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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

‘Behind the Text’ 7 ‘SCRAMBLING SOUTH'

‘Behind the Text’ Part 7.  ‘SCRAMBLING SOUTH

‘Then Fancies Flee Away’ (Bunyan)

Scrambling South' (Book 3 in the series) is a story of isolation in which Jonas Forbes has to battle as much against the effects of the environment as his enemies.  The MacGuffin (to use Hitchcock’s term for what motivates the characters) is a list of Israeli agents hidden in the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt. The time is just after the Suez fiasco in 1956. However, the MacGuffin soon fades into the background as Jonas strives to get the prize ‘home’, while both the Egyptian Secret Police (Mukhabarat) and the Israeli Mossad try to stop him. The original escape route is abandoned as Jonas heads south. His subsequent adventures involve tourists, the Ghagar (or gypsies), smugglers, bandits, kidnappers, the SAS and a clapped-out bus. The action takes place against the physically challenging background of the Nubian Desert but even more the dread of being abandoned.

Here Jonas discovers hostility within Whitehall but also the loyalty of his friends in their attempt to rescue an agent gone missing. There are examples of generosity & greed, of kindness & treachery, of friendship & enmity. Help can come from the strangest sources, like the GRU, but also the expected can turn out to be...... unexpected.
I was drawn to this setting as a frustrated Egyptologist seeking an escape among familiar haunts. The Nubian desert impressed me years ago – and even more by what I’ve read about it and its inhabitants. The balancing act between Egypt and Israel, with their shadowy support from the West or the East, proved to be an irresistible subject. I developed a group of Israeli kastas that I just had to use in a later book (Book 8). I also developed a need to release somehow the enmity of the ‘Nameless One’ so that it could no longer be hidden. Then there was the range of passengers on the Port Sudan to Atbara rattling train, appearing suddenly complete with foibles, prejudices and ambition – only to tumble out again into oblivion.

There’s a lot there for the reader to savour.

Next time a change of continent & climate but even nastier villains.

Bob Hyslop

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