Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Freedom Trap by Desmond Bagley

The Freedom Trap by Desmond Bagley
Fawcett M1789,
Copyright 1971

I have a handful of novels written by Desmond Bagley. Had them for years and never read one. Sometimes I see a captivating cover on a paperback and I end up laying my money on the counter when I'm checking out. And to be honest that's how I assembled a small collection of books from this British author of dangerous thrillers. I was digging through one of my boxes of paperbacks and "The Freedom Trap" caught my eye. (a no miss -with a frogman, exploding boat, and a red bikini) This convinced me to give Mr. Bagley a go and I'm glad I did. It was an unexpected high adventure ride that immediately turned me into a Desmond Bagley fan.

A small army of men rushed us and we were both grabbed and held. There wasn't a damn thing I could do- two of the three men who tackled me were trying to tear my arms off so they could use them as clubs to beat me over the head, and the other was using my stomach as a bass drum and his fists weren't padded as drumsticks are. I sagged and gasped for breath.

Joseph Aloysius Rearden (he rather would forget the Aloysius dub) is summoned from South Africa to perform a job. He's a better-than-average crook that has been in the "nick" before. In London he meets an esoteric man called Mackintosh and his efficient secretary Mrs. Smith. Together they lay out the plan to Rearden. They want him to knock over a postman who is delivering a package of uncut diamonds and immediately pass them over to Mackintosh before the crime becomes known. Rearden will be paid a tidy sum for what he believes will be a quick score. He accepts and it goes off smoothly. The postman takes a sap to the skull, Rearden snatches the package, and then he transfers it to Mackintosh. Well, in a matter of hours the local cops are at Rearden's hotel room and have enough evidence to drag him in. Sticking to his story that he is innocent, Rearden quickly realizes that its a lost cause. He's been setup and all fingers point to one person-Mackintosh. Rearden gets 20 years and becomes a "special" inmate because of the notoriety of the crime. And it is in the "gaol"while serving his time, that this novel takes a major 180 degree turn.

I don't want to reveal to much about this one. I will tell you that it contains a damn clever plot. The twist takes place at almost the half way point in the novel. To be honest, I was expecting something. I knew a little about Desmond Bagley and the type of novels that he wrote. But I expected it earlier in the story and he had me so absorbed in the crime aspect of the plot that he caught me off guard. I really liked that. Wonderful dialogue throughout the novel and I even got to pickup a few British slang terms that I never heard before. Rearden turns out to be an integrity character, as does Mackintosh and Mrs. Smith. Many people turn out to be more than what we are let on to believe, and that includes the minor characters in the story. Bagley seems to have a nack for this and he does it extremely well. A decent amount of action, especially near the end. But it's not overly done. Bagley places it where it is most effective. The strength of "The Freedom Trap" is in its excellent plot and its well-developed characters. If you enjoy the novels of Alistair MacLean and the early works of Jack Higgins, "The Freedom Trap" may be worth getting a hold of.

I discovered that John Huston's 1973 film "The Mackintoch Man" was based on this novel. It stars Paul Newman as Rearden and one of my favorite British actors, Harry Andrews as Mackintosh. It's one of the few Newman films that I have never seen. I'll have to get a hold of the DVD. From the characterization in the novel, I don't see Newman as Rearden. I'll have to see how that works out.


mybillcrider said...

I've read four or five Bagby novels. The first one I read was THE GOLDEN KEEL, and I was sold.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Great discovery! I wonder if American readers weren't as exposed to Desmond Bagley as Canadian ones, because they were always to be found in used book stores here. He himself led an awesome life, including driving from the top of Africa to the bottom and ending his life living the high life on the Isle of Man.

Definitely check out High Citadel, my favourite, about an alchoholic pilot flying flights over the andes who ends up crash-landed with a bunch of tourists having to fight off commie insurgents with nothing but their wits and good old British pluck. Great stuff.

Paul Bishop said...

Bagley was one of the holy trinity of high adventure writers along with hammon Innes and Alistair MacLean. Great stuff.

Yankee Cowboy said...

I recommend "The Tightrope Men" highly.