Customer Reviews: The Quiller Memorandum (Otto Penzler Presents...)
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on March 8, 1997
When it was first published as The Berlin Memorandum in 1966, this novel won Elleston Trevor the Edgar Award for mystery fiction. Trevor, whose other literary credits include The Flight of the Phoenix and Bury Him Among Kings, was spurred by his success to write a nineteen-book series about Quiller's further missions under the pseudonym of Adam Hall. Although the books have had a loyal following, especially in Britain, none has received the acclaim which greeted this first novel in the series. A bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic, it was eventually filmed as The Quiller Memorandum with George Segal and Alec Guiness.

Quiller is a "shadow executive" for an officially unavowed British intelligence agency known only as "the Bureau". The novel opens in post-war Berlin where he has been working with the Z police, a German agency devoted to the prosecution of war criminals. War-weary from an undercover assignment at a concentration camp during WW II, Quiller is due to return home. The Bureau convinces him to stay, however, by revealing to him that a forming neo-Nazi movement in Berlin may be headed by Zossen, the commandant of the concentration camp from which Quiller had helped Jews escape. Working alone in a faceless city which presents hidden threats at every turn, Quiller accepts the assigment that has already left one agent dead -- stepping into, as his field director puts it, a gap between two mobilizing armies which cannot see one another in the fog.

Hall's writing is consistently terse and compelling. He is at his best in evoking the tension of working for a manipulative secret beaurocracy whose motivations remain obscure, but whose local culture seems vitally real and believable. Quiller is a soldier at work for an army that he knows only from the ranks, whose generals are shrouded in shadow. It is in evoking this culture that Hall's writing transcends the genre, exploring complex themes of loyalty and disillusionment, and the specifically 20th century Kafka-esque relationship of an individual to the beaurocracies that determine his fate. But the real strength of the novel lies in its pure ability to entertain. Hall manages to maintain a level of tension and suspense worthy of comparison to any of espionage fiction's masterpieces, from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold to The Ipcress File. If some of the writing now seems cliche, that is because to a large extent THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM created the cliches. It has had hundreds of imitators both in print an on the screen since its publication, but anyone going back to the original (even thirty years later) will likely agree with the New York Times Book Review that "no one writes better espionage than Adam Hall."
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on August 6, 2006
Whether of not you've seen and enjoyed the movie version of "The Quiller Memorandum," you are in for a rare treat. The novel is different, but in many ways even better than the film. Adam Hall's Quiller is a cold-eyed realist (colder, more introverted and more introspective than that played by George Segal) working for an unnamed and unacknowledged British agency in Cold War-era Berlin. Ordered to infiltrate and expose a ring of old and neo-Nazis, Quiller attempts methodically to probe the depths of a secret organization that is bent on resuscitating the Third Reich. This work is dangerous, and is made more so by the uncertain allegiances of some of the characters. Although the novel takes place twenty years after the end of World War II, it was still unclear where certain characters, even those in high government positions, stood.

The detailed descriptions of Quiller's reasoning and analyses demonstrate the workings of the mind of a master spy. What makes Quiller so compelling is that while he is brilliant, he is flawed. Quiller makes mistakes, sometimes tragic ones, sometimes avoidable ones. I disagree with the view that the characters lack depth and are one-dimensional. Inga, for example, is as complicated a character as one is likely to see, for biographical and psychological reasons that are well-explained. Rothstein is not quite what he appears to be on the surface, either.

But the true joy of this novel is its detailed descriptions of the "how" of spycraft -- how messages are transmitted; how they are received; how the emergency backup works; how one loses a tail; how one endures interrogation under pressure. The psychological reasons why certain characters behave as they do are also intriguing. Yes, the references to the "id" and the "ego" are a bit dated, but the kindergarten-level Freud-speak does not detract from the real mind games that the characters are playing here. Overall, "The Quiller Memorandum" is an outstanding spy novel that is one of the best of its genre.
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on January 18, 2014
A spy working for a shadow government agency, Quiller is about to depart for London from Berlin. However, a fellow undercover agent has been killed, and Quiller is asked to take his place. Twenty years after World War II, a group of unrepentant Nazis lie beneath the shadows in the form of a group known as Phonix, as if it is rising from the ashes. Free to accept or decline the assignment, Quiller takes on the responsibility. Chief among the goals is finding a General Zossen, the former Commandant of a concentration camp, known to Quiller from twenty years before due to his undercover work in attempting to aid Jewish prisoners.

Quiller, after insisting that he work alone, meets and beds a somewhat unattractive, sharply angular woman, Inga, who as a child spent time in Hitler's bunker, and may be a defector from the organization, or alternatively, a double agent. His longtime friend, Rothstein, working on a secret project, is killed after contact with him, leaving Quiller with a sense of guilt. Exposed for what he is, Quiller is captured, drugged and interrogated by Oktober, but purposely kept alive and released.

Adam Hall is quite deft at explaining Quiller's thought processes, as well as some of the inner workings of intelligence. There is also a noirish quality to the book, a continuous, strange foreboding, made more prominent because the intentions of Phonix are not understood or revealed until near the end of the book. Otto Penzler, in his Introduction, writes that of 18 Quiller novels, only one other is in print. That is too bad, for this working spy, a loner by necessity and inclination, should be known the way George Smiley and James Bond are known.
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on June 2, 2014
There is much about Adam Hall's classic espionage thrillers that may appear dated to a modern reader. The Cold War settings for one and the total absence of any smart technology. Thirty years later it is quaint to read about spies who have to rely on public telephones, doctored stock market reports on the radio and the post to communicate with their superiors. However, there is nothing stilted about the pace and drama of Hall's writing and his ability to keep his readers on the edge of their chairs. Quiller, the hero of this book and the many more that followed it, works alone. He is highly trained and as "The Quiller Memorandum" reveals developed his skills serving undercover in Germany in WWII, witness to brutal Nazi atrocities. 20 years after the end of the war, he is back in Berlin still seeking vengeance. His survival depends on his mental abilities and it is a wonder to watch Quiller's mind at work. This cleverly crafted book is a must for old and new fans alike. The introduction in which Otto Penzler gives a potted biography of this literary master spy is an added bonus.
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on July 21, 1999
Quiller, the shadow executive for a British undercover agency is sent on a mission to Berlin that requires him to uncover the plans of Phoenix, a Nazi group. Quiller is beaten and battered but finally uncovers several planned exercises in terror. The novel is a synthesis of a James Bond novel with the best of Len Deighton. There is plenty of action for the Bond fan, but taut believable plots for the more serious spy aficionado. No supervillains, but a shadowy ominous realistic group of villains. Quiller Memorandum gives you the best of both worlds.
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on February 11, 2007
I liked "The Odessa File," "Marathon Man," and "Boys from Brazil," but this beats them all. Quiller is a ruthless loner in the mold of the protagonist in "Eye of the Needle." Unusually, in a book written before the age of political correctness, he refuses to carry a gun. His story is basically that of a man who finds himself in a dark tunnel, unarmed, knowing there are predators but not knowing who or where they are. The book has plenty of action but is basically an extended intellectual puzzle in which you must not only figure out the moves but who the actors are and whether they can be trusted. Since Quiller seems constitutionally inclined to trust no one, this unending procession of double- and triple-crosses suits him well, but even he is surprised by revelations about one of his friends.

The book is dated, of course, and someone like Quiller could not win today by exactly the same methods as those in the book because of the development of technology, but the portrait of a man alone, who accepts his essential aloneness and is prepared to live or die by his wits is well drawn and a story to keep and hold the attention of the reader. It is very dark, and if Daniel Craig were not already playing Bond, I would suggest him for Quiller.

Speaking of that, if you enjoy the book, do not make the mistake of watching the movie, whose producers seem to have misunderstood the book completely. George Segal was cast to play Quiller in the movie as a smirking, simpering pretty boy who resorted to flip comebacks and petulant retorts to make his way; his character had nothing to do with this book.

Read the book instead and savor the story. It sets up a universe that is very bleak and stays with you a long time after you finish it.
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on June 22, 2005
As a reader, I've always been fond of thriller, police and crime stories. They are often - undeservedly - considered a lesser genre, none the less they present an extraordinary opportunity to test logic skills, appraise different possibilities and sometimes also exercise in virtual history.

The Quiller Memorandum is no exception.

It has even a pedigree, as winner of the Edgar Allan Poe for Best Novel in 1966.

Basically it is the story of a secret agent employed by the British intelligence in the '50s to track down former Nazi criminals hiding under respectable new identities, who comes to confront a dangerous German neo-Nazi secret association, the Phoenix, trying to regain power.

Many of the situations described bring to mind "The Odessa File" by Forsythe and "Fatherland" by Robert Harris, and I guess that this novel has been an important inspiration - if not source - to both of them.

None the less both "Fatherland" and "The Odessa File" are far more consistent and superior.

I believe the book is a bit out of date to the modern reader and shows the marks of time: under some aspects it is a typical product of the late '60s, with its faltering hopes and gloomy expectations.

The hero is James-Bondlike but not so successful and formidable, and neither so optimistic: unlike Bond he doesn't seem able to be able to control the outside world, while is an expert in self-control, that is psychoanalysis (there are some dull remarks about Es and Ego), mnemotechnics and psychology.

There's pervasive pessimism in the usefulness of reason and logics and a suicide-like attitude in many of his actions (the mythological image used is the Greek tauromachia, the man who fight the bull with his bare hands) that is kind of self-destructive mysticism.

His adversaries appear to be all-pervasive: they are ghostlike and always in advantage, but they too finish to act irrationally.

Unlike classic thrillers, this is mostly the description of a nightmare. The scene is reduced at minimum (we know it happens in Berlin), the individuals are reduced to primeval pulsions (pure masochism in Inga, sadism in Oktober, multiple personalities in Zossen, revenge in Rothstein and so on), time can contract or expand according to the needs and logic may be faultless but of no use to forecast what will happen.

With these cautions, the novel is still readable and can offer a few hours of interesting time off

I hope my impressions may have been of help to you.

You are truly welcome if you can suggest other readings or just share ideas and comments!

Thanks for reading.
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on May 20, 2014
After reading this book, I can't imagine why George Segal was cast as Quiller who is definitely a Brit with British sensibilities and sense of humor. Hall's books are tempting me. . . I hope they're all as good as this one.
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on March 1, 2013

You are a secret agent working for the British in Berlin. You are due to go home on leave, but you are being followed-by your own people, or by the enemy. A man meets you in the theater and briefs you on a plot to revive the power of Nazi Germany. You do not believe him, but you remember that one of the suspects mentioned was a senior SS officer you met with in the days when you were working as a spy in Nazi Germany. The next day you make contact with a beautiful girl who may know something. Someone tries to kill both of you.
Your name is Quiller. You are the hero of an extraordinary novel which shows how a spy works, how messages are coded and decoded, how contacts are made, how a man reacts under the influence of truth drugs-and which traces the story of a vastly complex, entertaining, convincing, and sinister plot.

In the past year or two I have tried, not very successfully, I admit to expand my reading scope to include a whole range of writers that I wouldn't normally find nestled under the "crime fiction" umbrella. A logical off-shoot seemed to me to be thrillers or espionage books.....Robert Harris, Olen Steinhauer, Jeremy Duns, John le Carre all seemed to fit the bill. Scratching a bit below the surface of the genre, I came across Adam Hall - a pseudonym of Elleston Trevor. Hall/Trevor wrote a series of 19 books about Quiller - a British agent; the first of which was published in 1965, the last in 1996.

This first in the series was the recipient of the prestigious Edgar Award in 1966, which was the same year a film adaptation was released starring Alec Guinness. I can't recall seeing the film, but at least now I've read the book.

It's a relatively short book at less than 200 pages, as a lot of fiction of the period seems to be. But hey, as I keep telling my wife, size isn't everything. Within the confines of this thin book, Hall manages to paint a vivid landscape of a cold, hostile, frightening city where the future of the continent is being fought for by conflicting ideologies with disparate interests.

Hall takes the reader inside Quiller's head and convincingly conveys the dread and psyche of a lone agent pitted against an enemy that refuses to accept that the end of the war brought the defeat of Nazism.

Stunning, thoughtful, sympathetic, humane - just a few random adjectives that inadequately convey my thoughts on this book.

4 from 5, though a week or so on from finishing it I can't quite put my finger on why it wasn't a 5..........scratches head in a puzzled fashion.

I picked my copy up a year or two ago, second-hand from some forgotten online outlet.
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on June 8, 2016
Adam Hall is the only (so far) spy writer that I have enjoyed. His work was so strongly written that it just stood out to me in a very crowded field.

What makes him special to me is the sense of stress that he adds to his writing, his character Quiller is under immense pressure so often and he writes it graphically in each book. He was a special writer, admittedly an acquired taste as his style isn't for everyone.

That being said, I actually thought this book was one of his weaker efforts, I think he was very much finding his feet writing Quiller in this debut Quiller novel and it was in no way the standard that some of the later novels were. The feeling of foreboding wasn't there (at least in my opinion, I am very much in the minority it seems)

Quiller is on a mission to find former Nazis who somehow escaped the war and have reestablished themselves in Germany. At the heart of this is a group called Phonix who have plans for resurgence of the Third Reich.

Don't get me wrong, the book is very readable and solid but try some of the later 60's and 70's books that Hall wrote and you will see a true espionage master at work.
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