Wednesday 12 July 2023

Operation Diplomat by Francis Durbridge

I've said plenty of times how much I enjoy the 'cliff-hanger' serials written by Francis Durbridge. Maybe they stretch plausibility to the limit, maybe they are a guilty pleasure, but they are a lot of fun. Williams and Whiting have done a great job in reprinting many Durbridge titles, including some that haven't seen the light of day in book form before. The latest example is Operation Diplomat.

A useful intro by Melvyn Barnes, the leading expert on Durbridge, explains that the original TV serial was a follow-up to the better-known  The Broken Horseshoe, and was broadcast in six episodes by the BBC towards the end of 1952. The original cast list is included and I noted several familiar names, such as Raymond Huntley and (in a minor role) Roger Delgado, later famed as 'The Master' in Doctor Who. The story was later filmed, but has never appeared in book form before.

There is a dramatic opening, with a dead body on the floor of a flat owned by Mark Fenton, the doctor who is the main protagonist. The deceased, also a doctor, is a man called Edward Schroder, and Fenton is trying to explain to Inspector Austin the extraordinary sequence of events which preceded Schroder's death. In a nutshell, Fenton was kidnapped in order to perform a life-saving operation on a famous diplomat called Sir Oliver Peters. Schroder warned Fenton that his life was in danger - but Schroder was the one to be shot.  

I enjoyed this one, especially because the cliff-hangers are really attention-grabbing. In one or two instances, the subsequent resolution of the dramatic climax was slightly underwhelming, with red herrings abounding, but appreciating Durbridge to the full does require the regular suspension of disbelief. This story was entertaining enough for me to be very glad to go with the flow. Congratulations to the publishers for making it available to a new readership.  

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