Thankfully one can say from the outset that no tiger was harmed in the course of this novel (all animal lovers can breathe a sigh of relief). Therefore, this title is a fairly abstract one and the puzzle of who or what the tiger is, is a mystery which is only gradually revealed and even then is open to interpretation, with there in my opinion being two main possible candidates. The first possibility ties into the genre of the novel, it being the ultimate chase/pursuit novel, with series’ spy Tommy Hambledon being chased by a character who is likened to a tiger. Though this figure is by no stretch of the imagination, a Moriarty, suffering a rather lacklustre death. Another possibility provides for a wider interpretation, with the title being an allusion to poem 118, from Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H. (1850):
‘Arise and fly/ … Move upward, working out the beast/ And let the ape and tiger die’ (Lines 25, 27-28).
From this perspective, the title could tie into the idea of human evolution/development, morally and spiritually, which Tennyson looks at in In Memoriam. This line in particular may be advocating that humans need to move on and beyond our baser, more animal like instincts, an idea asseverated by Cosslett (2006). This novel is set post World War Two, with the remnants of Nazism and the increasing dominance of Communism and as the novel progresses there are points where Tommy is shown to be frustrated by other characters’ reluctance to learn from and move on from the events of WW2. Such characters could also be the possible tiger of the story.
However, the story begins in Stockholm with Tommy Hambledon, our dedicated MI5 Intelligence Officer having a rare thing as a holiday, soliloquising on the wonderfulness of the place. But as readers we know this won’t last – turn over the page – and yes things start going wrong. His curiosity piqued Tommy follows three men trailing a German man. When it seems they have abducted this mystery man, Tommy gives chase in a taxi, resulting in the deaths of both the taxi driver and the German, the latter of whom gives Tommy a package and whose last words are: Santa Brigida. Saint or place name, Tommy has no time to ponder, as the chase is on, as the three men attempt to capture him.
All the trappings we associate with espionage novels are all here with numerous geographical locations being visited: Rotterdam, France and Las Palmas to name but a few and a plethora of disguises, false passports, mistaken identities, car chases and explosions. Moreover, these components are usually written in a comic and light-hearted style, such as Tommy managing to trick the three men after him into leaving their boat so he can steal it. Tommy has his work cut out as he plans to both discover the purpose of the mystery package and the German led organisation behind it and to eliminate the threat posed by the three men in Stockholm, who Tommy believes are mid-Europeans and possibly communists. With such a task ahead of him, he calls in for help, initially Charles Denton and James Hyde, but others are soon roped in, having time on their hands and always up for a lark. And larks there are an abundance of, the gassy fish probably topping the bill (I’ll say no more, so you’ll have to read the book to figure out what it is).
Comedy pervades most of the novel (although there are some more poignant and darker moments, as the number of casualties increases and Hambledon wonders to himself whether it is so necessary). But humour wins out such as an amusing attempted interrogation between the Governor of Torida and Forgan and Campbell (two other helpers of Tommy) and one of the best lines of the novel has to be:
‘Well… you may be a spy but I’ll tell the world you’re a great guy… Why do you stand there arguing? Why don’t you shoot him?’
Interestingly the narrative style shifts perspective and timescales so the reader can see before, during and after events from the point of view of different characters, good and bad. This links into the episodic nature of the story. I think the only significant thing I didn’t like about the novel was that the end section in Las Palmas was too rushed in comparison to the rest of the story, meaning the character motivations and plans seemed too little established before being blown to smithereens. On a brighter note I think this is the first spy novel I’ve read where the spy comes back with a pet.
Rating: 3.5/5 (I think the end section in Las Palmas was too rushed, but due to its episodic nature there are plenty of entertaining escapades to enjoy)
Cosslett, T. (2006). Talking Animals in British Children’s Fiction, 1786 – 1914. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited.