Desmond Bagley: Running Blind

Running BlindRunning Blind
Desmond Bagley
First published in the UK, 1970, Collins
This edition, 2000, House of Stratus
ISBN: 1842320165
230 pages

Like a proper thriller, this starts by chucking you into the middle of something. Alan Stewart is standing by the side of a desolate road in Iceland, having just stabbed somebody to death.

He had bled like a cow in a Moslem slaughter house.


Stewart is a former British agent, forced out of retirement to deliver a package to Akureyri in Northern Iceland*. Stewart is a Scot who spends much of his time in Iceland. He speaks the language, knows the countryside, and has an Icelandic girlfriend called Elin (or Erin, if you believe the back cover).

No sooner has he arrived in Akureyri than the package is stolen in suspicious circumstances (suspicious, even in an espionage context). Slade, Stewart’s boss, is furious and abandons him to his fate. This is bad news because it turns out that Stewart’s old enemy Kennikin is on his trail. Kennikin is KGB, believes Stewart is still with the Department, and moreover has a personal grudge against him – the kind of thing you don’t forget in a hurry.

Soon, Stewart is on the run across the harsh frozen centre of Iceland, trying to keep out of the way of the British (who may or may not be rogue), Americans from Keflavik airbase, and Kennikin’s Russians.

The forbidding landscape and Icelandic names add some local colour:

We  went outside to find it was as dark as it ever gets in the Icelandic summer. There was no moon but there was visibility of sorts in a kind of ghostly twilight. There was a soft explosion among the hot pools and the eerie spectre of Strokkur rose into the air, a fading apparition which dissipated into wind-blown shreds. There was a stink of sulphur in the air.

Elin is disgusted by killing and disapproves of her boyfriend’s choice of career. Every step of the way Alan tries to persuade her to get somewhere safe, but despite her peaceable Icelandic heritage she proves a useful ally – not as useful, though, as his new rifle and his little Scottish throwing knife.

The writing has the matter-of-fact, slightly nerdy gallows humour I associate with driving instructors and health-and-safety lectures:

While a .375 jacketed bullet with a magnum charge behind it probably wouldn’t drill through a jeep from end to end at a range of a hundred yards, I wouldn’t like to bet on it by standing behind the jeep.

And that’s it, really, apart from an interesting idea for a macguffin. It’s a competent thriller, lent a bit of interest by the Icelandic setting, but I can’t see how it earned its place in the CWA top 100.

* I’ve been there; and I had a guillemot for dinner.

Final destination: Back to the library

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Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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7 Responses to Desmond Bagley: Running Blind

  1. I doubt I would ever read this book, but I laughed out loud at your review. Guillemot! My my.


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Excellent, excellent review, Rich! So witty! The book’s not my cuppa but the review? Well-done!


  3. Neil Smith says:

    Goodness – this takes me back! This was one of the first adult books I ever read at eleven or twelve (my parents were fans). I can hardly remember anything about the plot, but there’s a line in it somewhere that lodged in my memory, about how nice it is to see the surprise on people’s faces when they find out you can speak a language they’re not expecting you to know. For that alone, I probably have a lot to be grateful to Mr Bagley for…


    • westwoodrich says:

      Hi Neil

      That line is in there – something about only 20,000 people speaking Icelandic (I’m guessing the number).

      I learnt the Icelandic for @ when I visited – ‘snigill’, which means ‘snail’. I quite liked that.


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