The Road to Samarcand: An Adventure
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O'Brian's richly told adventure saga, with its muscular prose, supple dialogue and engaging characters, packs a nice old-school punch." --Publishers Weekly
This story begins where Patrick O'Brian's devoted fans would want it to, with a sloop in the South China Sea barely surviving a killer typhoon. The time is the 1930s and the protagonist a teenaged American boy whose missionary parents have just died. In the company of his rough seafaring uncle and an elderly English cousin, an eminent archaeologist, Derrick sets off in search of ancient treasures in central Asia.
Along the way they encounter a charismatic Chinese bandit and a host of bad characters, including Russian agents fomenting unrest. The narrative touches on surprising subjects: astronomy, oriental philosophy, the correct identification of ancient Han bronzes, and some very local cuisine. It ends in an ice-bound valley, with the party caught between hostile Red-Hat monks and the Great Silent Ones, the Tibetan designation for the yeti.
along, and I proposed that he should refer the question to you.’ ‘He was, was he?’ said Sullivan. ‘Derrick, perhaps you will have the kindness to wait for me in the saloon.’ As Derrick passed the galley Li Han popped his head out and asked, ‘Bad news?’ Derrick nodded, and rapidly outlined the situation. Li Han passed him a small mat, saying, ‘Provision against wrath to come.’ The wrath came, very quickly, and a great deal of it. Sullivan was a big man, with red hair and blue eyes; but when he
knives in their belts: they wore bandoliers criss-crossed over their chests, and they walked awkwardly in their long felt boots as they came over to salute Sullivan. Sullivan answered them with a flow of guttural words, and the leader handed him a piece of red silk, a brace of partridges and a small object closely wrapped. Sullivan turned to the car, brought a box from under the seat, and gave the Mongols a piece of red silk, three automatic pistols and a charm in the shape of a bronze horse.
point about the collection being in safety now, only I thought it was obvious.’ ‘Well,’ said the Professor, with an uncontrollable smile creasing his wrinkled face, ‘that is a very sound argument, a very good argument indeed. I do not know that I have ever heard a better argument – so well expressed, so forcible.’ But he still seemed to be wavering, and Derrick said, ‘Do you remember how they chucked things into that lorry, sir? And how nearly Shun Chi blew the whole thing up when he dispersed
Derrick were usually sent out in front, being the lightest of the party, and the least likely to tire their horses; and all day as they rode they scanned the horizon to the north and west. Every day as they rode south the Kunlun range rose higher in the sky, a vast series of mountains like a wall, rising abruptly from the plain: from less than half-way up they were covered with snow, and innumerable higher, more snowy peaks showed behind them. Behind that monstrous wall was Tibet, but it seemed
mildest teaching of non-violence, you find these fierce, intolerant, iconoclastic, barbarous … words fail me to describe the turpitude of religiosity run mad. And it is always the same, however pure the teaching.’ He shook his head sadly, and after a pause he went on, ‘No, I should account for their backwardness by supposing that the place has some local sanctity.’ ‘But would not that mean that they are taken in by their own superstition, Professor?’ asked Sullivan. ‘Surely the Red-Hats are more