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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Vintage Pulp Nov 19 2020
ALL OF A SUDDEN
Murder mystery explores the turbulent years of pre-Malaysia Singapore.


We grabbed this beautiful hardcover copy of Suddenly, at Singapore from Scottish publishers William Collins, Sons & Co. for two reasons. First, the cover art is by the legendary Barbara Walton, one of the great illustrators of the mid-century period, and the title promises exotic thrills. Though we're lucky enough to live in an exotic land ourselves, we never get tired of tales set in Asia, Africa, or the Mediterranean. And speaking of exotic, Gavin Black is a pseudonym far less exotic than the author's real name—Oswald Wynd. Why use a pen name when you're named Oswald Wynd? Beats us, though the fake name does sound more real.

Anyway, Suddenly, at Singapore involves the Harris Brothers, two adventurous anglos born and raised in Singapore who own a shipping company that, in addition to legit cargos, transports black market weapons around the Java Sea in a fleet of Chinese junks. The story opens with the older brother Jeff being murdered, and younger brother Paul vowing revenge—as soon as he figures out who ordered the killing. He's also involved in an as yet unconsummated martial affair, and is trying to send his wife back to the U.S. to get her out of his hair. The two plotlines eventually braid together, and pretty soon the hero and both his women are in all kinds of difficulties.

This was a quick read, decent not great, but with nice local color derived from Black's/Wynd's time spent in the region. The story takes place before Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak merged into Malaysia, and Black channels some of the political tension and economic lawlessness that prevailed during that time, but doesn't delve into it in a detailed way. He would do that later, though—we gather that this was the first of numerous Paul Harris thrillers. We also hear from those in the know that Suddenly, at Singapore is the worst of the lot, so we may try the second book Dead Man Calling when we get the hankering for South Seas craziness again.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 30
1914—Aquitania Sets Sail
The Cunard liner RMS Aquitania, at 45,647 tons, sets sails on her maiden voyage from Liverpool, England to New York City. At the time she is the largest ocean liner on the seas. During a thirty-six year career the ship serves as both a passenger liner and military ship in both World Wars before being retired and scrapped in 1950.
May 29
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
May 28
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
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