Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Kingfisher by Gerald Seymour

I first read Kingfisher back in 1987 or 1988. (I can't be exactly sure of the date except to say that I read all Seymour's books to date in a short period in late-'87 and early-'88. I liked him and I wanted to read them all!) Recently I have reread it.

Kingfisher is probably my favourite of his earlier books. By now his trademark template was established with multiple shades of gray colouring everything that happens.

The book was written and is set in 1977 when the Soviet Union was still a monolith a long way from crumbling. The story concerns a number of Jewish students in the Ukraine who have grown tired of the repression and decide to takes things into their own hands. They botch the shooting of a policeman and one of their number gets captured. The three remaining students decide to hijack a plane in the naive belief that the West will welcome them with open arms and let them go to Israel.

Their illusions are quickly shattered when various Western European airports prevent the plane from landing. Eventually they land in England low on fuel and demand that they are allowed to continue to Israel.

In the control tower is Charlie Webster of MI6's Soviet Desk. He's what passes for an expert on dissidents and has been summoned in order to advise his political masters and the police on the hijackers and their motives. What he observes only reinforces his cynicism and he's desperate to find a way for both the passengers and the hijackers to survive and avoid the inevitable bloodshed.

The book works particularly well because much of the story is told from the point of view of the hijackers. We discover that they are not evil people; rather they are misguided and ultimately find themselves as powerless as the passengers they have taken hostage.

Kingfisher is well worth a look.

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