Ostara Publishing Colourfon

Ostara Publishing

28 Jan 2010
Books: Night of Glass

Adrian Magson review in Shots Magazine

Review by Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is the author of the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer series

Among the first of a series of revivals of Great British thrillers, edited by Mike Ripley and published by Ostara, this book first appeared in 1968. 

It’s 1938 and the Munich Crisis is gripping Europe. Mobilisation is beginning, stocks of food and essentials are being laid in, and in Germany, there is ample evidence of Hitler’s intentions towards Jews, homosexuals and academics.

Dachau concentration camp has been born.

Elsewhere, however, life goes on. In England, some view it as a bit of a fuss which will die down. But there are others who decide in true grit style that Something Must Be Done, and devise an audacious plan to spring one of the inmates out of Dachau.

With the feeling that’s it’s all a jolly lark on one hand and desperately serious on the other, we follow Michael Pickup and his fellow plotters, Amering, Nicholson and Linné, on their jaunt to strike a blow against the Nazis. Using photographs taken from a glider over Dachau, Pickup builds a model of the camp with his friend Stanley, and they plan their approach.

Their secret weapon is a device which will temporarily shut down the current throughout the camp – especially the lights and electric fences. But to work, it has to be smuggled into the camp and wired into the generator.

It is easy with hindsight to wonder how such an amateurish rag-style jaunt was thought worthy of a novel. But that’s more to do with changes in style and demands of readers than anything; we’ve come a long way since 1968, and the proposition probably wouldn’t float now, given that we’re so sophisticated ‘n worldy ‘n  all.

Nowadays, if a thriller writer had four mates banding together to rescue someone, they’d all be former Special Forces hard nuts and tooled up to the eyeballs with Sig Sauers and H&Ks sticking out of every orifice, and the odd Stinger thrown in for good measure. Oh, and they’d use an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) to knock out the electrical system and abseil in via the roof.

Fortunately, while this novel is almost devoid of weaponry, it is heavy on atmosphere, especially the ‘should we, shouldn’t we?’ social conscience prevalent at the time (and not only among the students; the general populace across Europe varied between those who deplored what was going on and those who simply turned a convenient blind eye).

Thrown in for good measure, especially from Michael Pickup’s viewpoint, are the class and social tensions of the era, and the sheer unworldly nature of those involved. But it’s not long before they realise that the lark is suddenly turning nasty, and lives are in danger.

I must confess I found some of the characters irritating at first. I’d have left the love-sick Pickup behind for a start (and I do mean in Germany), and Jill, the object of his desires and blinkered social butterfly, needed a swift kick up the derriere to open her eyes and her conscience as to what was really going on.

But maybe that was clever writing, because I had to remind myself that Philip Purser was writing about society in the late 1930s, when the so-called intellectuals of a certain age treated everything as either a lark or got seriously steamed under the collar about everything.

Actually, what’s changed?

This is still a great story, if only because it focuses on a concentrated group of people, a tiny corner of society, and a fragment of real history in the making. And if the style and language have changed over the years, the image painted of the tensions around at the time are convincingly portrayed, not only in England, but in Hitler’s Germany.

It also serves to undermine those who say, ‘It couldn’t happen here.


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