The Department was an offshoot of the Ministry of Defence. Its existence had never been officially acknowledged. Its functions – proliferating under the pressure of national security – were as old as organised society. Its work was discreet and indecent. Security and economy demanded that certain people and certain situations had to be handled, organised, dispatched or suppressed without the public being disturbed or distressed by any awareness of the mostly unmentionable stratagems that, in the interests of the national welfare, the Department was given an ambiguous mandate to employ. Murder, blackmail, fraud, theft and betrayal were the commonplaces of the Department.A scientist, Dilling, has developed a project that could be very useful to the government. He is negotiating with the Department to sell this information when he dies of a heart attack. Not trusting the people he is negotiating with, he has hidden the documents and told no one where they are. Grimster has been assigned the task of persuading the girlfriend of the scientist, Lily, to reveal where the papers have been hidden. She has no knowledge of the transactions or the hiding place, but those seeking the information are sure that she has clues to the location. Grimster and Lily are the characters we get to know the best, and the reader is never sure how they will fare until the end.
The story is very complex and has very few if any characters that I found likeable. That did not deter my enjoyment. My only (very tiny) quibble was that sometimes I wanted the action to progress more quickly and there might have been too much laboring over motivations. It is not an overly long book, at 252 pages. There are twists and revelations throughout the book. Because of the subject matter, it is a dark book but does not leave one with a feeling of hopelessness.
This is my first experience reading Victor Canning. I noticed some books of his in reprint editions at Arcturus Publishing and Ostara Press. Then I found a great series of articles by Nick Jones at Existential Ennui, which pointed me to resource at The Victor Canning pages by John Higgins.
Firecrest is the first book in a series called the Birdcage books, described in this post at Existential Ennui and at The Victor Canning Pages (here).
Publisher: Award Books, 1974 (orig. pub. 1971)
Length: 252 pages
Series: Birdcage books #1
Genre: Espionage fiction
Source: Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014.