On a visit to Rio, Diplomatic Service special advisor Peter Craig is asked to make unofficial enquiries about some unusual diamonds; later that day, he barely escapes an assassination attempt, and realises his investigation has started a dangerous chain of events.
Following the criminals’ trail takes him from the rarified atmosphere of the British Embassy, via a chance meeting with an old foe, to the deepest, most dangerous level of a Brazilian goldmine, and into the heart of a deadly conspiracy.
In a talk given to the Writers Circle, Kenneth said of his inspiration for Twenty-fourth Level:
“We had spent Christmas at a gold mine up in Minas Gerais. The mine had been bought by an English company from a priest, who had worked it with a hundred slaves. During the 1880s there was a fall inside the mine, killing hundreds of men. The situation was so bad that a man called Chalmers was sent out to pay off the men and close down the mine. But Chalmers was a very tough man, and within a year or two he had the mine running full tilt, and convoys of gold going down to the coast with armed guards sitting on the wagons.
“A small town grew up near the mine, with the finest bootmaker and tailor in Brazil. There was a cricket club and a bowling lawn. Chalmers had his private swimming pool, which he pounded up and down fifty times a morning. So prosperous was the mine that the town of Belo Horizonte, now with more than a million inhabitants, was founded with money from the Morro Velho mine. All this we learned as guests of the manager, and I found it so fascinating that I decided to write a story around it, called Twenty-fourth Level, named after the lowest gallery of the mine, where the climax of the novel takes place.”
Praise for Twenty-fourth Level
“A tough but susceptible hero, a most attractive young heroine with real character, a properly villainous villain, and a goldmine in the hinterland of Brazil: these form the ingredients of Kenneth Benton’s exciting Twenty-fourth Level, which might have been subtitled ‘don’t go down the mine, Peter.’ The description of the great mine and its working is fascinating, but any claustrophobic is advised to skip to the rather horrifying climax on the twenty-fourth level. A really impressive first novel.”
– The Guardian, 17.7.1969.
“Pleasantly old-fashioned adventure thriller with enticingly detailed Brazilian setting. British colonial policeman versus wicked German mining engineer; the prize is a deliciously fiery carioca heroine.”
– Maurice Richardson, Observer Magazine, 15.6.1969
“An exotic setting in Brazil and, in particular, deep inside a gold mind; an escape whose mechanics are as ingeniously worked-out as even Iris Murdoch could have managed; and a completely original method of murder, the capoeirista, a macabre invention of Bahian slaves. In all, a good, intelligent thriller, with a properly villainous villain and an attractive love interest.”
– Times Literary Supplement, 7.8.1969
“Tense, all-action story played out against the dazzling life of Rio de Janeiro and the sombre mountains of the inland mining country. Diplomatic Service man investigates diamond puzzle, tangles with sinister German, and fights nightmare duel for survival deep underground. Tinglingly different.”
– Sheffield Morning Telegraph, 2.8.1969
“Rio and its mining hinterland described by a Baedeker-thorough guide. Lots of excitement and some decent, old-fashioned love.”
– The Times, 21.6.1969.
“The Twenty-fourth Level is in a Brazilian goldmine, and it’s here, in conditions of lethal heat, that the story’s action climax is reached. Mr Benton designs his goings-on with unusual skill—there are never any moments where you long for mayhem as a relief from the interludes, or when you long for the interludes as a relief from the mayhem—and his love-interest, admittedly old-fashioned, easily triumphs over the absence of explicit bedwork. Rather moving stuff, actually, and though extensive for a thriller, it helps the narrative instead of (as so often) interfering.”
– The Sunday Times, 20.7.1969.
“What was the secret concealed in a few strangely coloured diamonds, for which a German gold-mining engineer was ready to kill? Peter Craig, police advisor to Diplomatic Service in Brazil, unravels the bizarre threads linking the German with a beautiful, nineteen-year-old heiress. Startling climax in the deepest gallery of a mine, where two men have only their courage between them and death.”
– Evening News, 21.7.1969
“Capable, fast and nicely atmospheric.”
– Sun, 1969