Friday, August 3, 2012

FFB: The Gold of Malabar - Berkely Mather

Prison escape! Hidden treasure! A secret map! Villains in pursuit!

Sound like some kind of Indiana Jones movie?  You'd not be far off. These are the plot elements of Berkely Mather's third ripping yarn, The Gold of Malabar (1967), once again set in India but this time dealing with a legendary lost treasure of gold ingots dating back to 1941 in the days of Japanese occupation in the East Indies.

While serving time in a prison in Goa Mike O'Reilly strikes up an acquaintance with a dying old Dutch prisoner named Rokkjer. He entrusts to O'Reilly a gold medal and tells him to take it to a Buddhist monk named Nu Pau in Bombay. He is convinced that O'Reilly will be able to escape and get this done.  when he meets the monk he is to tell him, "Rokkjer said to keep faith." He makes O'Reilly swear to do this and just as he is about to die manages to get out the following cryptic last words: "Pythagoras, northeast, and the word is try, try, try..."  Rokkjer's body is buried in the cemetery conveniently located just outside the prison walls near an even more convenient cliff.  O'Reilly is on burial duty.  Guess who manages to dig a grave, bury the corpse and take flight by bravely and stupidly  jumping off the cliff in the ocean?  O'Reilly survives the jump, a barrage of bullets, and near drowning. Luckily he is rescued by some peasant fisherman and the boat he ends up in just happens to be headed for Bombay.  His luck is soon to run out though his adventure leds him into a treacherous world of greedy looters all looking for the map that will lead to the hidden cache of gold

UK 1st edition ( Collins, 1967)
Once again Mather provides a medley of eccentric outsiders and crooks. Among O'Reilly's allies are Claudette, a lovely brothel madame and Anne Haytor, a sharp witted nurse, and a variety of fishermen, tradesmen and beggars. O'Reilly accidentally becomes a sort of male incarnation of Blanche DuBois as he comes to depend on the many kindnesses from strangers. As for the numerous villains there is a duplicitous ex-pat British colonel, a corrupt Indian police inspector, and a sinister Arab and his gang of goons who subject our hero to a gruesome torture sequence. Above all there is the brilliant character of Nu Pau, the defrocked Buddhist monk who holds the key to location of the map, and has more than a few secrets of his own. The oddball pairing of O'Reilly and Nu Pau make this adventure thriller at times seem like one of those unevenly matched "buddy pictures." They work marvelously well together -- both as adversaries and collaborators.

O'Reilly at first seems like he wants the partnership but the danger escalates and he risks his life multiple times, endures horrible injuries, and is finally burdened with a mortally wounded Nu Pau. He begins to think all would be easier if he dumped Nu Pau in a village and went for the treasure by himself. The story takes on the essence of Traven's Treasure of the Sierra Madre as everyone seems to want the all the gold for himself. Will O'Reilly get his hands on the gold? Or will his conscience get the better of him?  The ending is something of a surprise and was more than satisfying.

Entertaining, educational (more insight into Indian history and culture) and enlivening The Gold of Malabar is one of the best real adventure novels from the late 1960s.  I enthusiastically recommend this one to all devotees of the rousing ripping yarn.

Previously reviewed on this blog The Pass Beyond the Kashmir also by Berkely Mather.


  1. You seem to be on an India trip. I had no idea so many adventure/ mystery novels were set in India. I have reviewed one recently: The Kashmir Shawl

    My entry for FFB, however, is Anthony Gilbert's The Clock in the Hat-Box, which I really enjoyed:

    1. I think I *am* on an India kick! In the coming weeks I'll be tackling Bombay Mail and Bengali Fire by Lawrence Blochman to see how thrillers from the '40s compare with Mather's works in th e60s.

      Once again in my haste to get this up in time I forget to mention some of the best parts in this book. I liked all the info about tea farming in Darjeeling (a big section is set there) and all the cultural background about Indian fishermen and maritime law. Plus there was a fascinating historical background about how the Dutch and Indian people felt about the Japanese during WW2.

  2. My appetite for Mather is truly whetted by now. Must read these books.

  3. John, this is a terrific choice for FFB, as was your review of "The Pass Beyond Kashmir." The British occupation of India generated some fascinating literary work by English writers many of whom probably never intended to become writers. Berkely Mather was in the Indian Army and must have travelled extensively throughout the subcontinent. I'd like to read this book, particularly because I have spent fourteen years in Goa and thirty-two years in Bombay, where I now live. Besides, I'd also like to know what he has to say about Indian history and culture. Many thanks for bringing this book to my notice.

  4. Mike Ripley tells me more Mather reprints are in the works at Top Notch Thrillers. I hope they choose this one next. This is one forgotten author I am glad to have discovered and get an equal amount of thrills sharing my discovery with all you wonderful people out there in the dark. ;^)

  5. I'm sitting here in the dark (figuratively speaking) thinking that I might enjoy this book. I like a ripping good yarn. I read Rafael Sabatini don't I? And that Australian guy, Matthew Reilly. I like a good story about hidden treasure and stuff.

    Too bad this one doesn't have foul Nazi's in it. HA!