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Thursday, 9 April 2015

FFB - The Strange Land

Hammond Innes enjoyed huge popularity in the 1950s through to the 1970s, though his output began in 1937 and continued up to his death in 1998. He travelled with his wife to out-of-the-way places and wrote about them with authority. His protagonist was narrator, usually an honourable ordinary man thrust into extraordinary situations or places. His style makes the reader believe that the narrator was there, and The Strange Land (1954) is no exception.

This was Innes’ seventeenth book, based on his travels in Morocco in 1952. It’s set at that time, just before Morocco gained independence from France and Spain in 1956 and Sidi Mohammed ben Youssef became King Mohammed V.

One aspect from these older books is the legend on the copyright page – ‘First issued in Fontana Paperbacks 1964, Twentieth impression July 1988.’ That shows how popular this book was, in its day. Now, we have no idea how many times a book has been published or re-issued. This is one of several uniform re-issues with matching wrap-around covers, attractive and collectible in their own right (see a few below).

Innes is always strong on atmosphere and character interaction. Philip Latham, ex-smuggler turned missionary is waiting in Tangier for the arrival of a doctor to join his mission in the Atlas Mountains. While waiting, he encounters the secretive woman Karen and the unpleasant Greek, Kostos, both having their own agenda relating to the same boat the doctor is sailing on. The weather is bad, and the storm claims the life of one of the two men on the boat. Latham saves the second man and is immediately plunged into a world of mystery, intrigue and deceit.

The mission is important to Latham; he needs a doctor to help the poor who fall prey to disease. Yet the survivor from the sunken craft is intent on first going to Kasbah Foum, deep in the desert country of the Berbers, where there’s believed to be an ancient silver mine.  On the way, they meet up with the brave and honourable Frenchman, Legard, an officer of the Affairs Indigenes, and American Ed White who has his reasons for seeking out Kasbah Foum too. Added to the mix, the brother and sister team of Julie and George, and Ali, the wily son of the local chieftain, Caid Hassan, which provides all the ingredients for a satisfying adventure.



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