RogerBW's Blog

High Water, Douglas Reeman 02 April 2014

In the 1950s, retired MTB commander Philip Vivian gets into trouble while struggling to run a small yacht charter business.

Pure thud-and-blunder. Vivian is a cipher with a sense of honour; he and the Girl (there must be a Girl in these things unless you're John Buchan, and sometimes even then) fall completely in love with each other at first sight; but he's also dim enough not to spot the traps in the dubiously-legal scheme he's offered (admittedly, as the only alternative to losing his boat to the bank) until it's too late.

There are no characters, really, and even someone's sudden change of loyalties doesn't come as much of a surprise, but that's not what these things are for; they're for lightweight action, in the tradition of Dornford Yates before and Dick Francis afterwards, and (one of the few things to betray the book's era) a bit of well-mannered narrative leching over the Girl.

I confess that the idea of counterfeiting dollar bills in England, then smuggling them to France to utter them, caused me to put down the book and say "no"; even if these particular bills are of uniquely high quality, wouldn't it be vastly easier to install your master counterfeiter somewhere in France and not have the danger-prone smuggling stage (involving third parties, and small boats, and so on)? Yes, all right, there is more to it than that; it's the top layer of a multi-level criminal enterprise, and that story exists largely to explain to the new sucker why it's not so terribly illegal really, but it's thin at best.

We don't even get an excruciatingly-detailed account of navigating a small boat in fog without radar, which Reeman could surely have written as he was living on a yacht at the time. There's a little boat-handling here, but mostly it's fisticuffs and a bit of swimming.

The chief bad guy gets killed by accident, rather than have our hero be a murderer. It's that sort of book.

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  1. Posted by John Dallman at 05:45pm on 05 April 2014

    Sounds like an exceptionally poor Reeman. Not that he's a brilliant writer, but he's usually better than this sounds.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 06:13pm on 05 April 2014

    It was his second book (after A Prayer for the Ship), and the one that persuaded him he could do this for a living rather than losing money trying to rent out his yacht. It's basically imitating Fleming's style, but without the Secret Service angle or the psychopathic hero. It doesn't leap at me and say "read the next thing this guy writes", but I probably will at some point.

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