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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Venetian Blind

William Haggard

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To purchase Venetian Blind

Title: Venetian Blind
Author: William Haggard
Genre: Novel
Written: 1959
Length: 205 pages
Availability: Venetian Blind - US
Venetian Blind - UK
Venetian Blind - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B- : decent concept but gets too caught up in secondary matters

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 15/5/1959 Christopher Pym
TLS . 24/4/1959 Anthony Cronin

  From the Reviews:
  • "A sad falling-off after Mr. Haggard's admirable first attempt with Slow Burner." - Christopher Pym, The Spectator

  • "(I)ts worst fault is that it is one of those smart thrillers which exude self-satisfcation about their milieu -- in this case cabinet level top-security and milliomaire industrialist high-life -- and treat the reader as a sort of gawking poor relation. The plot is mildly ingenious but highly improbable" - Anthony Cronin, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Richard Wakeley is thirty-six and a successful attorney at the firm of Travers and Bliss, with a promising future. He has the right background and moves in the right circles; he's not surprised to receive a call from someone like the Home Secretary, and when the Minister, Gabriel Palliser -- who of course had gone to the same school as Wakeley --, asks to meet he doesn't even immediately drop everything to accommodate the important government official. He is then, however, surprised by the offer the Minister makes: that Wakeley accept the position of head of the Security Executive, to replace the retiring Charles Russell.
       The Security Executive -- a national intelligence organization -- is looking into a particular problem: they have some scientists working on 'Negative Gravity' (which, scientifically implausible though it is, is pretty much exactly what you'd expect it to be) and there is a steady stream of leakage with every new advance they make. While Wakeley turns down the job ofer at first, he eventually lets himself be convinced to at least sniff around and see if it might suit him, and so he sets about looking into the leak.
       Among Wakeley's clients is successful industrialist Gervas Leat -- who happens to be involved with some of the Negative Gravity work. Among Leat's employees is the disgruntled Lionel Lowe-Anderson -- who seems a potential leaker to Wakeley, when he first looks into the case. Leat also has a step-daughter, Margaret -- the daughter of the woman he married in Italy after the war, who committed suicide years ago -- and Wakeley has to wonder about the nature of their relationship, especially when Leat -- at fifty, just over twice her age -- admits to him that: "I can't think of Margaret as a stepdaughter". And it gets more complicated when Wakeley finds himself drawn to Margaret -- a feeling that might be mutual. And while Wakeley is not mistaken about Leat's feelings about Margaret, Leat is also quietly (but not quite cautiously enough ...) involved with another (married) woman, which inevitably causes further complications.
       A friend of Leat's, Professor Wasserman, who survived the Nazi horrors but lost family, is one of the world's leading physicists -- and now also successful in business -- and he's an important figure behind Negative Gravity. The Security Executive, honing in on Lowe-Anderson, try to set a trap for him, giving him access to seemingly relevant information about Negative Gravity, to see if it winds up in the hands of the wrong party. The trap works, after a fashion -- except that it seems to also absolve the upright-despite-himself Lowe-Anderson: it doesn't look like he could be their man. But the only other two with access to the information were the professor and Leat, neither of whom would seem to have any plausible motive to leak it. It is a conundrum that is eventually quite neatly resolved, even if it seems to come almost incidentally: Haggard does not so much misdirect readers along the way (there are clues here and there) as sideline what should be a far more central part of the story. Instead, the focus is on personal jealousies and relationships -- the jousting, in various forms, between some of the men about the women (and also some of the men jousting with Margaret, who knows what she doesn't want but takes her time in deciding what she does).
       There is a bit of spy adventure, eventually, when several of the characters decamp to Venice -- where Leat maintains his wife's old palazzo --, with Leat's life in clear danger and a Security Executive shadow-man sent to help protect him, and support Wakeley. With even Lowe-Anderson skulking about in the background, and Margaret still packing her pistol -- she shws herself to be quite the gun expert, from early on -- the dangers to Leat would seem to potentially come from any angle -- and are still a surprise when they do show themselves.
       Haggard does have some fun in the story's resolutions -- including with keeping the character very much in character: try as they might, they act completely to type (with Lowe-Anderson amusingly unable to change his (very English) fundamentals). But too much of Venetian Blind is like a chamber piece, the characters facing off one of one, with even their casual conversation with all sorts of undertones, as a great deal is left unsaid -- but otherwise signaled practically with hand and foot. There's an almost claustrophobic feel to much of the novel, too limited to its main characters, and the personal sidetracks the much more interesting bigger plot. So, for example, when Leat drives like a madman to teach Wakeley a lesson (or, potentially more), it's a long, drawn-out scene -- whereas the Negative Gravity-resolution (which includes a rather spectacular element) is, essentially, entirely off-stage, reported on second hand.
       Haggard does some of the personal stories -- the positioning vis-à-vis the women Leat is close to, for example -- well, and captures life and lifestyle (including the frustrated Lowe-Anderson's) well, but the national security crisis angle is given short shrift, and Venetian Blind disappoints as a thriller. (The all-around happy ending(s) also strikes an odd note -- and reïnforces the feel of the book's (un)ambitions being almost entirely domestic, and almost indifferent to the larger, geo-political scene. Charming, in a way, but still rather odd.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 July 2018

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Reviews: William Haggard: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       William Haggard was the pseudonym of Richard Henry Michael Clayton. He lived 1907 to 1993.

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© 2018 the complete review

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