Thriller Corner: High Citadel by Desmond Bagley #BookReview

In the biting cold of the Andes, their hi-jacked plane crash-landed, Tim O’Hara’s passengers are fighting for their lives. While O’Hara leads one group along a deadly, snow-covered pass, the other is working to stall the armed soldiers who plan to kill them all. Ingenious ideas are put into action as they attempt to survive until help arrives.

Title: High Citadel | Author: Desmond Bagley | Publisher: House of Stratus| Pages: 287 | ISBN: 9781842320129 | Publication date: 1965| Source: Purchased

Written in the mid-60s, ‘High Citadel’ is about as solid a traditional adventure thriller as you could hope to read. It has a simple but effective premise, a square-jawed hero, a decent supporting cast, and as much of the peril coming from nature as it does bad guys. I wrote recently in my review of Bagley’s recently published novel ‘Domino Island’ that I thought this was one of he first “grown up” books I read. Reading it I’m not sure it was, as none of it rung a bell for me. I definitely remember a paperback copy of the edition I’ve used for the cover image being in the house when I was a kid though. And indeed when I mailed my Dad to give him my thoughts on ‘Domino Island’, he mentioned ‘High Citadel’ as his favourite of Bagley’s books.

Like a lot of these kind of novels, the hero is a white man abroad. If that feels like a dated set up nowadays, then the fact that a great deal of the dialogue is about how terrible communists are probably won’t seem any more current. The book is certainly very much of its time. In this case the white man is Irish pilot Tom O’Hara, who flies a battered old Dakota for a shoestring airline operating in the Andes. He’s given the task of flying ten passengers across the mountains, but then the flight is hijacked and he has to make a crash landing. O’Hara and the surviving passengers end up in a fight for survival against a vicious group of soldiers (communist ones, naturally).

Politics aside, it’s an immediately appealing set up. The battle against both the hostile environment and the troops is genuinely gripping, with the passengers using their ingenuity to survive. Bagley throws everything at them. The books features mountain climbing, aerial dogfights, medieval weapons and more. It’s a classic adventure and thrilling from first page to last. O’Hara is an enjoyable everyman hero, but it’s the ragtag supporting characters that really make the book fun. They have the variety of a disaster movie cast and are just as enjoyable. The book is over 50 years old now, but I’d still take this kind of thriller over the carbon copy ex-special forces operatives getting revenge style books that seem to make up the genre nowadays.


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