03 Jul

Other Paths

Page1 of the 2002 edition of Other Paths to Glory* by Anthony Price starts with

The Angel of Death, looking to call his roll in Picardy on the morning of September 18, 1918, would have been hard pressed to find the village of Fontaine-du-Bois.

The story continues with a description of how a German commander determined that Fontaine-du-Bois was the perfect place to dig in against the coming British attack. It didn’t take long for both armies to wipe it off the map, leaving land scars in place of the buildings and trenches, like vine and pest scabs on fruit. In that first page Price captures–with subtle sensitivity–costs of war for the landsmen and the invading armies–one cost being the vanishing of villages and beings from all groups.

(Note, 7/16/2012: Sing a lovely sentence that puts readers to sleep. Shit. Channeling the ghost of a cheesy litcrit reviewer above. Next time will try not to reduce it to a reviewer’s quote. The importance here is former reader’s comment below in my copy of the book.)

In the controlled blank area above the chapter start, a previous reader wrote:

I was born on September 26, 1918

then linked it to the Sept 18 date in the book text with a shaky arrow.

The hand is spidery and seems more masculine than feminine. The 2002 publish date puts him at 83 or older. It seems likely that the book came from his estate.  Or maybe he was a spry 80-something and traded Other Paths for another Price. Did he buy the book or was it a gift from a caregiver or older child who knew Pop loved or found comfort in his British mysteries? He was a wartime baby, conceived a year before the end of war and born two months before armistice. Did his father serve and possibly die in WWI? He left no other traces of himself in the book (as I hoped he would), so I’m left to guess at the paths it took after he finished or was prematurely forced to set it aside. (The tragedy lies in being unable to finish it.) I bought it from a reseller on Amazon for $2.

His single note is a kind of map clue: the treasure is Here, though Here is happily the damn destination and the starting point, with neither as the same point. For the reader or writer, it’s a great opportunity to let the book be a time traveler’s MacGuffin and pay imaginary visits to the people who may have touched it or been touched, and where that led them before the end. It’s irrelevant that this branch leads to me and my perch at the top of this blog, except where it helps me become a better writer.

Read Price, if you haven’t. Then start discovering other mostly and undeservedly forgotten writers of intrigue that weave introspection, history, politics, technical details, and adventure** (and sometimes a cracking good romance). Not for the sake of those writers–most of them are dead–but for you. And the handful of others who find your annotations (yes, write in your books) once you’ve gone from breathing to ghost.

Note: I found Anthony Price thanks to this essay by Jo Walton. I started with The Labyrinth Makers, finished it last night, and opened Other Paths this morning. Tomorrow’s Ghost waits in a corner of my bedside shelf. His books are sometimes hard to find on the shelf but easy to find in good shape from sellers on Amazon ($1-4).

*Winner of the CWA Golden Dagger Award 1974

** Like Riddle of the Sands

Just found this recent small blog series on Price, with a bibliographical article and interview (part 1, part 2).

4 thoughts on “Other Paths

  1. An alternative explanation for the birthdate is that, as my mother (b. 1916) said “after the war started, everybody ran out and got pregnant, so they’d be exempt from the draft”.

    My favorite thriller writer who deserved more attention was Ross Thomas. I think his “Out On the Rim” is possibly the best ‘caper’ novel ever written. It’s one of those that has a twist at the end that makes you go back and reread it with your new knowledge.

    • Thanks for that twist–hadn’t thought of/didn’t know. And I’ve added the Thomas book to my library list of books to get soon. The end of Labyrinth Makes is like that, making you want to reread. He twists it right to the end, and it works.

  2. Did you guys ever come across Alistair Maclean? I read him voraciously in my teens and pre-teens. Although I no longer enjoy thrillers, he wrote some really cool stories with melodramatic plot lines. I don’t know if I could read him today but I still remember with fondness Night Without End, and Where Eagles Dare, and The Guns of Navarone.

    • I gobbled up Maclean’s work as a kid, after being introduced to the film version of some of his books (Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navaronne) by my film buff father. Fun stuff.

      V, you mean you no longer enjoy the run and gun style thrillers, right? Because I recall you reading Perez-Reverte, who writes thrillers of another sort (which have become one of my favorite type of thrillers). Some people take Elmore Leonard to the beach. I take Captain Alatriste and his friends.

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