The novel

Running Blind Collins first edition - HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Plot introduction

“It’ll be simple,” Slade had said. “You’re just a messenger boy.” To Alan Stewart, alone on a lonely road in Iceland with a murdered man in front of him and a mysterious parcel which Slade, Secret Service chief had commissioned him to deliver in his car, it looked anything but simple. And that was only the beginning.

Desmond Bagley’s new thriller is set in one of the most sparsely populated countries, and among some of the most dramatic scenery in the world, where communication in the wastes of the Óbyggdir depends on wireless and transport on a Land-Rover’s ability to traverses impossible terrain. But the natural obstacles of boiling geysers, fast-flowing rivers, sheer cliffs, steep-sided valleys, are only a small part of what Stewart has to contend with as, aided only by his girl-friend Elín, he battles to carry out his mission on the one hand and on the other to stifle the suspicion that he has been double-crossed. His Russian adversary, like the tip of an iceberg, is perhaps only the part of the opposition that shows.

And the contents of the small, vital parcel? That remains a surprise – for the reader as much as for Stewart in a finale of formidable power. [1]

Bagley and the novel

In the March-April 1983 edition of The Mystery Fancier, Jane S.Bakerman published an article entitled ‘An Interview with Desmond Bagley’ [2]. In this interview Bagley stated that when he first started to write he could not afford to travel to the places he was writing about:

The first novel that I researched on the ground was Running Blind, set in Iceland. I went to Iceland. I travelled all over Iceland, and I hope I have drawn a picture of the most peculiar society, which I encountered there. You see, in my books, the environment acts as another character. And Running Blind could have happened nowhere else except in Iceland.

He further went on to say that Running Blind was an attempt to satirise espionage:

I mean, I had a spy master running both sides of the operation, and how much more satiric can you get than that? But, you see, it is impossible to satirise the CIA or the British Intelligence or the KGB because what they are doing in practice is as unbelievable as fiction! I mean, if you have as happened to a man in London: he was poked in his leg with an umbrella, which injected a poison pellet, and he died… That happened!

When speaking about plot structure for his novels Bagley mentioned that Running Blind was a rebuild. The novel starts with the protagonist faced with disposing of a dead body.

The original novel didn’t start that way. Then I had a look at the book, and I said, if I can start in the middle of the action, it would be terrific. So I re-jigged the book to start in the middle of the action, and then did a flashback in order to state why.

This method is not without problems; his novel The Snow Tiger was entirely in flashbacks

At one point in the first draft, I discovered that I had a flashback inside a flashback! Then I decided, No! I can’t have that!

In May 1973 an edition of The Writer featured an article by Bagley titled ‘Writing Action Fiction’. In this article Bagley describes, using examples from Running Blind how he constructs his novels. The article can be found here.

The current edition of Running Blind, published under the HARPER imprint was re-issued in 2009 as a 2-in-1 paperback, it includes rare bonus material; a short story Bagley wrote entitled ‘A Matter of Months’ about a murder in a Casino. HarperCollinsPublishers purchase link is here.

HarperCollins are re-issuing all of Bagley’s novels individually, in paperback and eBook format, throughout 2017. The pre-order link for the re-issue is here.

Literary reviews – Magnús Magnússon reviews the novel – 1970


Notes

1. Image & text © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

2. Bakerman, J.S. (1983). An interview with Desmond Bagley – The Mystery Fancier – March-April 1983.  (Volume 7, Number 2), pp. 13–18, 26.