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Forget the Spy Who Came In From the Cold, meet the spy who went out into the cold, the really, really cold.  When a Russian scientist, working at a mysterious research station in Siberia, manages to get a cryptic message to the West, it is determined that he's summoning Dr. Johnny Porter, born Jean-Baptiste Porteur--a part Gitksan Indian, Rhodes Scholar, anthropologist, who speaks any number of languages.  The two had met many years earlier, and out of a sense of obligation, Porter agrees to sneak into the installation and find out what's so important.  What follows is one of the better thrillers of the post Cold War era, as Porter impersonating various people of Asiatic descent, while displaying extraordinary resourcefulness at myriad tasks, penetrates deep into Russian territory and then, pursued by all of the forces of the new Russia, strikes out across the icy barrens of the Kolymsky Region of Siberia and the area around the Bering Straits, in a mad dash back to the States.

The case of Lionel Davidson is one of the strangest of any recent author.  He writes award-winning, best sellers every few years, but I doubt more than a handful of folks remember him from one book to the next and all of his stuff seems to be out of print right now.  In Kolymsky Heights, he combines elements of Michael Crichton, Smilla's Sense of Snow, and Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko series to produce a novel that's exciting enough in it's own right but is even more remarkable for it's unusual hero and for the way that Davidson uses the hostile environment, both natural and man-made.  Though a general and helicopters and Russian troops all pursue him, the real threat to Porter is the forbidding terrain he has to cross and the deadly weather he braves.  This is one that you'll want to read with a blanket over you and a warm mug of something or other nearby.

REREVIEW (5/16/15):
While this great thriller was published just a few years after the end of the Cold War, it pits a lone hero vs. Russian security forces. Mr. Davidson published with notorious infrequency--his last book before this one had come out 16 years earlier--so there may well have been a USSR when he was writing it. But, nevermind all that, because the real foe here is the inhospitable Siberian wilderness. In that sense, it takes its place with James Ramsey Ullman's Sands of Karakorum, Peter Forbath's The Last Hero and Slavomir Rawicz's Long Walk in the elite ranks of man vs. nature thrillers.

An Oxford don is contacted by a Russian chemist he met twenty years earlier. His coded message asks that the third man from their meeting, Johnny Porter, a native Canadian anthropologist, come to him at a secret base in Siberia to receive news of an epochal scientific achievement. The brash Porter is the only man who could both plausibly pass for a tribesman of Siberia and comprehend the scientific work involved.

The ground work for the penetration and the detailed process by which Porter gets to the research institute in Tcherny Vodi is right out of Frederick Forsyth, and every bit as well done. The science strains credulity but would be worth the risks that have been taken. But it is the escape that makes the book, as Porter sets out across Siberia to the Bering Straight and beyond in his attempt to escape the Russians and return to the States.

There's a link below where the book is recommended as beach reading. The race across snow and ice is so chilling you might welcome a hot sunny day while you're reading. At any rate, it's one of the best books of its kind ever written and it's great to see it being re-issued so a new generation of fans can discover it.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Lionel Davidson (2 books reviewed)
Lionel Davidson Links:

    -FAN SITE:
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Lionel Davidson (IMDB)
    -FAN SITE: Lionel Davidson (Philip Davidson [author's son])
    -WIKIPEDIA: Lionel Davidson
    -BIO: Lionel Davidson : British novelist (Encyclopædia Britannica)
    -OBIT: Lionel Davidson, 87; wrote popular thrillers in Britain (Margalit Fox, 11/01/09, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Lionel Davidson wrote complex international thrillers (DENNIS BARKER, Nov. 02 2009, Globe and Mail)
    -TRIBUTE: The Genius of Lionel Davidson (B. Kay, National Post)
    -OBIT: Lionel Davidson (Edinburgh News, 11/03/09)
    -OBIT: Lionel Davidson: writer of The Chelsea Murders and Kolymsky Heights (Times of London, November 3 2009)
    -OBIT: Lionel Davidson: Lionel Davidson, who died on October 21 aged 87, wrote thrillers with exotic settings as far apart as Prague, Tibet, Israel and Siberia, as well as several children's books, some of which were written under the name David Line. (The Telegraph, 30 Nov 2009)
    -OBIT: Lionel Davidson: Crime and thriller writer celebrated for his intricate plots and tongue-in-cheek humour (The Independent, 02 December 2009)
    -TRIBUTE: Lionel Davidson: the best spy novelist you might never have read: Lionel Davidson’s high-end espionage thrillers, lost to a generation, are now being revived. Jake Kerridge pays tribute to a forgotten master of the form (Jake Kerridge, 07 Mar 2015, The Telegraph)
    -OBIT: Lionel Davidson obituary: Award-winning writer renowned for thrillers such as The Rose of Tibet and The Chelsea Murders (Dennis Barker, 11/02/09, The Guardian)
    -BOOK LIST: Authors pick their favourite crime novels (Marcel Theroux, Toronto Star)
    -TRIBUTE: Forgotten authors No.37: Lionel Davidson (CHRISTOPHER FOWLER, 06 September 2009, Independent)
    -TRIBUTE : Goodbye to a fine author (Peter Hitchens, 11/09/09, Mail on Sunday)
    -TRIBUTE: Lionel Davidson Revisited (Peter Hitchens, 10/17/14, Mail on Sunday)
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Lionel Davidson (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -AUDIO: Interview with Colin Maclaren – late 1980s
    -PROFILE: Lionel Davidson (Russell James, Shots)
    -AWARD: Diamond Dagger (2001) (Crime Writers Association)
    -ARCHIVES: "lionel davidson" (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson (Janes Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (Natasha Fairweather, Moscow Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (JOE MOORE, Sun-Sentinel)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (Barry Turner, Daily Mail)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (People Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (Stevie Davies, Gulf Today)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (Maxton Walker, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (Nicolla Mira, Thriller Books Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (UpComing4Me)
    -REVIEW: of Kolymsky Heights (For Winter Nights)
    -REVIEW: of NIGHT OF WENCESLAS. By Lionel Davidson (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Smith's Gazelle by Lionel Davidson (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Rose of Tibet by Lionel Davidson (Orville Prescott, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Rose of Tibet by Lionel Davidson (Kirkus Reviews)
    -FILM REVIEW: of Lionel Davidson: 'The Chelsea Murders' - 1978 (Dermot Kavanagh, London Fictions)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Lionel Davidson (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -REVIEW : of KOLYMSKY HEIGHTS By Lionel Davidson (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Kolymsky Heights (Mystery Guide)
    -Real Audio REVIEW: Rose of Tibet (NPR, Alan Cheuse)
    -AWARDS : Dagger Awards (