A Pair of Hammond Innes Novels


Maddon's Rock

by Hammond Innes, 1948, 336 pages
Audible version.

Time for some adventure fiction. Hammond Innes wrote men's adventure books between the '30s and the '80s - this one comes from shortly after the second world war, and is pretty much a classic Innes novel.

In this novel, a couple if soldiers find themselves aboard a ship returning to England from Russia in 1945. They have a special cargo to guard, and this cargo leads them into all kinds of trouble. They find themselves embroiled in a nefarious plot which, when they try to save themselves, leads to them getting court-martialled and locked up in Dartmoor prison. When their nemesis appears in the local news announcing some new plan, they decide to break out and foil his plot - hoping to clear themselves in the process.

Innes novels are good fun. They're stories of adventure in exotic places - remote Scottish islands (Atlantic Fury) - or, as in this case, barren rocks near Svalbard, desert oases (The Doomed Oasis), Norwegian glaciers (The Blue Ice), or the Canadian North (The Land God Gave to Cain). They feature male lead characters in a world of men, who get involved in things usually bigger than themselves, but manage to get through. Maldon's Rock features an interesting female main character, though sadly just when you think she's going to be a sort of Sydney Fox by insisting she captain the boat in the latter half of the novel, she starts asking the lead character for his advice at every turn. Their one romance scene is pretty wooden, so perhaps it's for the best that Innes mostly sticks to the world of hard-working men.

For the gamer, there's plenty to be had including a nefarious plot and some good villain characters that you can yoink.

For what it is, I recommend it - though my favorite Innes novel so far is The Blue Ice, which reaches a climax in which all the parties end up huddled together in a dark Norwegian shack on a glacier before making a mad-dash ski chase down the glacier and leaping over a train. If you like this sort of thing, I recommend it. I'll be reading more, myself.

The audible version read by Richard Mitchley is one of the best I've heard, BTW. He's great with accents (except for the Polish guy) and goes a decent cockney, scottish, welsh, london, and American - switching back and forth seamlessly as the characters talk to one another. I was quite impressed.

The White South

by Hammond Innes, 1949, 336 pages
Audio version read by Hugh Kermode, 10h, 10m.

I suppose I occasionally line Innes because I'm an explorer at heart. Innes himself liked to explore, and often spent 6 months travelling before spending 6 months writing a novel. His novels are often set in the far corners of the British Empire, and the locations are wonderfully described. His main character are usually the same - competent and resourceful, but ordinary - and I feel I can relate to that. All of this characters are rather cliched and varied little from one novel to another, but that's forgivable, I think.

Something else I find interesting about Innes books is that many of them take place in the years right after the second world war. Innes paints a picture of a wild-west kind of world, filled with ex-soldiers looking to make names or fortunes for themselves in the civilian world. And hidden in this world are many people who fared less well in the war - not nazis, but English, Swedes, Italians who were perhaps collaborators, or cowardly, or got up to something less than noble. These people often show up as antagonists or dark horses - and that's not something I'm used to seeing in fiction. It adds an interesting dimension that might be fun to exploit in a game sometime.

The White South is about a shipping disaster in the antarctic pack ice. The second half of the book devotes itself to this environment and focuses largely on survival, but there's a twist - one of the characters in the group of survivors is strongly suspected of having murdered another member just before they became stranded. Duncan Craig, our narrator, finds himself thrust into the middle of this and must weigh his sense of justice against the desires of his crewmates in figuring out how best to survive.

The first half of the book introduces us to the characters, and in particular a web of four who have complex relations to one another. Colonel Bland is the chairman of the company and meets Craig on the journey south to be with the fleet. His son, Erik, has been placed in charge and is currently on the boat. Bernt Nordahl is Colonel Bland's old friend and second in command. He and Erik do not get along. We never actually meet this character, because he disappears from the ship before Craig and the others arrive. Lastly, there's Judy Bland, nee Nordahl, who is married to Erik Bland and daughter of Bernt Nordahl. She finds herself caught between these three men in the struggle for control over the business.

By the way, this book was made into a film in 1954 called Hell Below Zero starring Alan Ladd - you can watch it on youtube. Apparently it features a lot of whaling - something that barely rears its head in the actual novel, except as a backdrop.

Recommended reading if you want a fun little old-fashioned adventure on the ice, with great scenery (not as good as Dan Simmons The Terror mind you) or a survival plot with a twist.

Not recommended if your'e looking for character development, will object to the fact that a woman's looks are described before anything else, or want something that passes the Bechtel test.

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