The Night of Wenceslas
First edition (UK)
Harper & Row (US)
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
The Night of Wenceslas is the debut novel of British thriller and crime writer Lionel Davidson. This Bildungsroman describes the reluctant adventures of Nicolas Whistler, a dissolute young man of mixed English and Czech parentage who finds himself caught up against his will in Cold War espionage. The novel won the Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger Award in 1960 and the Author's Club First Novel Award. It was filmed in 1964 under the title Hot Enough for June.
Nicolas is a 24-year-old Londoner, a witty wastrel and the novel's archetypal anti-hero. He hates his job in his late father's glass-making business, where he works under the odious Nimek in anticipation of making full partner one day. He dreams of inheriting untold riches from his Uncle Bela in Vancouver, which will put an end to his current servitude. His bossy Irish girlfriend Maura continually presses him to make something of himself. His one true love is his car, which he bought on an impulse, and its maintenance keeps him in permanent hock to the garage owner "Ratface" Ricketts.
A note arrives from a lawyer called Stephen Cunliffe, stating that his Uncle Bela has died in Canada and left him a fortune. He goes to see Cunliffe, who forwards him a sum of £200 to tide him over until such time as he can begin to enjoy the fruits of his new estate. However, Nicolas manages to spend this allowance in a matter of days, and is soon back at Cunliffe's office to arrange a more stable income stream.
However, Cunliffe now declares that Uncle Bela is very much alive, that he, Cunliffe, is in fact a moneylender, and that Nicolas owes him £200, with the MG as security. The distraught Nicolas is told that he can discharge his debt if he is willing to carry out a simple assignment in Prague. He is to bring back certain formulae for glass-making processes from a glass factory that used to belong to Pavelka, an associate of Cunliffe's who also happens to have been a wrestler in the past.
After much cogitation, Nicolas travels to Prague. It is the city of his childhood, and he stays in a plush hotel on Wenceslas Square. He meets up with various bigwigs in the Czech glass-making industry, and is escorted by the statuesque Vlasta Simenova.
In the ensuing drama, the gormless Nicolas discovers that he is the patsy in an international espionage plot and has to make his way through an increasingly bizarre series of events in an effort to find his way home, while maturing perforce.
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