Anthony Price, British author of thrillers with deep links to history, dies at 90

Historians in the News
tags: Anthony Price

Anthony Price, a British journalist who, in his spare hours, wrote 19 novels that drew deeply from history and are considered among the finest spy thrillers of their time, died May 30 in London. He was 90.

His death was first reported in British newspapers, including the Oxford Times, where Mr. Price worked for more than 30 years. He reportedly had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

For years, Mr. Price wrote reviews of crime fiction and military history before combining the two interests in his novels. He published his first thriller, “The Labyrinth Makers,” in 1970.

In that book, he introduced Dr. David Audley, a character who would appear in most of his books. A scholarly World War II veteran who was trained as a medieval historian and archaeologist, Audley became a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs for a British intelligence agency. Inevitably, and reluctantly, he found himself caught up in cloak-and-dagger engagements during the Cold War.

“He was not a field man, never had been and never wanted to be,” Mr. Price wrote of Audley. “The back room among the files and the reports was his field.”

Other characters recurred throughout Mr. Price’s novels, most notable being Col. Jack Butler, who became Audley’s boss, and two other operatives, Hugh Roskill and Elizabeth Loftus.

“I wanted to have a repertory company of characters,” Mr. Price said in a 2011 interview with Nick Jones for the blog Existential Ennui.

By weaving historical elements into his plots, from Roman and Arthurian times to the American Civil War and World War I, Mr. Price sought to show how modern-day problems can have unexpected connections to the past. As much as people had tried to bury the past, it seeps through time and reappears, Mr. Price wrote, “like the scar of a wound too frightful to be displayed.”

Critics also admired his use of dialogue as a crucial way of advancing his stories.

“You reveal character not by the author saying anything,” he told Existential Ennui, “but by the character saying something, or doing something.”

His body of work was considered almost on the same level as that of John le Carré, the acknowledged master of the spy novel.

“Mr. Price writes thrillers for grown-ups,” critic John Gross wrote in the New York Times in 1986. “He does not yet enjoy the same degree of fame as John le Carré, Len Deighton or Frederick Forsyth; but he can more than survive comparison with any of them.”

One of Mr. Price’s most acclaimed novels was “Other Paths to Glory” (1974), in which Audley investigated the mysterious deaths of several historians whose research on World War I became fatally intertwined with a modern-day nuclear summit.

For his research, Mr. Price walked across European battlefields and interviewed veterans of World War I. “Other Paths to Glory” won Britain’s Gold Dagger award as the year’s top crime novel, beating out one of le Carré’s best-known books, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”

The novel was ranked by London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper as one of the all-time 20 best spy novels.

Read entire article at Washington Post

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