High Citadel his second novel cannot fail to secure him a pre-eminent place among contemporary writers of adventure. The setting of High Citadel is the towering peaks of the Andes. A non-scheduled passenger plane is hi-jacked in mid-air and forced down among the forbidding mountains. The surviving passengers, stranded at 16, feet, embark on a perilous descent, only to find that they are trapped by a formidably armed and equipped Communist force, whose target is one particular V. But it soon becomes evident that the enemy is intent on wiping out the lot, and for the ex-R. The party also includes an expert in medieval warfare and a New England schoolmistress, two widely contrasting American businessmen, and a physicist with a fortunate practical bent.
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This was his second book, originally published in and displaying all the cliches of the Cold War-era thriller. The story is set in a fictional South American country adjacent to the Andes, where a decrepit American pilot flies for a tiny two-bit airline. A former jet-fighter pilot in Korea, he was shot down there and endured unimaginable horrors in a Chinese prison camp, leaving him scarred and unable to hold onto a decent job.
The other thread follows the passengers who try and MacGyver weapons to hold off the soldiers who are on the other side of a rickety rope bridge. A basic premise of the story is that all these folks would be keen to fight to the death rather than surrender to dastardly Communists -- with lots of references to how Communists are basically all sadistic torturers. And naturally, the villains are led by a Cuban officer and a Russian handler, and one of the heroes is secretly a CIA agent.
One of many alternative approaches would have been to simply approach the cave from the side and pitch a grenade or two in, instantly solving the issue. A passenger plane I picked this up by chance in a charity shop, thinking it would be a fast-moving thriller in the Alastair MacLean mould, with unconvincing villains talking tough out of the side of their mouths.
A passenger plane crash-lands in the Andes, miles from civilisation, and the heroic young pilot and oddly-assorted passengers have to figure out how to survive in a hostile landscape.
So far, so very Night Without End, which has exactly the same beginning, only in a deadly Arctic landscape. Curt, moody, alcoholic and sexist. However, his passengers fill out the cast satisfyingly - although I could have done with a little more character delineation here and there. My favourites were Jennifer Ponsky and Dr Armstrong and to say why would spoil the plot.
Yes, the plot. I would have been happy just with the drama of how the passengers extricate themselves from their deadly crash site, too far up in the mountains to be able to breathe properly. But this is a thriller so we must have a rather unconvincing South American Communist plot. We also get a terrifying mountain journey across a glacier thrown in and a hectic final reel involving a battle of wits on a military airfield and an aerial dogfight.
But having had very little expectation of it, it was an unexpected pleasure. Ainakin osalle hahmoista. Set in the Andes Mountains, where a small aircraft crashes, with a rebel leader on board and the ruling junta which caused the crash trying to liquidate him. And the pilot who crash-lands the plane on a remote mining air-strip on a hill-top and a few passengers who find themselves accidentally caught in the plot.
A test of endurance for the characters and a treat for the readers.
High Citadel / Landslide