Book Review: Running Blind by Desmond Bagley

Desmond Bagley’s Running Blind is a slam bang, cold war thriller which features a tough Scotsman, a double dealing double-agent, a beautiful Icelandic girl and a mysterious package.

Ex-spy, former member of MI-6, Alan Stewart, is forced by his old boss to do just one more job for queen and country. Stewart is to deliver a seemingly harmless package to a contact on Iceland. The mission should have been a milk run for Stewart, who speaks flawless Icelandic and has an Icelandic girlfriend. Instead, the Scotsman is forced to kill a Russian KGB agent soon after arriving in Iceland to save the package. Still determined to complete the job, Stewart tries to deliver the packet, only to be double crossed and forced to flee.

Now on the run across some of the most stunning, yet dangerous terrain on Earth, Stewart realizes his old boss, Slade, is a double agent working for the Soviet Union. In pursuit of Stewart and the all important package are the KGB, the CIA and his own MI-6. Our hero will use have to use all his skills to stay alive, escape and reveal the mole at the heart of the British Secret Service.

Running Blind is full of testosterone-driven, yet clever, action scenes. For example, the Scotsman Stewart’s favorite weapon is a sgian dubh, a small blade that Scottish Highlanders traditional carry in their socks, which he uses to deadly effect. The gun fights are extremely realistic. At one point, Stewart dispatches a group of bad guys by shooting through the walls of the house as they seek cover inside it. The best parts of the novel besides the action scenes are the descriptions of the Icelandic landscape; bleak, yet beautiful and extremely treacherous to the uninitiated. Stewart’s use of the environment to escape his pursuers is inventive; at one point he uses a flooding river and at another a steaming geyser to shake off the chase.

Of course, Bagley did not avoid all the clichés of the cold war spy genre. Our hero is super-cool with a freeze-dried wit worthy of James Bond. The KGB agents and the double-crossing Slade are the worst of the worst with no redeeming qualities of all. The plot might not make complete sense and the revelation of what is actually in the package is too clever by half, but those things hardly distract from the novel as a whole.

Originally published in 1970, the novel has held up surprisingly well for being over forty years old. So, if you are looking to read a good, old fashioned, cold war action novel, you cannot go wrong with “Running Blind”.

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