Details: (c) 1971 Anthony Price; Pub Futura 1981; ISBN 0-7088-1497-2
Verdict: The Alamut ambush is exciting and intricate.
Reasons for reading it: I really enjoyed The labyrinth makers by the same author. Plus, it's always a bonus to find an old-fashioned paperback that is small enough to fit in a handbag and is comfortable to read.
How it came into my hands: Birthday present from rysmiel
I didn't adore The Alamut ambush quite as much as the earlier volume. But it's still very good, and for quite a lot of the same reasons. It's a really amazing story, with loads of tension and excitement; I would even say that tAA is more exciting and action-filled than tLM, and I was quite scared in several places. Probably the best thing about it is that when the intelligencer characters solve the mystery, you can really believe that it's because of their ability and brains, and not just by authorial fiat. The atmosphere and background detail are really impressive, the sense of justified paranoia and the complicated and shifted alliances and double-crossing particularly.
I think the main reason I was less enamoured of the book is that Audley gets rather less stage time, and Roskill is not such a delightful viewpoint character. (I really hope I can justifiably infer that he survives at the end, though!) Also, the scene in Mary Hunter's room where the major enemy spy just happens to show up and just happens to be forced into a position where he is prepared to discuss his plans in detail is a little too pat. It feels like the scene in an Agatha Christie or similar mystery where the detective gathers the whole family together and explains how he solved the crime. But that's a minor flaw and doesn't at all detract from the wonderful plot twists and the completely believable fear of the assassin on the loose.
The characterization is of a very high standard. Even though I wanted more of Audley I really appreciate the way that the other spies have such distinct characters, approaches, and motivations and loyalties. That said, Price does the one thing I was really hoping he wasn't going to do, namely turning Faith into a girl and then dropping her from the story. I really liked Faith in tLM, I liked the way she was portrayed as a woman civilian in a man's professional world but still a real, three-dimensional person with her own intelligence. In tAA she's just generic arm candy for Audley, providing emotional colour by shrieking at appropriately scary moments. Then again, there are two intelligent, sensible, well-drawn women in the book, namely Isobel Ryle and Mary Hunter, so that somewhat makes up for the loss of interest in Faith.
There's also a really offensive bit of dialogue, which isn't a big part of the book, but to see something like this in a book published in 1971 is really appaling:
"He'll be there about ten thirty – he's currently wooing a doctor in Bart's"Now, it's made clear elsewhere that it's Audley the character who is homophobic, not the author. But to be making that kind of joke, which relies on the idea that nobody could ever possibly imagine that a woman could be a doctor in the seventies (incidentally some thirty years after my grandmother qualified as a doctor, and it wasn't news then), is abyssmal. (I'm also kind of uncomfortable with seeing words like wog and gyppo slung around, but that is probably realistic for the period and it is condemned by the most sympathetic characters.)
"A female doctor, man – there's nothing odd about Jake."