The Strode Venturer by Hammond Innes (1965)

It was only much later, much later, that I came to understand the crazy streak in him. It wasn’t a question of instability so much as a certain theatrical quality in his make-up. His was a volatile, flamboyant nature feeding on excitement, carried away by his enthusiasm, his delight in the grand gesture. I was cast in the role of ground tackle, an anchor to keep him from wrecking himself. (p.105)

The setup

March 1963. Commander Geoffrey Bailey (p.20) comes from a once wealthy family. His father owned the Bailey Oriental Shipping Line, they had a big house in Eaton Square, entertained nightly (p.15). Until the week in 1931 when the company was forced into bankruptcy and bought out by the ruthless Henry Strode and his shipping line. The boy Geoffrey was taken out of prep school and sent to a college for naval cadets from where he graduated into the Navy, serving for nearly 20 years. Then unhappy marriage to Barbara and the opportunities apparently presented by Britain’s entry into the European Common Market prompt him to leave the Navy and travel to London to seek work. But it is harder than he expected. And he finds himself drawn (mysteriously drawn, as so many Innes’ heroes are) to visit Strode House in the City, headquarters of his family’s nemesis.

Strode’s assistant led me quickly up the great staircase and as I passed my father’s portrait, wondering what the hell they wanted, I had a strange feeling that all my life had been leading up to this moment. I cannot explain it even now, this feeling of inevitability, the sudden certainty that my future was linked with the Strode Orient Line. (p.36)

It is very typical of Innes that the plot requires overlays of coincidence. The previous novel, Atlantic Fury, gives a good example of Innes technique: the protagonist, Donald Ross, is on a mission to find out whether a certain Major Braddock is in fact his long-lost brother Iain, presumed dead during the war. To find out he has to travel up to the Hebridean island of Laerg where Braddock has taken on a new command. But this island will turn out to be the setting for the naval disaster at the core of the narrative. But in another layer of meaning, Laerg is also the island the Ross brothers’ grandfather was brought up on and they both have a mystical feel for and where Donald has wanted to return and see for years. And – as if these aren’t coincidence enough, Laerg just happens to be the island where Ross/Braddock came ashore after surviving at sea on a life-raft after his troop ship was torpedoed – the scene of his transformation from Ross to Braddock, the place where he stole another man’s identity.

The Innes’ technique is to build up the text not only by linear narrative, but by laying coincidence upon coincidence until events take on an eerie significance because they are drawing on not one or two but three or four levels of meaning. After one or two such coincidences the reader is sceptical, but after three or four the force of the narrative persuades you to accept them as strange and eerie twists in reality.

Just so, in this novel, Bailey’s connection with the Strode family are multiply layered:

  • the Strode family patriarch, Henry Strode, ruined his father then bought up his bankrupt shipping line
  • Henry Strode’s family thus changed the shape of his life, forcing his parents to send him to a cheap naval college, and then into the Navy
  • by a far-fetched coincidence he happens to meet one of the siblings, Peter Strode the traveller, in the Persian Gulf, and spend an evening chatting and getting to know him
  • back in London looking for work he writes a letter to the Strodes asking to meet Peter; only when he visits Strode House does he realise the Peter Strode he met is the black sheep of the family, currently missing and the other Strode brothers employ Bailey to track him down – now he is working for the very people who ruined his family
  • later on, Bailey finds himself commanding the very boat – The Strode Venturer – with the very same (alcoholic) captain Deacon – from which his father jumped to his death in the sea
  • in the course of the story, the narrator (rather inevitably) falls in love with Peter Strode’s sister, Ida, providing a romantic/biological connection with his enemies
  • and in the climax Bailey helps Peter defeat his brothers in a boardroom coup, and becomes a leading director of the new managanese shipping firm, thus providing poetic justice on wicked old Henry: the son of the man he ruined is now running his company and sleeping with his daughter

This heavily coincidental but eerily convincing intertwinement of destinies is very Innes. If it weren’t for the dramatic, and very masculine, disasters which are at the heart of every Innes narrative, these frameworks of coincidences, often based on family ties and blood allegiances, arguably have more in common with more traditionally women’s fiction and soap operas.

Now, at a dryly described shareholders meeting, Bailey discovers not only that Peter Strode holds a deciding block of shares in Strode and Company, but also that he is missing, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Strode & Co. have heard that Bailey met Peter once, by accident, in the Persian Gulf, so, on this shaky basis, they hire him to track the errant director down. Thus Geoffrey becomes witness to yet another of Innes’ protagonist’s ‘magnificent obsession’.

The plot

Big shipping line, Strode and Co. One of the legendary old founder’s sons, Peter Strode, has for years bummed around the Asian coast, seeking the good life. Latterly he has stumbled across the Maldive Islands and one particular atoll, Addu, which is trying to maintain its independence from the Confederation of the Maldives. He falls in love with their idyllic way of life and becomes determined to help them. So, much against the wishes of the London directors of the company, he uses the resources of his father’s shipping line to man an expedition to a remote volcanic island in the Indian Ocean which appears to have large stores of manganese ore, a valuable commodity which he plans to mine and sell to help ‘his’ islanders.

The narrator, Bailey, is also on this expedition, aboard The Strode Trader. Strode insists on confiscating sextants and charts, and steering the ship himself at various points to make sure nobody, not even the captain, knows the island’s location. They find the island, anchor and start shipping men and equipment out to it, commence drilling and digging and things go well for several days.

One day bad weather arises, a rainy squall, and the narrator decides not to take shelter in the overcrowded cabins on the ‘island’ but to take the rickety dinghy out to the ship anchored a mile offshore. As he leaves the lee of the island the sea gets choppy, the wind picks up and he starts to take on water but, much worse, he sees the ship he’s heading for, The Strode Trader has weighed anchor and is steaming away from him. Desperately he increases the revs on the dinghy and, helped by the waves swamping him from the stern, eventually crashes into the barge tied to the side of the ship. He leaps aboard the barge as the dinghy is crushed and destroyed, and is making his way forward, when a big swell knocks him off his feet and into the hold of the barge, where he regains consciousness some time later, bloody and half-drowned, and with no way out of the smooth-sided hold.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, he realises the main ship has run aground, as the storm continues to break over it and then – with a vast thunderclap – it is struck by lightning, not once but three times – it’s keel aground on the seabed is providing an earth to the lightning – and bursts into flames. There is the narrator, head wound and half-conscious, half-drowned, with no way of alerting the crew to his whereabouts, watching his one hope of safety burst into flames and burn.

Innes’ strength – wonderful sea descriptions

THIS is the kind of scene Innes conceives and describes with tremendous power. His descriptions of the most basic run-of-the-mill sea activity, of elementary sailing and navigating, resonate with the authority of a lifetime’s experience sailing the seas. But when his knowledge and experience are brought to bear in exceptional scenes like this (as in the storm scenes of Atlantic Fury) surely there is no-one who can match the depth and force of Innes’ imagination.

All morning clouds had been building up to the south of us, great convoluting mushroom growths standing like stacks along the horizon and constantly changing shape. Shortly after lunch the northerly breeze died away. It became suddenly very humid, and standing in the doorway leading to the foredeck, I could see a great toppling mass of cloud leaning over us. The sun vanished, huge raindrops fell singly, large as coins, and the surface of the sea began to dance as though struggling to reach up to the water still prisoned in the sky above. Lightning stabbed and instantaneous thunder clapped a great peal of noise onto the stillness; and then suddenly white water below the blackness of the cloud, a tooth-white line that grew broader and broader as it bore down on us until it stretched from horizon to horizon with the sea behind it all boiling. Then the wind hit us with screaming force and the ship heeled. (p.221)

You’ll be relieved to learn the ship survives the fire and, once the storm has passed, Bailey attracts the crew’s attention and is helped to safety, and the crippled ship limps back to the Maldives. But Bailey is furious that the Strode Trader‘s captain, Reece, turned tail and fled at the first sight of a storm, abandoning Peter Strode and the labourers on the atoll to their doom. The RAF send out Shackleton airplanes to search the area but there is no sign of the island. The official assumption is that the same volcanic activity which raised this couple-of-mile-long stretch of seabed above the surface, has sunk it again and Peter and his labourers have drowned.

Bailey catches the next RAF flight to Singapore and so back to London. Here, the completely different world of City firms and shareholder meetings are described with just as much thoroughness and attention to detail as the Indian Ocean scenes. Bailey, helped by Ida – Peter Strode’s sister – and a few accomplices, stand up to the Board of Strode and Company, blocking the takeover of the company by asset strippers, and ensuring that another ship is rigged and commissioned to go back out to find Peter Strode.

Sure the RAF has spent weeks flying quadrants over the presumed position of the ‘island’, but for the first time Bailey begins to wonder whether the Board back in London have conspired with the young captain of the ship which sailed away, to abandon Peter to his death, an inconvenience standing in the way of their bigger plan of liquidating the company and walking away with the loot.

Bailey flies to Aden to rendezvous with another Strode ship – The Strode Venturer – bound to take mail and supplies to the RAF station on the Maldives, equips it with the (alcoholic) captain Deacon who knows the area best, and then steams further south in search of Peter Strode and his ‘lost’ island. You might not be entirely surprised to learn that, after days of looking, they find him and it.

In this penultimate section a large strand of the book which I haven’t mentioned comes to fruition: namely Peter Strode’s obsession that the island not only be located, but also populated and officially claimed by his friends from the Adduan Republic. Bailey, on board the Strode Venturer, had heard radio reports of the approach of a small flotilla of Adduan dhonis or native boats. In the final pages we learn that a Royal Navy ship is nearby and steaming directly for them and so it becomes a race to see whether Adduans or Brits will be first to land, raise a flag, and claim the island.

In a happy ending, it is the Adduans, Peter’s friends. The Navy arrive a few hours later, accept the situation, land a small party for security, then the Adduans get down to loading the manganese ore into their boats to tranship to the Strode Venturer… and Peter Strode? His magnificent obsession finally fulfilled, his friends the Adduans in possession of this new land – he and Bailey go aboard the Royal Navy frigate… and sleep.

And the final pages conclude the saga of the boardroom struggle which has been running in parallel with the foreign narrative for the length of the book – one of the most sustained and factually accurate descriptions of boardroom battles that I know of. All the time he’s been out in the Indian Ocean his half-brothers Henry and George Strode have been manoeuvring to sell the company to asset strippers. Now, riding high on the triumph of his discovery of a new island as widely reported in the national press, Peter launches a boardroom coup which sees him join his shares with those of his sister, with Bailey and a couple of other sympathetic directors, to get old Strode’s brothers booted out of the company, and to re-structure Strode Orient to begin a major new venture, shipping raw manganese ore from the island. In other words, a business triumph!

And a few months later Geoffrey and Peter’s sister, Ida are married. And nine months later they fly out to Singapore so she can smash a champagne bottle against the prows of a new Strode Venturer as she is launched. Poetic closure.

Innes’ magnificent obsessives > delaying tactics

Innes characters all come across as more or less the same type of white middle-class professional men, often Army, Navy or merchant marine, sharing the same 1950s, late-British Empire values. Practical men living in a practical world. Yet the action always focuses around men who don’t fit into this mould, who have something extra, something mysterious and fascinating, a ‘magnificent obsession’ which drives the narrative. An aspect of this is that in other thriller novels the protagonist is clever and has a plan – or multiple plans – which are shared with us or which we enjoy deducing – and this process of deduction is part of the pleasure of the text.

In Innes books the Visionary, the Obsessive Protagonist, barely even has a plan – the captain of the Mary Deare beaches his ship so as to have evidence the owners intended to scuttle it; Kavan in Strange Land lies about his identity in order to get to the legendary silver mine; Saeton in Air Bridge will go to any length to test out his new jet engine; Braddock in Atlantic Fury wants to get to the island of Laerg to destroy the evidence of his crime; Peter Strode in this novel, is obsessed with finding his island full of valuable manganese ore – ‘only death would deflect him from his purpose.’ (p.146)

These are not cunning, fast-changing plans; they are idées fixes, obsessions. They are not susceptible to reason or argument or change. But in order to give the impression of tension, of thrill to the first halves of his novels, Hammond’s books all resort to the same strategy – having the magnificent obsessive not reveal their obsession, evade questioning, and so keep the narrator, and we the readers, guessing for as long as possible.

This, I think, explains the epidemic of delaying tactics and evasive answers which Innes makes all these Visionary characters use – the long silences, the character ‘withdrawing into himself’, answers cut off, conversations abandoned, the ‘little shrug’ which they’re all prone to.

The silence between us seemed to last a long time… He gave a little shrug… He wouldn’t tell me where the island was… He wouldn’t tell us what advice the old man gave us… He was worried about something but when I asked him about it he seemed reluctant to put it into words… ‘Then why didn’t you tell Reece that?’ ‘I don’t know.’ He shrugged peevishly… ‘What’s wrong,’ I asked. ‘Nothing,’ he snapped… Peter gave a little shrug… He let the silence run on, making no comment (148)… He sat for a long time without speaking (171)… He gave a quick little shrug (172)…

Anybody expecting the cunning plans and sleight of hands of the conventional thriller will be disappointed by Innes’ novels because there aren’t any. Instead you get:

  • detailed travelogue of interesting exotic places (vivid, well-written descriptions of places, peoples and boats)
  • a period of slow-paced prosaic processes and procedures – a trial or court martial or shareholders’ meeting (interesting, in a dry London boardroom kind of way)
  • a long period of wilful mystery and obtuseness and evasiveness (frustrating)
  • and then, the last fifty pages or so burst into thrilling description of intense physical challenges, disasters and survival (and as it’s the last bit you read, this visceral excitement tends to be your final – and redeeming – impression of the book)

This lack of conformity to modern thriller practice helps explain why The Strode Venturer is no longer in print and why I picked up my copy in a second-hand bookshop for just 10p. It’s worth much more than that for Innes’ vivid descriptive powers, especially of all and anything to do with his beloved sea.

The sun was falling now towards the west and I stayed there, watching the sparkle of it on the water until it sank into the sea and the sky turned fiery red, a flaming furnace glow dyed purple at the edges. Three pillars of cumulo-nimbus burned for a while, anvil-headed; the glow faded to a hard duck’s egg green and the first stars appeared. Then, suddenly it was night… (p.225)

The decline and fall of the British Empire

In its immediate predecessor, Atlantic Fury, Innes has the standard-issue, thriller-writer/man-of-action contempt for Whitehall bureaucracy and for the cynical hacks of the popular press. His protagonist has no political views and is only interested in the fate of the men he knows and his brother.

By contrast, The Strode Venturer is the first Innes book I can think of which contains direct and revealing comments on contemporary politics and culture. The general idea is that Strode and Company has gone downhill since its heyday in the 1930s when it was led by the fierce and ruthless Henry Strode. His several sons are pale copies of the original, and characters more than once lament that the company’s decline mirrors the decline of Britain itself and its Empire, once led by strong, ruthless men, now in the control of small, mean-minded men only interested in turning a quick profit.

  • Common Market – the hero’s whole predicament comes about because he quits the Navy in the hope Britain’s entry into the Common Market will create a surge in jobs – but General de Gaulle vetoed Britain joining in 14 January 1963 – ‘l’Angleterre, ce n’est plus grand chose
  • Declining Empire – ‘I’m talking now of the period between the wars. I don’t think we were conscious then that the Empire was slipping from our grasp, but the smell of decay was in the air, all the life blood of the country poured out in the trenches of that First World War and the men that were left, most of them of poor quality.’ (p.46, Strode’s ageing solicitor)
  • The era of Socialism and high tax signals the end of capitalism – ‘The power of the state is now so great that the gap between our brand of capitalism and Russia’s brand of communism is closing all the time.’ (p.24, George Latham, stockbroker)

Related links

1970s Fontana paperback edition of The Strode Venturer

1970s Fontana paperback edition of The Strode Venturer

Hammond Innes’ novels

1937 The Doppelganger
1937 Air Disaster
1938 Sabotage Broadcast
1939 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.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: