THROWBACK THURSDAY: STALKING POINT by Duncan Kyle (1981)
The massive success of Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed in 1975 spawned a wave of similar Second World War thrillers about supposedly top secret German missions to kill prominent Allied leaders or wreak havoc and change the course of the war.
For awhile there in the 1970s and 1980s, a flood of valiant fictional agents were busy thwarting a range of secret missions including assassination attempts against Roosevelt (Owen Sela’s An Exchange of Eagles, John Lee’s The Ninth Man and later Glenn Meade’s The Sands of Sakkara and David L. Robbins’ The Assassins Gallery); plans to undermine the British Government (Kenneth Royce’s Channel Assault and Jack Higgins’ To Catch A King); attempts to disrupt the American nuclear program (Nicholas Guild’s Chain Reaction and Ted Willis’ The Lions Of Judah) and even a last ditch plan to launch a submarine attack on New York City (Double Griffin by Clive Egleton under his Patrick Blake nom de plume); to name but a few.
Accomplished British thriller Duncan Kyle also entered the secret German mission fray in 1981 with Stalking Point.
The book revolves around a plot to kill Winston Churchill and Roosevelt during a secret meeting off the coast of Newfoundland in 1941. The purpose of the mission is to stop America from entering the war, by killing Roosevelt and having non-interventionists “like Senator Taft and Joe Kennedy” take his place, and dampen the British resolve by getting rid of Churchill.
The plot is hatched by the disgruntled German Consul-General in San Francisco, who wants to be fighting in the war, and a rabid anti-British, Irish-American businessman. As their plan takes shape, senior German Intelligence figures also see the possibility in the mission and gradually a former German World War I pilot living in America under the false name of Ernie Miller is coerced into helping.
Kyle is convincing in describing the origins of the plot and how it gradually evolves. The planning stage moves at a sluggish pace, but once the mission is underway the pace picks up. There are some good scenes along the way to the dramatic aerial climax, including one involving a tense encounter between two of the German plotters transporting explosives and a bad-tempered cop. The ending is probably predictable, but Kyle handles it well drawing out the suspense in a credible way.
Where Stalking Point suffers in comparison to books like The Eagle Has Landed, is that the German agents involved in the mission are not particularly likable, and even the coerced Miller comes off as being weak and self-centred. So while it is possible to admire the determination of the German agents, the reader never really cares what happens to them. The potential suspense is also undermined by there not being a counterbalance to the Germans. There is no Allied agent desperately trying to stop them with whom we can cheer on. Only towards the end does a surprising pair of amateurs step up to take the Germans on
In all, Stalking Point is interesting thriller that could have made more of its rich source material and clever central idea. Kyle’s earlier thrillers, including the very good World War II thriller Black Camelot, were notable for their flashes of violence and bloody conclusions. More of that kind of action would have been useful here.