And now we come to the last book. Last, that is, in the rarefied circumstances of this writing, since obviously I continue to buy and read new books.
When I returned from England in 1974, I owned no books at all, but while I was there I borrowed my reading needs from the local Ealing Library and by this means had fallen in love with hardback books. So began a gathering of hardbacks that has grown to nearly 3000 volumes over the years, every one of which I have read. When Zed’s Heroes began, I arranged the books in the order that I had read them to facilitate the process and set about obtaining a good, hardback copy of every book I had ever read. And over that time there was the one that haunted me—I knew I had read it but after decades scrambling around bookshops, I had never seen a copy of it in any form. Never more than a few days would go by without my looking at the place that it would occupy on my shelves in the 1961 section if I owned it, and I would shake my head in dismay. Maybe it never existed; maybe I imagined the whole thing. I didn’t know. Finally, I tracked it down on ebay and there came the joyous day when the last book arrived in the mail and went into the gap that had awaited it so long. “I can die now,” I said to myself. But I didn’t.
Apart from my peculiar interest, the book is of little account. It’s called Earthshaker, written by one Robert W. Krepps, who was apparently a minor script writer and writer of novelisations. Although this book was an original piece, you could easily visualise the movie that could be made from it, with Clark Gable and Susan Hayward in the lead roles. On the cover, Matabele warriors rampaged, for the title character was King Lobengula, who fought the British for possession of what is now Zimbabwe.
I think the only reason I remembered it so well was because it involved a favourite historical incident of mine—the last stand of a certain Major Wilson who, in a fine display of British colonial arrogance, reckoned he could take out 60,000 Matabele warriors with a column of two hundred men. What resulted was South Africa’s equivalent of Custer’s Last Stand. This I had encountered in another beloved volume from much earlier times, The OK Adventure Annual. I got it as a school prize (for attendance, would you believe) in 1956.