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Creator / Anthony Price

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Anthony Price (16 August, 1928 – 30 May, 2019) was an English writer of Stale Beer espionage novels. The novels' hallmarks include fiendishly but satisfyingly twisty plots (generally featuring at least one moment where the protagonists realise that they've all been completely wrong about some key point of what's going on), complex and sharply-observed characterisation, and a tendency for each novel to somehow involve an artifact or site of archaeological interest.

The central character of the novels is Dr David Audley, historian (specialising in the Middle East) turned analyst for a hush-hush counter-espionage Department of the Ministry of Defence, camouflaged as "Research and Development". (The "research" they do is into KGB activities.) He is not usually the point-of-view character, however; after the first novel, The Labyrinth Makers, the point of view passes around among his colleagues, with the result that by the end of the series the reader has seen most of the recurring cast from the inside as well as multiple external viewpoints. It also means that in most of the novels Audley gets to indulge his famously irritating tendency to be one step ahead of everybody else and refuse to tell anyone what's going on, without ruining the suspense for the reader.

The first three novels in the series were adapted for television in the 1980s, with Terence Stamp as Audley.

    Novels in the series 
  • The Labyrinth Makers (1970) (Audley)
  • The Alamut Ambush (1971) (Roskill)
  • Colonel Butler's Wolf (1972) (Butler)
  • October Men (1973) (Richardson, Boselli)
  • Other Paths to Glory (1974) (Mitchell)
  • Our Man in Camelot (1975) (Mosby)
  • War Game (1976) UK (Audley)
  • The '44 Vintage (1978) (Butler) (a prequel set in 1944)
  • Tomorrow's Ghost (1979) (Fitzgibbon)
  • The Hour of the Donkey (1980) (Bastable) (a prequel set in 1940)
  • Soldier No More (1981) (Roche) (a prequel set in 1957)
  • The Old Vengeful (1982) (Loftus, with Mitchell prologue)
  • Gunner Kelly (1983) (Schneider, with Butler prologue)
  • Sion Crossing (1984) (Latimer, Mitchell)
  • Here Be Monsters (1985) (Loftus, with Butler epilogue)
  • For the Good of the State (1986) (Arkenshaw, with Harvery prologue and Jaggard epilogue)
  • A New Kind of War (1987) (Fattorini) (a prequel set in 1945)
  • A Prospect of Vengeance (1988) (Robinson, Fielding)
  • The Memory Trap (1989) (Audley)

The novels provide examples of:

  • Almost Dead Guy: The Russian defector murdered at the beginning of The Memory Trap gasps out a cryptic and incomplete message before dying. Figuring out what the message means is most of the rest of the plot.
  • Badass Israeli: Colonel Jake Shapiro of Israeli military intelligence
  • Becoming the Mask: Happens to the Russian deep cover agent in Colonel Butler's Wolf. At the beginning of the novel he attempts a Heel–Face Turn and winds up dead, leaving our heroes knowing that he existed but having to figure out what his mission was.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality
  • A Bloody Mess: In War Game, a Civil War re-enactment is interrupted when somebody finds a genuine corpse lying in a pool of red. It turns out his neck was broken; the red is from a dye pack he was wearing for his big death scene in the re-enactment, which broke while his killer was hiding the body.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Colonel Augustus Colbourne in A New Kind of War, who is first seen conducting a debrief while having a bath, has a bee in his bonnet about Ancient Rome and is reputed to believe himself to be the reincarnation of the emperor Augustus. He is also a highly respected barrister and not in the least stupid.
  • Bury Your Gays: In The Old Vengeful, the openly gay agent Aske gets killed in the last chapter.
  • Call-Back: In one of the later novels, there's a passing mention of Hugh Roskill, who was a regular character in the early novels and then faded into the background, saying that he's retired and married his love interest from The Alamut Ambush.
  • Call-Forward: In Tomorrow's Ghost, Frances Fitzgibbon is helped toward the solution of the mystery by a saying that she recalls hearing from Audley, which he attributed to one of his old teachers. The next published novel, The Hour of the Donkey, is a prequel set forty years earlier, in which the teacher appears as a character and at one point applies the same saying.
  • The Chessmaster: Professor Nikolai Panin, Audley's recurring opponent in the KGB, has a knack for tricking his enemies into doing his work for him while trying to prevent what they think he's up to. Lampshaded in The Old Vengeful, where Paul Mitchell becomes convinced about halfway through that the trail they're following is a garden path the Russians are leading them up yet again.
  • Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story: The Russian deep cover agent in Colonel Butler's Wolf is using the identity of a real person whose relatives are all dead or conveniently distant.
  • Cowardly Lion: Harry Bastable spends much of The Hour of the Donkey berating himself for cowardice, and is convinced that his successes are entirely down to luck and the support of his more capable colleague Willis. He's bemused when Willis admits to feeling much the same way with their respective positions reversed.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Sion Crossing is one for Oliver St John Latimer, one of Audley's colleagues but not part of his inner circle, who had previously made only small appearances, usually in a designated antagonist role that highlighted his tendency to be hidebound and officious in contrast to Audley's maverick style.
  • Decoy Protagonist: In the prequel The Hour of the Donkey, Nigel Audley, David's father, is introduced within the first few pages, demonstrating a family resemblance in attitude and intelligence. He is killed off before he gets a chance to learn about the main plot, and the usual Audley role is played by another character, who is identified as a previously-unnamed mentor the younger Audley recalls in one of the novels it's a prequel to.
  • Deep Cover Agent: A Russian deep cover agent features in Colonel Butler's Wolf.
  • Defector from Commie Land: The Memory Trap kicks off with a Russian defector being murdered just as he makes contact with the British agents who have come to fetch him, managing to pass on a cryptic and incomplete message before dying.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: In Tomorrow's Ghost Frances Fitzgibbon dies in the arms of Paul Mitchell, her would-be love interest, after her Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Fiery Cover-Up: The bad guys attempt one in Other Paths to Glory, but don't carry it off well enough to prevent the firefighters recognising it for what it is.
  • Genius Bruiser: Audley is a former rugby player, with the build to match; people who don't know him sometimes underestimate his intelligence on first sight. (It's noted, though, that as a desk officer by inclination and training, he's not much good in an actual fight.)
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Occurs in The Labyrinth Makers, between Audley and Faith; a Relationship Upgrade results.
  • Historical In-Joke: The Hour of the Donkey is all about providing a plausible explanation for the Germans' inability to stop the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.
  • Insufferable Genius: Audley has this reputation, and has done much to deserve it.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: The '44 Vintage has chapter titles like "How Corporal Butler Was Saved By His Boots" and "How the Germans Spoilt a Good Plan". (So does the prologue of Gunner Kelly, which is likewise from Butler's point of view.)
  • Left Hanging: Price retired from fiction writing at the end of the 1980s, leaving at least one planned Audley novel uncompleted, for a number of reasons, including ill health. (It's also been speculated that the downfall of the Soviet Union did a number on the series' Cold War-based Myth Arc.) The final published novel, The Memory Trap, does manage to fit in a theme of Audley acknowledging it may be time to pass the torch to the younger generation, but a lot of ongoing plot threads — in particular, Audley's ongoing rivalry with Panin, and a story arc about a possible highly-placed Russian sleeper agent — are left dangling.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In Tomorrow's Ghost, there is a folk tale that is reputed to be a harbinger of death whenever it is told. It is told twice in the course of the novel, and each time a death follows on cue. But it could, of course, just be a coincidence.
  • The Mole: In A New Kind of War, Frederick Clinton's unit has the kind of trouble that has to mean there's a mole; a particularly troubling situation in that all his officers were hand-picked and have passed rigorous background checks. It turns out to be none of the officers, but Colonel Colbourne's trusted assistant, RSM Levin.
  • Murder by Mistake:
    • The plot of Gunner Kelly kicks off when a respected old gentleman without an enemy in the world is killed by a car bomb intended to kill his driver (who achieves a Serendipitous Survival).
    • The plot of The Alamut Ambush seems to similarly involve an innocent killed by a bomb intended by another, but it turns out in the end that it was set up to look that way when he was the intended victim all along.
  • One-Steve Limit: Broken in A New Kind of War, where the protagonist is a new character named Frederick Fattorini, despite Frederick Clinton already being an established character and specifically a major character in this novel. There's a running gag during the first half of the novel about people trying to give the new guy a nickname so there won't be two Freds on the team. On the meta level it's probably symbolic, because Frederick Clinton is the only one of the recurring cast never to get a novel directly told from his point of view (he's The Spymaster and the inside of his head is probably not an entertaining place to spend 300 pages), but this is the novel that comes closest.
  • Orgy of Evidence: Inverted in The War Game. Red Charlie has seven thousand witnesses that he was in another part of the battleground at the time of the murder. He is so ostentatiously innocent that clearly he must be guilty. The seven thousand witnesses must be wrong.
  • Original Position Fallacy: Discussed in Colonel Butler's Wolf. Butler compares himself to one of his more liberal-minded colleagues, noting that the colleague makes the usual error of believing he'd have been one of the masters in the old days but prefers modern society anyway, while Butler himself thinks the old ways were better even though he knows perfectly well he'd have been one of the servants.
  • Passed-Over Promotion: At the opening of Sion Crossing, Latimer has just been obliged to graciously accept a promotion to deputy head of the Department when he'd been hoping for the top job. This is one of the things that prompts him to take the risk that gets him embroiled in the plot.
  • Posthumous Character: Bill Macallan in Sion Crossing.
  • Prequel: Although most of the books are set around the date of publication, The '44 Vintage, The Hour of the Donkey, and A New Kind of War are set during World War II, and Soldier No More during the 1950s. The Hour of the Donkey is set during the German invasion of France, and features Audley's father and one of his mentors. The '44 Vintage is set during the Allied re-taking of France, and recounts the meeting of Second Lieutenant Audley and Corporal Butler and the first time they worked together. A New Kind of War is set in the closing days of the War, and has Audley as a supporting character as Frederick Clinton builds the foundations of what will become the Department of Research and Development. Soldier No More is set in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis, and covers Audley's recruitment into the newly-formed Department.
  • Proscenium Reveal: War Game opens with a battle in the English Civil War, which goes on for a couple of pages before one of the dead bodies leans over to make a snarky comment to his neighbour, and it turns out to be a modern-day re-enactment.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: In The Hour of the Donkey, set during the German invasion of France early in World War II, the protagonist doesn't speak either French or German, so whenever he hears someone speaking in one of those languages, it's presented without translation. Thus, a reader who does know one or both of those languages will frequently have more idea what's going on than the protagonist does.
  • Reclusive Artist: In-universe in Soldier No More, there's Antonia Palfrey, author of the trashy but bestselling historical novel Princess in the Sunset, who never makes public appearances and rarely meets in person with anyone except her lawyer and agent. "Antonia Palfrey" is actually David Audley, who wrote the novel because he needed the money, but wants to keep his reputation as a serious historian intact.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Butler's promotion to The Spymaster around two-thirds of the way through the series. He never wanted the job, but failed to deflect it onto someone else (largely because his preferred candidate, Audley, made an even more vigorous effort to avoid it); and, being an old-fashioned soldier, he accepts that it's his duty to do the job he's been given to the best of his ability, which turns out to be not inconsiderable.
  • Sequel Episode: A Prospect of Vengeance, in which a team of investigative journalists come across the loose ends from Tomorrow's Ghost, and the reader learns what transpired after that novel's abrupt end.
  • Serendipitous Survival: At the beginning of Gunner Kelly, Kelly is sent on an errand by his employer and thereby misses an assassination attempt intended for him.
  • Shout-Out: In A Prospect of Vengeance, one of the journalists mentions the possibility of Research and Development having been infiltrated by "what Mr Le Carré calls 'a mole'".
  • Spy Fiction, Stale Beer variety
  • The Spymaster:
    • Sir Frederick Clinton, Audley's superior.
    • Following Clinton's retirement, Colonel Butler reluctantly takes on the mantle.
  • Suspicious Spending:
    • In Soldier No More, a subplot involves the mystery of where Audley is getting the money to perform extensive renovations on his ancestral home. It turns out he's secretly the author of a trashy but bestselling historical novel mentioned in passing at several points in the story.
    • In The Old Vengeful, the late Commander Loftus had tastes in food and travel that he shouldn't have been able to afford on his income, let alone leave a significant amount of money to his daughter. It's the more puzzling because, by the time the story opens, an investigation has already ruled out all the obvious possibilities.
  • Switching P.O.V.
  • War Reenactors: Featured in War Game.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: In The '44 Vintage, several groups with conflicting aims fight it out over a MacGuffin but it all turns out to be for nothing, because the hiding place in which it had been stashed several years earlier flooded every winter, ruining the paper and rendering the MacGuffin illegible.

Notably averts:

  • Only a Flesh Wound: Gunshot wounds are treated realistically, and are generally messy and often fatal. One of Audley's offsiders gets shot in the climax of one novel, and not only isn't up and about in time for the next one, but is explicitly mentioned in each of the next few novels as still recuperating.