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Mystery Monday Review – The Arena

The Arena
by William Haggard

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this crime and spy novel from 1961, the merchant bank known as Bonavias is declining. However, a upstart competitor approaches them, offering an amount 20% over Bonavias’ market value. Series hero Col. Russell must become interested when he learns that also part of the deal is a research start-up called Radarmic. There is suspicion that an unfriendly power wants access to the radar technology Radarmic is developing. The rep of the unfriendly power would stoop to criminal violent means to take over the bank and the start-up.

Haggard, an Englishman, was an intelligence officer in India during WWII and then worked in Whitehall after the war. So he has the knowledge and experience that we trust in a writer of intelligent crime and espionage stories. Back in the day, Haggard’s novels were not popular in the US, though critics often praised his work as “James Bond for adults.”

Like William F. Buckley’s series hero Blackford Oakes, hero Col. Charles Russell, head of the Security Executive is a “man of the right.” The department minds odd security issues that fall in the grey areas where no clear authority to act exists. Russell is a cheerful conservative who maintains his cool in stressful situations. Russell doesn’t do much except think and talk to people in posh clubs and stuffy offices. He spends much time being perplexed. I don’t know how Haggard makes this fascinating and un-put-downable. But he does.

Haggard’s ability to take the reader into the closed worlds of research, government, criminal syndicates and spy agencies is irresistible. At least to readers who like John le Carré, John Bingham, Emma Lathen, or Alan Furst.



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