The story takes our hero Idwal Rees through a rugged adventure marked by multiple pursuits, captures and escapes as he and an Australian opportunist named Smedley try to make their way from Bombay to Kashmir. There they plan to meet George Polson, a retired British major, who will lead them to the location of documents that may reveal the source of a hidden oil reserve. Aided by Rees' servant Samaraz, a strong-willed Pathan, the two men get off to a bad start when the major vanishes from his home where his wife has been brutally attacked. The local police begin to show an interest in the major's disappearance and based on the probing questions Rees suspects that it may have something to do with the documents. As the three continue eluding and escaping a variety of villains it is clear everyone wants the major and/or the documents. At one point Rees quotes an Indian proverb which aptly sums up the seemingly endless chases: "The Indian night is blind for the watched, but has a thousand eyes for the watcher."
Over the course of these densely packed 190 pages the reader will also be tutored in all things Indian and Asian. Mather is especially adept at interspersing into the action a series of lessons in everything from the Indian caste system to the making of Tibetan butter tea. Below are a few more of the numerous tidbits picked up:
- In India it is not the Express train that will get you to your destination the fastest, it is the Mail train. The express is actually a local.
- Speakers of Urdu cannot pronounce an initial S sound with first adding an additional vowel sound. Therefore, Smedley becomes Ish-medley.
- Only Muslims who have made the arduous journey to Mecca and paid their respects to Mohammed there have earned the right to wear a green turban. (this may not be so true now apparently)
- A Pathan is an upper caste Muslim. In the story Samaraz is a particularly intolerant, in fact intensely hateful, of anyone not of his caste.
- You apparently cannot do anything in India without the help of baksheesh. Rees and friends are lucky to have the wads of rupees with them as they are constantly passing out money to everyone they meet.
The Pass Beyond Kashmir is one of the many reissued adventure thrillers released by Top Notch Thrillers, that fine imprint of Ostara Publishing. Mike Ripley, editor of the series, has once again uncovered a whopper of a tale, an exciting page turner to rival anything published today. In fact, I prefer something like this book over the padded doorstop tomes we have nowadays. Mather's story not only has the ring of truth and authenticity thanks to his many years of living in India he tells his tale with hardly one diversion into the Land of Backstory and limits himself with psychological character explanations. As I mentioned before this book is a wonderful primer on how to write a thriller, how first and foremost in this genre it is how action can reveal character better than long drawn out explanations of past life experience. An adventure tale more than any other genre should have immediacy and should take place first and foremost in the present. The Pass Beyond Kashmir is as immediate as they come.
The Espionage and Adventure Novels of Berkely Mather
Idwal Rees and Samaraz appear in:
|Berkely Mather as he appears on|
the DJ of one of his early books
The Terminators (1971)
Jack Wainwright, British spy appears in:
The Springers (1968) aka A Spy for a Spy
The Break in the Line (1970) aka The Break
The Terminators (1971)
Peter Feltham appears in:
The Achilles Affair (1959)
With Extreme Prejudice (1975)
Geth Straker (1962) (based on radio scripts of an adventure serial)
The Gold of Malabar (1967)
The White Dacoit (1974)
Mather has also written historical fiction, TV scripts and was the screenwriter for Dr. No and The Long Ships, an unintentionally campy sword and sandal feature about Vikings and Moors in search of a legendary golden bell. I may write up a review of that movie which he co-wrote with Beverley Cross.