Adventure of a Lifetime*

extreme-adventuresHave you ever been on what a lot of people call an extreme adventure? People who go on those adventures don’t necessarily do so for the kinds of goals most of us might think of at first. Many don’t take those adventures to reach a specific place, or to find food. Rather, they want to dare themselves to complete the task. And there’s something to that, if your goal is to test your mettle.

Those sorts of adventures can add an interesting dimension to a crime novel, too. For one thing, the forces of nature can add an element of suspense to a novel. After all, hiking in virgin forest, zip-lining, and climbing mountains are dangerous. For another, all sorts of things can happen on such adventures, simply because the people who engage in them are human. They have their own histories and ‘baggage.’

Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty knows about the sort of person who likes this type of adventure. He’s an ex-pat American who now lives in Bangkok. He earns his living as a rough travel writer, creating guides for those who want to forego the ‘tourist’ destinations. And some of the places he’s written about are dangerous. Rafferty is also rather good at finding people who would rather not be found. And that’s a skill that comes in useful for the people who hire him as a sort of unofficial PI.

Sam Hilliard’s The Last Track introduces readers to former Special Forces operative and smoke jumper Mike Brody. Now, Brody is co-owner of S&B Outfitters, an extreme adventure tour company.  He guides clients through the tours; and, of course, his role is also to see that they’re as safe as possible. Before their divorce, he and his ex-wife, Jessica, had planned a trip to Montana’s Pine Woods Dude Ranch. They decide to go through with the holiday, mostly for the sake of their son, Andy. While they’re at the dude ranch, another guest, fourteen-year-old Sean Jackson, goes missing. It turns out that he witnessed a murder, and is now afraid (and with good reason) that the killer will target him. It’s bad enough that Sean is so young; it’s even worse that he’s inexperienced. So Brody is engaged to go out into the country around the dude ranch and try to find Sean before the killer – or the elements – do.

Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind takes place on New Zealand’s South Island, a place of great natural beauty and plenty of rugged, unspoiled places for those who like to test themselves against the elements. In the novel, fledgling psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson, who lives and works in Dunedin, gets a new client, Elisabeth Clark. Over the course of several sessions, Elisabeth begins to trust Stephanie enough to tell her a haunting story. Years ago, Elisabeth’s younger sister Gracie disappeared. No sign of her was ever found – not even a body. This story is eerily similar to Stephanie’s own history. Seventeen years earlier, her own younger sister Gemma also disappeared – again, with no trace ever found. Against her better judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her personal ghosts to rest (and get some answers for the Clark family). She travels from Dunedin back to her home at Wanaka to find out who was responsible for so much devastation. Along the way, she meets Dan, a hunting guide whose specialty is taking clients into South Island’s wildernesses. Dan invites her to take a tour with him; and, although it’s not usually her sort of thing, Stephanie is persuaded to go. In the process, she gets a real understanding of what people find so appealing about such adventures. The land is unspoiled, the water absolutely pure, and the natural beauty is breathtaking.

In Donna Malane’s Surrender, we meet Wellington-based Diane Rowe, who is a missing person expert. In one plot thread of this novel, a grim discovery is made in Rimutaka State Forest: the remains of an unknown man. Inspector Frank McFay hires Rowe to try to find out who the man was, and how he came to be in the forest. Little by little, she’s able to put a name and identity with the remains. She finds that, among other things, the victim enjoyed the sort of adventure that pitted him against the elements. In this case, he ran into more danger than he’d bargained for, as the saying goes.

And then there’s Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. In that novel, a Los Angeles-based company called Vestco is planning to release a new genetically modified seed coating that, so its manufacturer claims, will eliminate hunger. The Millbrook Foundation, an environmentalist watchdog group, has been suspicious for a long time about both Vestco’s claims and its motives. The foundation is convinced that the seed coating could be dangerous. But, with only nine days to go, the group hasn’t been successful at preventing the scheduled release, and Millbrook has decided to stop fighting it. Legendary environmental activist Jay Duggan has chosen to retire from the foundation, and return to his native New Zealand. He’s invited Science Director Dr. Catherine ‘Cat’ Taylor, and IT director Matthew Liddell to go with him for a short visit to New Zealand before they return to work. What they don’t know is that one of Vestco’s employees, Henry Beck, has been murdered, and that they will be framed for it. Once Vestco learns that they’ve left the country, the company uses all of its considerable influence to catch the three people who are now regarded as international fugitives. If they’re going to outwit their enemies, they’re going to have to make use of all of their resources, and that includes Duggan’s wide-ranging experience in out-of-the-way places. Along the way, they get help from an assortment of people, including an extreme adventurer who gives them some very useful equipment as they go deeper and deeper into the back country.

Extreme adventuring isn’t for everyone. But some people swear by the feeling of empowerment that comes from climbing that mountain, or going down that rough patch of whitewater. And those plot points can add a layer of interest and tension to a crime novel.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Coldplay.


Filed under Donna Malane, Geoffrey Robert, Paddy Richardson, Sam Hilliard, Timothy Hallinan

38 responses to “Adventure of a Lifetime*

  1. I admire those who go in for these type of extreme challenges and interesting that you’ve found so many examples in crime novels too. That said it’s not something I could do.

  2. There’s a fine series of mysteries – most of the impossible crime genre – written by Glyn Carr, featuring actor and expert mountain-climber Abercrombie “Filthy” Lewker.during the 1950s and 1960s. In books such as Murder on the Matterhorn and <Death Under Snowdon, this Carr (no relation to John Dickson Carr, I think) “managed to find a way to lock the door of a room that had no walls and only the sky for a ceiling.” The quote is from Tom Schantz of the sadly defunct Rue Morgue Press – Tom republished several of Glyn Carr’s books. Mountaineering was central to all the books. It sounds wonderful, but I can’t even climb a ladder without getting nervous…

    • Hmmm…Mountaineering does sound exciting, Les. But I think I’d have to say, ‘no,’ too. The mysteries sound intriguing, too, and with an interesting premise. I’ve got a soft spot for those ‘impossible-but-not-really’ mysteries…

  3. The adventures don’t appeal to me at all – and I’m not that keen on reading about them either. I’ll leave those to the fans….

    • I must admit that extreme adventure isn’t my top choice, either, Moira. As to novels about them, I’ve read a few I’ve liked. They have to be exceptional to really draw me in.

  4. I too admire those who commit to training to climb Mount Everest and so on. However, I also think of writing a novel (or any book, actually) as an ‘extreme adventure’, in so many different ways. That journey from light-bulb idea for a character or story, to finished manuscript to, finally, the published book, is one terrifying, exhilarating but ultimately enormously rewarding journey, isn’t it?

    • Oh, it absolutely is, Caron! I like the way you think about that. Writing a book is an adventure on a lot of levels, not the least of which is that you never quite know exactly what the process will be like. And there’s a world of new discovery every time. So I think your analogy makes sense.

  5. Pingback: Adventure of a Lifetime* | picardykatt's Blog

  6. kathyd

    I don’t know that I’ve read too many books concerning extreme adventurers. Of course, Nevada Barr’s park ranger, Anna Pigeon, does all kinds of dangerous things in various national parks, to flee or find killers. She spellunks, swims in between close, high mountain peaks, cross-country skiis, defies forest fires and bears. And a lot more.
    But as for me, no extreme adventures for me. In my younger, more fit days, I did go mountain climbing in Maine (glorious Mount Desert Island), New Hampshire and Vermont. But they were tame peaks, except for one where I was hanging onto the mountain as I walked, one foot behind the other on a narrow ledge, with a big drop to the ground, terrified. Never that again.
    But it was a lot of fun. Blisters were the main danger.

    • Like you, Kathy, I’m not much of a one for extreme adventure. I respect people who do that, because I wouldn’t dare it. But it’s not for me. Still your story of mountain climbing is exciting.

      Thanks for mentioning Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon. She may not go on adventures just for their own sake. But she certainly knows how to survive in extreme conditions.

  7. Col

    Not familiar with any of your examples I’m afraid and don’t think I’ve really read this theme in a book either.

  8. I’d struggle to come up with an example to add to your many fine ones, but I do remember reading a book about 3-4 years ago which starts off as a family camping holiday in a nature reserve, but then a killer kidnaps the holidaymakers and an untrained mother has to use all her skills and stealth to try and outwit the kidnapper. Put like that, it doesn’t sound very plausible, but it was rather well-written and also looked at the aftermath, unusually. There, finally remembered the title: ‘Primal’ by DA Serra.

    • Oh, thank you, Marina Sofia. It does sound intriguing, and it’s not a novel I’ve read. I always like learning about new books out there, so I appreciate your combing your memory.

  9. Margot, the only extreme, albeit serious, adventures I have read, I think, are in the novels of Nick Carter, who is a lot like James Bond. A lot of spy fiction contains adventuring that is often impractical. But we see that sort of high adventure in the films, too.

  10. The Last Track reminded me a bit of Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wished Me Dead. It deals with a survival training program set in Montana where the owner has to save a young boy put in his care. The boy witnessed a cold-blooded killing by two brothers that follow him to the ranch from Indiana. Extreme adventures are perfect for murder and mayhem. Glad I didn’t think about that while I was enjoying my recent zip-line adventure. 🙂

    Thoughts in Progress
    and MC Book Tours

    • You went zip-lining? Oh, that’s exciting, Mason! I hope you had a fabulous time! But no, it’s not the time to think of novels like Those Who Wished Me Dead. And thanks for mentioning the Koryta. It’s exactly the sort of thing I had in mind with this post, and one of these times, I should put a Koryta novel in the spotlight.

  11. I like experiencing adventures from the safety of my armchair. 🙂

  12. mudpuddle

    a bit beside… i climbed mt. st. helens a year before it erupted. coming down i started sliding down a stone channel(where the ice has melted) and was just barely able to save myself by jamming the point of the ice axe into the layer of ice on the side of the channel. it would have been a 2,000 foot fall to the rocks below… that kind of ended my mountain climbing career; i still like to read about it, tho…

  13. kathy d

    I agree on the benefits of armchair extreme adventures. I”m all for it.
    I know folks who have gone zipping on cables across deep abysses. The thought terrifies me. Even more so because a woman was killed doing that in the last few weeks.
    And people got stuck in cable cars above huge mountains, too, in Europe. Some were stuck up there for many hours. Cable wires had gotten tangled and the cars couldn’t move. But with helicopters and rescue workers on ropes, some got out. Then the next morning, with wires untangled, the rest were brought to safety in the cars.
    My fear of heights zoomed on seeing photos of that crisis.
    So, to me, armchair adventures are the best — no dangers, unless forest fires, locusts, floods, tornadoes, cyclones or hurricanes come hurling through the windows. Although Hurricane Sandy flooded much of my city, my block was fine.
    And, although, I couldn’t get out of my apartment, I did what all mystery readers would do: grabbed a flashlight and read crime fiction for four days. And one of them was by the COAMN blogger. A delightful time.
    I’ve got my fingers crossed that with the coming publication of book three, there will NOT be a concomitant hurricane.

    • I hope you won’t have a hurricane, too, Kathy. And I’m very glad that you weren’t affected by Sandy; what a horrible storm that was! Your story of the cable cars shows that you never know what can happen. So I understand completely why you prefer armchair extreme adventures. Zipping, bungee jumping, mountain climbing, and all that sort of thing can definitely shorten the life span…

  14. kathyd

    Thanks. I was only affected by Hurricane Sandy in that I couldn’t go outside: no elevator and a bad staircase for anyone to use in the dark. It’s built exactly for crime fiction. Oops, “Sally Jones slipped on that staircase and plunged to her death” is apt for that particular staircase.
    A neighbor brought me food; another, batteries. The kids next door pretended to be on an adventure with flashlights, like Nancy Drew.

  15. Great topic, Margot. Though it may not qualify as an extreme adventure, I immediately thought of Dame Agatha’s archaeological travels, and how she incorporated those experiences into her books. The only one I can think of is Murder in Mesopotamia, thought there may be others.

    • There certainly are, Bryan, and I’m glad you’ve mentioned that. Archaeology can, I think, certainly be an extreme adventure, and I’ve always liked the way Christie incorporated it into her work.

  16. This reminds me of a novel I read a few years ago where a group of adventurers sailed to the Amazon Jungle and one by one met with a gruesome death. Excellent crime thriller. I checked my Kindle for the title, but apparently I read the paperback, because it’s not there.

    • Hmm…..I’m sorry that that’s not ringing a bell, Sue. But the basic plot outline certainly sounds like a real fit for what I had in mind with this post. The Amazon is definitely one of those ‘extreme adventure’ places.

  17. Definitely not interested in extreme adventures or sports, for myself, and not overly interested in reading about them. But it all comes does to the author’s skills as to whether I would enjoy a book like that.

    • I know what you mean, Tracy. There are topics that don’t interest me, either. And yet, when the author is really skilled, s/he can make the topic work. In the end, it all comes down to the way the author handles it all.

  18. I think i will have to pick up those books next time I’m at the store. I love adventure novels!

    check out my mountain camping post-

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