Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Malta Fever by C.V.Usborne

Now this is a rare gem of a book. Published in 1936 and written by C.V.Usborne (a Rear Admiral that served in the Mediterranean in WW1 - more of which later) the novel has Malta as the backdrop to what is essentially a spy story with an 'imagi-nation' twist. The story revolves around two brothers in the navy and the fact that one is in debt and the other has just been passed over for promotion and has the misfortune to have some secret war plans stolen from him and is thus accused of being a traitor. After various twists and turns including a court martial the older brother is cleared and promoted to Captain. As, perhaps, a sign of the times in which this was written (mid 30's), the story contains the obligatory 'oily foreigner', a plucky and game English rose (I keep having this image of Kate Winslett portraying her!), a bluff old Admiral in charge of the Mediterranean fleet, some cocktail parties, horse racing and even the essential 'salt of the earth' cockney type gunners. The character of the Admiral seems to have been loosely based on Admiral Cunningham - even down to the 'drooping and watery eyes' and the forthright nature in which the said Admiral conducted himself. To be honest the story is very shallow and borderline jingoistic and could not by any stretch of the imagination be classed as a great work of literature but nevertheless it does have a lot of commendable content and a certain period charm.

I enjoyed the description of the court martial from the procedural perspective and the references to naval protocol but the book is relatively light in terms of technical detail (again probably a reflection of the times as much as anything).

Kandavia as a Mediterranean power was deemed to be up there with both France and Italy in the estimation of the Foreign Office and the Admiralty. The country arose out of the turmoil at the end of WW1 and although not located specifically has been attempting to negotiate with another 'imagi-nation' - Urgay - for a large Mediterranean port to make use of the economic boom occasioned by the discovery of numerous gold reserves. The country has a British trained navy based on small vessels - destroyers, torpedo boats and submarines as well as a powerful air force. Key to the story is the location of a squadron of 'super bombers' made from an elasticated metal that is impervious to bullets. This bullet proof skin is eventually overcome by the scientists operating in Woolwich (specifically a Scottish scientist!) designing a special type of ammunition that is able to penetrate the metal.

The whereabouts of the squadron of super bombers is eventually traced to Kandavia and the discovery of the same is what enables the older of the two brothers to eventually clear his name.

The threat to Malta is emphasised although the air defences are far better than what was historically available. The impact of Franco's Spain and Hitler's Germany is also thrown into the mix as well as the relative impotence of the League of Nations.

The author has written a couple of non fiction titles including one which covers small scale naval actions in the Mediterranean during WW1 as well as the invasion of Morocco so I will endeavour to locate these as well as both subjects are of interest to me.

I must confess that the idea of Kandavia really appeals to me and so I shall try to research both the author and the background to see if any further details can be gleaned.

At the very least both Balkrunia and Karagoz will now have some company......................;-)

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