Showing posts with label Hammond Innes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hammond Innes. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Atlantic Fury

Author Hammond Innes would spend months researching and visiting obscure parts of the world in preparation for his adventure novels. Typically, Innes likes to keep things frosty, evident with his novels The White South, The Land God Gave to Cain, and Fire in the Snow. Thus, the northern hemisphere was a popular destination, including the rocky Outer Hebrides islands, positioned off the west coast of mainland Scotland. This rugged, rural terrain is the backdrop for Atlantic Fury, a mid-career novel originally published by Collins in 1962. 

The first thing you need to realize about Atlantic Fury is that the book's ending is revealed in the novel's first few pages. The account is written in first-person perspective by Donald Ross, an artist and former seaman who explains that a major military disaster occurred at sea and courtroom drama transpired. Ross's narrative reveals the results of his investigation into the wreck and what prompted his participation.

In the novel's first act, Ross is unexpectedly visited by a Canadian gentleman named Lane. He explains that his wife is running in second-place to inherit a ton of money from a deceased relative. The current leader is a guy named Major Braddock, but all attempts to reach him have been met with cold silence. It appears that Braddock just isn't that interested in the will, but can't be excluded without proof of death. Interestingly enough, Lane explains to Ross that he has evidence that proves that the real Braddock actually died years ago in a boating disaster. The man pretending to be Braddock now is Ross's brother Iain. That's a real pitch, but what makes it a curveball is that Ross's brother died years ago. Did Iain fake his own death and become the deceased Braddock to fool authorities?

I would imagine that this type of story has been told before, the one where the guy condemned to the gallows figures out a way to swap identities. However, Innes does what he does best by incorporating all of the harrowing elements to create the perfect escapism – roaring storms, nautical disaster, brutal survival, and the obligatory harsh and unforgiving landscape. Innes understood his audience and what was needed to delight his loyal fan base. It's like Lionel White providing thieves and bank jobs to please the readers of his riveting heist novels. But, Innes captures a certain lonely and tragic essence with the characters he creates.

Ross exhibits a deep longing for the fictional Laerg, an island making up a part of the Outer Hebrides chain. His attempts to reach it is either counter or parallel to his minimalist lifestyle depending on perspective. Ross is a single starving artist living in a small apartment, yet longs for Laerg's isolated, uninhabitable landscape of perilous rocks and beaches. It's also a trip into his past to determine his brother's connection to the island. If Laerg is a solitary confinement, then Ross is just bringing his sheltered lifestyle to another place. Or, does the island represent some sort of artistic freedom, liberating Ross from his confined space? Examining the other novel's strengths may reveal certain characters that would rob you of reading pleasure. 

Atlantic Fury isn't top shelf Innes, but for any other high-adventure author it probably is. Innes was simply that good and proves it with a stellar catalog. There's plenty to like about the novel considering the central mystery, as revealed as it is, and the abstract, unique adventurers. Recommended. 

Buy the book HERE.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The White South

Many titles by Hammond Innes posses a nautical theme. From seafaring adventures like The Wreck of Mary Deare to oceanic oil rig thrillers like North Star, Innes explored the world searching for a great story. His mid-career novel The White South, published in 1949, takes readers to the frigid waters of the Antarctic. As both a survival tale and nautical quest, the book's synopsis promises an ice shaking boat disaster in giant seas. Go ahead and take my money. I'm sold. 

Like many average males, Duncan Craig is no longer complacent with his suburban existence as a London desk clerk. In the Navy, he traveled the world, commanding a ship in WW2 and his heart is aching for a more meaningful and exciting life. After selling his belongings, Craig has a plan to move to South Africa. But, in a London airport, Craig's life changes dramatically.

After asking a favor, Craig is attempting to join a charter plane to Capetown. The flight is owned by the South Antarctic Whaling Company, but specifically Colonel Bland. After making his plea for one of the five seats on board, Bland willingly allows Craig to join them. On board is Bland's daughter-in-law Judie and an assortment of minor characters. Craig overhears that Judie's father works for Bland as a manager of sorts on a whaling ship. But, a conflict has risen due to Bland promoting his own inexperienced son Erick. Judie and Erick are married, but she hates the man and considers him a lying scoundrel who partnered with the Germans during WW2. The fact that Erick may pass her father in seniority makes her furious.

Eventually, Bland learns of Craig's experience with boats and makes him an offer he can't resist. Craig will command one of the whaling ships in the Antarctic sea. In the midst of the job proposal and hiring,  he learns that Judie's father mysteriously committed suicide by jumping overboard. Judie feels that Erick killed him, but that's a mystery that eventually expands. After inquiring into the details, Craig begins investigating the circumstances surrounding the man's death. Thus, Craig and Judie fall in love.

This is a nautical adventure and Innes spends some time acclimating readers on the whaling industry, which I found surprisingly interesting. Craig's inexperience is the catalyst for this educational journey, but eventually tragedy strikes. In the icy seas, Erick rams his ship into Craig's in a high-stakes deadly version of bumper cars. The two ships sink and the passengers are forced onto the ice. A rescue attempt then traps another ship between two icebergs. 

The book's final 100-pages is a brutal cold weather survival tale as Craig orchestrates an escape attempt while contending with warring factions over supplies, injuries, and the few lifeboats remaining. He's an admirable hero that must overcome extreme adversity among men that don't necessarily respect his fishing inexperience. Thus, there's no surprise that Craig is the unlikely hero that rises to the occasion for the greater good. 

There's a lot for readers to busy themselves with including memorization of who's who among the Norwegian names. Placing the characters and their locations on the ice was sometimes difficult. Because of that, the reading requires some focus and concentration to stay on task. It's not a heavy lift, but still requires minor endurance. If you love Hammond Innes, this is another stellar addition to his bibliography.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Land God Gave to Cain

British adventure author Hammond Innes had a very specific writing ritual. He spent six months researching a location and then six months writing a novel that takes place in or around that vicinity. For his mid-career effort, The Land God Gave to Cain (1958), he traveled to Labrador, a cold region in Canada's northeastern region of Newfoundland. Innes visited the area extensively in 1953, but then traveled there again for his novel. Innes stated that on his first journey to Labrador, he traveled nearly 400 miles into the rugged interior, living in primitive railroad construction camps. He used trains, track motors, trucks, float planes, and helicopters to see the full scope of this majestic area. Eventually, he even roughed the area on foot. 

The travels that Innes made into the Labrador interior parallel those that young Ian Ferguson makes in the third act of The Land God Gave to Cain. By having first hand experience in this area prior to the commencement of full rail travel, Innes paints a realistic picture for readers. Innes places Ferguson and readers into the wild, into flatlands brimming with ice and dotted by hundreds of lakes and rivers between forests of muskeg trees. But oddly, the story begins in suburban London with a simple radio broadcast.

Engineer Ian Ferguson has returned home to London after receiving word that his father, James, has died. James lost the use of his legs during WW1. Confined to a chair, James visited the outside world through Ham radio. When Ian arrives at his father's house, he finds James' bedroom filled with maps and notes about Labrador, Canada. After studying the radio log, he finds that his father died upon hearing a radio broadcast from Labrador. What was this mysterious message?

Ian discovers that his father was tracking a small group of scouts in northeastern Canada. These journeymen would relay their coordinates by radio at various outposts and camps. James simply wrote them all down. Using a map, their trek through the wilderness was something James felt a part of, even when faced with paralysis 15,000 miles away. But, the men disappeared and after days of searching, only one made it out of the wilderness, a French-Canadian man named Laroche. He reported that the rest of the party died in a plane crash or succumbed quickly to the elements. But, days after Laroche's account to authorities, James received a radio broadcast from one of the men Laroche claimed was dead. This broadcast was sent in the dead of night from an aircraft radio in the Labrador interior. Was it a distress call from a dead man?

Because of the importance these men, and mission, had with his father, Ian begins to unravel the mystery. But, the Canadian authorities are quick to resist and claim that Laroche is telling the truth and that there are no signs or indications that anyone else survived. Further, they claim it is physically impossible that Ian's father could have received this distress call from the plane's shortwave radio. First, the plane supposedly sank in an unknown lake. Second, the radio's distance would be just a few hundred miles, not thousands of miles halfway across the globe.

With raw determination and a hunch, Ian travels to Labrador to interview Laroche and learn details about the group's crash. From there, Hammond Innes injects loads of mystery, intrigue and history into the novel's second act. Ian's quest for clues leads to a lot of questions. Additionally, Ian learns that his father had a very good reason for being so interested in this area of Canadian wilderness. The novel's third act is a thrilling pursuit to solve the riddle. 

The fact that Innes keeps readers in the dark for two-thirds of the book is clever, but antagonizing at the same time. I loved the mystery and what Innes forced me to do as a reader - follow the same clues provided to Ian and form a hypothesis on what this whole thing actually means. But, on the other hand, I was often angry because the supporting characters were so vague and aloof. I wanted instant gratification. I demanded instant entertainment. But, this was 1958 and Innes forced me to be patient and work for it.

If you love high-adventure novels set in exotic locations, The Land God Gave to Cain is sure to please you. It has a core mystery, a perceptive protagonist, an obstacle to overcome and an appetite for thrilling adventure. Also, it's a frosty novel in the vein of John Broxholme, Desmond Bagley and Alistair MacLean. If that isn't an invitation, I don't know what is. Just read the book.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Angry Mountain

From 1937, Hammond Innes launched a career as an iconic writer, which dominated him as a cornerstone of high adventure fiction. Averaging a book per year, The Angry Mountain was the author's 14th novel, originally published in 1950. The book uses the natural disaster subtype of action-adventure, this involving an authentic volcano called Mount Vesuvius. 

In The Angry Mountain, Innes features former Royal Air Force pilot Dick Farrell. In WW2, Farrell fought the Germans only to be shot and captured along with his comrades Reece and Shirer. As a prisoner of war, Farrell was brutally tortured at the hands of a German surgeon. After an immense barbarity, Farrell's leg was cut off at his knee. Reece and Shirer broke out of the camp and Farrell was liberated at the end of the war. 

At present, Farrell is working for a British machine tool company. The company sends him to Czechoslovakia where he meets a former British intelligence agent that he worked alongside with during the war. After a strange sequence of events, Farrell discovers that this former agent is taken into custody as an enemy of the state. After being questioned by the communists, Farrell finally travels to Italy to convey a message to Reece and Shirer. But once there, he realizes that his German tormentor is still alive and has taken the identity of Shirer.

Needless to say, there are a lot of dense storylines that prevail throughout The Angry Mountain. Farrell's memory of the atrocities of war, his disability due to the torture and his personal anguish on failing his countrymen all tie into his paranoia that somehow this German torturer has returned to his life. The bulk of the narrative features Farrell spending his days with a beautiful dancer named Countessa Vale as the two frolic through the countryside. Eventually, the entire cast of characters ends up in Vesuvius where the active volcano erupts. 

The first half of The Angry Mountain introduced a diamond smuggling scheme that I really expected to take off. Instead, the book's second-half is a frantic escape from the volcano as Farrell is forced to become the hero and placed in a position to recover the sanity that he feared was once lost. In many respects, Farrell is the same kind of imperfect hero that appears in a number of Hammond Innes novels, only this one both emotionally and physically endangered. 

As a compelling read, Hammond Innes delivers a smooth prose that easily flips the pages. Although not a masterpiece, The Angry Mountain has enough story, character development, forward motion and mystery to keep it interesting. For that reason, it is well worth your time.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, January 29, 2021

Maddon's Rock (aka Gale Warning)

Ralph Hammond Innes (1913-1998) is considered one of the founders of the men's action-adventure genre. As a pioneer, Innes began constructing high-adventure yarns as early as 1937, often setting his novels in exotic and breathtaking locales to create harsh conditions for his heroes to overcome. After reading my first Innes novel, 1947's The Lonely Skier (aka Fire in the Snow), I was underwhelmed by the author's slower pace and long, drawn out dialogue sequences. Refusing to accept defeat, I attempted another of the author's works with 1948's Maddon's Rock, also known as Gale Warning in the US.

This suspenseful adventure is set during the last days of World War II. The novel introduces readers to a British Corporal named J.L. Varny and his brother-in-arms Bert Cook. In the opening chapter, these two soldiers are within a small company of troops in Murmansk, Russia awaiting departure on the Queen Mary. However, their arrival to the ship's departure is late so they are ordered to join the crew of a British freighter called the Trikkala. On board, the troops are assigned the tedious task of guarding a small cargo of crates day and night as the ship journeys through arctic cold fronts on its journey back to England.

Immediately Varny senses that something is strange about the ship's crew. Their captain is a notorious trader who’s experienced a number of mysterious casualties to his crew. The orders suggest Varny and his men to simply stay out of the way. But for what purpose? As the weather becomes more frigid, the boat and its crew are attacked by a German U-Boat. Within minutes, Varny suspects that something is amiss about the attack. Further, upon inspecting the lifeboats he finds that someone on board has disabled the boat's inner planking. Is this a heist, a surrender or simply the war's stress on Varny's exhausted mind? Thankfully, the author uses these options to propel the book's thrilling narrative.

At 220 small-font pages, Maddon's Rock resembles a more dynamic, epic-styled journey. The plot is filled with excitement as Innes injects war, nautical adventure, island peril and even prison into the exciting plot. Unlike The Lonely Skier's heavy dialogue, Gale Warning is brimming with suspense and tension that thrusts the reader into cold and exotic regions. This is truly a masterpiece of adventure storytelling and one that proves to me that Hammond Innes was truly impressive. With over 30 novels to his credit, there's sure to be a clunker or two. Maddon's Rock is absolutely not one of those. If you are new to this author, I highly recommend starting with this one. It's the perfect kick-starter into what surely will be a pleasurable reading journey through the author's robust catalog.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, January 11, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 73

On Episode 73 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, the guys discuss the life and legacy of Day Keene. Also covered: Arnold Hano, Hammond Innes, Howard Schoenfeld and Max Allan Collins. Listen on your favorite podcast app or paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 73: Day Keene" on Spreaker.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Fire in the Snow (aka The Lonely Skier

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. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE