‘He’ll be dead anyway by now.’ Laroche said …
‘But he wasn’t when you left him, was he?’ I asked …
But he didn’t seem to notice my question, or else he didn’t care whether I knew or not. He sat, staring down at the embers, lost in thought, and I wished I could see into his mind. What had happened after the crash? What in God’s name had induced him to say Briffe was dead when he wasn’t?… As though conscious of the thought in my mind, he suddenly raised his head and looked at me. For a moment I had the impression he was about to tell me something. But he hesitated, and finally got his lips tightened into a thin line and he got abruptly to his feet and walked away. (p.190)
Frustration and delay in the novels of Hammond Innes
Having read five in a row I have good feel for Hammond Innes’ adventure novels, and am concluding that their key characteristic is the wilful refusal of a central character to tell the story at the heart of the narrative, and the slowness or obtuseness of the narrator to confront that wilfulness and drag the story out of them. Innes’ novels are made up of lengthy delays.
By the time this book was published in 1958 the new kid on the block, Alistair MacLean, had published three novels and was beginning to crystallise the formula which would make him one of the bestselling authors in the world by the mid-60s. In MacLean novels the sequence of events is fast and furious with the protagonist thrown into perilous situations almost from the first page and then finding himself in almost continuous physical danger. In addition, there is at least one if not more profound twists in the story which (thrillingly) transform your understanding of what’s going on. X turns out to be a spy or an agent or to have known all along that Y was a traitor, and to have made cunning counterplans in advance. But Y has anticipated this and laid cunning counterplans etc. The author is always two or three clever and unexpected steps ahead of the reader.
Innes’ novels are very strong on setting and atmosphere, but I’ve come to realise a central characteristic is that the reader spots what’s going on, or sees the danger signals, way before the central protagonist. There are two aspects of this: the protagonist is slow to the point of being dim; and a key figure who knows the secret of the riddle at the centre of the plot just obstinately refuses to reveal it, unnecessarily prolonging the agony (and the text). Thus:
- The White South Narrator Duncan Craig is slow to realise just how dangerous the spoilt millionaire’s son Erik Bland really is until it is too late and they’re all marooned on the ice. Even then he continues to be forgiving and understanding of Bland who goes on to try and kill everyone. The reader is screaming, ‘Let the bastard die’, while Craig continues to err on the side of kindness, with the result that a lot of innocent people die.
- The Angry Mountain (1950) Narrator Dick Farrell is extremely slow, almost retarded, in figuring out that his Czech friend has smuggled industrial secrets to the West in his artificial leg (!), and then very stupid in allowing himself to be seduced by the Contessa into going up to a remote and isolated villa, where he can be cornered by the evil doctor.
- Air Bridge (1951) Narrator Neil Fraser is criminally slow in realising that the man he gets mixed up with, Bill Saeton, is so obsessed with building and flying a prototype plane that he is prepared to lie and betray and eventually murder his best friends to do so. Whenever he has to make a decision, Fraser makes the obtuse and dim and slow one.
- The Strange Land (1954) Narrator Philip Latham is particularly frustrating: despite scores of pages of half-baked questioning, he fails to realise the real motivation of his guest, Dr Kavan, until it is far too late. On a larger scale, the European characters all hopelessly fail to understand how angry the Berber community has become until tragedy strikes causing a lot of unnecessary deaths.
- The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1956) Narrator John Sands spends hundreds of pages quizzing Patch, the haggard captain of the Mary Deare, who is obviously hiding something but, frustratingly, refuses to come clean and simply tell the story – which could be done in a paragraph. Instead, he lets it leak out in dribs and drabs over a hundred pages with the result that several people die unnecessarily.
My point is that Innes’ narratives exist largely because they consist of frustration and delay. MacLean’s race at hurtling speed through peril and revelation and plot twist after plot twist. You need two hundred pages to recount and explain the concatenation of twists and turns, they’re so complex and full of thrilling surprises. Innes’ novels, in sharp contrast, consist of hundreds of pages of dim-witted delay, where the reader is way ahead of the story-teller and continually frustrated, yelling at the thick-headed narrator, ‘Watch out he’s a psycho’ or at the Obstinate One, ‘For God’s sake, just tell everyone what happened.’
The Land God Gave To Cain
And so it is, again, in The Land God Gave To Cain. The first-person narrator is Ian Ferguson. He’s working on an airfield in the west of England when he gets a message from his mother to come back to London. His father has died. His father was injured in the War and lived the last few years in a wheelchair but was obsessed with his hobby of being a radio ‘ham’ – communicating with other radio enthusiasts round the world via a set in his attic. Ferguson’s mother said she heard him shout something and, when she rushed to the attic he was standing, for the first time in years, and pointing at the map on the wall – before falling to the floor and passing out, never to regain consciousness. On the wall is a map of Labrador, the north-eastern province of Canada. Ferguson is intrigued. He goes back over his father’s notebooks and, in among all the scribbles and doodles, discovers a mystery.
His dad had been following the radio broadcasts of an expedition into the barren interior of Labrador, as relayed by a radio ham in Goose Bay named Ledder. Something had gone wrong, the plane had crashed, two of the expedition (Baird and Briffe) were badly injured. A week later the injured pilot, Bert Laroche, stumbled out of the wilderness reporting Baird and Briffe were dead. But Ferguson’s father’s notes seem to indicate he picked up a radio transmission from Briffe – one of the supposed dead men – one week after they’d been reported dead.
The narrator is slowly gripped by the enormity of this and, back at his airfield, discovers one of the pilots he’s matey with (Farrow) happens to be flying to Canada that day. On the spur of the moment he hitches a lift to Labrador, to Goose Bay. Here he meets the radio ham whose relays his father had monitored, who is sympathetic but doesn’t believe his father received the fateful broadcast. Farrow agrees to fly him north to the base from which the expedition set out, to what was once the small village but is now the iron ore and railroad boom town of Seven Islands.
As usual, Innes is excellent at conveying the barrenness of the landscape and the weird disconnected feeling Ferguson has, arriving from warm safe England into a bleak wasteland populated by rough, tough frontiersmen. But when Ferguson meets officials of the iron ore prospecting company and the railroad company which are exploring the barren north, they present him with a barrage of evidence that Baird and Briffe must be dead and that his father couldn’t have received a transmission from them. But the more compelling their argument the more Ferguson becomes determined to vindicate his dead father.
The iron ore people drive him firmly back to the small airfield and organise his ticket for the flight back to Montreal and then back to England. Get on it! Stop messing with things you don’t understand! But Ferguson discovers another flight is leaving for camp 224 to the north, one of the many railroad settlements which don’t even have names, just numbers. In a tense scene he switches tickets and fools sceptical flight officials to let him on the northbound flight.
Here, at camp 224, he confronts the pilot, Bert Laroche, on whose testimony the whole thing hinges. This scene, around page 110 of a 250-page book, is immensely frustrating. Exactly like Kavan in Strange and Patch in Deare, the pilot is the Obstinate One – the only character who knows what happened (and who could wind up the mystery and therefore end the novel, in a few words) but, irritatingly, refuses to give a straight answer. Instead, he displays all Innes’ characteristic delaying tactics. He looks distracted, mumbles, breaks off, stares into the distance ‘as if reliving those moments’, then shambles out the room. You want to grab him, slap him and just get him to tell the truth: were his two colleagues definitely dead when he left them? Why is he lying? What is he covering up?
Meanwhile, fulfilling his role of Dim Narrator, Ferguson slowly discovers that his grandfather was involved in an expedition to this very same part of the country in 1900 – the Freguson Expedition. There was some kind of disaster and the Canadians claim that Ferguson’s father inherited the shame of that expedition, and that is the reason for his obsession with Labrador, with this expedition in particular, and what led him – they claim – to hallucinate these final messages from men who are officially dead. The bosses of the ore company and then the Obstinate One are amazed that Ferguson knows nothing about this crucial part of his family history.
I couldn’t sleep, for my mind was too full of Laroche’s visit. His manner had been so strange, and the tension in him; there was something there, something I didn’t understand, some secret locked away inside him. The way he had said: I suppose you think I killed them. And that interest in the Ferguson expedition – it was almost pathological. Or was his manner, everything, the result of his injury? All I knew was that he’d left Briffe alive and that I had to find somebody who would believe me – or else locate this Lake of the Lion myself. (p.112)
You can see how Innes has thought that the narrative will work well if the narrator not only reveals the secret of what happened to the contemporary expedition but, alongside it, learns about the historic expedition of 1900; that gives a neat parallelism to the narrative. But, unfortunately, in practice (ie the actual experience of reading) it has the effect of making Ferguson seem almost ridiculously thick.
And then there are a lot more circumstantial incidents from page 110 to about 200. I think this is another feature of Innes’ novels: a great deal of detailed goings-on which don’t really affect the basic story.
For example, in Mary Deare the 100 central pages are about the long enquiry into the shipwreck. It’s OK if you like detail of court procedures and pen portraits of barristers, judges, court officials and so on, in fact it’s rather interesting and very well drawn. But this long sequence, two-fifths of the novel’s total length, doesn’t really advance our understanding of the plot very much. The ‘plot’ – what happens to the main characters – treads water, is on hold, while this circumstantiality pads out the story.
Similarly, in Land, Ferguson travels north to the end of the line. Literally – to the place where the railway which is under construction peters out into wilderness. And he encounters various people along the way and has typically inconclusive Innes conversations with them. But nothing really advances the plot.
In Deare the enquiry is just a very long way of leading up to the finale ie the chase across the Channel to the wreck; it sets the scene, gives a bit more background, and gives the whole text a kind of rootedness in reality which is then the springboard for the melodramatic climax.
So, in Cain, there are a lot of incidents – Ferguson hitches rides on trains, bumps into the Company man Lands, avoids Lands, bumps into him again, bumps into Laroche again, sees him leaving on a train, then meets him again at a camp up the line, meets an older frontiersman named Darcy, goes for a drive with him, comes back to the camp, encounters Laroche again – and so on and so on and so on; there are numerous meetings and avoidance of meetings, and inconclusive conversations and broken off conversations and conversations where people never quite spit it out.
I think that, as with the Deare enquiry, since these divagations don’t really advance the plot one iota, their purpose must lie elsewhere: in the creation of ‘atmosphere’. The blurb on the back of the book repeats the statement made in the Foreword that Innes travelled some 15,000 miles around Labrador in researching this book, going by railway, road, floatboat, helicopter and on foot. I think, then, that the scenes in Goose Bay, at Seven Islands, and at various construction camps along the railway, the numerous scenes where he eats in big canteens with the workmen or rides the train north, or steals a small speeder engine, or gets out and walks 10 miles or so as darkness falls until he is forced to lie down and sleep in the wilderness, before he is – fortunately – discovered by big Ray Darcy and taken to his camp to eat hot food and explain himself — all these well-described scenes, which don’t advance our understanding of what’s going on by one inch, are all here to create verisimiltude: to powerfully convey the hard work of building a railway through frozen wilderness – and to add plausibility to Ferguson’s odyssey into the heart of the north to vindicate his father.
However, in this reader’s opinion, it fails psychologically. It paints the scenery alright, and the life of the tough men carving through the wilderness. But it fails to persuade me that an educated 24 year-old Englishman would read his deceased father’s old notebooks in London, then hitch a plane ride to an isolated community in Canada (Goose Bay), then on to a construction boom town (Seven Islands), then lie his way onto a plane north to a construction camp, then steal a ‘speeder’ train to head north up the line and evade the authorities he knows are after him, then abandon the train and set off on foot across wilderness towards an even more isolated camp – all this with no clear plan at any point in the journey, except the dumb obstinate intention of proving that his father did receive a message from a man the authorities are convinced is dead.
There are no clever twists or revelations, nothing that suddenly proves him right and convinces him to go on. Just this dumb journey – and I don’t buy it.
Eventually, finally, something actually happens – which is the that main characters finally all arrive in one of the forward camps of the railway, on the edge of the wilderness, and decide they will trek inland to try and find the damn Lake of the Lion where Laroche crash-landed, where Briffe will be – if still alive – and where (cue spooky music) the ill-fated expedition of 1900 met its doom.
(It is very characteristic of Innes that it sort of happens twice, because they first of all set off by helicopter to find the lake, but are turned back by a ferocious snowstorm. It is very Innes that this is a) vividly described b) inconsequential – they don’t get as far as their destination and nothing surprising or important is revealed. It is absolutely inconsequential to the plot except to add a bit of realism, that they’d try to make the journey by air before taking the bigger risk of going on foot.)
(These books feel more like adventures than thrillers. Thrillers need to thrill, to make you tense and alert that revelations or threats can occur at any moment by the simple technique of peppering the story with scary threats and surprise revelations. In this novel there is no threat whatsoever for the first 200 pages, except that Ferguson might do something stupid like crash the train he steals, or wander off into the wilderness and die of exposure. And there are no thrilling revelations, no sense of a complex conspiracy or plot which our man is unfolding. Just lots of description of a railway being built in north Canada.)
Setting off are Ferguson, the suspicious-acting pilot Laroche, his girlfriend who just happens to be the daughter of the missing man, and the older, sympathetic frontiersman, Ray Darcy. They gather all the equipment they’ll need for a five-day trek into the interior, just as the weather warnings arrive of a snowstorm coming in.
Will it end well? Will they discover Briffe, the survivor of the wretched air crash still alive after weeks in the frozen interior with no food or drink? Or will one of the members of the expedition sabotage it, as Ferguson’s grandfather’s expedition was sabotaged? And what the hell is really going on? Why is everyone so nervy about what on the face of it is a simple accident? Is someone hiding something? And if so, what?
They finally arrive at the place where the floatplane supposedly crashed and the Big Secret is this: the plane landed in bad weather on a lake: they made a camp ashore where Briffe (Paule’s father) discovered gold nuggets. He went mad with gold fever and attacked his colleague Baird with an axe, killing him. Laroche fled into the wilderness and took a week to arrive back at a forward camp, barely alive. Yes, Briffe must have made the transmission on the radio, which was unloaded from the plane with other stores before Briffe went bonkers. But now they arrive to find him dead from exposure.
That’s what happened. Laroche reported this to the head of the iron ore company and they took the decision not to tell the truth but to concoct the lie that the plane crashed and both men died, in order to save everyone’s reputations and the feelings of Briffe’s daughter. That’s the sum of the conspiracy which Ferguson takes 250 pages to uncover.
Oh and they find the body of Ferguson’s grandfather up under some rocks, shot in the head as they already knew from all the reports of the 1900 expedition. Absolutely no surprises.
The descriptions of the Labrador landscape and the explanations of how a railroad is built across frozen wilderness are very readable. But almost all the scenes involving people, where those in the know refuse to reveal this feeble deception and Ferguson fails to have the character to force them to come clean, become almost intolerably frustrating.
- The Land God Gave to Cain on Amazon
- Labrador Wikipedia article
- Hammond Innes Wikipedia article
- Independent obituary
- New York Times obituary
- Hammond Innes book covers on the Bear Alley website
Hammond Innes’ novels
All Roads Lead to Friday
1940 The Trojan Horse – Barrister Andrew Kilmartin gets involved with an Austrian Jewish refugee engineer whose discovery of a new lightweight alloy which will make lighter, more powerful aircraft engines leads to him being hunted by an extensive and sinister Nazi network which reaches to the highest places in the land. The book features a nailbiting chase through the sewers of London and a last-minute shootout on the Nazi ship.
1940 Wreckers Must Breathe – Journalist Walter Craig stumbles across a secret Nazi submarine base built into a ruined tin mine on the Cornwall coast and, along with local miners and a tough woman journalist, fights his way out of captivity and defeats the Nazis.
1941 Attack Alarm – Gripping thriller based on Innes’ own experience as a Battle of Britain anti-aircraft gunner. Ex-journalist Barry Hanson uncovers a dastardly plan by Nazi fifth columnists to take over his airfield ahead of the big German invasion.
1946 Dead and Alive – David Cunningham, ex-Navy captain, hooks up with another demobbed naval officer to revamp a ship-wrecked landing craft. But their very first commercial trip to Italy goes disastrously wrong when his colleague, McCrae, offends the local mafia while Cunningham is off tracking down a girl who went missing during the war. A short but atmospheric and compelling thriller.
1947 The Killer Mine Army deserter Jim Pryce discovers dark family secrets at a ruined Cornish mine which is being used as a base by a father-and-son team of smugglers who blackmail him into doing some submarine rock blasting, with catastrophic results.
1947 The Lonely Skier Writer Neil Blair is hired to visit the Dolomite mountains in Italy, supposedly to write a script for film producer Derek Engles, in reality to tip him off when key players in a hunt for Nazi gold arrive at the ski hut in the mountains where – they all think – the missing treasure is buried.
1947 Maddon’s Rock Corporal Jim Vardin, convicted of mutiny at sea and imprisoned in Dartmoor, breaks out to clear his name and seek revenge on the captain and crew who pretended to sink their ship, the Trikkala, but in fact hid it at a remote island in the Arctic circle in order to steal its cargo of silver bullion.
1948 The Blue Ice Mineralogist and industrialist Bill Gansert sails to Norway to discover the truth about the disappearance of George Farnell, a friend of his who knew something about the discovery of a rare metal ore – an investigation which revives complex enmities forged in Norway’s war-time Nazi occupation.
1949 The White South Narrator Duncan Craig becomes mixed up in the disaster of the whaling ship Southern Star, witnessing at first hand the poisonous feuds and disagreements which lead a couple of its small whalecatcher boats to get caught in pack ice, fatally luring the vast factory ship to come to their rescue and also becoming trapped. It then has to evacuate over 400 men, women and children onto the pitiless Antarctic ice where Craig has to lead his strife-torn crew to safety.
1950 The Angry Mountain – Engineering salesman Dick Farrell’s wartime experiences come back to haunt him as he is caught up in a melodramatic yarn about a Czech spy smuggling industrial secrets to the West, with various people from his past pursuing him across Italy towards Naples and Mount Vesuvius, which erupts to form the dramatic climax to the story.
1951 Air Bridge – Bomber pilot fallen on hard times, Neil Fraser, gets mixed up with Bill Saeton and his obsession with building a new type of diesel aero-engine based on a prototype looted from wartime Germany. Saeton is helped by partner Tubby Carter, hindered by Tubby’s sex-mad wife Diana, and spied on by Else, the embittered daughter of the German who originated the designs. The story moves to Germany and the Berlin airlift where Saeton’s obsession crosses the line into betrayal and murder.
1952 Campbell’s Kingdom – Bruce Campbell, given only months to live by his doctors, packs in his boring job in London and emigrates to Canada to fulfil the dream of his eccentric grandfather, to find oil in the barren patch of the Canadian Rockies known as ‘Campbell’s Kingdom’.
1954 The Strange Land – Missionary Philip Latham is forced to conceal the identity of the man who replies to an advert to come and be doctor to a poor community in the south of Morocco. Instead of curing the sick, he finds himself caught up in a quest for an ancient silver mine, a quest which brings disaster to the impoverished community where it is set.
1956 The Wreck of the Mary Deare – Yacht skipper John Sands stumbles across the wreck of the decrepit steamer Mary Deare and into the life of its haggard, obsessive captain, Patch, who is determined to clear his reputation by revealing the owners’ conspiracy to sink his ship and claim the insurance.
1958 The Land God Gave To Cain – Engineer Ian Ferguson responds to a radio plea for help received by his amateur radio enthusiast father, and sets off to the wilds of Labrador, north-east Canada, to see if the survivors of a plane crash in this barren country are still alive – and what lies behind the conspiracy to try and hush the incident up.
1960 The Doomed Oasis – Solicitor George Grant helps young tearaway David Thomas travel to Arabia to find his biological father, the legendary adventurer and oilman Colonel Charles Whitaker, and becomes embroiled in a small Arab war which leads to a siege in an ancient fortress where the rivalry between father and son reaches a tragic conclusion.
1962 Atlantic Fury – Painter Duncan Ross is eyewitness to an appalling naval disaster on an island of the Outer Hebrides. But intertwined with this tragedy is the fraught story of his long-lost brother who has stolen another man’s identity. Both plotlines lead inexorably to the bleak windswept island of Laerg.
1965 The Strode Venturer – Ex-Merchant Navy captain Geoffrey Bailey finds himself drawn into the affairs of the Strode shipping company which aggressively took over his father’s shipping line, thereby ruining his family and driving his father to suicide. Now, 30 years later, he is hired to track down the rogue son of the family, Peter Strode, who has developed an obsession with a new volcanic atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean, whose mineral wealth might be able to help the Maldive Islanders whose quest for independence he is championing.
1971 Levkas Man – Merchant seaman Paul goes to find his father, eccentric archaeologist Pieter Van der Voort, another typical Innes obsessive, this one convinced he can prove his eccentric and garbled theories about the origin of Man, changing Ice Age sea levels, the destruction of Atlantis and so on. Much sailing around the Aegean, feelingly described by Innes, before the climax in a vast subterranean cavern covered in prehistoric rock paintings, in an atmosphere heavy with timeless evil, where his father admits to being a murderer.
1973 Golden Soak – Alec Falls’ mining business in Cornwall goes bust so he fakes his own death and smuggles himself out to Australia to take up an invitation to visit a rancher’s daughter he’d met in England. He finds himself plunged into the mystery and intrigue which surrounds the struggling Jarra Jarra ranch and its failed mine, Golden Soak, a mystery which leads him on a wild chase out into the desolate hell of the Gibson desert where Alec discovers the truth about the mine and the rumours of a vast hill of copper, and witnesses archetypal tragedies of guilt and expiation, of revenge and parricide.
1974 North Star – One-time political agitator and seaman Michael Randall tries and fails to escape his treacherous past as he finds himself embroiled in a plot to blow up a North Sea oil rig, a plot which is led by the father he thought had died decades earlier.
1977 The Big Footprints – TV director Colin Tait finds himself caught up in the one-man war of grizzled African hunter and legendary bushman Cornelius van Delden against his old friend, Alex Kirby-Smith, who is now leading the Kenyan government’s drive to cull the country’s wildlife, especially its elephants, to feed a starving population and clear the way for farmers and their cattle. It’s all mixed up with Tait’s obsessive quest to find a remote mountain where neolithic man was said to have built the first city in the world.
1980 Solomon’s Seal – Property valuer Roy Slingsby prices the contents of an old farmhouse in the Essex countryside and is intrigued by two albums of stamps from the Solomon Islands. He takes up the offer of a valuing job in Australia and finds himself drawn into the tragic history of the colonial Holland family, whose last surviving son is running machine guns to be used in the coup and bid for independence of Bougainville Island. Though so much of the detail is calm, rational and business-like, the final impression is of an accursed family and a fated ancestral house which burns down at the novel’s climax.
1982 The Black Tide – When his wife dies blowing up an oil tanker which has hit the rocks near their Cornwall home, ex-merchant seaman Trevor Rodin goes searching for the crew he thinks deliberately ran her aground. His search takes him to Lloyds of London, to the Nantes home of the lead suspect and then on to the Persian Gulf, where he discovers several ‘missing’ tankers are in fact being repurposed by terrorists planning to create a devastating environmental disaster somewhere on the coast of Europe. With no money or resources behind him, and nobody believing his far-fetched tale, can Rodin prevent the catastrophe?
1985 The High Stand – When gold millionaire Tom Halliday and his wife Miriam go missing, their staid Sussex solicitor Philip Redfern finds himself drawn to the old gold mine in the Canadian Rockies which is the basis of the Halliday fortune, and discovers that the illegal felling of the timber planted around the mine is being used as a front for a gang of international drug smugglers, with violent consequences.
1988 Medusa – Former smuggler turned respectable ex-pat businessman, Mike Steele, finds his idyllic life on the pretty Mediterranean island of Minorca turning very nasty when he gets mixed up with mercenaries running guns onto the island to support a violent separatist movement and military coup.
1991 Isvik – Wood restorer Peter Kettil gets caught up in a crazy scheme to find an old Victorian frigate allegedly spotted locked in the Antarctic ice by a glaciologist before his death in a flying accident. His partners are the nymphomaniac Latino wife of the dead glaciologist, Iris Sunderby, a bizarre Scottish cripple, Iain Ward, and a mysterious Argentine who may or may not have been involved in atrocities under the military junta.
1993 Target Antarctica Sequel to Isvik. Booted out of the RAF for his maverick behaviour, pilot Michael ‘Ed’ Cruse is hired by Iain Ward, the larger-than-life character at the heart of the previous novel, Isvik, to fly a C-130 Hercules plane off a damaged runway on the Antarctic ice shelf. There are many twists, not least with a beautiful Thai woman who is pursued by the Khmer Rouge (!), before in the last few pages we realise the whole thing is Ward’s scheme to extract diamonds from the shallow seabed, whose existence was discovered by the sole survivor of the frigate found in the previous novel.
1996 Delta Connection An astonishing dog’s dinner of a novel, which starts out reasonably realistically following the adventures of Paul Cartwright, scrap metal consultant, in Romania on the very days that communist ruler Nicolae Ceaușescu is overthrown, before moving on to Pakistan and the Khyber Pass where things develop into a violent thriller, before jettisoning any attempt at realism and turning into a sort of homage to Rider Haggard’s adventure stories for boys as Cruse and his gay, ex-Army mentor, battle their way through blizzards into the idyllic valley of Nirvana, where they meet the secret underground descendants of Vikings who long ago settled this land, before almost immediately participating in the palace coup which overthrows the brutal ruler and puts on the throne the young woman who Paul fell in love with as a boy back in Romania, where the narrative started. A convoluted, compelling and bizarre finale to Innes’ long career.