If you’ve read Operation Red Jericho and Operation Typhoon Shore, you’ll have a better chance than I had of knowing what on earth is going on at the start of Operation Storm City. But, within a chapter or two, the breathless latecomer will clamber aboard the express of a plot – and the ride is as fantastic, frenetic and exhilarating as you could wish. It’s pointless to try to outline the tortuous adventures, so I will shamelessly steal from the back-cover blurb: ‘Sinkiang Desert, China: …Can the Guild get there before General Pugachev takes control and endangers the whole planet? Deep in the desert wastes, the ancient underground city is stirring back to life. Have Doug and Becca learnt enough to solve the final mystery, or will they find their parents only to lose them for ever?’ Got the flavour?
Joshua Mowll confides that he’s travelled from Devon via XinJiang to a mysterious rendezvous with an antiques dealer outside the Man Mo Temple in Hong Kong to sort out the final phase of the mystery – and all that since he wrote Typhoon Shore! We’re in 1920 – not our 1920, but a parallel, more desperate 1920. Terrific adventures with the exotic feel of a Richard Hannay exploit – more Greenmantle than 39 Steps – played out at five times Buchan’s pace. And huge characters – from the twins Xi and Xu the Sujung Quantou warriors to Liberty the Texan aviatrix, from the duplicitous Pembleton-Crozier to the imperturbable butler Snave, from a white tiger called Duchess to the evil Baron Vanvort. (No problem with stereotypes in this 1920, then.) Great stuff, and if they can bear to draw breath, readers are offered numerous diversions along the way. Maps in muted colours of faraway places, faded postcards and sepia photographs, scholarly (if tangential) marginal notes and surprising images (‘Cossack Soldier [on horseback] with flame-thrower’). There’s a detailed fold-out plan of a Vickers Vimy Bomber (Desert Exploration Variant with stowage for a case of Veuve Cliquot) and a cross-section (older readers – think Eagle centre-pages) of the Royal Train of the Maharaja Singh (‘“built in 1908 for my father at the Nolan foundry in Glasgow,” the owner enthused’). All that plus glimpses of the actual adventures recorded in the sketchbook of our young hero, Doug MacKenzie – brother to the equally intrepid heroine, Becca.
There is also an elasticated bookmark – you know, as per a personal organiser of pre-history times, before the electronic stuff – which readers won’t often use since, once they are on board, they won’t want to get off.