Mather, Berkley: The Pass Beyond Kashmir

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This terrific novel was endorsed in its time by Ernest Hemingway, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Ian Fleming (who picked the author for the screenplay of Dr. No). I bought it years ago because it opens in Bombay (always a plus for this Bombayboy), but gave it up after a few pages only to find myself riveted when I recently gave it a second chance. The dustjacket tells the story, but here are a couple of passages which go some way to show why I enjoyed it so well:

  • Taking a narrow curving downhill road in the foothills of the Himalayas, “We got going again, downward now, and both of us sat hunched and tense, gripping the edge of the seat on the bends as the driver took them two-wheeled—a blackened butt of a cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth except when he took one hand off the wheel to flick the ash delicately out of the window. That usually occurred on the extreme tip of the hairpin, before, with a shuddering last-second bash on the brake, he pulled the hurtling car screaming round on itself to take the next descent. Hill drivers are a race apart with a technique all their own. Petrol costs good rupees and no man in his senses wastes it, so they coast down the slopes in neutral with the engine switched off and rely on their brakes and Allah. This was a private car and one in good condition. In the hired ones there is usually a notice on the back of the driving seat; ‘please not to be interfering with driver. He is knowing best. Penalty fifty rupees.’”
  • About this astonishing woman, Claire Culverton: “One of the men behind us got me by the arm and spun me round. The other must have done the same to her because as I turned, her arm swung a full arc and she caught him a magnificent open-handed slap straight across the kisser. It sounded like a pistol shot and it must have hurt. He yelped like a pi-dog and staggered back. She poured out blistering invective at the man who had touched her. I saw that it was a big Punjabi and his eyes were literally blazing red like those of a rabid animal. It may have been a trick of the headlights but the effect was blood-chilling. Women to him would rate below his cattle and possibly only just above his dogs, and he’d been struck in the face by one in front of witnesses, and was now being scientifically insulted in three languages—and he had a gun in his fist.”
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