Following only a month after 'The Black Knights', the first instalment in the 'Truckers' series was also the last instalment in the 'Truckers' series. In fact, it looks like one of the last few books published by Mews, the series arm of New English Library. Most of the books that saw print under that imprint saw print in 1976, with the three most recent that I'm aware of bearing a date of March 1977.
This is one of those three, along with 'Attar's Revenge', the first 'Attar the Merman' novel by 'Robert Graham', which was a pseudonym for science fiction writer Joe Haldeman; and 'The Conspirators', the second book in the 'Cage' series by Alan Riefe. Both of those had first seen print in the U.S. in 1975, so only 'Hi-Jack!' was really new in 1977.
It's likely that, had Mews continued on for longer, further titles would have been ready to go. 'Attar the Merman' had a sequel in the States and the 'Cage' books ran to six. For 'The Truckers', Guy wrote, at least, synopses for the third and fourth books in the series, but it isn't clear whether he also wrote those novels. Certainly they never saw print for another publishing company, so this is where we have to leave Mike Britton for now, unless those manuscripts turn up.
While the previous adventure unfolded only a month earlier in publication time, it's eighteen months later when we rejoin him. With Marcus Wheeldon's murderous powerplays stopped and him locked up at Her Majesty's pleasure, Britton Transport has gone from strength to strength under Mike Britton's guidance. There are sixteen trucks in his fleet now and he's occupying much larger premises. Now he's the boss, he's not driving himself any more, but he makes an exception early in this novel because of a danger that he feels he should investigate himself.
That danger is pretty obvious from the book's title. One of his drivers is transporting £10,000 of men's clothing outside Oban in Scotland when he's hijacked as he stops for tea. A man he thinks is a poacher tells him that he has a blown tyre, so he gets out to check and there are five more waiting, pointing a shotgun each in his direction. He's fine and he finds the truck only a page later, but his load has gone. When he rings Britton, he finds that he's the twenty-seventh truck hijacked since July, many of them in Scotland and none further south than Birmingham; so the boss decides to pick up £20,000 of scotch from the distillery in Edinburgh himself.
And, what do you know, he gets hijacked too! He stops at a layby in the Devil's Punchbowl for the night and wakes up to find a barefoot woman in a negligee banging on his cab door. Something's happened to her husband, she wails, in the caravan in front of him. But, of course, when he investigates, she has a gun on him and so does the husband, who's fine and perfectly able to drive off in Britton's truck, the haulier left behind, bound and gagged in a stolen caravan attached to a stolen Range Rover.
Now, if you thought that would stop Mike Britton, you haven't been paying attention. He's sharp and keeps his ears open, so catches that the hijackers are going to somewhere called Moniaive and, once out of his bonds using an old boys' papers trick, unhitches the caravan and gives chase, having looked up Moniaive on the map, finding that it's a rural village outside Dumfriees, and plotting a course to get there as soon as possible. And, if you're thinking that all this sounds rather like a combination of Guy's usual countryside drama, whatever genre he layers over it, with carefully observed details from the mysteries that he devoured in those boys' papers and wrote about in stories about Dixon Hawke and Raymond Odell, then you'd be spot on.
In fact, Britton finds himself ditching the Range Rover soon before Moniaive, because he notices that the police are paying serious attention to it, and walks into town. And right out of it too, taking a nap in heather, to be startled awake by a shepherd, who promptly feeds him, puts him up for the night and lets slip enough about what's going in the area that Britton, and we in the cheap seats, know exactly who's behind the hijacks: the Laird of Banshannon, who owns everything in the area but likes secrecy, probably because of all the lorries that keep driving in and out of his country estate one valley over.
And, quite frankly, only five chapters in, you can probably right the rest of this yourself, right down to the little details that would be seen as questionable today. Guy has little interest in a mystery in this novel, having ditched that approach once Britton escapes the caravan. He's far more interested in the thrill of the chase, having Britton sneak into Banshannon, figure out what else is going on, get caught, escape, gain a partner, get caught, escape... and, like I said, you'd easily be able to conjure up the rest of the story yourself, if only you have Guy's level of imagination.
This is a much simpler novel than 'The Black Knights', without most of its layers of plot, though there are notable similarities.
Mike Britton runs this adventure solo, partly because he finds himself in the middle of nowhere a long way from home but maybe partly because he realises how many good guys got murdered in the prior novel during his fight to bring down the big bad boss. The death toll is lower here, but it isn't zero, and he only acquires one or two accomplices, depending on how you define that term. Mostly, it's just Pat Houston, the barefoot woman in the negligee who becomes surplus to the Laird's requirements. He's about to rape her when she kicks him hard in the nuts and switches sides.
We know who the bad guy is before we even meet him and most of the characters are part of his gang. I counted seventeen with names, even fewer than in 'The Black Knights', and twelve of them are part of this hijacking caper. As you can imagine, once we get to Banshannon, we don't really leave it again, at least not for long. Everything that goes down goes down at the Laird's home, on his lands or on the moors stretching away from them. When Britton gets it on with Pat, it's on a ledge behind a waterfall upstream from the Laird's place, while they're being chased by dogs and she has a sprained ankle.
And, of course he gets it on with Pat. Just because Mike is married with kids, and he freely tells Pat he has a wife and kids, he's hardly going to say no to a beautiful young lady as they both strip naked so as to dry their clothes. Jenny is stuck back home, somewhere in the Midlands, worrying about him, as he should have been home by now and his truck's been hijacked; but she is, at least, on Mike's mind, as he dips his wick. "He thought of Jenny, but he knew she would understand" is an actual line. Remember, folks, Mike Britton is the hero of this novel, arguably the only one. But don't be like Mike.
I have to say that I prefer 'The Black Knights' to 'Hi-Jack!', even though this book adopts the usual Guy N. Smith countryside setting. It's still a fun read, but it's a relatively straightforward one that doesn't have any surprises in store for us. If there was meant to be one, it's the identity of the mystery man in the service of the Laird who's feeding him information from inside the police investigation but, given that we only meet one possible suspect and he's pretty obvious from moment one, I wouldn't call that much of a surprise.
The biggest surprise for me is the realisation that Mike Britton in this novel isn't that far away from a certain Cliff Davenport, of 'Night of the Crabs' fame. Both find themselves caught up in a dangerous adventure far from home, which danger they both battle almost alone, though they both acquire the assistance of a beautiful young lady called Pat. Their fields of expertise are wildly different, of course, but they both come up with clever ideas to hinder their opponents, even if those opponents are wildly different too: men with shotguns and dogs in pursuit over the moors not quite like giant crustaceans crawling up beaches but not entirely different either.
I'd love to have seen how Mike Britton developed over the next couple of probably unwritten episodes in the 'Truckers' series. We don't actually learn much more about him here, just that his grandmother was Spanish and he had combat training with the Rhine forces during his national service. Mostly he's just a generic leading man this time out, in a novel that doesn't have that much to do with truckers at all but merely introduces a new villain of the week. Was the series going to be that episodic, or would Guy have deepened the character and those of his home and work families in future books? Sadly, we may never know. ~~ Hal C F Astell
For more titles by Guy N Smith click here