The Pirate: Arrrr, matey.

Having read three Harold Robbins bestsellers, I wasn’t looking forward to reading The Pirate.

Author and title names obscure  images on dust jacket of The Pirate
Images on The Pirate cover lost are in text.

The novel lived up to my expectations.

The story is set “today” — the novel came out in ’74—in the Middle East, which is the setting for most of the action outside of bedrooms.

The pirate is Baydr Al Fay, a Jewish baby switched at birth for a dead Arab one and schooled in England and America to use money to make more money.

Baydr is emotionally separated from his California-born wife, seeming to care only about their two sons, whom he rarely sees. Their elder son is soon to be named heir and successor to the Prince Feiyad.

One of Baydr’s daughters by his wife has joined the Fedayeen in rebellion against her father’s preoccupation with making money.

Badyr is a tough guy living by Eastern codes in which women count for nothing; however, my Western mind says rape is rape even if the victims have the personality of a foam egg carton.

The story jerks disjointedly though the sexual adventures of all the major characters and a few of the minor ones, until the novel ends in flames in the Syrian mountains.

The Pirate by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster 1974. 408 p.
1974 bestseller #7. My grade: D

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Captains and the Kings is a far-sighted novel

Who'd think Captains and the Kings so low key?
Staid all-type dust jacket belies the explosive story of Captains and the Kings.

Taylor Caldwell read the news and saw the future.

In Captains and the Kings, she tells the story of a boy who came to America to escape the Irish famine in the early 1850s.

By the time he arrived, he was 12, an orphan with a younger brother and infant sister to care for, and America didn’t want any more Irish.

Both honest and ruthless, as “Joe Francis” teenage Joseph Francis Xavier Armagh outsmarted and outworked men twice his age.

Brains and discipline put him in the way of luck.

Friends were unwaveringly loyal to him.

Women fell for him.

His children loved him, though he did nothing to win their love.

What makes Captains and the Kings an unusual historical novel is that Caldwell puts Joseph into situations where wealthy men behind the scenes plot how to quite literally take over the world.

Their plan includes the establishment of income taxes in every country in the world, extermination of the middle class via taxation, and “prudently scheduled” wars around the world “to absorb the products of our growing industrial and technological society.”

Captains and the Kings has an exciting plot interwoven with a powerful message for readers with the guts to take it in.

Captains and the Kings by Taylor Caldwell
Doubleday, 1972. Book Club Edition. 695 p.
1972 bestseller #7. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Day of the Jackal: A thriller plus history

Spring, 1963. The OAS, a secret organization of Algerian ex-military, wants Charles de Gaulle killed.

A jackal escapes the hunter's sights
Jackal narrowly escapes

Having failed spectacularly in one attempt to kill de Gaulle, OAS leaders decide to hire a professional assassin, a blond man from England who calls himself Chacal, which is French for jackal.

Chacal wants to operate entirely on his own, with no contact with the OAS except for a telephone number in Paris he can call for information on the security situation.

The OAS set off a rash of thefts across France to raise Chacal’s $500,000 fee, then await developments.

French security officials guess the thefts are to finance another assassination attempt.

They pull in the best detective in France, Claude Lebel, a homicide cop who gets results by deliberate, plodding inquiry and fact checking.

Fredrick Forsyth was a newsman before turning novelist. His knowledge of how government agencies work and his crisp, clear, just-the-facts-m’am prose style makes Day of the Jackal a real page-turner.

Because de Gaulle died of natural causes, readers know who wins, but Forsyth keeps readers up past their bedtime to see the ending.

A bonus is the illumination of European history largely unfamiliar to contemporary readers: France’s conquest of Algeria in the 1830s, her colonial operation there through WWII, and the belief of many Algerians that de Gaulle had promised them French citizenship as a reward for their military service.

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Viking Press [1971], 380 p.
1971 bestseller #4. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Darkness at Noon peeks into Soviet Russia

“The cell door slammed behind Rubashov.”

With those words, Arthur Koestler hurls readers into the life — and impending death — of ex-Commissar of the People Rubashov, a man so powerful and so invisible that his full name is needed for identification only on his cell door.

Identification of review of novel that wasn't a bestseller but has become a classic.Rubashov had been expecting, dreading arrest.

He knows his fate because he has been responsible for the disappearance of many others.

Readers must piece together Rubashov’s story from his memories, tap-coded conversations with other prisoners, and the interrogations.

He had risen through the ranks of the Party, finally acquiring diplomatic status.

His work with foreigners abroad provided ample facts that could be manipulated when Number 1, the party head himself, wanted Rubashov out of the way.

Rubashov had learned to see behind the Party’s rhetoric even while complying with its demands. He was not a subversive, as charged. He was, however, tired of the whole political machine.

Rubashov writes in his diary, “The fact is: I no longer believe in my infallibility. That is why I am lost.”

His interrogations include some of the milder forms of torture. Rubashov isn’t broken, just worn down.

The last straw is when his interrogator is replaced: He, too, has been found expendable.

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
Trans. Daphne Hardy. Scribner Classics, ©1941. 272 p.
My grade: A

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

About the author: The Budapest-born Koestler was a communist in the 1930s and spent time in the Soviet Union. He left the party in 1938, was captured by Fascist forces in Spain and sentenced to death. The British intervened, and Koestler went to France where he was again arrested for his political views. Released in 1940, he went to England where he lived until his death in 1983.

Love on the Dole: Doleful view of past and future

Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole is a bleak novel set in in industrial England in the years between the First and Second World Wars.

The technological expertise that had made wholesale slaughter possible in 1914 is being directed toward making wholesale poverty possible in 1934.

Man and woman with infant are on cover of Love on the Dole.
Cover of 1976 paperback version of Love on the Dole

Harry Hardman, 14, is through with school. Scorning his parents’ advice, Harry apprentices himself at the Marlowe manufacturing plant for seven years.

Harry sees badge #2510 as his ticket to training and a high-paying job as an engineer.

He learns there’s no training, no ticket to upward mobility.

When he finishes his apprenticeship, he learns one more thing: There’s no job.

With a wife and child to support, Harry does what he has to.

He joins the line of the unemployed.

Identification of review of novel that wasn't a bestseller but has become a classic.Love on the Dole lacks the rounded character development we expect in today’s novels, and the dialect takes a bit of getting used to, but those deficiencies only add to Greenwood’s picture of how the deck is stacked against ordinary men in the age of increasingly intelligent machines.

Here’s a passage in which 14-year-old Harry consults the Marxist labor organizer when he first senses Marlowe’s has no intention of training him for a career:

‘You’re part of a graft, Harry,’ [Larry Meath] said: ‘All Marlowe’s want is cheap labour; and the apprentice racket is one of their ways of getting it. Nobody’ll teach you anything simply because there’s so little to be learnt. You’ll pick up all you require by asking questions and watching others work. You see, all this machinery’s being more simplified year after year until all it wants is experienced machine feeders and watchers. Some of the new plant doesn’t even need that. Look in the brass-finishing shop when you’re that way. Ask the foreman to show you that screw-making machine. That can work twenty-four hours a day without anybody going near it. Your apprenticeship’s a swindle, Harry. The men they turn out think they’re engineers same as they do at all the other places, but they’re only machine minders. Don’t you remember the women during the war?’

‘What women?’ Harry asked, troubled by what Larry had said.

‘The women who took the places of the engineers who’d all served their time. The women picked up straightaway what Marlowe’s and the others say it takes seven year’s apprenticeship to learn,’ a wry smile: ‘Still, if you want to be what everybody calls an “engineer”, you’ve no choice but to serve your seven years. I hear that they’re considering refusing to bind themselves in contracting to provide seven years’ employment. There is a rumour about that there aren’t to be any more apprentices. You see, Harry, if they don’t bind themselves, as they have to do in the indentures, they can clear the shop of all surplus labour when times are bad. And things are shaping that way, now,” a grin: ‘You’ve no need to worry, though. You’ve seven years’ employment certain.’

What is most striking about Love on the Dole is now much it feels like 2017 America. If Harry lived in Pennsylvania today, he would be a Trump supporter.

Love on the Dole will let you experience the pain and anger that fuels them.

It may well also foretell what’s ahead in America in the next 20 years.

Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood
©Walter Greenwood, 1933; published by Johnathan Cape
My copy: Penguin Books Ltd., 1976; paperback, 254 pp.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Vanished resurrects Cold War era anxieties

Letters of Vanished on novel jacket in progressively smaller letters

Vanished is a Cold War era political thriller that will sound familiar to readers who grew up in that era.

White House Press Secretary Eugene Culligan relates the events.

One election year, a good, personal friend of President Roudebush vanishes from Burning Tree Golf Club.

Investigators learn Steve Greer left the country by a circuitous route.

That raises speculation that Greer’s in trouble, and that the President may be involved, too.

The President’s party gets jittery; so does Wall Street.

The President assigns the FBI to handle the investigation, which infuriates the CIA director and raises further speculation of something shady going on.

Culligan gets nervous because he can’t get information.

The press is hounding him, but he has nothing to say because he knows nothing.

Eventually, Culligan learns everything, but not before the American public and Fletcher Knebel’s readers do.

Knebel draws all his characters well enough that they are distinguishable but not particularly memorable. The focus is the story of what happened to Steve Greer and who’s going to break the story.

The ending fits its Cold War setting, but may sound a little simplistic today.

None the less, Vanished will entertain without deadening the brain cells.


Vanished by Fletcher Knebel
Doubleday, 1968. 407 p. (Book Club Edition). 1968 bestseller #8. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Preserve and Protect taut political thriller

Washington DC buildings, 1st edition jacket of Preserve and Protect
First edition cover.

Preserve and Protect is a logical development  of the political landscapes Allen Drury envisioned in Advise and Consent (1959),  A Shade of Difference (1962),  and Capable of Honor (1966).

Allen Drury plunges readers into American politics as it might be played if violence becomes a political tool.

Sometime in the post-LBJ era, Air Force One has crashed, killing an American president on his return to Washington after garnering his party’s nomination.

The Speaker of the House, William Abbott, assumes the presidency until elections can be held. He carries on the policies of his predecessor, Harvey Hudson, keeping American troops in Africa and Panama and retaining Orrin Knox as Secretary of State.

That continuity brings Abbott into direct confrontation with a coalition of extremist groups out to control the presidency by electing Ted Jason, a man they think they can control.

Preserve and Protect is a stronger novel — there’s less author commentary — than the other three novels in Drury’s series.

Readers are left in no doubt as to Drury’s position, but here they have the pleasure of thinking they figured it out themselves.

The characters met in earlier novels seem to have grown more complex, the issues less clear.

The book slips from political novel toward political thriller.

Drury pulls all the threads together skillfully in a shocking — but totally logical — conclusion.


Preserve and Protect by Allen Drury
Doubleday, 1968. 394 pages. 1968 bestseller #6. My grade A-.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni