Books

EVERY REPORTER HAS A NOVEL IN HIM. SOMETIMES IT GETS OUT

BARBARA AMIEL March 8 1976
Books

EVERY REPORTER HAS A NOVEL IN HIM. SOMETIMES IT GETS OUT

BARBARA AMIEL March 8 1976

EVERY REPORTER HAS A NOVEL IN HIM. SOMETIMES IT GETS OUT

Books

BARBARA AMIEL

THE VIKING PROCESS by Norman Hartley (Musson, $8.95)

At the Toronto Globe and Mail where he works, reporter Norman Hartley, 41, casts few shadows on the glare-free neon and Formica cheer of the newsroom. Fellow reporters describe Hartley as “quiet, controlled and a bit of an introvert.” Managing Editor Clark Davey sums him up with a more concrete image. “Hartley isn’t a Wellington man,” he says referring to the chummy local bar Globe newsmen favor. Hartley’s sobriety turns out to have masked a double life. .His first novel The Viking Process will be published in the United States and Canada on March 12. The novel, a thriller set in England and the United States, is already estimated to have pulled in about $200,000 in prepublication sales of paperback and foreign rights. After publishers and agents get their cut, he’ll be lucky to see half of it; still it’s fair compensation for missing afterhours comraderie and the odd rye-andginger.

Hartley’s arrival on the international publishing scene came as something of a shock to CanLit. The Globe's Literary Editor, William French, never twigged till he saw a full page ad for The Viking Process in Publishers Weekly. Covering the 30 feet between his office and Hartley’s desk at a nonliterary clip he confronted him with an “Is this you?” Hartley’s expla-

nation for his modesty: “Journalists who write books are suspect in 1,000 ways. I thought it prudent to keep the book a private operation.” Hartley’s reticence may also have something to do with the nevernever land of major-league publishing. In the fall of 1974 the manuscript was sent to a London literary agent Hartley knew. Michael Korda, the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster happened to be in town, and after an overnight read he optioned the book for $500 and a contract promising publication “subject to receipt of a satisfactory final manuscript.” When the thrice rewritten manuscript was finally accepted for publication a drained Hartley joked with Simon & Schuster editor Joan Sanger. “You obviously don’t buy many first thrillers,” he said nervously. A surprised Sanger replied, “We don’t buy any.”

Commercial hopes for the book ride in part on the currency of its theme. The tightly constructed story deals with a group of radical terrorists determined to wreck a multinational corporation. Their methods encompass sophisticated technology and old-fashioned sadism. It’s a combination not entirely unfamiliar to Hartley. His career began as troubleshooter for Unilever, a multinational corporation with a subsidiary in Nigeria. After that he became Reuters’ correspondent in Africa and covered 11 coup d’états and four bloody years in Nigeria. By the time he made bureau chief in the Eternal City, Rome’s students were gearing up for their 1968 riots. On emigrating to Canada six years ago, British born Hartley yearned for a more pedestrian beat. He got it reporting events in Manpower and Immigration. “Some of the book’s ideas,” he confesses, “were worked out in Robert Andras’ waiting room. It’s a good place to work, small with comfy armchairs.”

How well his novel does depends now on bookstore sales. But the ingredients for a popular success are there: an actionpacked story written with sufficient skill to maintain suspense and laced with generous dollops of sex and sadism. Some readers may even enjoy Hartley’s simplistic stereotypes of the Seventies—all multinational corporations are unremittingly evil, most people are helpless sheep easily manipulated by the technological wizardry—and so on. But in the end what may catch on best is the pseudo-fascist impulse of the hero Philip Russell. The defeated radical terrorists turn out to be fronts for a rival multinational. Having defeated

them, Russell, an intellectual and man-ofconscience, turns to the British anti-terrorist chief, a man given to using dogs for interrogative purposes, and offers to work for him. “If you’re going to fight corporate power seriously,” Russell tells him, “you’re going to have to get more sophisticated.” Ah yes. Big money is evil, people are sheep, the radicals are pawns. The only thing that can save us is Big Brother, attack dogs and a bunch of computers. The message is clear. BARBARA AMIEL