Four Square, London, 1966
(first published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton in 1955)
(price: 3/6; 128 pages)
For Julian Muller with my love and gratitude
The blurb on the back:
One chance in a thousand...
Kendall was on the roof. Only he had a chance to save the girl's life - if he could get into the apartment. But the only entrance was through a window halfway down the narrow airshaft. There was no fire escape, no drainpipe, no foothold of any kind. The shaft plunged downward like a sheer drop to hell...
Kendall hesitated. If he could press his feet against one wall, and his back against the other, he might be able to inch his way down. If he didn't rip his hands to shreds. If the murderous cold didn't get him first... There was one chance in a thousand. Kendall let himself slowly over the side.
Holly Roth, author of Operation Doctors, The Mask of Glass and The Van Dreisen Affair, has once again written a brilliant suspense novel with an ingenious plot and a startling solution.
He had made and finished his breakfast and was standing forlornly in the hall surveying the insane chaos - the apartment had been wrecked, and the ruins then tossed about in an orgy of apparently insane vandalism - when the doorbell rang.
Forget the scenario on the back of the book, 'cos it bears little or no relevance to the book. And the book is actually very fine indeed in a small sort of way. A long-term communist sleeper agent is arrested whilst working for the US Army and sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court. Public outcry at his treatment, however, obliges the security forces to try to salvage something from the PR disaster, and they allow a journalist to interview the agent for a series of pieces. Only then do they discover that the spy's been slipping secrets out in the quotes he's giving the writer to use.
Fairly straightforward Cold War stuff then, but it doesn't outstay its welcome and it does have some nice little ruminations on the modern world:
Stupidity, mismanagement - why, they're basic, fundamental, in democracy. When you've got a lot of people with a lot of different ideas running anything - to say nothing of a vast country - sure you get stupidity, waste, all sorts of minor sins. But not the major sin. (p.32)
According to what I know, Holly Roth (1916-1964) was also the author of The Content Assignment (1954), Mask of Glass (1954), Crimson in the Purple (1956), Shadow of a Lady (1957), The Van Dreisen Affair (1960), Operation Doctors (1962), Too Many Doctors (1963) and Button, Button (1966), and - under the pseudonym KG Ballard - of Coast of Fear (1957), Bar Sinister (1960) and Gauge of Deception (1963).
from the maker of:
'A pleasure cruise turns into a horrific nightmare'
ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 2/5