I’m reading Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd at the moment.

Accidental spy Lysander Rief, the story’s main protagonist, has to extricate some information from a man suspected of passing on war secrets.

His method of loosening the suspect’s tongue is unplanned, but highly successful. After surprising Herr Glockner in his apartment by Lake Geneva, Lysander notices “some extensive silver bridgework at the side of his teeth“.

The plan is formed when Glockner steadfastly refuses to give in to the less painful bribery offer. Bad mistake.

Lysander stuffs his victim’s mouth with wet wire-wool pan scourers from the kitchen, before exposing the wires from the flex of a standard lamp in the tastefully furnished lounge.

“He dragged Glockner and his chair closer. Then he plugged the flex back into its socket and held the now live “Y” in front of Glockner’s eyes.”

“You look like a man who’s taken good care of his teeth. Admirable. Unfortunately all that expensive dental work is now going to cause you intense, unspeakable pain. Every tooth in your head is in contact with the wire mesh of the scourer. Your copious saliva – look, it’s already dripping from the side of your mouth – is a very efficient electrolyte. When I touch this live electric wire to the scourers in your mouth……..”

I’ll spare you the descriptive next few paragraphs but, after some futile initial resistance, Glockner gives Lysander the information he needs.

The spy tortures his victim reluctantly, but effectively, because of what it might mean to the allied war effort. And the spontaneous nature of the successful plan somehow makes it feel more raw, and convincing, for the reader.

I’m not sure if William Boyd is intentionally tipping his hat towards the 1976 cult film Marathon Man, but his hero’s methods are spookily redolent of the famous scene where ex-Nazi dentist Laurence Olivier uses his own dental skill to extricate information from unwitting Dustin Hoffman. Ouch.

Can anyone really survive torture? The methods honed over the centuries must surely enable a skilled operator to achieve his ultimate aims, even from the most heroic of victims.

Do you expect me to talk, Blofeld……?

I raise this only because I know I would crumble at the first sight of a syringe, dentist’s drill, water bucket….or any other device designed to loosen my tongue.

And I know this because of the excruciating pain I suffer when my ageing back goes into spasm, as it has done over the last few days and does now with depressing regularity.

Lysander would just have to point at my lower back, and I’d be talking faster than a politician on steroids.

Weak, I know. But cowards have always run in our family……

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