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Ostara Publishing

Top Notch Thrillers Series

Ostara Publishing’s imprint Top Notch Thrillers aims to revive Great British thrillers which do not deserve to be forgotten. Each title has been carefully selected not just for its plot or sense of adventure but for the distinctiveness and sheer quality of its writing. The Series Editor for Top Notch Thrillers is Mike Ripley, author of the award-winning ‘Angel’ comic thrillers, co-editor of the three Fresh Blood anthologies promoting new British crime writing and, for ten years, the crime fiction critic of the Daily Telegraph. He currently writes the ‘Getting Away With Murder’ column for the e-zine Shots on www.shotsmag.co.uk

The Ninth Directive - Adam Hall

“At this time, when the whole of the South-east Asian picture is confused and threatening, Her Majesty’s Government consider it highly desirable that a goodwill mission is undertaken by someone who is neither a statesman nor a diplomat but who commands international respect and admiration, particularly in Thailand. Thus in three weeks’ time a representative of the Queen is to visit Bangkok on a goodwill tour.” With careful precision he said: “During the visit we want you to arrange for his assassination.”
The Striker Portfolio - Adam Hall

The Cold War doesn’t get much colder than at 60,000-feet.... The British-built Striker SK-6 swing-wing jet fighter is at the heart of NATO’s front-line defence strategy on the western side of the Iron Curtain; so why have thirty-six crashed inexplicably and with no survivors? The pilots have already nicknamed the aircraft ‘The Widowmaker’ but are the mysterious crashes down to design faults or sabotage? The super-tough, ultra-cool agent Quiller is sent into West Germany – alone and unarmed as usual – to find out and almost loses his life and his sanity in the process. On first publication, the third ‘Quiller’ novel was praised by reviewers as an “urbane, fast-moving, hyper-knowledgeable action story” and for its “sound, sensitive writing” and one of the best car chases ever described in spy fiction.
The Tale of the Lazy Dog - Alan Williams

With friends like these...... Murray cut him short: ‘All right, I’ll take your word for it. But for a moment you had me worried. I thought it was you who’d killed Finalyson.’ Pol sat back with his champagne and chuckled playfully. ‘Oh but it was, my dear Murray. Or rather, I had him killed. It was the only way.’ Murray closed his eyes. It was not easy to lose one’s temper with a man while you drank his champagne. Especially when he also had a gun.
Snake Water - Alan Williams

‘Hitzi Leiter and Sammy Ryderbeit...both used to guns, both self-confessed killers, both slightly unbalanced.... They were the experts after all. Hitzi knew how to get back to the river, Ryderbeit knew how to recognise raw diamonds when he saw them. All Ben and Mel had done was supply the cash. They were expendable now.’
The Eliminator - Andrew York

Jonas Wilde is The Eliminator, British Intelligence’s officially sanctioned assassin with over 30 successful ‘eliminations’ to his credit. Dour and taciturn, Wilde carries out his orders without gadgets or weapons, other than his bare hands, Wilde has a weakness only for glamorous women, exotic cocktails, the more alcoholic the better, and the yacht in his Channel Island base. But when he suggests to his handlers that he wants to opt out of his murderous life, he is given one ‘last’ assignment: to kill a defecting Czech scientist currently held in a safe house in England by the CIA. The only problem is that Wilde’s employers and the American CIA are supposed to be on the same side.... Aren’t they?
The Predator - Andrew York

‘You have not killed him?’ The man spoke Italian. She rested two fingers on Klaeger’s neck. ‘He’s not dead yet.’ ‘Glorious will be pleased,’ the man said. ‘There are things she wishes to learn, from this man, before he dies.’
The Deviator - Andrew York

The Eliminator is the killer whose bare hands are usually his deadliest weapon. Langtree scrambled out of the car. He was shouting, but his words were unintelligible. Wilde caught his shoulder, jerked him to a standstill and turned him round in the same instant, released him and swung his right hand, upwards now, seeking the base of Langtree’s skull. Langtree dropped without a sound. But he had been too relaxed, already inert; it had not felt right.
Tightrope - Antony Melville-Ross

“A letter was delivered to the Home Secretary at the House of Commons just over two hours ago. It states that an atomic device with approximately twenty-five per cent more destructive power than the Hiroshima bomb has been placed somewhere in the Greater London area. If all British troops have not been withdrawn from Northern Ireland by three weeks from today it will be triggered.”
The Pass Beyond Kashmir - Berkely Mather

“Oil – all the oil in the world; on top of the bloody Himalayas!” Start a rumour about oil being found in the most unlikely spot and they’ll bite at it… even if the rumour stems from the ravings of a delirious survivor of an ill-fated wartime surveying expedition to the foothills of Tibet. Years later, finding the missing papers of that expedition becomes a high priority for spies, mercenaries, oil companies and governments.
The Terminators - Berkely Mather

I said, ‘I haven’t much time, Grant, so you can either answer my questions or I’ll have this Pathan take you outside and cut your throat.’ He blinked and shivered and his tongue flickered round his dry lips. ‘There’s no need for that,’ he bleated. ‘What is it you want to know?’ ‘Who were those people you were handing us over to?’ ‘I don’t know.’ I told Safaraz to give him a Peshawar shave. He chuckled and bent forward and got a handful of Grant’s hair and jerked his head back so that the skin of his throat was stretched tight, then he stroked him gently on the carotid with the razor edge of his knife. Grant screamed.
A Flock of Ships - Brian Callison

“The best war story I have ever read” – Alistair Maclean. It wasn’t difficult for me to pick up at least the basic text of that remote tapping – the last signal from M.V. Cyclops. ...CYCLOPS TO ALL SHIPS...TORPEDOED AND SINKING POSITION P3215-P0330...MASTER AND OFFICERS DEAD... NO HOPE OF SAVING SHIP.....WE ARE ABANDONING... What the hell? We weren’t torpedoed and sinking. Most of the officers were still alive...that position the unknown operator had given – it was several hundred miles to the north-west of this blood-stained circle of rocks. I wrenched the door open and slammed into the cabin fast. Almost fast enough to beat the gun that was snatched from the operator’s table by a very steady hand. ‘You shouldn’t be here, Mate. This boat’s just gone and sunk.’
Seven Days to a Killing - Clive Egleton

The voice was calm, almost soothing. It said, ‘My name is Drabble. We haven’t had the pleasure of meeting one another, Major Tarrant, but I feel I know you very well. I believe you have a son called David.’ Tarrant would act like a pliant tree and bend with the wind. He would mask his feelings as he had been trained to do; he would, if necessary, betray everything he represented to preserve David’s life until he was out of harm’s way, and then, by Christ, even if it took him twenty years, he would track down and kill Drabble.
The October Plot - Clive Egleton

Shortly before midnight, the duty radio operator in the Soviet Embassy sent a Flash message to the Kremlin for the attention of the State Defence Committee. The text was necessarily vague. Decoded it read: FROM RELIABLE SOURCE HAVE HEARD THAT WITHIN NEXT SEVENTY-TWO HOURS ATTEMPT WILL BE MADE ON LIFE OF MARTIN BORMANN BY BRITISH COMMANDOS. TIME AND PLACE NOT KNOWN BUT INFORMANT CONFIDENT IT WILL SUCCEED. MESSAGE ENDS.
Cold War - David Brierley

I kill, therefore I am.....They were swift. The first time they tried to kill me was that same evening.... Introducing Cody, a disillusioned 28-year-old CIA-trained agent now living in Paris; or to be more accurate, trying to stay alive in Paris as she finds herself involved in an international conspiracy which threatens to destabilise France in the middle of a Presidential election. And if you want to kill somebody in France, during an election would be the perfect time.... On first publication in 1979 Cold War earned author David Brierley the accolade “a new name joins the world’s greatest spy fiction writers” and his heroine Cody was quickly recognised as an agent just as tough and resourceful as a Bond or a Quiller.
Big Bear, Little Bear - David Brierley

Orris was careful not to say too much; never volunteer information to a man with a gun; nor to a woman. He was the Depot’s best man in the field: he was proficient with gun, knife and hands; when he stood still he went unnoticed; he moved fast without hurrying; he was infinitely plausible when questioned; but once you’ve been at the wrong end of a rifle, everything changes. For days after you see colours more vividly, the outlines of familiar objects are sharper. Orris well knew that four years in this field and you were an old fox or you were dead.
Undertow - Desmond Cory

Moreno was a double agent in wartime and a psychopathic killer in peacetime. Now out of prison and working clandestinely for the KGB in Franco’s Spain, he faces the one man able – and prepared – to bring him down, the freelance British agent Johnny Fedora. Described as “the thinking man’s James Bond”, Fedora as created by Desmond Cory first appeared in print in 1951, two years before Bond made his debut in Casino Royale. Fedora was to feature in some 15 novels over a period of 20 years and Undertow is the first of what was to become known as the ‘Feramontov Quintet’ – five novels which charted the duel between Fedora and Feramontov, his KGB nemesis. In 1965, the influential American critic Anthony Boucher wrote: “For my money, Johnny Fedora, professional killer for British Intelligence, more than deserves to take over James Bond’s avid audience.”
Black Camelot - Duncan Kyle

Among the trees they halted and looked up through the budding branches at the south face of the Wewelsburg. Twin round towers stood at either end of the great castle wall, which was still decorated with the inset ownership marks of the Bishops of Paderborn. The fortress looked now as it must have looked for centuries; grey and strong and impregnable. ‘How the hell,’ Conway asked, almost with indignation, ‘do you expect to break into that?’
Cage of Ice - Duncan Kyle

We were alone on the Polar Sea.From this time on, as we approached Soviet territory, an armed and fast-moving party, there could be no question what we were, no possibility that we were about any lawful business; for nobody had lawful business here….If we were picked up, by radar, seismograph or anything else, we’d be tracked in and a hot reception would be waiting. All we could do was go ahead boldly. Novaya Zemlya loomed out of the Arctic night at eight thirty-six p.m.
Terror's Cradle - Duncan Kyle

The Holm of Noss – an uninhabited vertical rock rising 150-feet out of the stormy seas of the Shetlands – the only means of approach, a precarious ‘Tyrolean traverse’ cradle. I’d got the cradle over the cliff edge now and I hesitated a long minute before I could force myself to climb in. As I did, the rope sagged under my weight, the cradle rocked terrifyingly and I could hear my own uncontrolled grunt of panic…I couldn’t see what was beneath, and I was insanely glad I couldn’t…If my hand slipped, the cradle would bucket away down the slope… I’d be thrown out and flung into the depths below. When I realized it could slide no further and that I was really across, actually on the Holm itself, I raised my body to look cautiously over the side…at the dark figure of a man. His back was to the moon so his face was in shadow, but the moon gleamed on something else: on the blue barrel of the weapon in his hands.
Time is an Ambush - Francis Clifford

‘Time is an ambush, señor. It always wins in the end.’ He came to a halt by the terrace door, developing an apparent interest in something out at sea. “Would it surprise you to know that Señor Scheele was not – as everyone supposed – drowned?” I snorted. “It would astonish me.” “In that case I should like to see your astonishment.” He turned with theatrical effect. “The fact is that Señor Scheele was shot.”
The Grosvenor Square Goodbye - Francis Clifford

A lone, crazed sniper starts shooting at random from the Shelley Hotel, dead opposite the US Embassy. The first victim dies at the foot of the Roosevelt monument. The rifleman then breaks into a bedroom and takes the couple there as hostages. Because of the US Embassy, police response is quick and massive and the book becomes a battle of wits with the sniper (who demands to see the American ambassador) as police and security services try to discover who he is and what he wants
A Clear Road to Archangel - Geoffrey Rose

‘To take a prisoner is more difficult than to leave a corpse... I ejected the spent cartridge from my revolver and inserted a fresh one. The bill for liberty was growing long – the farm-hand shot in my place, Mikhail probably dead one way or another, and now this fellow, whose only offence was that he’d tried to stop me when I hadn’t time to argue.
The Terrible Door - George Sims

‘I felt a jarring push in my side that took me a long way towards the stairs. I half turned to see the big chap coming up behind me and then another push caught me off balance and I fell down the stairs taking a picture with me, landing in a heap with it at the bottom. There was a taste of salt in my mouth. The tall minatory figure hung over me as I tried to get my breath and think straight. It seemed that I had given offence, in some unknown way, to this huge lunatic. ‘He narrowed his eyes and said slowly, “I’m going to hurt you, sonny.” His face remained quite calm.
A Magnum for Schneidner - James Mitchell

Schneider. ‘He has to die,’ said Hunter, ‘and you may be the man for the job.’ ‘What’s he done?’ ‘That is the second time you have asked that question. It isn’t your concern. Your business is execution and nothing else – not clouding your mind with reason and explanation. Do as you’re told and do it without question. Or get out now. He’s in a red file, Callan. That’s reason enough.’ ‘All right,’ said Callan. ‘All right.’
Russian Roulette - James Mitchell

Hunter said, ‘They made a try last night.’ ‘A try?’ said Meres. ‘They didn’t succeed?’ ‘Far from it,’ Hunter said. ‘It was something of a fiasco, I’m afraid. Callan killed one of them – and both their dogs.’ ‘He did that without a gun?’ ‘Certainly,’ said Hunter. ‘He’s very able you know.’
Death and Bright Water - James Mitchell

Callan, the most ruthlessly efficient member of British Intelligence’s own assassination bureau known only as The Section, had made many deadly enemies within Moscow’s KGB. So why were they now recommending him for job? It’s not a job Callan wants, he just wants to get out of the whole sordid business, but if he doesn’t take the job – rescuing a radical Greek politician’s daughter from her kidnappers on Crete – then Callan might just find himself in one of the Section’s infamous Red Files. ‘I’m finished with you,’ said Callan. ‘Finished with the Section. You know that.’ ‘Nobody’s ever completely finished with me,’ said Hunter. First published in 1974, this was the third full-length Callan novel by his creator James Mitchell, back in print for the first time in 38 years.
Smear Job - James Mitchell

First published in 1975, Smear Job was the fourth novel to feature David Callan, the iconic secret agent created by James Mitchell. Callan’s trade is killing – and though it’s a profession he despises, he is supremely good at it. As Smear Job begins, Callan is attempting to ‘go straight’ in a legitimate (almost) security consultancy business with his pungent friend Lonely, but soon he is made an offer he can hardly afford to refuse. However, when the offer comes from the ruthless Hunter, head of The Section Callan used to work for, refusal might be better for the health. In a multi-layered plot the action moves swiftly and violently from Sicily to gangland London to California and back to Europe and the only thing that can be relied on is Callan’s ability to be quickest on the draw when the chips are down.
Bonfire Night - James Mitchell

Written at the very end of his life when he was terminally ill, Bonfire Night was the last novel by James Mitchell to feature his most famous creation, David Callan. Out of print for more than a decade and never before published in paperback, Bonfire Night has been the rarest of the five Callan novels, eagerly sought after by dedicated fans of the iconic Callan television series (1967-72). As James Mitchell’s son Peter explains in a poignant Introduction especially written for this new edition, Bonfire Night was never really meant to be published, but rather written as a form of therapy. The novel undoubtedly has major structural flaws but also many flashes of Mitchell’s trademark cynical wit and his flair for fast-paced action, as he introduces the reader to a Callan who is now wealthy and living the high-life with his own ‘castle’ in Spain, a Lonely who is even wealthier and almost changed beyond recognition, and a new ‘Hunter’ – who is now a woman. Fortunately, Callan has not forgotten his old skills…
Innocent Bystanders - James Mitchell (writing as James Munro)

They set Craig up – he shot them down! was the tagline on the poster for the 1972 film version of The Innocent Bystanders, which starred Stanley Baker as tough-as-nails British agent John Craig on the track of a missing Russian scientist. The trail begins in a Soviet gulag in Siberia and the hunt leads Craig to America, Turkey and Cyprus. Very quickly Craig realises that there is no-one on this violence-strewn journey he can trust, except himself. Under the pen name James Munro, James Mitchell created the hard-man secret agent Craig some three years before his more famous fictional spy Callan, but it Craig who was seen for a while as the natural successor to James Bond. The Innocent Bystanders was the fourth and final book to feature John Craig and was first published in 1969, it has been out of print in the UK for 44 years.
Funeral Sites - Jessica Mann

Rosamund Sholto is a confident, cosmopolitan professional woman, successful and well-educated. Yet nothing has prepared her for the awful realisation that her younger sister Phoebe’s “accidental” death in a fall from a Swiss mountain was not accidental at all and almost certainly engineered by her husband, the ruthless politician Aidan Britton who is only a heartbeat away from becoming Prime Minister. Suspecting that Aidan has more than just his wife’s death to cover up, Rosamund goes on the run; with the press, the police, the security services and her brother-in-law’s private army of political enforcers in pursuit. A gripping thriller of chase and pursuit, this is an updated, feminist reworking of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps and the first appearance of feisty archaeologist heroine Tamara Hoyland, who was to become Jessica Mann’s most renowned series character.
The Young Man From Lima - John Blackburn

He bent over the electro-microscope and his hand tightened around the base. More dead cells were floating in the clear liquid. They were blurred and indistinct, but dotted around them was the same rash of circular dots which he had seen before. And one of them was moving. In the cold universe of cells something had come to life: a creature shaped rather like a bear which twisted, swelled, split and reproduced itself in the oxygen of the distilled water.
The Liquidator - John Gardner

Mostyn prided himself that he could read the truth in other men’s eyes....This man, a perfect technician in death, had enjoyed shooting to kill. He was a born assassin, a professional who would blow a man’s life from him as easily, and with as little emotion, as he would blow his own nose.... This one, thought Mostyn, will be worth watching. One day he might be useful again.... And thus is the hapless Brian Ian “Boysie” Oakes talent-spotted for a top job in British Intelligence; that of the official Liquidator, code-named “L” – the professional assassin whose prime function is to murder potential security leaks. With the job comes all the perks of the James Bond life style: the highest standards of food and drink, the fast cars and the even faster women. But Boysie has a secret – several in fact. His jet-set existence doesn’t sit too well with his morbid fear of flying and his natural cowardice makes him fight shy of actually doing the murders he is ordered to commit to the extent that he sub-contracts that part of his job description to an underworld ‘undertaker’ called Griffin, leaving himself free to concentrate on the good things in life, such as taking the boss’ secretary to the Cote d’Azur for a dirty week-end. From the start, Boysie’s illicit jaunt fails to go to lascivious plan and then gets downright dangerous as the reluctant – and blissfully ignorant – “L” is drawn in to the highly secret ‘Operation Coronet’. So secret in fact that no-one, least of all Boysie, seems to know what is going on. Written as a tongue-in-cheek antidote to the James Bond stories, The Liquidator launched the careers of both Boysie Oakes and his creator John Gardner, who went on to become one of the dominant figures in British thriller writing.
Night of Glass - Philip Purser

“What more natural, more unsuspicious than a routine visit from a couple of maintenance men armed with the proper passes?” “And who leave again smuggling someone out?” asked Nick. “Perhaps. But rather risky, eh? Since the electrified wire and the searchlights are there to prevent escapes, suppose the power were to be cut off at a pre-arranged moment...the someone could be waiting. It would be up to him.” “A time-bomb, you mean?” “Something like that.”
The Lusitania Plot - Raymond Hitchcock

“As a result of this U-boat war…America is tottering on the brink. Anti-German feeling is ready to bubble right over. All we want is one more little push. Something that would involve plenty of Uncle Sam’s nationals…One more act of German arrogance, one more example of their complete disregard of the rules of war.” On the afternoon of 7th May 1915 the ocean liner Lusitania rounded the Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland, on her return journey from New York to Liverpool, where a German U-boat lay in wait. The Lusitania was torpedoed and sank in under twenty minutes with the loss of over 1,100 lives – 124 of the victims being Americans. But what if two submarines had been planning an ambush – and one of them British? Based around the real World War I atrocity, Raymond Hitchcock’s gripping conspiracy thriller poses an outrageous plot to sacrifice the Lusitania in order to bring America into World War I. First published in 1979 under the title Attack The Lusitania
The Tunnellers - Raymond Hitchcock

It is 1917 and 90-feet beneath the German trenches on the Messines Ridge in Flanders, two young British Sappers are guarding 60,000 pounds of explosives designed to blow the enemy positions sky high. But the enemy is already tunnelling towards them. Raymond Hitchcock’s immaculately-researched World War I saga, first published in 1986, is a graphic description of trench warfare and the perilous work of the Tunnellers who fought their war beneath the trenches. The brutality of tunnel life, the tensions between officers and the men, the comradeship and the heroism of the battlefield are delicately contrasted with flashbacks to pre-war Somerset village life, making this a tense, exciting and surprisingly tender thriller.
Somewhere in England - Reg Gadney

He knew what would happen if it caught fire. Because once nitrate film begins to deteriorate it is described by the experts as ‘sticky’…at this point it becomes highly explosive… Academic David Peto’s research involves viewing hour-after-hour of Nazi propaganda films in a private archive on the desolate Suffolk coast. If that wasn’t harrowing enough, an explosion in the film store drops Peto into the middle of a conspiracy involving Middle Eastern intelligence agencies and the sinister ODESSA organisation. Could he have inadvertently identified a wanted Nazi war criminal on one of the films? A war criminal now living ‘somewhere in England’? Peto becomes ensnared in a dangerous game of hide-and-seek across London which culminates in an audacious burglary of the Imperial War Museum. First published in 1971 and described by the New Statesman as: ‘Tense, razor-sharp and excellent value’
Drawn Blanc - Reg Gadney

It is the fag-end of the 1960s and the British Secret Service is still reeling from the betrayals of the Philby era. Espionage is changing, with agents recruited on a freelance basis – small, individual jigsaw pieces in a much larger puzzle. One reluctant recruit is young Czech dissident O.B. Blanc, on the run accused of murdering a KGB officer and his mission to plant listening devices in a select London gentlemen’s club is anything but straightforward. Reg Gadney’s spare and icily convincing debut thriller, first published in 1970, was greeted with acclaim by critics who suggested comparisons with the work of Graham Greene and Franz Kafka.
The Rainbird Pattern - Victor Canning

What could be the connection between the ruthlessly professional ‘Trader Abductions’ – a series of high-profile kidnappings of Establishment figures – a lonely, and rich, 73-year-old spinster and the blousy ‘Madame Blanche Tyler’, self-styled clairvoyant, medium and psychic healer? The answer lies in the title of the famous thriller by one of Britain’s most prolific and best-loved popular novelists, Victor Canning. On first publication, The Rainbird Pattern garnered rave reviews – ‘an unputdownable, multi-threaded thriller’ (Guardian); ‘the sheer imaginative weight holds you like a giant electro-magnet’ (The Times); ‘a most cunning Canning’ (Daily Mirror) – and won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Silver Dagger. The story was transposed from England to California and filmed by Alfred Hitchcock (his last film) as Family Plot in 1976. First published in 1972.
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