Sion Crossing (David Audley, Book 14)
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Anthony Price – full name Alan Anthony Price – wrote twenty books from 1970 to 1990. Nineteen of those were spy novels (the twentieth, The Eyes of the Fleet: A Popular History of Frigates and Frigate Captains, a non-fiction title published in 1990, was his final work – at least, to date; Price is still with us), which, together, form one of the best espionage series ever penned by a single author, a brilliantly sustained, wonderfully interconnected, richly historical fictional – yet entirely plausible – universe starring operatives of a branch of Britain's Intelligence Services (later identified as the Research and Development Section).
Though written in the third person, each story is told from the perspective of one of a rotating cast of intelligence types. The series begins with 1970's The Labyrinth Makers and Dr. David Audley, a socially awkward, prematurely middle-aged Middle East expert with a fascination for archaeology and history – subjects that remain abiding concerns throughout the subsequent eighteen novels. We also meet Audley's fellow operatives, sensitive, dedicated Squadron Leader Hugh Roskill and hard-headed, carrot-topped military man Major – soon to become Colonel – Jack Butler, each of whom will take their turn in the limelight in later books.
Price's closest contemporary is probably John le Carré, but Price was well into his series by the time Le Carré's masterwork, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, arrived in 1974. And while there are similarities between the two writers in the way they have their characters examine evidence in order to arrive at conclusions, Price has little time for Le Carré's methodical digging through of old files; much of that sort of thing takes place off-page, leaving more room for the subsequent ruminations and discussions. The late H. R. F. Keating put it most appositely (and pithily) in a blurb reproduced on the back covers of some of the later editions of Price's books: "If think's your thing, here's richness in plot, dialogue, implications."
A Crime Writers' Association Silver and Gold Dagger Award winner, Price is rather overlooked these days, which is remarkable when you consider how terrific his stories are. There's scant information about him online; he has a Wikipedia entry – although the dates in the bibliography are inaccurate, possibly because they take the American publication dates rather than the original British ones; see below for a more accurate bibliography – and there are one or two good articles on the themes and chronology of his spy series (which ranges from 1944 to 1988); this one by Jo Walton and this one by David Dyer-Bennet (with its attendant booknotes) are the best of the bunch. But the odd individual review aside, that's about it.
David Audley - 14
During the famous - or infamous -'March through Georgia', a detachment of General Sherman's troops paid a flying visit to Sion Crossing, plundered it, and left it in flames with the Confederate militia hot on their tail.
That was August 1864. In August 1984 Oliver St. John Latimer, the new deputy-director of the Research and Development Section of British Intelligence, follows the footsteps of Sherman's 'bummers' to the Sion Crossing ruins -also with fearful results.
Oliver is small and fat and unpopular and shy and very good at his job, which is nevertheless properly behind a desk just off Whitehall, and not in deepest Georgia: he is an economist by training and a skilled Kremlin-watcher and spy-catching organiser by choice. But a personal plea via the CIA from the politically-influential Senator Thomas Cookridge, newly-appointed Chairman of the President's Atlantic Defence Committee, catches Oliver in a vulnerable moment, when he is bitterly disappointed with his promotion to the No. 2 job instead of the top one. A personal favour done to the Senator could be a bright feather on his cap; and the fact that chance has offered him an opportunity which the Senator actually intended to give to his oldl colleague, rival and enemy, David Audley, nudges him into acceptance. In any case, all he has to do is assess the worth of another man's research.
But there is in reality something very different waiting for Oliver in America. Fortunately, chance has also alerted British Intelligence, and David Audley and Paul Mitchell, back in London, find themselves digging to find out what the devil Senator Cookridge is really up to. But unfortunately for Oliver the elusive truth is well-calculated to delay and delude while the trap closes around him three thousand miles away, among new treacheries and on the exact site of the Sion Crossing skirmish between the Blue and the Grey soldiers of the American Civil War, long ago.
Anthony Price Bibliography
The Labyrinth Makers (1970) (CWA Silver Dagger)
The Alamut Ambush (1971)
Colonel Butler's Wolf (1972)
October Men (1973)
Other Paths to Glory (1974) (CWA Gold Dagger)
Our Man in Camelot (1975)
War Game (1976)
The '44 Vintage (1978)
Tomorrow's Ghost (1979)
The Hour of the Donkey (1980)
Soldier No More (1981)
The Old Vengeful (1982)
Gunner Kelly (1983)
Sion Crossing (1984)
Here Be Monsters (1985)
For the Good of the State (1986)
A New Kind of War (1987)
A Prospect of Vengeance (1988)
The Memory Trap (1989)
seemed. It would be so easy to show her those underlinings, but that would recall their pain. “There’s a sort of guessing that has its place in scholarship, you know. It’s like a ladder in snakes-and-ladders … only then you have to go back and check all the squares you’ve jumped, to find out what’s in them. If you’re a true scholar, that is.” He offered her a half-smile. “Sometimes what one thinks is a ladder turns out to be more like a snake.” She considered that inadequate simile briefly. “And
the Chairman of the President’s new defence committee, for whose favour he had come all this way; she had led him to that crucial question herself. “Yes, I can understand that, too.” He nodded understandingly. “It’s the same with us. ‘On Her Majesty’s Service’ is not exactly the quickest route to treasure on earth … so he tried to find a short-cut for you.” He smiled at her, only slightly discomforted by that familiar twinge of self-knowledge and self-contempt. “‘Tom’ being your step-father, I
head ached, and he felt airlessly air-conditioned if not actually cold; and although it would no doubt be hellishly hot and humid outside in the real Georgia of 1983 and 1864, that was where he wanted to be now. He’d had enough of documents, and clues down, and across, for the time being. He drew a deep breath, and tried to indicate that he’d had enough of scholarship for the time being, without actually saying so. “Would you like something to eat?” She misread the signal. “No. I’d like to
smiled suddenly. “Or, at least, I can’t abide it in my alleged peers, let’s say. I don’t mind it in the next generation, so long as it is decently concealed.” God! thought Mitchell. That smile was for him! “Ambition.” He couldn’t resist the word. “Yes,” Audley turned back to Butler. “Last Friday, of all days … I’d guess he was somewhat depressed, if not totally surprised and disappointed. And then Senator Thomas Cookridge appeared to him out of the blue, Jack. What a chance! And what a feather
about it,” he advised casually. “It’ll save time.” Mitchell nodded. He must get the procedure right too, otherwise all hell would break loose around their ears, with all sorts of funnies alerted, from the Bomb Squad to the SAS. “Line cleared,” said Elizabeth. “Please state origin of call, Mr. Robertson.” “Thank you.” Mr. Robertson’s ‘All Clear’ signal resided in those innocent words, repeated. “Thank you.” Just enough time for an intake of breath. “Are you all right, Paul?” “Quite okay,