Reid, Philip- Harris In Wonderland (London, Jonathon Cape, 1973, 111pp)
Harris InWonderland is a tight little potboiler in which a "brainy, but idle" freelance journo gets into a mess of bother after shooting his mouth off at a politician’s dinner party. Stalked during a weekender in Amsterdam ("the city of the 70s") he finds himself charged with drugs importation after a shady hippy claiming to be an acquaintance from the past plants a bottle of liquid LSD in his luggage. After a Labour leadership contender and a number of other high powered types come to his aid our hapless hack finds himself drawn into a murky world where political power crashes head on with high finance.
Not only does Harris in Wonderland defy the tendency of political thrillers to bloat out to grandiose proportions, but it also manages to nicely capture the feel of a British counterculture entering terminal ennui. Thanks to his sideline in digging up dirt for The Maggot (an Oz-like underground paper replete with scurrilous Aussie editor) Harris is able to conduct his own investigation into the frame up. Following the path from decaying Kings Road head shops to communes in Wales his adventures not only lead him into the arms of a bourgeois lady drop out, but also the path of some fearsomely strong acid. The case is eventually solved, but not before encountering enough red herrings to make this a brief, but highly enjoyable read.
"We drove up to Finchley and took in the show. The Barn is a disused Army riding school which has been converted into a theatre in the round. The show was called Sunburst and the programme described it as Tantric Rock. It cost us a pound to get in, but I didn’t object because somebody said the money was for the Black Panthers and I felt I had a bond with outlaws everywhere.
Inside, the place was in darkness except for a cat’s cradle of spotlights aimed from the gallery on to a central stage. The seats had been stripped away and the floor was crowded with freaks, hundreds of them, leaping about to the music. I say music, but it was really noise, raw undiluted decibels, filling every corner of that circular cavern. To walk towards it was like walking into a strong wind. When we reached the stage I saw that it was coming from a pair of house-sized speakers labelled DO NOT APPROACH WITHIN 20 FEET UNLESS PROTECTED and was mostly the work of a very fat freak in a solar topee, shaking his hair and jumping up and bouncing in his seat as he punched with all ten fingers on the keys of an electric organ. The rest of the group had guitars and drums. On the edge of the danger zone Charlie saw shouted something which I couldn’t hear and pointed to the other end of the stage. I followed the line of her finger to where a Negro in a loincloth was gyrating under a stroboscopic light. Suddenly a bunch of long haired whites rushed on with balletic movements, tied him to a chair and ran off again. He kicked and writhed, screaming soundlessly as the music rose to a crescendo. The chair fell over and he hit his head on the stage. After much simulated effort he broke his bonds and ran off, one fist raised in a the Panther’s salute. The music blared on.
Charlie grabbed my hand and we pushed through the crowd, who were leaping about in a frenzy and punching the air with their fists. We worked our way towards the side of the building where entrepreneurial freaks were selling hot dogs and junkies lay inert in the darkness..." (pp 40-41).