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Kolymsky Heights

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From the heart of Siberia have come coded messages implying a mysterious secret to be entrusted to only one man. How that individual gets in, finds the contacts, and tries to get the secret out is a masterpiece of wrenching excitementand immensely intelligent storytellling. Lionel Davidson is an award-winning author critically acclaimed on a par with le Carre, Forsyth and From the heart of Siberia have come coded messages implying a mysterious secret to be entrusted to only one man. How that individual gets in, finds the contacts, and tries to get the secret out is a masterpiece of wrenching excitementand immensely intelligent storytellling. Lionel Davidson is an award-winning author critically acclaimed on a par with le Carre, Forsyth and Follett.

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From the heart of Siberia have come coded messages implying a mysterious secret to be entrusted to only one man. How that individual gets in, finds the contacts, and tries to get the secret out is a masterpiece of wrenching excitementand immensely intelligent storytellling. Lionel Davidson is an award-winning author critically acclaimed on a par with le Carre, Forsyth and From the heart of Siberia have come coded messages implying a mysterious secret to be entrusted to only one man. How that individual gets in, finds the contacts, and tries to get the secret out is a masterpiece of wrenching excitementand immensely intelligent storytellling. Lionel Davidson is an award-winning author critically acclaimed on a par with le Carre, Forsyth and Follett.

30 review for Kolymsky Heights

  1. 4 out of 5

    Luffy

    I have never reached the last page of a book, then started reading it from page one without missing a beat. But I came close with this book. A newspaper describes this as the best thriller these past 25 years. I think that what books like I Am Pilgrim fails to do, this book accomplishes and ticks every box. There is a lot of work that has gone into the book. And a lot of thought too. Kolymsky Heights is vivid and original. Thousands of years ago, the people from Siberia migrated through what is no I have never reached the last page of a book, then started reading it from page one without missing a beat. But I came close with this book. A newspaper describes this as the best thriller these past 25 years. I think that what books like I Am Pilgrim fails to do, this book accomplishes and ticks every box. There is a lot of work that has gone into the book. And a lot of thought too. Kolymsky Heights is vivid and original. Thousands of years ago, the people from Siberia migrated through what is now the Bering Strait, came to North America and came to be called Indians. However Canadian Indians are different, since they retained their original features. The Bering Strait is the key to the story. Due to the ease of ebooks, you don't need to beg, borrow, or steal it. I heartily recommend Kolymsky Heights.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. An Old-Fashioned Thriller, but what a Thriller: "Kolymsky Heights" by Lionel Davidson I’m not much of a classic thriller reader myself but I loved that icy photo on the cover. That was what drew me in! "Kolymsky Heights" really is a cracker. Page turning narrative, and the writing of place is superb; Davidson takes me to the Siberian wilderness every bit as much as any travel writer ever has. This is my first novel from him. I came acro If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. An Old-Fashioned Thriller, but what a Thriller: "Kolymsky Heights" by Lionel Davidson I’m not much of a classic thriller reader myself but I loved that icy photo on the cover. That was what drew me in! "Kolymsky Heights" really is a cracker. Page turning narrative, and the writing of place is superb; Davidson takes me to the Siberian wilderness every bit as much as any travel writer ever has. This is my first novel from him. I came across this first novel, from a friend of mine. Davidson has two deep traits: how sentences and how characters work. Both are deployed superbly in the Story: the syntax drew me into the very thought processes, what it is to be the fascinating characters he depicts. It’s old-fashioned in a good way, it’s full of drama and adventure, exotic locations, goodies and baddies, as every spy Book worth its salt should be. For most of the books I read, I always write lots of notes to allow me, later on, to breeze through the review. That’s close reading for you! This time round, I didn’t write a single line. And that is actually not a bad thing.     If you're into Spy Fiction of the Ian Fleming variety, read on.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ian Brydon

    There has been terrific hype about this novel recently, which is unusual for a book published more than twenty years ago. Various authors whose own works I have read and enjoyed, such as Philip Pullman and Charles Cumming, have been quoted as citing it as one of the finest thrillers they have ever read. Having just tried to read it myself I am left wondering whether they were talking about some other book, because it is difficult to reconcile their views with mine. To be fair, it did start rather There has been terrific hype about this novel recently, which is unusual for a book published more than twenty years ago. Various authors whose own works I have read and enjoyed, such as Philip Pullman and Charles Cumming, have been quoted as citing it as one of the finest thrillers they have ever read. Having just tried to read it myself I am left wondering whether they were talking about some other book, because it is difficult to reconcile their views with mine. To be fair, it did start rather well (at least, if one sets aside the rather laboured, scene-setting prologue). A series of coded messages are sent to Professor Lazenby, an ageing Oxford academic specialising in some of the more esoteric aspects of biology. In fact, the first message is sent in such a convoluted manner that Professor Lazenby never receives it. The second is identified as such, and eventually decoded, though Lazenby is initially mystified as to the sender. Gradually, however, he calls to mind an encounter at an academic conference some years previously with a Soviet counterpart and a young Native American who turned out to be a dynamic prodigy in both linguistics and anthropology. It transpires that the messages are indeed seeking to engage the Native American, inviting, or even exhorting him, to make his way to an ultra-secret Soviet base in the depths of Siberia where strange things, including the development of a quasi-Neanderthal race, are happening. It does, however, soon sink into farce. The young man, known as Johnny Porter, is certainly out of the ordinary, though as the novel progresses he evolves into something virtually superhuman. Not only does he seem to have mastered English, a plethora of Native American languages and dialects, Russian, Japanese, Korea and every dialectic variance of all of those languages, he is a master of disguise and also manages to build a jeep by hand on his own in a cave by the Kolyma River. It was at that stage that I gave up. I know that one should be able to suspend disbelief now and again, and to grant a degree of licence to the novelist, but there are limits. My disbelief would have had to have been utterly moribund in order to persist with this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Kolymsky Heights – A Masterpiece of a Thriller Kolymsky Heights from the late Lionel Davidson has just been re-released by Faber & Faber with an introduction from Philip Pullman with the testimonial that it was “The best thriller I’ve ever read.” I thought that this was a very big statement and would I be let down by the boast, and to be honest I think he undersold it! As someone who has enjoyed reading classic adventure thrillers from the inter war period of the 20s and 30s it reminded me ve Kolymsky Heights – A Masterpiece of a Thriller Kolymsky Heights from the late Lionel Davidson has just been re-released by Faber & Faber with an introduction from Philip Pullman with the testimonial that it was “The best thriller I’ve ever read.” I thought that this was a very big statement and would I be let down by the boast, and to be honest I think he undersold it! As someone who has enjoyed reading classic adventure thrillers from the inter war period of the 20s and 30s it reminded me very much of that excellent but long forgotten genre. Kolymsky Heights is an adventure, with spy –espionage wrapped up in a thriller out in the frozen tundra of Siberia. Once you have read Kolymsky Heights it is easy to see why Lionel Davidson won the Crime Writers Association’s Gold Dagger Award three times. How he managed to get the research about some of the most isolated places on earth that Russia does not allow foreigners unless they are sentenced there. The isolation of Siberia the darkness of winter, and the harshness of the place seeps through the pages the imagery the writing brings is absolutely fantastic. The hero of Kolymsky Heights is Dr Johnny Porter who is a Gitxsan Indian, a Canadian professor of anthropology who has mastered the languages and dialects of the various tribes of Northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia, as well as Korean, Russian and Japanese. I struggle with English and my bar French and German! Johnny Porter is super intelligent and is required for a delicate mission that would require him to enter Siberia somehow get out on his own and at the same time gather some intelligence on a “Weather Station” and research station in the middle of a closed area that the Security Services protected. All this requested by a Russian scientist, Rogachev, who had met Johnny many years before at a conference at Oxford University. The CIA’s interest and training would eventually deliver Johnny in to Siberia but then he would be alone. We see how he is trained as a Korean sailor on a Japanese tramp boat that will sail to the arctic north, the last ship through before it freezes over get off and somehow go to work in his Siberian adventure. How he is able to gain entry to Siberia how he survives and completes his mission is pure adventure while his potential escape is the thriller how he has to keep in front of the Russian Security Service. He knows they will hunt him down like a rabbit and they will not stop until they have him, he knows he is alone and must use his wits to survive. Lionel Davidson produced an excellent book with Kolymsky Heights and it is unfortunate that we will never get a sequel but this is a pure pleasure to read. It is a page turner in the classic style and Davidson is a wonderful storyteller that can make you believe whatever he wrote on a page.

  5. 5 out of 5

    James Harris

    If you watch a Bond film thinking: well yes, all this excitement and adventure is all very well, but how does Bond book his plane tickets, and how many stops does he have along the way? THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU! There's a mad Russian scientist doing mad Sci-fi things in a top secret Russian military base in Russia and our hero has to go and infiltrate that base for REASONS. But the actual infiltration takes up about 30 pages of a 500 page novel. The rest is about getting him to the base, and boy do we If you watch a Bond film thinking: well yes, all this excitement and adventure is all very well, but how does Bond book his plane tickets, and how many stops does he have along the way? THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU! There's a mad Russian scientist doing mad Sci-fi things in a top secret Russian military base in Russia and our hero has to go and infiltrate that base for REASONS. But the actual infiltration takes up about 30 pages of a 500 page novel. The rest is about getting him to the base, and boy do we read about that in minute detail, and a bit of getting him out. Weird storytelling decision that, but I assume it's deliberate. Anyway, it's interesting but pretty far from thrilling.

  6. 4 out of 5

    James

    If you are the type of person who while watching some blockbuster thriller thinks to themselves I am enjoying this hand to hand combat between the hero and the evil henchman on top of a gondola in the alps but I wonder how he got there in the first place, did he buy a return ticket? Did he ask for the ticket in English or did he ask for it in the local language, maybe he rented a car, I wonder if he put in on a credit card, than this is so the book for you. Finally at long last a thriller which r If you are the type of person who while watching some blockbuster thriller thinks to themselves I am enjoying this hand to hand combat between the hero and the evil henchman on top of a gondola in the alps but I wonder how he got there in the first place, did he buy a return ticket? Did he ask for the ticket in English or did he ask for it in the local language, maybe he rented a car, I wonder if he put in on a credit card, than this is so the book for you. Finally at long last a thriller which reflects the presumably rather mundane life of secret agents as they travel to all manner of far away locations with a meticulous logging of all the steps this takes. This does make the book rather plodding in parts but it's a mesmerizing plod, a plod which one rather enjoys and it unfolds with stately grace seldom encountered in a thriller. There some minor distractions in the form of Russian scientists, an amorous health officer, secret science breakthroughs, enigmatic heroes and a stirring chase at the end. Mostly though it's a very pleasant zen of travel. Perfect I would imagine for the trans Siberian railway.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gerald Sinstadt

    This was Lionel Davidson's last book (he died in 2009). His son has recorded elsewhere the problems of its creation - it was rewritten three times. Having been an admirer of this author since the days of The Night of Wenceslas and Smith's Gazelle and others, it was a great joy to discover one last volume that had eluded my notice. I was not disappointed. At the centre of the adventure is a premise which takes some swallowing - though total disbelief was suspended while reading. But essentially th This was Lionel Davidson's last book (he died in 2009). His son has recorded elsewhere the problems of its creation - it was rewritten three times. Having been an admirer of this author since the days of The Night of Wenceslas and Smith's Gazelle and others, it was a great joy to discover one last volume that had eluded my notice. I was not disappointed. At the centre of the adventure is a premise which takes some swallowing - though total disbelief was suspended while reading. But essentially this is a brilliantly plotted story of two desperately hazardous journeys, into and out of Siberia. The characters are far from being stereotypes but remain identifiable. Davidson devotees will not need telling that the quality of the writing makes the feeling of the end of the line grievously sad. One can only envy newcomers who find Kolymsky Heights as a cue to explore the fine earlier works.

  8. 5 out of 5

    George Gale

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Once upon a time I went on a writing course. I say writing course- it was a morning in a library with an author who had agreed to come and do some creative writing things. I was there entiiiirely to make up the numbers. I remember very little of it, including who the author was, but I do recall her top tip was to make sure the tone was set early. If, she said (and I believe this is more or less verbatim), you want people to be able to walk through walls - then have something like that happen in Once upon a time I went on a writing course. I say writing course- it was a morning in a library with an author who had agreed to come and do some creative writing things. I was there entiiiirely to make up the numbers. I remember very little of it, including who the author was, but I do recall her top tip was to make sure the tone was set early. If, she said (and I believe this is more or less verbatim), you want people to be able to walk through walls - then have something like that happen in the first chapter. Don't just have people suddenly walk through walls a third of the way through, or your readers brain may well just go "ya wot mate?" and leave before the interval. That stopped being verbatim at some point, there. I by-and-large (although privitely) disagreed with her on this, and some of my very favourite books ignore this rule. BUT I think the reason I didn't like Kolymsky Heights boils down to that one author's maybe quite contentious top tip. I've hidden this because of spoilers so I'm quite happy to spoiler away: There's this secret, right? In this really secret artic base, yeh? And the main crux of the book is following this implausibly adept guy get in to find out what it is. (I have no beef with Porter, the implausibly adept guy. He's fine. If he were plausibly inept, then what'd be the point of the story?) MY beef instead is with the nature of the secret. And frankly, it could have been ANYTHING. pretty much anything. The secret is entirely, as far as I can see, irrelevant to the story. But it still is part of the story, and it's this: that they've bred talking chimpanzees. Ya wot, mate. So if this book had been "oh I'm kinda sci-fi-y" from the start, then I'd have been a bit more accepting of the talking apes. But when they arrived, my reading brain just threw all its toys out of the pram, went and had a bit of a break, and left whatever remained to finish the book. It's a fine book. I just wasn't happy to suspend my disbelief as far as was required. I can believe a guy builds a car by himself in a freezing cave. I can believe everyone falls madly in love with him for no discernably good reason. Those are all acceptable things within the spy-story framework. Talking chimpanzees are not. But if they are for you, maybe you'll give it more stars.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John

    It seems unfair to begin a review with negative points but that's what seems to stick in the mind, despite my giving it 4 stars and enjoying the hell out of it. Utter nonsense, incredibly unlikely, dead-pan to the point of characterlessness, overlong, no valid motivations to speak of, writing that regularly repeats itself to no effect... Should I go on? The main character, seen from a distance at first, could be promising -his first response to a CIA contact is 'fuck off spook'- yet he then goes It seems unfair to begin a review with negative points but that's what seems to stick in the mind, despite my giving it 4 stars and enjoying the hell out of it. Utter nonsense, incredibly unlikely, dead-pan to the point of characterlessness, overlong, no valid motivations to speak of, writing that regularly repeats itself to no effect... Should I go on? The main character, seen from a distance at first, could be promising -his first response to a CIA contact is 'fuck off spook'- yet he then goes on to risk life and limb for them. No, it is unfair. Once you get used to the unusual structure -build-up with what turn out to be almost irrelevant characters, long, drawn-out disguise sequences, highly technical worries, short underwhelming 'climax' followed by breath-taking action chase sequence- it is enormous fun. Basically, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, other than to say that the last quarter is very, very tense and highly successful. (Another problem, but not the authors, is the number of typos here. For a Faber book and a fine idea for a series, this is really just a bit crap. Pull your socks up.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chloe Semp

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Where do I start? There were so many things that annoyed me about this book. Firstly, this book took 250+ pages of irrelevant nonsense to get to the point! 100 or so of these pages, if not more, was spent going into an ridiculous amount of detail about the mechanics of a boat and the "hero's" voyage from Japan to Siberia. Who cares about that?! I thought it was supposed to be a thriller not educational. Secondly, it took far too long to get to the action which wasn't till the last 100 pages. The r Where do I start? There were so many things that annoyed me about this book. Firstly, this book took 250+ pages of irrelevant nonsense to get to the point! 100 or so of these pages, if not more, was spent going into an ridiculous amount of detail about the mechanics of a boat and the "hero's" voyage from Japan to Siberia. Who cares about that?! I thought it was supposed to be a thriller not educational. Secondly, it took far too long to get to the action which wasn't till the last 100 pages. The rest of it lacked suspense.. Everything just occurred at a snails pace! Thirdly, the "hero".. Where do I begin! He was just not believable at all... How the hell does a Canadian Indian manage to pull off as a Korean AND Sibiran of multiple origin. One minute he's a Chukchi, the next an Evenk, next another native! It just wasn't plausible in the slightest. And to top it off, the "secret" research facility was just a scientist who found a cure for blindness... Really? Is that it? Maybe it's because I'm young and the books, films and TV shows I read/watch are full of really shocking things like terrorism and potential nuclear wars! So when the "hero" travelled all that way to discover a secret cure for blindness.. I felt like I'd wasted my time and quite disappointed. This book was just nothing like how I imagined it would be

  11. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    This is a book I keep coming back to as it is a masterful story of an amazing resourceful but believable main character isolated in a cold and frozen land but somehow I warmed to him. The main reason for him being there sometimes becomes secondary to how he is going to achieve it but the author drives the plot on relentlessly, whilst stretching credulity a little at the end, still left me satisfied and wondering whether there was some mileage left for Johnny Porter. There may be,I haven't read a This is a book I keep coming back to as it is a masterful story of an amazing resourceful but believable main character isolated in a cold and frozen land but somehow I warmed to him. The main reason for him being there sometimes becomes secondary to how he is going to achieve it but the author drives the plot on relentlessly, whilst stretching credulity a little at the end, still left me satisfied and wondering whether there was some mileage left for Johnny Porter. There may be,I haven't read any of Davidsons other novels but intend to do so.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This is a 2015 re-publication of a solid thriller from the immediate post-Cold War period with a slightly breathless introduction by the children's fantasy writer Philip Pullman. The novel is more than competent. Excellently written and (mostly) a 'page turner', it is has all the vices and virtues of the genre - implausibilities set within a carapace of gritty realism. The implausibilities are manifold. The hero is capable of feats of toughness that really are 'in your dreams, mate' and we have ex This is a 2015 re-publication of a solid thriller from the immediate post-Cold War period with a slightly breathless introduction by the children's fantasy writer Philip Pullman. The novel is more than competent. Excellently written and (mostly) a 'page turner', it is has all the vices and virtues of the genre - implausibilities set within a carapace of gritty realism. The implausibilities are manifold. The hero is capable of feats of toughness that really are 'in your dreams, mate' and we have exquisite planning by an intelligence agency that, in reality, could scarcely tie up its bootlaces when it came to operating inside Russia. The hero's luck operates at an absurd level (especially as the Russians are drawn as competent and professional) and his sexual exploits are there to comfort the lonely man caught in yet another airport in yet another city going to yet another business meeting. There is also a quasi-science fantasy element that won't fool anyone with any understanding of modern science, even those inclined to think that the Russians always have something up their sleeves. But get all that nonsense out of the way and you have a very much above average effort. Davidson could actually write. The obligatory formulaic aspects of the genre are transformed into more plausibility than you usually get within these masculine fantasies. Pullman rightly points out that Davidson manages the trope of mechanical detail brilliantly by embedding these moments deep into the plot rather than pausing the action to give us the excruciatingly dull particulars of some bit of military hardware. Instead of one's eyes glazing over and feeling forced to skip the next few pages, Davidson educates and informs so that you cannot finish the book without having a much better understanding of the world in which it is set - the Canadian and Siberian frozen backlands. The characterisation is also generally good within the conventions of the thriller with the exception of the hero who seems to be a sort of cut-out sentimental sociopath of enormous animal cunning but without much of an interior life as far as we are concerned. But that is the point - these heroes are not written by Jane Austen. They appeal to the latent sociopath in every male wolf turned into corporate dog. The sentimentality keeps the reader from forgetting that actually he prefers life as a dog, all things considered. But the essence of the book is its relentless energy, finally tuned so that it all hangs together as a set of necessary perilous quest journeys (much as Pullman notes). The central journey on a tramp steamer from Japan to Siberia might well be a tribute to Eric Ambler and Jack London even if I still remain thoroughly puzzled as to why our hero should take quite such a tortuous route to get unnoticed into Russia. The final scenes 'on the ice' (I will say no more because I don't do spoilers) are positively filmic, almost directions for the movie, and (assuming you are someone with reasonable visualisation skills) certainly exciting and tense. So, all round a highly recommended thriller if you like thrillers.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    I was given a pile of books by my boyfriend's mother to read and this was one of them. I thought I better give one a go before I see her and she asks if I've read any. This one sounded pretty interesting with the promise of spies and secret Russian science.. plus Philip Pullman says it is one of the best books he has ever read, and I love Philip Pullman's books. Turns out Philip and I have VERY different taste in books.. I got over half way through this then had to give up. Life is too short for I was given a pile of books by my boyfriend's mother to read and this was one of them. I thought I better give one a go before I see her and she asks if I've read any. This one sounded pretty interesting with the promise of spies and secret Russian science.. plus Philip Pullman says it is one of the best books he has ever read, and I love Philip Pullman's books. Turns out Philip and I have VERY different taste in books.. I got over half way through this then had to give up. Life is too short for boring books. It started off well enough, the prologue while written in laborious detail set up something that sounded very interesting but then the story I was expecting to read never happened! I got to page 300 and we're still not actually the secret Russian science facility! I did not sign up for the incredibly tedious detail of what goes into a spy mission (not sparing anything about driving trucks in Siberia!).. I wanted action and suspense and some weird science! The protagonist (once he finally appears many chapters in that introduced characters who then disappear) Johnny Porter I struggled to find relatable or even realistic. I struggled to find his personality and he seemed a bit too good at everything, nothing was ever difficult.. in the 300 pages I read he never had any difficulties.. and he's not even a trained Agent. He's just some guy who met the Russian scientist decades ago, is insanely good at languages and looks like he could pass for a Siberian native. Women also throw themselves at him.. if he meets a woman under 40 they will pretty soon be wanting to sleep with him. Something he does with zero care, thought or passion. I'd have forgiven that if I'd been at all engaged in the story. It wasn't the plot I thought the blurb on the back was promising me. There was no suspense and no action in the first 300 pages (I can't say what happened after). There was nothing "thrilling" about it. It never once felt like Johnny was in any danger, despite his tight time line there was not any question that he'd be successful. Disappointing! I do highly recommend anything written by Philip Pullman though!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rob Kitchin

    Kolymsky Heights is a spy-adventure tale written by three-times CWA gold dagger winner, Lionel Davidson. In the edition I read, Philip Pullman had written a short essay in which he pronounced that the book is the best thriller he's ever read. While there’s much to admire about the story, I’m not convinced it’s as good as Pullman declares. What Davidson does well is the patient build-up. Porter doesn’t zip-in and out of Russia leaving a trail of carnage like a double-zero agent. He’s slipped in v Kolymsky Heights is a spy-adventure tale written by three-times CWA gold dagger winner, Lionel Davidson. In the edition I read, Philip Pullman had written a short essay in which he pronounced that the book is the best thriller he's ever read. While there’s much to admire about the story, I’m not convinced it’s as good as Pullman declares. What Davidson does well is the patient build-up. Porter doesn’t zip-in and out of Russia leaving a trail of carnage like a double-zero agent. He’s slipped in via a Japanese trading ship and he establishes himself as part of the local community. It takes weeks to find a viable way into the secret lab and several more to set up an attempt to breach the security. The timespan and pace enables some nice characterisation and a strong sense of place. It took a little while for the story to get going and at times there is an over-elaboration or description that has little plot relevance. I also wasn’t convinced by some of the plot elements, and Porter is a little too extraordinary in terms of his language and acting ability, though every leading man in a thriller usually has some super-human abilities. That said, the plot hook was interesting and by halfway through it’s a real page-turner. In particular, the extended denouement was very nicely done from both Porter’s and a Russian general’s perspective. Overall, an entertaining adventure-spy tale.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tim Stretton

    No book can live up to the hype Kolymsky Heights has suffered ("the best thriller ever") but this comes close. It's not particularly thrilling, until the final quarter--although then it makes up for it--but it's fascinating and absorbing throughout. In the detachment of its authorial viewpoint and the meticulous focus on practical problem-solving, it's reminiscent of Jack Vance and Patricia Highsmith. A very fine novel and congratulations to Faber to thinking to disinter it after over 20 years o No book can live up to the hype Kolymsky Heights has suffered ("the best thriller ever") but this comes close. It's not particularly thrilling, until the final quarter--although then it makes up for it--but it's fascinating and absorbing throughout. In the detachment of its authorial viewpoint and the meticulous focus on practical problem-solving, it's reminiscent of Jack Vance and Patricia Highsmith. A very fine novel and congratulations to Faber to thinking to disinter it after over 20 years of neglect.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael Martz

    Well, I saw 'Kolymsky Heights' on a list of the best 25 thrillers of the past few years, read a couple blurbs by other authors about it (Charles Cumming, what have you done???) and thought I'd be in for a superior reading experience. Not! Note to self: don't rely on author's blurbs about other authors! The plot is pretty interesting, but it sure takes a long time to get to the point. What I thought would be a major part of the story line was introduced in the Prologue: an intact 'oldest human' is Well, I saw 'Kolymsky Heights' on a list of the best 25 thrillers of the past few years, read a couple blurbs by other authors about it (Charles Cumming, what have you done???) and thought I'd be in for a superior reading experience. Not! Note to self: don't rely on author's blurbs about other authors! The plot is pretty interesting, but it sure takes a long time to get to the point. What I thought would be a major part of the story line was introduced in the Prologue: an intact 'oldest human' is discovered encased in ice and an entire Russian research complex is built around it in Siberia. As the novel begins, a message is passed from the complex via incredible means to a British researcher, it's deciphered, the CIA gets involved, and a decision is eventually made to insert a spy (who was selected by the Russian researcher) somehow into the impregnable complex to find out exactly what's going on and to report back to the good guys. Sounds simple, right? Until the last section, the story moves at a glacial pace, which is appropriate I suppose based on where the research facility is located. It takes considerable effort to entice the spy, who is actually a strange multi-ethnic aboriginal Canadian, to participate (you'll appreciate 'why' after reading later what he goes through). The amount of training he goes through once he agrees is huge and the planning is meticulous, but much of the success of the operation will depend upon his ingenuity. It eventually kicks off and he manages to put himself into position to maybe get access to the person he needs to contact. This all occurs in excruciatingly slow motion, but based on the level of risk he had to deal with on an almost minute-by-minute basis, perhaps that was the only way to proceed? In addition to its pace, other problems I had with Lionel Davidson's thriller were with the writing style, the main character's toolset, and the 'talking apes'. Davidson's writing, at least to me, was very strange and almost seemed at times to be a translation or an attempt to do fiction in a non-fiction style. The subject matter and plot were interesting enough to have been covered in a much more readable format. I'm not saying it needed to be 'dumbed down'- in fact, it needed to be 'smartened up', if anything. The planning and later activities were covered at such a minute level of detail that the prose really needed to be punched up to maintain reader interest. The main character, who began as a rather odd academic sort who loved his privacy and wanted to be left alone, developed throughout the book into a sort of super-McGyver type who not only could do amazing things mechanically and physically but also speak virtually any language and dialect. The whole 'talking apes' thing, which is what I expected the book to have as a significant part of the plot, resurfaced again once the spy finally gained access to the facility but it really was handled in a perfunctory way and left me scratching my head. Kolymsky Heights was saved by the last section, where our spy is on the run and a professional Russian investigator begins tracking him mostly through logic. The conclusion was a little out there, but all's well that ends well, I reckon.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Gottshalk

    If renown English author Philip Pullman thought that this was the best thriller he's ever read, then, with all due respect, he hasn't read many thrillers! I thought this book would be about a top-secret Russian laboratory deep in Siberia, and it turned out to be mostly about the perilous adventure to get in and out of the place. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I was intrigued more about the destination - not the journey. There were places I could not stop reading, and there were o If renown English author Philip Pullman thought that this was the best thriller he's ever read, then, with all due respect, he hasn't read many thrillers! I thought this book would be about a top-secret Russian laboratory deep in Siberia, and it turned out to be mostly about the perilous adventure to get in and out of the place. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I was intrigued more about the destination - not the journey. There were places I could not stop reading, and there were other places I glossed over because they were dull, or poorly written. Someone recommended this from my local library Advisory Council, but I might be the only one who actually reads it, especially since it's a 2-star book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John

    I am a bit bemused why Philip Pulman waxes lyrically over this novel. It will s a good story if wildly far fetched. I see the author has won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award three times so I plan to read his earlier novels. The book is about a quest, much like Frodo and his journey to dispose of the ring. The problem I had with the hero Johnny Porter was he did not have the flaws Frodo had. He was basically good at everything from languages, building cars, fighting and just to pe I am a bit bemused why Philip Pulman waxes lyrically over this novel. It will s a good story if wildly far fetched. I see the author has won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award three times so I plan to read his earlier novels. The book is about a quest, much like Frodo and his journey to dispose of the ring. The problem I had with the hero Johnny Porter was he did not have the flaws Frodo had. He was basically good at everything from languages, building cars, fighting and just to perfect. The description of Siberia and the native people was interesting and I liked the style of writing but again when he achieves his quest it is just silly.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rita Costa (Lusitania Geek)

    Oh what a great thriller that I just read it. Very entertaining book to read, easily to understand the story and a different thriller that I used to read, yet I enjoyed. From Japan to Siberia, you can catch the art of espionage that involves a secret military research base in Russia, and a scientist who is desperate to reveal a discovery that the military are equally desperate to keep hidden. There were "episodes" that weren't really necessary to include in it, but that's one of the few disadvan Oh what a great thriller that I just read it. Very entertaining book to read, easily to understand the story and a different thriller that I used to read, yet I enjoyed. From Japan to Siberia, you can catch the art of espionage that involves a secret military research base in Russia, and a scientist who is desperate to reveal a discovery that the military are equally desperate to keep hidden. There were "episodes" that weren't really necessary to include in it, but that's one of the few disadvantages of this novel. It makes me imagine and actually wanted to be part of the scenes sometimes. I recommend who likes thrillers/ espionage and Adventure genres. 4 ⭐

  20. 5 out of 5

    Maria Carmo

    A masterpiece! Five stars because it is not possible to give 10! The plot is extremely rigorous and the characters are exquisitely drawn, the Author has managed to leave us a book with such a high standard that it becomes unrepeatable. The landscapes, the scientific rigor, the probity with which it is written, has totally conquered me, and I agree with Phillip Pullmann's prologue! Absolutely a good read! Maria Carmo, Lisbon, 3 July 2018.

  21. 4 out of 5

    José Nebreda

    Al contrario que la mayoría de las novelas esta va ganando fuerza y las 200 últimas páginas son una angustiosa delicia.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Victor Sonkin

    [SPOILERS] This looked like a perfect plane/beach/bath book (and I first spotted it at WH Smith at Heathrow). It's the last thriller by the British author Lionel Davidson (who died some years ago), who was compared to Le Carre and Greene in the 1960s, and wrote Kolymsky Heights after a long hiatus. Briefly, the plot is as follows. Professor Lazenby in Oxford receives a series of cryptic (but easily decipherable) messages which, with the help of government spooks, including CIA, he understands to h [SPOILERS] This looked like a perfect plane/beach/bath book (and I first spotted it at WH Smith at Heathrow). It's the last thriller by the British author Lionel Davidson (who died some years ago), who was compared to Le Carre and Greene in the 1960s, and wrote Kolymsky Heights after a long hiatus. Briefly, the plot is as follows. Professor Lazenby in Oxford receives a series of cryptic (but easily decipherable) messages which, with the help of government spooks, including CIA, he understands to have originated from Dr. Rogachev, a Russian biologist who had dropped off the radar a while ago. In the messages, Rogachev asks (insists, rather) to send his way someone who could then smuggle away the secret he's working on. The man Rogachev is looking for is Dr. Johnny Porter, a Canadian Indian with a double major in biology and ethnography, a troublesome political activist who knows lots of languages and possesses other spy-related skills. After some trouble, the CIA persuades him to take up the mission. After some training, he goes to Japan, and from there, as a Korean deck hand, takes a job on a Japanese tramp vessel that goes all the way along the North Sea Route to Murmansk; at some point, he simulates a bout of serious disease and is left ashore in Tchersky, a remote town in Siberia; there, he is examined by medical officer Komarova, among other specialists, and is eventually flown to Murmansk, where he assumes another identity and returns to Tchersky, now as Nikolai Khodyan, a Chukchee truck driver (the man he is supposed to be replacing is meanwhile held in Batumi and blackmailed with drug charges). After a series of careful steps intended to ingratiate him to everyone around, he inches closer and closer to the mysterious Kolymsky Heights, where no one is admitted and from where no one ever returns (at least among those who really work there). Faced again with medical officer Komarova, Kolya/Johnny fears that she had made him, and prepares to murder her, only to discover that she is his ally (not quite clear how). They become lovers. While preparing the last step of his mission, he also assembles an off-road light vehicle, a bobik out of discarded and unlisted spare parts. In the end, he manages to get inside Kolymsky Heights and have a chat with the ailing Rogachev, who tells him about the pregnant prehistoric woman they had found a long time ago, genetic work on her, and a discovery that restores sight to blind people (a subject of interest to Porter because his deceased wife was blind) and simultaneously disrupts fiber optic circuits, including those in ballistic missiles. Rogachev give Porter secret information on specially prepared disks. After that, Porter begins to prepare his escape, but his plans are soon discovered and a general is flown in from Irkutsk to chase him down. However, Porter's cunning idea (a non-existent bobik) and his erratic movements make the work of the police increasingly difficult. In the end, he makes in to the Bering Strait and to the US territory, barely, severely wounded, and is later pronounced dead — though he is actually alive and slowly recuperating in Canada. In the meanwhile, the desolate Komarova buries her elderly mother and relocates to St. Petersbug, where she eventually receives an anonymous message with an exit visa and a one-way ticket to Montreal. The novel was preceded by an introduction by Philip Pullman who waxed lyrical about 'the perfect thriller'. Well, I don't know. First, the protagonist did not seem very believable or, for that matter, very likable. Second, there were pages upon pages of pure infodump. Third, the central mystery of the novel, the secret things happening at Kolymsky Heights, turned out to be hurried through (though Porter's meeting with Lyudmilla the talking ape was, indeed, a touching episode). Finally, the rough-cut, Hemingwaian style of most passages was not to my liking. This said, the novel is amazingly well researched, and its Russian pages (which form the bulk of the book) almost never grated on my sensibilities; within the confines of the genre, things were credible enough. Set sometime in the early 1990s, the novel does not sport any of the typical horrors of the Soviet and post-Soviet era; on the contrary, it portrays its working people as reliable and normal, its doctors as knowledgeable and compassionate, its police as efficient and businesslike, and its scientists as the best in the world. The climate is bad, though. So there. If you like technical details about assembling an off-road car in temperatures under -40°C and adrenaline-pumped chase scenes set in Arctic fog, read this. Otherwise, skip it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Flawed, but oh so readable! The novel describes an improbable romp through north-east Siberia, by way of rarefied Oxford University, remote British Columbia, and Tokyo. Our hero is super-linguist and multiculturalist Johnny Porter (aka Raven aka Jean-Baptiste Porteur), a native of the Canadian Gitxsan tribe. He is also a dab hand at impersonations and can fabricate a jeep (fabulously called a Bobik - I SO want one!) out of spare parts in a freezing Siberian ice cave. On his own in three days. A my Flawed, but oh so readable! The novel describes an improbable romp through north-east Siberia, by way of rarefied Oxford University, remote British Columbia, and Tokyo. Our hero is super-linguist and multiculturalist Johnny Porter (aka Raven aka Jean-Baptiste Porteur), a native of the Canadian Gitxsan tribe. He is also a dab hand at impersonations and can fabricate a jeep (fabulously called a Bobik - I SO want one!) out of spare parts in a freezing Siberian ice cave. On his own in three days. A mysterious coded message requests he ‘break into’ the toppest secret research facility in Siberia - so secret that no one who enters is allowed to leave. Why does he have to do this? I can’t even remember, and I reckon it doesn’t really matter. The joy is in the ingenuity and style with which he accomplishes it. And then leaves. Spectacularly. Plot - ridiculous, but there is a dread and a horror alluded to early on which I was disappointed was not pursued as a significant plot reveal through the middle part of the book. However, the final phase of the book - Porter’s escape (successful or unsuccessful, I’m not saying) - is some of the most thrilling action I’ve read in a long time! Characters - none of them really believable. Or even likeable, I felt. They mostly play third or fourth fiddle to Johnny P in any case. But they are not poorly-drawn enough, and he is not unlikeable enough, to crash the novel. It’s not really that he’s unlikeable exactly; it’s more that I felt I never knew him. He was too busy being other diverse characters for the reader to get to know the real him. The love interest (Russian Medical Officer Komarova) is a bit yawn and contrived. Character-wise, a 15 year-old called Ludmilla provides, for me, the most poignant moment in the tale. I’ve never come across a character quite like her in anything else I’ve ever read. Davidson’s prose is very readable (the many typos notwithstanding!), although maybe a little over-involved with some of the many technicalities involved in the caper. But for me it was the setting of Siberia itself which left a palpable chill in the room after I put the book down. The snow is Serious Snow. The ice is deadly. The nights go on forever and people need lots of clothes. It’s bleak. It’s barren. I want to go there.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Craig

    This is a deeply immersive thriller that I can only describe as 'Ice Road Truckers' meets 'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold'. I bought it because it kept winking at me from the front window of Waterstones (the trickster!) and it has that Philip Pullman quote saying it's "the best thriller he has ever read". Good enough for me! It's an old school cold war type thriller but with some hugely unique flavourings of it's own. For example the lead character is a Canadian native Indian and the setting is This is a deeply immersive thriller that I can only describe as 'Ice Road Truckers' meets 'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold'. I bought it because it kept winking at me from the front window of Waterstones (the trickster!) and it has that Philip Pullman quote saying it's "the best thriller he has ever read". Good enough for me! It's an old school cold war type thriller but with some hugely unique flavourings of it's own. For example the lead character is a Canadian native Indian and the setting is (largely) an amazingly rendered northern Siberia. The plot - a mysterious coded message is sent from an ultra secret germ warfare base in northern Siberia to an academic in Oxford. It requests that a mutual aquaintance of the sender and the academic should come to the base. But what for? The western intelligence services are intrigued and a plot is hatched to get this man in, and then back out. Covertly. But this is impossible, surely? As a thriller the book really works. It's taut, tense, tightly plotted and very believable. You think you know where you're going with this book, but trust me, you really don't! The outcome is highly original and worth the admission money alone. My eyes were really opened to a whole new world that I never knew existed. It is a trip into darkest Siberia and the topography, the weather, the architecture, the native tribes, the way of life - all are amazingly detailed. The author really puts you there. It feels like he must have lived there for some time himself. It's all very fascinating. I'm not sure if this is the best thriller I have ever read, but it is exceptional and takes you on a unique journey that is hugely enjoyable.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Goldenberg

    When Philip Pullman announces on the cover that this is the best thriller he's ever read, you know that you are almost certainly going to be disappointed. The bar has been raised too high. It starts well enough. The strange discovery in the Siberian perma frost at the start of the novel is promising. But the eventual discovery of what has been going on at the top secret, isolated, virtually impregnable Russian scientific research station is somewhat underwhelming and of little interest to the au When Philip Pullman announces on the cover that this is the best thriller he's ever read, you know that you are almost certainly going to be disappointed. The bar has been raised too high. It starts well enough. The strange discovery in the Siberian perma frost at the start of the novel is promising. But the eventual discovery of what has been going on at the top secret, isolated, virtually impregnable Russian scientific research station is somewhat underwhelming and of little interest to the author himself. What is far more important are all the extraordinary and detailed machinations by which the hero, Johnny Porter, manages to get to the research station and then the tense, extended chase section at the end where he attempts to get away. Whilst admiring Lionel Davidson's brilliant evocation of the icy Siberian wastes, I was less impressed with all the detailed minutiae of Porter's life under cover and his general technical superman wizardry (I felt I knew so much about how a Bobick - a kind of Siberian jeep - was put together that I could build one myself). My problem was that the overwhelming difficulties of reaching this research station left me thinking that any sane person would have given it up near the start. And then, there is the fact that it takes 350 pages before you get to the final exciting attempt at escape while the Russian authorities close in by which time I was feeling too exhausted to care enough whether the hero lived or died.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    3.5 stars. I bought this book almost entirely due to the blurb on the jacket by Philip Pullman. I'm a big fan of Philip Pullman's books -- "The Ruby in the Smoke" and its sequels; the "His Dark Materials" trilogy -- so when I read that "Kolymsky Heights" was the best thriller he'd ever read, I snapped it up. Then I kept reading away, wondering when I would become so engaged with the protagonist that I could enter into the book. It didn't really happen, so I was left with a meditation on what mak 3.5 stars. I bought this book almost entirely due to the blurb on the jacket by Philip Pullman. I'm a big fan of Philip Pullman's books -- "The Ruby in the Smoke" and its sequels; the "His Dark Materials" trilogy -- so when I read that "Kolymsky Heights" was the best thriller he'd ever read, I snapped it up. Then I kept reading away, wondering when I would become so engaged with the protagonist that I could enter into the book. It didn't really happen, so I was left with a meditation on what makes a book thrilling to one person, and mildly intriguing to another. I came to the conclusion that all the gadgetry and intricate planning, with timing on a razor's edge, made the book thrilling to Mr. Pullman. As for me, I have to care about a character and his mission before I can invest much emotion in the character's plight. So I enjoyed reading about the construction of the Lego-like car, and the breakthroughs being made in the secret laboratory hidden deep in Siberia were fascinating, but on the whole I would sum the book up as "interesting" rather than as a must-read. And by the way, "The Ruby in the Smoke" is about 100 times more thrilling.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Benito Jr.

    Exceptional offbeat minimalist thriller, with an unlikely hero -- a "Native Canadian" linguistic anthropologist! (Actually, I think the proper term is "First Nations".) The book didn't quite suit my purposes at the time -- I was about to board a plane, so I wanted a relatively mindless airport novel -- but it generates its own peculiar level of excitement. It's closer in style to, say, George Smiley interviewing and re-interviewing retired Circus employees and shuffling through redacted reports - Exceptional offbeat minimalist thriller, with an unlikely hero -- a "Native Canadian" linguistic anthropologist! (Actually, I think the proper term is "First Nations".) The book didn't quite suit my purposes at the time -- I was about to board a plane, so I wanted a relatively mindless airport novel -- but it generates its own peculiar level of excitement. It's closer in style to, say, George Smiley interviewing and re-interviewing retired Circus employees and shuffling through redacted reports -- in other words, a patient, incremental enumeration of observations and deductions and steps taken. But it's not a procedural in the usual sense; the narrative is set on a few continents, and the last third of the novel is pretty much an extended chase sequence. It's a surprisingly complex plot nonetheless, full of carefully calibrated moments of subterfuge, and this complexity is all the more impressive considering the fact that the plot elements can be boiled down to only two phases: there's a top-secret base, and our hero has to get in, and he has to get out. Recommended.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Katia N

    Good old thriller, not scary, not haunting and not very psychologic either, but packed with actions. It reminded me James Bond, but a tiny bit more clever. Also i liked setting very much - somewhere deep in Siberia. It conformed with my archetypical memories of Russia - altruistic, fiendishly clever scientists, evil and dangerous security services, hospitable people and the last but not least - devoted, loving and selfless women! Good, a bit naive, but very intelligent read within the genre.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra Peel

    Best espionage book ever. The hero is heroic in a very unconventional way; native Canadian Indian with a skill in languages to almost rival Richard Burton. Set in the hideous chill of Siberia, Johnny Porter goes reluctantly to retrieve some secret information, all the while fooling or hiding from Russian services, suspicious tribal folk, Japanese sailors and so forth. If you like thrillers or spy stories, you really must read this.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Louis

    I bought this book years ago, thinking it was about the Kolyma camps of the gulag era. I started reading it because of a lack of anything else at the time. What a wonderful suprise it was! It has a very gripping story line, and the escape back of the main character is absolutely fascinating, I could not put the book down. Since I have read other books by the same author, and all of them were of the same high standard. Mr Davidson deserves to be better known.

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