First published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, 1966
This edition, Pan Books, 1968
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.
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