The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham (1925)

After all they had gone through, when they were living amid these scenes of horror and desolation, it seemed inept to attach importance to the ridiculous act of fornication. When death stood round the corner, taking lives like a gardener digging up potatoes, it was foolishness to care what this person or that did with their body. (Chapter 57)

Love, marriage, infidelity and jealousy are frequently the topics of Maugham’s novels, plays and stories.

This is the story of a frivolous middle-class girl, Kitty Garstin the daughter of a particularly pushy mother (‘Mrs Garstin was a hard, cruel, managing, ambitious, parsimonious and stupid woman’) who, four seasons after ‘coming out’ into society is still not married and beginning to panic about it. When her younger sister announces that she is to marry a baronet, Kitty accepts the next half-decent proposal that comes along, from a short, shy, unprepossessing man, a certain Walter Fane, who is a bacteriologist in Hong Kong and back in England for a long summer break.

He was not her type at all. He was short, but not thick-set, slight rather and thin; dark and clean-shaven, with very regular, clear-cut features. His eyes were almost black, but not large, they were not very mobile and they rested on objects with a singular persistence; they were curious, but not very pleasant eyes. With his straight, delicate nose, his fine brow and well-shaped mouth he ought to have been good-looking. But surprisingly enough he was not. When Kitty began to think of him at all she was surprised that he should have such good features when you took them one by one. His expression was slightly sarcastic and now that Kitty knew him better she realized that she was not quite at ease with him. He had no gaiety.

Kitty marries in haste, ships off to Hong Kong and within months realises it has all been a ghastly mistake. Walter is punctiliously polite and considerate but has no style, dash or adventure. Worse, as a scientist his social standing in the colony is very low.

Which goes to explain why she is easy meat for the tall, handsome Charlie Townsend to pick up and seduce. Charlie is the opposite of Walter in every way, breezy, confident in all social situations, graceful, an excellent dancer, a stylish lover and, above all, Assistant Colonial Secretary with every possibility of one day ending up Governor of the colony. True, he is married with three children, but he keeps telling Kitty he has never loved his wife: it is only Kitty that he loves.

He was tall, six foot two at least, she thought, and he had a beautiful figure; he was evidently in very good condition and he had not a spare ounce of fat on him. He was well-dressed, the best-dressed man in the room, and he wore his clothes well. She liked a man to be smart…  Though he had not said anything very amusing, he had made her laugh; it must have been the way he said it: there was a caressing sound in his deep, rich voice, a delightful expression in his kind, shining blue eyes, which made you feel very much at home with him. Of course he had charm. That was what made him so pleasant.

The book opens dramatically with the adulterous couple caught red-handed in Kitty’s bedroom as they are both surprised to see the bedroom door handle turn. Luckily it is locked, but then the handles of the french windows are tried too, before they hear footsteps going away, and then hurriedly get dressed. Who was it? And do they suspect?

The following pages give us Kitty’s backstory, her pushy mother, her father a not very successful KC, the social environment in which Kitty ‘comes out’, the balls and parties, the ‘Season’, Ascot, Cowes. I felt all this was done with tremendous knowledge of this social milieu and with great psychological insight into the character of Kitty, her mother, her father and sister. It was like stepping into a lost world.

We follow Kitty’s hurried and embarrassed marriage to Walter, then whistle through her seduction by Townsend in order to get back up to date, to the ‘Present’ in which the novel is set. Now the book spends several pages describing Kitty’s psychological agonising as she wonders whether it was a servant sneaking up and trying the door or – was it Walter, her husband, trying the door to her room? Does he know?

To cut a long story short, it was and he does. For the next few days Walter treats Kitty with frigid correctness  (and what is marvellous is the way Maugham describes her changing moods, from panic, to regret, to shame – and then to resentment at the way Walter is being so cold to her, and then to anger that he doesn’t raise the subject directly – until Kitty comes right round to believing that it is she who is being persecuted and Walter who is in the wrong: this is quite marvellously believable).

Finally Walter sits her down for a chat and comes straight to the point. He knows all about her adultery. He has evidence and proof. Now, there is a cholera epidemic going on in mainland China. He has volunteered to go and help. She must come with him.

Kitty hyper-ventilates with terror, and gaspingly asks for a divorce. He laughs coldly, looking at her and talking with clinical logic. He’ll give her a divorce alright, if she can persuade Charlie Townsend to divorce his wife and marry her (Kitty) within a week! He sweeps out leaving Kitty bewildered.

Her head full of Mills and Boon fantasies about how Charlie will hold her to his manly bosom and say, ‘Of course, my dear – at last you can be mine’ etc, Kitty hastens to Charlie’s office to put to him Walter’s ultimatum. Of course Charlie is appalled, blusters and there follows a classic bounder-tries-to-drop-his-inconvenient-mistress scene.

Realising he’s got a hysterical mistress on his hands, Charlie is careful to emphasise his ongoing love for Kitty but also comes up with all kinds of excuses why he can’t leave his loyal wife and children.

Again this is not exactly an original scene, but I thought Maugham does it really persuasively, portraying all too well the interplay of Kitty’s increasingly bitter accusations with Charlie’s red-faced attempts at damage limitation. In a nutshell, No, he will not divorce his wife: she’s been so good to him, it would upset her too much, and then what about the children… etc.

Thoroughly disillusioned, Kitty returns to the family home only to find that Walter had already instructed the Chinese servants to pack her bags. With a new insight, she realises that Walter concocted his deadline purely to get her to see what a snake Charlie Townsend really is. With a heavy heart she agrees to accompany him on his medical expedition into mainland China; she has no real choice.

Part two

The book isn’t actually divided into parts, but it might as well be. Part two more or less jumps to the cholera-infected town of Mei-Tan-Fu. Kitty and Walter are brought to a bungalow on a hill outside and overlooking the actual city. It’s the bungalow of the Christian missionary to the city, who died early in the epidemic.

They immediately meet the short, jolly, clever if permanently tipsy Deputy Commissioner, Waddington. they quickly settle in (with the help of numerous servants) and Waddington becomes a kind of chorus to the action – explaining to Kitty (stuck at home all day in the bungalow) what marvels Walter is working putting into place public health care plans, arranging care of the sick, the burial of the dead and liaising with Colonel Yü of the Chinese military to maintain order.

On another notable occasion, over dinner, when Waddington is tipsily gossiping about the colony back in Hong Kong, Kitty asks a casual question about Charlie Townsend and Waddington needs no further prompting to describe him as a good-looking cad who gets his underlings to do all his work, has the full support of a loving and forgiving wife, and amuses himself by seducing a string of second-rate, silly young colonial wives. Kitty flinches as she realises she was just the latest in a long line of conquests for this heartless beast. Slowly she realises there is a wider world around her and her silly fantasies, and how she fits into it, and how she appears to others.

One day Waddington takes her down into the stricken city to visit the French nuns who are doing sterling work looking after the orphans of parents who’ve died from the epidemic. In the presence of their authority and quiet devotion, Kitty feels like an awkward schoolgirl. They praise Walter to the skies and hope she is taking good care of him. She blushes. The reality is that Walter only comes home late at night and they barely talk. Kitty is ashamed of herself.

By this stage, about half way through this 240-page novel, the reader realises that whatever else is going to happen, the book is describing Kitty’s psychological awakening and maturity. For the first time, here in this disease-ridden town, she is grasping that there are other people in the world, who matter, who have lives and loves of their own, and she begins to learn the nature of work, working for others, devoting your life to others.

She volunteers to work with the nuns, overcomes Charlie’s objections and gets up every morning to be carried down to the ferry over the river, taken by a guide to the convent and there looks after the orphans and little children. She slowly grows to like the Chinese. She gets to know the different nuns with their stories and characters. She is taken out of herself. Small incidents highlight their selfless devotion. Kitty watches and learns.

Waddington, a little unexpectedly, also plays a part in the process. She realises that despite being fat and tipsy, he is in clever and sensitive. Before she started with the nuns they had got into the habit of going on soulful walks, especially up to the ancient monument to a rich man’s dead wife, up on the hilltop overlooking the city. These continue and mark Kitty’s growing understanding of the world as a big, big place and herself as just a tiny atom in it.

They sat on the steps of a little building (four lacquered columns and a high, tiled roof under which stood a great bronze bell) and watched the river flow sluggish and with many a bend towards the stricken city. They could see its crenellated walls. The heat hung over it like a pall. But the river, though it flowed so slowly, had still a sense of movement and it gave one a melancholy feeling of the transitoriness of things. Everything passed, and what trace of its passage remained? It seemed to Kitty that they were all, the human race, like the drops of water in that river and they flowed on, each so close to the other and yet so far apart, a nameless flood, to the sea. When all things lasted so short a time and nothing mattered very much, it seemed pitiful that men, attaching an absurd importance to trivial objects, should make themselves and one another so unhappy. (Chapter 54)

The nuns tell Kitty that Waddington is an immoral man, for he lives with a Chinese wife, and not just any old Chinese: she comes from a super-aristocratic family, from Manchu blood. He tried to escape her several times but she has followed him everywhere. Next time he sees her Kitty hesitantly asks Waddington if he may meet his wife and he says yes. In a vivid and memorable scene Kitty meets this slender, elegant, motionless, painted lady, with her thing fingers and long painted fingernails. East meets West.

But on another morning of working at the convent, Kitty suddenly faints and comes to, being tended by the nuns and feeling hot and flushed. She is terrified that she has finally caught the cholera, but they burst out laughing. No, silly – she’s pregnant! Back at the bungalow she anxiously waits for Walter to come home. We have, by now, spent many pages alone with Kitty and her anxious thoughts – while she was given the cold shoulder by Walter at the start, when she was waiting to see Charlie at his office, when she spent days alone in the bungalow. We have spent a lot of time alone with this woman and come to know here pretty well.

Walter, finally arrived home at the end of another long exhausting day, pours himself a whiskey and Kitty tells him she’s pregnant. He asks the obvious question – Is it mine? – and there is a brilliant page where Kitty realises that all she has to say is Yes. Say yes and it will begin the process of healing their marriage, say Yes and it will make Walter so happy, say Yes and she will go some way to making amends for ruining his life. She thinks this all through carefully and clearly and then says… I don’t know. It is a classic Maugham moment, not exactly brutal but… in the context of these posh, scrupulously polite pukka chaps… unexpectedly hard. It has the helpless clumsiness of real life.

Once she’s said it it’s too late to retract. She regrets but carries on, visiting the convent each day, getting to know the nuns more deeply, and listening to a long explanation from the Mother Superior of the immensely liberating effect of giving yourself to God, of giving away your self, of living entirely for others.

One night she is woken by banging on the door. It is Waddington come to fetch her. Walter hadn’t come home. He is in the army barracks, very ill. Kitty dresses and rushes down the hill, across the river, through the deserted streets of the city (accompanied by Waddington and a few soldiers). Walter is in a rough bed, facing the wall, his face empty and wasted.

‘Walter, I beseech you to forgive me,’ she said, leaning over him. For fear that he could not bear the pressure she took care not to touch him. “I’m so desperately sorry for the wrong I did you. I so bitterly regret it.’ He said nothing. He did not seem to hear. She was obliged to insist. It seemed to her strangely that his soul was a fluttering moth and its wings were heavy with hatred.

He dies. Kitty is numb. The Chinese Colonel Yü is present and weeps more than Kitty. He and Walter had become very close. Waddington helps Kitty back to the bungalow. Next day Walter is buried, Colonel Yü in attendance.

Part three

Kitty continues going to the convent but the Mother Superior gently breaks it to her that she must leave. the epidemic is waning. New sisters are on their way to replace those who have died. They will have no more need for her services. But above all she must think of the baby. She must go back to Hong Kong or even back to her family in London to make sure the baby is safe. With many words of wisdom and tears, Kitty acquiesces. On a human note, the Mother Superior gives Kitty a package of handkerchiefs to post from Marseilles to her family in France.

Waddington arranges for her to be taken back across country to Hong Kong, accompanied by guards and servants. the journey passes in a daze, like one of those long Chinese scrolls showing an unfolding landscape of quiet peasants and lumbering buffalo. It dawns on Kitty that for the first time in her life she is free.

The city of the pestilence was a prison from which she was escaped, and she had never known before how exquisite was the blueness of the sky and what a joy there was in the bamboo copses that leaned with such an adorable grace across the causeway. Freedom! That was the thought that sung in her heart so that even though the future was so dim, it was iridescent like the mist over the river where the morning sun fell upon it. Freedom! Not only freedom from a bond that irked, and a companionship which depressed her; freedom, not only from the death which had threatened, but freedom from the love that had degraded her; freedom from all spiritual ties, the freedom of a disembodied spirit; and with freedom, courage and a valiant unconcern for whatever was to come.

And this is where the Hollywood version would end, with a strong empowered woman facing the future bravely as the credits rolled. But Maugham isn’t like that. When Kitty’s ship across the bay docks in Hong Kong she is greeted by Charlie Townsend’s wife. The whole colony has heard about the tragedy. She has volunteered to look after the martyred wife. Kitty simply must come and stay with her while she recovers. She is more or less forced into it.

At the Townsends’ posh house high on the fashionable Peak Kitty meets Townsend. In deepest China Kitty had slowly persuaded herself he was greying, ageing, fattening and repellent. Unfortunately, seeing him again in the flesh she realises with dismay that he really is tall, dark and handsome, unfailingly polite and considerate. Anyone who’s read much Maugham knows that a good deal of his fiction is about couples who practice adultery with suave smoothness, and Kitty is disconcerted by the way Townsend strikes exactly the right note of polite concern for her in front of his wife, despite having had a passionate affair with her and got her pregnant. He is all concern and, puffing away on a cheroot, assures her that he’ll try his damnedest to get her a good pension. Walter was a splendid fellow, heroic of him to go and help the Chinese like that etc etc.

Only after a week or so do they finally find themselves alone in the house without his wife present. And then he pounces. He listens to her recriminations, he agrees, he laments, he condoles, he holds her hand, she gets up and strides into her bedroom, he follows, puts his arm around her and… she feels herself melting and swooning. they make love. The text cuts to afterwards. he dresses and exists with a jaunty air – and why not?

Kitty stares at herself in the mirror with tear-filled red eyes.

Then, letting her face fall on her arms, she wept bitterly. Shame, shame! She did not know what had come over her. It was horrible. She hated him and she hated herself. It had been ecstasy. Oh, hateful! She could never look him in the face again. He was so justified. He had been right not to marry her, for she was worthless; she was no better than a harlot. Oh, worse, for those poor women gave themselves for bread. And in this house too into which Dorothy had taken her in her sorrow and cruel desolation! Her shoulders shook with her sobs. Everything was gone now. She had thought herself changed, she had thought herself strong, she thought she had returned to Hong Kong a woman who possessed herself; new ideas flitted about her heart like little yellow butterflies in the sunshine and she had hoped to be so much better in the future; freedom like a spirit of light had beckoned her on, and the world was like a spacious plain through which she could walk light of foot and with head erect. She had thought herself free from lust and vile passions, free to live the clean and healthy life of the spirit; she had likened herself to the white egrets that fly with leisurely flight across the rice-fields at dusk and they are like the soaring thoughts of a mind at rest with itself; and she was a slave. Weak, weak! It was hopeless, it was no good to try, she was a slut.

Next morning she goes to the P&O office and books a ticket home on the next liner. The clerk says the ship is full but when she gives his name, says he’s heard about her sad story. Everyone in the colony has. And so he fixes her up a berth of her own. Back at the Townsends’ house she finds Charlie alone again. In their final scene he wants to be reassured that it isn’t he who is driving her away. In other words, he not only wants to seduce her in the family home, but he doesn’t want to feel bad about it. He wants her to leave on good terms. He wants his ego to be completely untouched and spotless. But Kitty, although she ‘fell’, has developed a sense of her higher self.

‘I don’t feel human. I feel like an animal. A pig or a rabbit or a dog. Oh, I don’t blame you, I was just as bad. I yielded to you because I wanted you. But it wasn’t the real me. I’m not that hateful, beastly, lustful woman. I disown her. It wasn’t me that lay on that bed panting for you when my husband was hardly cold in his grave and your wife had been so kind to me, so indescribably kind. It was only the animal in me, dark and fearful like an evil spirit, and I disown, and hate, and despise it. And ever since, when I’ve thought of it, my gorge rises and I feel that I must vomit.’

On the ship home she gets a series of cables announcing that her mother is ill and then, at Marseilles, telling her that she’s died. She arrives back to the pawky flat in London to find her father in mourning. There then follows another psychologically persuasive final scene. Right at the start we’d been told that Mr Garstin was much put upon by his domineering wife. She it was who persuaded him to try for silk (to become a King’s Council or senior barrister) because she wanted the social kudos even though it actually resulted in him getting less work and being poorer. She it was who relentlessly pressurised her daughters into the ‘best society’ and to marry well. And the wife and daughters never paid much attention to Mr Garstin, regarding him simply as a work horse and source of money and position.

Now, as she sits with him in the living room of their flat, Mr Garstin announces to Kitty that he has been offered the job of Chief Justice of the Bahamas and has said yes. To his horror Kitty asks if she can come too. She watches his face crumple and – using her newfound wisdom – she realises why.

For the past thirty years he has sacrificed his life for others, for his wife and girls. Now, finally, he is free, and this move to a distant colony offers him the first breath of freedom in a generation, the opportunity to start again. His pregnant daughter coming with him would mean the same old straitjacket all over again. Kitty realises this in a flash and bursts out crying, saying she understands how he has sacrificed his life to them, how she will not be a burden, how she will let him be free – she just can’t stay in London on her own.

Feminism

And on the final page of the novel she gives a heartfelt expression that the new life she’s bringing into the world will be of a liberated woman who can learn from all her mother’s mistakes:

‘Have you already made up your mind about the sex?’ Mr Garstin murmured, with his thin, dry smile.

‘I want a girl because I want to bring her up so that she shan’t make the mistakes I’ve made. When I look back upon the girl I was I hate myself. But I never had a chance. I’m going to bring up my daughter so that she’s free and can stand on her own feet. I’m not going to bring a child into the world, and love her, and bring her up, just so that some man may want to sleep with her so much that he’s willing to provide her with board and lodging for the rest of her life.’

She felt her father stiffen. He had never spoken of such things and it shocked him to hear these words in his daughter’s mouth.

‘Let me be frank just this once, father. I’ve been foolish and wicked and hateful. I’ve been terribly punished. I’m determined to save my daughter from all that. I want her to be fearless and frank. I want her to be a person, independent of others because she is possessed to herself, and I want her to take life like a free man and make a better job of it than I have.’


China and the Chinese

In Hong Kong there are various servants and ‘boys’ catering to their every whim. Only in Mei-Tan-Fu do you get more of a sense of the real China although even here it’s the French nuns that Kitty gets to know. I don’t think a single one of the Chinese servants even there, is named. In fact the only Chinese person we are introduced to is Waddington’s wife.

Kitty shook hands with her. She was slim in her long embroidered gown and somewhat taller than Kitty, used to the Southern people, had expected. She wore a jacket of pale green silk with tight sleeves that came over her wrists and on her black hair, elaborately dressed, was the head-dress of the Manchu women. Her face was coated with powder and her cheeks from the eyes to the mouth heavily rouged; her plucked eyebrows were a thin dark line and her mouth was scarlet. From this mask her black, slightly slanting, large eyes burned like lakes of liquid jet. She seemed more like an idol than a woman. Her movements were slow and assured. Kitty had the impression that she was slightly shy but very curious. She nodded her head two or three times, looking at Kitty, while Waddington spoke of her. Kitty noticed her hands; they were preternaturally long, very slender, of the colour of ivory; and the exquisite nails were painted. Kitty thought she had never seen anything so lovely as those languid and elegant hands. They suggested the breeding of uncounted centuries.

It would be easy to say that Maugham is remiss for not naming or introducing a single Chinese character (apart from the princess). But then again, even in England, in his plays and novels, only a handful of characters are ever named, set against the teeming multitudes of London or the anonymous fishermen and farmers of the kentish town where Cakes and Ale is set. Even in England Maugham is mostly concerned only with the posh and upper-class characters, with a range of servants, butlers, nurses and maides who only barely have identities.

Similarly, in the Chinese city, the strongest character is the French Mother Superior who, characteristically, isn’t just a good woman but comes from an unbelievably smart aristocratic family – as she tells Kitty in a beguiling chapter.

Though the Mother Superior talked with Kitty not more than three or four times and once or twice for but ten minutes the impression she made upon Kitty was profound. Her character was like a country which on first acquaintance seems grand, but inhospitable; but in which presently you discover smiling little villages among fruit trees in the folds of the majestic mountains and pleasant ambling rivers that flow kindly through lush meadows. But these comfortable scenes, though they surprise and even reassure you, are not enough to make you feel at home in the land of tawny heights and windswept spaces. It would have been impossible to become intimate with the Mother Superior; she had that something impersonal about her which Kitty had felt with the other nuns, even with the good-humoured chatty Sister St Joseph, but with her it was a barrier which was almost palpable. It gave you quite a curious sensation, chilling but awe-inspiring, that she could walk on the same earth as you, attend to mundane affairs, and yet live so obviously upon a plane you could not reach.

In fact, given that Kitty can’t speak a word of Chinese, it’s hard to see how she could have got to know and talked to a Chinese character, even if Maugham had needed one for the kind of morality tale he was aiming to write.

Chinese landscapes

This is a gentle and evocative text. There are quite a few descriptions of landscape, designed to echo and amplify the feelings of the characters, mainly Kitty.

Her eyes travelled over the landscape at their feet. The wide expanse on that gay and sunny morning filled the heart with exultation. The trim little rice-fields stretched as far as the eye could see and in many of them the blue-clad peasants with their buffaloes were working industriously. It was a peaceful and a happy scene.

I wonder if Maugham consciously set out to echo the calm misty feel of traditional Chinese scroll paintings with their idyllically peaceful landscapes and cityscapes. His word pictures certainly achieve a sense of serenity and give the novel a wonderfully dreamy, evocative atmosphere.

Dawn was breaking now, and here and there a Chinese was taking down the shutters of his shop. In its dark recesses, by the light of a taper, a woman was washing her hands and face. In a tea-house at a corner a group of men were eating an early meal. The grey, cold light of the rising day sidled along the narrow lanes like a thief. There was a pale mist on the river and the masts of the crowded junks loomed through it like the lances of a phantom army. It was chilly as they crossed and Kitty huddled herself up in her gay and coloured shawl.

The gaining of wisdom

Whereas the tight little colony of Hong Kong encouraged the characters to magnify their petty affairs and jealousies, the sheer size and scale of China makes them feel small and insignificant

For a moment she thought of the future. She did not know what plans Walter had in mind. He told her nothing. He was cool, polite, silent, and inscrutable. They were two little drops in that river that flowed silently towards the unknown; two little drops that to themselves had so much individuality and to the onlooker were but an undistinguishable part of the water.

Not only its scale, but the sense that its culture is ancient, far older than bumptious Western pretensions. When the ancient Britons lived in mud huts, the Chinese had emperors and palaces. This is the purpose of the Manchu princess figure. In real life Waddington’s mistress would probably have been an anonymous local girl, but Maugham needed an emblematic figure who would epitomise the antiquity and nobility of Chinese culture which he himself responded to so powerfully, and which is another element in Kitty’s education.

Kitty had never paid anything but passing and somewhat contemptuous attention to the China in which fate had thrown her. It was not done in her set. Now she seemed on a sudden to have an inkling of something remote and mysterious. Here was the East, immemorial, dark, and inscrutable. The beliefs and the ideals of the West seemed crude beside ideals and beliefs of which in this exquisite creature she seemed to catch a fugitive glimpse. Here was a different life, lived on a different plane. Kitty felt strangely that the sight of this idol, with her painted face and slanting, wary eyes, made the efforts and the pains of the everyday world she knew slightly absurd. That coloured mask seemed to hide the secret of an abundant, profound, and significant experience; those long, delicate hands with their tapering fingers held the key of riddles undivined.

At the conclusion of her meeting with the Manchu princess, Kitty asks Waddington what these riddles are.

‘I’m looking for something and I don’t quite know what it is. But I know that it’s very important for me to know it, and if I did it would make all the difference. Perhaps the nuns know it; when I’m with them I feel that they hold a secret which they will not share with me. I don’t know why it came into my head that if I saw this Manchu woman I should have an inkling of what I am looking for. Perhaps she would tell me if she could.’
‘What makes you think she knows it?’
Kitty gave him a sidelong glance, but did not answer. Instead she asked him a question.
‘Do you know it?’
He smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
‘Tao. Some of us look for the Way in opium and some in God, some of us in whisky and some in love. It is all the same Way and it leads nowhither.’

And of course, the epidemic raging all around them, the daily burials, the teeming orphans of dead parents who fill the convent – death is all around them. Kitty comes to feel powerfully not the futility of life so much as its insignificance.

The size of China; the ancient nobility of Chinese culture; the epidemic of death sweeping all round her; the selfless dedication of the nuns – these are the factors which educate her, which show her her own insignificance, which show Kitty that pity and charity are the real values – which allow her the insight into her father’s plight – and which fuel her determination to give her daughter a better life.

The movies

It is a powerful book – with a strong central female role, with the power of a fable or morality tale, and with very atmospheric scenery of rural China and the urgency of the plague-filled city. No surprise, then, that it has been adapted for the screen three times:

  • The Painted Veil (1934)
  • The Seventh Sin (1957)
  • The Painted Veil (2006)

The BBC made a radio adaptation in 2012.


Related links

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Somerset Maugham’s books

This is nowhere near a complete bibliography. Maugham also wrote countless articles and reviews, quite a few travel books, two books of reminiscence, as well as some 25 successful stage plays and editing numerous anthologies. This is a list of the novels, short story collections, and the five plays in the Pan Selected Plays volume.

1897 Liza of Lambeth
1898 The Making of a Saint (historical novel)
1899 Orientations (short story collection)
1901 The Hero
1902 Mrs Craddock
1904 The Merry-go-round
1906 The Bishop’s Apron
1908 The Explorer
1908 The Magician (horror novel)
1915 Of Human Bondage
1919 The Moon and Sixpence

1921 The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands (short story collection)
1921 The Circle (play)
1922 On a Chinese Screen (travel book)
1923 Our Betters (play)
1925 The Painted Veil (novel)
1926 The Casuarina Tree: Six Stories
1927 The Constant Wife (play)
1928 Ashenden: Or the British Agent (short story collection)
1929 The Sacred Flame (play)

1930 Cakes and Ale: or, the Skeleton in the Cupboard
1930 The Gentleman in the Parlour: A Record of a Journey From Rangoon to Haiphong
1931 Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular (short story collection)
1932 The Narrow Corner
1933 Ah King (short story collection)
1933 Sheppey (play)
1935 Don Fernando (travel book)
1936 Cosmopolitans (29 x two-page-long short stories)
1937 Theatre (romantic novel)
1938 The Summing Up (autobiography)
1939 Christmas Holiday (novel)

1940 The Mixture as Before (short story collection)
1941 Up at the Villa (crime novella)
1942 The Hour Before the Dawn (novel)
1944 The Razor’s Edge (novel)
1946 Then and Now (historical novel)
1947 Creatures of Circumstance (short story collection)
1948 Catalina (historical novel)
1948 Quartet (portmanteau film using four short stories –The Facts of Life, The Alien Corn, The Kite and The Colonel’s Lady)
1949 A Writer’s Notebook

1950 Trio (film follow-up to Quartet, featuring The Verger, Mr. Know-All and Sanatorium)
1951 The Complete Short Stories in three volumes
1952 Encore (film follow-up to Quartet and Trio featuring The Ant and the GrasshopperWinter Cruise and Gigolo and Gigolette)

1963 Collected short stories volume one (30 stories: Rain, The Fall of Edward Barnard, Honolulu, The Luncheon, The Ant and the Grasshopper, Home, The Pool, Mackintosh, Appearance and Reality, The Three Fat Women of Antibes, The Facts of Life, Gigolo and Gigolette, The Happy Couple, The Voice of the Turtle, The Lion’s Skin, The Unconquered, The Escape, The Judgement Seat, Mr. Know-All, The Happy Man, The Romantic Young Lady, The Point of Honour, The Poet, The Mother, A Man from Glasgow, Before the Party, Louise, The Promise, A String of Beads, The Yellow Streak)
1963 Collected short stories volume two (24 stories: The Vessel of Wrath, The Force of Circumstance, Flotsam and Jetsam, The Alien Corn, The Creative Impulse, The Man with the Scar, Virtue, The Closed Shop, The Bum, The Dream, The Treasure, The Colonel’s Lady, Lord Mountdrago, The Social Sense, The Verger, In A Strange Land, The Taipan, The Consul, A Friend in Need, The Round Dozen, The Human Element, Jane, Footprints in the Jungle, The Door of Opportunity)
1963 Collected short stories volume three (17 stories: A Domiciliary Visit, Miss King, The Hairless Mexican, The Dark Woman, The Greek, A Trip to Paris, Giulia Lazzari, The Traitor, Gustav, His Excellency, Behind the Scenes, Mr Harrington’s Washing, A Chance Acquaintance, Love and Russian Literature, Sanatorium)
1963 Collected short stories volume four (30 stories: The Book-Bag, French Joe, German Harry, The Four Dutchmen, The Back Of Beyond, P. & O., Episode, The Kite, A Woman Of Fifty, Mayhew, The Lotus Eater, Salvatore, The Wash-Tub, A Man With A Conscience, An Official Position, Winter Cruise, Mabel, Masterson, Princess September, A Marriage Of Convenience, Mirage, The Letter, The Outstation, The Portrait Of A Gentleman, Raw Material, Straight Flush, The End Of The Flight, A Casual Affair, Red, Neil Macadam)

2009 The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings

Bahama Crisis by Desmond Bagley (1980)

I turned at a metallic noise at the door. The first man to enter had a shotgun pointed at my belly. He was dressed in jeans and a checkered shirt open almost to the waist, and had a lined grim face. He took one pace inside the room and then stepped sideways, keeping the gun on me. ‘On the bed.’ The barrel of the gun jerked fractionally. I backed away and sidled sideways like a crab to the bed. The muzzle of that gun looked like an army cannon. (p.146)

First-person action adventure yarn which Bahamian businessman Tom Mangan kicks off with a brief history of the Bahamas, situating himself as the successful scion of one of the oldest families of the islands’ white settlers, married to a beautiful wife with two lovely daughters, the owner of a couple of successful tourist hotels, planning ahead for the anticipated expansion of air tourism to the islands. Indeed, he has everything a forty-something man could desire – when tragedy strikes.

One fine day he waves his wife and one of his daughters off in the family motorboat driven by the trusty Peter which will take them 120 miles across peaceful seas to Miami on a trip to visit relatives – except the boat never arrives and three days later his daughter’s badly decomposed body is recovered 200 miles in the wrong direction.

Local police speculate it’s cocaine smugglers who have a recognised modus operandi – steal a domestic boat, repaint it, use it for one drug run from south to north America, then scuttle it. More rarely, they hijack a boat in use, as appears to have happened here. ‘Was there anyone else aboard?’ the police ask. Yes, a hand Peter had hired for the journey. ‘Did he know this hand, had he ever met him, did he see him?’ Er, no. ‘Aha. That was probably your hijacker. Sorry Mr Mangan.’

The disappearance occured as Mangan was in the middle of high-level business talks: an American acquaintance from business school, Billy Cunningham, represents the extended Cunningham clan which owns lots of interests in Texas and wants to expand into the Caribbean. After initial discussions, then due diligence by lawyers and auditors, Tom and Billy sign a deal which gives our man 10% of shares in, and makes him President of, the new Theta Corporation, which will combine his local know-how and contacts with the huge resources of the Cunninghams for investment and expansion.

During the socialising surrounding Billy’s visits Mangan meets Billy’s beautiful spoilt cousin, Debbie, 25 years old and on the rebound from a dashed love affair. —Hmm. A gorgeous young lady on the rebound, a recently bereaved wealthy businessman in need of comfort, what could possibly happen?… In the short term he suggests she throws herself into charitable work: why not bring poor black kids from the slums of Texas out to the Caribbean and teach them to swim and surf and sail? Off she goes inspired.

Meanwhile, one slender clue emerges from the boat-napping. When the boat left the quay Tom’s daughter forgot her camera which she’d been running round taking snaps on in the last minutes before departure. Debbie has the film developed and one or two pics show the face of the mystery hired hand. He’s white, a well-known Californian yacht bum named Kayles, who was in the islands in the weeks running up to the disappearance; now he’s nowhere to be found.

Tom passes what he knows on to the local police, headed by Deputy-Commissioner Perigord. But then things move on to a longer-term description of Tom’s adept handling of business. The deal is signed with the Cunningham Clan; Tom moves immediately to create a new boat hire division, starts the building of new hotels in underdeveloped islands, sets up a school devoted to training locals to become top hotel staff and so on. Debbie, along with some young teacher friends, sets up her charity to bring deprived city kids out to the islands for the holiday of a lifetime. After a year of being close to each other, Tom does the inevitable and proposes and she accepts. He has not only gone into business with Cunningham money, he’s married into it too.

Thoughts

After the stratospherically high-level politics of Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Devil’s Alternative – published in the same year – with its conversations about nuclear war set in the Politburo and West Wing, with its quick cross-cuts from the Kremlin to a dockyard in Japan to the SAS training barracks in Devon – this Bagley novel feels small and personal, almost cosy. One man’s account of how he got mixed up in some nasty but essentially local crime activities, almost a police procedural about how he uncovers the conspiracy behind the immediate crime. Although, in the event, the perspective does expand a little…

More plot

Things go badly for the Bahamas tourist trade. There’s a severe outbreak of legionella disease which kills nearly fifty tourists; a vast funfair on one of the islands burns down; and there’s a sudden riot in the capital Nassau in which three locals are killed. It’s as if the islands are cursed!

By far the biggest incident for Mangan, though, is when an employee sights the boat belonging to Kayles in a distant cay. Tom flies with Sam, his leading boatman, to the nearest small airport then hires the boat of a local fisherman to putter for 6 hours to the isolated cay where the boat was seen, and discovers it’s still there. They confirm it’s manned by Kayles, jump him and tie him up. Search the boat and find charts, log of journeys all over the Caribbean, and suspicious ampoules in his first aid box, containing a yellow liquid. Aha. Liquid cocaine? Heroine?

But while they’re topside searching the deck Kayles escapes and emerges firing a gun, both Tom and Sam leap overboard. When they resurface Kayles has killed Bayliss, stolen his boat and made his getaway. When Tom and Sam finally repair Kayles’s boat and make it back to civilisation, Mangan informs Commissioner Perigord of everything that happened and the latter is understandably furious he went it alone instead of letting the police handle it.

Then a small plane flown by his best pilot and carrying four VIP Yanks goes missing presumed crashed, just after Mangan cancelled his involvement in the flight at the last moment. When he gets back from these numerous entanglements he finds his wife, Debbie, has stormed out, fed up that he spends all his time on the corporation, the hotels, the business, and these other wild goose chases and none with her, leaving a note saying she’s flown back to the family in Houston.

Part two – the American chapters

This inaugurates part two of the narrative, set largely in the States: for a few days later the angry Cunningham clan phone up to say Debbie’s never arrived and they want Tom at company HQ in Houston asap. He flies into the middle of a rancorous family and boardroom argument among the bickering clan of outsize Texan personalities which make up the Cunninghams and I was once again reminded of the TV series Dallas (started 1978 – the feuding Ewing clan) and Dynasty (1981 – the feuding Carringtons). There’s an old patriarch Cunningham, two powerful sons (including Billy One, Billy’s dad), and their grandsons (including angry Frank who hates Mangan). A significant handful of them never wanted Debbie marrying Tom in the first place, and now look what’s happened!

They reveal to a shocked Mangan that Debbie has been kidnapped – they show him the ransom note – and the ransom the kidnappers are demanding is – Mangan himself! As the clan discuss and bicker, a further demand arrives, a complicated 10-step hostage handover process complete with photos of locations and detailed notes of procedures to be followed. The clan are pondering this when Tom steps down to the foyer to buy a packet of fags and is stabbed in the thigh with an injection of some kind of paralysing poison. Out of the crowd a fake doctor appears and Tom finds himself, paralysed but conscious, being whisked away in a fake ambulance. The elaborate document delivered to the Cunninghams was a delaying tactic. They were waiting for him to expose himself. And now…

Taken hostage

Tom awakens in a primitive cell somewhere rural. The Baddy arrives preceded by ‘Leroy’, a psychopath with a shotgun. The Bad Man calls himself ‘Robinson’ with a smirk and explains that, yes, they do have Debbie. ‘Robinson’ explains he is Kayles’ employer, Kayles is a fool, he was told to get from the Bahamas to Miami quickly and, since his own boat had an engine fault, heard about the need for a spare hand on Tom’s wife’s boat journey to Miami, applied, was hired, then killed all aboard – the loyal Peter, Tom’s wife and daughter.

Mangan is sickened to hear all this so casually explained. But why is he here? Because when Sam and Tom shanghaied Kayles a few weeks later, tied him up and searched the cabin – Kayles claims he overheard Tom explaining Robinson’s whole plan to Sam. Now the Bad Man needs to know what Mangan knows: ‘Tell me what you know, Mangan; tell me what you’ve told Commissioner Perigord. Or your wife gets it.’ And he leaves Tom to think it over but our man is completely puzzled. He has no idea what Robinson’s game is. He had gone along with the cops’ theory that the boat-jacking was down to cocaine smuggling and has no recollection of explaining ‘the whole plan’ to Sam. He has no idea what ‘the whole plan’ could be.

Meanwhile, being a practical type, Tom realises the potential in the full water pitcher they’ve left him in his cell to drink and/or wash with. He perches it in the thatched roof above the doorway, suspended by a thin twig, and creates a string out an old rag leading from twig to his bed – and waits…

Some hours later there come shouts from outside as of a maddened crowd, and then screams which he recognises as his wife’s. Moments later shotgun man enters the room and stands in the obvious security spot, Tom pulls the string and leaps to one side, the thugs fires and blasts half the wall out but the big jug hits him directly overhead, cracking his skull. As the number two – not Robinson, but this is no moment to hesitate – rushes in, Tom half tackles him, ripping upwards with the sharpest fragment of the porcelain bowl they had left him and which he had shattered into shards, tearing open the baddy’s stomach.

Mangan grabs the shotgun and runs out but to his dismay encounters a large crowd, a dozen or so men who all turn towards him and the first shots are fired. Realising he can’t rescue Debbie, Tom legs it into the woods and there begins a classic manhunt with the pursuers splitting into groups and cutting him off in territory they know intimately, while he blunders on blindly, cut by trees and brambles, loses shoes in the stream and is near the end of his tether as he scrambles up higher ground, trips and collapses, the shotgun goes flying – when he feels a hard boot step onto his wrist. Cut to close-up of hero squinting up into the face of a figure standing over him, his face blotted out by the southern sun.

And, just like in the corniest movie, it is not one of the pursuers (who, it transpires, are the no-good, low-down Ainslee family), it is their ornery neighbour, Dade Perkins. We are in the deepest, most backward, South and Dade tells the exhausted Tom to hide because ‘No goddam Ainslee is comin’ onto my land, no matter what you gone and done, mister’. Long story short: Dade faces down the pursuers (along with his beautiful buxom daughter Sherry-Lou, hiding in the bushes and who fires a warning shot over the pursuing posse’s heads when they threaten to ignore Dade’s threat not to go one step further). Cussing and spitting Leroy Ainslee (the main thug) and the others slope off.

Tom gets Dade to phone Billy at Cunningham HQ. Turns out the Cunninghams have harassed the Perkins for several generations, trying to hustle them off their land to seize the hardwood, cut everything back for grazing etc. Tom promises, ‘You’ll never have any more hassle from any more Cunninghams if you help us find Debbie’. Half an hour later six helicopters, Cunningham private ones and police ones, arrive and go on to storm the Ainslee compound but all the menfolk heard them coming and have fled. Tom, Billy, the cops and a doctor find Debbie in an outhouse having been gang-raped (‘and worse’). Doctors, sedation, chopper to hospital.

More disasters

Meetings: Tom meets with the Police and Commissioner Perigord who all the way through has been telling him, in exasperation, to leave it to the police, advice Mangan cheerily ignores and ignores again as the Cunningham clan circle the wagons, despatching a bodyguard of six ex-US Treasury men to protect him and Debbie.

Debbie is finally released from hospital and there are brisk descriptions of her (swift, clean) recovery from the gang-rape ordeal. (The male narrative romps on, leaving this reader with misgivings about the whole gang rape storyline…) Back at his home island, Tom catches up on hotel business and soon discovers that Sam, who accompanied him out to Kayles’ boat, has been badly injured in a suspicious accident. Are ‘they’ pursuing anyone who came into contact with Kayles? Why? Then there’s another catastrophe when the new luggage handling system at the airport goes haywire, ripping open the baggage of an entire flight of American tourists. God why all these misfortunes, is he cursed or something?

And then Legionella breaks out in his hotel and hundreds of guests go ill, the place is quarantined, Mangan has to supervise the organisational mayhem which ensues. Extensive search eventually shows the seals on the water tanks on the roof are broken. And it is here, checking it for himself with the hotels’ water engineers and security men, that Tom stumbles over an ampoule like the one he saw in the medicine box on Kayles’s yacht.

Aha. Suddenly he sees a pattern and understands why ‘Robinson’ was interrogating him. The plan is nothing as small as smuggling cocaine; it is to undermine the entire tourist economy of the Bahamas while fomenting political unrest: ‘Robinson’ is a communist subversive. What Kayles half heard as Mangan outlining the ‘whole plot’ to Sam was simply Mangan reciting a list of the misfortunes which had occurred up to that date, with no idea that they were planned.

Threaded around these events are Mangan spotting Carasco, one of the baddies who was involved in abducting him in Houston, in the hotel itself, though in a thick disguise. Hotel security, the police and the bodyguards are alerted and tail him. Although he gets away some night photos emerge of him disembarking the dinghy of a yacht named Capistrano. Aha.

Final chase

An all points bulletin is put out for this yacht. Once located the troops move in, both official police, the US bodyguards and our hero along with his Yankee pal, Billy, complete with hand gun. There follows a powerboat chase through the maze of canals on the island, reminiscent of Live and Let Die (1973) or Puppet on a Chain (1972). It is a stock ‘exciting climax’ to a certain kind of 1970s made-for-TV level entertainment.

True to form, both boats race, overtake and sweep past each other, the splashed protagonists ducking and weaving and taking pot shots at each other – classically, these things climax in the baddy’s boat exploding in a fire ball, but here the baddy beaches on a low strand, runs towards a house being built, there’s more shoot-out while the bewildered builders look on. Finally, as the official police catch up and join Tom and Billy, the baddy makes a bid for freedom across a street and the up-till-then restrained Commissioner Perigord surprises Tom (and the reader) by throwing the swagger stick he has used up to this point as an ornamental sign of authority, at the fleeing ‘Robinson’. Turns out this decorative stick is tipped with lead and is a powerful weapon: it hits ‘Robinson’ on the head, who drops stunned in the road. However, before we can get hold of the Baddy, interrogate him and get the conspiracy clarified, a London Routemaster bus (common in the islands) swerves round the corner and runs clean over his head. Oh well.

Epilogue

In the Epilogue the Commissioner explains that US records show ‘Robinson’ to have been a Cuban revolutionary and his plan the systematic destruction of the Bahamian tourist economy in order to foment revolution among the impoverished population – hence everything from the legionella outbreaks, burning down of the pleasure attraction, small flight crashing with high profile VIPs abroad, even the sudden riot in Nassau.

Now everything will be alright, the tourism business return to normal, and the text ends with a fully restored Debbie bearing a baby. Restoration of order, natural rhythms, new life.

Thoughts

Like most plots which fuel this kind of thriller, the conspiracy which drives it is better seen in glimpses, as hints of some unstated dastardly plan. The final revelation of the conspiracy is not particularly plausible. It’s a hard moment for thriller writers. The final rationales all-too-often fail to fully justify the mayhem which they allegedly cause. (For example, the giant stakes behind the Forsyth thriller I just read – The Devil’s Alternative – namely the risk of the Russians launching an all-out nuclear war, ends up feeling ludicrous, over-wrought, even, maybe, to the author, so that the ending has a peculiarly comic or romantic feel about it.)

Bahama Crisis boils down to guys with guns chasing each other, being kidnapped and held in Dr No-style cells, or busting out and being chased through mangrove swamps, leading up to the familiar trope of a speedboat chase.

There is just enough characterisation to differentiate the various cardboard characters but the treatment of, for example, the rape and the post-rape impact on Debbie, or the impact on the protagonist of his wife’s abduction and murder, go about an inch deep. They are pretexts or nodes around which cluster plot functions and motivations, not real events. They have little or no psychological depth, and so minimal impact on the reader.

That said, this is tauter and more believable than many of Bagley’s earlier thrillers. As always he has done plenty of factual research which he includes often raw in the text but which sheds interesting light on the Bahamas history, geography and people. And a lot of information about running a tourist hotel, managing a chain of hotels, and the tourism business more generally. Not many novels are set in this milieu or this location and I found both congenial and interesting.

The comparison with Forsyth brings out some of Bagley’s other strengths: whereas Forsyth’s tone is lofty, detached, a journalist reporting on the events he’s describing, always detached enough to give you a full technical run-down of every gun being fired or a detailed explanation of just how the SAS is organised and which sub-section of the organisation the men he’s describing belong to – Bagley is inside the mind of a hot, sweaty, scared guy stumbling through the mangrove swamps pursued by psychos with guns.

Although they’re both thrillers, it feels like Forsyth belongs to the shiny, consumerist, Sunday Times Rich List 1980s which focuses on gadgets and well-run organisations, whereas Bagley belongs to an older tradition of visceral thrills and spills, an everyman thrown into exciting situations of peril and jeopardy, the Eric Ambler-Ian Fleming tradition. Which, on the whole, I think I prefer.

I thought Bagley would go off in his final works but I’d recommend this to anyone who fancies a slightly dated but engaging poolside read. It may lack psychological depth but it has a nice warmth towards its characters and setting. It is not deliberately heartless and cynical as the new generation of techno-thriller writers in the 1980s were.

I’m looking forward to reading his last few novels…

Related links

Fontana paperback edition of Bahama Crisis

Fontana paperback edition of Bahama Crisis

Bagley’s books

1963 The Golden Keel – South African boatbuilder Peter ‘Hal’ Halloran leads a motley crew to retrieve treasure hidden in the Italian mountains by partisans during WWII, planning to smuggle it out of Italy and back to SA as the golden keel of a boat he’s built for the purpose.
1965 High Citadel – Pilot Tim O’Hara leads the passengers of a charter flight crash-landed in the Andes in holding off attacking communists.
1966 Wyatt’s Hurricane – A motley crew of civilians led by meteorologist David Wyatt are caught up in a civil war on the fictional island of San Fernandes just as a hurricane strikes.
1967 Landslide – Tough Canadian geologist Bob Boyd nearly died in a car wreck ten years ago. Now he returns to the small town in British Columbia where it happened to uncover long-buried crimes and contemporary skulduggery.
1968 The Vivero Letter – ‘Grey’ accountant Jeremy Wheale leads an archaeology expedition to recover lost Mayan gold and ends up with more adventure than he bargained for as the Mafia try to muscle in.
1969 The Spoilers – Heroin specialist Nick Warren assembles a motley crew of specialists to help him break up a big drug-smuggling gang in Iraq.

1970 Running Blind – British secret agent Alan Stewart and girlfriend fend off KGB killers, CIA assassins and traitors on their own side while on the run across the bleak landscape of Iceland.
1971 The Freedom Trap – British agent Owen Stannard poses as a crook to get sent to prison and infiltrate The Scarperers, a gang which frees convicts from gaol but who turn out to be part of a spy network.
1973 The Tightrope Men – Advertising director Giles Denison goes to bed in London and wakes up in someone else’s body in Norway, having become a pawn in the complex plans of various espionage agencies to get their hands on vital secret weapon technology.
1975 The Snow Tiger – Ian Ballard is a key witness in the long formal Inquiry set up to investigate the massive avalanche which devastated the small New Zealand mining town of Hukahoronui.
1977 The Enemy – British Intelligence agent Malcolm Jaggard gets drawn personally and professionally into the secret past of industrialist George Ashton, amid Whitehall power games which climax in disaster at an experimental germ warfare station on an isolated Scottish island.
1978 Flyaway – Security consultant Max Stafford becomes mixed up in Paul Billson’s quixotic quest to find his father’s plane which crashed in the Sahara 40 years earlier, a quest involving extensive travel around North Africa with the charismatic American desert expert, Luke Byrne, before the secret is revealed.

1980 Bahama Crisis – Bahamas hotelier Tom Mangan copes with a series of disastrous misfortunes until he begins to realise they’re all part of a political plot to undermine the entire Bahamas tourist industry and ends up playing a key role in bringing the conspirators to justice.
1982 Windfall – Max Stafford, the protagonist of Bagley’s 1978 novel Flyaway, gets involved in a complex plot to redirect the fortune of a dead South African smuggler into a secret operation to arm groups planning to subvert Kenya, a plot complicated by the fact that an American security firm boss is simultaneously running his own scam to steal some of the fortune, and that one of the key conspirators is married to one of Stafford’s old flames.
1984 Night Of Error – Oceanographer Mike Trevelyan joins a boatload of old soldiers, a millionaire and his daughter to go looking for a treasure in rare minerals on the Pacific Ocean floor, a treasure two men have already died for – including Mike’s no-good brother – and which a rival group of baddies will stop at nothing to claim for themselves, all leading to a hair-raising climax as goodies and baddies are caught up in a huge underwater volcanic eruption.
1985 Juggernaut – Neil Mannix is the trouble shooter employed by British Electric to safeguard a vast transformer being carried on a huge flat-bed truck – the juggernaut of the title – across the (fictional) African country of Nyala towards the location of a flagship new power station, when a civil war breaks out and all hell breaks loose.

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