Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on 16 Feb, 2024 in British Thrillers, Forgotten Crime and Thrillers, Men's Adventure, Spy Fiction, Thriller, Throwback Thursday | 0 comments



After a successful run of high quality adventure thrillers in the MacLean/Bagley style, Gavin Lyall turned towards spy thrillers in 1982 with a short series about Major Harry Maxim.

Maxim is an SAS officer who is assigned as a security adviser to 10 Downing Street following the death of his wife by a terrorist bomb. Maxim’s role is not very clear, but a crisis involving the Prime Minister’s new nuclear policy adviser, a Czech defector, Eastern bloc hit men and the possibility of a mole in MI5 kept him busy in the first book, The Secret Servant, and similar problems filled in his time in the next two books, The Conduct Of Major Maxim and The Crocus List.

Uncle Target (1988) is the fourth, and final, book in the series and opens with Maxim at a loose end, but fortunately on hand when a violent siege occurs at a London hotel involving Jordanian militants. The bloody end to the siege leads to Maxim heading to Jordan, where he finds himself in charge of an experimental British tank which had been loaned to the Jordanians for desert evaluation tests, and is now caught up in a revolt by an entire armoured brigade. Maxim’s job is to keep the radically new gun on the tank out of the hands of the rebels, and the Russians, which leads to a desperate race for survival across the desert.

Despite being billed as a spy novel, Uncle Target is really an old styled military adventure novel, with plenty of action and some well described scenes of violence. A sub plot involving the activities of an Intelligence Sub-Committee, which is monitoring the action in Jordan, adds some good subterfuge and wheeling-and-dealing, but the essence of the story is really Maxim’s adventures in the desert.

The pacing of the story is very good, and, as is usually the case with a Lyall novel, there is plenty of interesting background detail on weaponry, geography and politics, and some fascinating dollops of military history. The story probably does not stand up to really close scrutiny, although it is far more credible than the plotting and heroics of most recent military thrillers. It is also much thinner, and more subtle, than contemporary adventure novels.

As with most British thriller writers of his generation, Lyall was very good at quickly sketching credible, interesting characters, without giving them loads of backstory and pages of angst, and this is once more on display in Uncle Target. There is some good cameos by earlier characters in the series, especially the drunken intelligence adviser, George Harbinger, and Maxim’s girlfriend and MI6 agent Agnes Algar, and the tank’s ragtag crew are a flawed, but engaging bunch. Maxim is also well described, and Lyall ably portrays him as a relatively decent man and soldier, who just happens to be very good at coldly killing people for his country.

There is also the usual world weariness and slightly cynical touches we have come to expect from a Lyall novel. Typical of this is the reflection by one of the characters towards the end of book, when he realises that Maxim is planning on doing his duty as an officer and writing letters to the British families of the deceased:

“‘But you don’t – ‘

‘I was in command’.

Despite a love of hearing his own voice, ***** suddenly decided not to say it was lucky Maxim did not have to write letters to the families of everybody he had got killed in the last sixteen hours, only those on his own side.”

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Uncle Target, and thought that it was lot better than I had remembered. Fans of straight action thrillers should hunt it down and give it a go.

Here is a link to an earlier review I did of the second book in the series, The Conduct Of Major Maxim:

Leave a Reply