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Literature / The Eiger Sanction

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1972 thriller novel by Trevanian, revolving around the adventures of Jonathan Hemlock, a mountaineer, art professor and collector moonlighting as an assassin. After a government courier carrying important data is murdered, Jonathan is hired to find the murderers and "sanction" them (i.e. contract assassination for those who kill American agents).

The first target is easily found and dispatched in Montreal. The second, however, requires him to join a group of climbers attempting to scale the Eiger's north face. After training rigorously for the attack on the mountain, as well as putting paid to a few old debts, he eventually joins the ascent, all the while looking for his target, whose identity he will have to determine on the mountain itself...

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Was later adapted into a 1975 film starring Clint Eastwood as Jonathan Hemlock and George Kennedy as Big Ben Bowman.


Tropes appearing in this novel:

  • Albinos are Freaks: Dragon is an albino and has poor health. He needs a special room with little light and also constant attention by a nurse. The narration (and a lot of snark) makes clear that Hemlock considers Dragon a monstrous freak.
  • Author Tract: Trevanian had a tendency to rant about certain topics using Hemlock as his mouthpiece. The first scene featuring him has him mercilessly roasting people's tendencies to over-categorize art.
  • Captain Obvious: Karl just had to yell "Foehn!" just moments before the storm hits the climbers.
  • Climbing Climax: Inverted. The final part of the climb is a frenzied descent towards the Eigerwand Station Window before the sun sets and the mountain freezes the rest of the climbing team to death.
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  • Deadly Euphemism: Dragon loves to use "sanction" for this end.
  • Death Mountain: The Eiger's north face is named as such, from "nordwand" to "mordwand".
  • Hair-Trigger Avalanche: Happens just as the climbing team almost makes it to safety.
  • Hope Spot: The team's going to make it down the mountain safe, they're almost there... and then the avalanche hits.
  • In Love with the Mark: Happens to Gem, right before she steals Hemlock's pay from the Montreal sanction.
  • Mexican Standoff: Hemlock gets into one with Jean-Paul, but while Jean-Paul had the gun, Hemlock had rolled over his own. The end result was that he pointed his hand in a gun shape at Jean-Paul, while it was under his sleeping bag.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: The Eiger Birds, as a whole: wealthy and powerful socialites who go to mountain climbs to watch, hoping for failure or death to titillate them.
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  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Hemlock finally takes out his anger on Clement Pope shortly before Gem leaves him for the last time and the climb begins, and after his cover was blown a few minutes ago.
  • Punny Name: The head of CII's name is Yurasis Dragon — which is why he prefers being called by his last name. The woman Hemlock gets into a fling with just before the preparation for the climb begins also fits, too: Randie Nickers.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: When Big Ben was still climbing, Jonathan was the Blue Oni to Ben's Red.
  • Scaling the Summit: The final part of the book concerns the climbing team's attempted conquest of the Eiger's north face.
  • Sextra Credit: Subverted. A pretty blonde student hints that she's prepared to do anything to get a better grade... and Hemlock cockblocks her by saying she needs to study her ass off.
  • Stealth Parody: One of the few works whose nature as a parody was only discovered much, much later.
  • Themed Aliases: Dragon's sense of romanticism led him to name all his operatives after poisons... except Hemlock, whose last name already fit the theme.
    • The victim in the prologue was one of Dragon's couriers — he was code-named "Wormwood".
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: The second accomplice in the murder was only identified because he vomited while the killing was happening.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Every time Hemlock is with a woman, their comment afterwards is always a compliment about his eyes.
  • Yodel Land: Where the last part of the book is held: from Kleine Scheidegg to the Eiger to Zurich.
  • You Need to Get Laid: After a reporter asks Ben if the climb was some sort of compensation for something, Ben retorts with this question before he escapes to the elevator.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Jean-Paul's wife, Anna. He confronts Jonathan the night before the climb, but he wasn't the guy she was cheating on him with.

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