I departed from my usual thriller genre when I picked up this latest book by Jeffrey Archer. The title, Paths of Glory, intrigued me, for I remember the 1957 movie of the same name.
Stanley Kubrick’s film, which starred Kirk Douglas, was based on a novel of the same name, written by Humphrey Cobb. The novel’s title came from a Thomas Gray poem – “Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard.”
Interestingly enough, Archer’s book also quotes the poem prior to his prologue. However, it’s an entirely different story.
Based on true events, Paths of Glory takes us into the world of mountaineering, and the first attempts by English climbers to scale Mt. Everest in the early 1920’s. The principal characters are based on real-life personalities, including George Finch (future father of esteemed actor Peter Finch) and George Mallory, the man apparently destined to become the first man to stop foot on Everest’s summit.
Mallory’s body was found in 1999, frozen when he had fallen, with no evidence that he had reached the top, except for one fact that led the true believers to conclude that he did, 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary achieved a successful ascent: His wife Ruth’s photograph was missing from his person.
I’ve never read Archer before, and found his writing style easy to follow. He does provide an education into mountain climbing – its requirements, its necessities, and its dangers. Unfortunately he compresses and skips through time regularly, often relying on Mallory’s letters to describe the team’s activities. I would have preferred a more direct and descriptive approach.
It isn’t a deep story, but it’s told simply, allowing one to breeze through the pages in a few days. In my opinion, it wasn’t a good idea to open with the prologue that described the discovery of Mallory’s body, as it revealed how the story was going to end.
Archer could have turned the prologue into an epilogue instead.
I guess he felt this was a story whose conclusion was already known, and that he needed to establish that early.
St. Martin’s Press ($27.95 list)