Adam Hall’s espionage agent Quiller is the sort of man who makes Jason Bourne look like a strip-mall rent-a-cop. He makes James Bond look like a school crossing guard. He makes, well, you get the idea. Quiller is hard, and he’s grim, and the world he moves through (unarmed) is as hard and as grim as he is. A reprint edition of the third in a series that eventually stretched to nearly twenty books, The Striker Portfolio is a lean, mean espionage adventure with a painstaking attention to detail and a decidedly nihilist bent.
The premise of the novel is that expensive jet fighters are falling out of the sky over Germany, and “The Bureau”, Quiller’s agency, sends him to investigate. But soon Quiller’s lead is murdered, and the killers make a try for Quiller himself. With his cover identity wanted for the killing, Quiller follows the trail of the conspiracy across the border into East Germany, where he faces brainwashing and worse.
There’s little Bond-style flamboyance in The Striker Portfolio, if one gets past the fact that the Bureau waited until a couple of dozen planes had gone down before sending Quiller in. Even the extended car chase sequence is a mostly dry description of various automotive performance specifics, with the action of high-speed impacts described with clinical detachment. There’s more where that came from, ranging from the rationale for caviar as food for East German political prisoners (it’s salty, speeding up dehydration) to the minutiae of putting together a false identity in the field. There’s a fair bit of dialog in German as well, and it’s clear that Hall expects his audience to keep up on their own.
Tucked into the back of the new edition is an essay by Jean-Pierre Trevor, son of Elleston “Adam Hall” Trevor. It’s a curiosity piece, a disjointed ramble on growing up with Quiller, travel to Russia, and (unsuccessful) attempts to bring Quiller to the big screen with Pierce Brosnan. Completists will appreciate it, but casual readers may be a bit boggled.
The Striker Portfolio is a short book and a fast read. There’s no wasted verbiage, to the point where it feels almost too minimalist at times. Motivation, connection – all of these get summed up in a few lines at most, and sentiment is pretty much nowhere to be found. Quiller is a spy, yes, but he’s not stopping plots powered by orbital satellite lasers or bedding beautiful women. He’s one man, finding dirty secrets in a dirty world at great personal cost, and he does it for reasons that aren’t even always clear to him. Those who like their spies unsentimental, straightforward, and realistic will enjoy The Striker Portfolio. Those looking for more escapist fare will be emphatically disappointed.
(Ostra Publishing, 2011)