Monday, August 3, 2015

Vintage Mystery #16

I read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge 2015. The challenge is to read 6 or more Vintage Mysteries. All novels must have been originally written between 1960 and 1989 inclusive and be from the mystery category.

I read this for the category E-5 “Set in the UK or the US”

The Unquiet Sleep - William Haggard, 1962

Informal research and anecdotal evidence indicate Meron, a new tranquillizer, may be addictive. A criminal gang of Cypriots in England wants the drug to be declared dangerous so that they can provide it to its target market. Busy executives like the benefit: one tranquilly sleeps for an hour, then feels bright-eyed and bushy-tailed enough for a night on the town. For middle-aged execs, the chance to take their wives out in the evening and escape charges of neglect is too attractive to pass up.

The government persuades the pharmaceutical company to withdraw Meron from the market so that research on its adverse effects, if any, can be determined. Col. Charles Russell and his underling Rachel Borrodaile check the availability of Meron on the black market.  Then, the principle investigator heading the research project is found dead in suspicious circumstances.

Colonel Russell heads the Security Executive. Its mission is simply to investigate matters that may cause the country hazard or risk, matters that don’t fall under the purview of other government watchdogs. The plot often hinges on new devices with a military application or in this case new products such as medications. Banks, research firms, and sophisticated criminal syndicates all put their hand in the situation. The human element plays a big part in plot development: marriages are shaky, health scares abound, middle-age offers the usual hazards.

At less than 200 pages the novels with Col. Russell always feature sharp, literate excitement. The political intrigue and existential angst of the middle-aged male professionals are both utterly plausible. Haggard’s female characters challenge me. On one hand,  Haggard’s portrayals seems wildly sexist in that Rachel Borrodaile wants to be seen for her womanly qualities instead of as just a “good soldier” or “good scout.” But Haggard also assumes that of course a woman like Rachel can be just as quick-thinking, logical, and quick on the trigger as any man. After all, like an Alan Furst teenager-hero, Rachel is a former French Resistance fighter who lost her right foot in circumstances she won’t discuss.

I always get rid of mysteries when I finish them, but I keep Haggard’s novels for re-reading. I cannot think of higher praise than this

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