Thursday, 28 September 2000

Hammond Innes: The Strode Venturer (1965)

Edition: Collins, 1965
Review number: 632

Naval officer Geoffrey Bailey becomes involved in the affairs of the Strode Shipping Company which ruined his father's competing line when he receives an offer for the shares left him by his mother that will enable him to live comfortably. It is only after he has resigned from the navy that he is advised that the conditions of his mother's will do not allow him to sell the shares. He has, however, received an offer from one of the Strode brothers who run the company of a job with them, but when he visits the company he discovers that this was not communicated with either of the two elder brothers actively doing so. Bailey is given a job, though, because he has seen Peter Strode relatively recently in Aden; Peter is really the black sheep of the family, and his brothers want him to be tracked down so that he can be forced to play a part in the company affairs.

Much of the action of the novel takes place in steamers (including the Strode Venturer of the title) passing to and fro across the Indian Ocean, mainly in stretches of water which are among the least frequented in the world, and partly in the Maldives. This part of the novel is based on a journey made by Innes himself, and is the product of his sympathy for the Adduans of the southern islands and their attempts to escape domination by the north. (This journey is one of those described in Sea and Islands.)

Despite being based on Innes' own journey, the Indian Ocean scenes of the novel come across as rather artificial, never gripping the imagination as much as the boardroom manoeuvrings back in London. I'm not sure that the plot hangs together - it seems to me unlikely that the discoveries made by Peter Strode will turn around the fortunes of the company, at a time of a decline in British shipping in general. This leaves a feeling at the end of the novel that it has been unconvincing, despite some excitement.

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