Death in a Distant Land

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Shrewdly betting the proceeds of her Premium Bonds on the fastest nose in the Derby, Mavis decides to treat a reluctant Pringle to a dream holiday in Australia. When a friend asks her to look for her grandson who disappeared with his dad into the Outback some time before, Mavis readily agrees to help and drags an unwilling Pringle into the search. During the trip she also befriends a handsome flight attendant, and through his machinations becomes an unknowing courier for two kilos of heroin. Bells and dogs keep sounding off at airports. Incredibly, other people are arrested. It does not take Pringle long to figure out what is going on and to dispose of the heroin in his own inimitable and hilarious way.

Their troubles, however, are by no means over. To keep costs down Pringle and Mavis are traveling with a professional organization, FONE, whose chartered plane had extra space. The FONEs are ostensibly on a goodwill mission. In actuality, FONE stands for Friends of Nuclear Energy, and the FONE physicists are secretly looking for sites to dump nuclear waste. When news of this leaks, trouble begins, but by this time Pringle has his own worries. Although he has disposed of the heroin, he knows that someone eventually will come looking for it, and that he or she will kill to get it.

Against the gorgeous scenery of the Australian Outback, Pringle and Mavis discover the truth about the missing boy and face a desperate assassin. Shadowed unknowingly by police and a particularly inept British civil servant, Pringle and the missing boy’s father climb the massive Ayers Rock. The killer is climbing it too, and at breathtaking heights a terrible confrontation takes place.

Livingston’s plotting is deft and her Pringle (retired agent for Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue) a stuffy but warm-hearted delight. This is the fourth Pringle mystery; one hopes there will be many more.