Wednesday, June 19, 2013

HIGH STAND by Hammond Innes

Fontana Paperback Edition
In my misspent youth—misspent because I could have read so much more—I enjoyed the British thriller writers of the 1960s and 1970s; specifically Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Gavin Lyall, Jack Higgins, and Hammond Innes.  I still regularly read all of these authors with the exception of Innes, whose work has slipped into obscurity (at least regarding my reading list).  As for Innes, until a few weeks ago I didn’t have a single title on my bookshelves, which I remedied when I came across an old Detective Book Club edition of his 1985 novel High Stand.     

High Stand is a little different than Innes’s other work.  Not so much in theme, but in its execution.  It still has the regular guy in over his head protagonist, and it is very much a straight adventure novel, but it builds more slowly and deliberately than his earlier work.  At least as I remember Innes’s earlier novels.

Philip Redfern is a British solicitor specializing in wills and trusts.  A recent client—an old money playboy named Tom Halliday—disappears, and a visit from Mr Halliday’s much younger wife Miriam involves Redfern indirectly at first, and then as the novel develops, directly in the disappearance.  The action is primarily in British Columbia where Halliday owns a successful gold mine discovered by his grandfather, and a large tract of timber called High Stand.  Redfern follows Miriam to Canada where he, acting as Halliday’s solicitor, stumbles around trying to find the missing playboy, but mostly finds trouble instead.

High Stand is a pedestrian adventure novel.  It builds slowly without being boring, and includes a fair amount of financial talk and environmentalist narrative.  It also, as is expected from Mr Innes, includes some top notch action scenes.  The plot, at times, feels contrived.  As an example, the deed to the timberland includes a curse for any who dare cut a single tree.  It is a strange (and semi unbelievable) device, but a device used to account for much of the irrational behavior of the characters, and also acts as propellant to the story’s overall momentum. 
Once the action begins it feels like an old school Hammond Innes novel, and the prose has an easy fluidity without any artificial drama (i. e. Mr Innes doesn’t use prose gimmicks or tricks (which I usually like) to cause reader unease).  The prose is relaxed and smooth no matter the situation; whether describing violence, action, or the usefulness of trees to Earth’s ecosystem:

“He slapped me then.  Twice, with his open palm, each side of my face, so hard he almost knocked me off my feet.” 
High Stand is an easy novel to like.  Its easy going and somewhat loose plot is complimented well by Innes’s unemotional prose, and the characters are interesting (if not believable) in a simple and straightforward manner.  It isn’t a masterpiece, but it is a solidly entertaining story, with just enough of the good stuff—adventure, action, exotic locations, mystery and uncertainty—to let the reader gladly forgive its shortcomings.

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