Gavin Lyall: Shooting Script

Shooting_ScriptShooting Script
Gavin Lyall
First published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, 1966
This edition, Pan Books, 1968
ISBN: 330020595
235 pages
Source: Unnamed bookshop, Cromer

I found this at a lovely little bookshop at 36 Church Street, Cromer. It appears to have no name, but may be called Much Binding. Anyway, it’s opposite Jarrolds on Church Street. Good selection of crime fiction.

Gavin Lyall wrote 15 thrillers between 1961 and 1999 – largely aviation themed. Apparently his writing was slowed by his obsession with technical accuracy. The Daily Telegraph wrote:

He spent many nights in his kitchen at Primrose Hill, north London, experimenting to see if one could, in fact, cast bullets from lead melted in a saucepan, or whether the muzzle flash of a revolver fired across a saucer of petrol really would ignite a fire.

Shooting Script, his fourth novel, has quite a strange premise: ex-fighter pilot is employed by a Hollywood director and together they get involved in a revolution in a South American dictatorship. It’s as though it were generated during a game of consequences.

The hero – delightfully named Keith – is an ex-RAF pilot who now plies his de Havilland Dove between various Caribbean islands. It sounds idyllic, but he is perpetually strapped for cash and his Dove is almost due for her very expensive check-up and service. His business is also threatened by unfounded rumours that he works for Jiminez, a revolutionary leader in the nearby Republica Libra (somewhere near Venezuela).

Jiminez was the Republica’s Robin Hood – or a lousy Commie or a great liberal leader or a racketeer gangster or … The only thing anybody really knew about Jiminez was that he thought Jiminez would make a great next President of the Republica, and the sooner the better.

So Keith jumps at the chance of some regular work for a film company making a movie in the north of Jamaica. The director and star is an old western actor named Walt Whitmore, apparently based on John Wayne. He wants some aerial shots for his new feature ‘Bolivar Smith’. JB Penrose, Whitmore’s glamorous lawyer (one of those lawyers that wears swimsuits to meetings – you know the ones), is far more interesting to Keith.


A WWII B-25 Mitchell bomber

The film needs a Spanish church, and rather than build one in Jamaica, the movie people ask Keith to fly them over to the Republica Libra to scope a location. On the flight over, Keith manages to outmanoeuvre an aggressive Republica jet and forces it to crash-land. As a result his Dove is impounded by the Republican government, but Whitmore manages to buy a very rickety old B-25 Mitchell to continue filming. Turns out its bombing gear in still intact… And somehow Keith ends up working for Jiminez after all.

Keith is a typical thriller hero of the ex-professional type, laconic and cynical:

‘Don’t fall for the King-Arthur-of-the-air stuff about fighter pilots. Clean knightly combats and all that. It’s the one trade where the whole point is to catch a man by surprise and shoot him the back.’

His motives for getting involved in an amateur bombing raid on a military base in the Republica are interestingly open to question, but his stated reasons are persuasive enough to make him one of the white hats.

If thrillers are your thing, and you haven’t read Gavin Lyall, I would definitely give Shooting Script a try. The pace is excellent, the setting is convincing, and the story makes sense despite its slightly odd premise. Despite the swimsuited-lawyer thing, the women in the book are strong characters – JB really is a top lawyer, and another is a military tactician. The bombing raid in a very fragile aircraft is tense, but is bettered by the final stand-off in a luxury apartment – in which the dice on the cover feature strongly.

Final destination: A keeper



About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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9 Responses to Gavin Lyall: Shooting Script

  1. mikeripley says:

    Gavin was a lovely bloke and it is a great shame that most of his novels are out of print, though I think MIDNIGHT PLUS ONE (his best) may still be. When the Berlin Wall came down and Russia became less hardline, he proposed a new organisation for thriller writers suffering from lack of villains: “Thrillerwriters Hoping To Unseat Gorbachev” or T.H.U.G. I think one or two people at the 1990 Bouchercon London convention actually fell for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Sounds great fun – and the cover is fantastic!


  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    Isn’t it lovely to discover a new bookshop, Rich? I’m glad you did, and I’m glad you enjoyed this book. I’m not what you’d call into thrillers, ‘though I’ve read my sahre and really enjoyed some of them. But this one sounds intriguing. Thanks for sharing.


  4. realthog says:

    I read several of Lyall’s novels in my teens, and unfailingly enjoyed them. Midnight Plus One was the first I read (I got it through the Companion Book Club, for those with exceptionally long memories!); great page-turning stuff. Shooting Script was, I recall, another goody.

    Britain seemed at the time to have a sort of production line for turning out topnotch tale-tellers — of whom Alistair Maclean is probably the only one much remembered now. But there were people like Lyall, Hammond Innes, Desmond Bagley, Victor Canning . . . with the likes of Geoffrey Household their immediate precursors.


  5. The shop’s called Much Binding: Anglia&locc=Norfolk
    It seems you were lucky to get in…


  6. tracybham says:

    This sounds like a fascinating author. I will check out some of his books


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