Cover art by Virgil Finlay.
Ross Murdock is a troubled teen in police detention in a near-future American city. Instead of a trial and probable “mental rehabilitation,” he’s offered a chance to join a secret government project, Operation Retrograde. Ross jumps at the chance, but when he’s whisked off by helicopter to a hidden base in the Arctic, he begins to have second thoughts. How can he worm his way out of this? Another new recruit has an escape plan, and the two young men carry it out, but soon Ross learns his new friend is actually a Red (read it as Russian) agent who has infiltrated the project and now plans to get pulled out by his bosses so he can reveal all. Ross does not know much about what the project is yet, but he doesn’t like the way he’s been used. He finds a way to stop the agent, and is soon back at the base, where his future there is now uncertain.
The man who recruited him, Ashe, sees promise in young Murdock, and he’s kept on and begins intensive training that at first makes no sense…until he learns the project is sending men far back in time to find the source of powerful machines and science being brought from there by the Reds. Murdock, Ashe and another agent, McNeil, are to be a team going back thousands of years to prehistoric Britain. They will be disguised as traders, part of the Beaker People of that period, who wandered all of northern Europe plying their wares, and setting up trading posts. In due time, the three are sent back to begin their mission, but almost before it can start, things go very wrong. When they arrive at the trading post, they find it’s been destroyed by what can only be a Red fighter jet of some kind, and the local people want nothing to do with them, and think them cursed.
From there the story goes on with plenty of action and adventure. Ross Murdock eventually gets separated from his friends, and goes even further back in time to discover the source of the Red’s new science, and a very surprising one it is.
When I was in grade school there was very little science fiction in our local libraries, especially science fiction aimed at young readers. Andre Norton’s books were one of the exceptions, and I loved them, reading all I could find. This was one I liked a lot. Ross Murdock continued into later books, and the second featuring him was a favorite, “Galactic Derelict.” An unfinished review of that from 1963 is HERE. I continued to enjoy Norton’s books into the 1970s, but some time after that many of her newer books began to lose their charm for me, and I stopped reading them. This one held up very well on rereading, it’s a great adventure story with solid prehistoric research woven in convincingly. While the image above is from the copy in my library, I actually found it as a free download online, and read it that way. It looks like many of Norton’s books are now available as e-books, and I’ll probably try more.