The Tiptoe Boys by James Follett
A walking time-bomb ticks away in London…
Captain Peter Skellen has resigned from the SAS and is looking for a new master. To Frankie Leigh, the rich and beautiful socialite and leader of the People’s Lobby, Skellen’s intimate knowledge of SAS counter-terrorist undercover operations makes him an irresistible recruit. The People’s Lobby are planning the biggest act of terrorism ever mounted in the capital.
To the SAS and New Scotland Yard, Skellen is a menace who must be stopped at all costs. But how do you find a man who has been trained to disappear? How many men’s lives do you risk?
I have to begin this post with a small apology. This following will in all likelihood wander off into the realms of self-indulgence on my part. I’m taking a look at a novel that was published way back in nineteen eighty-two.
Ever since I first saw Who Dares Wins I have been slightly obsessed with it. I’ve always felt that it was a perfect self-contained British action movie. I can cite this as being the film that first ignited my interest in the thriller genre. In the past, I have even gone so far as to write a blog post on how awesome I think that it, and the film’s star Lewis Collins, is. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that it only occurred to me very recently that there might be a book that the movie was based on. Then there was that rather splendid secondary realisation that, as a book reviewer with my own book review website, I could read it and then write about what I thought.
The novel has a much darker tone than its celluloid counterpart. The violence is amped up and various characters are dispatched in far more brutal ways than I had seen on screen. I think it’s also fair to say that there is far more adult language used, I’ll be honest and admit I had always found it a bit odd how little there was in the film version anyway. The difference between the two mediums becomes more evident the further into the novel you get. The book has a great deal more internal dialogue and this makes it easier to determine character motivations, as they are far clearer.
Peter Skellen has a chameleon like quality to his character. His previous profession required that he learned to adapt incredibly quickly, or die. Since leaving the SAS he has continued to use this skill to get by. When he falls in with the members of The People’s Lobby he is forced to use his training to make split second decisions. Skellen plays his cards close to his chest and I liked the fact that other characters are unsure of intentions right up until the novel’s end.
The Tiptoe Boys cracks along at a fair clip with many short punchy chapters. It’s quite a feat to cram one hundred and eleven of them into a book that is only two hundred and seventy nine pages long. The pace never flags and tension builds page by page towards a final bloody siege that ticks all the boxes when it comes to action. Personally I like this approach, it works well in a thriller but I can see that it may not be to everyone’s taste.
There is an interesting note at the back of the edition I read where the author explains he considered updating the novel about a decade after it was initially released; technology, attitudes and politics all having moved on significantly. Ultimately, he decided against the change and, having thought about it for a while, I think he made entirely the correct decision. The Tiptoe Boys works so well because it perfectly captures the time and place in which it’s set. The plot touches upon themes that were incredibly topical in the nineteen eighties – the ever-present threat of nuclear warfare, dissatisfaction with the government and the fear of terrorism to name just a few. Ironically I’m sure there are some that would argue that these themes are just as topical now.
In a change from the norm I’m not going to recommend The Tiptoe Boys for everyone who enjoys reading thrillers, the novel appears to have been written just for me and I want to keep it all to myself. Instead can I suggest you try this experiment out yourself. Find a film or a TV show you really enjoy and then seek out the source material or the tie-in fiction. In my experience this really is a worthwhile endeavour as it can only enhance your pleasure of something that you already love. At the bare minimum there is the potential to discover hitherto unknown depth in a story you are already familiar with. That can’t ever be a bad thing can it?
If, however, you do like the sound of The Tiptoe Boys it is available second hand via Amazon.