The Chill Factor
PublisherCollins Crime Club
Date Published21 January 2021
Price£ 8.99

The Chill Factor

by Richard Falkirk

In Cold War Iceland, a Russian spy ring fosters local discontent with the American military based there. British spy Bill Conran arrives to help counter the threat.


This thriller, re-issued 50 years after it first appeared, is by Derek Lambert writing as Richard Falkirk, an author with a long list of thrillers, historical fiction and autobiographical works to his credit. From a modern perspective he bears comparison with popular contemporaries, such as Alistair MacLean, Gavin Lyall, Len Deighton and Ian Fleming.

At that time (1971) overseas travel was less common an experience than it is now (until COVID-19 took a hand in matters) and exotic settings such as Iceland would have had immediate appeal. The author gives his protagonist a childhood in Iceland, enabling him to depict the country and its people with some insight. An introduction by Ragnar Jónasson concedes that much of the commentary may be justified, provided it is taken with a grain of salt.

Conran is very much a spy action hero of the period, tough and knowledgeable, frequently shot at or knocked out, but sufficiently sceptical about what he is told to ensure he is not fooled too often. He is at odds with the establishment, in particular Jefferey from the British Embassy, and arrives in Iceland after ejection from Moscow where the KGB set him up to be photographed in embarrassing circumstances.

He is briefed on arrival by Charlie Martz, in charge of American counter-espionage, who tells Conran of persons suspected of being Russian spies in Iceland, including one only recently identified when a newly-landed agent was found by chance with names in his bag. He has a heavy drinking session with the local policeman, Sigurdson, establishing his head for alcohol in the approved manner.

While he is out getting the goods on Icelanders thought to be in Russian pay, he has company in the person of Gudrun, an air hostess who he met on the plane that brought him in and is keen to ‘make the love’ at every opportunity. This is not altogether surprising given Conrad’s doubtless appeal, not to mention the characterisation of Icelandic women as very uninhibited, although her readiness to throw herself into the arms of the hero does signal an alert.

Politically, things come to a head when a young girl is found dead, probably from natural causes but with bruises, and a young American serviceman comes into in the frame. Sentiment against Americans looks likely to result in marches and demands to hand him over, with only Conrad seemingly interested in establishing his innocence.

There is plenty of excitement before Conrad achieves most of his objectives, and I was somewhat surprised to find the whole thing entertaining notwithstanding one or two fairly gaping holes in the plot. The attitude to the Cold War, and indeed much else, demonstrates how far views have changed over fifty years, and this adds another area of interest for anyone who cares about such things.

Reviewed 23 October 2021 by Chris Roberts