Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Death on a Warm Wind

Death on a Warm Wind (1968) by Douglas Warner was, in some ways, a disappointment. It was found in the middle of the "Mystery" section at my local library's fall clearance sale a few years ago. It shows up on various library sites (I did a search to check) under "Detective & Mystery Stories." But it isn't truly a mystery story. The only real crime involved is a crime against humanity (as if that were a mere trifle)--but it's not a specific crime like the murder of an individual or the theft of valuable jewelry or even the work of a mass murderer and I wouldn't really categorize it as a crime novel. It is speculative fiction.

The "crime" involved is an act by an arrogant man who thinks he knows best about what it might be good for the public to know and believe. In fact, Sir Guy Rayenham (British minister) reminds me of all the climate change deniers who are helping steer humanity towards a very bleak future if drastic measures aren't taken very soon.* So many of these people don't even read the science that backs up the verdict on climate change--and Sir Guy doesn't read the "rubbish" that Robert Colston presented as a way to predict earthquakes. A method which allowed him to predict an earthquake that killed 95,000 people, including Sir Guy's son. But that didn't phase Sir Guy a bit and when indications are such that it looks like London will be hit by a similar quake he isn't willing to use his position to warn Londoners in time to save lives.

When Colston (who has been declared dead twice already) is gunned down** in front of his office, Ian Curtis, editor of a London evening newspaper and--incidentally--very antagonistic to Sir Guy, finds himself on a mission to discover the truth behind Colston's earthquake predictions. Were they really that unfounded and was the first prediction just a fluke? Or was Colston's research sound? Colston's investigations (and that of the reporters under him) find proof that Sir Guy arranged for Colston's paper on earthquake prevention to be gutted and when read before a conference of leading scientists it came across as nonsense. Colston was discredited and his reputation ruined. And people died as a result.

"You silly old fool!" I said, beside myself. "You won't listen. You've made up your mind that Colston is a crank and you won't budge. You won't read the 'prove' your case by the reaction of scientists to a document you yourself destroyed....You're acting like the racist who keeps the black man in poverty, disease and terror and then 'proves' he is a savage when he revolts." 

Will Curtis be able to convince someone in government of the validity of Colston's findings before it's too late for London?

This is a fairly entertaining story (though the science behind the predictions is a bit iffy) that I probably would have enjoyed more if I hadn't been expecting a mystery. I realize that's not the author's fault--but when one is expecting a mystery/detective novel and it doesn't happen it is a bit of a let-down. I enjoyed watching Curtis and his reporters dig into the story and find the proofs to back Colston's predictions. And the story serves to highlight the mentality of those in authority--those who "know best" what should be done, regardless of facts. It is a sad commentary on government officials in general (and our current government in particular). 

In one way, I was pleased with the ending (much too spoilerish to be more explicit), but it did seem a bit abrupt. I am curious to know more about the aftermath of the earthquake. But I suppose Warner is leaving that to our imagination. ★★

*Please pardon my soapbox moment....
**One might think that this is the "mystery" which results in the book being categorized as "Detective & Mystery"--but Colston's death really isn't the focus of the story at all and it's no mystery who killed him. That is known right away, as is the motive. The man who kills Colston does so in revenge for his wife's death in an earthquake that Colston tried to warn people about. 

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