The Emperor's Coloured Coat

John Biggins

McBooks Press 2006 [1992]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2007
Bored by life as a lieutenant on a battleship sitting in Pola harbour, in 1912 Otto Prohaska volunteers to join the fledgling Austro-Hungarian naval aviation program. This leads him into a non-stop series of adventures that take him around the globe.

A plane crash dumps Prohaska into Austrian high society and the circle around Archduke Ferdinand. Assignment to the Danube flotilla gets him involved in the Austrian-Serbian pig wars; he is then drawn into Serbian anarchist plots and Montenegrin tribal vendettas. Failing to avert Ferdinand's assassination, he is whisked off to the Far East, where he takes part in the siege of Tsingtao and faces typhoons and piracy. He returns on a liner carrying pilgrims to Mecca, which leads him into adventures ashore in Turkish Arabia.

This is too fast-paced for much reflection by Prohaska, while the other characters come and go so rapidly they are just glimpses. The plot never settles down for long in one place, but the historical details and settings are nicely worked into the stories; many of them were also new to me.

Biggins' gentle, wry humour is the same, but The Emperor's Coloured Coat is more light-hearted than the other Prohaska novels; it draws something from the "Boy's Own Adventures" of the period it is set in.

February 2007

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%T The Emperor's Coloured Coat
%A Biggins, John
%I McBooks Press
%D 2006 [1992]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1590131088
%P 359pp