Patrol by Philip MacDonald: originally published in 1927.
I have not read anything by Philip MacDonald so when I selected to read the book Patrol I came at it with enthusiastic curiosity.
Mr. MacDonald wrote a long list of books, screenplays in Hollywood, even writing for Alfred Hitchcock at one time. His main genre was thrillers and suspense. He wrote under several different names, was married to a writer (F. Ruth Howard) and spent his spare time breeding Great Danes.
He had served in World War I stationed in Mesopotamia, assigned to the cavalry.
Patrol also known as The Lost Patrol was published in 1927. It is about a small group of men stationed in a North African desert during WW I.
The book begins immediately with the patrol’s leader being killed in battle. Suddenly there is a small group of men stranded in the desert. Their main problem is the leader who was killed did not get around to telling anyone else where they were located or where the larger patrol they were planning on meeting up with is positioned.
From that point the slow suspense of the tale begins. The one favourable event is an oasis in the distance that the small band of men discover. Believing they are safe for awhile they happily settle into it. Tying their horses, having fresh water and many trees as well as a small cabin, buoys their spirits a bit.
However when they wake in the morning all of the horses have been stolen. They know it was Arabs who stole the horses because only the Arabs are familiar enough with the desert to approach and take the horses so soundlessly.
Within the patrol are men from different areas of Britain and religious backgrounds all with strong personalities.
As the men are slowly picked off by an unseen sniper tempers rise, the wounded increase and there are a few deaths that impact directly on their morale and their situation.
A decision is made by the sergeant, now in command to draw lots to see who will leave the haven to find help. The sergeant chooses two people to walk out with a few supplies of bully beef, biscuits and water that is the food of the day. They also have unlimited access to dates growing on all the trees which turns out to become their main source of food.
Questions arise as to which way they should go? Will they meet the enemy or find their separated patrol? If they find help how do they locate the oasis again to rescue those left behind? Will they survive? None of the men know the geography of the country they are in.
Once the two leave tensions rise when yet another sniper attack occurs. Racial prejudice, religious practices and mental madness begins to tear the remaining men apart. Some become sick and all of them are weakening.
I enjoyed the book very much. Once it gets going it moves right along. The suspense is low key but always present. Whenever I was ready for another situation to occur it always seemed to be there. The characters are well defined and I cared very much about what was to become of them.
I would certainly recommend this old Penguin Book.