A review by smcleish
Levkas Man, by Hammond Innes


Originally published on my blog here in September 2000.

An unusual thriller which manages to combine palaeontology with international politics, Levkas Man is one of the best novels Innes wrote, probably because it arose from an obsessive interest in the origins of the human race.

Paul Van der Voort returns to his adoptive father's house in Amsterdam to find it unexpectedly empty. He has always been a disappointment to Pieter Van der Voort, a distinguished investigator of human origins, and has ended up a merchant seaman. Just now, he has accidentally killed a man, and following his father to Greece seems to be a good idea.

Pieter is looking at caves on the island of Levkas to try to find evidence of early man, to support his theory that Greece was the way used into Europe by the continent's earliest human settlers. The problems he has stem from three sources: his own unhealthy obsession with his theory; rival academics seeking to take credit for his discoveries; and the Greek authorities, convinced by international tension related to Arab-Israeli conflict, their own inability to understand how anyone could be interested in prehistoric rather than classical archaeology, and Van der Voort's earlier work in Russia that he must be a Soviet spy.

This kind of paranoia may seem fairly ludicrous, but then this was right in the middle of the Cold War, in which Greece played an uneasy part. Another aspect of the book may seem equally ludicrous, but are absolutely true to life - the discussions of the propaganda value of discoveries of human origins. Archaeology has been used to bolster nationalistic ideas even before the Nazis, but what does it matter politically whether the earliest Europeans lived in Greece, Italy, or southwestern Russia?

Paul is drawn into the whole thing because everyone assume that he must have a closer relationship to his father than is actually the case. One of the main centres of interest in the novel is his character's development, as he learns more about both himself and Pieter.