The Forbidden Temple by Patrick Woodhead

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The Forbidden Temple by Patrick Woodhead

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An average thriller with mystical elements in amongst a slow chase drama, benefiting from being set in the Himalayas.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 384 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1848090774

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Luca, a mountaineer trying to escape from his disappointingly unsupportive parents and a past accident, witnesses something strange in the distance, while watching his climbing partner Bill put the kibosh on their latest sky-bursting Himalayan ascent - a mountain shaped like a perfect pyramid, circled by other peaks he's never seen before. Back in England nobody else seems to have seen them either, but colleagues mention mysterious Shangri-La style Buddhist sanctuaries - could this be the prime one, hidden from prying eyes for centuries? Nobody wants to declare it actually exists at all. Meanwhile, Himalayan natives are trying to pull the wool over Chinese occupiers' eyes regarding a very sacred personage.

Using the rarefied nature of Nepal and Tibet Patrick Woodhead can turn in what is basically a fantasy quest, but set in this world, and mostly in 2005. Here though the travellers are experienced mountain expedition men, just like the author, and not initially as knowledgeable about the spiritual side of their world as he. Their eyes are opened by a token mysterious woman, and crises on the cols, and panics on the peaks, before they really get entangled in the mystery of it all.

'It all' will definitely make for this book being described as 'Dan Brown goes mountaineering'. There is a nasty human baddy in the background, and struggling people inexpertly put in a perilous place involving dangerous knowledge. From the switches in narrative, from heroes to baddies, we think we know more than we should, but the intrigue is sustained - perhaps too much so, as the chapters of travel and climbing are not the sprightliest examples imaginable.

Woodhead sometimes makes rather unusual decisions. A side character gets pointedly left anonymous, when just giving him a surname would have been far more economical. Several times he attempts to jump focus, from either an omniscient narrator into the head of one climber, or say from Luca to Bill, and it never seems to work. He flits into documentary mode at times too, describing the state of things he can teach us about briefly, but noticeably not in tune with his narrative flow. Our well-seasoned travellers start off on the tourist trail, just for local colour.

But once up in the mountains there is something a bit more compelling, even though the colours are generally shades of grey – the rocks, the clouds, and so on. The mystery does not boil down to much, however, despite all sorts of switches and crosses from one narrative to another. There remains a variable quality – I cannot expect high literature from a book that tends to the airport thriller/impulse purchase genre, and the plot here is probably too slight to sustain such length. But there are at the same time enough benefits from the freshly and authoritatively given settings to make this worth a look for the curious.

This was previously called The Cloud Maker in hardback.

I must thank those kind Arrow Books people for my review copy.

For more mystery surrounding distant monasteries, we enjoyed Library of the Dead by Glenn Cooper. You might also enjoy The Nursery by Warren Hargodd but we had our reservations.

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