Tuesday, September 03, 2019

59. The Powder Barrel by William Haggard

William Haggard was another recommendation from the unassailable Kenneth Hite.  It took me a long time to find two of his books, which I did finally track down in Amsterdam.  I had been postponing the pleasure and it was worth the wait.  I don't know about his other books, but based on The Powder Barrel, I would say that his books are fantasies of competence.  Smart, reasonable men surrounded by the chaos of the world and the doings of less competent men must smartly adjust and deal.  Haggard reminds me a lot of Michael Gilbert, though perhaps more global and political in his subject.  Suffice it to say, I am very motivated to find more of these.

Here we have a fictional coastal Arab country, almost miniscule but important to the British because it is a crucial port to get oil out.  It is barely held together by a hereditary Shaikh who is ambivalent about his role.  His chauffeur flirts with his sister and because he likes him (he is the only person who doesn't let him win in chess), instead of having the chauffeur killed, the Shaikh sends him to England to do a mechanics training course.  It turns out this chauffeur is also a spy for the Chinese (though interestingly, I don't think the word China is ever used in the book), sent as a kind of freelancer to sow any kind of chaos and sending him to England gives him such an opportunity.  Sir Charles Russel of the Executive must act to contain and ensure that the Arab nation does not descend into chaos.

It's tightly written, with short chapters but a lot going on.  There is lots of good, civilized maneuvering between men of power (mainly the behind the scenes kind of real power).  Lots of men recognizing other men's competence and respecting it, even if they work for the other side.  I loved it.  I need to find more.

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