Adventure in the Haggard-Buchan School (The Bookman, Nov. 1960)
The Pass Beyond Kashmir by Berkely Mather
Reviewer: Ian Fleming
The Achilles Affair, Berkely Mather’s first book, was one of the best thrillers of 1959. The Pass Beyond Kashmir takes the author triumphantly over the hump of the ‘second book’ and into the small category of those adventure writers whose works I, for one, will in future buy ‘sight unseen’.
The author belongs to the Haggard-Buchan school, or at any rate to its Search/Chase subdivision, in which English writers are supreme. The essential requirement in the contemporary craftsmen in this idiom is that they should be truthful and accurate reporters, for nowadays we know the world, and the scenery and background over and against which the hero journeys must not only hold the attention but be credible. Berkely Mather’s India seems to me totally so. I believe every word of his local knowledge and I greatly admire the art with which he informs one of sects, secret police, smells, language, dust, mud and flies without overdoing the expertise—a weakness into which Hammond Innes, for instance, occasionally lapses. With Berkely Mather one never feels ‘crammed’, or irritated by ‘knowingness’. The background unrolls, as we follow the cheap but likable private investigator on the way from Bombay to the foothills of the Himalayas, with a truly remarkable narrative ease. And what a ghastly trek we take in search of those secret oil surveys! Fights and muggings in the stews of Bombay—ghastly encounters with police and rivals (with every man’s hand against us!) all the way up to Kashmir and there—the last straw—the damnable Chinks to cope with! And the going! Hard! Nothing to eat, torrents of rain, mud, stench, filth, every foot of the way!
To make the hardened reader feel these things, really to put him through the wringer, is the art of the writer of thrillers. Mr. Mather has this ability, backed by a quiet, unemphatic prose style, a contemporary eye, and, most important, a heart.
Note: I’m going to be charitable and assume that Fleming was echoing the author’s language when he wrote that racial epithet…
Berkely Mather himself is an overlooked and important figure in the history of James Bond. Fleming was a genuine fan of novels and recommended Mather to Broccoli and Saltzman as a screenwriter for the Bond films, starting with Dr. No. Mather’s obituary in The Independent adds “In fact a script was already in existence, and Mather lightened it considerably…Although offered a percentage of the take for his work on the script, Mather disastrously opted for a flat fee.” His work on Dr. No, included his drafts and detailed notes, was later auctioned off.
Mather also co-scripted From Russia With Love and contributed an uncredited rewrite of Goldfinger. So he had a hand in the all of the classic three Bond films and the exact nature of his contributions deserves further study.