2 JUNE 1961, Page 26

A Hook for Leviathan

Nimrod Smith. By Alan Wykes. (Hamish Hamil- ton, 21s.) LIKE an animal-hunting book to have something eccentric about it, a point of view that is peculiar. Shark for Sale has this because William Travis, although he hunts for his living, keeping a close account of profits, thinks and sees freshly. For instance, the passages from the Book of Job he uses for chapter headings are remarkably well chosen and to think of them at all was good. 'Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook? Shall the companions make a banquet of him? Shall they part him among the merchants?' Wilt thou play with him as with a bird?' The answer, I am afraid, is 'Yes, I can' and 'Yes, they shall,' but one likes having it brought up.

The author was hunting shark off the Seychelles with an island crew, so one gets the French coming into it, the dread cry of 'Requins,' the

Odd character Ton-Ton who ends up everything With `Ou capable croire?' and the nicknames they give the author, 'Boric a Pair' (billy-goat from the sky), but to his face, when pay-day comes round, 'Capitaine.' There is a shallow sea- shelf round the islands, then the sea-bed drops to the abyss. The sharks come up over the shelf and it was here that Mr. Travis and his odd Company in their small boat hooked and heaved them by tackle to the deck. The big ones might be eighteen feet long and all took time to die. The boat would be out for days and often the men Slept on the dead sharks' bodies, but always they Put a pillow, with a fine linen cover worked by their wives and sweethearts, between their Cheeks and the dead shining flesh. There are Perils of storm and shipwreck, of friends being bitten in half, of thirst and hunger off-course in the burning Indian Ocean and perils of curio- sity. The author, wishing to know why the sharks often got off the hooks, went down with an aqua- lung to see for himself. There is a wonderful description of the sharks dancing to each other for love, the males and the females, under the tropic sea on the shallow shelf, in a concourse of love. One likes him too because in the end he got tired of it.

Beyond the Ural Mountains also seems a little eccentric, it is so very Russian, primitive and boyish, a real rich mixture of glory for the Red Star of the Comrades and the timeless fight of man against beast for food, money and reputa- tion. The hero is a Siberian hunter. When he was ten years old his grandfather gave him a gun and said he would smack him five times with a strap for every bird on the wing he failed to fetch down. This boy and his granddad loved each other but the boy could Only grow a proper hunter when he had killed bear or sable, which he very soon did. It is a pretty ruthless tale on the whole, yet the hunters love the animals they hunt, they love the old sly bear even when they are disembowel- ling him and they stroke with love the soft fine Pelt of the glorious sable. The dogs they' love too and know each turn of their characters. They teach them their life-wofk by bringing in a live bear for them to bait. When the dogs who fail to their test are shot dead, the child weeps but Granddad tells him he is a fool and must learn, as the dogs must, a hunter's duty. What makes this book doubly attractive is the photographs of hunters and animals in the beautiful Siberian

landscapes of snow; birchwoods, hills and rivers. The most ordinary, of these books, that is, the one in which the point of view is least jollified

by eccentricity, is Nimrod Smith. This is the life

story of T. Murray Smith, one of the truly great White Hunters of East Africa. whose skill and Patience (with both the animals he hunted and the human beings who hired his services) are firmly brought out. I prefer Jim Corbett and his tigers, but then Jim Corbett was never hired by film companies and so spares us the photograph of a lady clad only in a wicker chair—or that's what It looks like—which puts one off a little in this book. One must remember that Nimrod was also hired by Government to dispatch rogue animals with a taste for village life and that he liked to be off alone when he could afford it. He early sur- vived being mauled by a bad-tempered elephant, Which thought it could spear him on his tusks, but they were too wide apart. Nimrod is as brave as a lion and much brighter and has rather a cynical look in his eyes as if he knew rather more than his biographer lets on. He now lives with his wife in well-earned retirement in Northampton- shire, surrounded by the exiled remains of many a worthy foe.