Jane Wilson-Howarth

 

Himalayan Heist

 
 
Himalayan_Heist01
Publisher: Vajra Books, Kathmandu
Author: Jane Wilson-Howarth
Page count: 274
RRP: NRp 800/-
ISBN: 978-9937624114

This is a third wildlife-packed Alex, James and Bim adventure set in Nepal but you don't need to read the first two to enjoy this book. Middle grade readers will love this tale but adults and young adults have also been enthralled. 
The many animals that feature in the story are illustrated by the author's photographs, and each page is headed by beautiful, tiny drawings by Betty Levene.
The text of the book runs to over 47,000 words and in addition there is a glossary of Nepali and other unfamilar words and notes on all of the animals mentioned in the book.
 
An electronic version of the book is planned by the piblisher for the end of 2022

Alex, the annoying little brother James and their friend Bim aim to fly to Mustang but there is a terrible accident and the three children decide to walk out through the mountains to safety. Things did not go well for them though. They have to cross raging rivers, flee from dangerous animals and foil evil men trading in body parts of rare and endangered wildlife. Could mere children trick armed smugglers and bring them to justice? They were certainly determined to try.

 

I wrote the first two Himalayan wildlife adventures as bedtime stories for my youngest son and I based the tales on our own family's explorations in Nepal. A much more recent trip to Upper Mustang started me thinking that it was time for my intrepid threesome to have further adventures, and this time I decided there should be an even stronger eco-theme to the story.

 

I recorded a reading from the beginning of the book which you can access by clicking here Jane reads the Heist opening or you can read it for yourself....

The sun was low by the time I reached the top. My legs were shaking from the climb. A biting wind sliced through my sweat-sodden clothes. It took ages to get my breath back. Ahead all I could see were bare ridges and steep valleys. The pilot had said I’d see the road from here, but what did he know? I couldn’t see any road. He’d gone a bit crazy and wasn’t making much sense. This was proof he’d talked piffle. There were no houses I could see. No tracks, no places where people had cut down trees, no patches of land cleared to grow food, no smoke from cooking fires.
No-one lived here. No-one came here. No-one even walked through. It was just mile upon mile of wild broken country. Was that brutal climb for nothing?
Hoping that behind me there would be some sign of a track or something, I turned. The Himalayas were visible at last. What I could see now was a great wall of ice, snow and rock stretching to the horizon in two directions. Something like a cloud was powering off one of the steepest slopes at incredible speed – an avalanche. The sky was turning pink. The highest snowy slopes were rosy and the sun picked out sharp angles in the mountains. I should have found the view awesome but I really, really didn’t care. I didn’t even feel like taking a photo.
Stooping to pick up a pine cone, I broke it open thinking there would be seeds inside that I could eat. There were none. I was hangry. I threw the cone away. It bounced across the dusty ground and disappeared over the edge.
I looked up, desperately hoping I might see a plane – or a rescue helicopter. Nothing. It would be days before they sent anyone. Huge birds were circling though. I thought of eagles at first, then realised they were vultures.
‘Get lost!’ I shouted at them.

 

Ahead a landslide had taken a big bite out of the mountainside. Bim was heading for it. There was no other way on, not unless we tried scaling crags or almost vertical cliffs. She didn’t hesitate as she reached the tumble of boulders and mess of broken trees and rocks. She just stepped across it all. She made it look easy, jumping from one big suspended boulder to another. I thought of her as a townie but I kept forgetting that she’d done a lot of tough trips to remote parts of the country with her grandfather who was like a walking encyclopaedia of nature. Like many Nepalis we knew, heights didn’t seem to spook her. It would always make me feel ill to see people standing on crumbly road-edges not seeming to care that one little mistake would have them plunging to their deaths. That was what was in my mind as I followed Bim, seriously wondering whether this route was a good idea.
I stepped onto the first boulder that stuck out of the landslide and immediately saw that the way on was like stepping stones, but instead of jumping across a river, I’d be jumping over thin air.
 

*

‘Ready?’ Bim and James nodded and clung on to the flimsy bamboo basketwork that formed the sides of the tray. I pushed them over the edge. They sped away, rattling down. The little basket went hurtling away with James shrieking like a crazed jackal. They reached the lowest point on the cable and continued a little way up on the other side. The momentum didn’t help them much though. Soon they had stopped and Bim was standing with both her hands on the cable. If you lost balance and grabbed the cable downhill of the wheels, I could picture now how easy it would be for the wheels – pulled down by your body weight – to run over your fingers. Bim was trying to pull them up the other side.
 
*
 
‘I can’t see shizzle,’ I said stepping into the first big room. As my eyes slowly grew used to the dark though, I saw that the inside was carved out of solid sandstone. The ceilings were blackened by smoke from candles and fire. I turned to see Kesang’s feet disappearing up a ladder and climbed after her. There was another storey and another big room.
Entering the second floor I could see that people were still using the caves. There were candle stubs and a battered box of matches. There were sacks of things. There were horns and claws and bones. There were some pouches of brown crystals. There were some rolled dried skins. There was a sack of flat leather-coloured objects. James picked some up. ‘What are these? They look like wonky beermats.’
I picked some out too. They were very light. I could see circular patterning and realised these were pangolin scales – lots of them. From loads of animals.

Reviews

  • This is an adventure story for adults and young adults. It is a breathlessly exciting page-turner, in the long tradition of quest stories.
    The complex and shifting relationships of the three main protagonists – Alex and James, and their engaging girl companion Bim – are put to the test as they work their way through the beautiful and dangerous Nepalese landscape. They know what they have to do, but not what they will be required to face. Perils confront them at every turn, some natural, others man-made. The Nepalese landscape – presented in vivid and almost tactile clarity – can be beautiful, but also menacing.
    In many adventure stories the characters are the main interest and the setting is little more than a lifeless backcloth; or the landscape is the writer’s real subject and the protagonists are anaemic stereotypes whose only purpose is to move the story forward. But here the characterisation is enmeshed within the action and the setting. Without noticing, readers find themselves caring about the characters, anxious when they are separated, comforted when they are reunited.
    The author is a traveller. She writes about places and people she knows well, so there is an integrity in her writing and a total authenticity in the heft and feel of the story. So her accounts of the wildlife, the valleys and mountains and rivers, and the people the three main characters come across, have truth in them.
    Victor Watson, editor of The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English


  • In this fast-moving adventure story, the unthinkable happens several times over! From a plane crash landing in the remote mountains of western Nepal, we follow Alex, Bim and James as they escape from the wreckage, crossing terrifying torrents and battling through dense forests – where bears are the least of their problems. This is more than the story about three children trying to find their parents again. It’s also a glimpse into the wicked world of underground trading in animal parts and a quest to bring wildlife-killing criminals to justice.
    Anna Robinson-Pant, Professor of Education and UNESCO Chair in Adult Literacy


  • Where to buy

    Vajra bookshop, Amrit Marg, Thamel, Kathmandu
    Tibet Book Store, Thamel
    Wisdom Books
    And coming soon to the Patan Book Shop, etc.