by Huw Francis
Border Policeman Ishmael Khan has spent his life in the stunning mountains of the Hindu Kush, on the western edge of the Himalayas. His current mission is to find out what is happening to the foreign backpackers disappearing in the area.
Raseem Hasni dreams of wealth, status and proving to his father that he is a good businessman. In between smoking too much dope, Raseem’s business is running heroin out of Pakistan using foreign drug mules he intimidates into working for him.
Matt Peterson is depressed and in danger of being sacked. He’s read and re-read his dead fiancée’s favourite travel books and decides to resign his job and travel to the mountains of Pakistan, where they had planned to spend their honeymoon trekking.
Annie MacDonald is fed up and stuck in a dead-end job in London where she recently lost out on a promotion to someone with old-school connections. What better way to kick-start her life than resigning her job, taking the legacy left by her grandfather, and heading to his beloved Pakistan looking for adventure?
Four lives come together in the remote and spectacular mountains bordering Afghanistan and explode in a deadly cocktail of treachery, betrayal and violence.
Written with a deep love of Pakistan and the Pakistani people, Mule Train will sweep you from Karachi in the south to Chitral, Gilgit and the Shandur Pass in the north, through the dangerous borderland alongside Afghanistan, in an action packed adventure that will keep you gripped throughout.
This book starts off well enough. The descriptions of Pakistan, the bustling cities contrasting with the isolation of the mountainous regions, are extremely vivid. The idea for the plot is interesting and the device of following the four different characters and watching their lives converge and getting each of their viewpoints is also good.
Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. Every single aspect of the plot is staged and co-incidence must be the author’s middle name. He does whatever he needs to do to move his plot forward and making it believable is not one of his considerations. Before I was halfway through I realised that mere suspension of disbelief was not going to help here. I carried on and finished the book but with my tongue firmly in my cheek.
How are we expected to believe that a man carrying drugs into a London airport, tells his story to the custom’s official, about a girl who was held captive along with him, that the said custom’s official would then up and leave his job and head to Pakistan to look for her? He doesn’t know her name, nor her location, bar that she is in Pakistan. Good luck with that one then! Luckily everyone within the Home Office seems ok with this and happily fund his trip.
I also have a problem with one of the characters, Ishmael Khan. I have no idea what this character’s purpose was. He is given huge prominence in the blurb and his viewpoint is shown throughout the book. But apart from one scene, he is totally uninvolved. You could skip his scenes and it wouldn’t detract one iota.
The dialogue at times is a little bit clunky to say the least. Matt finds himself at gunpoint and walked past a room where five men are manacled to a wall, the danger is palpable. When he manages to get away and someone tells him he must leave immediately because it is not safe, his reply, with no sense of irony at all, is; “so soon? I’ve only just arrived.” :-0
This book is extraordinary; it’s a strange combination of good writing (the descriptions of Pakistan), and ludicrous plot holes. I just wonder if the author might be better off just writing a plain travel book as this is where his talent lies.
If you don’t take the book too seriously you may well enjoy it, and it may be of use to young people off on their travels as a warning about potential drug problems.
I am giving Mule Train two stars mainly for the descriptions of place.