High Citadel

Back to the days of adventure. A plane carrying a group of stranded passengers crash lands in the Andes. On board is a local politician that the communists who run the country want to assassinate. Since they’ll have to kill all the other passengers too, because they’re witnesses, the passengers fight back. But they’re unarmed so they build crossbows and trebuchets from spare parts in a nearby mining camp and battle is joined.

I could do without the slogan-spouting ‘commies’ commanded by a Cuban officer and a homicidal party toady from Moscow – it’s as dated for its time (the mid-60s) as the villainous ‘untrustworthy foreigner’ was in detective fiction of the 30s. And the innocent young heroine, saving it all for the right brave man, doesn’t come off well today.

But the rest of the characters are sharply drawn individuals, the pace never slows, and the descriptions of the fighting, of the cold and the snow and the mountains, are vivid. There’s no post-modern irony here. Desmond Bagley isn’t ‘playing’ with the conventions. He’s delivering a good ‘old-fashioned’ adventure. (Which is why I’ve chosen a scan of the 70s paperback cover rather than a more modern one; it captures the tone better.) It’s one of his best.

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