The Berlin Memorandum

Author: Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor)
Publisher: Collins
Published: 1965
AKA: The Quiller Memorandum

The Berlin Memorandum, or The Quiller Memorandum as it is also known, is the first book in the twenty book Quiller series, written by Elleston Trevor under the pen name of Adam Hall. The Quiller series is highly regarded by the spy-fiction community, and as strange as it may seem – because I have had most of the books for years – I have never actually read them. I thought it was time to rectify that oversight, and start at the very top.

As the novel begins, we meet Quiller at the theatre. His evening of merriment is interrupted when a man enters his viewing box. The man’s name is Pol, and he has a new assignment for Quiller. Actually it’s an old assignment, but the person who had been on the case has been killed. Pol (meaning ‘Control’) wants Quiller to take over the assignment. It appears that there is a group of neo-Nazis in Berlin who are planning a major operation. Control want to know what it is. Quiller reluctantly agrees to take over the assignment, but he has one condition. He wants all cover called off. He wants to go in alone – no watchers or assistants – just him.

During the first hundred odd pages of The Berlin Memorandum, not too much happens. The story fleshes out Quiller’s background – and how he has been rounding up Nazi war criminals since the end of the war. It also lays down quite a bit of trade-craft, showing how Quiller thinks, acts and communicates with his superiors. At this stage of the book, you could be forgiven for thinking that The Berlin Memorandum is just another spy story – another Nazi hunting spy story… and you’d probably be correct. But, it what happens at this juncture – where Quiller is taken captive by the neo-Nazis – that kicks this story up a notch and moves the book to a higher level.

Pages 124-125 Collins 1965

So it wasn’t pentothal. It was the sleep-kick trick: gradual narcosis with sodium-amytal then a shock dose of benzedrine or pervitine to kick the sleeper awake. My brain was so clear that I could remember the exact words my lecturer has used in 1948: the brutal awakening makes the verbal objectivisation of psychic contents most urgent, so that they come into the speech phase with an explosive force hitherto unknown.

The psychological sparring between Quiller and his captor, Oktober is gripping reading. As the story progresses, it becomes more fascinating with each subsequent attempt to make Quiller talk. Almost like a chess game. Sometimes Quiller falls into a trap and has to tough it out. On other occasions, he manages to outwit his enemies. And as much as Oktober (and Uber-Nazi, Zossen) and his minions are the primarily objective for Quiller, the real driving force in the story is the very unusual relationship that Quiller enters into with Fraulein Inga Lindt. Inga was a child of only nine years old when the war ended – but she had a rather different view of the end – or at least the end for Adolph Hitler – because she was in the Fuhrerbunker when Hitler killed himself.

Inga worshiped Hitler as a god – and she became a staunch neo-Nazi. But then she fell in with a bad crowd called Phonix. Now she wants to get out. The thing is, as you could imagine in anyone who had lived in such a dark world, surround by death, she is now, what would be euphemistically called ‘damaged goods’. Why Quiller is drawn to her, is never really explained, but at the same time, with the snippets of his own background story which we are afforded, you could possibly see why he would be attracted to such a woman.

As you have no doubt guessed, this group Phonix, that Inga used to belong to, are the neo-Nazi organisation that Quiller is after, and through her, he sees a way in. Of a kind anyway. Quiller had been making enough waves – and scoring media attention – arresting neo-Nazis, that sooner or later the bad guys were going to come looking for him.

Many readers may have seen the film The Quiller Memorandum, based on this book. I actually think it is one of the better spy films made in the sixties, but despite a few scenes retained from the book, they are two very different beasts. The film is essentially a wafer thin palimpsest of the book – and I must admit I don’t know how good the film would be if it were faithful to the novel. Firstly it would have to be twice as long, and most likely have to have a voice-over narration explaining Quiller’s though processes. For example, there’s a passage in the book, where Quiller, while being interrogated, induces himself to faint. In a film, that sequence would take about three seconds and make very little sense – except to paint the character as a weaker man than he actually is. Anyway, the thing to take from this, is not to dismiss the film, but to suggest to those who have seen the film, that they are not being presented with the full story. And therefore, I recommend tracking down a copy of book.

As I said at the start, this is essentially my first Quiller novel. And I would suggest reading it, is a bit like going for a swim on a cloudy day. When you first put your foot in the water, your first reaction is that it is cold, and you don’t really want to go in. But then you persevere, and then once you’re in, you actually find that the water is warm and comfortable and you don’t really want to get out – because it seems colder outside the water than in. That’s The Berlin Memorandum – it has a bit of a cold start, but once you’re in, you don’t really want to get out.

2 Comments Posted in Books and Comics
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  1. Just wait until your read some of the later Quiller novels. to me, it took Hall a few books before he (and Quiller) really hit his stride. But as the books go on and we learn more and more about Quiller’s view of himself as a ferret to be sent into the rat hole, maybe or maybe not expected to come out, the series becomes mroe and more fascinating. No author that I know of can create suspense and tension on the written page the way Hall does in the Quiller novels.

  2. Thanks Mike,

    I look forward to moving through the series.

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