Summit: A Novel, by Harry Farthing
This mystery/thriller has been out since 2014 and deals with two ascents to the top of Mount Everest, one in 1939 and another in 2009.
In 2009 experienced guide and climber Neil Quinn is helping the 16-year-old son of a billionaire reach the top of the mountain. Nelson Tate, Jr. has already conquered the highest mountains on six continents and this climb will cement his record for all of them. They make it to the top but things go horribly wrong and the boy dies. On Quinn’s descent he finds a hidden cove on the mountain’s face and goes in for shelter. There he finds a climbing ax with initials and a swastika.
The story then goes back to 1938 in the Austrian Alps. Josef Becker is part of a group of German mountaineer soldiers, but on “practice missions” he and some other soldiers do some smuggling back and forth across the Swiss border. On the way there they also help sneak Jews to safety. Josef and the others are caught. Nearly tortured and executed, Josef is given an alternative. Heinrich Himmler has decided it would be a great victory for the Reich to be the first country to conquer Everest. The problem is that the only way to do that is to sneak into countries currently under British control.
The narrative swings back and forth. In the 2009 story the French guide who hired Quinn to escort Tate is outraged, mostly because of the loss of a bonus the boy’s father offered. The father has blamed Quinn, though Quinn suspects a problem with cheap equipment purchased by the French guide.Father and guide both hunt for Quinn while Quinn puzzles over his find. He enlists the help of a woman who is attached to the British Consul in Nepal who has also documented the history of Everest climbs.
Once a reader adjusts to the hopping back and forth the stories begin to blend fairly seamlessly, and both contain a lot of action and even some romance. In Josef’s story, in particular, he meets a beautiful young woman on the ship heading to India. She’s the daughter of a gentile father and a Jewish mother and they’re all three fleeing Europe. Their love story becomes one of the key motivators for the actions Josef takes through the remainder of the book. Quinn’s story ultimately sends him to Germany to meet an antique dealer regarding the history of the climbing ax, then back up the mountain for more evidence.
Farthing manages to weave interesting history and realistic climbing action into a book that includes some wonderful good guys and truly evil bad guys from two different generations. It’s a page-turner with an admirable resolution to both stories at the end.