Review: The Eiger Sanction

The Eiger Sanction Book Cover The Eiger Sanction
Trevanian
Crown Publishers, USA
1972
Paperback
336

Jonathan Hemlock lives in a renovated Gothic church on Long Island. He is an art professor, a mountain climber, and a mercenary, performing assassinations (i.e., sanctions) for money to augment his black-market art collection. Now Hemlock is being tricked into a hazardous assignment that involves an attempt to scale one of the most treacherous mountain peaks in the Swiss Alps, the Eiger.

In a breathtakingly suspenseful story that is part thriller and part satire, the author traces Hemlock’s spine-tingling adventures, introducing a cast of intriguing characters—villains, traitors, beautiful women—into the highly charged atmosphere of danger. The accumulating threads of suspicion, accusation, and evidence gradually knit themselves into a bizarre and death-defying climax in this exciting, entertaining novel that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the last absorbing page.

I know; I had to read it. Yes, I saw the movie first a long time ago on TV (a technology that I have to explain to my children). Everyone that I tell about the genre of Mountain Fiction asks me “Have you read the Eiger Sanction?” Well, now I can respond in the affirmative.

Would I recommend it? Yes, if you like Ian Flemming and the golden age of spies and sexism. Broadly speaking, this book is Mountain Fiction but I’d probably look for it in the spy thriller section of a bookstore or library. The protagonist, Dr. Jonathan Hemlock, is a professor and a hired killer for a secret organization. He kills, or sanctions, targets based on his need to purchase black market paintings to add to his collection – and his stunning ego. The author is fascinated with continually building a nuanced character and showing how clever and resilient he is. Dr. Hemlock the mountaineer isn’t a great story in itself. While Trevanian firmly anchors this story to the Eiger north face and it’s peculiar history and culture, it is Dr. Hemlock the character, the assassin, that moves the story forward. As a climber, I found little value in the descriptions of Hemlock’s ascent or any of his other ‘mountain’ exploits.