Like him, Michelle Paver first made her name by writing for young readers; she's best known for her award-winning Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. I was gripped by Dark Matter, with its high Arctic setting, so was eager to read Thin Air, which takes us to the Himalayas in the mid 1930s in the company of an expedition attempting to reach the summit of Kangchenjunga. They're following the path of a failed attempt made thirty years previously; five mountaineers of that party were killed, as documented in a published account by leader Sir Edmund Lyell.
From the moment when narrator Dr Stephen Pearce meets the only living survivor of that expedition, the omens are unsettling. Dogged by guilt over a broken engagement and constantly needled by taunts from his brother Kits, a more accomplished climber, Stephen soon realises that he's not the only one alert to forebodings; the 'coolies' on whom the party depend for the conveying of supplies to Base Camp and on upward have many superstitions of their own, partly to do with the demands of the mountain gods but also connected to the presence of an uneasy spirit. When these 'coolies' find an old rucksack, identified as the property of a climber from Lyell's expedition whose body was never discovered, Stephen is assailed by mounting feelings of dread. His scientific background only makes his hallucinations the more worrying: "... even if I'm wildly mistaken about everything, about what I saw on the Crag and now here at the crevasse - even if it's all simply the result of oxygen deficiency - how does that help? The idea that altitude is giving me waking nightmares, that thin air is altering my very perceptions and deceiving my own mind into betraying me ... I find that horrifying. It's a kind of possession." And the dog Cedric who's adopted the party acts as a barometer, frequently disappearing when the atmosphere darkens.
(Pictured: Mal Peet, and the new paperback cover for Mr Godley's Phantom, published 1st August; Michelle Paver and her latest novel, Wakenhyrst.)