Vintage Pulp Mar 5 2024
COLD HARD KASHMIR
British adventurers get high in South Asia.


The cover you see above for Berkely Mather's, aka John Evan Weston-Davies', 1960 adventure The Pass Beyond Kashmir is one of the more pleasing we've come across. It's by Barbara Walton, a preeminent dust sleeve illustrator from the 1950s until around 2000. We've featured her a few times, such as here, here, and here, and this effort maintains her incredibly high standard. The scene depicted makes one think there's a major romantic subplot in the novel, but the love interest is in the book for maybe twenty pages. It isn't Walton's fault that the art gave us expectations that weren't met. It happens with covers sometimes. No romantic adventure here.

The story actually revolves around a sardonic and extremely determined ex-intelligence operative named Idwal Rees who gets caught up in a search for missing documents in the Himalayas that might reveal the location of an oil discovery. The action takes the form of a quest from Bombay-Mumbai into the high mountains, with new difficulties encountered in each stop by he and partner Smedley, servant Safaraz, and reluctant informer Poison. Each obstacle is followed by desperate problem solving, and hairsbreadth escapes. The aforementioned sort-of love interest, a nurse named Claire Culverton, is mainly a source of consternation for Rees and a focus for his chauvinism.

The set-up and framework are fine, but we felt that the book got bogged down with too much local color. Obviously, authors wish to impart that they've at a minimum done their homework, and at a maximum lived some version of what they're writing about, but there's also such a thing as narrative flow. We get it—Mather was really in India and Pakistan. He even served in the army there. But in our opinion he needed another pass from an editor to make for a better book. Still, as it resolved, it was decent, though anyone of Indian, Pakistani, or Chinese descent—or of good conscience—will bristle at the treatment meted out by Rees and other Brits. But you know that going in, right?

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
April 20
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
April 19
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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