Having re-read a number of my previous reviews I thought to myself that others readers may wonder why I add so much story-line detail rather than offering too much in the way of criticism or praise for the books I read. Initially my sole reason for writing these reviews were purely as ‘Aide memoire’ for my ever failing memory. I don’t profess to be a literary critic but just wanted these shortened records as a reminder for future years.
Curtain of Fear
In 1946 Churchill spoke of an “Iron Curtain” coming down upon Europe. A term echoed by Dennis Wheatley in this book.
Wendy Stevenson is a 22 year old student of political economics at Birmingham University and daughter of a rich manufacturer who lives in Solihull.
Wendy’s tutor, Nicholas Novak (Nick) is 30 years old, with a slight stoop (a la Simon Aaron). His parents had both been killed in the war and had been left to fend for himself with very little money.
He normally loathed and despised what were loosely termed the idle rich. He (believed) he was as Red as any Leftist could be, while by upbringing and conviction she was a True Blue Tory.
The political differences were the only things that were disrupting their engagement.
Nick has a cousin – Bilto Novak. He is a Czech and also an ardent Red as well as being an atomic scientist working at Harwell http://www.harwelloxford.com/about/history
who now wishes to pass his knowledge back to the communists and return to Czechoslovakia.
Nick meets up with cousin Bilto in the Russel Hotel, London http://www.londonrussellhotel.co.uk/?gclid=CKbYovm796wCFQUhtAodyhSNTg
Bilto wants Nick to have power of attorney just in case Bilto gets caught spying. Nick reluctantly agrees but is still doubtful as Bilto has extreme communist views. In fact Nick is so concerned, that he decides to take Biltos’ passport whilst Bilto is out of the room. Nick says farewell to his brother and on his way out decides to have a drink in the hotel bar. (A pretty stupid thing to do when you have just stolen someone’s passport; but we shouldn’t let illogical actions get in the way of an average plot.
Whilst enjoying his drink a page boy walks through the bar area with a message for Bilto Novak.
Nick takes the message (intended for Bilto) it advises that his car was waiting for him. As Nick looks very much like Bilto he decides to take the car that is supposed to be taking him to an address in London prior to his taking the plane to Prague airport. A young lady called Horovska is there to accompany him. Nick deliberately tries to slow things down by asking to be taken to a different address first. She reluctantly does so. When he delays the visit too long Horovska gets anxious and the chauffeur comes to her assistance in trying to get Nick back into in the car.
The chauffeur (Rufus) is a powerfully built Negro, well over six feet two in height. Folded in his hand is a five inch blade of cut-throat razor.
Rufus & Horovska take Nick to an address near Ladbroke Grove. Nick is then introduced to a man named Vanek who has short grey hair cut en brosse (as had many of DW’s baddies before this one). He is the principal representative of the Czechoslovak people’s government in this country. He is also delighted that the eminent Professor Bilto Novak has decided to return to Czechoslovakia. At this stage Nick decides to let them know that he is not Bilto, however Horovska swings the story around by telling Rufus and Vanek that this man has been her lover for the last two years and she should know that he is Bilto.
As a result Horovska and a drugged Nick are placed on a plane to Prague.
They are taken to their accommodation where Horovska admits that her real name is Fedora.
Nick realises that the political beliefs of Fedora were, in essence, the same as those of Wendy.
He couldn’t understand why Fedora had told Vanek that he was Bilto or what she was planning to do whilst she was here?
Another baddie is introduced into the story; Comrade Frcek; a biggish man, but bulky rather than tall. He, like Vanek is a minister in the people’s government. He has been told of the problems that had taken place in London and now believes that Fedora is a traitor as she has been found out to have been lying about the identification of the man she had flown over with. It was Nick not Bilto as she had claimed. Frcek proceeds to have her whipped (two full pages of detail) and then sent to Moscow with Nick for further interrogation.
Nick and Fedora are taken from prison in a large six-seater car. They hadn’t been driving long when allies of Fedora ambush the car. Nick & Fedora escape by hiding in a small bar/theatre. They were hoping to remain inconspicuous and took one of the ‘Horse shoe shaped theatre boxes’, which with the press of a switch drops down several feet to allow secrecy to couples who were none too interested in the entertainment on the stage.
They head off to find one of Fedora’s contacts who allows them to stay in a hiding place within his small Hotel.
The authorities manage to locate them and a gun battle follows, the hotel catches fire and Fedora & Nicky are stranded upstairs.
The Jacket cover of the Hardback book shows the two of them jumping out of a window at the back of the Hotel into a canal. This is probably the best scene in the book and is really well described.
Their ordeal continues via a trek through the night-time countryside. They meet up with some local villagers and given a barn to sleep in until they can get out of the country.
Unfortunately the villagers had been illegally holding religious ceremonies in the barn to which the police had been informed and a large van is brought along to take them to prison. Nick manages to evade capture by jumping onto the roof of the van. This is also another very good scene in the book. The ending however I will leave for others to read.
Page 18 - 19 Nicholas wanted Wendy to, “..abandon the shibboleths of her bourgeois antecedents and be moulded into his right-hand in the great crusade for internationalism and equality”!!!!!!!!
Page 164 - Nick was .....”an agnostic, so it did not occur to him to pray for divine intervention.” He obviously wasn’t an Agnostic then! The definition is, ‘an agnostic is popularly defined as a person who holds to a middle ground between atheism and theism who also believes that the existence of God is a definite possibility but it is not within the realm of one’s knowledge’.
Page 176 – DW promotes the author Paul Gallico by recalling a book called ‘Trial by Terror’ . DW (Nick) says that it is a brilliant piece of work which describes the treatment meted out to
suspected saboteurs. This book was the basis of a film called Assignment: Paris in 1952, starring Dana Andrews and George Sanders. It’s strange that Paul Gallico can write novels as diverse as Trial by Terror’ and The Three Lives of Thomasina, which was made into a Disney film in 1964.
Page 177 - Whilst Nick (and Fedora) are on the run from the ‘Peoples Government’ he switches his mind back to another book that he had recently read. It was about a thoroughly unscrupulous character who, between nights of love-making with a beautiful Countess, went about the continent murdering innocent policemen & others because it chanced that their duties caused them to stay in the way of British objectives during the last war. There had been a scene in which the central character, who rejoiced in the unlikely name of Gregory Sallust, had been present, although a civilian, at Dunkirk...
Page 191 - 205 The Horse shoe shaped elevator style theatre boxes mentioned above might significantly increase theatre attendances if they were re-introduced. Maybe they already have been – I have never been in a theatre box.
This is very much another DW Anti – Communist book. His references on this subject have been numerous in the past and will continue to be so in the future.
This is certainly not one of his best books but does have some merits as described above. It’s strange that (in my opinion) his worst book – ‘Star of Ill Omen’ (May 1952) and this book ‘Curtain of Fear’ (October 1953) is surrounding one of his best books, ‘To the Devil A Daughter’ (Jan 1953).