Kolymsky Heights – Lionel Davidson: A Review

Date finished: April 23rd 2015

Nothing beats a good thriller. Even if you love chick-lit or exclusively read poetry about continental drift, I can assure you that there is a thriller out there that can captivate you and keep your eyeballs glued to the print until the very last word, you just haven’t discovered it yet. If you’re looking for a place to start, you could do worse than Kolymsky Heights. 
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Originally written in 1994 to great critical reception but little longstanding attention, the book was reprinted this year and did phenomenally well, revitalising a thriller genre that had got a touch complacent in recent years.

What separates Kolymsky Heights from your ordinary thriller is that it straddles the fine line between ludicrous shoot-em-up style-over-substance of genre-giants like Lee Child, and the lucid prose of contemporary literature. What is left is an intelligent work of speculative fiction and espionage with some really satisfying chase and fight scenes to boot.

The novels premise centres on a secret Russian military-research base situated in the most inhospitable corner of Siberia. The people who work in this base are never allowed to leave and can never make contact with the outside world once they join.

However, someone has got a message out, and it’s addressed to the only man who can get him out: Dr Johnny Porter, perhaps the most ridiculously talented man in all human history. Thus begins an incredible journey as Porter crosses myriad countries to sneak into Russia, and then embeds himself in the country for months in order to work out a way to break into the most secure base in the entire world. And if he manages that, he’s got to break out and get home safely too… The question is: can he? And what strange and disturbing events have taken place at the research station?

This isn’t a novel for anyone who struggles to suspend disbelief. Porter is a scholar of language capable of learning fluent Korean in weeks, a master of disguise, and an intrepid survivalist all rolled into one. He just happens to be an expert on everything that he needs to do. If you can accept this at face value, then what follows is a rewarding, spine-tingling thriller chock full of twists and turns: pacey, well-plotted and surprising intelligent.

Kolymsky Heights is a monument to what thrillers can be when written right: intricately-plotted, full of twists and turns, intelligent, utterly ridiculous, and a hell of a lot of fun. The investigative intrigue of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo coupled with the non-stop thrills of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and the intensity of John le Carré, with a dash of the scientific speculation of Jurassic Park for good measure. It’s hard to compare this novel with a single other work and that’s the highest praise: a singular effort that can stand alongside today’s giants.

8/10

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