find out more about him in future books.

That, however, is all for now from Anthony Price... although I have just received some rather exciting news about Mr. Price, which, if it all works out, will result in something extra special here on Existential Ennui. I'll be revealing exactly what that news is shortly. And if the ever-unpredictable British postal system turns up trumps, I might even be able to squeeze in one last post over the weekend. We shall see. Failing that though, next I'll have another week of themed posts, this time on a perennial favourite of mine: suspense novelist, creator of Tom Ripley and "poet of apprehension", Patricia Highsmith. 

(NB: a two-part interview I conducted with Anthony Price can be found here and here.)

Thursday 9 June 2011

The Alamut Ambush by Anthony Price: A Review (Gollancz, 1971 / 1983), and a Lewes / South Downs Connection

On to the second of three reviews of Anthony Price's superior spy novels, which feature various operatives of the Ministry of Defence's Research and Development intelligence department. And after yesterday's appreciation of Price's debut, 1970's The Labyrinth Makers, today it's the turn of his sophomore effort:

The Alamut Ambush was first published by Victor Gollancz in the UK in 1971; the cover you can see above – designed by Brian Nicholls – is the 1983 reissue, published to coincide with the ITV television series adaptation Chessgame, and an edition of the book about which I waxed perhaps a little too lyrically in this post on collecting Price's novels. This time events are related from the perspective of Squadron Leader Hugh Roskill, inheriting the pilot's seat, as it were, from The Labyrinth Makers' Dr. David Audley. In marked contrast to the aloof, distant Audley, Roskill is a much warmer, more human lead; tasked to enlist Audley's aid in investigating an attempt on Foreign Office man – and apparently something of a nemesis of Audley's – David Llwelyn, he soon realises that he's being manoeuvred by his superiors due to his close connections with Alan Jenkins, the young technician who was killed when he triggered a bomb in Llewelyn's car.

Young Jenkins's death hits Roskill hard; henceforth he's motivated by, if not a desire for revenge, then at least for some kind of justice for Jenkins – something that intelligence chief Sir Frederick and Joint Intelligence Committee supremo Stocker know only too well. And Sir Fred and Stocker are also well aware of Audley's animosity towards Llewellyn, which they've pinpointed as another motivating factor, in a reverse psychology sort of way. But what they aren't aware of, and what Roskill, Audley – and, latterly, Major Jack Butler, ostensibly there to keep an eye on the other two – quickly realise, is that Llewlyn almost certainly wasn't the intended target of the bomb: Jenkins was. Which begs the question, why would a lowly technician be targeted for a terrorist attack?

The answer might lie with Arab assistance institution the Ryle Foundation; a fabled assassin named Hassan; and something known as the Alamut List, and more geographically in England's South Downs. And here the novel takes on a special significance for me, because much of the action is either set in or references the area surrounding Lewes, the East Sussex town in which I live and work. Jenkins hailed from East Firle, a small village nestling near the foot of one of the tallest peaks in that stretch of the Downs, Firle Beacon; Roskill flew with Alan's older brother, Harry, and often stayed in Firle on leave. But it seems as if Alan saw something on the Beacon the last time he was in Firle – something to do with Israeli intelligence operative Jake Shapiro and Egyptian Colonel Razzak, both of whom, rather incongruously, were in the area at the same time – a confluence of people and place which may have got Alan killed.

Price evidently knows the area well: there are mentions of Lewes, Alfriston, the Cuckmere river/valley, Pevensey and the Long Man of Wilmington, all locations I'm well acquainted with. At one point Roskill rides on horseback up a steep track to the top of Firle Beacon, and I'm positive I've followed exactly the same path, rambling alongside the fields at the foot of the Downs from Firle and then up the hill beside a wood. It's actually quite thrilling to read about places one knows so intimately, and for me lent The Alamut Ambush an added frisson of familiarity.

But there's more to the novel than a mere travelogue. There's a real heart to the book, affording it more warmth and consequently making it slightly more engaging than The Labyrinth Makers. And that heart resides in Hugh Roskill. Unlike the occasionally supercilious Audley (now married to Faith Steerforth from the first novel, which hasn't softened him noticeably) and the gruff, no-nonsense Butler, Roskill is emotional and conflicted. He's embroiled in a hopeless affair with married society woman Lady Isobel Ryle, an illicit liaison that his superiors are also well aware of, and which they exploit mercilessly by having Roskill probe the Ryle Foundation. Meanwhile his friendship with Alan Jenkins and feelings of guilt lead him inexorably towards a bloody climactic showdown in the New Forest.

I genuinely feared for Roskill's survival at the end of The Alamut Ambush: bleeding from a machine gun wound, alone and armed only with a rifle, and knowing numerous lives depend on him, Hugh must stay conscious long enough to confront the terrorists. It's a shattering climax to what is a typically Byzantine tale – and my favourite of the Anthony Price books I've read thus far.

Which isn't to say the next novel I'll be reviewing, 1972's Colonel Butler's Wolf, doesn't have its own particular merits. But what it does have is perhaps even more of a socio-historical significance than the Cold War/Middle East trappings of The Labyrinth Makers and The Alamut Ambush. So in my third and final review of Price's novels – for now, anyway – I want to approach the book from a perspective I've not yet attempted in these reviews and try and set the novel in context. Let's see how I get on, shall we?

(As with yesterday's review, in the interests of balance I thought I'd direct your attention to another, slightly cooler take on The Alamut Ambush, on the South London Books blog. Well worth a read.) 

(NB: a two-part interview I conducted with Anthony Price can be found here and here.)

Wednesday 8 June 2011

The Labyrinth Makers by Anthony Price: A Review (Gollancz / Doubleday, 1970 / 1971)

After yesterday's overlong and highly tedious essay on the trials and tribulations of collecting the various editions of British author Anthony Price's series of Cold War espionage novels, for the rest of the week my Price appreciation will consist of reviews of some of those novels – a turn of events I'm sure will come as a great relief to all concerned. I'll be looking at each of the first three books in turn, beginning with this:

The Labyrinth Makers was Anthony Price's debut novel, first published in hardback in 1970 by Victor Gollanz in the UK and in 1971 by Doubleday in the US, which is the edition you can see above (dustjacket design by William Naegels). Appropriately, it was also the first book of Price's I bought: I saw this copy on eBay and took a punt on it; the main text in the listing identified it as a paperback, but there was a short note at the end to the effect that it was, in fact, a hardback, and the accompanying picture seemed to confirm that it might well be the American first edition. So I put down a bid, and won it for a quid – not bad for a book that's in fairly short supply – thus initiating the Price collecting frenzy I blogged about yesterday.

While The Labyrinth Makers is the book that set me off on my Anthony Price kick, I'm not entirely certain from which quarter his name first arose and piqued my curiosity. I suspect it might have been from Jeremy Duns, but in any case, over the last six months or so my interest in the more intelligent end of twentieth century spy fiction has both deepened and broadened, and once you start delving into that side of the genre, it's really only a matter of time before you encounter Price. The Labyrinth Makers bears all the hallmarks of what would become Price's oeuvre: a complex plot, rife with hidden agendas; long stretches of dialogue, as the protagonists discuss, conjecture and problem-solve their way towards the ultimate truth; and an abiding preoccupation with history and archaeology.

That last subject comes increasingly to the fore in his debut, which concerns the rediscovery of a missing Dakota aircraft, presumed lost at sea shortly after the end of the Second World War, but now found at the bottom of a recently drained lake. Insular, aloof Middle East analyst Dr. David Audley, who usually toils behind the scenes, is drafted to the front lines by intelligence chief Sir Frederick Clinton and charged with investigating the mystery of why the plane's pilot, John Steerforth, seemingly purposely crashed the Dakota, killing himself into the bargain – and why the Russians are inordinately interested in its missing cargo. Working alongside Audley are fellow intelligence operatives Major Jack Butler and Squadron Leader Hugh Roskill, and before too long all three are mixed up in a tale of subterfuge, misinformation and the search for Trojan treasure.

I mentioned in my introductory post to Price's novels that, although all are written in the third person, each one is related from the viewpoint of a different character. It's Audley who hogs the limelight in The Labyrinth Makers, and it's he who will become the lynchpin of the series, and he makes for a fascinating companion. Highly intelligent, detached, occasionally arrogant – and yet fully aware of that propensity for pomposity – Audley is very much a backroom operative, which is why he's so perplexed to find himself propelled into the field, and in an arena outside his usual area of expertise, the Middle East. There are a couple of wonderfully telling lines of dialogue from Audley after he, Roskill and Butler have been briefed by Sir Frederick and Joint Intelligence Committee man Stocker, when Fred asks Audley if he has any further questions:

"I have—yes. But not about Steerforth. First, if it is decided that I must attend his funeral—I must assume it is his funeral—I must be allowed to have my breakfast first. I cannot go to a funeral on an empty stomach."

And quite right too. Audley, it transpires, is rather set in his ways; he lives alone in a house in the South Downs (incidentally also my neck of the woods, and a location which will take on a more prominent role in the next novel, The Alamut Ambush) with only his housekeeper, Mrs. Clark, for company, though there is mention of a recent girlfriend (deemed unsuitable by Mrs. Clark). But this rural idyll is shattered when Steerforth's daughter, Faith, arrives uninvited, and soon, despite his misgivings and frequent irritation, Audley finds himself enlisting her in his investigations.

Audley isn't completely socially inept: he does have friends, or rather friendly professional acquaintances – a personal network of contacts that proves invaluable in this and later novels, among them Israeli intelligence man Jake Shapiro. Indeed, it's these very contacts that help to answer the question of why Audley has been chosen to spearhead an operation outside his traditional Middle East field. But the central mystery of what exactly Steerforth's cargo was, and why the Russians are so interested, isn't answered until the arrival of shadowy Soviet factotum and archaeological expert Nikolai Panin, and a deadly final showdown on an abandoned airfield at Newton Chester.

In that introductory post I outlined how Price's novels are characterised by long stretches of dialogue, often with entire chapters consisting of a single conversation, and that's as true of The Labyrinth Makers as any of the books in the series. But these conversations don't merely shed light on the plot, as Audley and co. discuss the available evidence and reason and intuit their way towards the answers; they grant insight into character, too, especially in the back-and-forth between Faith and Audley. As the novel progresses Audley gradually warms towards this uninvited guest, and through that softening of his standoffish nature, we warm towards Audley. He may be maddeningly obtuse and secretive – the gruff, no-nonsense Major Butler in particular finds him infuriating – but his developing feelings for Faith are genuinely touching. And there's certainly no doubting his devotion to the cause: for Audley, defence of the realm is all, something which will become increasingly apparent as the series continues.

If I had to level a criticism at The Labyrinth Makers, it would be that Price withholds a little too much information in order to keep the answers just out of reach, at least of the reader. Naturally, being a clever stick, Audley will usually be one step ahead of us, but there are times when Price's deliberate misdirection becomes ever-so-slightly visible – the minutest glimpse of the Wizard's machinery behind the curtain, as it were. But when the story is so satisfying, and the characters so engaging, that's forgivable; The Labyrinth Makers is still one of the best espionage novels I've read, and a fine debut. But the next book in the series, The Alamut Ambush, is even better – and that one will be of particular interest to any fellow Lewesians or South Downs denizens reading...

(For another perspective on The Labyrinth Makers, head over to The Rap Sheet and read Jim Napier's excellent recent review.) 

(NB: a two-part interview I conducted with Anthony Price can be found here and here.)

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Anthony Price's David Audley Spy Novel Series: A First (and Later) Edition Collector's Guide

This week on Existential Ennui I'm blogging about British author Anthony Price and his fine series of nineteen espionage novels, which star British Intelligence operatives David Audley, Hugh Roskill, Jack Butler and their colleagues. On Sunday I posted an overview of the series and a bibliography, and later in the week I'll be reviewing each of the first three novels. Today, however, I want to concentrate on an aspect of Price's books that almost certainly won't have been touched upon elsewhere on the internet (partly because few people are as dangerously obsessive as I am), a subject that is, in many ways, the driving force behind this 'ere blog: the pleasures and pitfalls of collecting said books. And I'd just like to apologise in advance for the length of this missive; it's been a while since I've attempted one of these in-depth book collecting posts, so it kind of ran on a bit. I'll entirely understand if you decide to skip it and wait for those promised reviews. Honestly, I really wouldn't blame you.

So then. Unlike many of the authors I blog about, Anthony Price isn't completely out of print. Three of his novels – The Labyrinth Makers (1970; Audley series #1), Other Paths to Glory (1974, #5) and The Old Vengeful (1982, #12) – are currently available as both paperbacks and eBooks from Orion, which means that those of you who can't bear to read anything other than a brand spanking new book – or indeed a brand spanking new electronic book – will find it easy enough to dive straight in. But as longtime readers of Existential Ennui will attest, brand spanking new books aren't, in general, or in essence, what this blog is all about. First editions are what set pluses racing round these here parts, or if not first editions then at least intriguing later editions. And on that score, Mr. Price has a lot to offer.

Here in the UK, all of Price's novels, from 1970's The Labyrinth Makers to 1989's The Memory Trap, were published by Victor Gollancz, and while first editions of the later books in the series are relatively easy to come by, the early novels are another matter entirely. The most valuable is his debut, the aforementioned The Labyrinth Makers; at present AbeBooks has only four copies of the first edition for sale, ranging from £150 to £350. But each of the books up to and including Soldier No More (1981) – and even beyond that – presents its own unique challenges, not merely in terms of such prosaic matters as availability and affordability, but also more aesthetic concerns to do with dustjacket design and the desirability of later reprint editions and even American editions.

I mention jacket design because, in common with other Gollancz books of the era, the first editions of Price's novels up to 1977's War Game all sport those iconic yellow (or sometimes red) wrappers that so defined the look of Gollancz hardbacks for decades. For me, that's something of an issue, because while first editions are usually preferable, and the Gollancz jackets are certainly distinctive, taken together those seven books can tend toward the uniform. On top of that, these first editions aren't cheap. Unless you're prepared to put up with ex-library copies, prices range from around £30 at the low end to well over a hundred pounds for really nice copies. In other words, and to paraphrase Morrissey, largely beyond my slender means.

There is, however, another option – or more accurately, options. Many of Price's novels were published by Gollancz in hardback not once, but twice. Indeed, the earlier novels made it through three Gollancz hardback editions – and all three of them are rather hard to find. Let's take the second novel, 1971's The Alamut Ambush, as an example.

From left to right we have the 1971 Gollancz first edition hardback; the 1983 Gollancz second edition hardback; and the 1991 Gollancz third edition hardback. The first edition is pretty self-explanatory, but that '83 second edition bears further elucidation. The design of the jacket, by Brian Nicholls, ties in with the look of the Anthony Price novels that were newly published in hardback by Gollancz around this early- mid-80s period – Gunner Kelly (1983), Sion Crossing (1984) and Here Be Monsters (1985). But the reason The Alamut Ambush, and The Labyrinth Makers and the third novel, Colonel Butler's Wolf, were all reissued in hardback in 1983 was because that was the year ITV in the UK broadcast the six-episode television series Chessgame, an adaptation of the first three novels (sadly unavailable on DVD).

However, even though these and others of Price's early books have been through three Gollancz hardback editions, many of them are still hard to find in decent condition. To give you some idea of their scarcity, AbeBooks currently has only ten copies of The Alamut Ambush listed in any of these Gollancz editions. By far the most common is the 1971 first, with seven copies available, ranging from £15 to £200. But of those, four are ex-library, and the remaining three are the most expensive copies. As for the other three Gollancz hardbacks on AbeBooks, those are all the 1983 reissue. Of the further 1991 reissue, there is not a trace (my copy is an ex-library cheapo eBay win).

You might, at this point (if you're even still reading), be wondering why on earth I bought multiple copies of The Alamut Ambush – in total two copies of the 1983 edition and one of the 1991 reprint (the 1971 cover you can see above was "borrowed" off the internet). In truth, it was more by accident than design – and therein lies a small tale of woe.

See, I wasn't keen to pay though the nose for the book, so I bought that cheap ex-library copy of the '91 edition first, believing it to be the '83 edition. Once it arrived and I discovered it wasn't, I bought an equally cheap, similarly ex-library copy of the '83 printing to rectify the mistake. But then I read the novel and realised that the story has a particular association with the area of south east England in which I live and work, specifically the East Sussex South Downs. (I'll explore exactly what that association is in more depth in my review of the novel later this week.) So of course, inveterate collector that I am, I had to get myself a non-ex-library copy. And since first editions are somewhat out of my price range, I elected to procure another copy of the more reasonably priced '83 edition, the cover of which I prefer to the yellow first edition jacket anyway.

But there's more. Because once that second copy of the 1983 edition arrived, I noticed that, while on the surface the two books are indistinguishable –

same jacket design, same case – internally there are definite differences between the two. If we take a look at the dustjacket flaps of the ex-library copy:

You'll see they bear a price on the front flap and a Post-a-Book logo and ISBN on the back one. But if we take a look at the flaps on the other copy:

No price, no logo and no ISBN. Meanwhile, inside the book, there are differences between the two copyright pages as well. The ex-library copyright page looks like this:

with the previous 1971 edition listed as "First published", and the new edition underneath it (ignore the penned "F" and library numbers). But the copyright page on the other copy looks like this:

No mention of a previous edition – not even a mention of this edition. So while it's not ex-library, it's also evidently not precisely the same edition. Based on past evidence on Existential Ennui, previously at this point I'd have identified it as a book club edition and thrown my hands up in despair. But I don't think it is. I think it is, in fact, an export edition, intended for the American market, where, by 1983, the 1972 Doubleday hardback would have been long out of print and the next US edition, a Mysterious Press paperback, wouldn't arrive until 1986, leaving the American market open for British imports. Indeed, given its scarcity, it's not unreasonable to conjecture that almost all of the '83 Gollancz editions went to public lending libraries in the UK, and those that didn't were shipped off to the States (or not, as the case apparently is here).

Whatever the truth of the matter, there are so few copies of the '83 printing available, any copy is to be cherished – especially as The Alamut Ambush has that aforementioned South Downs significance.

All of which goes to illustrate the potential minefield – albeit an oddly enticing minefield; perhaps one where books spring unexpectedly out of the ground, rather than the more traditional kind where, y'know, you get your arms and legs blown off – awaiting those intent on collecting Mr. Price's books, which I offer up in the hope that prospective Price collectors can learn by my mistakes. And that's without even discussing the later Gollancz novels, where book club editions litter the market (and muddy the waters), or American editions (over half of which were published by Doubleday), many of which boast rather splendid dustjacket designs of their own:

Those are all matters for future posts, however. As it is I think I've tried the patience of anyone foolish enough to have made it this far quite enough already. So let's move right along to the reviews, starting with Price's brilliant 1970 debut, The Labyrinth Makers. 

(NB: a two-part interview I conducted with Anthony Price can be found here and here.)

Sunday 5 June 2011

Author Anthony Price: The David Audley Series of Spy Novels, and a Bibliography

This week, as promised, Existential Ennui will be devoted exclusively to a British author whose clever, thoughtful, thrilling espionage novels have proved something of a revelation for me this year.

Anthony Price – full name Alan Anthony Price – wrote twenty books from 1970 to 1990. Nineteen of those were spy novels (the twentieth, The Eyes of the Fleet: A Popular History of Frigates and Frigate Captains, a non-fiction title published in 1990, was his final work – at least, to date; Price is still with us), which, together, form one of the best espionage series ever penned by a single author, a brilliantly sustained, wonderfully interconnected, richly historical fictional – yet entirely plausible – universe starring operatives of a branch of Britain's Intelligence Services (later identified as the Research and Development Section).

Though written in the third person, each story is told from the perspective of one of a rotating cast of intelligence types. The series begins with 1970's The Labyrinth Makers and Dr. David Audley, a socially awkward, prematurely middle-aged Middle East expert with a fascination for archaeology and history – subjects that remain abiding concerns throughout the subsequent eighteen novels. We also meet Audley's fellow operatives, sensitive, dedicated Squadron Leader Hugh Roskill and hard-headed, carrot-topped military man Major – soon to become Colonel – Jack Butler, each of whom will take their turn in the limelight in later books.

The plot that draws these three together concerns a Dakota plane which went missing shortly after the end of World War II – presumed lost at sea but now rediscovered at the bottom of a recently drained lake – and why the Russians are inordinately interested in this aircraft. What follows is a suitably labyrinthine guessing game, but what's exceptional about this and others of Price's novels is the way he both unfurls the plot through his characters' thoughts – or, perhaps more accurately, their words – and simultaneously colours in his cast with those same thought processes. Price builds his characters not so much through description of their physical appearance – although one can't help but see Price himself in the figure of Audley – nor through their deeds, but through their conversations. Time and again he presents us with long stretches of dialogue, as Audley, Roskill, Butler and others work through problems and intuit solutions, and as a consequence grant insight into their psyches.

Price's closest contemporary is probably John le Carré, but Price was well into his series by the time Le Carré's masterwork, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, arrived in 1974. And while there are similarities between the two writers in the way they have their characters examine evidence in order to arrive at conclusions, Price has little time for Le Carré's methodical digging through of old files; much of that sort of thing takes place off-page, leaving more room for the subsequent ruminations and discussions. The late H. R. F. Keating put it most appositely (and pithily) in a blurb reproduced on the back covers of some of the later editions of Price's books: "If think's your thing, here's richness in plot, dialogue, implications."

A Crime Writers' Association Silver and Gold Dagger Award winner, Price is rather overlooked these days, which is remarkable when you consider how terrific his stories are. There's scant information about him online; he has a Wikipedia entry – although the dates in the bibliography are inaccurate, possibly because they take the American publication dates rather than the original British ones; see below for a more accurate bibliography – and there are one or two good articles on the themes and chronology of his spy series (which ranges from 1944 to 1988); this one by Jo Walton and this one by David Dyer-Bennet (with its attendant booknotes) are the best of the bunch. But the odd individual review aside, that's about it.

So, I'll be attempting to redress that balance here on Existential Ennui. For the rest of the week I'll be reviewing each of Price's first three novels – The Labyrinth Makers, The Alamut Ambush (which I particularly loved, for reasons I'll elucidate down the line) and Colonel Butler's Wolf – as well as providing a guide to the pleasures and pitfalls of collecting the many editions of his books. And I'll have much more on Mr. Price in the future, don't you worry.

One last note before we move on to the bibliography (and then that collector's guide): I've scoured the internet for interviews with Price – who's now in his early eighties – to no avail; if any interviews exist with him (which they surely must somewhere), I'm pretty sure they're not on the web. But I did manage to find a quote from him in my copy of Donald McCormick and Katy Fletcher's Spy Fiction: A Connoisseur's Guide – although after Jeremy Duns's exposure of McCormick as something of a fantasist, it should be taken with a pinch of salt. But assuming it's genuine, it's the longest quote from Price I've come across, and it's on the subject of the impetus for his novels, so I'm presenting it in full:

"I enjoyed reading spy stories more than murder stories. Nothing I could imagine would be more outrageous than what actually happens. Ours is the second Great Age of Treason (the first was in the late 16th century) ... I think I once wrote 'the past lies in wait to ambush the present', and that I suppose is my favourite theme: the excavation of an event in the fairly recent past to establish the truth about a present mystery or problem, the action often being set against some more distant historical event."

(UPDATE 4/8/11: Just over a month after this post was written I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Price myself. You can read the results here and here.)

Anthony Price Bibliography

Unless otherwise stated all titles published by Victor Gollancz, UK.

The Labyrinth Makers (1970) (CWA Silver Dagger)
The Alamut Ambush (1971)
Colonel Butler's Wolf (1972)
October Men (1973)
Other Paths to Glory (1974) (CWA Gold Dagger)
Our Man in Camelot (1975)
War Game (1976)
The '44 Vintage (1978)
Tomorrow's Ghost (1979)
The Hour of the Donkey (1980)
Soldier No More (1981)
The Old Vengeful (1982)
Gunner Kelly (1983)
Sion Crossing (1984)
Here Be Monsters (1985)
For the Good of the State (1986)
A New Kind of War (1987)
A Prospect of Vengeance (1988)
The Memory Trap (1989)
The Eyes of the Fleet: A Popular History of Frigates and Frigate Captains (Hutchinson, 1990)