The Paradise Trail

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Duncan Campbell, Headline, £7.99

I usually find a book blurb with the word "backpackers" in it rather off-putting. This is because it tends to suggest that the author has rewritten and improved a travel journal from their own gap year, with a few amusing anecdotes blended in for good measure.

Happily, that cannot be said of The Paradise Trail. The novel spans three decades and three continents, which in less skilled hands could become that rather awful combination of both clumsy and tedious.

Set in Calcutta in 1971, the novel centres around a group of backpackers determined to enjoy themselves in spite of India declaring war on Pakistan. That is, until two of the travellers are killed in an extremely violent and mysterious way, forcing the once relatively happy little group to go their separate ways.

One impressive aspect of this book is the almost seamless blending of quite mundane events such as cricket matches with serious issues like imperialism, British and Indian politics, and death.

Campbell makes important points through his characters without rendering them ridiculous - no mean feat considering the main characters are permanently stoned hippies and a frustrated hotelier.

One of the reviews on the back of the book described it as "a great beach read", but I'd go further than that - it's a great read whether you're on a beach or not.