Have 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.