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by John Biggins

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-13485-1
Publisher: St. Martin's

A prequel to Biggins's A Sailor of Austria (1994), in which Linienschiffsleutnant Ottokar, Ritter von Prohaska, a centenarian inmate in a Welsh nursing home, related his adventures as a WW I submarine captain. The story now deals with Ottokar's time as a naval aviator who joined the staff of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke and Heir-Apparent to the throne of Austria-Hungary, through the intervention of Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany, after crash-landing an airplane on the Archduke's picnic table in 1912. The Austria-Hungarian monarchy is a fossil, still ruled by the dim ``Old Gentleman'' whose heir, the Archduke, is violently anti-Hungarian, anti-Semitic, and probably certifiable as well. While escaping from an enraged husband (not all of Ottokar's adventures are of a military order), Ottokar gets sucked into the Serbian (and possibly Austrian) conspiracy to assassinate the Archduke in Sarajevo, then tries vainly to extricate himself and get word back to Austrian military intelligence in time to foil the plot. Perhaps his success would have averted world war, though probably not, as Ottokar muses from his perspective in old age: ``I think it was merely a matter of the blundering, blinked ineptitude of a dying bureaucracy colliding with the theatrical, self-deceiving murderousness of Balkan politics....'' Ottokar's report isn't taken seriously, and he is posted to China, where his hastily commissioned junk is blown off course almost to Borneo. Further to-the-brink adventureswith pirates, Russians, bloodthirsty Turks, flat-earth fanaticsfinally take him back to Vienna and the decaying empire he loyally serves. Replete with period detail and the atmosphere of empire's endalong with sufficient references to future events to assure us of more to come in this engaging series.