Book name: Biggles in the Terai
Author: Captain WE Johns
Publisher: Brockhampton Press
Genre: Vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1966
Star Rating: 5/5
The Biggles series of mystery boys’ adventures have earned one of the most loyal followings in classic fiction and took their hero all over the world.
Biggles is an Air Detective-Inspector with the Air Police. His boss, Air Commodore Raymond, sends him off to find Algy in the Terai.
Algy is missing. Biggles last received a letter from him a fortnight ago, posted from the Indian subcontinent some weeks before that.
Algy had been investigating gold smuggling in a border region between India and Nepal known for its rough terrain and dangerous wildlife.
Biggles flies from London to Shara, a small town near the jungle strip. He makes the journey in an Auster, the same aircraft that Algy had taken.
Biggles chooses to take Bertie with him for assistance, leaving Ginger behind in London in case anything urgent comes up. Before they leave, Biggles and Bertie scrutinise Algy’s letters for useful information.
Everyone is aware just how dangerous the men running the gold smuggling operations are likely to be, increasing their anxiety over whether Algy is still alive.
Once on the ground at Shara airport, Biggles questions the staff at the administrative buildings. Kama Akbar is in charge, and his secretary is Bula Din.
Ram Singh is the operative in charge of the hangar where Algy’s Auster is being stored. Algy had obtained a Hunter from Calcutta, and the last time he was seen he was flying that instead.
Ram Singh is also questioned by Biggles. He can’t shed any light on why Algy would change from the Auster to the Hunter. However, he has been threatened by a man he didn’t know, asking questions about what Algy was doing.
Biggles discovers a bullet hole in Algy’s Auster. This only increases their concern for him.
Biggles and Bertie stay at the rest house attached to the airfield. They mock-up bedding to look as if they are asleep in their own beds, but secretly spend the night in one of the other rooms.
A man slips into the rest house and stabs one of the false bodies, believing it to be Biggles.
The next morning, Biggles and Bertie are suspicious of everyone at the airfield. Holman Larta, a businessman with a private plane, introduces himself and takes an unusual degree of interest in their mission.
More concerned than ever for Algy, Biggles and Bertie take Ram Singh up with them in Biggles’ Auster. They scour the terrain of the Terai without success. Even an inspection on the ground at a landing strip yields no answers.
Biggles is determined to stay the night there. Bertie and Ram Singh must return to the airfield at Shara in order to give the appearance of business as usual.
However, Biggles is certain that Algy has been at the landing strip and is somewhere in the jungle nearby.
I was particularly keen to read Biggles in the Terai because I spent part of my GAP year teaching in Nepal. This small, modest country doesn’t often feature in classic fiction, being in many ways an unknown quantity.
Reading Biggles in the Terai really took me back to the Nepal I grew to love many years ago. The country is vividly described.
I liked the variety of local characters created for this story, good and bad alike.
Ram Singh is a staunch help to Biggles and Bertie. A local hunter has been helping Algy in the jungle. However, other, shadowy local figures lie at the heart of the gold smuggling operation.
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