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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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 14
1935—Dust Storm Strikes U.S.
Exacerbated by a long drought combined with poor soil conservation techniques that caused excessive soil erosion on farmlands, a huge dust storm known as Black Sunday rages across Texas, Oklahoma, and several other states, literally turning day to night and redistributing an estimated 300,000 tons of topsoil.
April 13
1953—MK-ULTRA Mind Control Program Launched
In the U.S., CIA director Allen Dulles launches a program codenamed MK-ULTRA, which involves the surreptitious use of drugs such as LSD to manipulate individual mental states and to alter brain function. The specific goals of the program are multifold, but focus on drugging world leaders in order to discredit them, developing a truth serum, and making people highly susceptible to suggestion. All of this is top secret, and files relating to MK-ULTRA's existence are destroyed in 1973, but the truth about the program still emerges in the mid-seventies after a congressional investigation.
April 12
1945—Franklin Roosevelt Dies
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies of a cerebral hemorrhage while sitting for a portrait in the White House. After a White House funeral on April 14, Roosevelt's body is transported by train to his hometown of Hyde Park, New York, and on April 15 he is buried in the rose garden of the Roosevelt family home.
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