Share via Email A chilling read … mountains in Chukotka, Siberia. Kolymsky Heights is, on first analysis, just another spy thriller. First published in , it is essentially a late cold war era man-on-a-mission thriller — with the emphasis firmly on the word cold. Porter is the only westerner who can hope to break into and out of a top secret scientific research base that is literally hidden inside a mountain in Siberia. So secret is this base that nobody who ever enters is allowed to leave alive. Porter, however, is descended from Canadian Inuits, who remain — physically, ethnically and culturally — virtually identical to their Siberian counterparts, despite the decades-long political rift between the two.
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I thought that this was a very big statement and would I be let down by the boast, and to be honest I think he undersold it! As someone who has enjoyed reading classic adventure thrillers from the inter war period of the 20s and 30s it reminded me very much of that excellent but long forgotten genre.
Kolymsky Heights is an adventure, with spy —espionage wrapped up in a thriller out in the frozen tundra of Siberia. How he managed to get the research about some of the most isolated places on earth that Russia does not allow foreigners unless they are sentenced there.
The isolation of Siberia the darkness of winter, and the harshness of the place seeps through the pages the imagery the writing brings is absolutely fantastic.
I struggle with English and my bar French and German! All this requested by a Russian scientist, Rogachev, who had met Johnny many years before at a conference at Oxford University. We see how he is trained as a Korean sailor on a Japanese tramp boat that will sail to the arctic north, the last ship through before it freezes over get off and somehow go to work in his Siberian adventure.
How he is able to gain entry to Siberia how he survives and completes his mission is pure adventure while his potential escape is the thriller how he has to keep in front of the Russian Security Service. He knows they will hunt him down like a rabbit and they will not stop until they have him, he knows he is alone and must use his wits to survive. Lionel Davidson produced an excellent book with Kolymsky Heights and it is unfortunate that we will never get a sequel but this is a pure pleasure to read.
It is a page turner in the classic style and Davidson is a wonderful storyteller that can make you believe whatever he wrote on a page.
A book for the beach: Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson
He blazed a trail with articulate and complex international spy stories just before John Le Carre and Len Deighton achieved celebrity status. A message is secretly sent to the West, and the intelligence services send a Native Canadian — the talented Johnny Porter — to retrieve the secret. Porter is Special Forces trained and multilingual. He infects himself with a Yellow Fever-like virus on purpose, knowing that he will have to be medically evacuated from the ship to the nearest hospital with isolation facilities. Once ashore in Siberia he is treated, recovers, and then does another identity swap. As Kolya, a good natured Chukchi Eskimo, he gets a job driving a truck. With the help of a surprising ally, whose identity is best withheld here, and a group of indigenous Evenk herdsmen, Porter gains access to the forbidden unit at Tcherny Vodi.
To be fair, it did start rather well at least, if one sets aside the rather laboured, scene-setting prologue. And his cranking of the race-against-time plot is so relentless that it offers little time to reflect on the daftness of the whole thing. A solidly researched and bone-chilling adventure in a savage setting, with a superb hero. It has a very gripping story line, and the escape back of the main character is absolutely fascinating, I could not put the book down.