Sunday, March 11, 2012

Himalayan Assignment

HIMALAYAN ASSIGNMENT – F. Van Wyck Mason (1952)

Mason was a prolific writer of mysteries, thrillers and historical novels.  Himalayan Assignment features one of Mason’s recurring characters, Army intelligence officer Hugh North.   I like a good thriller, and this one has much to recommend it.  The setting is exotic: the mythical kingdom of Jonkhar, a tiny state located between Tibet and Nepal and which offers a dandy route into India for the communist armies of the Soviet Union and China.  Representatives of both powers are already in Jonkhar, making nice with the country’s ruler.  North’s assignment is to undermine these missions and secure Jonkhar as an American ally.  Along the way he encounters some colorful characters, including a hardened American mercenary who has sold himself to the Soviets, a svelte lady assassin with ice-white hair who wears a coat of clouded leopard skin and a faithful Nepalese assistant who wields a wicked knife.

Mason’s eye for picturesque detail is very fine, and he writes stunning descriptions of the Himalayas, Jonkhar, life at the court there, and the many tribes who populate the kingdom.  His action sequences are excellent as well.  The finale features a pursuit of the Russians by North and his Nepalese companion along icy, mountainous trails through a blizzard.  Some of the dialogue sounds unnatural, in the way that the dialogue in movies from this era (the ’fifties) can grate on modern ears.  While the dialogue may be clunky and some of the characters border on caricatures, the setting is magnificent and the action interesting and well-paced.  I’ll read more of the North series.

F. Van Wyck Mason is an entry in my "Persons of Interest" category at Bev's Mystery Challenge.  Mason was a scion of a patrician Boston family and his father was a diplomat.  As a boy, Mason spent years in Europe and enlisted in the French army during WWI.  After the war he ran his own import business and traveled widely, including a nine-week trip through North Africa.  He served with distinction in WWII and afterwards devoted himself to writing.  He loved polo, hunting and the good life in general.  He drowned while swimming off the coast of Bermuda.


  1. It always surprising to me that books I at one time owned but never read turn out to be things I should've held onto. This one sure sounds like a book I would enjoy. I had a mess of these Colonel North books many years ago. The titles I remember were SAIGON SINGER, RIO CASINO INTRIGUE, GRACIOUS LILY AFFIAR and SECRET MISSION TO BANGKOK. I may have had even more. They all had DJs (SAIGON SINGER and RIO CASINO were especially nice I remember) and I think that was the primary reason that they ended up selling one right after the other when I put them up for sale on line.

  2. Oh how I wish you'd kept these, as I'd be dropping not so subtle hints about borrowing them. I found only one North through interlibrary loan, although Mason's historical fiction can still be found on library shelves. And I love the names. Apparently I'm easy; just mention an exotic locale and I want the book.

  3. I enjoyed it and would like to read more of the Hugh North series. Let me know if you can get your hands on any.