Landfalls, By Tim Mackintosh-Smith

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The Independent Culture

From a long-term Arabist (TMS lives in Yemen), this third volume of a trilogy pursuing the 14th century traveller Ibn Battutah is much less daunting than it sounds. TMS may have gone native but his humour is undilutedly Anglo.

On his journey from Zanzibar to Moorish Spain, he is struck by the strong resemblance of some locals to British comedians. One is Sid James while another "could have passed as a photographic negative of Harry Secombe".

Battutah's journal provides a potent itinerary, particularly his sight of a ghostly illuminated ship in the Maldives. And, yes, TMS duly spots an eerie vessel "its rigging filled with blazing lights", but it turns out to be a building site. The closest he comes is an account by an ex-fisherman of a spectral craft "with a lot of lights".