On Lionel Davidson’s “Kolymsky Heights” (1994).

[Crossposted on Goodreads.]

Exceptional offbeat minimalist thriller, with an unlikely hero — a “Native Canadian” linguistic anthropologist! (Actually, I think the proper term is “First Nations”.)

The book didn’t quite suit my purposes at the time — I was about to board a plane, so I wanted a relatively mindless airport novel — but it generates its own peculiar level of excitement. It’s closer in style to, say, George Smiley interviewing and re-interviewing retired Circus employees and shuffling through redacted reports — in other words, a patient, incremental enumeration of observations and deductions and steps taken.

But it’s not a procedural in the usual sense; the narrative is set on a few continents, and the last third of the novel is pretty much an extended chase sequence. It’s a surprisingly complex plot nonetheless, full of carefully calibrated moments of subterfuge, and this complexity is all the more impressive considering the fact that the plot elements can be boiled down to only two phases: there’s a top-secret base, and our hero has to get in, and he has to get out. Recommended

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