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The Tango Briefing by Adam Hall

First published in 1973

The Tango Briefing is the fith in a series of spy novels featuring a British agent named Quiller written by Elleston Trevor using the pen name Adam Hall.  A recon flight returns pictures of something in the Algerian desert that might be an airplane. Because its suspected cargo would be dangerous in the wrong hands, Quiller is dispatched to "take a close look at the bloody thing." And bloody is just what he gets, as one would expect from a Quiller novel. He also battles dehydration, exhaustion, and the constant threat of death as he shakes off surveillance, dodges bullets, and parachutes into the desert where vultures are hoping to have him for lunch.

Quiller is a fun character. Of all the fictional spies, Quiller is probably the least likable -- and that's what makes him so easy to like. He's testy, quarrelsome, disgruntled, a loner who loathes everyone, particularly his bosses. Most of the time he behaves like a jerk, but he gets the job done. Quiller survives by relying upon his intellect, a sharp mind that is constantly at war with his instinct and the demands/fears of a body he refers to as "the organism." If often seems as if Quiller wishes he weren't burdened with frail limbs and human emotions, that he would be happier as an analytical robot.

I love the refined-but-tough first-person prose Adam Hall uses to narrate Quiller's story. His surging sentences are perfectly timed, reflecting the anxiety and restlessness of a spy waiting for the action to start. And once it starts, it's unrelenting. Action scenes are intense, particularly those that take place in the desert. They left me feeling parched. The Quiller novels aren't in the same class as the best spy fiction, but they're smart, gripping, and thoroughly entertaining. The Tango Briefing is one of the better ones.


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