Finding Gold

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Those 150 pages were very timely, I now remember, because in just a few escapist hours they cleared my head of the months of swotting for university finals. The weekend before my exams started, a friend who’d left the college sent me a small package containing a paperback which he’d inscribed with a line from Wordsworth, ‘Up up my friend and quit your books’, and his own suggestion that I take his gift and a bottle into a field somewhere, and indulge myself in a sunlit afternoon of plain pleasure. Two weeks later, exams over, lying not in a field but on a sofa, I opened the book without great expectations, but from the gripping first chapter I was hooked. I read it through in one go. With or without a bottle, I can’t say, but definitely it would have been with cigarettes.

The book in question was Moving Target (1966), a man-on-the run thriller by a New Zealander called Jack McClenaghan. After I left university, I forgot about the book. Then, last year, decades later, sorting out drawers, I happened upon an empty packet of Gold Flake. A faint aroma of Virginia tobacco lingered still. The sight and smell of that neat packet transported me in a trice back to the summer of Moving Target. In my mind’s eye, I suddenly saw its cover, title, author’s name and a wintry scene in which a packet of Gold Flake featured prominently. Now I wanted that book again, to hold it, to reread it. Inevitably, my copy had vanished. And it was out of print. So I resorted to the Internet.

Days later, there it was in my hands, Moving Target, in the Panther Crime series. My memory hadn’t played tricks. I’d forgotten the words splashed above the title, assuring me I wouldn’t read a more exciting novel that year. I’d forgotten too the blurb on the back which told me that this was the best manhunt since Rogue Male. But the cover illustration was indeed a wintry scene, a snowfield on which were scattered a few objects evocative

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About the contributor

Martin Sorrell continues to read, teach and write about literature of all kinds, still without cigarettes.

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