Every now and then, I long for something predictable and comforting in a bedtime reading book.
John Le Carré remains the cynosure of all authors in this respect, as far as I’m concerned.
Ted Allbeury and Adam Hall, author of the “Quiller” series of thrillers, stand foremost in the second rank.
So, I was pleased to find “Quiller Balalaika” available a few weeks back, and bought it and, predictably, enjoyed it.
After I finished it last night, I noticed there were two more short sections:
A Coda by Jean-Pierre Trevor, and an Afterword by Chaille Trevor.
What’s this, I thought?
I’d been intending to google the author of the Quiller books, Adam Hall, which I knew was a synonym, to find out more about the man who wrote such singular novels, full of fury and drive and power and a unique, beyond-bold attitude on the part of Quiller.
I didn’t even have to turn on the computer today to do the search, it turns out, because the Coda and Afterword were by Adam Hall’s son and widow.
It turns out that Hall, whose real name was Elleston Trevor, was dying of cancer as he struggled to finish “Quiller Balalaika,” the last of his more than 100 novels over a 50-year career, in 1995.
His son and then-wife wrote of his fierce devotion to finishing this last of his books even as he suffered so much pain he had to dictate the final chapter to his son, one painstaking word at a time.
To me, the profound thing is that if you didn’t know the back story I’ve furnished above, you’d never know this book was created under any conditions other than the author’s usual.
From the novel:
- He is also brilliant, ruthless, and without mercy when the choice is to abandon a mission or the life of its shadow executive in the field, showing compassion only when the cost is nothing. He saved my life once, and that had been the price.
Got his back up, the executive from London turning down his toys, the Heckler and Koch and the SIG and the Smith & Wesson, but I always have trouble going through Clearance when I refuse to draw weapons. What people don’t realize is that your hands are always available – you don’t have to reach for them in a hurry, and they don’t jam.
Head felt like a drum this morning, taut, vibrating, not terribly surprising I suppose. I hoped it would feel normal again soon: I had to be operational as soon as I could manage it, you get trapped on the street by bad luck and you’re feeling like a zombie and it’s finito, I don’t need to tell you that.
At times you can come very close to despair, and that’s the most dangerous thing of all, except panic. You can take your time over despair, but panic is quick acting, deadly. I’ve never given in to panic, but yes, I’ve come close to despair.
It was the first time I’d taken an uncalculated risk during a mission, and now I knew why the idea had always frightened me: with a calculated risk, when you know most of the data, most of the hazards and the chances of escape, you can keep a modicum of control over the operation. Without that, you’re plunging into the labyrinth blind, and may God have mercy on you.
Mea culpa. But stay, be gentle with me, my good friend, grant me your charity, for madness of whatever kind can come upon any man at any time.
There have been times in my life, in my career – which is my life – when I’ve known that I’ve placed myself outside reality, committed myself to achieving the unachievable. It’s very dangerous, but on these occasions there is no choice.
Although this doesn’t apply only to training. It applies to whatever you want to do in life, whatever you’ve got to do. It’s the ultimate key to success, and it’s the only one, so when you’ve found it, don’t lose it. We create our own reality. You’ve seen those bumper stickers in Moscow – Shit happens. And those people are dead right – that’s what happens to them, because that’s what they expect – they get what they’re looking for, what they’ve created for themselves.
The final sentence of Chaille Trevor’s Afterword:
- Jean-Pierre and I took Elleston’s ashes to the top of Ziegler Mountain, which overlooks my mother’s ranch in the White Mountains of Arizona. Elleston loved a view. Standing on boulders by an ancient twisted tree, one can see over miles of wilderness and hear only the wind. Jean-Pierre and I lifted our glasses of Fernet Branca, Quiller’s favorite drink, toward the distance and toasted the flight of Elleston’s spirit.