Tuesday, December 25

Night of Error – Desmond Bagley

Oceanographer Mike Trevelyan never understood the rivalry his younger brother Mark always felt – all he knew was that Mark was consumed by the need to outshine him in any endeavour, which is why he followed Mike into study of the oceanography though Mark never had the passion for it. In fact, as far as Mike could make out, all Mark really felt passionately about what his own glorification.
Mark died on a deserted island near Tahiti, and Mike was mostly relieved that he was gone. That is until a rough Australian named Kane came to him one day – Kane had been with Mark when he died of peritonitis after his appendix burst, far from medical help. On the same day as the Kane visit, Mark also received a parcel – Mark’s effects: some lumps of sea rock known as manganese nodules, common and not very valuable, a diary and some notebooks filled with Mark’s idiosyncratic shorthand, and a variety of text books, clothes and other miscellany.
That night Mike’s flat was broken into, and Mark’s things were stolen – everything but a nodule that had fallen under his bed, and the diary, which had been laid to one side. The burglars were armed, and in the struggle Mike was knifed, his father’s sergeant from his army days, Geordie, was shot, and one of the burglars, punched by Mike on the rooftop, fell to his death.
Interested in discovering what they were after, Mike analysed the remaining nodule and discovered it had a significantly higher percentage of cobalt and other valuable minerals than usual – he and Geordie, accompanied by financier Jonathan Campbell and his daughter Clare set sail to try to find the source of the mineral-rich nodules.
This being a Bagley novel, the writing is considerably less dry and more convincing than my summary – there are pitched battles, a love story or two, a dollop of scientific education, some nautical know-how and an underwater volcanic eruption stirred among this story of a man trying to come to grips with the legacy of his ne’er-do-well brother and rival. All the tiny amount of knowledge I have about oceanography comes from this book, one of my favourites of Bagley’s collection, and the surprise twist at the end is no less powerful on the third (or possibly fourth or more) reading. – Alex

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