Tuesday, October 2

The Vivero Letter - Desmond Bagley

After overhearing his girlfriend describe him as an anonymous little grey man who would do until the real thing came along, accountant Jeremy Wheale is already predisposed to assess his life. Arriving at the family farm, owned by Wheale's for over four hundred years, Jemmy finds the body of a stranger in the drive and that of his beloved older brother in the kitchen.
Bob was shot by a small-time American gangster, working for a Mafia boss, over a gold filigree tray that has been in the family for centuries. Now the object of keen interest, and the cause of his brother's murder, the tray takes Jemmy to South America on a hunt for a lost Mayan city and a treasure trove of gold.
This is one of my favourite Bagley novels, a phrase I tend to use about each one! As usual the story is built around a familiar framework - a pleasant, ordinary, fundamentally decent but sometimes flawed man is thrust into an unfamiliar and challenging environment and triumphs, finding love along the way. The novels are necessarily dated (The Vivero Letter was published 40 years ago, so mentions of COBOL and ALGOL are as typical of the time as the next reference to John Lennon in the recording studio) but none the less engrossing for that.
Bagley was able to combine great characters with thrilling plots and throw in information in a Greenwood-esque way, so that though it's obvious he did his research, the reader isn't barraged or hit over the head with it.
When rereading these novels I realise how much information I've retained from his work. When I watched "Mythbusters" I already knew that water stops bullets, because Jemmy is safe diving in a cenote, and I could pronounce some of the towns my brother visited in South America because I knew Uaxuanoc was pronounced Wash-wanoc. But mostly I'm reminded of how much I enjoy the sheer pleasure of his prose. - Alex

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