By Harry Farthing
This mystery weaves together the lives of two men: Neil Quinn, who in May 2009 finds a wooden ice axe in a cave on Mount Everest, and Josef Becker, a German soldier who lost the axe in 1938.
At the time of his discovery, Quinn is trying to save the life of 16-year-old Nelson Tate, Jr., who summited Everest earlier in the day but is struggling with the altitude and frozen hands.
Becker and two friends had been caught by the Nazi SS smuggling Jews across the Austrian Alps into Switzerland and returning with contraband to sell. Becker had earlier demonstrated his climbing skills on a rock face within sight of camp. Now, Himmler gives him a choice: he can be executed as a traitor or he can climb Mount Everest and return with a photo of himself on the summit with a Nazi flag flying from his ice axe. If he fails, his mother and sister will be killed.
Quinn is less concerned about the ice axe than he is about Nelson Tate, Sr.’s threat to sue him and Jean-Philippe Sarron, the owner of the expedition company he was working for for the death of his son. Sarron has made it clear that he is blaming everything on Quinn, despite his own reputation for shoddy equipment and shady corner-cutting.
But others keep calling Quinn’s attention back to the ice axe. British diplomat and Everest historian Henrietta Richards wonders if the axe belonged to either George Mallory or Alexander “Sandy” Irvine who disappeared on the northeast ridge of Everest on June 8, 1924, about 800 vertical feet from the summit. For nearly 100 years, Everest buffs have debated whether the pair died heading toward the summit or returning from it.
Graf, an eccentric antiques dealer whom Quinn had done business with in the past, expresses interest in the ice axe and tells what little he knows about Becker. If speculation is true, he might have summited Everest 15 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the officially designated first men to summit Everest.
And if a German had beaten the British to the summit, neo-Nazis around the world will will use it as proof that Nazis are a master race.
Soon, with the help of Henrietta and her contacts in British Intelligence, Quinn is on his way back to Everest. His own plan is to find more evidence about why Nelson Tate Jr. died. His official goal is to lead an intelligence officer to the cave to check for a camera that Becker might have had.
Quinn’s enemy Sarron is hot on his trail as well. He lost the promised $500,000 bonus that Nelson Tate, Sr., was going to pay if his son reached the summit. Sarron is deeply in debt. But the axe and proof that the Germans beat the British to the summit of Everest will more than pay his debts.
This mystery has all the suspense of a mountain climbing story combined with an international thriller about who reached the top of Mount Everest: the British or the Germans. Becker’s story — his grief at the death of young Jewish girl he thought had been killed in the raid when Becker was captured, his coercion into a nearly unsupported summit attempt and the threat to his family — add to the suspense.
Farthing is in his own right a veteran of a summit attempt on Everest. He knows the terrain, the history and the challenges and blends them well into his story. He does a brilliant job of showing how perception and thought processes change in the Death Zone, above 26,000 feet. This is where time starts running out and mistakes are made because the pressure of oxygen in the air is too low to keep a person alive for long. His descriptions of the dangers of altitude, cold, fatigue and waivering consciousness are vivid and haunting
About the Author: Harry Farthing (1964 – )
Born in England, Harry Farthing has had a lifelong interest in exploration, archaeology and world history. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. In addition to traveling to extreme environments such as the Sahara and the Amazon, he is an experienced mountaineer. He has climbed extensively in the Alps; Mt. McKinley in Alaska; Sishapangma, Tibet’s highest peak and Mount Everest.
SUMMIT was followed by THE GHOST MOTHS (2021), which continues he adventures of Quinn in the Himalayas.