I have started to get a bit tired of thrillers. There are so many of them, and after you’ve read a few dozen they start to seem almost indistinguishable. What a welcome surprise, then, to read this reprint of Lionel Davidson’s peerless 1994 novel Kolymsky Heights. Davidson is one of those writers, like Raymond Chandler, who wrote proper literature that just also happened to be genre fiction..Few novels are as scientifically or philosophically enthralling as this; few have such a wonderful sense of place. Or such a charismatic hero, or such well-drawn and complex supporting characters. Pullman says he has read it four times, and I can see why.
Kolymsky Heights is, on first analysis, just another spy thriller. First published in 1994, 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.)...I've never read a thriller that so successfully transported me to a hitherto unimagined place. After a few racy globe-trotting chapters in which Porter is painstakingly inserted into his undercover role, we enter the dark, icy world of the Siberian winter. And it never gives up its grip until the end.
"Kolymsky Heights" tells the story of an American agent's penetration of Russia's most closely guarded secret. Lionel Davidson, the author of seven previous novels, has produced here an icy marvel of invention. It is written with the panache of a master and with the wide-eyed exhilaration of an adventurer in the grip of discovery. Mr. Davidson has not only rescued one of the most familiar narrative forms of the era, the spy thriller; he has also renewed it..."Kolymsky Heights," true to the genre, bristles with arcane information about polar navigation, language, biology, genetic engineering, Arctic geography -- and, most crucially, how to assemble a truck from scratch. Mr. Davidson is masterly, and there is pleasure both in learning what he has to teach and in discovering its relevance to his story. Spy novels are like intricate puzzles, exercises in mind expansion that proceed by teasing out a solution that, through most of its evolution, seems quite impossible. In "Kolymsky Heights," one reversal after another leads to an inevitable but wholly unexpected resolution.