Joe Shelby -- a brilliant and daring combat reporter for a big magazine he refers to as "the comic" -- is an Englishman who is at home only in the world's trouble spots -- Chechnya, Rwanda, Gaza -- where he is face-to-face with murder, starvation, war crimes and the sound of bullets whistling past his ears. Now, after a life of triumphs, he must confront challenges he never imagined: lost love, incurable illness and failure both in his work and on his beloved high mountains.
His partner is glamorous French photographer and former fashion model Faria Duclos: beautiful, cool, sexy and wildly intoxicated by taking incredible risks as she puts her life in jeopardy to capture with her battered Leica camera both war's killers and their victims -- a woman high on danger who, in her own way, loves Joe.
Eva Kimberly is a privileged white Kenyan about to marry her childhood sweetheart, Jeremy Davenport, when Joe and Faria explode into her life at a fancy lawn party given by her wealthy father.
At once the story of a complex love triangle and a novel about risk taking and politics, Alan Cowell's A Walking Guide uses an ostensibly simple mountain climbing expedition to explore the more complex inner struggles of its main character, Joe Shelby. On one level it is the story of a fit young war correspondent, fresh from the conflicts of the Middle East and Africa, coming to terms with a diagnosis of terminal disease that could cripple and kill him even as he walks high in the mountains. And as he walks, he is challenged to draw on reserves of courage far greater than those required by combat reporting. Confronted with hard trails and worsening weather in the rugged hills of the English Lake District, he must decide whether to pursue his goal -- England's highest peak -- or abandon the attempt. He presses on, with perilous consequences.
A Walking Guide is also the story of tangled emotions involving two women whose relationships with Joe Shelby offer competing definitions of love as passion and trusting companionship. Shelby veers between photographer Duclos and "white African" entrepreneur Eva Kimberly, finding ultimately that his illness makes crucial choices for him. Finally, A Walking Guide is the story of a man adrift from his roots, seeking to find identity after a life bridging the Atlantic and living in the danger spots of the world.
This novel brings Cowell into the rarefied company of such writers as Graham Greene and John le Carr#&233;, in a book that brilliantly dissects the convergence of love, risk and danger.
British journalist Cowell (Killing the Wizards), an international correspondent for Reuters and the New York Times, weaves a lush if gloomy tale of love and betrayal set in England and Africa. Joe Shelby, a seasoned war correspondent, has embarked on the hiking expedition of his lifetime: scaling Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain. Several hurdles stand in Joe's way, the most serious being motor neuron disease, a crippling ailment that has left one of his arms debilitated and his muscles slowly turning to mush. He has promised his beautiful Kenyan girlfriend, Eva Kimberley, to return in three days, but she is troubled by shadows of the past. While Joe ambles up the mountain, the couple's history plays out in flashbacks. Joe first met Eva in Kenya, where he wooed her away from Jeremy Davenport, a photo safari guide. But Jeremy didn't mind losing Eva, since he had his sights set on Joe's French war-photographer friend, Faria Duclos, a tough-as-nails ex-model. Joe's mountaineering odyssey is recounted in excruciating detail as he speaks into a tape recorder, capturing every misstep and chronicling his increasingly deteriorating physical state ("little demons under my skin pulling at the muscle tissue"). Meanwhile, a snowstorm sweeps in off the Irish Sea, and Jeremy and Faria drift separately toward Scafell Pike. Cowell writes with urgency and elegance, and there's nary a word out of place in this striking debut. Though the self-absorbed protagonists are hard to like, their dogged pursuit of adventure and truth gives sharp-edged appeal to the narrative.