Short Takes: Gavin Lyall's THE SECRET SERVANT
They've tried to inject the Le Carre sort of spy story -- spying is a dirty bureacratic business that tarnishes everything it touches -- with action elements ever since Le Carre plopped onto the stage. One of the better cracks at it is Lyall's Henry Maxim series, which I think debuted with the evocatively titled The Conduct of Major Maxim. It's more energetic than a typical Le Carre book, without robbing the story of a moral seriousness.
I've sadly only tracked one Lyall down, this one. Here's my notes on this one:
The first 3/4 of this is very well done indeed, the best fusion of Fleming and Le Carre I've stumbled across yet. The top European arms negotiator has a secret that could destroy him; the man to save him is Major Harry Maxim, a somewhat mysterious, recently widowed army officer on loan to British Intelligence. Astutely told and very quick-moving, extra kudos for making the goals here very small and reasonable (our heroes aren't trying to save the world, merely one man who might give the West a somewhat small edge in some ways). Falls apart at the end, because unfortunately the big secret, once revealed, turns out to be not that shocking or interesting. (Although it's rather touching Lyall thought it was.) Interesting, and despite it's flaws worth reading
I actually kept a spoiler from myself in my own notes. What's up with that? The big secret
is that the negotiator is a homosexual. See? Kind of naive.
Here's the wiki
He died a few years back -- I didn't know.
Here's an okay review from Mystery Guide that touches on some of the same points I made (although I think the idea that Dick Francis, rather than Ian Fleming, was an influence is better than mine). It ends rather stupidly by suggesting that the British are innately better stylists (they aren't, except to yahoo American ears), but the first part is good.
Here's a blog entry by the esteemable Bill Crider.
And here's a dismissal of Lyall's Midnight Plus One from some yutz who's a little too old to be playing with Live journal, you ask me.