Along with Alistair Maclean and Desmond Bagley, British author Hammond Innes (real name: Ralph Hammond Innis, 1913-1998) is one of the masters of high-adventure fiction. Hammond authored 34 novels from 1937 through 1996 and also penned nonfiction and children's stories as well. My first experience with the author is his 1947 novel The Lonely Skier, which was released in the U.S. as Fire in the Snow. The book was adapted for cinema in 1948 under the title Snowbound.
Set in the snowy Dolomite mountains of Northeastern Italy, the book focuses on a British man named Neil Blair. As an ex-Army officer, Blair is a family man who's unemployed in the book's opening chapter. His friend Engles, a movie producer, asks Blair to vacation at a remote ski lodge called Col Da Verda. The purpose is to write a movie script and team with a photographer named Joe Weston. Aside from the primary role of film creator, Engles asks Blair to search for a mysterious woman named Carla.
Upon Blair's arrival at Col Da Verda he is introduced to a cast of characters that become mainstays in the book's narrative. Blair eventually meets Carla and learns that she is a wealthy Countess and has a romantic past with a few of the book's characters. The most interesting revelation is that the lodge was once owned by Stefan, a former Nazi officer who was later captured and ultimately died from suicide. The resort supposedly holds an abundance of stolen Nazi gold that Stefan hid for safekeeping.
Innes' novel teases high-adventure, explosive action and perilous skiing. However, the reader is forced into the lodge as a spectator for most of the plodding narrative. In fact, the bulk of the book is Blair and the cast of characters drinking at the bar and accusing each other of withholding information on the treasure's location. There are chapters upon chapters of suspicions, finger pointing and threats of violence. Sadly, none of this comes to fruition until the book's last 20-pages. It's as if Innes just didn't have enough story to create a pleasurable experience for readers.
Innes is a fine author and I'm certainly not doubting his literary legacy. It appears I simply picked a bad book. Oddly, his 1948 novel Blue Ice seems to have the same story-line – a stashed treasure in the cold Norwegian mountains. Like his contemporaries, the idea of lost treasure (mostly Nazi) seems to be a prevalent sales pitch for avid readers. I'll certainly read more Innes, and I have a short-list of what fans consider his best work. I'm hoping I'll find a real gem there, but Fire In the Snow isn’t it.
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