In 1914 it is recognised that future wars will be won or lost by black gold; keeping the oil pipelines free of sabotage is therefore absolutely essential. This is the task of Kingdom Lock. After a death-dodging prologue and a first chapter mainly of argy-bargy of the top brass I was tipped right into a world where the loading of a troop ship is almost as riveting to read about as the danger-filled episodes where Kingdom must exercise all his skills of leadership, improvisation, coolheaded courage or the full fury of a soldier in battle. I became deeply engaged with this novel, not from the start but from the first movement as HMS Lucknow sets sail for Basra. The Turks are the enemy, but what other races have reason to be friends of the British? For me, General’s daughter VAD Amy Townshend becomes an unwanted distraction, although she is the perfect hostage of master spy and master of disguise – the wonderful Wilhelm Wussmuss. My own favourite scene is the destruction of the punts whereby the enemy proposes to launch its attack.
This is a complex story brought to vivid life. The terrific and terrifying agonisingly prolonged climax is hard to endure. In the kind of wholesale slaughter later to be encountered in Europe on a vastly greater scale, Kingdom seizes one forlorn hope after another – hopeless for all too many as his little band, notably the sturdy, calm Indian sepoys, use their wits as much as firepower throughout a day of horror.