By Stuart Fifield
This was an enjoyable book partly because of what it offers but also because of personal resonances. The plot is reasonably basic. It is 1928 and Hitler is rising in Germany with an avaricious need for money. A mix of new Nazi influences and older Prussian ones (‘we was robbed in the first WW’) combine to locate a valuable diverted resource (uncut diamonds) in the former German West Africa. The valuables need to be transported to Europe and the choice is made to do so via the ‘Cape to Cairo’ link. We have two operatives one heading North and one South from Cairo who are bound to meet somewhere on the Nile.
The ‘flies in the ointment’ are provided by young Englishmen who are proper enough for their times with good (even high) connections though each indicates values more in tune with the future. One is young Egyptologist Rupert Winfied who is on the run from his family and probably his sexuality to become a tour guide on a Nile paddle steamer where he is going to meet possibly the love of his life in the form of one-legged army vet from the Great War (yes, a man).
The other hero character is Major Ashdown, again a young military vet with a range of personal and familial demons (is he? Is he not?) out of Kenya/Tanganyika. He is pursuing the diamonds northward hot on the German agent’s tail.
All the action eventually focuses on a typical Nile cruise out of Cairo to Abu Simbel. It is inhabited by Rupert and his doctor buddy and the ‘usual suspects’, a group of wonderfully named and described characters who all have ‘baggage’ of their own. There is the anticipated series of incidents and murders and the plot rolls on to its denouement – all a lot of fun.
I found myself describing this book as Biggles meets ‘Death on the Nile’. I read my brother’s WWI Biggles and read the post WWII ones for myself. They all had the wonderfully self-assured Brit mentality that was accepted at the time and which Fifield has taken up yet white-anted quite neatly. The Agatha Christie ‘Death on the Nile’ formula is well known but, once again, is treated quite playfully.
I have undertaken exactly this trip on a small Nile cruiser (not the floating gin palaces much favoured in modern tourism) and was delighted by the wonderfully accurate resonances of life on board and the locations visited. If you haven’t, I predict it will have you considering such a journey even with current political turbulence. If you are young and stupid, you might consider doing it in a felucca – I was never that game!
Television in recent times have given me programs that featured towns of the old German West Africa and what remains of the Cape to Cairo rail route. The books evoked these locale also very clearly.
I liked the way that gay sexuality was introduced and treated and I think many contemporary straight readers would find no problems with it. Apart from the fact that it was recommended for this group, I had no inkling that the relationship was coming. Google informed me that this is the first of a series and that Rupert and his doctor pal (who is a bit of an amateur sleuth) will reappear in March is a similar novel located at Petra (which I have also visited). I await it with baited breath.
My sole complaint would be that, at times, the text is a bit wordy but that is forgivable given the scenery.
The author is gay man (partnered) who has along background in Africa and Australia in music and the arts. I cannot locate his birthdate but he seems to have taken up writing relatively late.