December 10, 2010


Peter Hitchens on the Perils of Ideology (Anna Blundy , 9 December 2010, Five Books)

The Night of Wenceslas.

Many years ago I was told by the wife of Jack Jones, who had in her distant youth been a Comintern courier – gold one way and messages the other – that whatever else I did I should go to Prague, where you could encounter the faint echoes of prewar Europe and was also an astonishingly beautiful city. So in 1977, when it was not fashionable to go there and when stag nights were not held there and people didn’t even know where it was on the map, I and my wife set out on a visit there and it exceeded expectations. Then to stumble across this novel by Lionel Davidson, an author who has been very unfairly neglected, it seems to me!

He is one of the great thriller writers of the second half of the 20th century and he’s also very funny, but this book is again a perfect description of what it is like to be in a Communist capital city and it also contains wonderful moments of fear. For example, when the hero discovers that he is, in fact – and I don’t want to spoil this for anyone reading it – carrying something in his luggage which is tremendously dangerous to him and that the authorities are after him. What follows is a mixture of terror and laughter which it would take a great deal of trouble to undo.

The final scenes, which are played out around the British Embassy in the very beautiful part of Prague where it still stands, are also a wonderful piece of work. So, for anyone who’s interested in Prague, for anyone who’s interested in being made to laugh, for anyone who’s interested in a really good espionage thriller, for anyone who wants to have the atmosphere of one of the most atmospheric cities in the world recreated, you couldn’t do better.

It sounds wonderful.

Do read it! Everybody should. There are other books by him too – The Rose of Tibet and A Long Way to Shiloh, which are fantastic books. One set in Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion and the other in pre-1967 Israel, the only really good archaeological thriller I’ve ever read.

But his best book is Kolymsky Heights.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 10, 2010 6:38 AM
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