Ruthless federal bureaucrats stop at nothing to fire underlings and revive the zeppelin industry in this farcical thriller.
One harebrained scheme after another moves the lurching narrative forward. In the first, Angus Ambrose, a lawyer with the Federal Fuels Agency, is targeted for wrongful dismissal by his bosses Jake Jerome, Stan Snyde and Reggie Roth. When Angus’ secretary, Rachel Rednife, gets hold of a memo conveniently spelling out their plot, they try to silence her by poisoning her cola, and when that doesn’t work they concoct a simpler plan to lure her into a parasailing excursion over a William Tell-themed crossbow competition. Meanwhile, one Abdul Abdan of the University of Azerbaijan takes his proposal for airships filled with a supposedly nonflammable form of hydrogen gas to the chairman of the Fuels Agency, who likes the idea and starts building an exact replica of the zeppelin Hindenburg. An Arab zillionaire who inhabits a Swiss castle with the titular dungeon agrees to fund the boondoggle, seeing in it the perfect vehicle for his revenge against the vice president, who stole his opera-singer girlfriend. Fortunately, there’s a notebook conveniently detailing the explosive peril of the hydrogen gas; can Angus steal it and expose the threat before the Hindenburg II goes up in flames—and takes the Kentucky Derby with it? Winslow’s strenuously zany yarn teems with cartoonish characters, outlandish conspiracies and a few nifty comic turns, but with no toehold in plausible motivation the uproar feels like an assemblage of contrivances without much satirical edge. There’s a splash of dirigible lore, but it’s the novel’s stagy, anachronistic prose and dialogue—“Fearlessness has brought us to these heights, madam, and fearlessness shall sustain us”—that most evoke the Hindenburg era.
Busy, boisterous but the whimsy feels overdone.