A brilliant young electronics expert is killed by a car bomb seemingly meant for the head of the Foreign Office's Middle-Eastern Section. Intelligence officer Hugh Roskill is sent by David Audley on an investigation that takes him from London club-land to the Hampshire countryside, and deep into the complexities of Middle Eastern politics, to find the answer to two questions: who was the real target of the bomb?
And what is Alamut? Against the backdrop of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the period before the Camp David Accords, Dr Audley and Colonel Butler are confronted with an assassin capable of turning the Middle Eastern conflict into Armageddon. Anthony Price was born in England in 1928. He became a captain in the British Army before studying at Oxford University, then became a journalist on the Westminster Press and Oxford Times. Price is the author of nineteen novels featuring Dr David Audley and Colonel Jack Butler, which focus on a group of counter-intelligence agents.
Approximately twenty years elapse between the first and last novel in the series, and most of the plots are connected with one or more important events in military history. The first three novels were adapted into a six-part BBC TV drama in the 1980s, and The Labyrinth Makers (for which he won a CWA Silver Dagger) and Other Paths to Glory have both been produced as BBC radio dramas.
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Somewhere he had once been happy
The intrigue and the settings.
I shall try another Anthony Price novel.
The male characters sounded as though they were professionally equal and contemporaries, even though they were neither.
In spite of its title, “The Alumet Ambush” (1971) is a curiously domestic novel, with its East Sussex settings and Departmental feuds in London, the latter reminiscent of a dysfunctional family. The South coast scenes – the South Downs, the Old Man of Wilmington, Jevington, Alfriston, East Firle, the Beacon – are, however, Anthony Price’s solution to the task of writing about England and yet seeking to invoke international espionage, largely through conversations, rather than actions reported in the third person, in different English locations. For those scenes are memories of England; not simply England, rather than Britain, but a narrow sub-set of Englishness. Firle is "somewhere he [Roskill, the main character] had once been happy." If readers can accept that the murder of a spy, which sets the plot going, is globally significant in spite of its domestic and institutional context, and accept that the conflict between Arabs and Jews in the immediate pre-Camp David period can be understood in terms that East Firle and the Department will appreciate then “The Alumet Ambush” will work for them.
Although the characters can easily be ranked in seniority, they all sound (in the audio version, at least) like equals and contemporaries, and probably contemporaries at their various public schools. A few are ex-RAF types. The main female characters, Faith and Mary, verge on being ridiculous, guilty signs, perhaps, of a liberal author writing in a sexist genre. David Audley is the most interesting character, not least because of Price’s technique of keeping him on the periphery for a while and coming at him via Hugh Foskill. It is Audley who will likely lead me to read another of Anthony Price’s unusual spy novels, even though this novel doesn’t work for me.
Another superb reading