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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.