HAMMOND INNES – Levkas Man. Collins, UK, hardcover, 1971. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1971. Avon, US, paperback, 1973. Ballantine, US, paperback, 1978.

   Man is a killer, and he carries the seed of his own destruction in him.

   For Paul Van der Voort, born Paul Scott, returning to his home in Amsterdam is filled with trepidation. His adopted father Dr. Pieter Van der Voort is not an easy man, and their relation is nothing if not frought.

   “He’s one of the world’s most brilliant palæontologists and it means nothing to you. No wonder he spoke of you with contempt. You owed him everything — education, your upbringing, a roof over your head, even the food you ate, everything. And what did you do? Got yourself expelled, mixed with the riff-raff of the docks, stole, lied, beat people up, landed in jail …”

   …a young woman named Sonia Winters, whose brother is with Pieter on an expedition, berates him, and now Paul has returned to an empty house on the run and looking for a place to lay low only to find is estranged father is off on an expedition in the Greek islands following a trail of bones.

   But all is not well with his father, a difficult and often times dark man, and an elderly teacher and colleague of Pieter’’s, his mentor Dr. Gilmore, fears for his sanity:

   “This is something it may be difficult for you to understand. A practical man, you’re naturally impatient of the sort of introspective self-analysis on which Pieter Van der Voort was engaged. “Probing the ultimate depths of Man’s aggressive instincts,” he called it, and he talked of the Devil and a spiritual struggle. It’s all there, all his instinctual urges—the good and the bad. It goes back to his original thesis.’ And he added a little wistfully, ‘I should have come here before—as soon as I had read it. A man like that—alone, delving into the fundamental problems of mankind … I should have come at once.”

   With a possible manslaughter or even murder hanging over him Paul is eager enough when he gets and offer to charter a boat, the Coromandel, and get out of the country, picking up a load of antiquities, and if the cargo isn’t entirely honest that’s no problem, and sailing from Malta to Turkey. But before he can leave another colleague of his fathers, Dr. Holroyd, shows up asking questions about his work and he discovers two shocking facts; his father has gone missing after what appears to be a violent attack on Sonia Winters brother in Greece, and Pieter may be his birth father and not just the man who adopted him when his mother and supposed father were killed on their farm in a Mau Man uprising in Kenya.

   This is familiar country for Hammond Innes readers, a hero with a complex past, a journey to some place exotic, an older male figure the hero has a difficult relationship with, and the romance of expertise, in sailing, flying, surviving, or even the ancient past.

   Once he reaches Greece however his inquiries about his father lead to complications. Pieter’s bizarre theories had meant the Russians were the only ones who would finance him, and though his Communism was merely convenient, and his theories had long since cost him his Russian ties, the police and secret police are far from happy about a former Russian sympathizer missing in their country especially as across the sea in North Africa tensions are rising. Paul finds himself under their watchful eye too, something less than helpful considering his present employment as a smuggler. Then to further complicate things a talkative Greek named Demetrios Kotiadis, claiming to be from some obscure ministry, starts asking questions and attaches himself to Paul and Sonia Winters shows up.

   In any Hammond Innes novel there is a mystery to be solved, though it is seldom as simple as who killed whom. The hero, like the protagonist of a John Buchan novel, must go through a rigorous physical ordeal and emerge with new insight in order to solve that mystery, and here Paul Van der Voort must literally descend into the earth in a dangerous cave dive, the ancient past, his own history, an act of academic revenge, and the broken mind of Pieter to discover the truth, whatever the cost.

   Hammond Innes’s reputation grew from the time of his earliest works in the shadow of the Second World War to a string of increasingly successful novels and film adaptations until his Wreck of the Mary Deare hit the bestseller list and became a hit film with Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, and Richard Harris. His reputation continued to grow through the early sixties, until with The Strode Venturer, he not only penned a critical and successful novel but garnered reviews that compared him to Joseph Conrad. After that his novels became longer and more serious, but with no loss of the elements of adventure and suspense of the earlier works.

   To some extent he outlived the era of his greatest success and not all of his later novels saw publication in this country, though books like Medusa and Isvik still received sterling reviews and read as well as any of his novels.

   Today when you are reading the latest adventure thriller by a James Rollins, Clive Cussler, or whomever your favorite may be, you are reading in the tradition and footsteps of Hammond Innes (a former journalist who began writing thrillers during the war while serving in the British military as an anti-aircraft gunner), the most important and literate of that first generation of descendants of John Buchan like Geoffrey Household, Victor Canning, and Alistair MacLean.

   To say he is first among equals is only a pale recognition of the impact and influence of his work in the genre. In 1953 when Ian Fleming penned Casino Royale, the first James Bond thriller, Innes was already selling 40,000 to 60,000 copies in hardcover and more in the Fontana paperback reprints in England according to Mike Ripley in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his history of British thrillers from Bond to now.

   Levkas Man is among many classics in a pantheon of works that includes Atlantic Fury, Gale Force, Campbell’s Kingdom, Blue Ice, The Angry Mountain, The Lonely Skier, White South, Air Bridge, The Killer Mine, The Doomed Oasis, The Land God Gave to Cain, Wreckers Must Breathe, The Big Footprint, The Golden Soak, and many more, but remains a favorite of mine for its dark classical themes, and as a fine novel of adventure and mystery.

   Anyone who has never read Innes is in for a fine experience and a great deal of entertainment with a writer who brought to the adventure novel his seven league boots travel experiences, endless curiosity about the world and its environs, and the skills of a novelist and not just a storyteller.