Friday, 16 October 1998

Dornford Yates: Fire Below (1930)

Edition: Dent, 1988
Review number: 140

Fire Below is one of Dent's series of Classic Thrillers, reprints of the best of their back catalogue from the twenties and thirties. I have yet to pick up a member of this series which does not equal its best modern counterparts; and the thrillers often seem less dated than many written in the seventies.

I've not read any Dornford Yates before, and Fire Below has the distinct air of a sequel, with several references to earlier adventures. (When the series originally started, the re-issues all contained an introduction telling you something about the author and this novel in relation to the rest of his work; Dent have obviously stopped doing this.) It is strongly influenced by the Ruritanian novels of Anthony Hope, being the story of the involvement of a pair of upper class English gentlemen in the affairs of the fictional mid-European grand duchy of Riechtenburg. (It is even possible to trace a close correspondence between most of the main characters and those of A Prisoner of Zenda.)

Richard Chandos is married to Leonie, the Grand Duchess, who rejected the ruler of Riechtenburg, Prince Paul, to who she was destined to be married had he not turned out to be a cowardly blackguard. The story of this marriage is the earlier adventure referred to.

Unable to go to Riechtenburg because of Prince Paul's emnity, the couple are holidaying on one of Leonie's estates just over the border in Austria, with their friend George Hanbury. There they have arranged to meet up with Marya Countess Dresden of Salm, a friend still remaining in Riechtenburg. They receive a telegram from Marya saying she won't be coming and warning of an obscure danger. This telegram immediately gets Richard and George to smuggle themselves across the border, so they can go to Marya and help her escape from this danger. It is only when they reach her house and she tells them that she never sent the telegram that they realise that they have walked into a trap set by Prince Paul.

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