Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Colonel Butler's Wolf: Anthony Price

This is the third book in the David Audley / Colonel Butler series, a cold war espionage series set in the UK and usually featuring some historical element (in this case, Hadrian's Wall). David Audley is the central character throughout the series, but each book is different and in this book he has a smaller but very significant role.

From the description on my paperback edition:
The Russians are looking for a few good men...
...and they're doing most of their looking within the British university system. It's a ploy which has served them well in the past, but now there's a difference. As Dr. David Audley discovers very quickly, the aim of the Soviets is not simply to recruit, but lay the groundwork for destruction.
From the dim, comfortable reading rooms of Oxford to the bleak moors stretching away from Hadrian's Wall, Audley searches for the Russian wolf in don's clothing. What Audley can't know is that the agent has been forbidden to fail...on pain of death! 

So far, each book in the series has had a different point of view character, even though the cast has included a common set of characters. Colonel Butler was a secondary character in the first two books, but this one is told from his point of view. David Audley is an academic, working as a research analyst for the Ministry of Defence. The main character in the second book was RAF Squadron Leader Hugh Rothskill, but he is injured and unavailable as this book begins, so Colonel Jack Butler is called out of retirement to help with the current problem.

Butler doesn't really get along with Audley, and he resents and distrusts his methods, but in the end they get things done. I enjoyed the different point of view, and I love the way the plot is slowly revealed and all the different types of people Butler meets as he gathers information. He spends a good portion of the story with historians and students visiting Hadrian's Wall.

Anthony Price wrote novels with complex plots and well-developed characters, focusing more on the intellectual than on action and adventure. I will keep working my way through the series and see where it takes me next.

I had just purchased this book when I learned that the author, Anthony Price, had died recently, at the age of 91. See Nick Jones' tribute at his blog Existential Ennui with additional links. And also his review of this novel.

Jo Walton has written a post at about the series, pointing out four books that are good places to start reading the series. The first three books in the series are in chronological order but some of them go back to earlier points in time, thus reading them chronologically rather than in order of publication can work. And, of course, she has re-read all of them many times.


Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1987. Orig. pub. 1972.
Length:      224 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Espionage fiction
Source:     I purchased my copy. 


col2910 said...

I think there are about 18 in total, are you planning on reading them all, Tracy? I've not yet started on him, unsurprisingly.

Margot Kinberg said...

I like the idea of using different points of view of different characters as a series goes on, Tracy. That's what Tana French does with the Dublin Murder Squad series, and I think it can be really effective. This one sounds like it has a solid sense of setting, too, which is great. Glad you enjoyed it.

TracyK said...

That sounds about right, Col, and yes, I am planning on reading them all. The hard part is finding decent copies at reasonable prices. This one was not very expensive. The next one, October Men, is more pricey so I have to be patient.

TracyK said...

I am hooked on this series, Margot, and it makes it interesting wondering who will feature in the next book.

Mathew Paust said...

I like very much the idea of switching POV around in an ensemble cast, and cannot recall a series where I've seen it done (altho I've little doubt it's not uncommon). Not sure I've read any Price, tho, but I'm curious now. Perhaps his heirs will find an unpublished mss he was working on when interrupted by death that has the Audley/Butler duo tracking the spy right into the house at 1700 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C.! ;)

TracyK said...

I like it too, Mathew, partly because you can see how the characters view each other. This is kind of an old-fashioned series, but that works for me and I like all kinds of spy fiction.

Clothes in Books said...

More than 30 years ago I had a boyfriend who loved these books! He got me to read a couple but I wasn't particularly impressed, and when I split up with the b/f I stopped reading the books. Maybe I would like them more now, you are tempting me to try them again.

TracyK said...

I can see why your boyfriend at that time loved them, Moira, since I do too, but I can also see why some people don't like them so much. I did not like this one as much as the first two books, but I find the characters interesting. You are right, your tastes may have changed in the meantime.